Varian Krylov, p.1
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cover Design: Varian Krylov
Hurt © 2008 Varian Krylov
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By Varian Krylov
There was a masochistic pleasure in watching those green-gray eyes begin to shimmer, pinking already with sudden tears gathering along the pale edges of the bottom lids, until the image dissolved in gray-white haze.
Driving. She made herself believe there was only the car and the road and the night.
She levered the clutch and downshifted. Willing every synapse to focus on the speedometer, the wipers squeaking across the windshield, the feel of the wheel in her grip and the sound of the tires whipping up water from the wet pavement as she navigated the curves of the rising and dipping road, she rolled diligently through the rain pooling and streaming over the asphalt and hanging in the sky like twisting strings of beads, slightly swaying, glinting in the beams of her headlights, rattling against the metal hood and glass windshield.
She had not even noticed how little she could see. A shadow. A movement. She stomped the brake before she knew why and fishtailed to a stop just a foot or two before she would have hit it.
A huge black dog stood, staring straight at her as if it could see past the glare of the headlights. Her heart hammering, she watched its rib cage contract and its jaw open and snap shut, jowls flapping and shuddering around vicious white teeth with a bark silenced by the clamoring rain before it sprang into the next lane, out of the road, and vanished.
Abandoned by the canine chimera, her gaze was snapped up and dragged off by the motorcycle speeding toward her as it veered with a streaking blur of headlight 4
suddenly low to the ground, scuttling away along the road behind her until rider, then bike fell still in their northbound lane.
Ahead, a pair of headlights flashed around the bend.
She cranked the wheel hard left and hit the hazards as she rolled a careful, urgent U and crawled toward the crumpled, motionless form in her headlights. Already hitting 911 on her cell with shaky hands, she ducked into the rain, rushed over, squatted down, and touched the throat between helmet and collar, feeling for a pulse. Viper-like, his hand caught her wrist.
“It’s OK,” she said, with forced calm to the black visor of his helmet, dotted pale orange with reflected streetlights. “Lie still. I’m calling an ambulance.”
The hand released her wrist and dragged open the visor. Rain pelted blinking brown eyes. He pushed himself up to sitting.
“Are you hurt?,” she asked. “Maybe you shouldn’t move until the paramedics come.”
When she didn’t do it right away, he reached and flipped her phone shut.
“I’m fine. I don’t need an ambulance.”
As the northbound car swerved around hers in the southbound lane without slowing, hissing past them barely two feet away, she froze, then shuddered as it snaked back right and just kept going. He crawled to the curb and sat.
“I’ll get your bike out of the road.”
She wrestled the thing up from the ground, over against the curb, got the kickstand down, and went back to him.
“Sure you’re OK?”
He didn't sound fine.
“Can you ride? I can drop you somewhere.”
“I think I’ll walk it. I was almost home. I’m just right there.”
After easing his helmet off, as if he was afraid his head might come off with it, he pointed up the road. He started to stand, then dropped back down, his ass hitting the wet curb with a smack.
“Listen." She tried to smooth the warble out of her voice. Wished the adrenaline surging through her like a bad caffeine overdose would subside. "I should get my car out of the road. Why don’t you let me drop you, then I’ll run back for your bike and walk it up to your house.”
He lifted his eyes to study her a moment. What the hell was the guy afraid of?
That she was going to steal his bike?
"All right," he finally said. "Thanks."
He let her help him up but shrugged off her effort to support his limp toward the car, then folded his huge frame into her tiny two-seater. His driveway was less than a quarter mile up the road. When she came back with his bike, he met her at the end of the drive and together they pushed it up toward the center cell of the three-car garage.
He snatched the keys from the ignition and dropped them into his pocket.
He didn't sound all that grateful, but then he came through with a warm smile.
She said, “I’m glad you’re not too hurt.”
“Weird. He was just standing there. Like Cerberus, waiting for a face-off with my car. I barely stopped in time.”
His smile turned to a grin that went with a raised eyebrow. "Cerberus, eh?"
Mocking her knack for obscure references. “Want to come in? Have a drink?”
“I should get home.”
As it left her lips, the word “home” stung her with the image of the generic hotel room scantly personalized with a minimal complement of clothes and gear, and the thought of a night of insomnia and anxiety. Suddenly, the ridiculous impossibility of strolling through some stranger's door for a drink looked more like a tempting—if reckless—alternative to driving around bleary eyed through the L.A. night until sunrise.
“That’s ungrateful." His boyish smile was back. "After all I’ve done for you? You won’t even stay for ten minutes and have a drink with me?”
