I wake up one morning and go to check my backyard. Instead, I find a series of dead birds hanging from my back fence, delicately arranged like a bouquet.
I check my camera later that morning,after vomiting and attempting to shower, the one featuring my backyard, only to have it tune to fuzzy static for twenty minutes until you... see him.
He strides into my yard, for all that he owns it, from an empty corner, and sets down a small pile of fur and wings. The tenderness is disturbing, tentacles shifting to fingertips, curling around a bundle and dropping it. You'd think that he would be smiling, but all you get is a white expanse of face with muscles bunched in just the wrong places and his tie is just too red, satiny and detailed for the distance.
Ten minutes later, I see myself come out of the house, down the back steps, and to His gift. Slowly, with a strange sense of delicacy, I begin hanging up dead birds with a handful of pink twine.
He thought I'd forgotten. It explains the dreams, though, I realize, absently pulling up a Word document to copy them down-- just like when I was little, Him leading me into the forest by my fingertips, with this flavor of you're mine and therefore alone.
My phone starts ringing, little pieces of music-- it's my date for tonight. I'll call him back in a minute. I can't deal with this. My hands clench around the mouse and I force myself up and back out to the backyard, retracing my steps and staring out into the suburbs, looking for a treeline that we don't have.
I wake up four hours later, covered in dirt.
I go to work for the next week. Hop the bus, now, in case I see Him in the car and startle like that time in New York. I go to work. Punctual, daily, the same activity. When my boss notices the bus-riding and the early arrivals, he just assumes it's me being 'green' and crunchy, one of those granola flavored people.
Whatever. He smiles at me on the fifteenth, drops a memo on my desk that is actually a picture of a zebra climbing a giraffe. “Take a hint, Daray. Go take an early lunch, you deserve it,” he adds, upon seeing my bewildered expression.
I laugh, trying to throw off my reluctance to leave the office. “Thanks. I'll see you in an hour.”
Pucker-up, lipstick-- I'm laughing, checking the shade in the mirror. It's some tacky name, Southern Temptress, and makes me think of porn. My hair is freshly dyed and curled, an equally unnaturally shiny shade of burgundy. That one was called Chardonnay Beauty. I personally don't think that the people who made the dye understood what Chardonnay was, but that's not really the point. I glance up at my door frame, and then back to door, opening into a short, well-lit hallway, and then into my living room.
I slip my hand down my side, absently smoothing the dress down the curve of my hips with a sigh. I'm thin in almost a painful way, but slowly starting to fill back out, finally gaining weight for the first time in years. I spin in a tight circle, watching the silky-grey skirt flare around my knees, and smile. Pleased.
My room is small, but it's large enough for a Queen-sized bed and a little oak dresser... and the mirror, of course. The windows are large, but covered in thick, dark blackout curtains, with the name tag from my dorms at University-- hey hey my name is Daray-- surrounded by lurid flowers. I slip, bare-footed, over and touch the out-of-place piece of card stock, careful not to shift the curtains. Maybe I could call and cancel. I mean, someone has to make sure the curtains don't move and has to check the camera that I keep placed over my door and--
My phone vibrates, and begins blaring a midi version of Brand New Day.
I could do this. I spin again, blow a playful kiss at my mirror, and sashay out with a smile.
His name is Kai. Rather, that's what he calls himself. This is our third date and I've never actually asked what Kai means, the same way he never really asks about the cameras.
“We all have our things,” he says, when I make a joke about shutting down my security system for the night.
He's tall, sweet, and doesn't ask all that many questions, which is good for me. Short, coppery brown hair with mood-shift hazel eyes. They look a little orange right now, but I don't spend time figuring out what that means. He meets me at my door with a whistle and a once-over. “Jeeeesus Christ, Daray,” he whistles, and I can feel myself blushing, hard. “To the car, my lady!”
“Oh, going the chivalrous route?”
I grab his arm and he walks me down the front steps to the sidewalk, spinning me in a tight circle, ending with me bent back over his arm.
“My darling!” he smiles, as much as one can smile a sentence, and I see this light slip into his eyes, breath a little quicker-- I can do this, I can play this game. I pucker my lips and blow another kiss at him, slipping out of his arms and cocking my hip.
“To the car, my darling,” he says, still with that smile somewhere between lust and impressed, but his voice is thick and husky with the promise of a good night.
Oh, I can do this.
He gets a little confused when I spend ten minutes trying to explain why I want a table in the corner, where I can watch the doors, but doesn't actually ask when my story doesn't make sense. I mean, is there any good reason for someone to want to have their back to the wall?
He laughs it off, grabbing my hand as he tugs me into the little corner restaurant, a weird mash-up of classy, upscale Italian and American burgers and grease. It's got big, broad windows in the front, with soft lighting and cream sponge-painted walls.
“It's okay, you like people-watching too?”
“Yeah. That. I love watching people and trying to figure out their little dramas, yano?” I babble, secretly giddy for the moment that he lied for me.
