|The C-Word II: Forward Planning
Author: Guede Mazaka
7:00 A. M.
Something stubbed Galahad’s toe. He tried to kick it aside, but it wouldn’t move and instead made his foot hurt even more. “Fuck.”
“That’s the couch, Galahad. Furniture. Solid thing. Immovable—”
“Shut up and go back to bed,” Galahad muttered, limping the rest of the way across the room. He leaned against what, after some patting, he figured was the fridge and rubbed his eyes till he could see. Then he rubbed them some more, just to make sure it wasn’t him before he went and made any baseless accusations…damn, the higher education was starting to sink in.
Anyway, it wasn’t him. It was Gawain standing in front of the stove with one earbud stuck firmly in his right ear and the other dangling dangerously near the frying pan with which he was dancing. Sort of. Gawain did know how to dance, but right now, what he was doing with spatula and pan looked more like a Saturday morning cartoon on a sugar high. There was a bowl of batter to his right, and a pile of delicious-smelling crępes to his left. And when he glanced over his shoulder, Galahad saw that there was a smile on his face.
Christ. His fucking roommate had gone nuts. “’wain, have you looked at a clock yet?”
“Yeah. It’s a quarter after.” More crazed head-bopping. Another crępe found its way onto the stack.
“Quarter after seven. In the morning. The day after we finished regrades and submitted the rest of the final scores. One of three precious days before we switch from being GSIs to actual researching grad students.” Galahad wanted to drop his head into his hands. After so many years, he would’ve thought Gawain would have learned better by now, but clearly it was a hopeless case. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Aside from watching you stuff your face with the food I’ve just made?” Jar of strawberry jam shoved in Galahad’s face. When he grudgingly took it, Gawain grinned even wider. Then the other man turned back to the stove and dropped in the last spoonfuls of batter. “Tristan and I are going to the zoo as soon as he shows up.”
Chewing thoughtfully, Galahad retreated with his breakfast to the safety of the table. If Gawain really lost it, then he could flip it over and use one of the chairs to fend off the other man. “You still have your dick, right? Because you sound so fucking girly…”
Gawain waved the frying pan. He looked a little less bouncy.
“I mean, honestly. There are plenty of places to have outdoor sex on-campus. Unless you’ve got a secret animal-voyeur kink that you’ve never told me about…”
The frying pan stopped waving, and Gawain began to roll his shoulders, as if loosening up for a swing.
“Hey, hey, bad joke. It’s fucking seven in the fucking morning—you can’t expect me to be thinking yet.” Galahad slapped another spoonful of jam onto the top crępe in his hand, then rolled it up and bit off one end. The jam instantly began squishing out, so he had to hurry to lick off the gobs before they fell on his shirt.
“…don’t know if I can ever honestly expect you to think.” At least, that was what Gawain’s expression said. His actual words sounded like they were along the same lines, but they were mostly drowned out by the water splashing as he rinsed up the dishes.
The window slid open. By this time, Galahad had gotten used to Tristan showing up everywhere but the front door, so he didn’t jump. Not really. Rattling his foot against the table leg didn’t count because nothing fell off.
“Galahad.” Tristan nodded as he ambled into the kitchenette. For once, he wasn’t picking small leaves, feathers, or fur tufts from his hair.
“Tristan,” Galahad warily replied.
“Crępe?” Gawain proffered his loaded plate of them. After a moment, Tristan took a couple and began dressing them up with powdered sugar and raspberry jam. Even he couldn’t avoid getting stuff on his hands, which consequently meant that he had to lick them clean and that Gawain started to get a glazed look.
Galahad decided that he was going back to bed; no point in staying up to watch the idiots act mushy. He finished off the last of his food and pushed back from the table. “Just don’t get arrested, okay? I just dropped off the rent check yesterday, so we can’t afford to make bail.”
Rolling his eyes, Gawain hooked his fingers through Tristan’s belt-loops and pulled him forward. Definitely time to go.
* * *
7:30 A. M.
As hard as Galahad tried, he couldn’t stuff his pillow into his ears. Which meant he couldn’t ignore whoever the hell was knocking on the door.
It couldn’t be Gawain. Even if he’d forgotten his key—which would be one of the surest signs of the end of the world—either he or Tristan could’ve picked the lock. Anyway, Gawain would’ve yelled. He knew Galahad ignored knocking for as long as possible unless a date was supposed to show up.
