The Right Ch. 01byAinsleyOfAttack©
There were four leaves on the branch that almost touched the awning, I had counted. When the wind blew I kept hoping the number would change but instead the branch just kept brushing against the edge of our logo. I clicked the ballpoint pen next to the credit card machine in time with the song on the radio, easy listening. The leaves on the trees outside were all dead. People rushing home from work grabbed their coats shut, the weather had unexpectedly turned cold, as usual New York had skipped over fall, jumped right to winter.
Work was boring, that kind of boring where the act of blinking becomes an art, where your coworkers are actually amusing when they break the silence and monotony, where your thoughts actually seem profound. It didn't help that these moments without customers led to me to reflect on how my life had taken a sharp turn for the shitty. Six years ago I was in the position to be promoted, the hot young thing, fresh out of college. A brilliant editorial assistant with the bitch of a boss but the stomach made of nails. Once that stomach sprouted a bleeding ulcer at the age of twenty-one I decided to choose happiness over money. Been regretting it ever since, among other things.
"Don't forget to weigh the scallops," I said to Tido, my Nepalese super-star employee. He was the Kevin Garnett of seafood. Man could fillet a fish in the time it took me to put on a pair of panties.
"Uh-huh, yes," he nodded, eyes glazed, studying the rapidly falling night. The sky was the color of dust. Sun was setting so early, pretty soon it would be night by the time we got the afternoon delivery.
I surveyed the display cases of fish, glistening sides of marine life, their insides now on prominent display, cut and rationed into servings at the customer's request. How did I get here?
Searching my jean pockets I checked my cell-phone for a phantom missed call. No dice. With a sigh I trudged my rubber-lined boots to the bathroom. Inside the little, smelly cell the mirror reflected someone who wasn't quite a woman, wasn't quite a girl. My androgynous looks and bob didn't help add any feminity to my job as a fishmonger. Pretty soon I'd be a man. And hell, considering how little sex I'd had in the past four months since my break-up with Tricia it could've happened already and I wouldn't have noticed.
I sat on the pot and put my head in my hands. It always seemed the most depressing in these moments alone, without my staff or clientele to pretend everything was perfect in front of. Tough, capable, I had increased sales by fifty percent in seven months since being hired with no experience to manage a small retail fish market in one of the swankier areas of Manhattan. Perfect. At home I immersed myself in reading Russian literature and dreaming of graduate school without the debt it would inevitably bring.
I heard the front door hit the mat. A customer. At this time of the afternoon it had to be a big spender, probably a fiancée cooking for her man, her massive diamond engagement ring's glitter would laugh at me in front of the crabmeat. I had to hurry, Tido's English was worse than most tourist's.
"Sarah Carter?" A long pause as my ears perked up, my stream of urine interrupted. "Is Sarah Carter here?" Then there was static, as though someone had turned on a television incorrectly.
Almost done, my piss resuming its stream. There was the sound of something like the jingling of keys. Tido was very, very quiet, as was Aishiro, my sushi chef. He usually was full of greetings for anyone who came into the shop, even the homeless guys who stole his tip jar.
I nervously did my belt and flushed, rushing out the bathroom door to what I was sure was a hold-up. Give him the money, I thought about how many times I recited this phrase to my guys, sure that they'd try some crazy kung-fu shit if it ever went down, get their asses killed. And it was really hard to find people willing to handle fish guts all day.
It wasn't a hold-up, but it could've been. I wiped my hands on my pants.
"Hey!" The cop said. She laughed, her nervous laugh. Her walkie-talkie buzzed like a gnat shouting numbers.
My response came out something like "hee." She looked amazing and terrifying all at once. Her uniform was the same as all of the others I'd seen, the ones lining countless parades, moving in behind the scenes of news broadcasts, waiting on line in coffee shops.
"What's a matter? This make you nervous?" That laugh again as she gently patted her gun. It hung there at her side, less than a threat, more like evidence, proof that she'd pulled herself up, recovered from our break-up years ago.
"Nah, but my guys here are obviously not used to seeing a lady so...well-dressed," I joked.
