"Watch it," I say, grabbing her wrist.
A car rushes by, oblivious that it almost hit someone. The wind catches our hair and sucks at it, flairing it irritatingly across our faces.
The car passes and I let her go.
She looks at me and smiles.
"That was close," she says lightly.
She hops off the curb now and strides across the street. After a beat, I follow.
Her name is Mercedes. She was named after the car. Her hair is golden with chemicals and it leaps joyfully from her shoulders to dance in the sunlight as she walks.
My name is Husten. My hair's light brown and my skin is too. I'm a bit taller than the average guy, and most of my friends are jealous but I can't see why, not even from this height... That was a joke.
Me and Mercedes met two days ago at a Wendy's and she's been with me ever since. The first night she slept at my place, taking my bed while I took the loveseat. I don't even know why I let her come over. We didn't do anything.
That morning she got up before me and when I went into the kitchen for some coffee, she was sitting at my table eating a bowl of expired cereal and milk. I had apologized but she got confused and asked "for what?"
I went on to work, leaving her alone with all my stuff, but when I got back later that night, she was still there, watching TV on my loveseat, and I couldn't tell if she had touched anything or not. I realized then, as she went to the bedroom and I joined her, that I didn't know a thing about her.
That night, we had sex.
She told me not to wear a condom, saying it didn't matter. She came at me and pulled off my clothes and I went for hers, but she beat me to it, stripping out and standing naked before me for only an instant before smacking off the lights and shoving me on the bed. I was surprised and excited as she pressed her warm body on top of mine. We rolled together, kissing and licking at each other, until she spread her legs and offered herself to me. I accepted. She was violent and twitchy and she panted like an animal but didn't shriek or moan. Her fingers dug into my hair and her nails clawed down my back and sent ripples of goosebumps along my skin. I loved every moment of it.
Afterwards, she got up and turned on the light, then we laid beside each other, the covers kicked to the end of the bed, both of us breathing heavily and shiny with sweat. I looked at her and she looked at me and laughed. I don't know why she laughed.
The next morning, this morning, she had a bowl of cereal waiting for me in the kitchen so we could eat together. We did, then when she saw I wasn't heading to the bathroom to shower, she asked if I was off work today. I told her "yeah." She grinned at me and asked if we could go for a walk, so I said "sure."
So that's what we did. That's what we're doing.
"Come on!" She calls, waving at me to hurry. She seizes a light pole and twirls around it as I approach.
"Where are we going?" I ask, glancing down the street.
"Do we need a destination?" She winks at me and skips off.
I hesitate, then jog to catch up. Once at her side, I walk again, but suddenly she begins to run. She legs stretch log and far, her shoes smacking the pavement hurridly as she flies. I want to yell at her to slow down, but I don't. I sprint after her and we race side-by-side down the sidewalk, dodging the odd homeless man and lady with kids. My side begins to ache and my legs feel too heavy to lift but I keep going until at last she skids to a halt.
I stumble but steady myself on a mailbox. I pant and cough but do my best to control it. She nudges me playfully with her elbow and I look at her, my eyes watering. She's hardly out of breath. We grin, but for different reasons. She turns her head away and points.
"Look," she says.
I follow her finger. We're in front of Wendy's.
I blink. We ran that far? I wonder.
"Get up, old man," Mercedes says, pulling on my shirt collar. "You're buying me a burger."
We just ate breakfast, I think, but don't say.
We go inside and the place is empty. It is still relatively early. Music plays softly through the speakers on the ceiling, but it's tinny and distorted, thus unrecognizable. There's a thick dark-brown man at the register, his eyes sucken and his mouth a hard line. We head towards him, and Mercedes grabs onto my arm as if she's afraid.
"Hi," I say, stopping on the marked line on the floor.
The man stares.
"Two cheeseburgers and two drinks, please." I order.
"No cheese," she whispers, thumping me.
"One a hamburger," I correct.
"Both meals." My patience begins to wan.
"Would you like to make them large combos for a dollar more?" The man asks, tapping buttons into the screen in front of him. His voice is deep and thick, and it makes me want to clear my throat.
I glance at her. She's no help.
"Sure," I say.
I pay for the food and soon it appears on the counter in greasy paper sacks. We take it to a booth and sit down.
"Oh, fix me some orange," she says suddenly, pushing her cup into my hand.
I take our cups and fill hers with orange soda and mine with root-beer. I come back to the table and she's already chewing on her burger.
I sit down and unwrap my mine. I notice it doesn't have cheese. I start to complain, but then I see Mercedes's burger has cheese. Deliberately, she picks off some of the orange goo sticking out from the bun and she licks it off her finger, "mmm'ing" childishly.
I stare at her and she looks at me.
"Why did you say you didn't want cheese?" I ask dumbly.
"Because you wanted cheese," she replies, stabbing a straw into her cup and taking a drink.
I smile good-naturedly. She bites her straw and smiles back.
"Thanks," she says outside of the resturant. She turns and walks away down the sidewalk.
I frown, confused, and follow her.
She looks at me over her shoulder but keeps walking. "What?" She asks.
"I... Where to now?" I say hopefully.
"Oh." She stops walking. "I have to go." She looks at me, but doesn't explain any further.