And ‘as long as possible’ rapidly approached. Fed up, Galahad threw himself into a roll off the bed and stalked down the hallway. “I’m coming, I’m coming, I’m…”
He opened the door. Mariette did a little mouse-jump and instantly retreated across the hall.
“…really regretting that I came,” Galahad finished. He looked down at himself, then back at her gaping face. Okay, so he’d taken off his shirt because it was nearly full-on summer and their air-conditioning blew worse than a virgin. Big deal. Where the hell had her parents raised her, a convent? “What?”
“I was hoping to catch Gawain.” It didn’t take her long to decide he was scum so bare chest didn’t matter. By the time she’d finished her sentence, she’d crept back up and was trying to peer around him into the apartment.
Galahad sighed and swung the door wide open so she could get her eyeful. “He’s out with Tristan. I don’t know if either of them remembered their cell phone…then again, it’s them. Don’t think they’d be able to hear the ring anyway.”
“Oh.” Her cheeks pinked and she ducked her head in a way that would’ve been adorable if she hadn’t followed it up with a fierce glare. She muttered something in French, then turned so quickly that the swing of her hair nearly razored Galahad’s nose.
Thank God, she was going. He swallowed down his irritation and started to close the door.
Which he needed to do faster next time, because she’d blocked it with her foot. And unfortunately, Gawain had succeeded in drumming enough manners into Galahad that he couldn’t bring himself to kick out her toes and slam the door. He opened it again and leaned against the doorframe. “Now what?”
Apparently, the attitude for today was the Nancy Sinatra variation on arrogant bitch. Mariette stood poised on her heeled boots and looked Galahad up and down. She shrugged and resettled her shoulders so her breasts stuck out more. “You’ll do. Put on a shirt and come help me.”
“Right.” Exactly how shallow did she think he was? Yeah, Galahad was stepping back into the apartment, but that was only because his bed happened to be in that direction.
Too bad he was also trailing a persistent French girl.
“My car’s broken!” Mariette whined, clattering after him. She was really dressed too nice for the neighborhood. “You’re the only people I know who live anywhere nearby.”
“No, I’m the only person. Gawain’s out, remember? And I want to go back to bed, but if you insist, I can lend you the phonebook. Call up a towing service.” Two more steps and he’d be there.
Unfortunately, Mariette was pretty fast on those cloppy boots of hers. She zipped in front of him and heroically blocked the doorway with her elbows. Galahad rocked back on his heels and just looked at her.
After a second, she lost the heroic stance and went to pugnacious, which suited her better. “Please?”
“Jesus, you make it sound like I’m strangling it out of you. And what the hell are you doing driving around here? I thought you had the day off, and you live way out of the way.” It was beginning to look like Galahad wasn’t going to have a choice, short of tossing her down the fire escape, and the alley behind the building wasn’t really ideal for body-disposal. Every time he went out there, some girls living in the next building started catcalling him. Which wouldn’t be too bad if they weren’t grossly underage. He had some standards.
He was also feeling lazy, hence the desire for more sleep, and consequently he couldn’t muster the energy to keep on disagreeing. She probably had just run too low on oil, or something stupid like that. So he could trot down, fix it and then get at least another hour’s sleep.
Mariette looked sullen. “I wanted to get ahead on my research, so I was in the g-brary.”
Obviously she was lying, but Galahad didn’t really care whatever the hell her pride was so defensive over. He nodded and waved for her to move aside. When she didn’t, he rolled his eyes. “You did want me to put on a shirt, right? They’re all in there.”
“Oh. Yes. Ah…” Blushing, she stepped out of the way.
“How about ‘thank you’?” Galahad suggested. He wasn’t surprised when she pretended not to hear him.
* * *
9:30 A. M.
For the second time in the hour, Galahad had to just stand back and go drop-jawed. “Christ. You really got yourself a piece of work.”
The last straw had broken the junkmobile’s wreck on a side road, so Mariette apparently had been able to coast it into an empty lot before it’d totally given out on her. Now she was sitting on a broken concrete post, rubbing at her bare feet while alternating her glare between her shoes and Galahad. Her eyes were slitty little insults. “You said that already.”
“No, I said I hadn’t seen a piece of shit this bad since my month in a junkyard.” Frankly, he was impressed she’d managed to keep it going as long as she had. It might be salvageable. With a lot of grease-work, some parts-swapping, and a little bit of slightly-illegal fiddling. And with Galahad suddenly deciding it’d be worth his while to blow that much time on a girl who regularly threw heavy books at him.
