tagRomanceThe Perfect Pieces Ch. 10

The Perfect Pieces Ch. 10


Author's note: Chapter 10 of 13. Thank you Tim413413 for selfless editing.

The Perfect Pieces - Chapter 10

I felt the inside of my head before I felt anything else. The blood sloshed around in the most painful way possible at the slightest movement. My forehead was damp and cool and my mouth was moist. I tried to open my eyes, but the light hurt so I left them closed. I was on the filthy hotel carpet, that much I could feel. The place smelled of stale bourbon. My head was cradled softly. I must have dragged a pillow down from the bed. Something cool dripped into my mouth. I startled my eyes open.

A foggy image sharpened. Amber, tears streaming down her cheeks, was squeezing water from a washcloth into my mouth. I tried to speak. My first words were not going to be kind. Bile rose in my throat and whatever was churning in my stomach decided it was time to exit. I groaned and rolled onto my hands and knees. I pushed myself up and forced Amber away as she tried to help. I stumbled into the bathroom and slammed the door shut, which sent a spike of pain through my head. I leaned over the toilet and emptied last night into it. Then I tried to empty the last two weeks. My tolerance was not what it used to be.

I spent a long time trying to collect myself. I was afraid to leave the toilet and even more afraid to leave the bathroom. I washed my face a few times and brushed my teeth. I tried to consume some water with limited success. Then I sat on the toilet and stared at the floor tile. Amber was probably still outside. I couldn't trust her tears anymore than her words. I almost had people killed for her. I almost had people killed for me so I could have her. It was South America all over again. Death for all the wrong reasons. My head was pounding and my intestines felt like they had been dragged through a wringer. It wasn't a good morning. I let my anger steady me. Never a good crutch.

I had intended to burst out of the bathroom, spewing a whirlwind of hate. I didn't have the energy to burst and as soon as I saw Amber's face, hate died on my lips. She had wiped her tears away, but the redness around her eyes still held the evidence. She was sitting at the small table at the other end of the room. Silent and looking at me, ready for whatever onslaught I had prepared. My mouth opened and nothing came out. I didn't know what to say and which Amber would be listening anyway. I jumped ahead, past the screaming and accusations. I began to pack. Leaving was inevitable and the only guaranteed result.

"Do you hate me now?" Amber asked. Her voice was weak. I didn't trust it. I couldn't trust it.

"Why did you come back?" I threw a question back at her. My small suitcase was accepting the punishment I should have been inflicting on her.

"Because I'm messed up," Amber said and then looked away toward the curtained windows,"I ran because I couldn't stay. I came back because I couldn't leave."

I slammed my dirty pants into the suitcase. Poor thing, it was a cheap discount suitcase and never did anything to warrant such abuse. I almost let a string of expletives loose, but took a deep breath instead. I just needed to leave. This was just another failed chapter in the very bad book of my life.

"You should have stayed gone," I said with a calm that surprised even me. No more regrets. I had a new goal. No more risks and no more regrets. Maybe more booze.

"I lied to you," Amber admitted, "things spiraled and I didn't know how to stop it without admitting I was trash. So I took the coward's way out." My anger flared. So much for regrets.

"I almost killed for you," I shouted, my hand rising of its own volition. I almost struck her for what she had allowed to happen. Amber didn't flinch. In fact, she slightly pushed her face forward. I let my hand drop to my side and sat heavily on the bed. "My friends almost killed for you," I sighed. I looked up and her tears were flowing again. My eyes began to water, "Are those even real?" I stuttered as I pointed at her face.

"Not all things are lies," Amber said, and started crying, "sometimes, even I can't tell the difference anymore." She buried her head in her hands. I resisted the reflex to hold her and shifted farther away.

"I can't live a lie," I said, standing, "I have enough trouble with the past. A clouded future isn't for me."

"What do you want to know?" Amber asked softly. Her face was streaked with tears, but her voice was clear. I looked at her and shook my head.

"I wouldn't know if it was true," I said and returned to my packing. I found the bottle, mostly empty, nearly under the bed. I wondered how much I drank and how much I spilled. I screwed the cap back on and threw it in the trash.

