I rolled up my jeans, stained with a mix of dried blood and devil slobber, and kicked off my shoes. The bastard had gotten me just below my calf and dug in hard. I debated going back to the doctor, but decided against it at the thought of how much another set of hospital bills would set me back, especially without the goddamn ring to return. At least he didn’t get my Achilles. I would have had to end up suing Allison for housing a terrorist and I neither had the time, money nor patience to deal with our judicial system. The bleeding had stopped and deciding that it wasn’t worth a trip to the ER, I hobbled over to the bathroom. Now that the adrenaline had left my system, I began to feel the pain of the bite with each step, across the hardwood floor all the way to the tiled bathroom.
I found a nearly empty tube of Neosporin and a few small Band-Aids. Where was I when the rest of this tube of Neosporin was used up, I thought. I couldn’t remember using any of it, let alone a whole tube of the stuff. Carefully I covered each tooth-sized gash with a band-aid. It took six small band-aids to do the deepest cuts. The rest of the teeth weren’t long enough to break the skin, though they did certainly leave a mark. If they could identify a dog from its teeth like they do with humans, my leg could have been Exhibit A in my trial against the heinous dog.
Not wanting to stew in anger or pain, I quickly called Nicole and asked her if the offer still stood for me to go over that night. “Of course,”
she said wondering why I even asked. “I’ll be here, just come on over.”
When she asked whether I was OK, I told her that I’d explain everything when I came over.
Even though I was broke and had no prospects of making money, I decided that I wouldn’t be able to walk the mile or so over to Nicole’s and decided that the five dollar cab ride would be well worth it. Being the tech geek that most in my generation are, I hailed a cab online and got a text message when it arrived two minutes later. Nicole’s address came as easily out of my mind as my own would have. It’s amazing how quickly 102
we get used to new things, places, and people. It’s also amazing how fast you can get places when you take a car. Nicole’s apartment was right outside the car door within 3 minutes, after hitting all green lights with a driver that didn’t believe in speed limits.
When I buzzed up, she assumed it was me and said, “Well that was fast,” as a way of saying hello. “Come on up.” Of course she didn’t mean it the way I heard it, but to me it sounded like, “Oh great... you’re here already.” The stairs seemed like an obstacle course to me and I realized why I never considered joining the armed forces. I would have been the one at the back of the line that everyone cheered and teased from the finish line, all of them having completed the course. “You can do it, maggot! Get your ass over here with the rest of us or everyone has to do 500
pushups and clean the bathrooms with our toothbrushes!” No, thank you, to that.
When I finally knocked on the door, Nicole opened it with a “What took you so long to–Oh my God! What happened?” She helped me the rest of the way into her apartment and over to her sofa where I plopped into the same spot as the night before. For a second I wondered which was worse, the feeling I had last night knowing that Allison had betrayed me long before I had made the mistake of asking her to marry me, or the dog bite still clenching my leg. Ultimately I decided that the feelings from last night weren’t gone yet, and so today’s pain won over all the negative emotions I had about her and life in general. Nicole, being amazing, was finishing preparations of dinner for the two of us. She made scallop risotto that smelled unbelievable. She had a bottle of wine ready and a few candles set up to be lit for a romantic mood. “I hope I didn’t ruin the evening you had planned,” I said, wanting her to know that I had noticed everything she had worked so hard on. “Oh, Josh, I certainly know it’s not your fault,” she said as I made my way to a chair at the table. Right as I sat down, she placed my plate in front of me. I rarely had scallops and I never imagined that the bubbly, slightly nerdy MIT girl that I met at Our House earlier in the week would be cooking them for me, trying to impress me. Between each amazing bite, I recounted a small chunk of the ridiculous day I had. I told her everything. I told the story about the little ducks at the duck pond, which made her smile. I told her about how I couldn’t find my ring and freaked out. I told her about how I called Allison out about Sascha.
“She hates me now, doesn’t she?” Nicole asked.
