Hello dear reader! Here’s to hoping that your Friday is going off without a hitch. Without further ado, here’s chapter five of Del Muerta. If you haven’t been reading along every week, here’s a directory of the previous chapters. Otherwise enjoy!
Chapter Five – Splash Dunk
The congratulatory dinner was going swimmingly for those who cared about its success. Father was still raving about the ratings from the TV stations’ broadcasts.
The dance floor oversaw the entire hall, letting me see all the VIPs who turned up for the event. Twenty round tables lay before us, all lit by dim candles. The string quartet in the corner played a mournfully boring tune. Everyone who was somebody (or wanted to be), was here; the height of the social season.
I wanted to gouge all their eyeballs out. Between all the fake laughter and the congratulations over what a ‘glorious event’ it’d been, I was ready to commit a massacre.
Elena was still drugged out of her mind over in the corner. Though this time it was sedatives making her drugged, not the cocaine she’d snorted between commercial breaks.
I grimaced as I waltzed with Haynesworth, willing my pain to go away. My hands and knees were still throbbing with pain from earlier. Like the games, this dinner was televised. A few pop stars had performed already, doing some elaborate, ritual-like dance numbers that made me even more sick on the inside.
My anger was starting to wear off again. Now I was just emotionally wrecked. I stared straight ahead as we danced, without seeing what was in front of me. But I blinked as I realized that Haynesworth had spoken to me.
He leaned down and hissed in my ear, seeing that I hadn’t been paying attention. “I said you look marvelous in that color.”
Was it bad that I couldn’t remember what color I was wearing?
Since I was practically tottering along because of my heavily blistered feet, he kept one eye on me. “I wasn’t kidding,” he said, his eyes glinting mischievously. “You look like an angel.“
“A pained angel,” I grumbled, avoiding his eyes as his hand tightened on my waist.
Haynesworth chuckled, reeling me in closer. He knew all eyes were on us and he was quite obviously enjoying that fact. “Relax. You seem tense.”
“You wonder why?” I hissed back, wincing with every step. “My mother is stoned, Father is drunk, and I’m…”
“Stuck sober?” he chuckled, starting to annoy me. He seemed scarcely aware of my pain, continuing with, “But a vision of fashion and the envy of every woman in the room.” When I didn’t reply, he tried to further cheer me by adding, “All the cameras are on you. Smile.”
I did, feeling like it was more of a snarl than anything. Faces whirled by as we waltzed, Haynesworth dipping me to the floor. But that was where my tolerance ended. The boning of the dress dug into my side, making me cringe. He noticed as he righted me, seeing my pained expression. “Something wrong?”
“Just need to get to bed,” I said truthfully, patting his chest and stepping back.
He merely smirked in response. “Care for me to join you?”
All I could do was stare at him, beyond the ability to respond with any emotion. I gave up trying to think of a response and just shrugged. “G’night.”
Heading for the door, I didn’t care who’d try to stop me this time. I needed an out before I fell apart. Fortunately for me, no one tried.
The doormen opened the double doors for me as I headed toward the private area of the hacienda where no one but the family was allowed. In two minutes I was there, beyond the eyes of those at the event.
Finally able to breathe without an audience, I slipped my shoes off and hobbled up the curved staircase. Before I could make it far, I heard a voice call out after me. “Is that squid always like that?”
Turning back wearily, I discovered Kit behind me on the bottom step. He leaned up against the railing with a snicker, clad in an ill-fitting suit. “Yeah, they didn’t expect me to make it, so they lent me this penguin suit last minute. But that slick-ass police guy is as slimy as they come.” He rolled his eyes, hands stuck in his pockets. “Anyone can see you were miserable, yet he dragged you around the dance floor like a ragdoll.“
If it were any other day, I’d have been morbidly amused by his commentary. But for now, I sighed and shifted my shoes to my other hand. “I need to get to bed, Kit.”
He smiled with lopsided sadness. “Sure. I’d planned to ask you to salsa with me but then I saw how pained you were. But we need to talk.“
“I can’t,” I said flatly, turning to go. But I paused, murmuring back to him over my shoulder. “I’m glad you survived.”
Kit nodded, his playful exasperation fading. “Si. But you’re still thinking of those who didn’t. I can see it. Go take care of your feet.”