She took off her hat, the NYPD standard kind that's in the shape of an octagon that I'm sure had a fancy name. Her hair was perfectly trimmed in a crew cut, same as it had been years before only now that neatness was a reflection of her position. She looked identical to what she had back then, thin, tall, Italian with dimples and a smile most girls would bludgeon someone for. I looked at her badge and nametag, conscious of the fact that it looked like I was staring at her small breasts. R. Montiglione. It looked funny, like the alphabet thrown together haphazardly on her flat, navy swathed chest. I could tell I was blushing.
"I, uh, I didn't think I'd see you," I stuttered. I was frozen in front of the bathroom, reeking of fish and misery, feeling like the largest failure this side of the East River.
"Yeah, sorry I didn't call you back that night," she looked around as though there could have been an actual criminal hiding in the rafters, surveying the scene, posturing.
I thought of that night, after her first night shift. It wasn't a call. I had text messaged her well-wishes, drunk and petrified that she would ring me back, but more afraid of the disappointment I'd feel if she didn't. The later had come to fruition, but this was far more frightening.
Monte and I had had a complicated relationship, just barely out of being teenagers we had dated for a year and a half, deeply in love but flawed; she wasn't out, I had big dreams and a naivety that had rivaled my ambition. I had left her for Tricia who was openly gay, zealous, and professionally successful. She also had been an abusive bitch but I was able to overlook that for four years. I was still too scared to call her in order to absolve our domestic partnership. There were scars, but none were as deep as my regret for leaving Monte.
Two months after I had gotten out and started to recover I wrote her an email, unsure if her address was the same. "Hope you're well, wish we were in touch." And then we were. Sort of. Computer messages and the one phone call that came after I had sent her congratulatory flowers on graduating from the academy. This was the first time in four and a half years that I'd laid eyes on her and there she was, in my shop, her in uniform, her patrol car parked outside, motor still on, her overweight partner staring at the fish display in the window with a rubbery face that looked like it'd been molded from Play-Doh.
"Um, you didn't have to come by here," I said, my voice coming out shrill, like I was pretending to be hard-core and failing. I had only told her where I worked early on in our correspondence, too embarrassed to bring up details. I was surprised to find her here, surprised she remembered the store's name and the vague location I had given her in relation to where we'd spent time together years ago. Half the stores around had changed hands.
"I know. I just was in the area and I figured why not," she said, her eyes still searching for the cat burglar in my upstairs office. Suddenly they turned on me as though I were the criminal.
"What are you doing later."
It was a command, not a question. My throat was suddenly so dry it hurt.
"I, uh, I was going to go home and take a shower. You know. I smell."
She laughed, that one, tiny giggle.
"If you want to stop by for a coffee, or a beer, or whatever," I could barely make it out. She nodded, once. It was an officer's nod.
"You still live at the same place?"
It was my turn to nod and to remember. We had spent many nights and afternoons there, tied up in flesh-colored knots. I felt a twitch in a dormant place. I could have sworn I saw her smile as she turned sharply on her heel and left, nodding again at her partner who smiled at her as though he knew.
"I'll see you later," she said without looking, her dark blue back receding from my safe place, my only sanctuary.
I couldn't even find the strength to wave.
It was 12:29. In the morning. I had to get up for work by nine. I hadn't asked her when she was coming, stupid, selfish me, I had assumed it was when I got off of work at eight thirty. At this point I knew it had been a trick, a ruse, a little tiny sliver of revenge that was able to be inserted in the Achilles tendon of my life four years too late. I sat on the couch in my sexiest pair of sweatpants and the almost see-through tank top drinking my wine. It had been stupid of me, I thought, watching Lou Dobbs' repeat report on immigration with his pseudo-aggressive bravado. I had believed that so much deception could be overcome by an email, and one that merely declared that I was single in the most roundabout, conniving way. No wonder she had shown up in uniform. I should have been grateful that she hadn't shot me on the spot.
It was when I realized I was woozy from the wine that the door buzzed its intrusive bee-in-your-ear buzz. Predictable that when I've lost control someone else comes to take advantage of it. I pressed the "talk" button.
"Hello?" Sound worried. She's a cop. Loves to protect. And serve. Etc.
"It's Monte." I was thrown back to years passed, when I was healthier, my life in order. Her backpack would have been on, cap backwards, her smile would have come charging out of the elevator. I couldn't relive it, I thought. Things have changed too much. My hand was shaking.
