Chapter One: Dibs
My half-sister’s boyfriend wanted to take me out on Friday. There was something terrible about my predicament. I could hear a rhythmic Green Mile march in the way we were walking, following blindly like a soldier or a baby duck, as he led me to an undisclosed location. I didn’t ask him where we were going. He said he wanted help picking out a gift for my sister Felecia, and so I followed him. I followed him onto the downtown subway past the barrage of people that chaotically constructed rush hour. I followed him out of it into the crisp cool autumn air that had been cut with a thin sheen of darkness, indicating the sky was wavering between times and would eventually chose night. I even followed him into the store, past the blow up doll mounted provocatively on the ceiling, and the beady eyes of the cashier who smirked when…he or she (I couldn’t tell) saw me.
My blind loyalty wore off when I saw the limbless rubber crotch of a Caucasian woman on sale for fifty dollars. I glared at my deceiver.
“I thought we were going to Victoria’s Secret.”
Angelo’s gaze, which had been previously vacant, began to fill up with sadism, spreading like wildfire among his features.
“Well Lottie, I know this isn’t quite your taste but Felecia wants a bit more than Victoria’s Secret can offer.” Selecting a shiny policeman’s cap, he plopped it on my head.
“What do you think?”
I bristled, inwardly seething. “Her head is bigger than mine.”
I watched him with hatred in my heart as he removed it and walked to a less seedy section.
Lace baby dolls and pale pink garters lined the wall haphazardly, their manner so informal that it seemed as if they belonged to someone, who might at any moment return to retrieve them. I stood there unmoving, closing my eyes and pretending I wasn’t here. Taking a deep breath, I tried to keep him from getting underneath my skin.
My name was Melody Stane; Lottie for my “homies.” It was a strange nickname, but I hadn’t been the one to coin it. Angelo had. I saw him stalled by a set of western DVDs with terrible titles like, “The Hoe Down,” and “Baby got Outback.”
I moved away. I would rather appear as a strange single female, than a strange single female with an equally deranged companion. I sighed. Angelo and I had the misfortune of attending the same college. I had been an English Major and he had been in Business. Over the course of our study, some of our classes had meshed. These disciplines often collided, particularly on study abroad. It had been one trip in particular that had changed us. In Italy, the year of—
“What the hell?” I shrieked. I jumped as a hanger was thrust in front of me. Stepping back, I bumped into a rack of pleather.
“Stand still,” he commanded, pressing a scanty cotton three-piece against me in an attempt to align it with my shape.
“Angelo, I don’t like this.” My fists clenched.
“You don’t have to like it,” he snapped, raising the hanger where the chest would start, no doubt factoring in the ampleness of my behind. “Felecia does.”
I looked down to see what he had deemed appropriate for this milestone in their relationship and my mouth went dry with horror.
“Are those supposed to be chaps?”
“Yeah. Like the cowboys.”
“But it doesn’t have—”
“They’re assless chaps, Melody. Grow up.”
I shut my gaping mouth and gave Angelo a tight smile. “They’re lovely. Now let’s go.”
He shook his head, feigning contemplation with a teasing smile. “Nah…it doesn’t seem right. What’s your bust size?”
“I’m not telling you.”
“You promised you would help.”
“Fuck you and your freak-fest!” I hissed, chips of my calm and collected demeanor flaking to the ground. He chuckled, his mission accomplished.
Angelo moved backward with a theatrical sigh, cutting his gaze down to glance at my cleavage, though it was conservatively hidden by a large turtle neck sweater.
I returned his gaze with a look of disdain. He leaned in closer, a vindictive smirk on his lips.
“To think I did want to fuck you at some point.”
My heart skipped and he laughed loudly at my expression. I ground my teeth, pushing him back in anger. The sexual overload was too much for me. I was many things, but comfortable about intercourse was not one of them.
“If you’re going to make this weird, I’m going to leave,” I threatened, unable to come up with a witty comeback. In the corner of my eye I saw a red ball gag. Dear God, please deliver me.
Angelo rolled his eyes, his hair brushing against the tall shelf adorned with genitalia-themed baking goods and cookware molds for bachelorette parties. “Come on Lotsalove, lighten up.” He placed the outfit on a random rack and passed by the cashier, who stuck his or her tongue out at me. I was in hell.