"I stole prescription sheets from Dr. Levinstein," Amber began, "I was young and wanted money, but I didn't want to work for it. I seduced Pablo and he and his friends began filling the prescriptions and selling the drugs. We crossed paths with a larger dealer named Tether who threatened us for crossing into his turf. I negotiated terms that made us all happy. He lead us to more suppliers and the business grew. I pushed Tether out when he got in the way of our growth. We took over his business. During this time, I became a mother. At first I thought it was a hoot. Figured I could nanny the child away. I certainly had the money for it."

I stopped packing and sat on the bed again. Amber continued, "We grew and brought on more people. Pablo began taking on more and more. I cringed when we mixed with the cartel. I wanted to stay independent. Pablo wanted the money and power that came with a cartel franchise. I set him up when first big deal went through. I'm not sure if it was for business reasons or the fear of losing control. It became Pablo or me. He saw through it and I ran."

"I have no practice being a nice person," Amber said, "all I know is the last two weeks were the best time I have ever had. Yesterday, the worst." I had little doubt I was hearing the truth. "I am a terrible mother and a worse human being." She paused looking at me. I had trouble disagreeing with her so I remained silent. "I am a better person with you. I want to be better. I don't want to go on as half a person anymore." Trust had to be earned. I opened my suitcase and fished the prepaid phone out of my dirty pants. I tossed it on the bed in front of Amber.

"Give Pablo the business," I said.

"He hasn't taken it?" Amber replied with a questing look.

"Call him and tell him it is all his and you want no part of it," I repeated.

"It's worth millions," Amber said. I went back to packing. She still had visions of taking it back. She saw me as the fulcrum to tip the scales. I spent too many years and expended too much guilt in the fruitless fight against it all to become part of it now. I turned my back on her and went into bathroom to pack my toothbrush and razor. When I returned from the bathroom, Amber was gone. I had my answer; she had given it twice.

The drive home was hell. Once again the world had shit on my life. I had let it in, and it all came crashing down around me. I wondered briefly, when I was crossing a bridge, what it would be like to just turn the wheel and find the bottom of the gorge. It had an appeal. One didn't feel pain in the grave. I let the thought wander away. I did not fear death, but had a healthy respect for dying. Knowing my luck, I would wake up in the hospital missing my arms and legs.

I purposely drove into the night. I wanted to put many miles between Phoenix and me. It didn't eliminate the pain, but at least it felt like I was accomplishing something. I tried in vain to think of my art. Something that was so simple for me before, became a burden. I had to force the colors and they never felt right. Anger and disappointment were overshadowing my thoughts and my art was suffering. I didn't like myself anymore.

I was home for five days and hadn't even entered the workshop. The river flowed without me. It held memories of lunches that would never be repeated. I ate, I walked and I brooded. I tried to use music to change my mood. It was all dull and lifeless. I was dull and lifeless. Everything I had I invested in Amber. She took it all with her.

"Long time, Mark," Tracy said brightly when I entered Stained LIfe. I faked a smile and said hello. I had decided I needed a treasure hunt to get me going again. I wanted to love my art again. At least it had little chance of disappointing me. It certainly wouldn't lie to me or take me for a fool.

"I thought you may have moved or something," Tracy continued as she moved out from behind the counter. Wonderful, now I had disappointed her. I guess coming in once a week for years made me reliable. I was shirking my duties.

"No," I said too strongly. I corrected my tone, "I had some things I had to deal with." I kept my fake smile hoping she wouldn't think less of me. At least my relationship with her was easy to quantify. There were no hidden agendas or drug lords. She ignored my tone and waved me over to where the wooden crates of glass were kept. I followed.

"I got these in last week," Tracy said as she open the cabinet below the glass, "they were so unique, I thought you might like to get first crack at them." I hated when people did things like that for me. Now I felt obliged to buy some of it whether I liked it or not. Tracy lifted a box of glass onto the top of the cabinet, sliding the other boxes to the sides. Her smile told me she thought she was doing me a favor. I tried to look excited as I moved to look through the glass.

My smile faded. The glass was truly unique. The first panel was a blueish glass with wisps of white smoke running through it all jumbled by angry black swirls. The panel practically screamed at me, it was so filled with pain. It was my glass and fit my mood. I saw an ocean of the stuff, a ship floundering in a storm. My smile returned as I saw the work sitting beside my lighthouse piece.

