Pain Slut(109)

By: J.A. Rock

Zac turned to Dana. “Where does Miles live?”

“Why don’t you ask him?” Dana suggested.

Zac faced me again, squirming in his seat. “Where do you live?”

Uh . . . Does he want a street name, or a type of house, or . . .?

“I live near Brinkley Park. In a—a house.”

“Do you know where . . . um . . . where, um . . .” Zac was twisting his shirt in his hand. “Where Kellan lives?”

I glanced at Dana. She nodded. “Kellan’s his friend from school. They’re both very into spooky stuff. Right?” She ran a hand over Zac’s head.

“Spooky stuff?” Drix inquired.

Dana laughed. “They love the vampires and the werewolves and the zombies and all that. Gives me nightmares.”

“Not me!” Zac turned to me. “Do you like vamp . . . vampires?”

I bit back a laugh and tried not to look at Drix. “Yeah. I do.”

“Do you like zombies?”

“Uh-huh. I mean, in theory. I don’t want them eating my brains.”

Zac glanced at Dana again. “Can we go to Miles’s house?”

She straightened his cardigan. “Today, we’re just going to stick with sandwiches.”

Back to me. He gazed at me a long while. I felt a warmth toward him that came easily, that didn’t scare me at all. He put his finger on the table and pushed, as though the table were a giant button. “Do you think zombies eat your brains to get smarter?”

“It’s very possible. I’m not sure why they eat brains. Maybe they’re just hungry.”

Zac laughed, as though I’d actually made a joke. Something lifted in me at the sound, and I smiled back. I felt Drix’s presence beside me, peaceful and sure. If he were to take a picture of me now, I hoped I’d see a real smile. That I’d see somebody who knew he couldn’t control the world, but who was starting to find a strange sort of comfort in uncertainty.

Outside, Drix and I accompanied Zac and Dana to Dana’s car, and we said our good-byes. Zac hugged me. Which seemed too scary, too trusting, too much like a promise. But I hugged him back and hoped that it wouldn’t be the last time.

They left, and Drix and I decided to walk to Dave and Gould’s since it was just down the street. I put my hand in Drix’s. Poked my back tooth with my tongue. No pain. Drix had taken good care of me.

I turned to him. “Can I use you? Not for the bucket list, but for the really scary stuff? Advice about school and bullies and not eating vegetables?”

He nudged me. “I’m not gonna be much help. I still don’t eat my own vegetables. But you can use me for anything.”

I closed my eyes for a moment, then made myself say what I really wanted to say. “Do you mind if I love you?”

His smile started slowly and grew. “Not at all. In fact, I’m pretty glad to hear it. Since I’m not altogether un-in-love with you myself.”

“Okay.” I nodded. “Okay.”

He squeezed my hand harder. Until it almost hurt. “Okay?”

“Okay,” I agreed. “Then I want to ask you something.”

“What’s that?”

I stopped walking. “Would you please be there when he comes home for the first time?”

He stopped too. I felt his gaze on me, but it was a few seconds before I managed to look at him. “You’re serious?” he said quietly.

I nodded. “I want . . .” I want Zac to get to know both of us, together. I want him to see our home. “I want you there.”

He stepped closer to me. His head tilted forward, and it reminded me of the night he’d gotten on his knees at Riddle and bowed his head. Like it really did mean everything to him to be able to give.

I didn’t quite know what all I had that I could give in return.

But I was ready to find out.

“Then I’ll be there,” he said softly.

It was nice of him to say it, but he didn’t have to.

I knew.

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