I hesitate then nod. "Okay. I'll call you sometime. What's your number?"
She sighed. "I don't have a phone."
"Oh." I don't know what to say.
"But I know where you live," she adds.
I look at her and suddenly she kisses me on the lips. I start to wrap my arms around her, but she pulls away, leaving me wanting more.
"Bye," she waves and walks on.
I stand there, salty french fries and greasy meat sliding around uncomfortably in my stomach. I swallow a mouthful of saliva, watching her. She doesn't look back and she makes it to the end of the block and turns the corner.
I tap my lips where she kissed me, then I spin on my heel and walk back home.
I watch TV until the evening comes and darkens the sky, then I go to bed. I eat the last of the cereal for breakfast before I go to work. Then I come home.
She didn't even leave a sock or an earring behind her. I wonder when I will hear from her again.
I start leaving my house unlocked, hoping that she'll appear one afternoon while I'm gone and be waiting for me when I get home. But that never happens.
A week goes by and I still don't hear from her. I go to Wendy's on my lunch break in hopes that she'll be there, and I can sneak up behind her while she fills her cup with orange soda. But she's never there.
One night I come home and see my house has been raided. They stole my DVD collection and the toaster I got for my birthday last year. Clothes are thrown all over the bedroom, but none of them are missing. They stole the broken lava lamp out of my closet, and my running shoes. They didn't take my TV, which is surprising, but then again it's not: I still haven't got around to buying a flatscreen. I call the police, as is required, but the crooks knew what they were doing and didn't leave any evidence. The officer scolds me like a child when I tell him I left the door unlocked, and he says he can't even rule it as a break-in.
My door stays locked, now.
I get depressed thinking she'lll never come back. I berate myself for not finding out more about her.
I sit at my kitchen table and pretend she's in front of me. I buy more cereal and pour invisable her a bowl. I go to bed and stay to my side so I won't bother her ghost. I go to Wendy's on my days off, bringing a book and just sitting in our booth for the main part of the day. But I never see her, and she never comes.
One night I sit on the loveseat, watching the news since all my movies were stolen. Breaking news pops up on the screen, saying that yesterday there was a hit-and-run accident on my street. A young girl was hit while jaywalking and she's now in the hospital in critical condition.
I sigh and think how people really need to pay attention.
Then on the screen Mercedes picture appears, along with her full name. Oh God, I think. I stand up and get closer to the TV, my heart pounding.
"Which hospital?" I whisper desperately.
Her picture vanishes and her story becomes just a steady ticker of words at the bottom of the screen while the newscaster moves on to a different subject.
I scan the words and find the hospital, then I run out to my car and drive there.
I run inside and ask which room she's in, and they tell me and I shut myself in an elevator. The ride takes a lifetime, but at last the vibrations stop and the doors spread apart with a ding. I force myself to walk down the hall as I pass old sickly people in wheelchairs and weeping women, smiling thinly at the dagger-faced nurses who stare rudely at me.
I find her room and the door is shut but I go in without knocking. Two doctors and two nurses and a man are standing around the bed. A soft, constant beep from her heart monitor fills the room.
"You're not allowed in here, sir," a nurse says pinchedly.
"Who are you?" The man demands heatedly.
"Husten. I'm a friend of Mercedes," I say shyly, coming over.
"I'm sorry, but you're not allowed to be in here for this," a doctor tells me, holding out his hands and walking towards me as if herding sheep.
"For what?" I lean around him, trying to see Mercedes, but the other people are in the way. The man holds a clipboard offered to him by a nurse. He signs his name, looking weary.
"What's happening?" I demand, pushing the doctor out of the way.
"Hey!" The doctor snarls.
I get closer and my eyes are opened. Mercedes, lying on the bed. Oxygen shoved down her throat. Tubes and IVs drips hanging from a rack. Her still body connected to a life support machine. The nurse checks the man's signiture and nods. The other doctor reaches down and flips a switch. The heart monitor stops abruptly.
My heart skips a beat.
"You're killing her!" I scream, rushing forward.
A nurse steps in front of me and I grab her by the shoulders and push her aside, but the doctor grabs me around the waist and jerks me towards the door.
"Security!" He yells.
"Wait!" I struggle. "You can't do this! She's still alive!"
The man gives me a dirty look, but then the other doctor gets in front of him as he walks towards me, helping the other doctor shove me out of the room.
I fall backwards and crash into an empty gurney in the hallway. I ignore people's stares and jump to my feet. The doctor closes the door on me. I reach for the handle, but someone grabs my wrist. I turn. A police officer glares at me, pointing his taser at my stomach.
"Take it easy, kid," he says darkly.
"But they're killing her," I whimper.
He glances at the door, then back at me.
"It's just like going to sleep," he offers.
I punch him in the face, and suddenly I'm on the ground writhing under the taser. The pain is excruciating. I can't control myself. I piss my pants. The officer cuffs me and drags me away.
I spend the night in jail. It's cold and smells like piss, but that could just be me. I tremble and sob and kick the wall and throw my mattress off the bed. It doesn't make me feel any better.
I get out the next day with a verbal slap on the wrist. I don't bother to call work to explain why I haven't come in yet. I go home and crash out on the bed, where I cry.