“Well to be fair, she probably started hating you last night. Nothing I said today changed anything. She just still hates you. She actually tried to make me out to be the bad guy. Even after she admitted that she didn’t want to marry me because she was unsure of her and me because of her and Sascha.”
“Yeah, well we do that. It’s always your fault, you know. Whatever it is.”
Eventually I told her about my encounter with Allison and her evil dog.
“She refused to give you the ring back?”
“What? Why? I don’t understand.”
“You got me.”
“What does she want to do with it? Was she wearing it?”
“No, I think I would have noticed that.”
“But it wasn’t in the box?”
“You don’t think she would have sold it, do you?”
“Apparently you know her just as well as I do, so you tell me. I doubt it. She doesn’t need the money.”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
“Could she have lost it, but she didn’t want to tell you?”
“Lost it? How could she have lost it?”
“Well I can imagine that if someone asked me to marry them and I was unsure of what I wanted to do, I would have at least tried it on to see what it looked like. Every girl wants an amazing engagement ring. It’s a lot like trying on wedding dresses whether you’re getting married or not–you like the thought of it.”
I often felt as though I understood a lot about girls that many guys didn’t, but I certainly never understood their desire for a wedding. Why was it ingrained in their souls? A giant party for what? You’re married when you sign some papers, not when a guy waves a magic wand in a church or in a hotel banquet hall. Why not just have a party like any other party and save the money you’d spend on the wedding for retirement or your kid’s college fund or anything else?
“Hmm...” I hadn’t thought of her losing it.
“Well couldn’t she have told me that she lost it instead of demanding that she keep it?”
“Would it have made a difference?”
She was right. I would have been just as upset if she had lost it. I wouldn’t have punched and kicked her dog, but I would have hated her just the same either way.
“No, that doesn’t add up for me. I know her pretty well and I didn’t think that she was hiding anything from me.” Then I realized that she had kept Sascha from me for 3 months and I didn’t have a clue. “Well, maybe she could be lying, but I don’t think she just lost it.”
“So it has to be somewhere else in her apartment, right?”
“It has to be.”
“So what are you going to do?”
I reached into my pocket and pulled out the little trinket that would elucidate what I was planning. “You still have a key to her place.... You sneaky bastard.”
“In all the hullabaloo today, she never thought to ask for it back. It was probably the last thing on her mind, so here’s what I’m thinking....”
Nicole was genuinely intrigued in knowing my plan. She leaned forward to hear better, excited, listening intently as if she were at a murder mystery dinner playhouse and she had just figured out whodunit. She didn’t take much pleasure in having figured it out first, as she was just glad to be a part of it all.
“I was thinking I’d just walk in, snoop around, with gloves of course, and leave with the ring that’s rightfully mine.” After all, I still had the receipt to prove it. I wondered who would win if it went to court. Perhaps Judge Judy would rule in my favor because of my quirky charm, but Allison would turn on the fireworks and it’s hard to tell a girl she can’t have her engagement ring when she’s bawling–whether the tears are real or not.
“What about the dog?” she asked, like the kid in the front of the class telling the teacher she didn’t have enough homework for the night.
“That’s where I’m unsure of what to do. I’m hoping that it’s still hurt from today, but if it’s not, then I don’t really have a plan yet.”
We both sat eating our risotto as if it was some sort of magical potion and we were waiting for the acid trip that would reveal the answers to 105
our questions. Unfortunately life doesn’t work that way and magic potions are hard to come by these days. The wine certainly helped. Without realizing, during my detailed descriptions of the day’s events, I had drunk two full glasses. Apparently Nicole was a ninja trained in the deft art of shadow wine pouring.
It suddenly occurred to me that our relationship up to that point had revolved around alcohol, which seemed odd to me. From the get go, we met at a bar. The rest of the week was one bizarre occurrence after another that deserved a drink or two after having to deal with the drama. I ate the last bite of risotto and bowed to the chef. “Dinner was unbelievable. Thank you.” The sincerity of my praise made her blush a bit as she offered to clear the plates. Instead of doing the dishes right away though, she helped me back over to the sofa and sat down next to me with her head on my shoulder as we had been the night before.
