(For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Eric Storch gave me this prompt: "Cindy said that Mike was really a vampire, but I didn't believe her. Mike didn't sparkle.." I gave Julia Mae this prompt: "I'm on the edge".)
[Author's Note: I appear to be writing again. I guess art is the only defense against madness. Or maybe I'm just too dumb to know better.]
"I'm serious." Cindy said that a lot. It was dulled by her repeated usage, to the point where I nearly forgot what the words meant. She was looking at me now, her dark brown eyes wide and lined with glittering eyeshadow. I wasn't following her. It was a bad habit, not listening, but I couldn't help myself. She would repeat herself, she always did.
Cindy answered our phones, and she didn't even do that very well. Her main qualification seemed to be wearing tight clothes. Her blouse glowed faintly purple in the half light of the bar. Nick's was the closest place to work to get a drink or something that approximated food. It was a hole, but it felt like home. She talks, and I half listen, until she finds the part of the conversation I really need to hear, and she doubles back to it. I had known her for years, and it was always the same routine.
"He's a vampire," she said. That's what I thought she had said, but I assumed I hadn't heard her correctly. That was a strange sentence, even by her relaxed standards. Cindy was always certain, but rarely correct. Somewhere in the background, I could hear a Rolling Stones song.
"You're not serious," I said. "Vampires aren't real, Cin."
"I am serious," she insisted. "He's a vampire. My boyfriend Jake said he is."
I sighed, watching her earnest face. She was sweet, always meant well, but she wasn't the brightest person. She swore, as I prepared to leave for the day, standing by her desk, trying to sneak a peek at her cleavage, that she had something very important to tell me, something she couldn't say in the office, so we adjourned to Nick's to discuss it. I needed a drink anyway, and she had the sort of body you didn't mind spending extra time in the vicinity of.
The bartender slid a pair of beer bottles in front of us. The barkeep was a redhead, tiny and mean in tight pants and a half unbuttoned blouse. I watched her walk away, somehow displaying disdain in her stride.
"What makes you...what makes Jake think so?" I could hear Charlie Watts, holding down the center of the song. Quiet, unassuming, absolutely essential. Subtle. It floated at the edge of my awareness, barely audible. "Tumbling Dice," I thought.
"He always comes in late and leaves early."
"That's when he is scheduled," I said. I was fighting a chuckle.
"He's always pale," she added. She looked at me, her eyes full of life.
"He doesn't get sun, working at night." Something caught her eye, and she half turned, like she expected him to jump her from behind.
"He never eats."
"He's a private person. Some people don't like eating in front of other people," I said.
"He talks with that accent." I nearly choked on my beer.
"He's Rumanian. You'd talk with an accent too if you learned English as an adult."
"He sparkles." She took a long, lingering drink.
"He what?," I asked. She had said a lot of things, and that was pretty close to the top.
"He sparkles," she insisted. "Yesterday, he walked by my desk and he sparkled."
"Yeah," she said. "On his arm."
"On his arm," I said flatly. "The arm that was resting on your desk? Next to the birthday card with the glitter on it? Is it impossible that had something to do with it?"
I knew as soon as I said it she wouldn't follow that sentence.
"Yes!," she said, exasperated. "Why won't anyone believe me?"
"Well," I said, "because it's nonsense, that's why. Vampires aren't real." I couldn't believe I was having this conversation with an adult human.
"Why would Jake say that, then?," she asked.
"I think Jake was having a little fun at your expense, Cindy." I couldn't say that I blamed him.
"I hate that," she said, her face hardening into a frown. "I hate it when people think I'm dumb."
"I don't think you're dumb," I said. That turned her head. It was a lie, but I let it sit, like the piece of bread nobody wants.
"You do," she said, but there was a hint of a smile at the edge of her mouth.
"I don't. Just because you know about different things, that doesn't make you smarter or dumber. Just different." I felt the click of something in her eyes. I had to watch carefully, but the odds were in my favor.
"Thanks," she said. Her eyes shone at me a little. Our beers were empty.
"Do you want another?," I asked.
"No, I better not," she said. I paid for the drinks, and we walked through the maze of tables to Nick's front door. She still had her work clothes on, a trim, clingy knee length skirt and black tights with knee length leather boots. It was cold outside as we walked to our cars. I watched her walk carefully.
We were parked two cars apart. I wondered what was going to happen. She was as dumb as a box of hair, but I didn't plan on asking her about Proust. There was hesitation in her walk, like she was waiting for me to ask.
"Where are you going?," she asked.
"Home," I said.
"Me too," she said. "Jake has to stay late tonight."
She stared at me for a long moment. I held her gaze. I had rules about pens and company ink, and rules about women who can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality. I had rules, and the wind blew. Her skirt flapped once when a breeze hit it. I looked at her face, open and honest, with her lips the color of ripe plums. I couldn't, and I shouldn't, but it had been a long time since any voice but my own was heard in my apartment.
"See you tomorrow?," she said, half a statement and half a question.
"Sure," I agreed, and she got into her car.
"Damn rules," I said to myself, my breath fogging in front of my face.