The two of them clashed blades as if a kitchen cleaver and an army knife were built for clashing. Rebecca managed to avoid each swipe or lunge that the girl made, a kind of accuracy that only fearful adrenaline could fuel. She failed to dodge but one, an upward swing near her right side that nicked her arm and her cheek. For her trouble, she almost accidentally got a decent-sized stab to the girl’s right torso.
The girl grunted, taking a couple steps backward to admire the cut. “You are good.”
“And you are crazy.”
The girl brought her free hand to her side and pressed down against the cut, smirking. “The swan chose someone who can fight. Someone who’s willing to draw blood. It’s almost as if destiny is no fool.”
“I wonder if destiny wants me to slit your throat or not.”
“Remember what I just said about crazy?”
“Don’t mock me, bitch. My goddess told me everything, including how to deal with the likes of you. So just admit it and let’s end this game.”
Rebecca wanted to put her hands up in confused frustration, but alertness still won out. “I actually don’t have time to knife-fight a short, cute ball of confusion right now, so can you–”
The girl pounced again, hoping to sink her blade into Rebecca’s neck. A quick shift to the left deprived her, sent her sliding on all fours along the tile floor beside the staircase, her forehead slamming into the wooden railing. Rebecca took the chance to flee upstairs, shutting the door of the spare bedroom behind her.
After a few moments of adrenaline and confusion, Rebecca finally realized which room she was in. The crimson bedsheets, the myriad pop-rock posters on the windowed purple walls, the boxes of dusty books. She sighed. Of all the rooms to hide in–
Her attacker let out a scream from downstairs. Rebecca tightened her grip on her blade.
“You think you can just run away from this?!” The girl laughed. “Just when you were beginning to impress me, too!”
Through the door, Rebecca heard a strained sigh, and the sound of creaking wood. She took a breath and readied herself just as the door swung open, the knob rolling loose in its socket.
“Tell me.” The girl tossed her knife from one hand to the other. “Have you seen the door yet, or not?”
“The one you just nearly kicked off its hinges?” Rebecca squinted. “For a pretty coherent-seeming kid, you sure like saying weird shit.”
That was the thing throwing Rebecca off the most. She read the girl’s hyper-awareness, her conviction. She didn’t seem high or deluded. The girl knew something. Or thought she did. Everything was a sure response to that knowledge. And yet Rebecca couldn’t even make out what it could be.
“The door. To destiny. Did you see it? What colour is it?”
“Let’s go with ‘I have no fucking clue’, and put the knives down like civilized folk.”
The girl smirked. “Good.”
Rebecca’s guard was up barely long enough to notice the grin, or the grip on the girl’s blade handle tightening. The assassin rushed forward and swung, and Rebecca jumped backward, barely missing a scratch to the cheek. When the blood got pumping, Rebecca made an upward motion, catching the girl’s arm in a deep slash.
As the girl stepped back, Rebecca spread her feet apart and waited. She never liked this feeling, this preparedness, but it was paying off. Maybe if her sister finally answered her phone calls, she’d thank her for all the impromptu self-defense lessons they struggled with in the backyard, back when the house was abuzz with life.
The girl growled. “I hope you’re ready to finish that!”
She charged again, her arms sturdy and fearless, wounds leaking blood as if she were in no pain at all. Rebecca was almost distracted by her eagerness, noticing merely a moment before the blade would sink into the meat of her shoulder. She turned on her heels just enough to turn what would have been a deep downward stab into a long outer scratch. Then, she replied with a swift elbow to the girl’s jaw. To add to the momentum, she added a knee to the girl’s gut, just to keep her down. But she didn’t go down. She took the blows, only slightly shaken, and made to slice again, drawing a slim line of blood from the neck.
Rebecca kicked again, this time at the girl’s inner ankle, finally sending her to the floor. As she came down, Rebecca twisted the knife from her hand in one swift turn, onto the carpet beside her. She swiped it backwards with her heel, then kicked the girl once more for good measure, the pressure of her instep against the girl’s solar plexus winding her.