“You know, I could really get used to this.” I whispered just loud enough to reach her ears, but no further.
“Me too.” Her words had to wrap around her head to reach my ears. All of a sudden she jumped up. “I have an idea!” she exclaimed.
“PETA won’t approve of this, but it’ll probably work.” She bounced over to her desk and opened her top drawer. After rustling a few odds and ends around, she pulled out a small case with a snap at the top.
“What is it?” I asked.
“It’s a taser.”
“You want me to taser a dog? Can you do that?”
“I don’t know, but it’ll definitely stop him, right?”
She did have a point. I already punched and kicked the thing, would it really make a difference on my moral permanent record if I tased the son of a bitch? A quick tutorial on the usage of the taser and I was ready to go. Aside from the fact that I was a little wounded myself, I was prepared for my mission. We went over possible locations for the ring. “If I were hiding a ring I wouldn’t put it somewhere obvious. It wouldn’t be with the rest of my jewelry. But she did take it out of the box....” We both made speculations based on what I could remember about her room and the various containers in it. We drew out a little map of her room with all the possible places notated with symbols.
At the end of our secret meeting, the plan sounded so simple: use my key, taser the dog, find the ring and walk out. Satan would be back to normal by the time Allison came home and she probably wouldn’t notice 106
the ring was gone until I had already returned it. After going step by step over the plans and all possible locations for the ring, we lounged back in the sofa and took sips of the last of the wine. “We’ve had quite the eventful relationship so far, haven’t we?” I asked playfully.
“We sure have.”
“Are we going a good pace?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well both of us just got out of pretty long relationships. You happen to know the extent of mine. I happen to know the severity of yours. I don’t want to rush anything with you. I like you. A lot.”
Her face melted into a smiling wax statue of herself.
“I think we’re going a good pace. Do you?”
“I just wanted to make sure that you’re ok with everything.”
“I had to practically beg you to stay over. It took that whole mess with Allison to actually make it happen.” We both laughed and I wrapped my arm around her shoulder.
“I just like that I already feel comfortable with you even though there’s still so much to learn about you. I don’t feel like I have to impress you or anything and so I just have a lot of fun with you. Who would have thought plotting a faux felony against my ex-girlfriend could be so fun, right?”
“And my ex-good friend. I’m becoming less and less caring of her well-being. What a terrible friend I am.”
“Whose fault is it?”
“Who’s the bad guy in all of this?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I started seeing you without knowledge of Allison’s affair. You started seeing me knowing full well that I was Allison’s boyfriend. Allison started dating Sascha 3 months before I asked her to marry me and therefore 3 months before I started seeing you. Arguably, everyone involved is at fault for something.”
“Why does there have to be a bad guy?”
“I guess I’m just used to the idea that there is always a bad guy in a story. Blame Walt Disney.”
“Hmm. Well, everyone was just doing what was good for them, right?”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
“Then one could argue that we’re all the bad guys.”
“Or we can both just blame Allison and call her the bad guy.”
“But then she’ll just blame us and call us the bad guy.”
“And that is how all wars are justified. Everyone thinks that God is on their side and that they are the ones that deserve to win.”
“Let’s not worry about who’s the bad guy here, ok? I’d rather just enjoy the night with you.”
“You’re right. But she’s the bad guy here, right?”
She stretched her neck to kiss me. A few moments in tender embrace and she broke away to start doing the dishes. Her computer was the focus of the room for Act Two of that evening as we both checked out our social pages to see what the word was on the digital street. The Bayside Ramblers had written back to me and liked my review as well. Two out of two is a good start and just like Wally and the Whale they had asked me to possibly review their new album when it came out. This whole reviewing thing was going better than I could have expected so far. The only thing to do now was to go see as many shows as I could, or as many shows as I could afford until I found an actual job. A few more glasses of wine and the fermented grapes called forth the longing in our bodies, like spirits from another plane. Soon we had restaged the performance of the night before. Lying there before falling asleep I asked her, “Do you think this is a bad idea?”
