Blizzard — Chapter 13 by Redsliver* * *
“Gene, you are the stupidest fucking idiot who hasn’t Darwined himself out of the gene pool yet.”
“OK, that really doesn’t help me.” I shook my head. I moved my phone off the white prints and changed the page. Jesus, it was like they didn’t even teach the basics of construction to architects. “I mean, the three of th—”
“Three! Three! Fucking three nineteen-year-old college girls want to share your dick. Share! Women!” he shouted. “Women take to sharing like octopi take to space travel.”
“Octopuses. I’m afraid it’s all going to blow up in my face,” I whined. I wanted to punch myself for sounding that weak. “Look, these are great girls. They’re going to get hurt if this goes to shit.”
“When this goes to shit. When, buddy. You’re a schlubby underachiever, take the fucking W until it all burns down,” he said. “What do they look like? Oh fuck. You’re bitching ’cause you want a hotter barely-legal harem, aren’t you. They’re not even fives, are they?”
“No!” I swallowed my anger and clenched my teeth. I needed a moment to pick my words. Brothers do not give you a moment.
“You’re not entitled to fuck fucking movie stars, Gene,” he scoffed. “You like these girls and you’re not first prize yourself. How about you just make use of their youth and vitality and call it a win?”
“Fuck you.” I picked up my new phone. Found a picture of Sam. She was naked. I found a picture of Max. Much better, she was smiling and Wow… My heart fluttered. I wasn’t angry anymore.
“No, buddy. Not me. Not your brother. Fuck the co-eds. Fuck the women,” he said as if he was trying some kind of hypnotic induction on me.
“Look at this.” I sent Max’s picture. He shut up for a moment.
“Yeah, you’re not going to get that.” He laughed at me. “Who’s she? One of the chicks on your comic book shows? She’d make a hell of an MJ, Tiger.”
“Don’t you call me Tiger. That’s Maxine,” I said. “The engineering student.”
“Shit she’s hot!” he said. “And it’s a package deal? To get her you gotta jump on her giant mammoth hambeast best friend grenades? Worth it. Even knowing Sam and Alex are dudes who’re transitioning into guys.”
“No,” I laughed. “And they’re all gorgeous. Alex is this platinum blonde with Disney princess eyes, and Sam’s a brunette with an ass built like the space—”
I was startled by a knock on the conference room door. It was one of the security guys. “Gene? Do you know a Peter Stint?”
“I don’t think so,” I said.
“Hey, remember when you got that job interview at Stint Engineering, borrowed mom’s car to drive all the way out to Truro, and still fucked it up?” my brother added helpfully.
“Yeah, and you bitched about it for three weeks. And… oh shit, I think I know his daughter.”
“Is that the redhead?” I could hear my brother’s grin. It sounded excited for my inevitable demise. “What kinda armor are you wearing?”
“Well, I suspect the boss’ll be happier our biggest competitor is interested in vengeance instead of poaching his professionals,” the guard laughed. “Stint’s asked to meet with you. So, of course, the boss managed to sideline him into—”
“Hello again, Gene.” Peter’s voice was cold and clear. He stood next to my boss. Well dressed, in a suit that cost more than I spent on rent last year. He did not look grossly impatient. He did not look angry. He had looked angry, or at least distrustful, that night at the over-priced restaurant. Now he looked judgmental. “May I borrow you?”
“Of course.” I lifted my phone. “Brother, I’ll call you back.”
“Sure, but your savings better cover the casket or you’re getting the Folger’s can.” I hung up on him and frowned. That’s why you don’t give brothers a moment.
“Sorry,” I said. “Do you want to sit down?”
“Mr Stint,” my boss said, looking at the prints I had on the table. “Perhaps you could use my office and—”
“No bother.” Peter shook his head. “There’s a coffee shop across the street. Gene’s not immediately needed for anything, is he?”
“No, no! Of course not!” My boss faltered. “Gene, if you’ll follow Mr Stint.”
“Yeah, sure.” I forced a smile. I stuffed my phone in my pocket. “My coat’s in my cubicle, I’ll meet you by the front desk?”
He agreed. I booked it to the cubicle farm and grabbed my winter gear. I rushed down the two flights of stairs to the front. He led me across the street.
“Hey!” I was greeted by Carmine. She didn’t look like Faye or Gretchen, I realized. God, I was such an idiot. It was probably a brain tumor. Karma owed me a brain tumor. “You’re feeling better?”
“Less crazy.” I smiled.
“But not all the way sane, I hope.” She customer-service beamed her pearly whites and told us to have a seat anywhere. We headed for a table with chairs that were not big comfy seats. Peter sat down and I across from him. Carmine was over in a second and Peter ordered two medium black drip coffees. Apparently, that’s what men like him drank, and if Alex liked me, I’d better be a man like him. I normally took two sugars and two creams. Coffee was just a means to the drug. Or was this a power play? Was he expecting me to stand up for myself and—Carmine was long gone to fill out the order.
