Chloe’s beat-up Toyota Celica, packed with everything she owns, pulls up to the curb and all the energy drinks and joints haven’t fully prepared her for this moment. She kills the rumbling engine and stares across the street at the house. Damien’s house. Baby blue with white shutters. Built on the grassy hill at the edge of Richland Crossings. Most of the other homes are filled with families, but Damien’s is just a big old bachelor pad filled with haunting memories.
Chloe looks at the box on the passenger seat, wrapped in red paper.
She throws back a Xanax with the last of her Red Bull.
She pulls a thick tube of white lipstick from her purse and rolls it across her mouth. She looks in the mirror and studies herself as she fixes the rest of her makeup, caking on the mascara. Her green irises are vibrant. The peach color in her face is healthy and her teeth are pretty close to white. She can finally smile at her reflection now that she’s gotten off the hard drugs and quit the prostitution business. Even if she knows her smile won't last long.
She decided to quit when the HV5 virus hit the streets. Watching your friends shrivel away from HV5—looking in their sunken eyes as they die on a crackhead’s couch—has a way of making you take better care of yourself. Chloe finishes her make-up, grabs the gift box, and steps out of the Toyota.
The heat is thick and oppressive, but she’s dressed for the cruel summer—white tank top and short skirt, high heels. She still has to look the part even if she’s left the street life behind. Still has to hook Damien in if her plan is going to work. Her stomach backflips just imagining what she is about to endure. But why? She’s done this song and dance with Damien more times than she can count.
But this time will be different. This time she doesn’t need to do it, she wants to do it. And it’s the last time she’ll do it, that’s for sure. Still, her memories give her hesitation, and she hopes Damien won’t ignore her safe word this time ---- if it comes to that.
She stumbles a bit as she walks up onto the stone porch, her legs weak, her feet no longer used to wearing heels, and rings the doorbell. She notices the orange and blue fish swimming in the fake pond next to the porch. She sees them swimming mindlessly back and forth, without aim, nowhere to go. She’s glad she’s not a fish anymore.
The door opens and Damien looks her over. His green throwback Seattle Sonics jersey shows off his tan muscles. Baggy gray sweatpants hang off his hips. His hair is messy like he just woke up even though it’s afternoon. She hates herself for thinking he looks sexy.
“Chloe,” he says, surprised. “Been a while. What’s up?” He sees the red gift box in her hand, furrows his brow, confused since it’s not Christmas or his birthday, or even Valentine's Day.
“I, um, I’m leaving town, for good,” she says, looking off down the road at the blue sky horizon. “I thought maybe, I don’t know, maybe you’d wanna have one last, I don’t know…”
A smug smile slithers across Damien’s face as he steps back. “Come on in.” Chloe forces a smile and enters the house, and he closes the door behind her.
Chloe sips the cold bottle of imported beer that Damien hands her as she pretends to listen to him speak—he’s drinking a purple martini and rambling about a friend of his who recently died of HV5.
“Wasted away, real fuckin’ horrific like, all skin and bones,” he says. “And the smell, Jesus fucking Christ, the dude smelled like he had shit himself all the time, real fuckin’ horrific like.”
What a shame, she thinks, while occasionally offering the necessary head nod or small comment to keep the conversation apace. All the while her head hurts as she thinks about their past—everything Damien has done to her. She remembers the night with the coat hanger—she could barely walk and he dropped her off in the middle of the city, and she slept on a cardboard bed next to one of the homeless dudes on Mainline. And the afternoon at Myrtle Beach that involved ecstasy, a sharp seashell, and an emergency room visit she couldn’t afford. And the New Year’s Eve when she ended up nude and bound in a graffiti-covered New York City loft with Damien and his three drunk friends…
She wants to rip his fucking head off, but she has to keep her poker face. She has something better in mind. She just needs to keep her composure through this. But still, she can't bear to listen to him blather anymore.
She leans forward. “Listen, let’s get to the point,” she says, taking a swig of beer. “I’m leaving town, you wanna fuck one last time?”
He finishes his martini and sets the glass on the giant wooden ottoman and smiles. “I always loved your no-bullshit attitude.” He stands up and walks to his bedroom. She finishes her beer and follows.
Damien’s vast bedroom is dim with heavy black drapes and a bed with blood-red sheets and black pillows. She’s been in here more times than she cares to remember, but this time she isn’t afraid.