I laughed. “No I’m sorry. My plot for tomorrow. Is it ridiculous?”
“What’s ridiculous is her not giving you back the ring. You have an odd sort of right to being wrong on this one. I’ve known her for a long time and it still just doesn’t seem like something that she’d do.”
A breath or two. “I know, right? That’s what worries me about the whole thing. She’s been so out of character for the past few weeks. You think she’s ok?”
“I don’t think either of us will be able to find out at this point.”
The thick Boston wind whirred and screeched against the windows of her apartment, like fingernails dragged across a chalkboard. Eventually the exhaustion and wine took over my body and I drifted off to sleep. That night I dreamt of Allison. I would rather have dreamt about the angry, drunken carnie ramming his car into the carnival again, than dream of her.
She was sitting quietly at home reading a book, looking rather sullen. She kept switching positions, never finding one that she could sink into and relax. She just couldn’t stay still. Her whole afternoon went like that. She had a glass of wine to help her relax, but even that didn’t help. Someone came to her door. Of course, it was Sascha, except he didn’t look like the tool he was when I met him. He looked like a sophisticated guy. As he walked through the door, she immediately took off her shirt, ran over and jumped on him. It went on and on and on. I knew that I was sleeping but I couldn’t wake up and I couldn’t control anything. It was as if my mind was forcing me to watch, holding my internal eyelids open.
I woke up to Nicole wiping my forehead and whispering, “Shhh, it’s ok. Shhh.” I jumped up and landed back down in the same position.
“Bad dream?” Nicole asked.
“Terrible.” I told her all about it, sparing her the details that no one would really want to hear. After about five minutes I finally started to calm down and started to think about Allison in the dream. I couldn’t remember any time when she was as excited to see me as she was seeing Sascha. It was as if Sascha were a drug and she was addicted to him. Restless until she got her fix of someone other than me. It was terrifying.
“I just have to tell you, so that it won’t fester inside me. I’m not all that mad, but it does bother me a bit. Forgetting for a moment that you knew that I was dating Allison, you still knew that she was dating Sascha, right?”
“And you didn’t tell me, why?”
“That would have given away that I knew her.”
“I was going to eventually tell you. I just didn’t want to be the reason that everything ended. I wanted you guys to work it out as if I weren’t there.”
“I don’t understand that.”
“What can you do? Everyone’s the bad guy here, right?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
That morning we decided to forego the usual habits of the last few days and to go out for breakfast. My leg felt surprisingly better and I could walk normally again. We made our way to a small café that sat like a fat cat on the edge of the MIT campus. Everyone came to it in spite of the usual long wait, and for good reason. A meal fit for a warrior was what I needed and that’s exactly what I got. I hadn’t eaten so much in one sitting in years. It wasn’t heavy, though. I ate and ate and just felt my body absorbing everything that it could to prepare me for what lay ahead.
We went over the plans and I made sure I had all my tools. Nicole paid the tab and then kissed me for good luck before waving goodbye and walking briskly to her class. Fear crawled up my legs, grabbing at the top of my pants to hoist itself up. Then it grabbed my spine like a shaky ladder and climbed higher up to my neck. I got a cab to quickly take me across the bridge as walking across it would still have been tricky. I got out at the top of Newbury because the cabbie didn’t understand my directions, so and I decided that a coffee would do me good. I needed that extra jolt to get the job done right.
