BEER GOGGLES AND RED COATS
By Angel Sentier and Lady Parsley
If the seats in coach hadn't been so narrow, Tessa would have sat on her hands to keep from wringing them. She had tried for half an hour to figure out how to turn the air vent above her off and eventually had to settle for pushing it as far to the right as she could. It felt freezing inside the airplane, but the blankets they provided were too scratchy to use. Her hands were white knuckled as she gripped her red coat tightly around her. The sitcom they were showing on the movie screen was so bright, even when she closed her eyes the light penetrated through. There was a child in back of her kicking the seat, and a man in front of her snoring like a jackhammer. The crackers the flight attendants served as a snack were cardboard in her mouth, they were out of Dr. Pepper, and she didn't trust the water. She couldn't get comfortable, no matter what she tried.
One of her legs vibrated nervously up and down rapidly as she crossed and uncrossed her arms. She tapped her nails on the armrest then paused and looked at them. Since when was she able to grow nails? She'd never been able to grow anything but short, stubby things that were never long enough for a French manicure. Looking at them now, it looked as though she'd had a manicure every two weeks like clockwork since she was fourteen. She clicked them together. Strong! They wouldn't even bend... She shoved her hands in her pockets, not wanting to look at them.
She inwardly groaned as the man who had the seat next to hers sat back down after his trip to the facilities. Not only did he smell as though he'd bathed in the cheap crappy cologne with the sailboat on it, but his nose whistled and he didn't appear to notice. She began bouncing her other leg, wishing that there had been some empty seats in business class, or even first. It figured that there would only be room in coach...
"Nervous flyer?" the man asked.
She glanced at him. Oh, God... Now he wanted to talk to her. "No. I'm... I'm fine. It's just, um... Nothing. Really."
"My wife was like that."
Was. Past tense. Somehow she didn't think he meant she was a nervous flyer. More like, she was his wife.
"She used to pull the shade down and pretend we were on the ground."
Please, don't turn me into your surrogate wife for this trip...
"If that didn't work, we would play cards. Would you like to play?"
Can't you see that I just want to be left alone?
"I know Hearts, King's Cross, Egyptian Rat's Crew, War..."
Do you know how to play Far, Far Away?
"...Blackjack, Poker, Gin Rummy..."
While he continued listing the disturbing amount of card games he knew, Tessa gritted her teeth. She knew he was trying to be helpful to someone he thought was a nervous flyer, but rather than take her mind off of anything, this complete stranger was just causing the empty pit inside of her to grow exponentially. She didn't want to play cards, she didn't want to talk to this man... I want Jeff!
"...we could even take turns playing solitaire, if you want. Anything sound good?" He raised his bushy eyebrows expectantly.
She turned to look at him and instantly regretted it. That smell head-on did nothing for her growing migraine. She looked away and pressed her fingers to her temples. "You know, I really don't like to play cards... I think if I just try and get some sleep, I'll be fine."
"Are you sure? You look like you might be sick. Should I call the stewardess?"
"Right, the flight attendant. I'll call her..."
No! I don't want anyone else asking me stupid questions! I don't even want to be here. I want to go home. I want my Jeff! He could be dead, lying somewhere hurt, with no one to help him, and it would be all my fault! Jeff, please don't be dead!
No, Tessa! Jeff is bad! Well, maybe not bad, but he's bad news. Sure, he saved you from the psycho in the alley, but maybe that was just so he could kill you himself... You don't want to go home; it's the last thing you want!
Then why do I feel so empty inside?
"Can I help you, sir?" asked the busty blond with the 80s hairstyle.
"Yes, can we get a few more barf bags over in this aisle?" he said, loudly, at least to Tessa's ears. "She's feeling like she might be sick."
"I see." The woman smiled condescendingly at Tessa. "If you like, we can move you closer to the bathrooms, ma'am. There's plenty of room on this flight, luckily."
The last thing she needed was to listen to the people joining the mile high club. Actually, the last thing she needed was people like this, assuming things about her when all she wanted was to be left alone. No, she didn't want to be alone... But she didn't want them. Couldn't they see that? Wasn't it obvious?
Idiots... I'm surrounded by idiots. Whistling-nose-man with your glaring need for attention and prissy-bitch-flight-attendant with your attitude stuck up in the air, you have no idea what I need, do you? Can't you leave me alone? I wasn't bothering anyone...
