On the road outside of Vegas I sat on the dusty roof of my father’s car. The prick never took care of it and I figured stealing it was the easiest way to get back at him. The car had warning lights, like I had regrets and the I-15 was the last place I wanted it to break down. I stared at the night sky, at least the moon was bright and Vegas a beacon in the distance calling me towards civilization.
The car wasn’t worth fixing even if I had the money or the time but it got me on the road even though I didn’t care how it got me there. I took winding roads too often, got lost in every state I visited, and by the time I shook the dust off my shoes and found my way to a bar the only thing on my mind was getting drunk. Being anywhere but home was where I wanted to be. Even if I had nowhere to go. Sobriety made even Vegas feel too close to Florida, too close to the family that kicked me out, and too close to so many bad memories.
Walking into the city took hours. Being away from the lights, the tourists and the strip Vegas felt different. Old Vegas was sad, and it was just like every other declining district. There were desperate people on every corner, decades old billboards and grungy shops in various stages of drowning in debt. I don’t remember the name of the bar I went into but I should have known that anywhere else would have been safer. A busted jukebox belted Ring of fire and even though I could feel the eyes of every patron on my back I began to order drink after drink.
Even drunk I had enough of a mind to leave once I heard the slurs start. The insults rang in my ears as I got up to leave. “Go home, tranny,” I guess not even Vegas was as accepting as I thought. I paid most of the tab, I think so anyway. Once I was out of the bar I tried to look composed, I tried to find my way towards the main Vegas lights but once I felt a sharp crack at the back of my head I found my way to painful unconsciousness.
I don’t know how long I was out, could have only been a few moments, a few minutes but when I came to I saw her. Tall, strong, with an overwhelming scent of cigars and cologne I was mesmerized the moment she opened her mouth.
“Hey, can you get up? I don’t feel like calling a hearse this time of night. You get a look at who hit you?”
I couldn’t even respond, instead of speaking I threw up, a dinner of hard ciders and harder shots mixed with a beating was hell on the stomach.
“Fucking hell you’re rough,” her voice was like caramel, but that could have been the concussion.
She sat me up, leaning me against the side of a building while she gathered what she could of my things, shoving them into the only bag I brought with me. My keys were still in the ignition of the car miles out of the city. I had no wallet, that was taken. But I had one out of date passport, and two bottles of pills, unmarked gray market hormones that probably didn’t look good but weren’t illegal.
“Alright, nod if you can hear me okay. I got a safe place downtown, do you understand?”
“You’re beautiful,” was all I could remember saying.
When I woke up, everything hurt. I felt like the living dead. I knew I wasn’t in heaven; it wouldn’t look like a studio apartment. I got my first real look at her then, leaning against her kitchen counter reading the label on a can of soup while stirring a pot absentmindedly with her other hand. She didn’t even look at me when she started talking.
“You’re not allergic to tomatoes or anything, are you? I’d feel silly saving your life just to kill you by accident.”
I was feeling hazy. It could have been the pain and the confusion and it could have been the way she looked but for a moment I considered that maybe it was heaven. But the pain was sharp enough to put that thought to rest. I managed to prop myself up before replying, “No, no allergies.”
“Oh well that’s good,” she still didn’t look at me, but she did sound somewhat relieved, “I wouldn’t just give my bed up for any stray, so I do hope you start feeling better soon.”
She brought over a cup of tomato soup, taking a seat next to me before handing it over.
“Thank you, mi-” I tried to thank her but she cut me off.
“Sophie,” The name sounded strange when she spoke, like she hadn’t said it in years, “You can call me Sophie. And well, I’m a little sorry I didn’t inspect you too well. I had to check for injuries and I didn’t want to seem…”
This time I cut her off, “It’s okay, I should be sorry.” I hadn’t been really aware of the handful of bandages I woke up in, or the change of clothes until then.
She looked me in the eye for the first time, her eyes were light brown, almost yellowed like honey even in the dim light of her apartment.
“What’s your name? I saw your passport but considering you’re conscious I’d rather hear it from you.”
“Vivian.” It had been a long time since I told anyone my name, but it had been even longer since anyone asked.
“Well Viv,” Sophie’s voice sounded sleep deprived, “I’m sorry your first night in Vegas wasn’t so glamorous.”
“Thank you, I don’t know what would have happened if you didn’t come along.” I was embarrassed about being saved, I knew what would have happened to me but I was being stupid, careless. If Sophie hadn’t come along I knew that I would be dead.