He walks to the nightstand and pours a glass of whiskey. He offers Chloe some but she declines. He pulls open a drawer and takes out a small baggie of cocaine. He offers her some but she declines again.
“Shit, since when’re you Miss Straight Edge?” he asks.
“Since I got clean,” Chloe says. And Damien stares at her for a few moments, then shakes his head as if disappointed.
“Right,” he says.
He does a bump of coke and washes it down with the whiskey. He belches and takes off his Sonics jersey, then drops his sweatpants to the carpet. He’s completely nude now as he walks to the closet and slides the oak door open and Chloe hates herself for glancing at his ass. He clicks a light and Chloe sees what’s inside the closet. The same thing she’s seen for years. Leather. Whips. Chains. Masquerade masks. Feather boas. A few blades and hooks and other things she’d rather forget—like the power drill and spiked anal bead.
Damien meets Chloe at the bed and she’s naked now, too. He’s wearing a golden mask with a built-in frown and sad, slanted eyes, with white feathers jutting from the forehead. All he’s brought from the closet is a couple of whips that don’t look too intimidating, and Chloe is thankful—she’s lived through far worse. They climb onto the bed and it’s all sweat and heavy breathing, but Damien seems distant, just going through the motions, probably thinking of another girl as he whips her from behind. But for Chloe, it’s the most pleasure she’s ever had with him. She’s no longer a victim, she has the upper hand. Even if Damien doesn’t realize it—yet.
After about twenty minutes—and two new scars—later, Chloe sits on the edge of the bed, numb and sweating, cleaning herself out with a towel. Damien goes to the bathroom to shower. She takes her time getting dressed, knowing he always takes long showers. She goes through his drawers and finds some cash and a credit card that might come in handy, but she thinks twice and puts everything back where she found it.
That’s petty. That’s not her. Not anymore.
The shower shuts off and Chloe is dressed and casually leaning against the bedroom door as Damien walks out, his waist wrapped in a black towel. He smiles at her as the steam billows out of the bathroom behind him. She can smell his blueberry body wash.
She motions for him to follow, and he trails her out into the living room, where she hands him the red-wrapped gift. “This is for you, just a little parting gift,” she says and gets real serious for a moment. “But don’t open it until Christmas, seriously. Promise!”
He laughs and promises. He takes the gift and sets it on the ottoman. He says, “You’re really leaving for good?”
“Yea.” Chloe nods and smiles and hates herself for feeling some weird sense of nostalgia for this abusive bastard.
Damien looks at her as if he doesn’t want this to end, perhaps consumed by nostalgia himself. He shakes his head and says, “Aight, then,” and walks her to the front door.
They say goodbye, and she walks across the street and the air tastes fresh. She jumps into her Celica and takes off down the road towards the brilliant pink horizon.
Damien keeps his promise and waits until months later on that dreary Christmas afternoon to open Chloe’s gift. But now his muscles are sagging, his eyes are sinking, and his ass is dragging.
On Christmas he is usually out partying, but lately he’s stopped hitting the strip, he’s even stopped picking up the whores. His social life is in ruin. His mother keeps telling him to go to the doctor. He hates doctors and hospitals and all of that, but as he studies the lesions on his penis he thinks maybe his mother is right this time.
He notices Chloe’s gift still sitting on the ottoman, covered in dust. He doesn’t give a fuck about her or whatever happened to her. But he is curious about the gift, so he tears off the red wrapping paper. It’s a cardboard box and inside is a manilla envelope. He tears open the manilla envelope and pulls out the contents.
It’s a medical report. Chloe’s.
He takes a deep swig of whiskey.
He reads Chloe’s symptoms—all the same symptoms he’s been having since their last encounter. Sore bones and joints. Nausea. Weak legs. Headaches. Vomiting. Open sores and lesions. He reads the bottom of the page, the diagnosis: HV5 positive.
“Fucking bitch,” Damien says and coughs blood onto his leather couch.
Chloe stands hunched over on the beach with the help of a cane as the chilly waves lap against her weak and trembling ankles. It takes all her energy to stand in the heavy December wind. Her cell phone rings and she looks at the caller ID: Damien.
She remembers a time when she would have dropped everything for him. A time when Damien was her whole world, her own personal Hell.
She throws her phone into the night sky and the dark blue ocean catches it and whisks it away. The tide keeps rising, and she lays down in the sand. Her dark, sunken eyes watch the stars above. The tide sweeps in around what’s left of her frail body, and as the waves wash over her she’s clean and smiling and the last moments of life taste sweet.