Scotch and Cosmo by planet p
Disclaimer I don't own the Pretender or any of its characters.
Zoe lifted her head up off the bar, an ugly red mark imprinted in her cheek where it had laid on the coaster. Her head felt stuffy and her hearing was bung, as though she were underwater and every sound caused her head to pound. She felt nauseous to her stomach. She smacked her palm on the bar top. "Two scotches," she told the barman, mustering her best sober voice, and slapped a note on the bar top. The barman hastened to comply.
Zoe slipped off her stool, almost tripping in the process, snatched up the two shot glasses and stumbled away across the room. She set a glass down in front of Lyle with a chink, almost falling on the table in the process of leaning over, and plonked herself down opposite him. "Hey you!" she grinned, "Don't I know you?"
Lyle frowned, disgusted, and it took a moment for him to fit this woman with a name. "Well now," he said, "I believe you just may." He held out his hand. "Lyle Parker."
Zoe swallowed her scotch in one go and took his hand. "Zoe Droutsa." Zoe burst into hysterical snorting. Zoe's giggles dissolved into tears and she smacked her head down on the table with a horrible thump, ashamed at herself.
Lyle watched the sobbing woman, unsure as to what to do. He got up out of his chair and moved around the small round table, placing a hand on Zoe's shoulder.
Zoe sniffed loudly and looked up into his face.
"Come home with me, Zoe Droutsa."
Zoe sniffed in contemplation, cheap eyeliner smudged with her tears. She leapt to her feet and collapsed in his arms. "Yes."
Lyle lived in one of those too-narrow, double-storey town houses with the pressed metal ceilings and cupboard under the rickety stairs. Zoe liked the polished floors with the little carpet squares and hall runners.
Zoe giggled and fell about into the wall, pulling Lyle after her. Lyle helped her back onto her feet and placed an arm around her waist, dragging her off down the hall. Zoe tripped on her silly yellow sandals and smacked Lyle into the wall. She sniffed. "I'm sorry." She leant her head against his, sliding her hands up the wallpaper beside him. She ran a hand down his cheek, her other hand in his hair, and kissed him. They slid down the wall together and Lyle pulled Zoe into his lap.
Zoe woke on the floor, her back stiff from cold and her own nakedness. She snatched up her clothes and began dressing.
She sat out on the steps, and watched the sun come up, bitter winds lashing her frizzy red mop into her mouth and eyes.
She pulled her cardigan closer about her chest and wandered down the cracked pavement. She stopped in front of a church and stood in the doorway, listening.
She returned at two, hair done in two bunches with a pair of floral scrunchies, a bunch of bright-coloured flowers in hand.
Lyle was on the phone when she entered the kitchen. She tip-toed over, grinning as he watched her, and presented the bunch of flowers from behind her back. "For you," she mouthed, and leant across and kissed him on the cheek. Lyle turned away dismissively and Zoe, down-hearted, set about finding a vase to put the flowers into so they could go on the kitchen table. In the end, she gave up and dumped them in the bin. She took up on the kitchen table and kicked her legs above the floor in her boredom.
When he had finished on the phone, Lyle came and leant against the sink opposite her.
Zoe looked up glumly. "Do you want me to go?" she asked sadly.
Lyle shook his head and stepped away from the sink. He took up her hands absently, gazing into her eyes. "No," he replied plainly.
Zoe stared back into his eyes without blinking. His hand fell from her right hand. Zoe slipped off the table and allowed him to lead her out into the hall and up the staircase.
Zoe lay staring up at the ceiling. From somewhere in the house, a door slammed. The sound drifted slowly through the landing, up the stairs and fell about outside the door. Zoe turned away from the window where a car started up. She snatched up a pillow and snuggled it to her chest. The car moved off down the road and Zoe closed her eyes, falling asleep soon after.
She woke an hour later and watched Teletubbies on the television downstairs.
Raines glanced across at the younger man leant against the wall by the door. Lyle diverted his gaze from the psychiatrist's in annoyance. "This isn't something you want to fuck up," Raines told him. Lyle shrugged and left the room. Raines sighed. What troubled him most was that he never knew what the boy was thinking.
Zoe sat on the counter, window to her back, dressed in her undies and tee shirt. She turned the cardboard box over and squinted at the heating instructions. She didn't know why she just hadn't gotten take-away pizza.
She had turned the stereo on in the room opposite and heavy metal filled the house. She had never been a fan, but Lyle seemed to like it well enough, so she found herself endeared toward it a little stronger.
Zoe sat cross-legged before the oven, eyes fixed on the pizza. It would be a waste if it burnt. Behind her, on the table, sat a vase and flowers.
