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Authors: Diana Wagman

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BOOK: The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets
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“Tennis game?”

“Just a lesson. I'm not ready for a game yet.”

“Put your racket in back.”

She did. He nodded. His thighs were long and thin. His jaw was well defined, his face covered with freckles. His ears
were oddly small and paler than the rest of him, like tiny snails curled beneath his almost orange hair. Winnie wondered about the color of the hair on his chest and his legs and other places, then blushed and looked out her window.

“What else do you have to do today?” the driver asked.

“Errands. Nothing. It's my day off.”

He turned right and got on the freeway. It was not the usual route.

“Do you have a cell phone?” he asked. “Can I borrow it?”

“Did you forget yours?”

He shrugged.

“Guess it has been a busy day for you.” She dug her phone out of her purse and handed it to him. “It's on.”

He held it in his hand, playing with the smooth cover. They exited the freeway and headed into a residential neighborhood. The houses were small and unremarkable, the one story stucco boxes common to every Los Angeles suburb, with neat lawns, closed doors, empty driveways. The Halloween decorations had all been put away. One zealot had already put up his Christmas lights. A friend could live here.

She looked up at the flat, no color sky. A cold front was moving in. The palm trees bent in the wind and waved at her. “What is this neighborhood? Is there an Enterprise near here?”

He shook his head. He rolled down his window.

“How long have you been with Enterprise?”

“I'm not with Enterprise.”

“You just drive for them?”

There was a sparkle of sweat on his temple as he turned and looked at her. His eyes were the bleached green of dead grass.

“Do I look like I drive for Enterprise?”

He threw her cell phone out the window. The car bounced over a speed bump. Confusion rattled in Winnie's head.

“I need a rental car.”

“That's not my department.”

“Thank you. Thank you so much. I'll just get out here.”

She pulled on the handle, but the door was locked. She tried to lift the button, but it was hiding inside the door, impossible to grip. She searched frantically for some other control.

“Child safety,” he said. “You can't get out.”

“I have a child.”

“Okay, Mom.” From his lips it was a curse, as if he had called her bitch or whore or cunt. “Mommy.”

Winnie could not breathe. Her hands began to shake. She could not grasp the door handle. He turned right again onto another tree-lined street of small houses, but instead of friendly, these felt haunted by the ghosts of this man's prey. She was only minutes from the mechanic, barely more than a half hour from home, but she could have been in another country.

“I have to go,” she said. “They're waiting for me.”

“The other tennis moms?”

“My husband.”

He snorted. “Where's your ring?”

“I don't wear it for tennis.”

“Women like you always wear a ring.”

“I… I don't…” She was a terrible liar.

He lifted a hand to the visor and Winnie waited for the knife, gun, rubber hose, but it was a remote control. He hit the button and a garage door opened. He turned into the driveway, coasted into the empty garage. The door dropped shut behind them.

“Mom, I'm home,” he said.

He released the door locks. She leapt from the car, ran to the garage door and banged on it with her fists. She screamed.

He got out of the car. “That's enough,” he said. “Stop it now.”

She yelled, kicked, pummeled the door. Someone had to hear her. He grabbed one flailing arm and pulled her close. Winnie could smell coffee on his breath. She kept on screaming, right in his face.

“HELP!”

He slapped her hard. “I said stop it.”

“I want to go home.” She began to cry. “Please. Please.”

“Think of this as your home.” He paused. “For as long as it lasts.”

Her knees collapsed and she sank to the cement floor. He tugged her up by her arms, but she let her legs buckle. She wanted to be a dead weight in his hands. He stumbled forward, almost fell and caught himself.

“Stand up,” he commanded.

She did not move. He squeezed her upper arms, tighter, harder. She would have bruises, she realized, but would anyone ever see them? Stop it, she told herself. Find the remote for the door. Find it.

“Stand up.” He shook her as he spoke through his teeth. “I said, get the fuck up.”

“Let go of me and I will.”

He dropped her arms and she got up slowly. She pretended to sway as if dizzy and put out one hand to steady herself on the car. She took a step forward. Then suddenly she leapt for the driver's door, opened it and reached somewhere, up toward the visor, anywhere for the remote. He pulled her back and tossed her against the wall.

