All the rage, p.9
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       All the Rage, p.9

           T. M. Frazier
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  even in practice. Truth is I got in a fight.”

  “I take it you lost?”

  Nolan looked at me as if I’d just knocked on his door and asked him if he’s accepted our lord and savior Jesus Christ into his life. “Fuck no,” Nolan spat, rolling his eyes.

  “All right then, brawler, is the other guy in a neck brace?”

  “No, smart ass. At least I don’t think he is. I was out with friends. This guy I knew from way back, who I didn’t even remember I had beef with but apparently he did, spotted me at the bar and started shit with me. We took it outside. Before I got my punch in he pulled out a blade and sliced my fucking leg open. Hurt like a motherfucker but I didn’t even feel it, not until after I knocked the son of a bitch out.” Nolan sighed and looked to the ceiling.

  I didn’t know if I should say something so I stayed quiet while he finished his story. “He’s lucky I didn’t fucking kill him.” Nolan’s knuckles turned white around the neck of his beer, which he then finished in a few long swigs.

  He took a deep breath and waved off the memory. “Enough of that bullshit,” Nolan said. “Here.” He reached behind his head and grabbed something before settling back into the couch. He tossed me a remote. “Ladies’ choice.”

  I caught it and started flipping through the channels, grateful for something to do with my hands besides bite the side of my thumb, which was a habit I’d never had any luck at successfully giving up, although I’d been trying since I was a kid.

  Dirty hands and all.

  “You know, you’re the only person I’ve told that story to who didn’t apologize.” Nolan said.

  I pursed my lips. “Why would I apologize? I’m not the one who shanked you,” I said. The TV screen flashed in the dark, illuminating the room with every click of my thumb like lightening across a night sky.

  “No,” Nolan chuckled. “No you’re not.” We were both silent again for a moment before Nolan suddenly asked, “How are you even doing that?” He pointed to the remote in my hand and then the TV. “You’re flipping through too fast.”

  “So?” I asked, continuing my assault on the channel-up button. “And are you sure you’re okay with me staying here? I mean, maybe your parents won’t like it so much?”

  Real fucking smooth, Rage.

  “Yeah, it’s more than fine. This place was my grandparents before they died.

  “Explains the plastic,” I said, shifting around and making the couch squeak.

  “Yeah, that was my Gran.” Nolan said. “My parents were never really in the picture. They sell international real estate or some shit. Months usually go by without me hearing from them. This time around, it’s been a long while. Haven’t seen them since Gran and Gramps passed, and honestly, I’m not exactly sitting around waiting for the phone to ring or anything,” Nolan said and I knew there was more to the story. More I needed to find out for Smoke but I didn’t press, not wanting to raise his suspicions.

  “Are you close to your parents?” Nolan asked. “Or are they who you are running away from?”

  I mulled over his question and thought about our daily calls. I might have spoken to them every day, but did telling lies count as being close? “As close as we can be,” I answered, and thankfully that seemed to be enough of an answer and he didn’t pry.

  Nolan pointed to the TV again. “There is no fucking way you can see what show is playing, never mind make a decision to move on with your happy trigger thumb on the button over there.”

  I smirked, but not because he pointed out my channel surfing skills, but rather at his use of the phrase, “trigger thumb.” “Don’t judge me the way you judged Delilah. I watched so much TV growing up, I could probably tell you what’s on right now without even flipping, but I don’t know your channel numbers here so keep your holier-than-thou remote rules zipped up over there while I work my magic.” I wrinkled my nose, stuck out my tongue, and just like that I was ten years old and back on Cody’s porch.

  “Anyone ever tell you that you’re kind of cute when you’re angry?” Nolan asked.

  I paused, my thumb hovering over the button. “HA! Not in this lifetime. And trust me, this isn’t angry. You don’t want to see me angry.” The beer must have been going to my head because my anger wasn’t something I wanted to have a conversation about.

  There was definitely something wrong with me. Like more wrong with me than usual. I was sure of it. I made a mental note to re-download WebMD after Nolan went to sleep.

