I am going to kill a man.
No, if you were wondering, some idiot didn't cheat on me or cut me off in traffic. I'd have to care enough about you to be upset about you cheating on me; I won't. And I have a horn, a middle finger, and a mouth like a sailor to deal with a driver even more aggressive than myself.
I wish it were that simple. I wish I could say my anger burned hot and bright and fizzled out just as fast.
But this anger was different.
This was the kind that seeped in deep, through each layer of skin, into the wet, sticky insides of the organs, deeper still, until it infected the very marrow of my bones.
This was cold, calculated, and was never going to go away.
Not even after that son of a bitch took his last gasping, painful breath. Not even when he was in a casket. Not even years down the road when he is nothing but hair, fingernails, and bones.
Not even fucking then.
This would never go away.
It had become a part of me.
I would go to my own grave still filled with it. And if there were an afterlife, I would spend it in purgatory. Unfinished business forever. Endless lifetimes with nothing but my rage to keep me company.
I was okay with that.
I would happily risk my chance at some paradise I wasn't even sure I believed in because I was unwilling to let it go, because I refused to repent. There was nothing to repent for. I wasn't going to feel the least bit sorry.
He was going to die at my hands.
I was going to remove his sorry ass from the surface of the planet he didn't deserve to exist on, drinking precious water, breathing the dirty air, speaking to people who had no idea of his evil.
Yeah, not once shred of remorse on my part.
"Lenny, stop picturing me naked, and get to stocking the fucking smokes already."
That was my boss, Meryl.
He hired me because, on paper, I sound like a man. Not that he was disappointed, of course. They might be barely-there, but tits were tits, Meryl was a dude, and he was happy to have a set of them around his sausage fest of a business.
I would never picture Meryl naked. In fact, I very much doubted many women would want to take the task on. He was a decent enough guy - especially given the people he was always surrounded by - but no amount of good nature could make up for the fact that his beer belly spilled out over his waistband and belt - and, let's be real here, his dick - his weak jaw, nonexistent chin, heinous mustache, and the comb-over that wasn't fooling anyone.
I pulled upright, stretching out my back from leaning over the counter for the past who-knew how long. "Caught me. Can't get the dirty thoughts of you out of my head. Wanna fuck me against the ice machine, and get this insufferable attraction over with already?" I asked, deadpan.
My lips twitched when his face went beet-red embarrassed. And maybe a little guilty. He probably had pictured that very scenario. Among countless others. Face-down, ass-up over the front counter. On my knees in the storage room. Pressed up against the front window to show all his buddies what he pulled.
But because of the aforementioned not-so-hotness, it was clear that Meryl was not used to women flirting with him. Even if it was fake. I'd been working for him for two years. I pulled a line like that at least once a week. Every single time, he went red.
"Should fire your ungrateful ass," he mumbled, as he often did. "Up in here with all the charm of a feral cat."
He threatened to fire me twice as much as I fucked with him. After two years, it was clear his comments were as empty as mine.
Maybe he felt bad for me, though I could get another job. Maybe he thought that with my stellar personality and superior work ethic, that I would never find someone else to tolerate me. Maybe he enjoyed my dirty insinuations since there was no way anyone else was feeding him any unless he paid them to. Or, well, maybe, just possibly, he liked me. It was a bit of a stretch. I knew I wasn't overly likable. I gave the customers shit. I drifted off during my shifts probably more than I was present. Hell, I had been known to break out some nail polish and refuse to reach in the case for smokes until my nails dried. I wasn't anyone's dream employee. But I never missed a day, except for three when I had an emergency. I was always on time. I wasn't a maternity leave risk since I had drunkenly admitted once that I had a piece of copper inside me cutting off the baby-maker factory for at least the next ten years.
It hurt like a motherfucker. I'm not signing up to get that bitch ripped out of me anytime soon.
And maybe, being a bit of a hardass himself, he could appreciate my prickly personality, could take my sarcastic jabs without getting offended.
Occasionally, when he bought me some drinks when the front liquor store part of the establishment closed, he would usher me to the back where it was cleared out except for the bartender breaking down for the night, and I would soften up a bit, I would prove that there was, in fact, something squishy, soft, vulnerable under all my quills.
Decent guys like Meryl would see those glimpses and figure there must be a good reason for all the times I stabbed him. And everyone else.
"Are you guys going to start selling pot when they legalize it?" one of our regulars, Ben, asked as he waited in the store, waiting for the bar to officially open at five.
When. Not if.
The election wasn't even over yet, and he decided who won and how fast the previously Schedule 1 drug, pegged as bad as heroin because that shit made any sense, was going to get in stores.
"Hear it will cost twenty-grand for the license," Meryl offered, not surprising me. His liquor store slash bar might have been a bit of a shithole in a crappy area of town, but for all intents and purposes, Meryl had some decent business sense. Pot would sell. Of course he looked into it.
