Epilogue, p.7
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       Epilogue, p.7

         Part #3 of The Dark Duet series by C. J. Roberts
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  before my dick got any harder. The kitchen was crowded enough.

  Rubio was in the living room unraveling cords and setting up the PlayStation when I walked in. I was surprised he could do any amount of labor wearing the pants he had on. I don’t understand skinny jeans for men. Who wants to walk around with their balls in a vise? For a second I wondered what Rafiq would think of the fad. A strange sort of melancholy drifted through me and I set my scotch on the coffee table. The last thing I needed was drunken reflection.

  “Do you need help with that?” I asked. I needed a distraction.

  “No, I got it already. Do you play or sing?” He beamed at me and I suddenly felt very old and out of touch with the world I was invading.

  “Neither,” I said. I stood there feeling awkward without a drink in my hand and with nothing to do. Rubio smiled and put a plastic guitar in my hand.

  “You can start with the guitar. It’s easier if you’re just starting.” He didn’t wait for my reply before he turned on the TV and loud rock music filled the living room. I found it annoying but didn’t say anything about it.

  “What do I do?” I asked.

  “You have to choose a character first. Then we pick a song and you push the colored buttons on the guitar as they go by on the screen. I’m going to play the drums.” Rubio seemed excited and I didn’t understand it. I’d never considered myself socially retarded until that moment.

  I chose a bearded rocker as my character and got a feel for the toy guitar in my hands. At the very least, I felt less awkward having something to do. Rubio selected his character and proceeded to the song list.

  “What’s the name of our band?”

  “Sophia picked it. We’re The Sex Rifles.” He laughed. “She thought it was more gangster than The Sex Pistols.” I didn’t know who The Sex Pistols were, but I could appreciate Livvie’s sense of humor.

  “Ooh, yes! I want to play.” Claudia squealed as she joined us in the living room. I looked around for Livvie and didn’t see her. Please don’t leave me alone with both of them.

  “Where’s L-Sophia?” I just stopped myself from saying Livvie and was glad the pair of them were too busy fitting Claudia with a bass guitar.

  “Sophia! Come play!” Claudia yelled at an obnoxious level. I must have made a face because she responded to me. “Get used to it, gorgeous man. If you’re going to be part of our group, you’re going to have to handle our rude-ass behavior. There’s no room for politeness in a family.” She winked at me. I smiled.

  “You startled me is all; I don’t think you’re rude.” Really, she was very rude. If she weren’t Livvie’s friend, I’d have shown her some manners. Alas, I had promised Livvie I was done torturing people who didn’t like it. And as for family, she was really talking to the wrong person.

  Livvie walked in and the happiness I saw on her face melted me. I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen her so happy. It made me jealous of her friends. I’d given up my whole fucking life to be with her and she never looked that happy with me. She walked up to me and fiddled with the strap of the guitar.

  “Well, look at you. You making nice, Sexy?” She rose up on her toes and puckered her lips. I bent down and accepted her kiss without thinking.

  “I have a name, you know.”

  She grinned.

  “I remember, Sexy.” She turned and reached for the controller and the microphone. “Dinner is ready, so we can only do one or two songs and then we should eat.”

  “The food is so good, Rubi. I’m glad you met me instead of Sophia first. I’ll never make you anything that good,” Claudia said.

  “What you give me is better than food,” Rubio replied evenly. He kissed his girlfriend on the cheek and she blushed. I gained a little respect for them both. Their love was obvious and I hoped that one day Livvie and I could have what they did… without the skinny jeans… or the reminder we met under horrendous circumstances.

  I felt a tap against my ass. Livvie was giving me some serious “come fuck me” eyes.

  “You ready to play, Sexy? Make sure you set it to easy so you don’t hurt yourself.”

  Some of my anxiety fell away.

  “And you better remember who you’re talking to, or else I’ll have to remind you.”

  “Oh, I look forward to it.” She squeezed my ass. I shook my head and laughed. “Okay, I’m gonna do ‘Eye of the Tiger’.”