  I glanced back up at the fan that had caught my attention when I first walked in. That fan was what was wrong with me. And the universe. Yeah, it was most definitely the dirty fucking fan that was wrong with everything in the world. The air conditioning kicked on with a shake sending dark grey dust bunnies falling over the edges of the fan blades, landing on the dining room table. I cringed.

  Nolan didn’t seem to notice. He cocked an eyebrow at me. “I’m curious to see what you would look like all pissed off,” he said, “all red and flushed,” but he wasn’t making fun of me. He wasn’t laughing. The way he said it was low and deep. He might as well have been saying, “I’m curious to see what you’d look like naked.” To me the being naked thing would be less invasive then him seeing me during one of my episodes.

  It was getting too personal.

  Too much.

  Reaching for the forgotten bag between us, I ripped it open and grabbed a handful of popcorn, stuffing as much into my mouth as would fit. I tossed the remote back over to Nolan, who seemed all too eager to take over a much slower-paced clicking regimen while I went back over to the refrigerator to grab more beer, even though mine was still half full. “You shouldn’t be curious,” I muttered to myself. “Cute is the last thing I am when I’m angry. Just ask my parents, my shrinks, my teacher, Smoke, or Cody.”

  “What was that?” Nolan called out. Luckily, the TV erupted in a blast of gunfire. I sat back down on the couch and folded my feet up underneath me so I was sitting on my calves.

  Much to my dismay, the drooling germ ball of fur Nolan called Murray came waddling out of the back room. Within a few minutes, he was asleep on the couch between us, snoring louder than Smoke did after a night of heavy drinking.

  “I love this movie,” Nolan said, taking a swig of his fresh beer. Just then, on the screen, Jason Statham ran through a courtyard. A second later, a car behind him blew up, lifting off the ground in a dramatic ball of fire.

  So unrealistic. Cars don’t even make that kind of noise when they explode in real life. Fucking unrealistic sound effects. In reality, a car explosion is nowhere near as dramatic. It’s actually very underwhelming as far as explosions go. “Have you seen this one before?” I asked. “What’s it about?” I smirked.

  Nolan nodded, digging his hand into the popcorn. “Yeah, it’s the one where Statham rescues this girl and they run around trying to escape that guy”—he pointed to the screen—“ ’cause he’s after the girl.”

  I chuckled.

  “What’s so funny over there?” Nolan asked, shifting his eyes from the movie to me. His gaze lingered on my chest before trailing up to my face. I pretended not to notice but I had a feeling that Nolan didn’t care if I noticed him looking.

  “Nothing,” I laughed. “It’s just that a friend of mine had this movie thing he did—”

  “Cody?” Nolan interrupted. “You mentioned him before.”

  I nodded. “Yeah, Cody.” It felt weird saying his name out loud, especially to a target and after so long of not saying it anywhere but in my head, or to my mother when she brought him up. Which she did. In every conversation. “Anyway, he used to do this thing where he would get someone to describe a certain Jason Statham movie, and then they would. Then he would ask them to describe another one, and basically the joke was that basically every Jason Statham movie could be described the same exact way.”

  Nolan looked like he was turning that around in his head. He moved his lips around as he thought, talking silently to himself. His lips were f
ull and I caught myself thinking about if they were as soft as they looked when he started to laugh. “You know, I think you’ve got something there.”

  I elaborated. “Statham’s character runs from bad guys with some poor girl in tow. Explosions and chaos ensue. Yeah, that’s pretty much all of them. I looked down to my beer and picked at the corner of the label. “Yeah, Cody was always good at pointing things like that out.” Lifting the bottle to my mouth, I took a big gulp of my beer and swallowed hard.

  “Is Cody your…boyfriend?” Nolan asked, saying Cody’s name as if it left a bad taste on his tongue.

  “Nope. Just a friend.” I sighed. In the spirit of honesty, I added, “He was my only friend.”

  “Was?” Nolan asked, turning toward me as much as his stretched out leg would allow.