She was in civilian clothes, baggy jeans and a black sweatshirt, her olive skin her only accessory. Well, that and what appeared to be an expensive watch.
"Hi," I said, beaming, perhaps too broadly.
"Hey," she said in a way as though I were the one at the threshold. I stepped aside with a phony flourish, trying to hide how tipsy I felt, and how anxious I was seeing her again.
She strode into the apartment as though she were still in uniform, sizing the place up.
"Looks the same. 'Cept the furniture's different."
"Yeah, that sounds about right," I said. "Want a beer?"
On the couch sobriety of some sort descended, her persona seemed to demand it; she seemed to be on edge, still on duty. A cop in plain-clothes, swigging an Amstel, still looking for those who would rob or spray paint the corners of my studio apartment.
"So your shift went well?" I asked.
"Yeah, good enough. John's a freak, though. He jokes around too much," she said, taking another swig, rolling her eyes. Some part of her was nervous, I recognized it from years before. This moment felt the same way our first kiss did, the interlude was a very hesitant conversation.
"Well, at least you have entertainment."
"Yeah," she said. She downed her beer and looked at me. "I just don't get it."
"Maybe he's nervous to be on the force, you know? Some people joke around when they get there nerves up."
"No, I meant you."
There was a pause, I studied my fingernails. I could feel her eyes searching me, she'd never been this forward.
"Why did you write me that email? I mean, it was nice to know you finally wanted to get in touch with me, thanks, but you couldn't have, I don't know, gotten to it sooner?"
"I wasn't in a situation where I could, Monte," I said, trying so hard to focus on my cuticles. I needed a manicure.
"Right," she said.
I realized that her bottle was empty and refilling it would get me out of this conversation, at least temporarily.
"Another?" I asked. She nodded, once.
I stood up to go to the fridge and took a few steps before I realized that she had stood up, too. A step.
There was a moment of feeling nothing, I suppose that's what skydiving feels like once your feet leave the interior of the plane. It was two steps that weren't mine with my arm held behind my back at an acute angle. Suddenly I was face-down on my own bed, the smell of the detergent on my duvet cover inside my nose.
"I asked why," was all she said, close enough to my ear that I could hear her heavy breathing. She was on top of me, one hand on the back of my neck, pushing my hair into my eyes, the other holding my wrist. I made a noise that could not be misconstrued as a word.
"Why?" she said, her voice louder, her breathing more heavy. She pressed her mouth into my ear and I could feel from her lips that she was just barely damp with sweat.
"'Cause...'cause..." I stuttered.
"That's not an answer," she said, her voice cold. She took one of her legs and spread mine, all of her weight seemed to be upon me. I could feel it as she grinded her body into the back of my thigh, my ass. I could feel that I had soaked through my sweatpants, my heat burning down my thighs and up my abdomen. I saw flashes of red behind my eyelids, I had never been this turned on.
"'Cause breaking up with you was the biggest regret of my life," I breathed.
"That's what I wanted to hear," she said.
She thrust her hand down my waistband and entered me quickly with two fingers, no hesitation, all command. I could hear the sound of her watch buckle as she twisted her wrist, I felt myself try to rise and buck against her. With her free hand she grabbed a fistful of my hair, forcing me to arch my back, I could hear the screams come out of my throat involuntarily. The sound of my slick against her knuckles, the smell of sweat and salt, her grunts as her fingers went into me faster and faster, within a minute she found that space that she had discovered years ago. Every muscle in my body suffered through the earthquake of my orgasm, I crumpled to the bed feeling my insides grasp at her. I had barely finished moaning before I knew that it was over. As quickly as she had pinned me she stood up. She flicked my clit as she pulled out, wiped her hand on the ass of my sweatpants, and gently caressed my skull before giving my hair a final tug.
I could make out the sound of her boots hitting the ground as she made her way to the door, and the quiet sound she made as she went to shut it behind her.
"Lock the door," she said, in a different voice, a gentler one. A click and it was closed.
I lay on the bed like that, face-down, for what felt like the better part of an hour, the sound of my pulse deafening, my breathing mirrored the passing of time. When I did finally stand up, my knees still weak, my gasps uneven, the first thing I did was lock it.