  “You always do that one,” Claudia whined.

  “Shut up! When it’s your turn to sing, you can pick the song. Don’t embarrass me in front of Sexy. I want him to marvel at how talented I am,” Livvie said.

  “You should let him read your smut. I bet he’d love that.” Claudia made claws out of her fingers and scratched at the air in a motion no one in their right mind would think is sexy but was supposed to be.

  “Is that what you’re always writing on your laptop?” I smiled wide, knowing I was going to get my hands on Livvie’s laptop at my earliest opportunity. Livvie looked ashen for a second.

  “It’s nothing. Forget it. Let’s play already.”

  “Oh come on, Sophia. It’s so good.” She turned to me. “It’s about this girl who—”

  “Claudia!” Livvie said seriously and glared.

  “Fine. Okay, let’s play,” Claudia said sarcastically.

  My interest was piqued before, but I became like a dog with a bone after Livvie’s reaction. I would be asking questions later, that much was certain. For the moment, I decided to focus on the plastic guitar in my hands and pushing the right buttons. It was a good thing my mind is so quick, because even on medium I was having a tough time keeping up with the rush of colors going across the screen.

  The intro seemed to take forever, but once Livvie began singing I found myself swept up in the game. Livvie’s voice was beautiful, raspy and powerful. She seemed filled with so many talents I didn’t know about. I wanted to know all there was to know about her. I fleetingly wondered what talents I possessed that could possibly compare with hers. She turned toward me during an instrumental section.

  “You’re doing good! I suck at guitar.”

  I winked at her.

  “Trying to concentrate, Pet. If you don’t mind.”

  “Ha! Play on, rock star, don’t let me stop you.” She went back to belting the chorus and I wondered how her lungs were capable of holding so much air.

  Finally, the song ended and I skated through the round with a seventy-five percent success rate. The rest of the band scored in the nineties and Livvie the highest with ninety-nine percent. A fact she wouldn’t stop gloating about. I’d never seen Livvie so smug, and I felt my chest expand with something akin to pride at seeing some of my own mannerisms in her. We’d come so far, and I was oddly desperate to see where we could go.

  Claudia sang next. Her softer, more lyrical voice did well with “Nine in the Afternoon.” I had a hard time keeping up with the guitar but seemed to be out-performing Livvie, who was attempting to play bass with her entire body. Her tongue was out as she concentrated on the screen, paying no attention to the way I stared at her every chance I had.

  After Claudia finished her song and everyone laughed at my sixty-two percent accuracy (Livvie only had sixty-five, and why they chose to only make fun of me, I’ll never know—bastards), the decision was made to sit down to dinner. Livvie’s table wasn’t large enough for all the food and guests, so we served ourselves in the kitchen and brought our plates to the table. It was all so strange to me. I felt a bit like an outsider, even if I’d literally been closer to Livvie than either of her friends.

  Once everyone was seated, I picked up my fork, eager to get into the turkey and stuffing when Livvie stayed my hand. I looked at her and purposely growled. She only smiled and patted my hand.

  “Not yet, Sexy. It’s Thanksgiving. We have to go around and say what we’re thankful for.”

  “I’d be thankful if we could eat,” I muttered. I put my fork down and looked around the table. They were all smiling at me. It was cr
eepy. Believe me—I know creepy.

  “Sophia, it’s your house. You should go first.” Rubio suggested.

  “Okay,” Livvie said and took a deep breath. “Well, first, I want to say I’m thankful for the food. I can’t wait to eat it. But, more importantly… I’m thankful that I’m here at all.” She swallowed, and the sight of her eyes becoming wet with unshed tears made me want to tell everyone to leave so I could kiss her into forgetting everything she was feeling. Instead, I had to sit and pretend I wasn’t the villain in Livvie’s life. “It’s been a difficult year for me. Last year I spent Thanksgiving alone. I didn’t know where I was going with my life or what I wanted out of it anymore. I was… heartbroken and miserable.” A tear rolled down her cheek.