I boiled silently as he walked off, turning towards the sexy nurse wall. How I despised Angelo and his stupid nicknames. How one idiot could have that much imagination, I’d never know. Angelo and I went way back, past the point of understanding, to a point when understanding met pain. We had known each other for five years and tolerated each other. Well, if tolerance is actually nothing more than silent hatred.
“Can I help you?”
I whipped around to see that the cashier was addressing me. Staring at the tall, thin gothic creature, my eyes narrowed, trying to learn its purpose.
“Can I…help you?” It was said slower, given with a cheesy smile.
Was he or she, taunting me? Or was he or she, genuinely trying to speak to me? The barbell in its tongue got in the way of my trust.
“No thank you,” I mumbled stiffly, turning back to the deplorable racks of white and red vinyl.
“Are you sure?”
Seriously? I looked back with a nasty glare. “Actually I’ve changed my mind. Of course I need your help. I don’t feel nearly awkward enough.”
The androgynous human chuckled and strode forward in bright green Chucks and a worn Black Flag T-shirt. I noticed the conglomeration of black web by his or her black pants was not a pair of suspenders, but in fact a device used to suspend someone. I spotted Angelo a yard away picking through underwear with obvious relish.
The cashier towered over me, which was embarrassing considering I was 5’8.” Scraggly long bottle black hair hung in stringy waves around its shoulders. The eyes, a dull green, indicated that he or she wore cheap contacts. It was like looking at a doll, a plastic genderless doll that was bereft of anything reproductive. Was it weird that I thought the cashier was kind of hot?
“You look bored.” The cashier’s raspy voice gave up nothing.
Cashier gestured briefly at my shopping partner as he spread thongs to impossible lengths. I shuddered to think why Felecia would require a specific elasticity on her dungarees.
“In a shop like this that’s a first. Boyfriend?”
“Sister’s boyfriend,” I said.
Cashier raised a pierced eyebrow. “Awkward.”
“You have no idea.”
The unusual person moved in closer, and I wondered if it would be rude to move back. They were still a decent distance away. It might have been a girl. Some skinny bitch without an ounce of fat on her flat-chested body and great long legs. She was probably a fetish model and this was her part-time gig. Probably made good money too. I was suddenly jealous. Frowning, I turned back, trying to find something in Felecia’s size.
“You must have a really close relationship.”
“Not really.” This one was too big.
“Are you looking for anything in particular?”
“No.” This one was too small.
“…well, if you have anything you—”
“Are you a boy or a girl?” I demanded, twisting around. My frown deepened when I saw how close they had gotten.
Cashier’s face registered shock and I nearly grinned in satisfaction. Then, a wicked smirk curled onto Cashier’s long thin lips.
“You’re welcome to check if you like.”
Cashier leaned over me, a predatory stance.
My mind went blank when it registered that Cashier had been hitting on me. A fiery ball of embarrassment clogged my throat and I sputtered, ‘Excuse me,’ as I hastily made my escape. I walked behind Angelo, running into his heels when he stopped abruptly in front of a red and black bustier.
I simply stared at him, my body rigid. Better to cavort with the devil you know.
“Sure,” I grumbled.
He gave me a radiant smile. “Good. I want you to try these on. If you can look decent in them, Felecia will look amazing.”
The only appropriate response was stomping on his foot and retreating. As I headed out of the store, I smiled to myself as his litany of painful howls and curses wafted to me over the sound of the Soho Doll’s song, “Stripper.”
Sven watched the girl stomp on the man’s foot. Damn, that looked like it hurt. The man bent with a howl, reaching out to grab her, but she was already of the door. He stumbled after her, his eyes wild.
Ah, so that was her name. Whatever the guy said to set her off must have been awful. The fact that she was here at all spoke volumes about what she was willing to take. That was probably why he thought he stood a chance.
Sven sighed, tucking a black piece of hair behind his head. Maybe he’d go back to blonde soon. He usually had better luck with women with this look, but seeing as he had just ‘struck out,’ it might be in his favor to switch it up. Maybe he had caught her on a bad day. Melody didn’t seem enthused to be there, nor could Sven blame her. Two attractive people walking into his store generally implied a couple. He looked her over. He found he liked the pout of her lips and her dark moody eyes. He liked a lot of other things farther down but he didn’t need to go there. He’d be thinking of her all day. Actually…was she coming back in? He smirked. Well, at least he could watch her walk out.
