Step aside from all this anger,
and somewhere in between I can feel you.
-- Howie Day. "Ghost."
Riley has only ten minutes with the nameless dead girl. At the end of ten minutes, her pimp — named Whip — comes over and jerks her away. Whip makes Riley pay in advance, because of the lethargy that overcomes him afterward. It's like the water of Lethe, temporarily: relief that he's come to need more and more.
Riley pays, receives the attentions of a pretty vampire girl, and strips off his shirt. He doesn't know her name, nor she his. Sometimes he kisses her, but not too often — she's cold. Mostly he just guides her to his arm and lets her have her way.
He usually lays a hand on her head and grips her hair when she begins to prick his arm. In a few minutes, her rough tongue laps at him, and suddenly he's not thinkin' of church or Iowa or his momma. He's thinkin' of women — Buffy, Faith, any girl in his head at the time, living or dead — and he's hotter than a mountain fire burning through a million acres.
Harder, he grunts out to the nameless thing sucking on his arm: harder, and he jams her face into the crook of his elbow. Her free hand, the one not clutching his wrist for support, flails a moment and then settles against his upper thigh. His hips jerk up against her in acknowledgement and then still. And he lies against the filthy wall and stops thinking, stops wondering, stops faking for one black minute.
It's like his senses are heightened, blasted into the stratosphere. Around him he can hear the soft moans of others like him, addicted to the red. He doesn't like to make sounds, but sometimes he is so far gone that he can't help himself. Like sex, without the mess. Even the tiredness after is the same. The dead girl is willing to give him a blowjob for an extra few minutes, but again, the cold stops him.
Fuck you, Buffy, he thinks, and often enough it's what he thinks about, too: the oldest sound in the world is the sound of a woman removing her clothes. The sound of Faith, in Buffy's body, removing his shirt. The feel of Faith, biting him in the chest so hard that he bled one thin line. And maybe that had been the start.
He'd looked in the mirror, seen the blood, and the guilt had been gone. Wiped away. He'd known. He'd known when he touched her, told her he loved her, that something was different. And it had been liberating. The guilt, the churchy-white-boy gotta- love-her-to-do-it guilt, gone. Gone. What the hell? Who cared about love? Sometimes it was just about sensation, about the silk slide of a girl's skin, about the gasp of her mouth against yours.
And Buffy doesn't love him. She doesn't love him; she never did. Sex was good, sure. Great. But sex was good with Faith too. Better, maybe, for the lack of inhibition. Oh, when he's down, it hurts him where he's defenceless: right in the middle American choirboy's gut. No matter how he tries, he can't be good enough for her, not even with all the love and trust and sex he's willing to leave at her feet.
Well, so what? So the hell what. He'd looked in the mirror and seen the truth, and the truth sent him straight to oblivion. Apparently, good boys from Iowa can't deal well with having nothing to guilt about.
The dead girl ceases her gulping, looks up at him, wipes her hand across her mouth. You know, she whispers through her bloody teeth, there's a demon in my head. She has blue eyes. She looks vaguely like Kim Basinger.
From miles away, he feels her stopping, and drops bitterly back toward earth. He tips his head a little to see her better, and his voice sounds like sandpaper when he says, are the ten minutes up?
No, she says. Not yet.
Then shut up, bitch, and put your head back down.
In acknowledgement, she closes her eyes and bows her head back to his arm. He soars. And as his senses hit a pinnacle, he hears a voice in the hallway. The brittle sound of a British accent: just having a little look, mate. Keep it down.
He hears her footsteps before he sees her, the footsteps that have melded with his on a hundred runs, a hundred fights. Hears her breathing: calm, casual, innocent. For a sweet second he doesn't care, but then it's back again, the guilt. He hasn't overcome it after all: it's crushing him, washing him to sea.
Harder, he says desperately to the girl, not wanting to look, not wanting anything but bright oblivion. But it's slipping away, because it's just an addiction, same as any other junk. It's not stable. Buffy gasps then, and it brings him back to earth, the one bitter place he doesn't want to be. Riley opens his eyes and sees exactly what he knew he'd see: her shocked face, framed in blond hair, framed in her fucking righteous halo.
The guilt intervenes then: that's *Buffy*. You owe her something. And he knows it, knows that it's time to face up, but he can't move, can barely say her name, and she turns and runs from the den. The guilt riding him is a relief and a damnation, proof that nothing will ever change if he doesn't fight his way off of this razor blade. Starting now.
It's all he can do to grab his shirt, but the guilt has taken over and now it's in charge. So he does grab it, and he does shove the vampire girl as hard as he can, sending her backwards against the wall, as if this was all her fault, which he knows damn well it isn't.
This can't last, he thinks, the last of his beautiful high bleeding out of him like the sluggish trail on his arm. I'm two people now, and I can't last like this. He stumbles once, on the stairs, and catches himself before he falls.
Many thanks to M for lending me her story. I guess this is an aside to her: One of my favorite books is Anne Carson's "The Autobiography of Red," which has the first line, "Geryon learned about justice from his brother quite early." Yours truly, Z.