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Book 1 – Chapter 5 – Perelandria Regained – Part 2

I tripped as I was getting off the bus. The back of my heel caught the last step, and I was so glad I had gloves on. Simon almost knocked me over again when he rushed by to help me up. My jeans were soaked. I felt the length of my tail to be sure every link was in place. I asked Simon, “How is it?”

He hung over me in case I fell again. “Are you all right?”

“My tail,” I said. “Does it look damaged? Is it spazzing?”

“No, it’s fine,” he said. “What about you?”

I rolled my jeans up to make sure my knees weren’t bleeding. I was fine, but that didn’t stop my legs from insisting they were scraped tender. “I’m okay,” I said. “Which building is his?”

Jacob’s apartment complex was out of a Dickens story: an old tenement with white window boxes and a glass foyer out front. The roof seemed to be sliding off with a solid block of snow hanging over the top. A comic book I didn’t recognize propped open the front door. Simon collected it on the way through. The hallway inside was dark blue to hide whatever had happened to the walls, and the wooden trim had to have been carved from old railroad ties. The banister shook when I put my hand on it. The carpet was fresh, but it wasn’t bolted to the walls.

Jacob’s door was on the third floor, leaning against the frame with the latch holes exposed. Simon tapped on it gently. “It’s Simon,” he said. “Is Jacob in?”

A puffy fist dragged the door wide enough for us to squeeze by. “Come in,” Jacob said between grunts. Simon reached around to help him reposition the door.

Jacob was the type of guy the word “stout” was invented for, not plump but compact. His green button-down shirt was stuffed in his jeans and his hair was an oil slick smeared against his scalp. His glasses were thick and blew up the purple under his eyes. He put his hands on his knees and caught his breath.

His kitchen was organized, except for the dishes and the coffee brewer in the sink. The counter must have been converted from a workbench, with the nicks of tools around its drawers. His refrigerator had an ancient Frigidaire logo and most of his appliances had a retro-dullness to them, except for the white toaster which had its warranty postcard sticking out from under it. A lime-painted living room had clothes and DVDs scattered over the rug. The sofa had yellow foam sticking out. Someone rustled in the bathroom.

Jacob held up a finger and ducked into the closet. “Wait one minute,” he said. He lifted a plastic bag with the hinges and screws from the front door. “I can take your coats,” he said. He checked me over with a nervousness close to disgust. “Hello, and you are?”

Simon draped his leathers on Jacob’s arms. “This is Cheryl, from my class. She lived down the hall from me.”

“Oh, right,” he said.

I ducked by Jacob to the closet. “I can hang my own coat, thanks.”

Simon gritted his teeth and whispered to Jacob. Simon tried to hide it when I poked my head his way. Jacob picked up some mugs from over the sink. “Thank you for coming,” he said. “Can I get you juice, soda, water?”

“Do you have anything hot?” I said.

“Sure,” he said. He began to wash the coffee maker.

“That’s okay,” I said over the running water. “Do you have tea? Cocoa?”

“I have cocoa.”

“Cocoa would be fine.”

I hadn’t noticed his microwave until he opened it for my mug. The interior was spotless, newer than mine.

Simon whipped out his multitool and had the hinges attached before Jacob had poured our drinks. Jacob kept eyeing the bathroom door. When Simon was ready, I helped him lift the front door into place and held it while he socked down the screws. Jacob waited until I was straining against the wood before he pointed out, “Your tail – is it moving?”

“Yes,” I said. “It followed me home and I had to keep it.”

He walked behind me and my harness jerked against my hips. Simon was on the last set of hinges. “Would you stop that?” I shouted at Jacob.

My cocoa was cool by the time we finished securing the door. Jacob scuttled around the kitchen to clean up. He was a complete wreck, and he was wearing off on me.

I bet Leon was waiting for us to finish before he flushed the toilet. Simon, Jacob and I had claimed our own corners of the kitchen when he exploded out of the bathroom. Leon had a baby-face even though he was as tall as Simon. He was too buff to be a stoner but his blonde mop of a hairdo was too messy for a gym rat. His Fugazi T-shirt had been washed too many times and already had holes. He leaned out the door which would have hit anyone standing there. “Jake,” he said, “you have… friends.”

“What’s up,” Simon said and covered his mustache with two fingers.

Leon collapsed onto him with a bear hug. “Simon!” he said. “How’s it going, man? And who’s the fox?”