Zoe looked around and found Lyle standing in the doorway. She grinned and got to her feet, dashing over. Something in his eyes kept her from embracing him.
His voice was plain, without any hint of emotion. "What's the matter with you, don't you have any clothes to wear?"
Zoe nodded fearlessly.
He dismissed her with a glance and stepped around her into the kitchen.
Zoe stood staring at nothing.
Zoe sat at the table, tray beside her, chewing on a piece of pizza. Lyle had gone out some time ago. He hadn't said when he'd be back, and she really didn't care to know.
Zoe lay with her eyes closed, listening to the sounds of night. She heard when Lyle returned with the car, heard when he opened the bedroom door, but she didn't open her eyes. Lyle reached across, placed a hand on her upper arm and shook her. Zoe blinked stickily and rolled over. Lyle sat down on top of her and watched her for a moment. Zoe gazed back at him with tired eyes. He dipped down and kissed her, and running his hands along her back, he pulled her up into a sitting position. Zoe eased against him and allowed him to pull her tee shirt off over her head. Lyle brushed her hair off her shoulder and kissed her shoulder and neck. Zoe sat lifeless in his hold, a rag doll.
Tuesday morning, Zoe awoke to windows blurred with rain. Dull light fell through the heavy blanket of clouds draping the earth. Zoe dropped her gaze from the muted windows and smiled inside. Scruffy hair suited Lyle. She rested her head on his chest and closed her eyes.
Lyle came home from work and they went out to McDonald's for lunch. Zoe sipped her banana milkshake, seated opposite Lyle in one of those little booths that ran along the wall.
Zoe watched Lyle watching her, crunching on her fries, and grinned. She meant to ask what was on his mind, but she thought it much more romantic for it to remain a mystery.
Zoe leant across the table and snatched one of his chips, watching him carefully as though daring him to tell her not to. She pinched another one and stuck her tongue out at him. It was no fun if he didn't retaliate.
He dropped her off in front of the house. She watched him go and didn't wave.
Zoe watched her reflection in the mirror but there were no answers. In her mind, she turned away and walked out of the bathroom and up the hall to the lounge where Jarod sat cross-legged on the carpet beside Emily, the pair playing some computer game. Jarod looked across at his sister – she was winning, he was confused – and caught Zoe watching him from her position leant against the doorframe. A grin spread across his face and he looked back to the television screen.
Zoe sat huddled in the corner, knees drawn up, thighs pressed into her chest, and cried.
Lyle found her on the bathroom floor. He sat down beside her and pulled her into his arms, stroking her hair.
Zoe cried into his shoulder, wetting his shirt.
Zoe woke in the night, still in his arms, and realised they must have fallen asleep. She laughed suddenly at the thought and kissed him to keep her tears at bay.
The next night, Zoe was awoken by the mattress shaking. She turned over and blinked in the bright light. Her tired eyes landed on the open suitcase and she pushed herself into a sitting position. Lyle paused momentarily when he noticed her watching him, but then he dumped the last of his clothes into the suitcase and turned to retrieve the few books from the window ceil. Zoe slid from the mattress and went around the bed. She came up behind Lyle as he was shutting the suitcase and placed her hands around his stomach, and hugged him from behind. "Come back to bed," she whined, slipping her hands under the hem of his shirt. She turned him to face her and slipped a knee in between his legs and they fell back on the mattress, narrowly avoiding the suitcase.
Zoe poured two glasses of pineapple cordial from the fridge and turned back to the refrigerator to replace the bottle in the door.
"I've been given an active transfer," Lyle told her from the kitchen table.
Zoe shut the fridge and pressed her back against the door, her gaze fixed on Lyle. "I wanna go with you."
Lyle snorted and looked up from the table. "Why are you here?" he asked in a tired voice.
"You invited me in."
Zoe ducked and stepped into the car; dressed in a pair of dark jeans, faded on the front side, and a pink tee patterned with large white polka dots, over which she wore a black-and-white check coat. She pulled the door shut after her and watched the town house disappear in her side mirror.
Zoe leant across and switched the radio on. A literature talk-show was on and Zoe leant her head against the window and watched the world slip by.
Lyle's transfer was to an old military base in Arizona. Zoe immediately hated the dustiness and concrete. Sand got in her eyes and mouth and if she walked outside for any time, her mouth filled with grit, her eyes stung and she got itchy all over.
Lyle was employed as a psychologist, which Zoe assumed had come from his stint in college. Billie Holiday played in the dining hall. Zoe cut her hair and put it in curls so that it became a great ginger sea sponge.
Lyle got her a sponge cake with real cream, banana icing and tiny white candles. Zoe looked up at him and laughed. He sat down on top of her and whispered in her ear. "Count them."