“You worked in one?” Mariette asked, shading her eyes against the sun.
Galahad shook his head as he plunged back into the mess of an engine. He was beginning to think it’d be easier for her to just buy a new one; her clothes said she could probably afford it. “No, lived in one.”
She got a confused look, but not an airheaded one. More like she was getting it, but she just couldn’t believe it. “Your…family ran one?”
“No,” Galahad sighed. Her attitude was nominally less offensive than that of most people’s, but it was still irritating to have to spell it all out. He wrenched at a belt to make himself feel better. “I lived in one. Parental neglect, homeless kid, the evil side of capitalism and all that. Broken-down cars were better than boxes—at least you can lock them from the inside.”
Hopefully, that would shut her up. Usually the blunt approach made people very uncomfortable and so they changed the subject.
For a couple minutes, it seemed like it had worked, but then Mariette piped up again. “So how’d you…you said it was only for a month.”
“Why the hell do you care? I thought you wanted me to fix your car, not to analyze me.” A poke at something squishy got smoke billowing into Galahad’s face; he stumbled backward, frantically waving.
“You’re the one that brought the subject up. I’m just curious.” She snorted. “And I don’t think you can fix my car. Can you?”
Galahad looked at her and started to snap something nasty, then said to hell with it. He was already out, he was too awake to go back to sleep any time soon, so his day of rest was pretty much a lost cause. “Not here I can’t. I’d at least have to get it to the garage of this friend of mine. Actually, it’d probably be better if you just bought a new one.”
“I can’t—” Mariette started to say, but she was cut off by the ring of Galahad’s cell.
He flipped it out. “Yeah?”
Mariette heaved her shoulders and stared disconsolately at her car. The light and shade played over her face, softening the tense lines of it, and for a moment, Galahad felt sorry for her. “Yeah? Aren’t you supposed to be banging Tristan up by the elephant pen now?”
*Don’t make me kill you in your sleep, you goddamn brat. Listen, he had to go see Arthur first, and that’s why we’re late to the zoo. And that’s why I remembered something—I forgot to mail the cable bill. It’s on the counter by the newspaper. Mail it or there’s no cable, and that means no porn.*
“You make it sound like I never got through puberty,” Galahad muttered. In front of him, Mariette was swinging between pink cheeks and silent laughter.
*That’s because the jury’s still out on that. Don’t forget.* Then Gawain hung up. Or rather, he hurriedly snapped shut his phone on a beginnings of a groan.
Galahad made a face as he dialed another number. Hopefully, Bed wouldn’t be too stoned. It was still pretty early for that—of course it was early. Any ordinary college student would’ve still been snoring at this hour. “Jesus. And he says I’m oversexed.”
Traces of her grin were still on Mariette’s face as she glanced quizzically up at him. “Who are you calling now?”
“I’m feeling generous, so I’m going to bug a friend of mine who has a garage. He’s this pothead artist—runs a car repair business and makes sculpture out of the scrap. Maybe he and I will be able to do something, but that’ll mean your car will be in there for a couple weeks, at least.” He shuffled from foot to foot as the phone rang and rang, then figured he might as well sit since he wasn’t going anywhere. It wouldn’t be a good idea to leave Bed to introduce himself to Mariette, and Professor Cobham already tended to give Galahad the evil eye. “Are you sure you don’t want to just scrap the thing and buy yourself a decent ride?”
“I can’t,” Mariette sniffed. Her raised eyebrow dared him to ask while she scooted away from him.
Instead Galahad merely leveled his best exasperated face, copied off of Gawain’s, at her. On the other end of the line, an answering machine clicked on; he ended the call so he could snap at her, figuring he’d just call back. “For fuck’s sake, we’re legal to drink. So can we stop with the cooties crap?”
“Certainly. When you start wiping your mouth after breakfast.”
Oh, for…it was a speck. When Galahad rubbed it off, he could barely see it on his fingertip. “Well, I can see we’re going for the silent waiting routine. Fine.”
* * *
10:45 A. M
There was a grassy patch right by the curb that was miraculously free of cigarette butts, used syringes and the other litter of the neighborhood. Not being one to suffer on ass-bruising concrete when better alternatives were available, Galahad had quickly switched over to it. Mariette had taken a little longer to do it, but in the end, she wasn’t martyr material either. As the time wore on and the sun rose hotter in the sky, her iciness began to melt.