“Well don’t dwell on it too much. Never does any good,” Sophie looked uneasy when she replied. “Listen I’m not used to this whole bedside caretaker bit, and honestly now that you’re awake I’ve got no idea what to do.”
“I wouldn’t know what to do with me either.” I tried not to sound too sad, but the whole situation was a lot to put on a stranger.
“Viv,” she said quietly, putting her hand on mine, “Don’t worry about it, just drink some soup and take it easy.”
“Sophie, how long was I asleep?” I asked, before drinking the soup. It was warm, tomatoey and filled my empty stomach and aching body with its comforting familiar taste.
She smiled, getting off the bed and stretching while she replied, “About two or three hours, I didn’t keep track honestly.”
“I’ll try to get out of your hair soon.” I mumbled back.
Sophie’s smile faded, being quickly replaced with concern. “Vivian, I don’t know about you but I don’t think you would get far. Tourists don’t generally walk through the bad parts of town drunk in the middle of the night.”
She was right, I didn’t know where to go. I couldn’t even find the words to try and justify leaving, so I sat in silence for what felt like an eternity before looking back to her. I tried not to cry, not to let my voice waver when I spoke but she cut me off before I could even try.
“I’m sorry I sound so mad, I don’t know what’s gotten into me,” For a moment her voice sounded just as wounded as I felt, “If you want to leave you can but I…”
“I didn’t expect you to care so much,” I replied, placing the half empty cup of soup on a nearby nightstand.
“Neither did I.” She leaned, exhausted, on the wall beside the bed. “Why don’t we both get some real sleep and we can talk this over in the morning?”
When I woke up again Sophia was laying on her couch gently snoring. I tried to get up quietly, but the moment I tried to put weight on my legs I could tell that I wasn’t going to make it out the door if I tried. I sat there for a while as the early morning light started to peek through drawn curtains.
“Why were you out there Viv?” Sophia’s voice groggily broke the silence.
I was startled by her, looking over and seeing her eyes glinting ever so slightly in the light. “Running away.”
“From what Viv?” Her voice assumed its smoother caramel tone as she walked over to the bed.
It was hard to even look at her, she was everything I wanted to be, strong, beautiful, and with a natural confidence that filled the small apartment.
“You don’t need to tell me Viv, but I have an idea of what.” She sat beside me and the smell of her cologne was still lingering from last night. “I used to be… overseas for a while. I know when someones running from memories or from things they did or saw Viv.”
Her hand slowly touched mine and before I knew it I was an open book. “I’m from Florida, I left because of my family. They didn’t understand what I needed to do,” I absentmindedly rubbed a bruise that was too old to be from the night before, “so I stole the family car and left.”
Sophia leaned her head back once I was done talking, and we sat in silence for what felt like ages. “That’s a lot Viv, I’m sorry.” Her voice was softer, and there was an inkling of understanding in the way she talked that said more than words ever could.
“Is it really okay if I stay a few days?” I asked sheepishly.
Sophia smiled and leaned in, answering with a kiss.
Vivian was asleep when I left, I needed time to think but by the time I realized where I was going I knew I was already on the hunt, sniffing things out, searching for him. Vegas was my city. It was my hunting grounds and my solitude. I earned a lonely city after all, but I had to keep asking myself what I was doing. I never considered myself a good person, so why was I doing this?
“Fuck.” I cursed myself over and over on the walk over.
I managed to get to the first place I saw her. I never saw the guy that attacked her, but I smelled him on her clothes and in the air that night. Cheap booze and motor oil almost covered up the smell of blood but I had his scent and I was patient. The alley became my hunting blind, the heavy shadows cast by the city lights my camouflage. With any luck, he was a creature of habit.
Minutes turned into hours, I didn’t expect him to go out again so soon but then I noticed it. He had been drinking more, likely with her cash, but I could smell it. Blood on his hands, his boots. Fucker hadn’t even bothered washing up. But it didn’t matter, that just made it easier for me.
He was slow, wobbling along with a bottle in hand. Last call is a bitch no matter who you are and his long walk home was going to be cut short. I had to be smart, not smart enough to avoid getting attached but smart enough not to get caught. Lucky for me, a drunk man is easy prey.
When I woke up it was still dark, Sophie’s smell surrounded me but when I rolled over in bed she wasn’t there. I was scared, worried that sleeping with me made her feel disgusted or ashamed. There was a note by the bed, I could barely make it out from the light coming in through the windows.
Viv, I’m going out for a bit, no need to worry about me. I had a good time, just needed a smoke break to clear my head. I hope I won’t be out long.
