Isha didn’t get giddy. She was not the calculating and emotionless menace of the Greencrest basement that some made her out to be, and was not the feral lunatic others figured her to be for that matter either. She preferred to take the days as they came, her eye on the steady improvement of her form. Slippage was her only dread, and the meticulous upwards climb of her fighting prowess was her main joy. Her stance was honed in practice by her coach and her mother’s unforgiving eye, then evaluated by an abundance of fighting.
She was patient. To her mind, her goals were a matter of time, of fighting in the same arenas her mother once had done before her. She was, after all, the Pit Wolf’s daughter.
But Isha had grown bored her senior year, and at times her stomach had grown knotted from bothersome thoughts that she was losing even an infinitesimal amount of ability. Her training routines were uninterrupted, but as Mom always said, “A foundation is useless without a tremor to shake it”. Humiliating Kana was the closet she’d come in over a month to a proper fight, and there was nothing to learn from that.
Then came Milo. She had written him off too fast, she realized. Obviously he was no good for a fight, but in knowing him she had learned more of herself. She had never been one to dwell on a victory before him, only focusing on losses and the righting of them. But Milo came to her an eager monkey for experimentation, to be conquered anew in some excruciating fashion each time he stared at her with his doe eyes and self-immolating mouth. A fire had been lit in her, the bored warrior stirring to consciousness and the drive to fight emerging as if it had never left, impassioned and ready for more.
So she was eager, not giddy. The boy was a natural teacher in something he couldn’t even grasp and she was eager to learn even more. She could barely keep from dragging him out of school to her car, the bet and her original half-made plan sparking to malicious life.
“You don’t have a seatbelt,” Isha explained, shoving him into the passenger seat. “It snapped off. I bet that just makes it feel more natural for you, huh?”
“Any chance you can floor it on the way there?” Milo said. To say his face was pale was no longer sufficient, as it now had the consistency of cottage cheese and he moved in lurching motions that were equally reminiscent of it.
“Anything for you, Monkey.” Isha cackled. She slid across the hood of her car and hopped eagerly into the driver seat. She was curious if he would make a run for it, but Milo stayed rigid in the passenger’s seat. If he had, Isha couldn’t imagine he would have made it more than a few feet before bowling over and vomiting. She was disappointed to miss it, then wondered if perhaps he might decide to dive out of the car door once she hit the highway.
She kept the passenger door unlocked.
True to her word, Isha slammed down on the pedal and peeled out of the parking lot at her usual breakneck speed. Despite his words, Milo clung his nails into the underbelly of his seat, at times making flailing motions at the stubby bit of seatbelt in its sheath. To his credit he did not scream, but he did make the odd moan and whimper which sometimes coalesced into near-words.
Isha’s tattoo artist kept strange hours, what few hours she did keep. There was no actual guarantee she would be working today, but the chances were significantly better the sooner before dinner Isha caught her. So her frenzied driving had a purpose behind it, even if it was about as fast as she drove when she did not have a purpose. The drive was forty minutes by pedestrian standards, about twenty by Ishan standards. There had been some dawdling before they had left, some leering and jeering from Nicky and Taima, but Isha supposed it didn’t matter; in fact she rather liked the idea of having to track Milo down again to slap her brand on his ass.
Or maybe the back of the neck, or around the navel even. She hadn’t fully decided yet, having only put serious thought into the design of the tattoo in the past thirty minutes or so. She vaguely liked the idea of some kind of interconnecting lock design around his genitals, but she couldn’t imagine her artist would support that.
Oh well, she thought, a design to save for a future bet.
Late afternoon traffic proved no meaningful deterrent to Isha. They had carved a path of chaos and kinetic violence through Greencrest and arrived right outside Isha’s home after only fifteen minutes, ahead of schedule.
Isha’s home was a product of old money. More accurately, it was a byproduct of old and that had been fertilized by scraps of change and then propagated by much the same. It was a splicing of ancient bones and cheaply made new ones, all loosely covered in the same beige paint and overlooking the fragments of a front lawn. It was a prime example of Greencrest randomization, sitting in the intersection between rows of dark shacks with spotty automobiles and a farther away slice of some kind of suburbia. The house driveway, what there was of it, was empty save a rusty facsimile of a hot rod which Isha boxed in as her jalopy screeched into place behind it. The car’s rear end hung lightly into the street, but Isha didn’t seem to consider this her problem to worry about.