“It figures that any friend of yours wouldn’t know the meaning of punctuality.” She flopped back with her arms over her head.
Relatively speaking, of course. But Galahad was getting pretty annoyed himself. Any longer and he’d just start shoving the damn thing. Bed’s place was pretty far but doable, and if he made Mariette get her precious white hands a little dirty, they’d manage it in time for lunch. “Fuck off.”
“I can’t. My car’s here.” She huffed her irritation. Her fingers were picking at the grass so their movements transmitted themselves down her arms to create a gentle bobbing of her breasts. The rest of her looked pretty pin-up as well in those capris.
Too bad she had such a sour personality, Galahad thought. “Why can’t you sell it? You know that Bed and I can’t do this for free, right? And granted, it won’t be state-of-the-art prices, but it’s still not going to be cheap.”
For a moment, she watched him. Then she shrugged and turned over on her belly so she could fiddle with dandelions. “Yes, I know, but that car isn’t mine. It belongs to a New York friend of my parents who gave it to me.”
“Not Arthur, right? That isn’t why he walks everywhere, is it?” Galahad slyly asked.
Much to his surprise, she seemed to appreciate the joke. Mariette shook her head, but she was grinning a little. “No. No, he’s just odd. He did that when he worked at the Sorbonne. This friend that lent the car retired a few years ago and moved to Rochester.”
“Well, you’re going to be living Arthur’s routine for a while. That is not a quick job in there.” Galahad hooked his thumb at the open hood, which had finally stopped spitting out tongues of smoke. Then he turned over and tried calling Bed again.
Thankfully, Bed answered. Even better, he answered sounding much more coherent than the last minute and promised to be there within fifteen minutes. Something about getting the girls out of the place, something else about mushrooms, and then he hung up.
After he’d put away his cell, Galahad twisted around and was about to give Mariette the good news when he noticed her thoughtful expression. “What?”
“I’m still curious,” she said. Her fingertips were starting to stain yellow and green from the dandelions she was picking apart. Their wilted remains were scattered all about in front of her. “How did you stop living in a junkyard?”
“That’s a shitty reason for me to tell you.” Galahad said to hell with telling her anything. She could just sit and wait for Bed to show up.
Or she could poke at his arm until he growled and faced her again. Mariette had the usual stiff chin, but she actually looked a little hesitant around the eyes. “I’m not asking to make fun of you.”
“No, you’re asking because it’s so different and exotic. It’s not like your nice life at all.” He snatched her latest dandelion victim from her and flicked it across the lot. “And stop that.”
“Hey! You—oh, you petty jackass.” She sulked, narrowing her eyes at him. “You just don’t like it because they look like your head. See?” Another dandelion, fluffy with its tufty white seeds, was promptly shoved before him. Though he tried to fend her off, Mariette managed to pat his hair. Then she nicked off the dandelion head with a smile that was disturbingly close to drunken Tristan.
Galahad sourly batted away the decapitated bits. “They do not.”
Goddamn it. Why was Bed taking so long?
* * *
11:15 A. M.
“You were a whiny child, weren’t you?” Galahad asked. He sat up and began thinking about how to push the car and what was the quickest way to exhaust Mariette. At least then she wouldn’t have the energy.
“It’s just a question.” She sat up as well and started finger-combing the grasses out of her hair. “What? Are you ashamed of it?”
Seriously, he was going to strangle Bed. Then he was going to drop off the cable bill so he could spend the rest of the day killing his brain cells with bad porn movies; if intelligence led to somebody like Mariette, maybe stupidity was better. “No. I just don’t want to talk—all right, you know what? Fine! Fine. You want to know? My fucking mother ran off and left me in an apartment with two months’ rent overdue. I didn’t feel like doing a foster home so I spent a month or so sleeping in cars till Gawain tracked me down. He punched me, told me I was an idiot and dragged me back to his place so his grandma could smack me upside the head, say the same thing and then start stuffing me with food. There. Your goddamn curiosity satisfied now?”
That shut her up. She pressed her hand to her mouth, eyes wide and thinking, and laid back down in perfect silence.