  “Sophia....” Claudia reached for Livvie across her boyfriend’s chest. Livvie smiled.

  “No, it’s okay. I don’t mean to cry. It’s just… this year, I have two of the greatest friends a girl could ask for, an apartment of my own—in Spain! And I…” She looked toward me, and damn it I could feel myself getting caught up in her emotions. “I have you. I have a place to belong. I have a family that loves me. I’m deeply grateful for that. I don’t know where I’d be without it.” She wiped at her cheek and shook herself. “Eww, sorry to get all emo. I just love you fuckers, that’s all. Someone else go now.”

  I sat perfectly still in my seat, trying to process exactly what I was feeling. Livvie had included me on her list. She was thankful for me. She’d found a place to belong with me. I felt exactly the same way, but I could never be so casual with expressing my emotions. Perhaps if we were alone, perhaps if we were in the dark, or imaginably naked, then I could tell her. But everyone was looking at me. Livvie was smiling sweetly, encouragingly. Claudia’s stare was much more invasive and practically tried to intimidate me into speaking. Rubio simply waited. He was a patient sort. I cleared my throat and smiled.

  “Well, it’s difficult to top that, but I’ll try to offer something.” I looked toward Livvie. “I know we haven’t known each other long. We’ve only been seeing each other a month and a half.” She smiled at me with narrowed eyes. “However, I can honestly say… these have been the best six weeks I’ve ever had. I’m thankful for the time we’ve been given so far, and I hope that by next year—” I looked toward everyone else, “I’ll love all you fuckers as well.”

  Claudia and Rubio laughed. I returned my gaze to Livvie. She was staring at me with an expression I hadn’t quite seen before. I liked it.

  “I’m thankful for good food, great friends, and love. May God bless this food and our friendships,” Rubio said quickly and succinctly. I looked away from Livvie reluctantly and smiled. Claudia pulled Rubio toward her mouth roughly and kissed him much more passionately than was perhaps appropriate at the dinner table. Young love. That’s what I wanted.

  Claudia whispered to him in Spanish, “I’m thankful for you, my love.” To the rest of the table, she said, “I’m thankful for my family, my friends, and all this food. Now please, let’s eat it!” Everyone laughed and agreed it was time to eat. I picked up my fork and dove into the turkey and stuffing. It was my first Thanksgiving and I immediately decided we would celebrate it every year.

  Over dinner, I listened to Livvie discuss classes with her friends and the movies they were watching. They had been watching Stanley Kubrick’s work and discussing it in class. Claudia and Rubio were fans, but Livvie felt a lot of his work lacked in its ability to communicate a clear message to its audience.

  “All this talk about A Clockwork Orange, like it’s the greatest movie ever or something,” Livvie said around the turkey in her mouth. “I’d say two-thirds of the people who saw that movie didn’t fucking get it. It’s the emperor who has no clothes. Enough people called it brilliant that the idiots who didn’t get it pretended to understand it just so they wouldn’t be called idiots—which makes them cowardly idiots. The movie could have been better. It could have delivered the message of the movie in a much clearer fashion and inspired some real dialogue about human nature, society, and psychology as a treatment. Instead, all anyone can remember is the rape scene. It’s stupid.”

  “I have to disagree,” said Rubio. “I think it’s very clearly a movie about how society doesn’t care about its own ruination. Society does not care about the disease—it only wants to treat the symptoms. It does not care that Alex is violent or what happened to make him such a sociopath. It only wants him punished and ‘rehabilitated’. But there is no such thing as behavior control. It has to be a choice, a person has to choose to be a better person, and the only reason they choose to be better is if there is a reason. Alex was forcibly rehabilitated with aversion therapy, but once he went back out into the world and encountered all the violence that was still out there he became violent again. It’s the nature of human beings. Kubrick did an incredible job.”