I gave him a wave. “Cheryl,” I said. He thrust his arms at me, so I grabbed the nearest one to shake it.

Jacob edged into the living room. “Do you guys want a chair?”

Leon thankfully didn’t get too close to me. He raised one eyebrow after staring at my chest, and whispered, “Call me.” He flicked his fingers at Simon’s chin. “Dude, you’re all fuzzy,” he said.

Simon shrugged with pride. “And you haven’t changed a bit,” he said.

Leon stroked his own biceps. “No way,” he said. “I picked up this new stuff at GNC that keeps you moving all day long, and the shit is legal.”

I curled up on one end of his sofa. Its pillows were matted down with no fluff to them.

Leon hustled Simon into the living room after us. “Don’t step on my movies,” he said. Jacob sat cross-legged on the floor while the three of us shared the sofa. Simon deliberately took the spot between Leon and me.

Leon reached for one of the DVDs. “Have you seen ‘Series 7’? It’s crazy,” he said. “It’s a fake reality show where people have to kill each other.” He opened the cabinet under Jacob’s television. The top shelf was empty but the bottom shelf was packed with movies. Leon smacked himself with a case and turned to Jacob. “I told you to get another one.”

Jacob was numb. “I’m working on it,” he said.

Leon mouthed Jacob’s words with a sing-song beat. “So, Cheryl,” he said, “you and Simon – you aren’t together. Am I right?”

“No,” I said, “but I have a girlfriend.”

“Where’s Cindy?” Simon said.

“Who told you about her?” Leon said. He squinted at Jacob. “She and I had another fight. You know how it is. We’ll get over it.”

“That’s good,” Simon said. “Actually, Jacob invited us over for lunch. I didn’t know you were in town.”

Leon clambered onto the couch on all fours. “You guys can go ahead. I’m fine here and I’m short on cash.”

Jacob grunted to himself.

Simon brushed a spot for him to sit. “No problem. It’s my treat,” he said. “Besides, it’s been forever. I know this great sub shop a few blocks down.”

“Yeah, I’ve been to all of them,” Leon said. “I know the one. They deliver, too. I can call them if you know what you want.”

I was enjoying the radiator so much that I don’t think I pulled off my lie too well. “Out would be better,” I said. “I’m not in the mood to stay here.”

Leon draped his hand on my ankle. “Aw, honey, don’t go,” he said. “We can do something fun here. I give really good massages.”

“And what about me?” Simon said.

“I’ll do you too,” he said. “I’m not picky.”

“I wouldn’t want to bother Jacob,” I said. “There’s always my apartment.”

Leon leapt down to search through the cases on the floor. “You’re really sweet,” he said. “You’d love ‘Amélie.’ I bought it a couple weeks ago.”

He tossed every case from one pile into another beside the cabinet, and then knocked that pile over when he hunted inside. He hurled a Leslie Nielsen case to the floor. “Damn it, Jacob, you’re organizing my stuff again.”

“No, I’m not,” Jacob said.

“You are! I can’t find shit around here.”

“Maybe you sold it.”

I hopped down and spread myself between them. Jacob was on the edge of freaking. “Guys, it’s not a big deal,” I said.

“The apartment’s not large,” Leon said. “I don’t mind if he touches my stuff. But he messes up my head when he moves things.”

Jacob dropped his head to his lap and pounded his knees.

“Give him a break,” Simon said.

Leon spread himself over his hoard. “That’s why you’re here?” he said. “You’re the counselors? Are Jake and I married now?”

“Jake wants you to leave,” Simon said. “Isn’t that right?”

Jacob scrunched his face and kept thumping. “Right,” he said.

“We’ve been over this,” Leon said. “I’m looking. You know I’m looking. I’m putting in a few bucks for rent. I’m getting groceries. I’m making your damn bed when you come home. I clean the bathroom and your toilet. I even fixed you up with the kid from Medford and the one from Dorchester. I heard you with them. I got you laid and you’re trying to kick me out.”

“It’s not working,” Simon said.

“And whose fault is that?” Leon said. “He never has to worry about getting robbed with me here. Jake, did you tell them about room 306? The one two apartments away?”

“I remember,” Jacob said.

“When did they get knocked over? Right after Christmas? Did they ever find out who did it? No. Did they ever find their stuff? No.”

