Patti always makes me broccoli casserole for the parties. She’s kind that way sometimes, giving me things I like because I’m crazy in a way that can’t be fixed. About once a month, her and James have a party to blow off steam. James used to be a nurse at Twin Valley and we got to know each other there, before my release. Tonight will be my third party at their house since I got out. I think it’s all starting to come together.
Earlier than I should have, probably, I called to ask when the party started. James answered, and my heart broke a little.
“When’s the party?”
“Not until seven.” James sounded angry, distracted.
“Not until seven,” I said, remembering to echo whenever I could. “Okay.”
Patti. Patti, Patti, Patti.
Plain and simple, Eddie got me fired. He told the director I helped shuffle some paperwork before his hearing. I did, but what the hell.
Now Eddie was everywhere. All the time.
The phone rang and I knew it was him. I rushed to grab it first because, well, Eddie was a great looking guy.
“When’s the party?”
The party. Jesus Christ.
“Why so much food?”
I swiped my hands with a dish towel and pointed James to the oven. He looked in on the rolls, turned and shook his head.
“Just a few more seconds,” I told him and turned with my hands held out. “Why not? More food, more fun, more people.”
Since my raise, we had the money for it. Things were comfortable and peaceful and nice for a change.
I heard someone from the living room say, “It’s going to be a good one tonight.”
It’s going to be a good one from here on out, I thought. Peaceful and nice.
I adjusted my 3D glasses and felt love butterflies cue up when Patti lit up like a blue-red flower across the room. Revenge of the Creature in 3D was on television and Patti moved in the blue-red world like a dance, like something from heaven. When she smiled, I wanted to rip my heart out and give it to her.
Patti seemed restless and moved across the room but then gasped when she got to the front door. She pushed her way outside and then came back in the house holding a cat. It was limp in her hands, but its tail still twitched and wrapped around her wrist.
“Something attacked it! James!”
The cat was a mess of blood and fur. Patti cradled it in her lap, her head bent down to its face. This cat was her whole world all of a sudden, the luckiest living creature in the entire universe.
It had one big gash across its hip but other than that mostly scratches. As soon as Patti saw I had finished checking it, she took the cat back and went to the couch and curled it into her lap.
“It’ll need a vet for that big cut,” she said.
Nobody said anything. Maybe tonight would wind down early.
“I need a dish towel and some water, James.”
When I stepped into the kitchen, I saw Eddie at the dining table and froze. I had seen him look this way before – eyes wide, mouth slack, arms held out across the table, fingers bent into claws. It was an episode. He once tried to dig his eyeballs out with two forks during an episode two years ago.
“Eddie. Hey buddy how’s it going?”
He didn’t speak. I saw his eyes were watering. Little drops fell from the corners and down his cheeks.
“Let’s calm down now,” I said.
Just then he slammed his face onto the table top. I heard the wet sound of his nose busting and felt my hot dog from earlier turn around in my stomach. When he raised his head again, his cheeks and upper lip were covered with dark blood and his nose had already started swelling.
“Let’s calm down now,” he said. His voice was a flatline.
Jesus Christ, Eddie. Jesus H Christ.
I pulled the bloody toilet paper from Eddie’s nose with my fingernails. “I need more paper.”
“Poor Eddie,” I said. “How in the world did you fall this hard in the kitchen? On your face?”
Eddie was quiet. He stood up and motioned for me to follow him. I trailed him out to the living room and he stopped at the couch.
“Sit with me for a minute,” he said.
It’s not something I really thought out, but I did it. I sat down beside him. Then James was in the doorway taking a big step toward Eddie, one arm swinging.
Patti sat me on the toilet seat and bent down in front to check my nose. She smiled and laughed and dabbed my nose with the paper and then stuck some up my nose. She smelled like shortcake and vanilla.
“Poor Eddie,” she said, and I wanted to give her parts of me. Instead I waved her to the living room.
We’d watch the movie together on the couch and maybe she would get a little scared and wrap her vanilla arms around me. This would be the perfect night with the perfect woman. A perfect beginning. Nothing could stop us now. Nothing would even dare. Not James behind her with heat in his eyes. We were invincible and immortal now, god and goddess, the alpha and the omega. Surely love conquers one and all. Surely it does.
Sheldon Lee Compton is the author of three books, most recently the novel Brown Bottle (Bottom Dog Press, 2016). His stories can be found in Unbroken Journal, Gravel, New World Writing, PANK, Monkeybicycle, DOGZPLOT, Spelk, decomP, and elsewhere. He was cited in Best Small Fictions 2015 and Best Small Fictions 2016. As importantly, he is a diehard Atlanta Braves fan and thinks baseball is the only true sport.