She looked at him a moment, assessing his pallor, the way his hands trembled as they found the right key on the ring he'd fished back out of his pocket. She tried a smile.
“True. I do owe you.”
He led her through a tall iron gate and a pocket-sized courtyard doing a bold impression of a Japanese garden, a screen of bamboo whispering to the rain twenty feet above them, red dwarf maples, junipers, and needled shrubs arching and twisting in fabulous, unnatural poses beside majestic boulders and arched against the stone 7
facade of the house, all lit up from below by lights hidden among stones and moss.
Maybe he was house sitting.
Inside, his fingers beeped over the alarm pad. She let him take her coat and hang it in the closet, then watched distractedly as a pool of water began collecting beneath it on the polished hard wood. If it pooled there for too long it would dissolve the finish. Rot the planks. A dark, soft hole. She pulled herself back.
The place looked like the centerfold from Sunset Magazine. Circa 1960. The guy had to be an interior decorator living with a housekeeper. Or vice versa. The rugs and the furniture and the walls all
“Great place. Very Frank Lloyd Wright.”
He nodded, smiling, scrutinizing her. She smiled too, amused to notice that the retro house and décor seemed to go with the mod shag cut of his dark hair.
"What's your name?" He asked this simple question with a directness that somehow made her nervous.
The way he said it, probing her with his eyes, made her feel as if there was some inside joke she was missing.
"You live around here?"
"What bring you to this neighborhood?"
"Just driving around."
"A pleasure cruise?"
She shrugged. None of his business, anyway.
"In this weather?" he pressed.
"It's been a rough day,” she finally gave up to close his line of questioning.
He seemed to be working awfully hard at reading her but finally relented with a
"What do you drink, Vanka?”
A bad idea maybe. But a cocktail or seven had been beckoning for hours. And the accident hadn't helped. She slid her fingers into the snug back pockets of her slacks to steady or hide her shaking hands.
“I can do that, if you don’t need lime.”
“Why don’t you sit down and let me make the drinks?”
He gave her a slightly pained smile. “Maybe I’ll go stick a couple of Band-Aids on. Glasses are there, in that cupboard next to the fridge. The liquor’s there,” he pointed toward the pantry. "Tonic’s in the fridge. There might even be some lime juice, actually.”
“What do you want?”
“I’ll have what you’re having.”
* * * *
Limping down the hall, he turned and cast a quick look at her cracking cubes of ice from their cells in the white tray and dropping them clattering into two tall glasses. In the bathroom, light swelled at the flick of the switch. Forgetting the errand of bandages and peroxide, he confronted his mirror image. He looked like a little less than himself.
Pale. Afraid. Fragile look in the eyes. Even so, even though his hands were shaking, he felt a pleasant sense of satisfaction. The fear, the adrenaline, even the throbbing, burning pain were so real.
At the elbow and shoulder, dark stains were bleeding into the water-darkened gray sweatshirt. He peeled away the wet top and looked at the raw wounds. Not that bad, really. Could have been worse. He managed to get the elbow cleaned and sterilized, but the wound was too big for even the enormous-looking bandages he'd dug up in the first aid kit stashed at the back of the bottom drawer. It was a gauze and tape job, and one-handed it wasn’t going too well. So he gathered all the crap together and carried it out to the stranger in the kitchen. As she turned and watched him approach, her eyes slid down from his face, over the bare skin of his shoulders and torso. She was checking him out so blatantly he caught himself smiling before a change in her expression made him wonder if she was regretting coming in.
“Want to play doctor?” he teased.
She smiled. Through the burn and throb of his injuries, a pleasant heat stroked him as he noticed she was quite fuckable.
”OK, but you’ll have to administer your own anesthesia.”
She handed him the vodka tonic, which wasn’t half gone, and they climbed up onto the two bar stools at the island in the center of the kitchen. He reached his arm toward her, and she took it, one hand cradling his forearm, the other curving around the thick swell of triceps above his oozing elbow.
“Sure it’s not broken?”
She lifted his hand to her shoulder, extended his arm, and with both hands felt up along the length of his arm, from wrist to armpit, careful to avoid the raw wound midway.
“You seem to be intact.”
“You a doctor?”
Her eyes flashed up to meet his, starry, startled. Then she retracted her mysterious surprise with a weak smile.
“What would you do if you found a wrong angle in there?”
“Call that ambulance you’re so afraid of,” she challenged, with a long, steady look and a naughty little grin.