“Are you going to get out of my house now,” Rebecca asked, “or do I have to put you out?”
“What?” The girl wheezed. “No ‘or I’ll call the cops’?”
“I’d like to think a good ass-kicking’s rehabilitation enough.”
The girl scoffed. “Of course. You’re a servant of the swan, all right. Always playing with their food.” She finally glanced at her wounds, at the thin lakes of blood between them. “But I won’t give you the luxury.”
“What kinda… What kind of person did you take me for? Did you forget that you broke into my house to kill me?”
“I came to save…” The girl let out a hollow cough, and briefly Rebecca was scared that she had gone too far again, like she used to when she was little. “I came to keep the door closed. If you’re going to stop me, then kill me, or I will get up.”
“You probably won’t.” Rebecca fought the desire to step on a wound, to open up the biggest of them with as much pressure as she could, to hear the girl scream. She didn’t actually want to do that. She knew this. But some other part really did. Wanted to enjoy hurting something that deserved it. “Just… go.”
The girl strained to lift herself up, and Rebecca stepped back, prepared for another fight. But the girl couldn’t find the energy in her. She fell and winced, then scrambled again and finally got up, pained, struggling to find breath. “More will come. My goddess will come for you. And if you’ve opened the door, I swear, she will destroy you.”
The girl limped out of the room and down the stairs. Rebecca leaned against the wall with a sigh, watching the silhouette of the girl rush past the street as if she were barely bleeding at all. Then, for a moment, her eyes settled on the walls again, on all the little evidences that someone kinder and cooler used to sleep in this room, and she sighed again. She glanced at the blood on the door and let out the littlest of whispers. “I’m sorry.”
Rebecca ran down to the kitchen again and picked up the receiver of the landline hung on the wall. She shook her head, thinking over a dozen little things, before finally dialing a number. It rang but once before someone picked up.
“Tucker? Can you come over?”
Tucker barely took a half an hour to get there. His eyes were wide, and he stepped out of his car out of breath. “Bex? You okay?”
Rebecca sighed, fidgeting in front of the open front door. “No.”
Tucker skipped up to her and wrapped his arms around. His touch and his breath was warm in a way that should have felt inviting, but actually irritated her. She refused to reciprocate.
“Thanks for coming, Tucker.”
“Of course I’d come.” He finally released, gesturing into the walkway. “We should get inside.”
Rebecca gave a half-smile and stepped back, closing the door behind him as he entered. “You… want something to drink, or–”
Tucker shook his head. “Do you? You sounded like something serious happened.”
She trembled. “I just… needed someone to keep me company.”
Tucker leaned on the wall outside of the kitchen and glanced at her in the doorway. He wore worry on his face, and he shifted as if he had no idea what to do with his hands. “You wanna talk about it?”
Rebecca shook her head. “Just some weirdo tried to rob me. I took care of it.”
She took a long breath. “Tuck, I know what you’re going to say, and it’s okay. I didn’t call you over to keep worrying about me.”
“Yeah? But I’m beginning to think you called me because you didn’t want to call the police.”
Rebecca glared at him, folding her arms. “Honestly? What if I did?”
She winced so suddenly at the sound of the word–babe–that she was sure Tucker hadn’t even noticed.
“–what if something had happened to you?” he continued. “We really should talk to the cops, don’t you think?”
“Tucker… please. I don’t want to go through all of that. It’s… it was just some junkie. I’m not going to sit down in a station to tell the story of how someone got high and couldn’t hit me.”
Tucker pursed his lips, trying to hide his worry. “Okay. So… I’ll just keep you company, then.”
“Cool.” She ran her hand through her hair, then gave a tense smile. “Thanks.”
Tucker reached a hand toward Rebecca, and she hesitated to take it. “Um. I’m not sure if…”
“You’re… getting the wrong idea, you know.”
“You called me. I’m not… I thought…” Tucker held his breath, trying to find the next words. “I’m sorry. I just… haven’t seen you in forever, and the first thing you call me for is to tell me that you almost got shanked in your kitchen, and you’re still breathing heavy, still shaking–“
“I know. I just wanted someone to be here. But I…” Rebecca cleared her throat. “I don’t want you to get any ideas.”