“Get back here!” he shouted as I looked around to find the nearest subway station. Or maybe I would take a taxi. I had just gotten paid.
Startled that he had called me by my given name twice in one day, I turned.
“What do you want, you jackass?”
“I need your help!” he barked, shaking off his temporary limp.
“Why don’t you just imagine my much hotter sister and guess?”
“I’m sorry. Look, I didn’t mean it.”
Frowning I regarded him warily. He appeared to be serious.
“I’m not trying on anything. Not even a fucking glove.”
“Fine. Whatever, but the party is tonight. Come on, Lottie,” he whined.
I took a deep breath and let it out in a mournful sigh. Silently, I followed him back into the store.
Angelo and I first met when we were in college. I would have loved to say that he and I were friends and I introduced him to my sister, and that it was her who had turned him against me. Unfortunately our wounds were much more complex. Angelo was a handsome man. His skin had a bronze olive tint to it, and his hair fell in long black waves around his head. He pulled it back most of the time in a ponytail, pieces of it dangling by his ears. His eyes were his best feature, a haunting green that had wet panties since adolescence. Looks that good never went unnoticed. Even the dullest boy would pick up that he had a key advantage against the female species. It didn’t help that beneath the smoldering eyes and devilish good looks he was intelligent.
I was stupid. Stupid enough to fall for him, but smart enough to never let him know. He was born in America, but he spoke Italian, feigning an accent whenever the mood struck him. Back in college his lofty dreams of opening a business to benefit struggling artists made him a sympathetic saint. After I graduated, for a long time, there was this niggling feeling that part of me had been left behind. It was only after he reentered my life that I understood. That arrogant ass had been, was, and is my first love.
The afternoon flew by in a muddle of spandex and outfits made entirely out of string. When it was over I had been traumatized into silence. Why had God given me a freak for a sister? If I didn’t know her the way I did, I would have thought the gift was for Angelo. Unfortunately, big sis liked the kinky stuff.
I vaguely remember following him into the subway, too filled with self-pity and holiness from my martyrdom on Felecia’s behalf to care where my body went. I stood up against the yellow line, beside hastily painted red beams already chipping from neglect. Staring at the egg shell-colored tiles on the wall I realized they had once been white. The subway slid into the station, its force whipping the hair around my face. One day I’d stand so close it would rip my nose off. I submerged myself in thought. When I came to, we were close to my apartment.
Angelo had suddenly stopped. “Wait here,” he grumbled.
I paused on the concrete sidewalk and watched him go into a standalone Baskin Robbins. He returned minutes later, two strawberry cones in his hands.
“Here,” he said gruffly, extending a cone towards me.
Strawberry had been my favorite since college. I savored the creamy treat slowly, my tense shoulders dropping towards the ground. I was beginning to feel better. Since it had come from Angelo, it was ironic.
“Do you have to look so pathetic?” he hissed patronizingly. “I swear, you’d think I had made you kill someone.”
“You did,” I grumbled. I bit into the crunchy yellow cone and hummed in satisfaction.
He raised an eyebrow. “Oh yeah? Who?”
“Me. I died on the inside.” I gave him an overly pleasant grin and pretended to slit my wrists.
We rounded a corner. My apartment building looked like a large brick. It seemed to have fallen from the hand of some divine construction worker, landing right between a post office and a deli. The black door was sunken in, preceded by two sets of stairs, twelve steps in total. On a good day I bounded up and down them in two jumps. On bad days I would trudge, holding the black railing and stepping gingerly onto the gray concrete like I was rock climbing. It was a sturdy little place with a tough exterior, immediately contradicted by the two fluffy couches the landlord had set out, decorated with kitten pillows and pictures of her grandkids.
“What time are you coming over?” Angelo asked.
I shrugged. “Dunno. I’m dead. Zombies kind of have their own rules, ya know?”
He rolled his eyes, sighing. “God you’re dramatic, Lottie. You haven’t changed at all.”
“Thanks for the ice cream.”
“I said thanks.” I tipped an imaginary hat in his direction, and walked inside.
Excerpt from “Unchained Melody” Manuscript, by Sydney Adams