  “I know what the movie was about, Rubi. I get the point. My point is Kubrick was so obsessed with portraying the dystopian future that he neglected to push the message to a mainstream audience. Film students and artistic types are not typically prone to violence. The message is nothing new for them. The average movie-goer has to be kicked in the face with the truth or they don’t fucking get it. Why do you think Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ did so well? It was like a hammer of guilt hitting people in the face.”

  “Fuck Mel Gibson!” Claudia contributed. “I don’t care if he’s talented. He’s a sanctimonious ass and the last person with any right to make a movie about Jesus.” Rubio caressed Claudia’s arm.

  “No need to get worked up, Claudia. We’re just talking.” Rubio looked toward me. “What do you think, James? Are you a Kubrick fan?”

  It was the first time anyone had called me James. It was such a simple name. It had no hidden meaning like dog or loyal disciple. It was just a name. A normal name for a normal person.

  “Um, I’ve never seen the movie and I don’t really know who Kubrick is. We saw the new Harry Potter last week. I liked that one.” I smiled and sipped some sangria. Everyone burst into laughter, and Livvie leaned over to give me another easy kiss.

  “I’m sorry, Sexy. Sometimes we get our nerd on without thinking about other people. Let’s change the subject.”

  “I don’t mind. I like hearing what you think. I follow the conversation. Personally, I’d like to think a person can change for the better. But I think Rubio is correct as well—a person has to have a reason to change. They have to believe their situation will be made better by changing. Otherwise, that person is at a disadvantage. Violence is necessary if you live in a violent world.” My heart was thumping hard.

  Rubio’s expression turned sour. “I never said violence was necessary. I said there’s too much of it and we need to find a way to treat it as a societal disease.”

  “That will never happen. Even flowers kill, Rubio. Human beings are far more flawed than flowers. We all do what we feel we must do. If that means killing… so be it. Survival—”

  “Is the most important thing,” Livvie finished. Her expression turned wistful. She set her fork down and stood. “I’m bored of this conversation. Let’s play more Rock Band.” She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. I knew that smile well.

  I regretted ever opening my stupid mouth.

  We played Rock Band for a few more hours. I got much better at the guitar and actually enjoyed myself. I’d studied a lot of things about America and Americans. I’d learned about their pop culture, but I’d never played a video game. It was very entertaining and I decided I’d be buying a PlayStation the very next day.

  Afterward, Claudia and Rubio decided to pack up more than their share of the leftovers and head home. They hugged me goodbye—yes, both of them—and I thought it was a little strange. I went with it, though. I could be a hugger… maybe. No, it was weird.

  “If we were in The States, you could buy one on the cheap tomorrow. Too bad Spain doesn’t celebrate Black Friday,” Livvie said as she turned the faucet on a
nd began washing dishes.

  “What the hell is that?” I asked and opened the dishwasher.

  “It’s a sacred tradition where thousands of hoarders camp outside stores and then bludgeon their neighbors for the best prices on PlayStations and iPads. I used to go with my mom.” She shrugged.

  “I think I’ll just order one on the computer. Unless you would find it romantic for me to bludgeon your neighbors?” I smiled. Livvie laughed.

  “Hmmm… maybe. Let’s see who complains about the loud rock music.” She shoved me with her shoulder. “You did good today. My friends are a little in love with you, I think.”

  I felt a strange pang in my chest.

  “I did my best. They seem nice. Claudia is a little too friendly, and I don’t understand how Rubio does anything in those skinny pants, but they obviously love you. You’re very lucky, Kitten.” I paused. “There seems to be no shortage of people who love you.”

  Livvie was scouring a pot and didn’t meet my eyes.

  “Caleb,” she sighed.

  “I like James. Maybe you should call me that. Less chance you’ll slip around your friends. I could call you Sophia. We could, I don’t know… pretend. We could pretend to be normal… together. I’m not wearing those skinny jeans, though.” I tried to keep the conversation light. We’d had such a great day and I didn’t want to ruin it.

  Livvie handed me the pot for rinsing.