  “Yeah, it’s complicated,” I admitted. “Looking back, maybe I should’ve never been friends with him to begin with.” I didn’t feel like talking about Cody anymore so I shrugged it off like losing my only friend was no big deal. Again, my eyes were drawn up to the fan, the grime sitting on it hadn’t been far from my thoughts since I’d stepped into the house. In my head, the bacteria was multiplying by the second. “Your fan is gross.”

  “Kind of like the pool?” Nolan asked, making a disgusted face, and I knew he was mimicking how I’d looked when I pulled him from the pool. “If it makes you feel better, I’m not a complete fucking slob. This place was empty for a long time before I came back here,” Nolan said, joining my observation of the fan as he spoke. “And as you can see”—Nolan pointed to his leg—“I’m not exactly in a position to be climbing ladders right now. The back gutters could use some work too. Don’t think they’ve been touched since I cleaned them last and that was years ago. Deck needs to be sanded, the list goes on. However, if you want to go ahead and start cleaning, you’re more than welcome to go to town on…”

  Nolan barely had the words out of his mouth, and I’d already pulled over a chair from the dining room table and grabbed the cheap duster I’d spied in the kitchen, leaning up against the cabinets. It was one of those plastic ones you buy at the supermarket. The kind with the super light flexible handle that always broke within a few uses, but it would have to do.

  “What exactly are you doing?” Nolan asked, his ab muscles flexed under his shirt as he made a move to stand up, temporarily forgetting about his leg. “You’re gonna fucking fall,” he growled in frustration. By the time he plopped back down on the couch, though, I was already done wiping the dust from the first blade into a garbage bag. “I was joking, Rage. You don’t have to clean right now.”

  I shook my head, grateful that Nolan’s cast kept him couch bound because if he were able-bodied and so much as tried to drag me away from that fan, I’d have had to lay him out. “I’ve been staring at this fucking fan since I walked in the door. This needs to be taken care of now before little dust monsters grow from it in the middle of the night and attack you in your sleep.”

  “Is that a thing?” Nolan asked sounding amused. He took a swig of his beer, watching me as I made the fan my bitch.

  “It sure as shit is.” I lifted the scooped neckline of my tank top, using it as a temporary face mask.

  “What exactly are you doing?” Nolan asked, his voice sounded suddenly strained.

  “I’m covering my mouth and nose to protect myself from anything flying off the fan finding a nice, warm spot inside of my body to bloom or grow or rotate or mutate or whatever that particular brand of evil grossness does when it makes more evil grossness,” I answered. I turned to Nolan and held up the formally white, but now completely black, duster. “But the question you should be asking is, do you really want to wait and find out what happens if you do nothing?” My voice was muffled through the thin fabric of my shirt.

  Nolan’s smile straightened as his eyes darted down from the shirt, over my nose, to the exposed skin above the waistband of my shorts. He cleared his throat. “I still don’t want you up there,” he muttered gruffly. He sat back on the couch and waved his beer around the room, quickly looking away, back toward the TV. He swallowed hard and his tone lightened. “But by all means woman, continue. Fight the potential dust monsters and whatever their evil will do to me while I sleep. I thank you, kind woman, for your sacrifice in protecting me.” He bowed his head.

  Protecting him. That was the real joke.

  Except, standing there in his grandparents’ living room, cleaning his fan…it wasn’t all that funny.

  I continued on the fan. “You laugh now, but wait until I go to town on that refrigerator of yours. When I got the beer earlier, I saw an inch of mold in the crisper drawer that needs to die. Like yesterday.” Nolan leaned as far forward on the couch as his cast would allow. In a loud whisper, I added, “I’m pretty sure one of the piles of green fuzz winked at me.”

  Nolan dropped back onto the cushions and let out the loudest and longest laugh I’d ever heard. It was one of those genuine laughs you didn’t just hear, but you felt. It made me laugh too, as I made quick work of the fan, while Nolan mumbled to himself about me being a weird and funny chick. He clicked away on the remote, probably attempting to find a less predictable movie than anything Statham.