I went back into Starbucks by ‘the Nasty’ and got myself a large coffee. Even though I worked there, I still refuse to say tall, grande and venti. Just make it small, medium or large. Please. A seat was open by the window and I decided that a moment to prepare would be nice. People watching was a sport in this city and I was one of the team captains. One of the best. A couple caught my attention as they broke stride and pulled their hands apart right across the street. The girl was yelling at the guy and he looked horrified. Normally if someone is yelling at you like that, you know what you did. He seemed completely clueless. Maybe he was just acting like he didn’t know, but I didn’t think so. The poor guy was getting berated by what seemed to be his girl, right in the middle of a busy pedestrian highway. They blocked foot traffic, and if people had horns built-in, there would have been many of them 110
honking at the two. She slowly made the transition from anger to tears. I had never seen a girl yell like that without eventually ending up dripping in tears. I was so caught up in my own life that I forgot other people out there were likely having their own dramas, like I was having the last few days. Maybe names and events were changed, but enough was the same to make any life a movie “based on a true story”. I had more sympathy for both of them than I would have, eight days ago. I probably would have blamed him for being the one to do something wrong, when really she was probably trying to blame him to hide what she had done. We’re an amazing species, I thought, as I checked my pockets for the taser and the keys to Allison’s apartment. Tossing the empty coffee cup into the trash, I walked out the door and imagined that I was walking in slow motion like in a Wes Anderson movie. The hero’s moment of slow motion. Mine came as I approached the apartment building soon to be six thousand dollars less valuable. The key worked, which was a good start. It felt oddly sensual, easing softly into the keyhole. I was trying to be gentle so as not to stir the beast until I was good and ready. (I had envisioned a scenario, while searching for the right key, where Allison somehow had time to change the locks before I got there and I had to climb up some ivy and break a window.) I simply wanted what was mine, not to actually break and enter. Prison seemed repugnant like one of those really soft smelly French cheeses that I did not ever feel like tasting; not even accompanied by the best wine. The door opened quietly, surprisingly silent for an old wooden door. There was just a whisper as the draft guard slid against the hardwood floors. With my first step into her apartment I felt like I was about to step onto the moon. I felt as though I had never been there before. I had been alone in her place many times, but I had never walked into her place when she wasn’t there, and I hoped it would be the last time. With the second step, I was in. The door closed behind me just as quietly as it had opened–Stage 1 of this game had been cleared with great marks. Stage 2
started as I noticed the Devil sleeping in the corner of the living room. I wondered what Satan dreams about. Attacking humans? Kid-face sandwiches? Biting innocent boyfriends? I was sure I saw him licking his lips as he growled in his sleep. I stepped as quietly as I could walking toward her bedroom one step at a time, trying to remember where the creaks in the wood were. I used the wood grain lines and spots like constellations to find my way through the wooden sea. Peering over my shoulder as I entered the doorway to the bedroom, I checked the status of The Evil One. By the hand of Zeus he was still sleeping.
The snooping began. The first place I looked was in her drawers where I started last time. This time I’d be more methodical and thorough. Top drawer, bottom drawer. Nothing. Next we had thought to go to the jewelry box–though obvious, Allison wasn’t a very creative one. Her jewelry had no news of my ring, though I did catch a few things that I’d never seen before. Fucking Sascha. I wondered how long ago she was given those as gifts, but any conclusion I might have reached would not have been good news, so I stopped thinking of it altogether. There was no time for anger here.
I double-checked the top of her desk, which was rather cluttered. Nothing. Nightstand. Nothing. Even the bathroom. Nothing. I was getting frustrated. Where else could it be? In my frustration I stepped on a spot of the floor that I knew was going to give me away. The part of my mind that was supposed to be looking out for the floor had teamed up with the rest of me in brainstorming and neglected its duties. Immediately I heard that all-too-familiar sound. Satan had risen prematurely from his sleep, and he was pissed.
I unsnapped the taser from its case and got ready for him. I clicked it on to make sure that it worked as he started his short run towards me. The blue glow from the taser didn’t halt his steps at all, and though I tried to stop him he jumped so high that his head was eye level with me. My arm swung out with my thumb pressing the trigger and it struck him right in the side. A puppyish squeal was all that was left of his energy as his body fell hard and limp onto the ground. I was so astonished that I couldn’t move. It took a moment for me to remember what I was there to do. Cover blown, I ran full speed into the bathroom and rummaged through the drawers and cabinets like in a police raid. I tried not to be too fast for fear of missing something, but I had no idea how long the shock would keep him out and wasn’t going to be around long enough to find out.