Too bad Galahad was too riled to really enjoy it. He counted to fifteen before he could uncurl his hands, and even then he was suddenly too restless to stay put. Fucking Bed—
--his phone rang. Bed, to speak of the devil, and he swore to God and ganja that he was indeed on his way. Right this moment—couldn’t Galahad hear the trunk rumbling?—and sorry, man, but those curvy chicks just would not skedaddle out of the bedroom and he wasn’t going to leave them where he kept his stash and valuables. He didn’t know them; he’d just slept with them.
“Whatever, fine. See you in a few,” Galahad sighed, clicking off his cell. He paced a bit, then settled for leaning against the side of the car. “He’s coming. Finally.”
Mariette pulled herself up again and wrapped her arms around her knees. “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t really expect much better from you. Kind of obvious you hate me.” Next time, Galahad was just going to keep the chain on the door, speak through the crack, and forward any requests to Gawain. Let him be the one with the spoiled day. Tristan would just be sneaking in to make his night all loud and bed-rattling and better anyway.
Okay. Galahad definitely needed to line up some dates. He had had to cut back during the frenzy of finals grading, and it was beginning to show.
“I don’t hate you,” Mariette carefully said. Then she tilted her head and thought about it. “I don’t know you. I do dislike you, but I don’t know you enough to hate you. I don’t really know anyone here.”
That last comment came out sounding melancholy and she knew it too; as soon as she’d finished, she ducked her head and snapped on a mulish face. If Galahad showed any sign of pity, he’d get a serious bitching.
Good thing he wasn’t inclined to pity, though he understood. “You know, you could start by not treating me like a case study. I’m not a book. I talk back.”
“I noticed. And I am sorry—sorry about asking, I mean. Not about—I mean, I am sorry you had to, but not in the way—oh, English can be so frustrating!” Mariette emphasized with a wild snatching at the ground that saw quite a few dandelions soaring through the air.
Galahad eyed a couple that had fallen on the concrete. “If it helps, most of my fellow Americans don’t get it right, either.” Pause. “Those do not look like my hair.”
“They do when you don’t comb it,” she fired back.
After a second, Galahad shrugged and snickered. Okay, that was a good crack. And she could be pretty entertaining sometimes, though it still didn’t break even with her bitchy side.
* * *
12:30 A. M.
Bed leaned to look around Galahad and let out a low wolf-whistle, then dove back beneath the car hood. He was cackling the way only a man that had gotten laid by twins the night before could. “Damn, man. You’re getting yourself a nice set-up there. Fucking nitro.”
Galahad sneaked a glance at where Bed had been looking, but only saw Mariette frowning at a rack of greasy wrenches. “What?”
Then he got it.
“Are you shitting me? She’s French. And she doesn’t shut up, and she’s got a mouth like that schoolteacher you always wanted to see get hit by the bus,” he muttered. Clearly the weed was still working its way through Bed’s system.
“French, in need of instruction, and built. Don’t see where I’m shitting wrong,” cracked the dreads. They bobbled and flapped about as Bed made his assessment of the engine.
Rolling his eyes, Galahad slapped the man on the shoulder. “Be right back.” He walked over to Mariette and nodded towards the door. “Okay, we’ve got it from here. There’s a bus stop around the corner, so you can probably go now.”
“Or I’ll get mauled by Mr. Marley there?” She smiled sweetly and pointed her chin at Bed, who was obliviously beginning to croon a pornographic Spanish song. “You actually have a good idea there.”
Figures. “Well, that’s my quota of selflessness for the next month.”
But when Galahad turned to go back, she grabbed his arm. At first he thought she was choking, but then Mariette got whatever was wrong with her throat sorted out. She drew herself up very stiffly. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Galahad absently said. He was too shocked to be rude.
Mariette let go of his arm and stared at their feet. “So…I’ll drop round once a week to see how it’s going? Since I want a car back and not a tank.”
Now that was more like her. Galahad snorted and grandiosely waved her towards the exit. “Sure, yeah, whatever as long as you’re paying. God forbid you actually trust me.”
She laughed at him before turning on those heels of hers and swaying out of the garage. That was a beautiful ass.
And yes, definitely time to get back on the dating scene. It was a bad sign when Mariette started looking good to him.
“I’m telling you, you got it made,” crowed Bed. “Got a regular date now to fall back on.”
“She’d probably push me right over the cliff if I tried that. Move over and let me see again…okay, see that? I think we can jerry-rig it if we get…”