Just tell them.
The commanding voice in her head was her own, but she'd never heard herself sound like that before. It startled her out of her mental tirade.
Tell them, Tessa.
She looked directly at the man sitting next to her, then at the flight attendant, her gaze narrowing to just the two of them.
"Leave... me... alone."
The woman's smile faded from her face. She turned immediately and went back to the galley. Simultaneously, the man unbuckled his seatbelt, got up, and moved to another seat.
Tessa covered her mouth with one hand in shock. That commanding tone really had come from her, and it had really worked! She wasn't sure whether to feel excited or scared. Does this mean I can get whatever I want? Wait, how did I do it?
The child behind her kicked the seat again. Her lip curling, she looked between the crack in the seats and snarled at him. He gasped, snapping his legs back to his chest. She glared. Don't let it happen again. Slowly, his legs went back to the floor.
Tessa turned back around. Now I'm terrorizing children... Just what am I turning into?
For the remainder of the flight, Tessa tried to get some sleep, but spent the majority just keeping her eyes closed. Sleep was about as elusive as comfort.
Trepidation kept her stomach turning flip-flops as she forced herself up the walk to Nana's house. With her red coat clutched around her, dragging her suitcase behind her, the scenario was way too familiar... She glanced at the three trees near the end of the drive and shuddered. Those would be cut down, or at least transplanted very far away as soon as possible.
The house was now a shadow of its former cheerful self. The white paint was peeling and the blue shutters had faded. The bars Tessa had installed on the lower level windows right after Nana's death gave the house a forbidding look. She always said that if she ever moved into the house, she'd have them removed, but while it was empty, they were needed to keep troublemakers out. The gardener she paid to visit once a month had kept the garden from growing over by mowing everything down, but it just made her feel sad, remembering how much Nana had loved her flowers.
She sighed and somehow made it up the drive. She unlocked the door and wheeled her suitcase inside. The wheels rolled loudly across the hardwood floor. She flicked the switch near the door and the old chandelier above the main hall blinked to life. At least she'd had the foresight to call the electric company before leaving home. In a place as old as this, candles were a major fire hazard. Now she just had to call the water company and she could have a nice hot shower. Shit... She forgot to call the phone company. Well, she supposed a shower could wait until she could walk to the neighbors' house to use their phone, about a mile away...
The inside of the house looked nothing like the inviting place of her childhood memories. Every piece of furniture had been covered by huge white cloths, which were then covered by about three inches of dust. Large, dusty ghosts, lying forgotten in the giant mausoleum of a house. At least there weren't any bodies... Tessa shook that thought away. She really didn't need to remember that dream. Though it was actually kind of funny, looking back on it now. She wondered how her brain could have been so addled that she really had thought that the woman Jeff had been talking to was Nana. But she didn't want to think about that conversation now, or that woman, or Jeff. Especially not Jeff. Thinking about Jeff made her ache.
Looking at the sweeping staircase at the foot of the hall, she wondered how she could get her suitcase to one of the bedrooms without breaking her back. She decided to leave it for now, took the few perishable items she had bought at the airport out of her purse, and headed for the kitchen. As soon as she could, she'd head out to the grocery a couple of miles away and get some steaks. She was about ready to kill for some red meat... Bad choice of phrase... Although she'd have to call the gas company before she could cook them... Maybe...
"You really shouldn't have told your sister where you were going."
She stopped cold in the middle of the hallway. The Twinkies and box of crackers fell from her nerveless hands.
"She told Chloe. And Chloe told me."
He's alive! Her spirit soared as the gaping emptiness that had only been growing larger by the mile filled with a euphoric happiness and sheer relief. She began to run back to the main hall... then skidded to a halt. Shit... He's here to kill me!
"It's a lonely, fucking existence, Tessa."
She looked behind her. The back door in the kitchen was closer than the front door. She made for the kitchen.
"Right, who am I talking about, you or me? That's how I knew."
She darted around the kitchen's island and yanked on the back door's handle.
"I knew you'd understand. We could help each other."
Locked. And the door was one of those that required a key from both sides. She heard a creak and a distinct grunt echoing above her. He was climbing out of one of the beds upstairs. How the hell had he gotten here before her? And why wasn't he down here, waiting for her, weapon of choice in hand? That doesn't matter right now, Tessa. In case you've forgotten, he's going to kill you!