“Forget it. Whatever you're thinking, forget it.”

He grabbed one of her arms and dragged her to the door leading into the house. Winnie struggled. She began to scream again. Let him kill her now. Better than whatever he had in mind for inside. She refused to walk. He was slight; she was
stronger than she seemed.

“Help me!”

He dropped her and she fell on her ass on the cement floor and her neck cracked. A hot needle of pain shot up her spine into her head. But she shook her head, rolled to her hands and knees and tried to crawl under the car. Anywhere, anything to get away from him. He grabbed her feet and tugged. She grasped for the tires, the axle, but it was slippery with grease. He pinched her bare calf and she yelped and he slid her out from under the car, rolled her over, and pulled her to sitting.

“We're going inside. Now.”

“Why?”

“You'll see.”

“I don't want to.” She could not stop her tears.

“I'm not going to kill you.” He reached in his pocket and pulled out a flat folded knife. It opened with a press of his thumb. The blade was long and partially serrated. “But I will hurt you if I have to. I will.”

He did not look at her as he said it. He seemed to be staring at his knife, at his hand holding the dark handle, and then at his other hand circling her wrist.

“I will,” he said again.

He was young, younger than Winnie first thought. His skin was as smooth and flawless as Lacy's. Had he grown up setting cats on fire, ripping the wings off butterflies, beating up kids for their lunch money? His fingernails were gnawed to the quick. His cuticles were raw.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked. “Why me?”

“Why did you get in the car?” He pushed the knife toward her belly. “Stand up.”

Slowly, she got to her feet. She would go inside. There had to be a phone, window, a front door that did not need a remote to
open. He took her arm and pulled her to the door that opened into the house. Hot air whooshed out and engulfed them, so intense Winnie coughed to get her breath. The heat was shocking. The house was on fire. She tried to stop on the threshold, but he dragged her inside.

“It's too hot. I can't breathe.”

“Shut up.”

He kicked the door shut behind them.

2.

As soon as Lacy stepped into her first period class her cell phone went off, blaring the obscure heavy metal music she chose because it was the most annoying in class, in restaurants, in the movies. Her chemistry teacher, Mr. Bronson, sighed. He put his hands on his funny, womanly hips.

“It's my mom,” Lacy lied. “I forgot my homework and she's bringing it.”

She ducked out into the hall and answered her phone, breathless, laughing, “What do you want?”

It was the guy, her twenty-five-year-old guy. Again. He would not leave her alone; he called all the time. She had never before been pursued.

“Yes, yes. I just got to school,” she said into the phone. “My mother's taking her car to the shop. She dropped me off on the way.”

She smiled as he flirted with her. His voice was deep. She had told him she was eighteen—and a senior. She liked older men, or imagined she would.

He asked her about her mother's car—typical man—and she rolled her eyes. She didn't care. “She has a really, really ancient Peugeot. Weird French car.” Then she remembered the lies she had told him. “It's very rare—and expensive. One of two in the world.” Such bullshit and he bought it every time.

“Are you okay?” he said. “Was last night horrible? Are you bruised?”

She had also told him her mother had hit her with a hair-brush and locked her in her room. Some story about a sexy dress Winnie forbid her to wear, a dress Lacy did not really have and would probably never really wear. “It was okay. Listen, I have to go to class.”

“I'll call you right after school. Before orchestra.”

“Okay.”

She snapped the phone shut and slipped back into the classroom.

“Turn your cell phone off, Ms. Parker.” Mr. Bronson did not turn from the board as he spoke.

“I did.”

Ten minutes later when her phone started screaming again—this time it was her stupid father—she was the only one who laughed. The rest of the class had seen it before. Mr. Bronson had seen it too many times.

“That's it.”

“It must've turned on in my pocket.”

“Get out,” Mr. Bronson said. “Go to the office.”