"It'd pay for itself in a year, I'd bet." Ben looked over at me, head tilted to the side. "You smoke?" he asked, clearly not meaning cigarettes given the line of conversation, and also the endless shit I gave him every time he bought a pack of them.
He wasn't the least bit surprised by that admission. If there was any surprise at all, it was over the fact that I no longer did.
You got that bad girl vibe.
That was what he told me my first night on the job.
To be fair, he wasn't wrong, even if he maybe meant it sexually.
I didn't take shit, and I wore that fact on the sleeve of my (faux leather) motorcycle jacket that I never took off. My expressions were firmly set in 'bitch face.' And everything about me was 24/7 broadcasting 'fuck off.'
I would tell you that it was just a mask, a work persona given that I was surrounded by drunk, grab-assing dickheads every night of the week. But that would just be a lie.
I was about as warm as the Abominable Snowman's cock.
"Switch to something harder?" he pressed.
Maybe I should have been insulted that he thought I was a drug addict. But this was Navesink Bank, the shitty side. Girls didn't tend to work - or live - in this area unless they had too many kids and too little income, or were shooting some poison or another into their veins.
I let my smile be about as charming as that of a snake. "Me? Cheating on Johnny, Jim, and Jose? You should know better."
The regulars had learned when Meryl insisted we close the store early to bring me in the bar on my birthday for shots, that I was a woman who could handle her liquor. And copious amounts of it too. When the mood struck, I could drink any one of them under the table. It wasn't a vice I allowed often, but it did happen.
"You gonna drink with us tonight, Lenny?" he asked, excited about the prospect maybe because I once got wasted enough to strip down to my bra when I accidentally spilled an entire twenty-ounce mug of scalding coffee down my shirt. When it came to risking third-degree burns or modesty, modesty would lose every time. Even in a bar full of guys just as drunk as I was.
Living in a shitty area as long as I had, you learn to do risk assessment in the blink of an eye. Is the guy following you doing it because he plans to grab you, drag you away, and rape you, or are you walking past his car? Is that shuffling sound outside your door just some jackass crawling home at four AM, or is it someone trying to break in to steal what little you have of worth? Are the guys at the bar going to go The Accused on you because you took off your shirt, or are they going to ogle because, well, tits, but keep their hands to themselves because they know you, you know them, and because they know that you know them, they know that you are fully capable and cold-blooded enough to light their pubic hair on fire if they ever so much as touched you.
"Not tonight," I told him as I grabbed a switchblade out of my boot - something we weren't allowed to have in the store for some kind of safety regulation, forcing me to bring my own - to cut open the Newports box Meryl dropped down on the counter with a pointed brow raise because he had to get it out of the stock room himself.
"Len has training on Mondays," Meryl supplied. "And Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Not, for some reason, on the weekend though."
"They have classes on the weekends," I supplied.
"Aw, Lenny, you don't want to join a class?" Meryl teased, dark eyes twinkling. "You're such a people-person!"
I snorted at that, turning to load up the cabinet with the death sticks.
"Training, huh?" Ben asked, reaching up to rub the back of his neck. "Careful with that, you don't want to get too bulky, Len. Men like a little softness."
"Right," I agreed, lips twitching. "That's my mission in life, pleasing men. They can kiss my well-toned ass."
Let them think I was training to look a certain way. And while there was definitely a bit more muscle visible in my arms, abs, and back - maybe even my ass - appearances weren't why I was killing myself in the new fancy, expensive as fuck gym slash martial arts place in the slightly better industrial part of town.
No one needed to know the real reason I was sweating through my clothes, dripping, dry heaving into the carefully placed garbage cans after learning during my first training session that if I was going to train so hard, I needed to do it on an empty stomach.
Maybe I would get bulky. But it had been almost six months, and that had yet to happen. I guess I had gotten my mother's genes, tall and slim, no matter what I ate, muscles only a hint under the surface, soft things like tits, ass, and hips only attainable through plastic surgery. Of which she has had a lot done, and I have a deep-rooted hatred of. Likely because of her. Like everything else in my life.
"Just saying," Ben went on, shrugging off my comment.
"What are you saying?" I asked, slitting the bottom of the empty box, and flattening it out on the counter, knowing Meryl was going to be back with another in just a minute.
"You know, Len."
"No, I don't, Ben. Spell it out."
"It's just... you're a good-looking woman, Lenny. Might be hard to remember when you open that mouth of yours, but it's true. You're gorgeous. You could have any man. It's a damn waste that you don't."
"Right. Because my only worth in life is to be arm-candy and a wet pussy, right? To please a man?" I winced slightly when his head jerked back at the bite in my words. I pushed it, I knew that. I pushed people. That was my thing. I pushed the limits of their comfort zones because I got kicks out of it. And I pushed to see them stagger when they pissed me off. And, perhaps most of all, I pushed just to see if I could push them away.