“Ideas?” He scoffed, then nodded sarcastically. “Sweet. Got it. No ideas here.” Then, after a beat, clenching his fists, he asked, “So, why did you even call me, then? So you could get away with not calling someone more serious?”
“Are we really gonna get in this right now?”
Tucker’s nostrils flared. “I guess we are. I came all the way over here and you can’t even hug me. I shouldn’t be upset about that? Is that what you’re saying?”
“I’m saying I called you because I wanted someone to keep me company, and that’s it. I haven’t been back here very long, and you’re in the area, and someone broke into my home.”
“And you called me.”
Rebecca sighed. “Okay. You want to ask it, already?”
“I thought you were thinking of me. Like you actually wanted me around. Instead, I feel like I’m just a glorified bodyguard to make you sleep better. And I’m not.”
“Yeah? And why’d you come, then, if you think I should be telling the cops instead?”
“I thought you had! I thought this was the kind of thing you typically don’t just let happen without someone, like, asking for a report! You could’ve gotten hurt–”
“And I didn’t. So, please? Can we just… do things that help me forget that it happened? Please.”
“Alright. Whatever.” He put his hands in his pockets and looked down at the wooden floor of the walkway. “I can make something to eat for you or whatever. Put on some TV? Just kinda… fade into the background for you.”
Rebecca muttered a curse. She knew better than to have asked him at all, but panic had already gotten the better of her. Hell, even Tucker was smarter than to be taken in by his feelings, but to his credit, their entire relationship was full of him making bad decisions with perfect consciousness. Lingering bitterness kept them both in this moment–a bitterness that Rebecca was previously very good at discounting.
“I’m…” She sighed. “I’m sorry. Just… I don’t want anything more than you… being here. You know?” He bit his lip, hesitating to reply, and then just as he opened his mouth, she added: “Nothing’s wrong with just being here.”
Tucker glanced away. “I know.”
Tucker asked for the unused bedroom upstairs at first, but he corrected himself before Rebecca could. “Right. Yeah. The couch, then.”
“No, you can sleep in my room.” Excitement lifted his face before she continued. “I’ll take the couch.”
Tucker had a dozen protests, and chewed on each one expressionlessly as he lay down. Before then, they had eaten in stewing silence, and not so much watched television as let it blare in the space between their absent-mindednesses. Then, Tucker muttered a goodnight and stumbled up the staircase to her room, trying not to let his eyes settle on any photo of her, to not breathe too deeply above her pillowcase and notice the scent of the lilac shampoo that had been her favourite since college. But he couldn’t, and that made sleep a process of much more bitterness for him.
As he left, Rebecca slid her body across the couch cushions and stared at the ceiling until she was no longer falling asleep, just landing, with no gradient between. And in the shadows of her eyelids she was still in her sister’s bedroom, dodging near slices from a body she couldn’t see now, dark enough to fade away in the corners of the room. But the knives didn’t terrify her. It was the room itself, lit faintly, taunting her with the edges of all of the things she remembered fondly or not-so-fondly. Rebecca kept feeling startled by it, jolted by each cut and each turn of her head, and yet she never woke until minutes past ten the next morning.
The first thing she saw as she opened her eyes then was her front door wide open. She groaned as she got up to close it, sucking her teeth that he would be so inconsiderate as to just walk out without saying a word. But at least he was gone, she thought. She was wondering why she did that to him in the first place, and then she stopped herself. To him?
She paused at the door. A terrible idea levitated in front of her, and she hesitated to grip it firmly for a moment. And then, with a sudden turn of her heel and a skip to her kitchen counter, she held on to it.
She grabbed her phone and opened the MerriFans chatroom. She avoided the actual room, went right for the user list and tapped twice on KingOfHandsomeBirth. He was online, even. As if he were waiting for someone to tell him something as interesting as she was about to.
We need to talk, she typed. Sooner rather than later.