“The ride in OK?” I asked as nonchalantly as I could. I bristled with chalance. “The roads don’t look too good after our white hurricane the night before last.”
“The highways are fine. The city roads are consistently a mess.” He nodded. “You’re not particularly appreciated at work.”
“I hadn’t been. But today, you made a big enough stir that I’m going to walk back into a raise,” I smirked. He nodded.
“Though, I do believe your boss heard the comment about you knowing my daughter,” he said sharply.
“My boss is a sycophant to his bosses,” I said. “If I have any pull, he’d rather show me off as a win than—”
“Work for me,” Peter interrupted. “I’ll put you through those years of engineering school you abandoned.”
I shook my head. “I was going through school on my mom and dad’s dime last time. I learned one thing: I either take on the burden and risk myself, or I don’t get it done at all.”
“There’ll be risk. If I invested in you, I’d be doing it to get my return,” he said. “You’re not going to stay stuck with that dead-end job. What is it you are going to do?”
This was a whole different conversation. He expected something out of me. “When,” my brother had said. I wanted at least an “If” with Alex. No, what I wanted was three guarantees; I aspired for just one “If”.
“If I am going to make myself a success,” I started rolling it over, “it’s not enough to just fill in some random gap I have left in my education. I need to be doing something I want to excel at.”
“That’s the first step to making a future,” he agreed. “The second step is investing yourself into something there’s a market for. You can’t just decide to excel in theatre because it tickles your fancy. If you’re not cut out for engineering, then what? Med school again? Law? Finance?”
I liked being a draftsman. I liked what I was doing. I wasn’t going to be a lawyer. I was done with med school. Engineering wasn’t a bad idea. I frowned. I knew I needed to handle my shit, though. I needed to be the man those girls deserved. “Can I get your offer in writing?”
“In a heartbeat,” he answered. I saw it there in his eyes. There was a duplicitous nature to this man. I had to respect him for it. Peter’s business wasn’t in the city. Peter’s daughter was in the city. Peter had definitely looked into my work. I was good at my job, though not as good as I should’ve been. If I applied myself, I would be an asset to him. I would also be separated from Alex, at least until her summer break. A win-win, clearly. Win Businessman Peter, Win Alex’s Daddy. Gene and Alex—were we even playing?
“Great,” I nodded, sculpting my plan.
“Would you be going back for civil again?” he asked. He must’ve looked into a lot of stuff if he knew what discipline I had taken.
I shook my head. “Mechanical. Or computer.”
He nodded. “Mechanical was my focus. The classes I could apply to business, economics, and sales proved the most beneficial.”
“My techcomm prof blitzed the curriculum so he could make some time for something useful. The last two weeks of class he taught us how to hire and fire.”
“Theory’s fine but practice matters,” he said. I nodded. Carmine delivered our coffees with a bright smile.
“Hopefully this’ll warm you up,” she grinned, and walked off in her Canadian-winter-inappropriate short skirt.
“She’s a good-looking woman,” Peter told me.
“Yeah, but until I play things out with Alex,” I shrugged, “I’d rather not jump on unnecessary landmines. She might put a hit out on any woman I smile too long at.”
“And what do you expect to ‘play out’ with my daughter?” The words were gruffer than the tone. I took a long sip. A stalling tactic to pick my words. God, it was bitter. I wanted that double double.
“Alexa is a very determined girl.” I put my cup down on the coaster. “I told her we couldn’t be together. I was too old for her. She should learn a few things about love from guys more her age, her speed, and her league. I told her I was put off by the interest in me that she shared with her friends.”
“Her friends?” Peter’s tone now matched the gruff.
“Max and Sam, Max’s roommate,” I said. “They seem to have aligned themselves at me.”
I thought about all of those faces and young people I had walked by as I had left Alex’s dorm room last night. I was still itching from the disconnect. After three days, Alex, Sam, and Max weren’t young faces in a crowd. In my mind, they stood out as their own women. It didn’t stop me from seeing their ages, though—from seeing everything inevitably going wrong. At least, that hopelessness was conveyed in my face, voice, and posture. Peter would not have accepted me bragging.
“I’ve known Maxie since she was six.” Peter put down his empty coffee cup. Jesus, mine was still too hot for more than a sip. “I’d wager she’s less prepared and more naive than Alex is.”
“That might be true.” I had to agree. And Sam was worse off, though she was determined to fake it until she made it. Alex was the steady ship on the rocky sea.
“The three of them.” Peter sighed. “She did tell me you tried to do the right thing. Or, as you and I once saw it, the right thing. Actually, she told me you tried to be a complete fool. She told me you tried to break it off with her. I get the feeling you tried with Maxie and Sam as well. Three tries, each less convincing than the last.”