"This is perfect," I said without any faking, "it's just what I need." I thumbed through more of the pieces and found my ship. There was a dirty white with brown streaks that begged to be my sails. Tracy stood off the to side, her pride evident in her smile. She knew what I liked. Art filled my mind. I was finally home again.

"I knew you would like them," Tracy commented as I dug deeper. I smiled, a real honest no need to fake it, smile. I was happy to let the anger dissipate into the glass. I would art my way out of the pain and peace would return to my mind. It felt good to have a mission again.

"The last week has been really crappy, Tracy," I said, "but you just made my day." She had one of those laughs that began in the throat and ended up in the nose. Normally, it would have annoyed me, but today it was music. I was happy, and Tracy was happy. I no longer carried what the rest of the world was feeling. I entered my hermit bubble once again.

I spent the next four days building a storm scene. In it, I injected every bad feeling I had. At first, the ship was to be smashed against the rocks. Dido changed that, softened the end result with her soothing voice. The ship would weather the storm, but not after being damaged. It took some time to get the sky just right. Angry, forceful winds ripping at the sails. I wasted as much glass as I ended up using. Patterns that looked right on paper, lost themselves in the glass. It didn't matter. The end result was magnificent. One of my finest pieces of work. I mounted it about a foot away from my lighthouse.

I went down to the river that afternoon. It was hotter than normal for the time of year. I ended up sharing my lunch with the many insects. I sat on the dock, no longer marred by memories of Amber, and watched the river flow. Some frog was singing its throaty mating song, birds flew and dragonflies hovered like nature's little helicopters. Life was again satisfactory.

Amber, or I should say the pre-Pheonix Amber, still found her way into my thoughts every now and then. It would cause a brief smile, and I would let it float away before it mixed with the bad memories. I had to admit to myself that I still loved the pre-Pheonix Amber. Even with the lies unwrapped, she still had some pull.

I was able to secure a contract for a large window. It was a replacement for one that was vandalized. Luckily, they had good pictures of the old window which allowed me to mirror it pretty well. It took almost three weeks to complete. It was too heavy to chance shipping through the normal channels. Instead, I decided to deliver it myself. It was only a day's drive so I rented a truck and headed out.

I ended up spending two days on site to make sure it was mounted correctly. The homeowners really loved the job I did, so basking in their praise made the days go by pretty quickly. I had to admit, I had done a pretty good reproduction. My choice of patina for the solder was spot-on when I compared it to some of the shattered remnants. I was pretty pleased with myself driving the truck back.

It was late when I finally returned home. When I turned off the headlights, I saw light leaking out of the windows in the workshop. I thought I had turned them off before I left. I moved toward the workshop and noticed that there were lights on in the house as well. I slowed and hugged the shadows as I neared the door. There was light, happy music playing, almost what you would expect from an ice cream truck. I moved to the door and heard a voice. It was lost in the music and I couldn't make it out.

I looked to the house and saw no movement. I moved away from the workshop and toward the front porch. I heard no noise from inside the house. The front door was locked. I quietly moved around the back, opposite the workshop. One of the small panes in the back door was missing, replaced with duct tape. The door was unlocked. I took a deep breath and quietly entered. The kitchen and great room were empty. I moved to my office, the file cabinet was still closed and locked. I pulled out my keys and unlocked it, retrieving my .45. I cringed at every sound I made, but there didn't seem to be anyone in the house to hear it. I checked the bath, utility and bedroom. I almost fell over a large sports bag in the middle of the bedroom. I dragged it into the light and unzipped it. It was full of clothes, women's clothes. I recognized some and sighed.

I engaged the safety on the .45 and put it in the back of my pants and covered it with my shirt. I moved to the kitchen and opened the cupboard where the extra keys hung. The workshop key was gone. I quietly returned to the workshop, quite certain I would find Amber inside. I wasn't looking forward to the confrontation. I hadn't run far enough away. I tried hard to stifle my anger. I was failing.

I opened to door, the music covering the sound. Amber had her back to me, and, kneeling on a stool next to her, was a young girl I could only assume was Lizzy. They were working on something on the back table.

"It won't stick all the way," Lizzy said, frustrated with whatever she was working on.

"Put more glue on it," Amber said.

"It's already half on," Lizzy countered, "I can't glue it now." Amber laughed patiently.