“Hop to, Dickless.” Isha called to him, letting herself and keeping an eye on him. Milo, who had steadily progressed from corpse-faced to something more like a rotten peach, stored his phone back in his pocket with glum acceptance. In the minutes (or minute, as time blurred more than the view outside his window did) before their arrival, Milo had managed to text his mother that he would be home a bit late. He would be watching a movie with his friends to celebrate the end of finals, he informed her.
Milo crawled out of the passenger door with a soldier’s acceptance, but not a soldier’s grace. He stumbled almost immediately on contact with the cement, landing with a thud to his mother’s buzzing reply of “Which friends?”
Isha cackled at the sight of his impact, leaning against the hood of her car and watching him right himself slowly. “We can do it out on the lawn if you want. Show off your ass to the neighborhood before it gets rebranded.”
“That’s alright,” Milo said atop shaky knees that didn’t rise so much as bend upwards. He turned towards Isha’s house, pondering its Frankenstein nature. “Am I gonna die in there?”
“I’m not sure you can die, Milo.” Isha smiled. It was not a friendly smile, but it was as warm as she was capable of smiling. “Pretty sure you’re some kind of cosmic joke being played on yourself.”
“Yeah.” Milo just nodded. “Yeah, I agree.”
To Isha’s credit, she let Milo walk behind her. This wasn’t overly worthy of credit, as running would have been a futile and enjoyable affair, and letting him walk in first ran a not insignificant possibility of grievous bodily harm that would have soured her victory lap.
Though, in regards to the latter concern, Isha didn’t think it was particularly likely that her mother would see the scrawny boy as anything close to a burglar. She thought it more likely to worry her mother would snatch him to give away to a family friend.
Isha’s father wasn’t home. Isha could tell by the dimness of the living room, unlit by the television or the glow of the kitchen. They only had the one car, but her father caught rides back home from the other volunteers at the center. Though he lacked set hours, as was the nature of his volunteer work, he did tend to be home around the time Isha would arrive home from school. If she was first, it likely meant he would be several hours out.
Isha smiled to herself at the realization. That meant take out, which meant she could celebrate her Monkey’s branding with something greasy.
Milo was plodding behind her, hands in his pocket. His eyes had grown wide and continued to do so as they crossed the threshold into the house, presumably as shock gave way to the alarming realization that he was about to be inked up in a garage by his bully’s mother. He was scanning the house like it was the lair of some primordial beast, but it did not quite match that specification on any front. Isha’s home was not overly clean, but her father did tend to keep a semblance of order at least. The counters were filled with bills and letters and magazines, but they were stacked neatly enough to overcome the passing mistake that they were some overgrowth of papery moss. The carpeting was mostly cleaned save the errant spot, walkways uncluttered, and it smelled altogether “fine”.
“Ma?” Isha called. “Ma!”
“Ma?” Milo asked. Not to Isha. In fact he was hoping Isha wouldn’t answer.
Isha didn’t answer. Instead she pushed forward, tossing her bag onto the couch and ripping Milo’s away from him to do the same. She pushed forward around the kitchen corner and into the garage, her brisk pace sweeping up Milo in it as he trudged along after her. The truth was Milo was more scared something would pop out to steal him if he wasn’t at Isha’s side, while Isha suspected the opposite might happen if she didn’t lead the way.
Isha’s mother, Freya, had claimed the garage since Isha had been born. This was only minorly inconvenient to the rest of the family when they had only one car, and was now genuinely inconvenient for the whole family. But the automotive troubles of the rest of her clan did not bother Freya; she couldn’t drive, after all.
The garage itself was dimly lit orange by a singular lightbulb hanging not quite in the center of the room, the first of many things about it that simply felt incorrect. Even if a car were to navigate into the apparent garage, gorged as it was currently with boxes and unstable gym equipment, it would have surely had to squeeze to stop the hanging bulb from cracking against it. There was not even space for that now, the front door of the garage blocked off by a slightly diagonal treadmill and a battered punching bag. There was a mini-fridge against the far wall, the single thing in something close to pristine condition in the room, and myriad empty beer cans scattered like mines across the floor.