“Yeah,” I gestured to Carmine. “Right before I was going to talk to Alex, she witnessed my attempt with Sam. I agree, I made a fool of myself.”
“You left here to go to a milkshake place to talk to Alex,” he followed up. The man was well informed. As informed as a dad could be that his daughter had a new boyfriend, not that she had joined a harem. He hadn’t known about the other two girls. I expected he didn’t know about last night or the night before. Well, he knew she had slept at my apartment, but hopefully no more details. That was for the best.
“They serve decent milkshakes, but it’s a sports bar, actually,” I explained. “They do good burgers.”
“Refill?” Carmine asked. Peter shook his head and handed her a credit card.
“This was informative, Gene. I’ll have my assistant email you the offer,” he told me. “I’ll have Alex out tonight. I expect you’ll have an answer in the morning.”
“I know you will,” I nodded. “Hey, where’s a good place for Chinese food in the city?”
“You don’t know any?” He seemed surprised.
“You frequent higher-end restaurants than I do,” I explained. “Alex mentioned you get either steak or Chinese food.”
“She did,” he nodded. “Jean’s up the street was always my favorite. Though there’s no parking, so I more often settle for The Peking.”
He settled for The Peking. Peking was a $70-a-plate palatial restaurant. Jean’s was a cheap-as-hell hole in the wall. I preferred Jean’s as well. I also didn’t have a car, so walking was fine. Gretchen returned with his card and the bill for him to sign. He snapped off a signature.
“Drive safe, the roads are freezing,” she said.
“Finish whatever you’re going to eat or drink,” he told me. “You man up, and you’ll soon see just how much your job doesn’t deserve you.”
“Thank you,” I agreed. He didn’t wave or look back as he headed out. I watched more snow start to sprinkle down in the frozen still air. Yuck.
“How’s the coffee?” Carmine came by. She was back! Jesus. I sipped the black drip tar and forced a smile.
“It’s fine,” I said, without risking more eye contact with her.
“Do you need to go back to work?” she asked. “You think you can milk this business meeting until the end of your day?”
“What?” I asked, focusing on anything other than the cup in my hands. She slid into Peter’s seat.
“I’m off in sixteen minutes. When’s your shift end?”
“Five thirty,” I said. She smiled brightly.
“And there’s no way the girls don’t know that!” she grinned. “This might be the only opportunity we have. Give me those two and a half hours.”
“I—I’m sorry. Who are you?”
“Just a Girl.” She was closer to thirty than twenty. I wouldn’t have said girl. I started to shake my head no. “C’mon! What if I want my boots back?”
“Look, I’ll be spent if the snow doesn’t die down. Stay ’til the end of my shift and I’ll sit down again.” She got up. “Don’t get kicked out for being stupid this time, please.”
She looked shocked and not like Faye anymore. Had she changed? I didn’t see a visual change but the recognition was gone. The snow wasn’t falling anymore.
“I’m sorry, blonde moment!” She grinned and flipped her curly red hair. “Did you ask for a refill?”
“Yeah,” I said. I saw a sugar jar on the next table over. “And could you bring over a couple things of cream.”
“Sure thing.” She smiled again. I fished out my phone. I called my brother.
“Dude, hands aren’t free and I got Kent in the passenger seat,” he said when he picked up. Kent? What happened to Marty?
“Hi Gene!” Kent said.
“Redhead just asked me to skip out on work. I think she can control the weather.”
“Nope, that’s Storm. She’s got white hair,” said my brother. “Redhead can rewrite your brain so that you’re gay.”
“Look, I’m not granting you permission. You handle your crazy supersex shit, and we’ll talk about what you did wrong once everything’s on fire.”
“Bye Gene! Good luck with the supersex!”
“Later guys.” I hung up. I could taste my own bitter sarcasm as I muttered “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” Carmine appeared in that moment. “Your friend said to charge the rest of the bill to him. You want a—”
“Cinnamon bun. I do,” I nodded.
“You’re much less crazy than I thought.” She smiled and turned away. “Life’s full of surprises, right?”
“Yep.” I said to the girl with multiple personalities. Or the personality with multiple girls? Don’t be an idiot, Gene!
Or at least not that kind of idiot. I would be the kind of idiot who calls my boss and says that it would be best if I spent the rest of the day at a meeting that had already ended. My boss was eager to get back at me, but couldn’t work out a way to convince himself that sabotaging me was the way to go. I dunked my cinnamon roll in my coffee.
“So, hey,” Carmine said as she came back over. “Look, I’m off and I’ve settled up your friend’s bill. He didn’t really give me permission to move the bill onto the next girl. I’m closing up now and—”
“No, this is fine,” I said with the coffee and the bun. “Thanks.”