By my records, I could push everyone but one person away.
But I wasn't so fucked in the head that I didn't know that my behavior wasn't exactly normal, or at all warranted at times.
Ben was older, of a different generation. His people didn't see anything wrong with thinking of a woman as an accessory or, worse yet, a built-in house cleaner, baby-raiser, and bed-rocker.
I might not have been a fan of the idea that just because someone was old it excused their sexism - or racism, or homophobia - but Ben definitely had a better argument - his entire lifelong programming - to fall back on than younger men.
I didn't have to be such a damn bitch all the time.
"I'm just not interested, Ben," I said with a shrug. "Men come with their own set of problems. Problems I don't need right now."
"My daughter is going through a divorce from some mean drunk."
"Case and point," I agreed, even if I was rolling my eyes at him inside my head seeing as Ben was a heavy drunk and his daughter clearly had daddy-issues if she wound up with a man who had her father's problems with chasing the bottoms of bottles.
"Just don't like the idea of you in this neighborhood with no one to protect you is all."
I flipped the switchblade in my hand, rose my other hand, pointed, then raised the hand with the blade, and let it soar, slicing through the air with a swooshing noise before there was the satisfying thud of it landing true just outside the bullseye on the dart target.
"I think I can handle myself, Ben," I told him as he took off his hat, and ran a hand over the top of his full head of gray hair, clearly impressed seeing as he almost always hit the wall, not the target at all, let alone getting near the bullseye from clear across the room.
I would love to claim that that aim was thanks to my new training schedule, but the fact of the matter is, that was simply just from hours and hours of boredom at the store with nothing else to do but throw arrows at the dart board. I'd clocked thousands of hours on that board. Even drunk, I could usually wipe the floor with anyone who wanted to put their money up against a 'sweet piece of ass' as the last guy called me before I cleared a hundred bucks out of his wallet, buying me another two weeks at the gym.
"Alright, alright," Ben said, holding up a hand before moving toward the bar.
Five o'clock on the dot.
"Been here two years," Meryl said as he unloaded the cartons of smokes onto the counter for me to stock.
"Never seen you with a man. Unless the drunken grinding on that fucking gang member counts. Which it don't."
One of my finer moments, for sure.
The fact of the matter was, I understood quite well the neighborhood that I lived in, and the gang that ran it. Third Street. In fact, the leader lived in my apartment building. The whole crew congregated on the front stoop pretty much daily. I knew better than to get their attention. Luckily, that moron got completely blackout drunk, and when he confronted me the next day rambling on about how I got him hot and bothered, leaving him high and dry, I had acted like I had never seen his face before. Considering how wasted he had been, his 'boss' bought my story, and ribbed the guy endlessly about his wishful thinking.
I just barely got out of that one.
It was the last time I danced with a guy when I was drinking. In this town anyway.
"Why would I need anyone else when I have you, you sexy beast?" I asked, not unkindly, though he knew I wasn't being serious.
"What?" I asked, turning around to find a somewhat patient look on his face. I wasn't an open book. He knew this. If anything, my covers were fucking glued together, and everything in between was heavily redacted. You couldn't read me; you'd lose your mind if you even tried. "I know," I said to his raised brow. "I'm a frigid bitch. I should warm up so some dude will want to spend some time with me."
I wasn't an automaton; I had urges and desires and wants. I didn't hate men, though you could say I leaned more heavily to that side than the other. But I simply haven't had time for one the last six months. And to invite one into my life when I was about to commit a capital offense was simply not a good move.
"You're not a frigid bitch," Meryl surprised me by saying. He wasn't shy about using the b-word, though he generally did it teasingly. And, to be fair, when I totally deserved it. "And I never said you should change. Maybe though, you could find yourself a man who could... warm you up the old-fashioned way."
With that, he was gone, leaving me to wonder if that was a remote possibility. Because I knew Meryl. He didn't mean that at face-value, meaning I could let a man warm me up by fucking me. He meant something deeper, something that I, well, had never allowed in my life. Easier to have a fling when I needed it, or a fuck-buddy situation, than catch feelings.
Men, I had learned from a very, very young age, always left.
And in leaving, they left the women who loved them as broken pieces scattered all around.
Yeah, I decided as I shook off that train of thought, knowing it went nowhere I wanted to visit again, it was better to do my thing.
I occasionally got wasted to get rid of some of the stress.
I got stronger.
I got more and more ready each day.
Because the six-month mark was readily approaching.
And there was a pit in my stomach that was telling me that the deal I made with the universe that night wasn't going to go the way I had been hoping in vain for.
Things weren't going to get better.
I was going to have to make the hardest decision of my life.
Then after that, yeah, I was going to make the fucking easiest.
I was going to kill a man.