Freya was closer to the door, arising in a grunt that was forcibly torn from a snore from her hammock. There was a TV that couldn’t possibly display a proper image sizzling with static near her, propped up on top of a knobby kneed table. Aside from it was a stand of some intricate design work carved into myriad plastic panels, and a strange leather chair like from a dentist’s office.
Milo didn’t see the needles that were sterilized in the cabinet, but from Isha’s eagerness and the tattoo designs he understood at once what this place was. Isha was looking forward to seeing him realize where he would be branded, but inexplicably he seemed equally confused and curious about the gym equipment.
“Does she work out in here too?” Milo asked. He hadn’t seemed to notice the rising wolf in the corner, who blinked her good eye at the little human in a daze.
“Hell is that?” Freya asked. Her voice was groggier than usual, weighed down by remnants of sleep. Where Milo had had a subdued response to the room, he had no such response to Isha’s mother. Making eye-contact with her, he nearly yelped and jumped backwards before righting himself and mumbling out a splice together apology and greeting.
“That’s my monkey.” Isha snorted.
Freya snorted back. Her smile was widening, glancing from her daughter to the boy. The right side of her face, where the burning was the worst, was not fully hidden by the dimness of the room. Milo tried his best to not stare, but amidst the din and dirt of the room found it hard to know where else he could stare.
“Hey there,” Freya greeted. She walked up to him on legs only slightly weighed down by her dawning awakening and her limp. She extended a hand to the shaky boy for a shake; the burnt one, marred by streaks of pink skin where the fur would not regrow and where a claw had chipped off and grown back crooked.
“Hello, Miss!” Milo yelled. His arm shot out like the sloppy motions of a soldier in active court martial. “Nice to meet you!”
When Milo was uncomfortable, but not weighed down by blind ego, he tended to default to over politeness long ago drilled into him by his mother. When he was terrified, he did much the same but at a higher volume.
Freya cackled. There was a semblance to Isha’s laugh in it. Certainly, there was the same harshness and impish glee, if slightly mellowed by age. But Freya’s was deeper and harsher, the burnt marks on the side of her throat seemingly glistening with effort from it.
“I like you, loud kid.” Freya smiled. “Hell’s my girl doing to you?”
“He punched me, Ma.” Isha said behind her. She had sat down on the hammock rocking back and forth and relishing in Milo’s discomfort. “Right after he told me to fuck off.”
Another cackle, this one louder and paired with uproarious clapping. “He did?” Freya howled, “What a man!” She swatted Milo on the back with a painful pat, and the boy did all he could to keep from stumbling onto his face.
“Alright, so what? He want a tattoo?” Freya asked. She was smiling lazily now, and Milo could see her more and more clearly in the dark orange of the room. She was dressed like her daughter, but a bit more threadbare in the relative warmth of the garage with a sleeves white shirt and baggy cargo shorts. Her paws were free to the ground like Isha, and Milo saw now that the burn marks started somewhere around her navel and spread upwards diagonally towards her left eye. The marks were not pretty, but they served to accentuate the feral gleam of her eyes more than to mark her as disfigured; the marks splayed around her left eye just so that it seemed to be a gleaming torch staring out at him amidst the dim light of the garage that stared appreciatively at the bite mark on his neck.
“Yup, sure does.” Isha was reclining in the hammock now, arms behind her head. “Says he’s so obsessed with me, he wants my name on him.”
“Does he?” Freya asked. Milo noticed two things about her in this instance. The first was that despite looking right at him, she was talking to Isha and not him. He appreciated this. The second was that at the mention of tattooing a name Freya’s smile upended suddenly. A snarl lie in wait now, the teeth not damaged like the skin surrounding them.
Freya’s eyes focused, and Milo knew in the instant that now she would be referring to him. “That true, little man?” She asked.
“Yes, miss.” Milo said. He swallowed his fear with his pride and answered as clearly as he could, “I promised I would get it.”
“Too fucking bad.” Freya dismissed him with a wave of her hand and strutted back towards her hammock. “Not doing names.”
“What?” Isha screamed. She lunged up from the hammock in a near sprint, putting herself up to her mother’s face. They were roughly the same in height and neither was tall for a werewolf, but in the confines of the garage they felt to Milo like beasts beyond his reckoning.
