Micah liked to pretend he wasn’t a nervous wreck. Sometimes it was even true. He could go long stretches certain that it was all in his head. That the ladies behind the checkstands at the grocery store weren’t whispering behind their hands, that his overbearing sister was only checking on him because she cared, that his cat, Mister Peebles, didn’t have it out for him. Well, that last one was true, Mister Peebles was the devil personified. Usually, he chalked up his worry and agitation and sleepless nights to the busy, busy processes of his own overwrought imagination, that is until Mallory moved next door.
Of all the girls in all the world to move in next door, it had to be her. They’d gone to the same high school though he was two years behind and she had hung out with those freaks with the spikes and leather jackets smoking cigarettes behind the school, courting suspension. He had hung, just at the periphery and watched her move, laugh, playfully slug her best friend, kiss whatever meathead she was dating, hating himself for never being brave enough to make a move. She cleaned up well, her hair was a nice, normal brown that the ring on her lower lip was hot and also scary. She smiled and waved and they passed pleasantries back and forth and Micah, told himself over and over again that this was progress. He was talking to a girl, and not just any girl, Mallory. His therapist called this progress so it must be so. Gary had hardly ever been wrong in all the years Micah had been seeing him. He watched her. Taking out her trash. Hanging out on the porch, chatting on her phone and chain smoking clove cigarettes. Usually he hated the way that a woman looked when she smoked, it had always seemed a little obscene, like something better done behind closed doors, but when Mallory smoked it stirred feelings in him that he barely understood. He waited for her to be done, was patient. She ended the call, stubbed out her cigarette. Now was his moment. Now or never.
“You know those things give you cancer,”
“We’re all dying all the time. I pick my poison.”
He should have had something clever to say to that. Something that would put her off her guard, but nothing not the barest whisper of a response.
They held gazes for a moment, then she tucked the phone in her hip pocket and was inside. The screen door clapping hands with the frame.
Aloof, that’s what they called that. Hard to get. He spent the night with the image of her pulling in the smoke and then blowing it out in artful rings, the cock of one hip, the curve and shape of her. He had to go over there, tell her his truth. It was long overdue. This was a huge step for him. Gary would be so proud.Mister Peebles twined around his feet, doing his best tripwire impression. Micah sidestepped the little terrorist with deft feet, took the porch steps two at a time and was at her door. His hand was on the buzzer, his heart in his throat. What would he say, what could he say? I’m your pervy next door neighbor and I think I might love you. You don’t know me, but I’ve been watching you since I was fifteen. Do to me what you do to those cloves, please, with sugar on top? Lame. That’s what he was, he was about to turn, go back to American Idol, and his cat, and a life in which he would grow old and die a virgin, when a hand like the barest wisp of air settled on his arm, reeling him back.
“Micah, so good of you to come by.” Mallory pulled away, tossed her long, dark hair and spun in the middle of what he now saw was a large, empty room, her skirt belling out. Dark squares and rectangles on the bare walls where pictures had been, scuffs on the wood from the movement of furniture.
“Right.” She, paused, grinned, her teeth were very white, very sharp and then she had him, she smelled like the lilacs that grew around his father’s funeral home, she also smelled like something else, a deep chemical stench. “I saw you noticing me,” she breathed in his ear, flickering a tongue along the curve of his neck.
Micah’s breaths were coming in short gasps now, Gary hadn’t said anything about what to do when the strangely hot woman of your dreams starts randomly making out with you. He had no frame of reference for this and so he backed away, or at least tried to.
“Not so fast.” She gripped his arm, from the back of her throat came a clucking sound, and then there were others. Tall, dark haired creatures with razor sharp smiles, emerging from the shadows.
“Ladies.” She paused, tightened her grip. “Dinner is served.”