“Great!” she said. “Have a great one!”
She went back. I ripped off some more of the spiral and dunked. I watched the first snowflakes start falling again. I counted down from ten.
“Four.” I said between bites. Carmine was wrapped up in a big blue parka with its fur lined hood lowered. Her hair was under a white toque with blue snowflakes knitted into it. It had one of those fuzzy balls on top.
“Nice hat,” I said. I dunked the core of the cinnamon roll. The frosting on the roll sloughed off and floated for a heartbeat. The next sip of my coffee was going to taste like a cinnamon whip. I could live with that.
“Thanks!” She grinned. “Walk me home?”
“Where’s home?” I asked.
“Down on Barrington,” she said. “Six blocks in the wrong direction of you going home.”
“Lovely.” I got up and picked a travel top to my coffee on the bench by the window. From work, I had only walked across the street and down a block. My hat and scarf were still at my desk. I pulled on my gloves. My hood would have to be enough. I flipped it up.
“Carmine? Sweetheart?” The guy behind the counter with the silly goatee gave me a dark look. “Who’s that?”
“Acquaintance’s boyfriend,” she explained. “I’ll be home when you close up.”
“K, babe,” he muttered.
“He doesn’t seem to trust you,” I said when the door closed after her. She pointed down the street and fell into step behind me.
Carmine shrugged. “He shouldn’t.” I sipped my coffee as we went. The heat was moving through my gloves. It was cold enough for snow, but only by a little bit. “What happened?”
“What are you talking about?”
“With the girls. After you deflowered Sam.”
I smiled at the people walking past us. Cell phones, no one’s listening in on your conversation.
“That’s between me and them,” I said.
“Great, you’re being a fucking gentleman.” She shook her head. “That’s what got you into this trouble in the first place. What kept you from making the right moves before The Lady could mess it up.”
“Winter?” I asked.
“How do you know who she is?” Carmine stopped. The snow started to fall faster. She set her mitten on her chest and took a long breath. “What—”
“I had a dream about you two.” I shrugged. The details of the dream were vivid but as I tried to tell Carmine I lost the image. I shut my mouth and it came back.
“No you didn’t,” she said quietly. “I’m no match for her. I failed to stop her.”
“What?” I said. We hit Barrington Street. The snow had cleared some, but not all, of the traffic. We waited until we could cross. “Stop her what?”
“From taking two of the girls from you,” she said. “Any of them. All of them. I don’t know.”
“They seem fine, eager. Sam’s a bit freaked out but, as you said, she’d just been deflowered.” Wow, that word sounds moronic out loud.
“But I couldn’t have saved them all!” She shook her head. “I hoped, at best, I could get you a few more days. But she is so strong! She had to get what she wanted that night! I couldn’t stop her. She was going to take Alex from you.”
“Well, the girls’re still with me. Alex especially,” I said. “What about your boots? Do you want them back?”
“If I didn’t think you should have them, I’d have taken them back. Anyway, they belonged to Gretchen.” Carmine shrugged. A sly smile spread across her lips. “Besides, better she didn’t know you had anything of mine.”
I shook my head. “Gretchen? Which one’s you? I’ve had enough of this.”
“They’re the only things that house my power in your home,” she said, falling to a stop. “You have to keep them.”
“Your power?” I laughed. “So what’re you? Sisters with Gretchen and Faye?”
“They’ve never met.” Carmine shook her head. She looked frightened and she still wasn’t moving. I turned to keep walking down the street. The wind blew a flurry of snow into my hood and knocked it back onto my shoulders.
“Shit.” I dragged the hood forward and yanked out its laces to tie it on my chin. “At least the snow’s stopped.”
“You live down this way too?” Carmine said, her voice oozing sarcasm. “You didn’t follow me home? Creep.”
The disgust on her face bothered me. I turned to face her if only to keep my back to the wind that billowed against my back.
“You! What are you doing here?” Winter looked into my face as she strode by. She turned her head to the door Carmine had started towards. Winter sneered back at me. “Of course the Girl is still toying with you. Idiot.”
Carmine gave us a scrunched-face look from behind the scarf on her cheeks and rushed inside the building. I shook my head. Goddammit. That was, what, a half-hour?
“Well?” Winter asked.
“What is the Girl up to?” she demanded.
“I’m walking home. If you’re heading the same way, keep up if you’re keeping up.” I had the wind at my back as I moved on.
“Fine,” she said. “You can’t trust the Girl.”
“Good for me,” I said. “Who can I trust?”
“You could start with yourself,” she said. The wind died down. I looked at Winter and she half-frowned at me.
“You’re not going to get all confused about who I am, are you?” I asked.
“Of course not,” she said. “That’s not what a Lady would do.”