“I didn’t raise you to put a mark on your bitch with ink.” Freya growled. She turned suddenly to Milo, smiling a Cheshire grin. “No offense.”
“I won the fucking bet with him!” Isha yelled, nearly forehead to forehead with her mother. “I’m still gonna mark him like normal!”
“I don’t care what stupid bet you have, runt!” Freya yelled back, pressing her forehead hard against Isha’s own. To Milo’s shock, Isha took a step backwards as Freya stole a step forward. “I’m not marking him with a lazy predator’s mark!”
Freya pushed harder, and Isha had to concede the space. Freya pushed past her and marched towards her hammock, as Isha walked with a rushed hunch over to the punching bag in the corner and nearly blew out the stuffing with her blow.
So, there Milo was. To his left was the still open garage door and the grumpy looking Freya, and to his right the practically feral looking Isha apparently throwing a tantrum and eviscerating a punching bag. Stuffing was starting to flutter like snow in a grimy window in the garage, but Freya made no motion to stop her daughter.
Milo turned to the door. Isha’s back was to him, and she had not even glanced his way in the middle of her barrage. Freya, seeing the boy glance at the exit, simply nodded to him and waved goodbye. She flopped back into her hammock without further note of him.
In the days to come, and in the months and years to follow the days, Milo would never wonder why he did what he did next. That was for Isha and Freya to ponder, as on that day the potentially freed youth walked past the open garage door to go up to Freya.
“So, you won’t do it?” Milo asked. Freya, who had been reaching for an open beer near her hammock stool, nearly spilt it all over herself.
“Fuck.” Freya mumbled to herself as she righted it, “No, kid. I don’t do name tattoos for my daughter. Whatever bet she put you in, you’re off the hook.”
“Can I do something else for it?” Milo asked, directed to Isha who was mauling the punching bag.
“No.” Slam, slam, rip! Isha didn’t turn to face her monkey, her rage zeroed in on the punching bag. “Get out. I don’t want to see you until next semester.” Isha was concocting plans of vengeance in her mind even in the midst of her tantrum. The fact that Milo was not at fault did not deter her. Though at the moment they only came in red and feverous maelstroms of emotion, over time they could be worked into something appropriately sadistic. Perhaps even something ironic.
“But I lost the bet.” Milo said. It was strange. Not just that he seemed fixated on dooming himself, which by this point was more normal than anything else, but at the conviction behind his words. He spoke as if he was reciting a damning piece of evidence in front of a court; but who did it damn but himself?
“And my daughter made a bad bet.” Freya said. Her foul mood was dissipating for one of curiosity. “Do you want a tattoo, kid? I’ll give you a different one if you’re so keen on it. For free, even.” The offer was less kind than it appeared. It had been a few months since Freya had given out a tattoo and she had been meaning to find a practice dummy. Milo fit both categories perfectly, as far as she could tell.
“Can Isha pick it out?” Milo asked. Claws stamped hurriedly across the garage floor, and Milo turned to see himself being stared down by a very furious Isha. He could not see the exasperation and confusion that was weighing down her mind, but for once he did at least take note of the rage.
“What the hell is your malfunction?” Isha hissed, “I’m telling you to get the fuck out. Aren’t those prissy jinkos you live with gonna tear you a new one if you get a tattoo anyways?”
“I don’t care about that!” Milo snapped back. He did, but he was not aware that he did at this exact moment. “I made a bet and I lost, I’m not backing down!”
“I’m telling you I don’t care about the bet!” Isha yelled. Inexplicably, her usual instincts to clobber the person she was enraged at were not flaring up. They were replaced by a desire to pick Milo up by the throat and shake him until he started to speak a semblance of sense.
“What about that one?” Milo pointed to a small poster next to the stand of tattoo selections. It advertised an inky paw, a specialized tattoo that was an outline of a monster’s paw after it had been stamped in ink then traced on, usually, their partner’s body. It was something of a romantic tattoo, which Freya didn’t expect the plucky dolt in her garage to know. They were almost never given out to anyone except drunken lovers and, apparently, dumb little lemmings.