Zoe shook her head. "One…" she began, feeling ridiculous. He kissed her ear. She giggled. "Two." He kissed her neck.
"There's one for every year I went without you," he breathed into her collarbone, paused, waiting.
Streamers flailed in front of the fan. Zoe sat on their bed, her legs crossed, reading aloud from one of Lyle's psychology books.
A wave of nausea took her, as though slamming into a brick wall, sixty miles an hour, and she dived from the bed, stumbled into the bathroom, and chucked her guts up. Her arms and legs shook as though unwilling to hold her up. The Zoe that watched her out of the spotted rusty mirror was chalk pale and clammy. Zoe had just enough time for half a breath and she was retching again.
She leant over the basin, clutching the rim so that it left red and purple marks in the inner side of her fingers.
God, she hated cream cake!
Her back ached as though she had spent the night lying on a cold concrete floor. Zoe moaned and fell back on the bed, pulling the pillow out from under her head and planting it over her face. Lyle said nothing. He left fifteen minutes later.
Zoe ripped on her head, hairbrush caught in the mat that was her hair, and hated herself. This couldn't be happening now! She was dying for God sake!
Lyle drove her into town Friday. A dusty little thing in the middle of nowhere. Zoe watched dust rise up behind the car, her skin prickling with the heat. Her stomach churned at the motion and she closed her eyes in an attempt to shut out the feeling. She dragged her feet too much and dreamed of the dresses in the window front. She lingered too long in the drug store and was glad when Lyle didn't ask.
They had chips and soda at the local take-out, and Zoe bought herself a packet of banana-flavoured gum.
She slept too much and cried when the stupid test confirmed her suspicions.
They played cards on the covers over the blare of the television, complete with a rolling picture and snowy screen, and Zoe read quizzes from old magazines, their colour faded from light, pages curled inward from heat.
Zoe popped her gum and scrutinised her stomach in the mirror, turning to the side. She ran a shaking hand across her stomach and wondered how long it would take for it to show.
Friday next, Lyle let Zoe drive. She tried a pretty dress on in a shop down the street and cried in the dressing room. Lyle was not at the car when she stepped out of the shop and she ducked into the phone booth and dialled the number she knew Jarod had used the last time they had been together. Jarod answered on the second ring. Zoe didn't bother with long explanations. "Come get me," was all she said, and then she told him when and where she would meet him and hung up.
She sat on the curb for some time, waiting for Lyle to return, a bottle of water on the pavement beside her.
"Got you something, Zoe Zoo," Lyle told her, coming up behind her.
Zoe spun around and pulled herself to her feet.
Lyle grinned. "Close your eyes."
Zoe slammed her eyes shut. Something soft was shoved into her hands. "Now?" she asked, impatient.
"You can open them now."
Zoe gazed down at the knitted cat in her hands, stuffed and patterned with horizontal alternating black and white stripes.
"His name is Cosmo," Lyle told her. "It means 'one who loves redheads'."
Zoe lifted her chin and met Lyle's eyes, a frown coming onto her face. "It does not," she protested.
Lyle nodded in effort to convince her despite the smile that told her otherwise.
Zoe looked down at the stuffed cat clutched in her hands and smiled. "He's cute," she said with a little pout. "Thank you."
Lyle stepped forward to hug her and then he went around and opened the car door for her. Zoe shook her head at him and got in the car.
Thursday night, she waited until he was asleep and dosed him with her morphine. She left him in the morning and took the car into town where Jarod would pick her up.
She parked the car in front of the take-out and walked down the street to the park with the sandbox, single picnic table and monument.
Jarod arrived ten minutes later. Zoe stood away from the picnic table and noticed that Jarod was not alone. He had brought his father.
Jarod got out of the car, motor still running, and pulled her into his arms, hugging her tight. Zoe had no words. Jarod spotted the stuffed toy in her right hand and frowned. "He gave it to you?" Zoe's downcast eyes was enough to confirm his suspicions. He took the cat from the unresponsive woman and walked to the bin. Zoe dropped her head onto his shoulder and sniffed. Jarod sighed heavily and pulled out his pocket knife. The toy could be mended later; all he needed to know was that there were no hidden tracking devices.
Jarod didn't ask her why she'd done it. She wasn't well and he didn't want to stress her. He glanced back at Zoe, asleep on the back seat, gutted and re-stuffed cat lying in her lap. Her favourite yellow sandals were scuffed now. Jarod sighed and turned back to the road. His father shot him a brief look, but Jarod remained without comment.
Zoe ran two fingers along the fresh set of stitches down the stuffed animal's chest. That would be her, a voice told her in her head.