I laid in bed for a few minutes, till my aches and pains started to come back. I was still worried, but there wasn’t much I could do but wait. With the distant sound of a siren passing by my only companion I did what I could to get up.
I was dizzy, my head throbbed and the moment I stood up I had to brace myself against a wall. I struggled over to the bathroom, and flicked on the lights. I looked like shit, and it was hard to tell where my injuries ended and Sophie’s bite marks began. I hadn’t shaved in a few days and my stubble was showing.
“Shit Vivian, what are you doing here?” I stared into the mirror expecting an answer from myself but I didn’t have one.
I left the light on, more out of absent mindedness than anything and started back into the main room, the dizziness hadn’t stopped and I ended up sitting on the floor next to the bed. The lights from passing cars sent streaks of light across the room and drew my eye to a box, barely peeking out from under the bed.
I don’t know why I grabbed it. When I opened it, the first thing I saw was a photo of Sophia. Six soldiers sat in the desert, it took me a few minutes to recognize Sophia among the bunch, they all looked happy, fresh. It was a stark contrast to the rest.
I sat there, looking through photos in the light coming from the bathroom, photos of the desert, photos illuminated by flares and floodlights. Photos where she looked terrifying.
At the bottom of the box was a wooden case with a clear glass lid. The glint of silver shined even in the dark. Felt lined compartments housed a worn revolver, 5 empty holes where bullets would go, and one with a shining silver tip.
I sat there, looking at Vivian’s license, she looked so sad in it. Nothing like the girl I knew was back home asleep in my bed. I was sloppy, my clothes were a mess by the time I was done. I underestimated the drunk and sat there on the floor next to him, bleeding from my shoulder where a shard from his bottle now sat nestled inside.
“Fucked isn’t it?” I asked the corpse, “Caring about someone, been a while for me. I’m guessing it was the same for you.”
I got up, his apartment was sparse but I could tell he wasn’t the only one living in the building. My clothes were all sorts of fucked, I scrounged through his place, stuffing my shirt and coat into a garbage bag I grabbed the cleanest looking coat I could find and headed out the door. I had Vivian’s wallet and phone, anything else I could grab that I thought was hers and all the cash he had on him. I had to get back to her soon, and for the first time in years I was afraid. I didn’t want to push her away, but getting caught with a dead body would also put a damper on things if the police found out. By the time I got out of the building I could hear the sirens in the distance. I doubt anyone saw me enter and hoped wearing his coat would throw people off if anyone saw me leave.
Despite the hour Vegas was still alive, still breathing like it always was even away from the strip. I was nervous, my hands were sweating and as I walked into my apartment building I ran the scenarios through my head. I prayed Vivian was still asleep.
When Sophia entered the apartment she looked terrible and beautiful. I panicked over the box, she panicked over the steadily growing red stain on her shoulder and we were hardly able to talk without speaking over each other.
“I’m sorry you had to see me like this…” she said.
“I’m sorry I went through this box…” I said.
We paused, both staring at each other, taking in what we were seeing. Breathing heavily out of worry before she shut the door and I set down the box.
“What did you do?” I spoke, breaking the uneasy silence.
“I got your stuff back,” she replied grunting in pain as she sat down on the floor next to me, “but I guess you might have more questions.”
“Are you okay?” I looked at her, my voice wavering as I asked.
“I’ll live.” Her normally confident voice sounded defeated.
“Have you done things like this before,” I asked, pushing the box closer to her.
The stark seriousness of her voice sent a shiver up my spine but I couldn’t help but ignore the warning signs my brain was sending me. “Do you have a first aid kit?”
When I woke up it was still dark, Sophie’s smell surrounded me and when I tried to roll over I felt the comforting grasp of her arm around me. She clung to me, burying her face in my neck and mumbling unintelligibly before I could understand her.
“Hey Viv, are you still thinking about leaving?” her sleepy caramel voice gained a hint of gravel as she groggily whispered in my ears.
“Only if you join me.” I replied as I turned over to face her.
“Where would we go Viv?”
“Does it matter?”
The hum of Sophia’s car echoed through the desert, the radio newscast covering a recent unexplained death. Local man mauled to death in his own apartment, there were wolf hairs found at the scene with DNA evidence pointing towards an animal attack. Nobody knows how a wolf got in or out of the building. I looked at Sophia before turning the radio off, I knew there weren’t any wolves in Vegas. The only one was leaving with me.
Delilah Deckert is a queer college student with a neurotic drive to become an author. Between adhd induced anxiety and a bad caffeine dependency she is working to get her feet wet in the world of writing but hasn’t yet made a splash.