Isha raised her arms to the air, then her head, then angrily to her neck where she rubbed viscously and turned away from Milo in a stomp. What was this? Why wasn’t he leaving? She was yelling at him to leave, shoving an out under his oblivious face, and he was arguing.
Freya groaned, crawling out of her hammock. She crawled over to her long desk and began digging through her tools and needles.
“What’s your name?” Freya called out to Milo.
“Ah. Uh. Milo, Miss.”
“Call me Freya. Milo, drag the table out to the center of the garage, pile anything up on it in the corner.” Freya pulled out an ink pad, largely sized to fit nearly any monster. “Come here, brat.” Freya called over to Isha. With a scowl and a snarl, she stomped over and waited as her mother formed the etching from her paw.
When Milo had dragged the table back into the center, Freya instructed him to lay on it on his stomach. He did so, and then realized he was getting a tattoo. A lightning bolt of fear shot down his back and formerly muted motes of panic began vibrating furiously in his mind. At the sound of a chair scraping up behind him, he considered hopping off for just a moment to clear his head, only for a strong paw to come down and compress him against the table.
“I’m putting this on your backside, Milo,” Freya explained, “You want it on a butt cheek or more in the lower center of your back? Isha, hold his arms down so he doesn’t squirm.” Isha did so, and there was a hesitant gentleness to her hold that the slowly panicking Milo would never be able to fully appreciate. On the opposite end of the table, Freya crossed her legs over Milo’s own dangling ones while pulling his shirt up and pants down just a few inches.
“Which, which hurts less?” Milo asked.
“Ass it is.”
It was roughly a little past four thirty now and Milo was being ferried back home in Isha’s car. In contrast to the legality flaunting speeding that had delivered him to a sore ass and a darkened rear, Isha was driving at something like a normal speed. Still too fast by most metrics, but they would be arriving at the drop-off Milo had requested at a reasonable time instead of aggressively ahead of schedule.
They had not spoken much since leaving the house, but Isha had grunted when Freya had commanded her to “get that poor, dumb boy to his house at least”. Milo had supplied generally the neighborhood he lived; specifically he supplied the neighborhood one over from where he lived but was within brisk walking distance through his own home. Some kind of ceasefire had been negotiated between them, he thought at least, but he did not think it even remotely wise to risk one of his family seeing her climb out of her car.
Milo hadn’t dealt with her. The thought came to him like a raindrop from a blue sky, cold and confusing. He hadn’t broken up with Isha like he said he would to his sisters. As a matter of fact, Isha’s paw was semi-permanently on his right ass cheek, which was currently sore as burning hell and hanging in the air towards the passenger door as he leaned heavily on the other cheek to spare it contact with the ground. The motion caused him to be dangerously close in proximity to Isha, whose silence did very little to hide her scowl and the less than infrequent grinding of her teeth.
Milo was still in danger. He realized this now as he stood a few inches from his bully who he had not found a way to break contact with, and not at some other, potentially more reasonable time in the past. When he was being tattooed in a stranger’s garage, for instance.
What were his goals now? Milo tentatively laid his searing ass cheek on the torn up upholstery to adopt a more contemplative sitting position. He found the constant heat waves of pain traveling up from below oddly effective in narrowing his mind, like undergoing some kind of monastic training.
For the time being, certainly he needed to start lying and needed to start doing it harder than he ever had in his entire life. He couldn’t even imagine what he could do in the next thirty minutes to make Isha lose interest in him, so it was more productive to figure out how he was going to construct a convincing argument to Jean to keep her from dragging him off to the mountains with prissy Hilda.
Perhaps that didn’t have to be a lie, he realized. Then for some reason the thought of not having to lie made him feel uncomfortable and he discarded the notion. This left him to dredge the intellectual recesses of his own mind for some kind of damning argument to free him.
“Hey,” Milo said suddenly to Isha, breaking what was supposed to be a tense silence with the same amount of awareness that he did almost anything, “Do you know this girl named Hilda? She’s a white-furred jinko.”
“No.” Isha said. Her eyes were on the road, which had not yet forcibly blossomed into the frenzied stream of cars that rush hour would bring.
“Uh,” Milo said, which was not a nervous statement but the sound of his brain shedding reason for self-immolating plotting, “Do you want to?”