"Abby says you could prove a problem."
The mention of the woman who told him to get rid of her spurred her back into action. She dove into her coat pockets, her jeans pockets, looking for her keys. Empty.
"God, I hate it when that bitch is right."
She'd left her keys in the front door when she came in. Fuck! She ran out of the kitchen.
"But if people ask too many questions... I don't know if I can help all I should, either."
She was halfway down the hall when she saw his shadow fall across the staircase. Her gaze flitted from the slow-moving shadow to the keys still dangling from the door. She couldn't get the keys now, he'd see her. If he had a gun, she'd be walking right into the line of fire. What now?
"You're changing. I have to accept responsibility for that."
She backed down the hall. Locking herself inside a room wouldn't do any good. These old doors could be easily kicked in.
"You know that now. Change in appetite was a dead giveaway. Biting Hector, that took guts."
His shadow stopped halfway down the staircase as he began coughing. She paused. Was he sick? His arm was leaning on the banister. She didn't realize she was moving closer to him. When he began moving again, she noticed his gait was not just slow, but uneven. He was limping, and rather badly.
"The others won't help. They won't even deal with Hector. Or they can't. So, now... Either take responsibility, or get rid of the problem."
It was then she heard the unmistakable sound of a bullet sliding into a chamber. Click. And the chamber flicking shut. Snap.
What the FUCK am I DOING?
She whirled around and ran back into the kitchen. Her eyes darted around. No knives, not even a rolling pin with which she could defend herself. Why would there be? No one had lived here in three years. Wait... There was always a spare key to the back door hidden somewhere... If she could just find it in time...
"I took away your choice, Tessa. I'm sorry. When I saw how lonely you were, I just forced this on you. I didn't stop to think about whether or not you wanted me, or a change of any kind. There's only one way to stop it now."
Nothing in the drawers.
"I can't let you go through it alone. I won't."
Nothing under the mat.
"I won't let you suffer like I did!"
She reached up on her tip-toes and felt along the top moulding of the door. Nothing. But one small space had no dust. This was how he'd gotten in. He had the keys. And she was trapped.
"So I was lonely. You were, too. Did you feel it again, Tessa? The loneliness. Hurts like hell, doesn't it? Like you're hollow inside."
She had to hide. Maybe it would buy her a little time. Maybe she could talk him into not killing her. Please, don't kill me, Jeff... I love you?... I'm pregnant?... You'll get blood all over my grandma's floor and that's such a bitch to clean?... Nothing sounded right. Or plausible.
"I tried to think of another way, believe me. This isn't an end I particularly relish, but it's the only thing I can do now."
Maybe she'd be saved by a sudden burst of inspiration brought on by having a gun pointed at her head. She ducked inside the walk-in pantry just as Jeff limped into the kitchen. The white louver doors didn't even have doorknobs on the inside, let alone a lock. No trapdoors here, no attic crawl-space... She was dead.
Jeff's shadows fell through the slats in the doors. He coughed again, but it might have been an attempt at a laugh. She braced her hands on the shelves behind her to keep her knees from giving out. She watched as his hand came up and reached for the knob of one of the doors.
She bit back her first instinct, which was to scream. It would have done her no good. However, she couldn't think of anything to say except, "You look like shit."
There were cuts all over his hands and on his face. He had a black eye, his jaw was badly bruised, he was hunched over slightly, hinting at some rib damage, and he favored his left leg. His shirt was open at the collar and she could see the tops of four deep gashes across his chest. Granted, all of these looked as though they were healing, but he also looked to be in a great deal of pain. No wonder his monologue had sounded so disjointed. He was probably on a ton of painkillers just to be able to stand up.
"There's only one way stop the change, Tessa," he said again, as if she hadn't spoken. He shifted something grey and metallic from his left hand to his right.
She tensed and squeezed her eyes shut, her hands curling into fists. This is it! Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry... Exactly how does one keep their composure when they're about to be shot in their grandmother's pantry?
She ventured one eye open and saw that he was extending the gun to her, handle first. He was handing it to her. Tentatively, she took it in one trembling hand. It was cold and surprisingly heavy.
"You, personally, have to kill the one who did it to you." He took hold of the barrel and centered it at his chest. "Aim for the heart, I'd rather this be quick."