I suddenly understood Kristen. “Do you want to keep it down?” I said.

“No,” Leon said. “If this sorry boy is talking about me, I’m talking about him. Maybe we have a little tension going, but so what? I’ve forgiven him countless times for using my soap, leaving his window open overnight, and getting his shaving gel all over the sink.”

“We know. Obviously, the two of you together isn’t working,” Simon said. “Could you stay with Cindy until we work something out?”

I hovered between Leon and Jacob.

“I can’t stay with her again. She’d kill me. Guys, can’t you see he’s using you?” Leon hurled a pair of khakis with a nasty belt buckle at Jacob. It bounced off the wall. Jacob threw his hands over his head. “This sneaky little bitch is using you.”

I swept the rest of the clothes away from Leon. “He’s not using us,” I said. “Settle down.”

“I think you two should leave,” Leon said. “Jake, tell them to leave.”

“No,” Jacob said, still holding himself in a ball.

“Well, I’m telling you to leave,” Leon said, and pulled himself to his feet. “Simon, I love you, man. Great to see you. Same here, Cheryl. Now, get the hell out.”

I hadn’t slept right, and my pants were wet. They oozed when I bent down, and Leon was a lot taller than me. He had some muscles and could kick me over.

Simon stood up. “Okay,” he said. “Everything’s fine. We’ll go. Jacob, come on.”

Jacob shook his head violently.

“Yeah, get on,” Leon said. “Look what I have to deal with.”

“Make him take his meds,” Jacob whimpered.

I scooted closer to hear him better. “What meds?”

“My meds are my business, not yours, not his, and not hers,” Leon said.

Simon grabbed my shoulder. I smacked his arm away. Leon had his eye on me as I went to the kitchen. “Fine, we’re going,” I said. “Jacob, get me my coat.”

Leon leapt on the couch and tossed his legs over the top.

Jacob scurried to the closet and whispered, “I’m sorry. It can’t be helped.”

When he reached for my coat, I bent beside his ear and asked, “Which meds is he on?”

“Serious anti-anxiety,” Jacob said. “He doesn’t have health insurance. He sells my appliances to buy it. He’s not taking his full dosage. He’s stretching it out.”

Leon shouted, “Would you just go already?”

Jacob passed Simon his leather coat first. He draped my blue coat over my arm. He breathed heavily. His eyes were shimmering and he glared at Simon. “Just get the hell out,” he said.

Simon sighed and opened the door. “Whatever, Jacob,” he said. “Later.”

I left my coat on the counter and marched into the living room. “Where do you keep your meds?” I said.

Leon’s arm scoured the floor. He knocked away the remote control before he could pick it up. “That’s not your business,” he said.

“When was the last time you took them?”

“Do you want us to call the cops?” he said. “Jacob, call the cops. That’s 9-1-1. Really easy to dial.”

I scooped up an armful of his DVDs. Before he could catch me, I ran out of the apartment. I dumped them all on the hall carpet. Simon tried to stop me, but I wasn’t wearing my coat and his was bulky. I ducked inside and Leon staggered from his couch. “Bring those back in here!”

He lunged at me on the linoleum, but I had spent my grade school ducking under big people trying to beat on the weird girl. I clutched another handful of DVDs to my chest. “No pills, no movies,” I shouted. I stayed low to the floor. He charged after me with his bare feet squeaking and he grabbed the door first. He forced it shut while Simon pounded on the outside.

He chest was inches from my nose and I couldn’t move fast enough. He pinned me against the door and his hairy armpits wiped their stench on my clothes. His legs lay over mine. I couldn’t protect my throat because I was holding his DVDs. I was enclosed in him with his drooling mouth as a ceiling. “Drop them,” he said.

I knocked my forehead into his bull’s-eye of an Adam’s apple, but I didn’t have enough room to do more than make him cough. He reached over me to twist the lock shut. I threw myself under his free arm. The DVDs scattered. I crawled over them on my hands and knees. My harness tugged me backwards. My tail clicked on the joints he was holding.

“My stuff,” he cried out and undid the latch. He grabbed my hair and pulled my head up. “Simon, you better get my stuff in here and this crazy bitch out there by the count of ten.”

Jacob buried his face in the closet by the bathroom.

I waited for the leg to part my thighs, even if Leon only wanted to restrain me. He wanted me to go away. He wanted everything to be normal again, and would hurt me if that’s what it took. He hurt Jacob every day and it was working out fine for him. The neighbors didn’t seem to mind.