  “Why are you letting me stay here?” I asked, focusing my attention on the fan. I hadn’t wanted to ask but my curiosity was getting the best of me. “You should be mad at me for running your girlfriend off, but you’re not. Why is that?”

  “Talia? She’s not my girlfriend,” he said, not answering my question.

  “I’m just curious why you let me stay here after I did that.” I paused my duster and looked down to Nolan, who was absent-mindedly rubbing Murray’s stomach. His huge head hung off the edge of the couch, his tongue hanging out, covering one of his eyes.

  “I don’t know. Maybe I wasn’t mad because she’s not important. Or maybe I wanted to talk to the girl who pulled me from the pool and saved my life.” He shrugged and went back to the TV. “Doesn’t matter why. You’re here now,” he said like that answered everything.

  “Then she’s your friend?,” I asked, my curiosity getting the best of me.

  “I wouldn’t exactly call her that.”

  “Then why was she coming to see you?” I asked. The second the question left my mouth, I regretted it because I was met with Nolan’s hazel-eyed stare. He wasn’t looking at me like I was a freak, which I was used to, but like he was genuinely confused by my question.

  “I don’t know if you’re fucking with me, or if you really don’t know? Either way I’ll tell you, just answer me honest.”

  I shifted my gaze back to the fan. “I sort of know,” I said. Followed by, “But I sort of don’t.”

  Nolan remained straight-faced when he said, “I invited her here after my doctor’s appointment because it’s been a while since I’ve gotten laid and I was all messed up about almost dying. You see, this beautiful girl in a white bikini saved me and then ran away. Couldn’t get her out of my head. Talia’s always been down for a good time. So, to answer your question, Rage, she was here this afternoon…to fuck me.” My eyes dropped to his. “I realize it’s not the most chivalrous answer, but it’s also not a bullshit lie.”

  Beautiful

  He thinks I’m beautiful.

  “But then why did you let Talia leave and why did you let the girl in the white bikini stay?” I asked, continuing to refer to myself in third person as Nolan had.

  He shook his head like he couldn’t believe what he was about to say. “Because, I couldn’t NOT let her stay.”

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  Rage

  Nolan was asleep on the couch by the time I was done cleaning the fan, and then the refrigerator, and then the surfaces, and then the floors.

  I’d tapped out a quick text to Smoke letting him know what Nolan said about having no idea where his parents where. I was disappointed, yet not surprised by his immediate response.

  He could be lying. Need more. Stay.

  So much fo
r being done.

  I threw my phone in my bag and noticed that my other one had a blinking red battery on the screen. Knowing my parents would freak out if they called and it went straight to voicemail again, I plugged it in to the only outlet I could find in the living room. Then, with my bag in hand, I made my way down the little hallway that only had two doors. One was a small bathroom, the other was the only bedroom. It was a good thing I didn’t sleep.

  My shower took an hour. Mostly because I scrubbed the tile with borax first and disinfected every single inch of the porcelain before I would even consider stepping one flip-flop-covered foot inside the rim of the tub to actually bathe.

  Thankfully, there were clean towels on top of the counter. When I was done with my shower, I wrapped one around me and had just finished brushing my teeth and combing through my hair when I heard a familiar ring tone.

  I grabbed clean shorts from my bag and reached in farther for my phone, but when I pulled it out the screen was black. Shit, it was my other phone. The one I’d left charging in the living room.

  Right next to Nolan’s chair.

  I didn’t even bother getting dressed. I scrambled out of the bathroom, still wrapped in the towel, but by the time I made it out there, the ringing had stopped.

  I was too late.

  Nolan was still on the couch, only now he was wide awake. A huge grin on his face. His dimple on full display. The cord that had been plugged into my phone was dangling over the armrest of the couch. My phone was up to his ear as he laughed and chatted away.

  With my parents.

  Nolan

  I thought it would be funny to answer Rage’s phone. Her parents
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