  “I’ve been thinking about that. I think… it could be a good idea. It might sound weird, but when they changed my name I felt free to become someone else. Livvie was a sad girl. She cared too much about things that didn’t matter and let people take advantage of her. Sophia is self-aware and she doesn’t take shit from anyone.”

  I didn’t care for her words.

  “You never took shit from anyone. You’re the strongest person I know. Stronger than me.” I swallowed. “But I know what you mean. Rafiq started calling me Caleb after he…” I couldn’t say the word rescued. Rafiq had never rescued me. “I used to be called something far less flattering.”

  Livvie handed me another dish and moved closer to me. Our arms brushed whenever we moved.

  “What was it?”

  I mentioned the name in Arabic.

  “That doesn’t sound bad. What’s wrong with it?”

  I had to laugh to keep from feeling everything else.

  “It means dog. My name was dog.” I took the dish Livvie had been washing from her hands and rinsed it before putting it in the dishwasher. I didn’t want to acknowledge her shock.

  “Why would anyone…? The world is fucking disgusting.” She stopped washing dishes and put her arms around my waist from behind. “I think you’re a miracle, James. I think you deserve to be happy. We both do.”

  I kept washing dishes.

  “I don’t know if you’re right, Sophia. I know you deserve to be happy. I know you deserve someone… better, but I’m selfish. I want you. I want you bad enough to try and be someone better.

  “That said, it wouldn’t surprise me if you decided it was too little, too late. I won’t be here a second longer than you want me to be. I promise.” I didn’t mention the part where I’d lose my fucking mind. I wasn’t sure what I would do if Livvie didn’t want to be with me. I didn’t necessarily have anything to go back to except killing and smuggling. Was I a better person? Maybe not. I was only better when I was living for her. I felt like a time-bomb.

  “Then I’m selfish too, because I want you just as much. I know it’s been odd between us. How could it not be? We don’t know each other in this world, but I’ve seen you at your worst, and what I know is that you’d do anything to protect me. That’s enough for now. The rest will come.” She kissed my back and came back to the sink to continue washing.

  “There’s not much to me, you know? Not much that’s good anyway. What else do you expect to learn?” I knew my expression wasn’t doing much to hide my frustration.

  “I know we both like Harry Potter. I know you have to get drunk to meet my friends because you’re nervous. You pay attention when you’re not speaking and whenever you do, you add something to the conversation. You like to read as much as I do. I know I’ll never catch you in a pair of skinny jeans.” She laughed and bumped me with her hip. “I know you’re a quick learner. You killed it on guitar in just a few hours. You help with dishes. I’m learning a lot of things about you, James. I like it.”

  “This is the part where I’d grab you and fuck you in front of the sink, but I have to be honest—I am stuffed! I can’t wait to put on a pair of lounging pants and take a nap.”

  We laughed.

  “That’s the turkey. It makes everyone sleepy. Tomorrow we get to eat leftovers all day. So good.” She looked at me sidelong and made her lips curve into a mischievous smile. “I’ll be sure to ask you to fuck me before I feed you.”

  “Ask me?” I asked through a laugh. She’d never have to ask me.

  “Beg you?” she purred.

  My cock stirred.

  “Well, I guess you do know me.”


  “Do you have plans for Christmas?” I asked Livvie. She handed me a cup of coffee and took a sip of her own. The temperature had been dropping steadily, but the streets were still crowded with would-be shoppers. Livvie and I seemed a bit at odds with our surroundings due to our lack of shopping bags. She smiled at me brightly.

  “Yes. I plan to spend the better part of the day super glued to your body.” She ran one of her mitten-clad hands down the front of my coat. I laughed.

  “Well then, I’m looking forward to it already. I’ll be sure to giftwrap.” I tugged her close and kissed her more passionately than was appropriate in public. Her lips were cold but the inside of her mouth was warm and tasted faintly of coffee and sugar. “But I meant with other people. Are there people you have to see?”

  A strange expression marred her features.

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