“Ooh, you do the story thing. This should be good,” he chuckles, leading me toward a table in the back corner of the restaurant, trailed by a bewildered waitress trying to keep us on her schedule. I'm confused and don't quite understand where this is going. The waitress fusses, drops menus, and wanders away muttering goddamnit have to fix the schedule shift reservations and Kai has this grin that I can't place.
He's ushering me into my chair and I'm sitting without thinking, doing a quick skim of the large, open windows toward the front of the restaurant, and then a brief, discreet glance to the side. It's become second nature, but I don't see anything out of the ordinary, or even painfully ordinary. Nothing. For just a second, I do another skim for suits and red ties, for maddeningly white skin, for... nothing.
I don't have my cameras, which... well, date night and I should probably be focusing on that smile and the way he's staring at my mouth.
“You look like a cheshire cat.”
“Not the Cheshire Cat?”
“No, just one of them. I don't know you well enough to make you Lord Cheshire Cat Himself,” I add, leaning my elbows onto the rough crimson tablecloth, letting my curls fall heavily into my face. The tablecloth almost matches my lipstick, weirdly enough, and I only notice as he glances from my lips to the table.
“Been kissing a dye maker lately?”
I can feel myself blush. “Aren't you supposed to be wooing me instead of implying infidelity? I mean, I have standards.”
He reaches across the table, tucking a curl of my hair behind one ear. “This is wooing.” I feel my smile hitch up a notch and I stop checking the windows for just a second. “And you have excellent taste.”
He's confused again when I invite him back to my place first with a hopefully enigmatic smile that I'm sure only comes off unhinged. Once we're back to my house, Kai smiles with a hint of puzzlement as I reach over my door frame and fiddle with something, switching the camera to face a different corner of the room from my bed, but he kisses me just the same and my dress falls down just the same in a silk puddle around my heels.
Kai kisses my forehead before we fall asleep, and I hear him whisper, “My name's Johnathan.”
“S'Kai,” I mumble, tapping his hip as I step up for a second, shift the camera over my door again, check the room, and head back to the bed.
We all have our 'things?'
This is how it is now.
I check the cameras every day-- they record directly to my hard drive. One camera over my bedroom door that records a wide view of my room, including the windows to the side of my bed. Two cameras in my living room, facing opposite windows. One in my kitchen. The one in my kitchen is a bit of a problem, since it sometimes records me going into doors I don't have, but that isn't the concern at this point.
Camera five is on my front porch. Camera six is on my back porch, facing the yard. I have troubles with that one, after I found the dead nest of birds in my backyard, and the day shortly after I first moved in when the camera just stopped working for twenty minutes. When it came back on, it showed me sitting bare-legged in the snow, before
I usually dedicate the better part of a Saturday to reviewing the tapes, doing it more often if I see something odd during the week with my naked eyes.
The longer I am here, the less that happens, and the Saturday viewing party is often just me drinking Smirnoff Ice and watching myself wander around the house. Since I started dating Kai, I've had fewer chances to check the tapes. They're all saved, but I've had fewer and fewer chances to check and fewer and fewer reasons to bother.
Until it hits one night where I barely remember to turn the camera back to the bed. But I still do it.
I have to. I also refuse to go to his house for consecutive nights.
I just can't risk it. Can't risk the break in routine, can't risk the fact that we may be followed. I like him just a bit too much, and I know the others would pick up on it. I know He would see the opportunity.
Who am I kidding. He probably already does.
I keep the Temptress lipstick, though. It looks good on his shirts.
We spend the night at my house more often than not. To be honest, I appreciate the company. I don't know if I love him, per se-- I can't really afford yet another variable for too long, but this is working out.
I'm always surprised that he doesn't ask about the cameras, and it takes until mid-October to find out why. I wake up that morning a block and a half down the road, holding a bag of doughnuts and a coffee, hands smeary and dark with blood. I'm patchworked with mud, smeared up over my calves and coating my shoes. I'm not sure if that's blood or mud in my hair, and I don't want to ask-- I can feel my breath hitch and I skim the area, looking for signs, anything.
The sky is grey, limned with light, and oh god I can't breathe--
I finally find the street sign I'm looking for. I'm on Robert E. Lee and I can actually see the street I need to get to from here. Thank god. I pass a fire station; just a cheap little one with a couple engines and some disgruntled looking firefighters during the daylight hours. It's dark and my head is suddenly thick with static; it fades as I turn back toward the road, focusing on walking over this little bridge, all concrete and badly painted lines, down toward the entrance to my street.
I pause and tentatively try to take a sip of the assumed coffee, nearly gagging and dropping it as I realize it's filled with the same mixture I'm coated in; water, blood, and dirt. I know I'm stopped in the middle of a street, but I check the bag.
For just a second, I'm not sure where I'm at, only tasting cold air and hands hands His presence and a heavy, buzzing rumble and the need to just remember
CONSIDER THIS A LESSON.
That's when the siren peal of my ringtone goes off and I realize I left him at my apartment last night.