So, she wasn't clueless after all.
She began wrapping his elbow. His hand was still resting on her shoulder, his four fingers curved over the top of her blouse, his thumb resting against the smooth warm skin of her neck, just inside her collar. He stared at his thumb there innocently, intimately touching her as she bandaged him. Her gray-green eyes locked on his suddenly, as if she had caught him at something.
“You know who I am?” he challenged, instantly feeling a pleasant prick of shame at the way he'd put her on the spot.
“Wondering if that’s why I agreed to come in?”
He waited. She was quiet. He tried again.
“Would you normally come into the house of a man you’d just met laying on wet asphalt?”
“No. Not normally. But it’s not a normal night.” She lifted his hand from her shoulder and set it on his thigh. “I figured it out while I was making the drinks."
"It took you that long, eh?"
"Don't be insulted," she teased with an impish grin and a mischievous glance from under mascaraed lashes, "I'm a bit of a pop culture shutout."
"Sure. I suppose if you'd scraped Brad Pitt up off the road, you wouldn't have known, either."
"Brad who?" she deadpanned. "Anyway, fear not. I won’t sell your tragic motorcycle story to The Stranger for their 'celebrity I saw you' column."
“Your . . . eh, sang froid is rather impressive.”
“Because I’m not an autograph hound?”
He laughed. “I didn’t mean that.” His smile faded. “I think you may have saved my life.”
“Because you’d have bled to death from road rash if I hadn’t been here to wrap your elbow?”
“Yes. That, and that car behind me probably would have rolled right over me if you hadn’t thought to pull your car behind me.”
“Feeling your mortality?”
Her eyes flickered up to his face and lingered there. The way she was looking at him, it was like a curtain opening. Or a drawbridge lowering.
“A bit. Maybe it’s good. Get a little wake up.”
Nothing like skidding over thirty feet of asphalt to slip you out of your emotional coma. And to stay out? Maybe you just had to hang on to fear and pain. Or find a fresh source.
She hopped down from her stool and circled around him, started in on the shoulder. His body flinched, then went rigid as she began cleaning the wound, but his brain was savoring the sharp sting of the disinfectant, the way her gentle touch tortured his torn flesh. She finished sterilizing and gauzing and taping, then finished off her drink.
“Not until the surgery’s done. Time for the knee.”
He was aware of her watching him as he struggled to get the cuff of his pants up without dragging the stiff fabric over the tender wound.
“Looks like it’s pants off, Mr. Ross.”
“Maybe I should go back into the bathroom and take care of this one myself.”
“Maybe you should. If you’re wearing women’s panties under those jeans, I rescind my promise about selling my story.”
“Lucky for me, I only wear the frilly panties on special occasions”
“Careful you don't hurt my feelings," she teased as he undid his fly. "You're in a vulnerable position, here."
As he finished un
"Why don't you sit there and put your foot up there," she suggested, indicating one stool, then the other.
Galen felt a perverse satisfaction in looking down on the horizontal plane of his extended leg, the knee chewed up, red and raw, clear fluid leaking around the dirt and gravel that had embedded itself in his tender flesh. Much worse than the elbow. The knee had taken the brunt of the fall.
"Oh, Galen. Sure you don't want to go to the doctor's for this? They could numb it."
"It's all right. I want you to do it."
He issued it like a challenge. He liked the thought of this good Samaritan, this woman, hurting him. More than she had already. But maybe she wouldn't do it.
She said it lightly, with a smile and a shrug, but she was pale. And as she poured herself that second drink she wasn't going to have, her hand shook. After a hunt for tweezers and some sterilizing ointment, and a few gulps of her vodka tonic, which might have been a double, she dug in.
He wasn't going to faint. He wasn't even going to puke. He concentrated on the carbonated bite of the cold clear liquid he sipped through the cubes shifting and 14
clanging in his glass, and on the nice view he was getting of her tits. No bra under that thin blouse. Kind of surprising—almost as surprising as the fact that he hadn't noticed sooner—she didn't seem the type. And he was so good at judging things like that. But there she was, her tits curving and peaking and swaying slightly under the delicate fabric clinging softly to her as she moved, and each time she bent close to his knee, her blouse gapped away from her body, and he could see her bare skin, right down to her navel between the pale inverted hills of her breasts. And, twice, a brief glimpse of pale pink aureole. It was almost a disappointment when she extracted the last piece of Hillcrest Boulevard from his knee, pressed a piece of Neosporin-laced gauze to the seeping flesh, and began wrapping his knee.