Before one more word could be said, he headed for the staff stairway. That meant they must’ve been housing the competitors somewhere in house and on premises. I should’ve remembered that they’d done that with the other competitions, but I hadn’t cared enough about it to keep it in mind.
Heading up to my room, I sighed as I made it in the door to my suite. If it were any other evening, I’d be giving my punching bag another round of beating. But after today, all I wanted was a bath to force my muscles to unlock from all the stress. Quickly stripping off my dress, then lingerie which included a full corset, I threw them on the bed. I ran the bath as I let my hair down and removed my makeup.
Once the majority of it was gone, I sank into the enormous whirlpool tub. The water was soothingly warm, though my scrapes stung. Giving in to the urge, I ducked under the surface and held my breath. Hopefully it’d permeate the hairspray.
Surfacing, I took in a deep breath and sat up. As I leaned back against the wall of the tub, I had a near heart attack as a voice sounded from next to me.
“You know…” Kit said from his perch on the edge of the tub. I hastily dunked my body below the water in alarm and covered my breasts with my arms. He met my eyes with some humor, continuing, “I think I’m starting to get why you’re so uptight. That corset inside on your bed isn’t meant to enhance. It’s meant to flatten what all designers hate and every man ogles.”
He kept speaking even as I sputtered, looking around wildly to figure out where the hell he’d come from. “How did you get in here?!”
“Same way I got through the maze unscathed,” he said with some smugness, wiggling his eyebrows. “I know you wondered why I chose ropes instead of weapons…”
“You shouldn’t be in here!”
“Probably,” he admitted with a shrug before gesturing back out at the bedroom. “But I came with a peace offering since I saw your poor excuse of a meal earlier. They served me the equivalent of a last supper, anything I wanted before the event, so I asked for Chinese.”
He chuckled, sitting forward over the tub’s edge as I glared at him. “I have a good sampling of leftovers so you can choose what you want. I stuck them all in the microwave before I came down.” Before I could stop him, he seized my hand to inspect the angry, red scrapes on my palm. “Sorry about that. She was stoned, right?”
Knowing better than to answer, I said through my teeth, “Let me get out.”
He got up with a nod, sauntering toward the door. “I’ll be out here. And no worries, chica. I may be unorthodox, but I’m no creepizoid.”
As soon as he was away from the door, I hopped out of the tub and pulled my terrycloth robe on. Not bothering to dry myself and completely outraged that he’d gotten in here, I charged out after him into the main room of the suite.
Kit was perched on my couch munching on an egg roll with about ten boxes of Chinese takeaway in front of him on the table. Somehow in the short time since we’d parted ways downstairs, he’d divested himself of his suit, throw on jeans and a black T-shirt, and carted the food here. The question in my mind was still how. My door remained locked.
“Take your pick,” he said with a full mouth, gesturing at the boxes with a set of chopsticks. “I thought you looked thin last night, but then I saw you in the tub. You’re about twenty pounds too skinny and not by choice.“
He wasn’t wrong. The salad that’d been brought to me earlier was so tiny that I felt hungrier than when I started. I was below a hundred and five pounds. Any more lost and I’d be positively skeletal.
Looking to my balcony, I saw the door ajar with a rope dangling down from above it. There was another balcony above my room on the fourth floor. “So that’s how you got in.”
He only winked. “Same way I got through the maze. I disappeared on the cameras, right?”
I nodded, reluctantly letting him stay just to sate my curiosity. The panic button I kept was three feet away if I needed it.
Kit snickered, digging into one of the boxes. “A month ago one of my buddies offered me to go work a construction gig. It turned out to be the maze being built. Figured out as we built it that I could climb up on the walls. Got the idea watching the stray cats walking along the beams one afternoon.”
He spoke so fast, voice going up and down in pitch with an excitable tone, that I struggled to keep up with it all. He sniggered. “Spent the better part of my early childhood in a circus, so I’m damn good at tightrope walking. Also knew where the construction was the strongest, considering I hammered in most of the nails.”
He shoveled a wad of noodles into his mouth as I sat on the edge of the couch, just watching him. He smiled, this time with humor. “You don’t know what to do with me, do you?”