It wasn’t there. I ran into the kitchen and looked through the pots and pans, I looked by the TV, I looked on the shelves of the small entertainment center. Nothing. The Demon was stirring and still I had nothing. The moment I heard the barking of the discombobulated dog coming back to life, I was suddenly enraged. I grabbed the taser from my pocket and started walking over to him ready to stun him again for more time. He was trying to convince his legs to stand as I pulled the trigger on the taser and slammed it once again into his side. Only that time, it didn’t turn on. “You have got to be kidding me!” I yelled at the dog. I pulled the trigger again. Nothing. Repeatedly I smacked it onto the ground 112
hoping that might shake some sense back into the thing. This was no time for the key member of the strike force to go down. It looked as if he understood what was happening. He had to have remembered the device that caused him so much pain, despite his immense stupidity. It was simple survival. He looked at me, then at the taser, then back again. The spark of his evil erupted into fire all around him, and the heat struck an intense fear in me down to my intestines. For the first time in our battles together, he knew that he had the upper hand. I could see it in his eyes. He was going to hurt me. Bad. The insurgents finally had a chance to take down the powers that had oppressed them for so long.
In a desperate move, I ordered my foot to strike the dog. I never thought I’d be a puppy kicker, but again I had never met Satan either. Things change so fast. Apparently I wasn’t fast enough for the sudden rush of power that the Devil had found. He dodged my foot and growled with the zeal of a lion protecting his offspring. As I slowly marched my way backwards towards the door, he followed me step for step. I thought that maybe if I just left, he’d leave me alone, content with his victory. As I turned to reach for the door, he leapt at me with jowls wide open ready to embrace my flesh in a murderous hug. Somehow I was quick enough to just dodge teeth, but his body rammed into me hard enough to knock me over. We fell like angry lovers to the floor as he slobbered all over me. With a sudden rush of strength I threw him off of me and turned over to make my escape. As I stood up to slam the door behind me cueing this awful scene to wrap, the beast was right behind me in the doorway. That was it. I had to call retreat. There was nothing else I could do. So I started to run. That’s where this whole story started. It was soon thereafter that we battled in the street and I retrieved the ring, covered in evil slobber, from Satan’s dirty mouth. I met the wonderful Darla and Herbert and eventually made my way back to Allison’s to return the broken and defeated warrior. I walked home that night to my own apartment instead of Nicole’s. We had planned for me to rendezvous back with her that night, but I just needed some time to myself. The whole thing was just too much to take in. I called her as I walked home and told her briefly what happened, without any exciting details, telling her that I’d fill her in later on the rest. The key point was that overall it was a success. I had the ring.
At home, I kicked off my shoes, poured myself some whiskey and went into the bathroom. First thing was first. I had to clean the gunk off the ring. If I was going to return it, I needed to make it look like it hadn’t been wrapped around a rottweiler’s tooth for the past who-knows-howmany-days. I wondered how it ended up in his mouth, let alone securely wrapped around a tooth. I had a hard time imagining the scenario. I made a mental note to ask Allison, years down the line if we became friends again. I wondered if that’s why she was so adamant about not giving it back. Had she though that she lost it? A string to a light bulb just above my head was pulled on and I laughed out loud. She thought she lost it. It made so much sense. She would have probably given it back readily, but she didn’t want to admit that she lost it and so she refused to give it back. That had to be it. As I tucked that little secret into my pocket to possibly use at a later date, the ring was just about clean. I held it up toward the light and it sparkled like a newborn star. “You little son of a bitch.” I scolded the twinkling ring. “You have changed my life forever.” Engagement rings were supposed to do that to the person giving it and to the girl you gave it to forever. In my case, though, it showed me a girl more suited for me and got me away from a girl that I would have been miserable with, especially given her longstanding affair with a euro-trash prick named Sascha. 114