"Peal it off first, silly," Amber said. I saw Lizzy's arms moving, following the instructions. "See, it's fine."

"I'll get the next one," Lizzy said and turned. When she saw me, her face blanched and she dove into Amber. I could see some of Amber in her face. I expected a darker South American tone to her skin, but she held to her mother's pale tone and dusty brown hair.

"Whoa, don't fall off the..." Amber started to say, then saw me. I let my anger go. This was not the time with Lizzy present. Amber looked at me, trying to judge my expression. I signaled the lack of argument by smiling. Amber gave me an uncertain smile back.

"What are you two making?" I asked with a bounce in my voice. I didn't know how to talk to kids, but I sensed it should be happy sounding. Lizzy looked at me then back at Amber. She was deferring the answer to her mother.

"I...you weren't here and we were kind of stuck," Amber fumbled, "I'm sorry about the back door, but it was getting late and you weren't here... I taped it and...well Lizzy wanted to see how her flower was made." Her voice was precious china. She would have shattered if I showed any anger. I wondered if the fragility was faked.

"I can fix the door," I responded, "I have plenty of glass." Amber forced a chuckle. Lizzy looked scared. The way her eyes moved felt so uncomfortable. I wanted it to end.

"Did you get some dinner?" I asked, looking at Lizzy. She shook her head and then buried it back into her mother. "Well, that we might be able to fix," I said smiling, "you ever eat breakfast at night?" She shook her head again, but this time she didn't fall back into Amber.

"I have eggs, bacon and cereal," I listed it on my fingers, "I can also make pancakes." Lizzy had no poker face. Her eyes lit up when I said pancakes. "I prefer pancakes myself," I lied. Amber smiled for real. It hit me with more force than I expected. I tried to ignore it.

"Pancakes," Lizzy agreed, nodding her head.

"Let's eat, " I said, tilting my head toward the house, "then you can show me what you're making." Lizzy released her mom and started following me. Amber, smiling, followed after her. I had a strange feeling I was outnumbered.

"You can call me Mark," I said when Lizzy caught up with me.

"I am Elizabeth," she said, "but everyone calls me Lizzy. It's easier to spell." Child logic I guessed. It made a strange bit of sense.

"I like the Zs" I said for no particular reason. It just seemed to fit her logic. She smiled. I guess she liked them too.

Lizzy and I made the pancakes. Amber sat back watching. I measured and Lizzy mixed. A little of the batter ended up on the counter, but I ignored it. For some reason I felt sorry for her. Her parents were less than respectable and one of them just dragged her across the country to the house of a man she didn't know.

I learned one thing about little girls that I didn't know. If they think you are listening, they are talking. I learned a lot about the long bus ride she took with an in-depth description of the toilet that was obviously gross. She liked spaghetti, but disliked lasagna. The difference in the texture of the noodles seemed to be her big concern. Purple was her favorite color. I knew that already, but I had no idea which shade of purple. It turned out it was the lighter shade. The dark one wasn't fun enough. I had always thought kids asked a lot of questions. Not Lizzy. She imparted information at a furious rate.

I slowed her down by letting her flip the pancakes. I was terrified she might try to touch the pan, but she handled it well. The flipping part was difficult for her and took two hands on the spatula while she knelled on a stool. Her hands never came near the heat to my great relief. She was particularly proud of putting the finished product on the plates. One found the floor, but I just laughed with her and we cooked another. When we finally sat down to eat, Amber's eyes were glued to mine. Every time I looked back at her, her lips curled up. We needed to talk. I couldn't decide if I was going to yell at her or kiss her. I wanted to do both - at the same time. Damn her smile.

I wasn't really sure if Lizzy liked the pancakes or not. I had no doubt she liked syrup. I think the pancake was just a tool to get more syrup into her mouth. I ate, mesmerized by the volume of syrup Lizzy consumed. I wasn't sure it was good for her, but after a long bus ride she deserved to break a few rules. I tried to keep the conversation on Lizzy. I didn't want to discuss the pending adult topics in front of her, even in a veiled sense. Amber remained strangely quiet. She threw in a word once in awhile, but left Lizzy to drive most of the conversation. She was using Lizzy as a buffer. Damn if I wasn't letting her.

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