“I can’t seem to get past your audacity,” I admitted, looking at the open Chinese boxes. He’d helped himself to all of them. I’d wait a few minutes before partaking on one that he’d already chowed down into. Less chance of poison, though I very much doubted that was his aim.
Kit merely shrugged. “I waited until you got in the tub. You got to see me in all my glory ‘n I didn’t take advantage of you in the same state of nature.”
He tossed a plastic fork in my direction as I warily sat on the chair across from him and put my feet up. He laughed merrily, pointing his chopsticks at me. “Besides, I know you were planning on throwing yourself a guilt trip pity party. I’m here as a distraction. You should be thanking me.”
Something told me that Kit was an almighty chatterbox. He talked fast with emotion and a great deal of gusto. For whatever reason, he’d decided we were going to be friends and that was that. For now I’d play along, providing he kept a feasible distance from me.
I peered inside one of the boxes of noodles he’d put down. Lo Mein looked good right about now. I twirled my fork around then took a bite. Oh, yes. Mother would throw a fit if she knew about this. Then as Kit shifted a little closer and abruptly picked up my foot, I squawked, “What’re you-?!”
My objection turned into a sigh as he massaged the bottom of my foot. I looked at him questioningly and he shrugged. “You came to my aid, so I figure I can repay you by taking care of this. They look painful and I hate seeing people in pain around me, so humor me.”
I would if he kept up what he was doing. Despite my better judgement, it felt too good to tell him to stop. He glanced up at me, continuing, “Whoever orders your shoes doesn’t care altogether much about your comfort.”
That I definitely agreed with. He smiled wider, seeing I was eating. “Yeah, you’re not a rice cake kind of a girl. So tell me of yourself, chica. I’m amazed you’ve kept any muscle on with the way you eat. I’ll bet the punching bag back there has borne the brunt of your aggravation.”
So he’d noticed it. “I box.”
“Box?” he repeated, seeming to test the idea out in his mind. Then he nodded. “I can fight, too. Grew up in the rough end of town. But you move with grace, so I’ll bet you were a dancer, too.”
Man, did he speak fast. And he was observant. I took another bite before conceding, “Rhythmic gymnastics. Once I graduated, I wasn’t allowed to keep competing.”
He picked up my other foot to rub it. “You really don’t have much say in anything, do you?”
That left me pausing, catching his eyes and then looking away. “If you get caught in here, you’re going to be in trouble.”
“You’re not going to rat me out so why worry?” he said.
“Oh, won’t I?”
“No, querida,” he said with something akin to triumph. “Who else will bring your takeout every night that I’m here?”
That made my amusement fade fast. “Providing you live, that is.”
“I will,” he said confidently. “God didn’t create something He’d give up on in me.”
Switching tactics, I said pointedly, “Does your tia know you’re here?”
His expression flickered guiltily. “Eh, no. We don’t own a TV, so she won’t know until I go home. Alvin stayed with her today.”
I choked on my noodles and his triumphant grin came back. “Sending him to school over a juice box. When he told me, that was the final straw. I had to come back. You’re a keeper.”
So he knew Alvin? Did that meant Kit’s tia was Alvin’s as well? She ran the orphanage. But something was still off with Kit’s story. Way off. My eyes narrowed. “You’re here for another reason. Don’t feed me that line.“
“Believe what you want, Aiyla. You’ll come around.” I cut off my protest as he hit a particularly nice spot on my foot. He chuckled. “Feels good, eh? I give good neck rubs, too. You wait ‘n see.”
That made me scowl. He seemed to get a bang out of my reactions, continuing to chuckle as he said, “Yeah, I know. You’re waiting for an excuse to kick me out. But I’m being so nice you can’t complain.”
I said nothing for a minute, letting him massage my foot. But he kept talking. “Or is it usually Haynesworth up here with you, catering to your every need? He’s no idiot.”
He just laughed as I yanked my foot away after hearing the innuendo. “He wishes,” I sniffed, starting to get annoyed again.
Kit leaned over, his eyes full of devious intentions. “Interesting. With the way he’s been talking, one would think he tucks himself in your bed every night. Should I worry about him dropping by unannounced?”
“Worried about crowd control?” I parried with a forbidding edge.
“No. You don’t seem the type to be parading men in and out of here. You don’t really say much,” he continued, pausing in his babbling. “Is that a choice or a force of habit? You certainly had a way with words this morning, practically foaming at the mouth over my reappearance. Gato got your tongue?”