Isha pulled over the car in front of a small bait and tackle shop, inexplicably located both next to a grocery store and an electronics store. She put the car in park, reclined in her chair and ran her hands across her face.
“You don’t have to.” Milo said in a rare and hasty moment of self-preservation, “I’m trying to get out of dinner with her this weekend, and also maybe being isolated in a cabin with her.” Milo didn’t really have anyone to talk to about his problems. Of his other friends, Ted’s ideas were even worse than his own and he always felt the most painful bit of guilt for involving Sasha in things.
“Uh-huh.” Isha rubbed her temples. “Show her my mark.”
“Well, I can’t, because my mom-“
“Why?” Isha demanded. She looked towards him with eyes tired yet full of rage.
“It’s not a great plan, honestly,” Milo admitted sheepishly, “But I thought if you beat her up she would leave me alone.”
“No, dumbass!” Isha slammed her fist on the dashboard, and Milo realized he was boxed in a small space with an angry monster for the third day this week. “Why the hell did you get that tattoo?”
“Did you not want me to?” Milo asked, furrowing his brow. “I’m sorry it wasn’t your name, but she wouldn’t-“
“Why didn’t you just piss off?” Isha yelled. “I was letting you out!”
“Because I lost the bet!” Milo yelled back, instinctively. When he was yelled at he tended to yell back, which led him to ‘situations’, such as being locked in a small space with an angry monster.
“So?” Isha snapped back.
“So that means I have to do something when I say I’m going to do it. That’s all I really have.” Milo crossed his arms, wincing from the rear pain as he withdrew in his seat. “I shoot my mouth off, whatever. But I mean what I say.”
Isha sighed. She managed to bring in her frustration and kept from some other passive display of rage. Her emotions were unsorted in her mind, and she was allowing herself to be pulled in the directions of the strongest ones only to fall back down as they left as soon as they came. In the past two hours she had gone from sadistic glee to vengeful rage to just utterly confused. She couldn’t make sense of the situation, and she was deeply irritated with her monkey.
But despite the frustration, she felt it was unfair to be cruel to Milo. And this was what caused her something deeper than frustration, something she couldn’t place words to behind. Perhaps it wasn’t right for her to think of it as a maelstrom of emotions; more aptly she felt something she couldn’t put into words and it caused her to latch violently onto the passing emotions.
“Well.” Isha mumbled, flipping the car back into drive and merging forcibly into the stream of traffic. “Well. I guess that’s almost cool.”
Milo blinked his doe eyes, head tilted in a curious stare. “Thanks.” He said it formally, uncertain if it was what he was meant to be saying. For his own part, Milo was not much clearer in his head than Isha. Unlike her, he possessed any number of life shattering idiocies to occupy himself with, so the discrepancy of his mental well being didn’t bother him at the moment.
Truth be told, despite the candor he had summoned when he said it, Milo was not positive why he got the tattoo. In every conceivable metric that he could summon to measure the worth of his life, it had almost certainly been a self-harming gesture. Even in regards to Isha, who as best Milo could tell was somewhat placated, it had tethered him even more tightly to her than he had been before. He wasn’t sure she would have washed her hands of him had he fled her home when offered the mercy, but certainly it would be better than having a traceable mark from her on his rear end.
“Who’s Hilda?” Isha asked, cutting in behind a minivan to then snake around in front of a motorcyclist. The disregard she had for either her own life or others had seemingly returned, and the twenty minutes to their destination seemed a pleasant fairy tale to Milo all at once.
“A jinko my mom is making me go out with.” Milo said. He glared at the blue sky over the highway, as if imagining the smug girl was lying above the clouds to chide him on his posture. “She’s an uptight bitch.”
“Oh yeah?” Isha cackled.
“Yeah. Whenever I’m with her on a date she just talks at me the whole time and tells me how I should act and how I shouldn’t embarrass myself. It’s like I’m dating my mother.”
“Dump her.” Isha suggested. She was amused by Milo’s sudden outburst towards this mystery jinko, but underneath her smile something again tugged at her mind. Hilda. The name stuck out in her mind like a thorn, another emotion she wasn’t ready to entertain boiling underneath.