I hadn’t had much sleep. I had a psychotic holding my head and my tail. The apartment door clicked open and I flipped out. I swung myself around and bit Leon’s nose. The cartilage crinkled in my teeth and salty snot trickled in my mouth. I spit it out at him. He freed my tail and pulled my hair as far away from him as he could. My roots were tearing and I clawed at the soft flesh under his elbow. He pumped his arm to shake me free, which wasn’t easy with one hand on his injured nose. I dove at his free arm and sunk into the oily muscle. His grip on me buckled and my teeth lost their grip. I sailed onto the floor.

His bulbous eyes didn’t blink and his belly stuck out under his shirt. He couldn’t read me and he wasn’t sure what to do. I pushed my torso up and let my throat erupt in a scream and a growl. I made him jump.

Simon’s shadow stepped away behind Leon. I scrambled on all fours. I kept him guessing. Any second he would turn on me. I was his life crashing down, and he couldn’t protect himself by being pompous and stupid any more.

I whipped my coat at his face. He caught it in mid-flight but I scampered behind him. He clutched the coat as a shield, but the sleeves hung loose. I could make him fall. I leapt up and tugged the sleeves around his face. I heaved with everything I had and brought him to the dirt with the rest of us.

I gasped. I think I caught his neck. He tumbled over onto his DVDs. The floor must have been hollow, from the way it rumbled when his head hit it. His legs flew up.

“Jacob,” I screamed.

Leon tossed the coat away and moaned. His feet were stretching past the apartment’s threshold. Jacob must have found some sense, because he ran to the door and slammed it shut against Leon’s legs. He was trapped outside with us.

I leaned my face over his and shouted, “Get out!”

He pushed himself away and his gut shook. I circled around and flung a DVD case. “Take it,” I said. The scared rabbit looked to Simon for assurance but Simon shirked away when he saw me. It must have been the smile on my face.

Leon pressed himself against the door and knocked as hard as he could. “Jacob,” he said, “open up.” But Jacob did not.

I beaned him on the temple with another case. “You’re not out,” I said. “Out!”

He charged at me and held my throwing hand before I could launch another at him. I jumped at his stubble-ridden face and licked it, cheek-to-cheek. These people, they take and they take and no one ever tells them ‘no’ in a way they understand. This was what I had to do. I found a way.

He knocked me away to wipe himself. I got up and charged at his own arm. I spun myself and threw him like a discus toward the stairs. He held onto the banister. I darted my head left and right with every “Out! Out!” I charged again. The rabbit bolted down the stairs. I grew up with trees, surviving falls which kill people in movies. I tossed myself over the banisters from flight to flight, until he was on the ground floor. He ran into the glass foyer and held the door between us. I pressed close. My breath formed in the glass.

Simon ran down behind me. “Cheryl,” he said.

“I’m okay,” I said. “He’s okay.”

“Cheryl,” he said again, “I’ll hold the door. Get his pants. Get his coat so he won’t freeze out there.”

I shook, as close to a nod as I could make. I ran upstairs while my adrenaline crashed. I beat on Jacob’s door. “It’s me. He’s out. We need his clothes.”

Jacob undid the latch. We stuffed Leon’s clothes in a trash bag and hurled it out the hall window over the foyer.

The buzzer rang several times from one apartment to the next, but I never heard a thump on the stairs. We threw out his DVDs next, and finally his toiletries. His pills were behind the mirror. He only had three of the chunky white things left from a two-week-old script.

Simon secured the front door and chased him off by phoning the police in front of him. I don’t know if he actually called them, but he held it to listen to Leon’s thrashing in the foyer. Leon collected his trash bags and left.

I lay on the carpet on my side and waited for my tail to stop twitching.

My brain insisted I was still hitting him. I thought Simon’s shadow might be his return. I had to hide. I’d never really fought before. Leon could have me arrested if his nose was broken. I had hit another human being. I had thrown a tantrum and gotten my way.

Simon knelt down beside me. I grabbed him and his arms encircled me. His grip stayed firm, in case I would turn on him next. “Easy now,” he said.

“He’s gone, right?” I said.

“Yes.”

Categories: Book 1 - How Cheryl Got Her Tail, Chapter 5 - Perelandria Regained.

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