She took a shuddering breath. Why was she hesitating? This was the answer. Sure, it sounded crazy, but the things she'd seen in the last few days would fall under that category, too. If what he was saying was true, she could just go back to her normal life and never have to worry about all this again.
Her normal life. Living alone in her apartment, putting up with the three bitches on a daily basis, a dead-end job she hated, meaningless relationships with countless assholes... Sure, if she didn't shoot him she'd still have to deal with most of that, but... She looked up from the gun to his face, his eyes. Those gold eyes, filled with such sadness. If she didn't shoot, Jeff would be there with her. No more meaningless relationships. No more living alone.
Craving raw meat. Snarling. Killing people...
She tightened her grip on the gun. The price was probably too high. She was talking about changing her whole life. She knew herself, she couldn't do it. She liked stability. There was comfort in monotony. It was safe, she knew it, was comfortable with it. But... She chanced a glance up at him again. Did she want comfort, or did she want Jeff?
"I love you."
"CRAP!" She lowered the gun and scowled. "If you want me to kill you so bad, why did you have to say something like that?"
"I just... thought you should know. And... I don't really want to die."
She heaved an exasperated sigh. "Damn it, Jeff..."
"I figured if you were taking that long to make a decision--"
"Shut up, I still might kill you."
He waited. "Are you going to?"
She pursed her lips. "No, damn it." She snapped open the chamber and emptied it, then set the gun on the shelf. "You men are so egotistical. You think this is all about some change, or great sex? Did you ever stop to think that I might be lonely just without you?"
"Dumbass. All this time, you keep saying 'you're mine, you're mine.' Well, I've got news for you, Jeff. I may be yours, but you belong to me!"
And although it must have really hurt his jaw, a huge goofy grin lit up his face as he wrapped his arms around her. She couldn't help it; she snuggled warmly into his embrace... before remembering his injuries. She attempted to pull away.
"I don't want to hurt you..."
He held her tighter. "It's worth it. I'll heal."
After a pause, she bit her lip. "This change... Will it hurt?"
He cringed slightly. "...Yeah. There will be times when you'll sleep for days, others when it'll be all you can do to curl up in a ball and just maintain. You'll think you're losing your mind... and you may. But I'll be with you. I'll do what I can to help. We'll have to go away somewhere. It's going to take a while."
"I'll have to quit my job?"
"I'll have to quit mine, too."
She wasn't sure how long they held each other like that before she lifted her head again. "I just thought of something."
"I love you, too."
He laughed/coughed. "That's a relief, because we're going to be together for a very long time."
"Very few creatures on this earth who mate for life, huh?"
"That's right. Swans, tigers, penguins--"
"And us," he repeated.
This is Chloe. I've installed a new answering machine so people can't call me at three-thirty in the morning anymore. In case you didn't know, normal people sleep during this time, and leave their earth-shattering, soul-bending crises until a more decent hour. Leave a message. I'll get back to you when I'm awake. Beeeeeeeep.
"Very funny, Chloe. This is Tessa. I'm kind of going through some things, so I'm going away for a while. I'm not sure when I'll be back. Don't worry; I've got someone here with me. Please tell Teri for me, I couldn't get a hold of her. Princess will find out soon enough; I quit my job. Sorry if you end up being the one who drives her and the others around while I'm gone. Call it payback for telling Jeff where I was. Thanks, by the way. I'll call you when I get back." Click.
THE END... for now.
Author's Note: Not to worry, Tessa and Jeff will be back in our next stories as we tie up some loose ends. Up next is "Becoming The Fabulous Miss C." These stories take place at the same time as "Beer Goggles," so you'll get to see some 'behind-the-scenes' stuff that wasn't covered in this story! And thank you for reading "Beer Goggles and Red Coats!"
-Angel and Parsley-
If you enjoyed this story and it's companions and want more... We are currently adapting these stories as Audio Dramas! So, you can hear Jeff, Tessa, and everyone else as these stories are woven together in an on-going radio play! And it's not just what we have of these stories, oh no... The audio series will go above and beyond what's on these pages. We're very excited about it and thought we'd share this with our readers who have been so supportive and patient with us.
For more information, please visit pendant audio dot com and please have a listen to the other shows as well, the people at Pendant Audio are so multi-talented and their shows are very entertaining! (And you may hear me and Parsley acting in them, as well!)
Happy listening! Angel Sentier