Boy, did he have nerve. I sat back. “I find listening a lot more telling.”
“Why do they call you Anna?” he asked, managing to ask the wrong question again. “Your real name is nice and you look better without all the war paint they put on your face.”
Now he was venturing into territory I wasn’t comfortable with. “It’s supposed to put citizens at ease. Make me seem like one of them with a more socially acceptable name.”
He snorted derisively, rolling his eyes. “If they want to appeal, they should stop doing you up as a… Well, I’ll bite the bullet.” He looked me dead in the eye. “You come across as a stuck-up snob. Then again, now knowing what they make you wear, I’m guessing the ‘snob’ expression is actually one of pain. Between your shoes and flattening contraptions-“
Okay. That was it. I’d officially reached my limit. Mr. Chatterbox was starting to give me a headache. ”Look, I need to get some sleep.”
“I’ll shut up,” he said abruptly, changing his tune. “Maybe I should ask what you like to eat besides Chinese so I can request it tomorrow evening. Italian maybe?”
“Nothing with garlic,” I said flatly. “Mother will notice.”
He just stared at me. “She gives you the sniff test? Gee, mi Auntie is strict, but at least she’s sweet.“
“Are you always this much of a chatterbox?”
Adorably enough, he giggled unrepentantly. “Si. That’s not a turn off, is it? I can’t help myself. Been that way since I was little. Whatever I think comes out of my mouth. I’m nothing but honest since I don’t have time to come up with lies.”
He stopped for a few seconds, regarding me shrewdly before pointing at me as if something was dawning on him. “So that’s it. You’re used to the political horse shi-“ He stopped, editing himself. “BS. So used to the BS that you’re on overload with me.” He clapped his hands together. “Yes. You’re quiet, censoring everything you say. It’s like verbal boxing, always on the defense-“
“And when you had whiskey last night, your defenses came down,” he continued while ignoring me, looking up at the ceiling while he thought about it.
So I decided to try a different handle. “Joe…“
“Oh, don’t tell me I have to get you drunk to open up to me again,” he said with all seriousness, looking at me.
Biting back my aggravation, I said calmly, “Mr. Arenciana, I’ve had a very trying day and my patience is at an all-time low. I want-“
“Yes, what is it you want?” he interrupted pointedly, going for a new angle. He leaned toward me, eyes daring me to reply. “I’ll bet you’ve never been allowed to think about that. That’s your problem. You know exactly what you want, but are trapped and cannot attain it. I – oop.” Kit cut off with an embarrassed grimace as he saw my expression close off. “I crossed a line, yes?”
I stood in one fluid motion, standing over him. “You want to know what I want?!”
“Considering your reaction, not really. But I get the point,” he said hastily, catapulting over the back of the couch and darting to the balcony next to the rope. He bowed to me facetiously. “Until tomorrow, señorita. I shall ponder your garlic-free meal.” He winked. “You’ll miss me.”
Before I could say one more word, he gave the rope a yank and it quickly pulled him up. As I went over to the balcony, I looked up and saw him vanish over the railing above mine. So he was staying above me?
To my surprise, a white rose was then tossed down to my feet. “Adios, chica. Hasta manana.”
As he went inside, I stooped down to pick up the rose. I sniffed it, finding it fragrant unlike all the sterilized roses my father kept in the house. I smiled at the gift, stroking the soft petals.
Looking up as I heard a chuckle from above, I discovered Kit still watching me. I immediately scowled and he laughed, going inside for real this time. The sound of a door shutting confirmed it.
Stepping back and closing my own door, I wiggled my toes against the cold floor. Whether I liked him or not, he certainly did a good job on my feet. The quiet now pervading over my room wasn’t nearly as preferable as I’d thought it would be.
Sighing and confused about how to interpret his ‘affections’, or whatever Kit’s real aims were, I headed to bed.
But first I placed the rose in a cup with water, letting it live for another day.
Copyright 2020 Maggie Lynn Heron-Heidel
That’s it for this week’s chapter! What’s your take on the budding relationship between Kit and Aiyla? And where has the illustrious Lynx gotten to? Comment any predictions you have ’cause I love to hear from you guys!
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