“I’m trying but she keeps coming back.” Milo had reclined like a pouting child in his seat. The ass pain was ever present, but he had accepted it for the time being. “I’ve tried everything, but my mom and my sister keep making me go out with her.”
“Why?” Isha was compiling information she would assign a use for later.
“Because they’re afraid I’ll do something stupid or get kidnapped or something.” Milo responded, with a dismissive hand motion.
“Because you’re just a human.” Isha said.
“Insane.” Isha said, dry as a desert.
“I know!” Milo threw his hands up in the air. “But my sister is dragging me out to the mountains with her at the end of the month, unless I have a compelling counter-argument to why I shouldn’t date her.”
“Well,” Isha had learned too much in too little time to even come close to formulating a response to that. She would have just beaten this Hilda up, but she supposed she could appreciate that that wasn’t an option to him. “Good luck I guess.”
It was not an act of kindness that drove Isha to listen to Milo drone on about his problems and his play-by-play narrative of thoughts about them. Admittedly, the tangle of his life was amusing to hear about, but Isha felt for the moment only interested in listening to later parse through the details. She had no plan at the moment, but she felt some kind of anticipation growing in her as she listened.
She decided she would find a way to right the storm in her mind. And her monkey would be the thing that charted the curse back to her righted state of mind.
They did in fact make it to Milo’s spoken destination in record time, for people who would have kept a record of this. In fact she parked on the side of the street next to rows of homogenous suburban homes while Milo finished a diatribe for so long that families of mini-vans began passing them by and peering nervously inside the suspicious and dirty car.
“Oh.” Milo said, having finished his diatribe and blinking around in confusion. “We’re here?”
“Are we?” Isha asked, playing with her phone. She looked at him with a knowing glance. She had been curious when he gave her the address if he would actually be so bold or so clueless to give her his real home. It was gratifying in a way to see that he hadn’t; Isha appreciated the opportunity to put into at least some kind of effort into her hunts.
And she would be hunting soon, she had decided.
“Ah, uh,” Milo floundered for a second, then decided she was right. “Yeah, yeah this its it. Or it’s just a bit of a walk from here.”
“I can drive you.” Isha offered, eager to hear him decide how he would say no. She was already looking for a way to swerve back around to the neighborhood’s entrance, but Milo wouldn’t have noticed.
“Nah, nah, no thank you!” Milo declared. The first two words were not actually the functional slang they came out as, but fortunate grunts that shaped themselves into a coherent thought. “I need to stretch my legs.”
“And your mom would probably rip that little dick off if she saw me.” Isha smiled.
“Yeah, yeah!” Milo chuckled nervously. “Uh, probably.”
“Bye.” Isha said. Milo blinked, then clambered out of her car in a frenzy, backpack hastily scavenged from the detritus of her backseat. Like the expert actor he was, the second he hit pavement he looked around uncertainly, walked in one direction, then the other, and then began to stop his run to walk at something vaguely like a normal walking speed.
Isha was curious if he would be snatched up by a harpy or something on his way home. Those type of midday abductions were the stuff of near mythology in the modern world, but Isha could see it happening to him so vividly she could almost hear the harpy’s cry and Milo’s screaming. There wouldn’t even be a news stories if it happened, the press would just take a look at the photo, nod at each other and say “Yeah, that sounds about right.”
Isha just snorted to herself, and took off once he had checked to see if she had left for the second time. She forewent finding an optimal path to spin on a dime and rerouted towards the pastiche of white picket fence homes, nearly upsetting a sweater wearing couple trying to walk some kind of tiny dog. She sped back into the city and blazed a war path towards her house, grin unearthing itself as the fossil of her old mood came back up to the surface.
She wasn’t sure how she felt about the tattoo. The thoughts wouldn’t arrange themselves properly, but she was content to let them fall into place when they would, despite the fact, or possibly because, it felt to be a process that would take her no small amount of time to sift through.
But she was sure about something. That no matter how she felt about Milo, and no matter how she felt about how she felt about him for that matter, that he was still fun. She still hadn’t learned to understand him or predict him, nor the right ways to press down on him to make him squirm. Despite everything, he was still a fascinating test subject.
And she couldn’t wait to see him again.
“Getting dinner with a bitch on Sunday, huh?” Isha said aloud, a toothy grin firmly in place. “Sounds like fun.”