“You're kidding. C'mon, Mr. B, it was an accident.” She appealed to her classmates, but they offered no support. Not a smile, not a nod. She felt her face flush, the sweat blossoming on her forehead. She knew her carefully blown dry hair was beginning to frizz. “Okay. Fine. I turned it off. See? It's off.”

“Go.”

Lacy waited for Mr. Bronson to change his mind. “This seems like a really important lecture,” she said. “I hate to miss it.”

“Too bad.”

“Yesterday, when Eric's cell went off, you didn't ask him to leave. I mean, just because mine happens to go off more often is no reason to punish me. Either there should be a policy of no cell phones at all—which I personally do not support—or you
need to treat us all the same.”

“Not again,” a kid in the back groaned.

“I agree,” Mr. Bronson said, “Not again. Lacy, get out of here.”

She gathered her books and her backpack and headed for the door. Even her classmates were rejecting her. She paused at Marissa's desk and made a face. She wanted Marissa to be her friend; she thought Marissa would commiserate with her about the cell phone, but Marissa just turned away. Her long dark Latina hair rippled and gleamed. A hot pink bra strap peeked from her tank top and graced one cappuccino-colored shoulder. Even Marissa's underwear was perfect.

“Close the door behind you, please.”

Lacy left and closed the classroom door. The hallway was empty and that was a relief. Why had she been born so damn white? She was white, white, white with almost white hair that wasn't even WASP-y straight, but curly, like some Aryan Afro. Which her mother refused to let her chemically straighten. Her stupid actress grandmother had the same white hair and skin, but her hair was shiny straight and on her the pallor was stunning. Lacy also had her father's ridiculous curls, adorable ringlets when she was little that had gone nuts with puberty. Lacy hated her hair and her skin. Her translucent thighs and inner arms revealed every blue vein. Her areolas were the palest pink, barely visible on her breasts. In the dim light of a man's bedroom, she would look nipple-less. Not that any man had seen her yet, but she had tried various lighting conditions at home as she posed in front of her mirror. She thought candlelight was the worst; her skin looked healthier, but her breasts became two round undefined orbs like the tits on a Barbie doll. Her mother said she spent too much time obsessing, but what did she know? She had straight dark hair and dark eyes. That great olive skin.

Just thinking about Winnie gave Lacy a scruffy feeling in her stomach. Dry, as if she had swallowed dirt. Her mother was just so boring. She had that stupid job which she hated. She had that one friend who was always busy. She never went anywhere. When Lacy got home from visiting her dad, Winnie would be sitting on the couch reading, exactly the same as when she left. It wasn't Lacy's job to entertain her, was it? And since she had found that cigarette butt in her backpack (and she had been so damn careful!) she wouldn't let up on her about smoking. Then it was the piercings. And her grades. Even when Winnie didn't say anything it was there in her face; the disappointment absolutely obvious every time she looked at her.

And now this. Principal Dickhead would call Mom for sure. Lacy could not go to the office. Her mother was at her stupid tennis lesson anyway. She dawdled in the hallway. Her next class was in fifteen minutes, but Marissa was in that class too. That was too much. She could just imagine Marissa looking at her, then whispering to her friends and all of them laughing. Then she had stupid English and horrible lunch and then European History and she had not done her homework and there was going to be a test. So she just bent her head and walked past the office toward the doors. Who the fuck needed school anyway? She could read. She could write. Wasn't that enough?

No one stopped her as she pushed open one side of the double glass doors. She paused briefly, waiting for a hand on her shoulder, the voice of Mrs. Lopez, the secretary, saying “Young lady? Where do you think you're going?” but no one noticed as she went out and down the front steps. Or if they saw her they didn't care.

She straightened her shoulders and walked purposefully away from school until she turned the corner. Then she stopped. Where should she go? What would happen when she got
there? What would Marissa think when she missed the next class? Lacy's head was filled with questions—as usual. Nothing ever seemed solid or definite to her. She was easily convinced of whatever anyone said, found herself agreeing completely and fervently. But then she would walk away and change her mind. Or forget what she had decided. The answer to anything might be yes. It could just as likely be no. She sighed. Marissa and her friends obviously knew the right answer to everything.

BOOK: The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets
11.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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