Olivia tasted like addiction, like she was trying to absolutely submerge me in narcotic sensuality. I was just getting used to the idea of life as a casual victim of overwhelming seduction when she seemed to really start pouring it on, and my brain blazed with the red light of no return. The video hadn’t even finished before she’d slid away to kill the lights, chattering happily about the movie in giggly Spanglish, and then crept back around the television’s blue glow to sit in my lap. She didn’t need to say anything after that, because she knew it would be indecent-crass, even-for either of us to spoil her triumphant homestretch with dumb, stumbling speech. She’d invested a lot in this operation, and it was good, for a change, to feel like I was something worth savoring that way.
Soundtrack (mp3): ‘Starting Fires’ by Low Tide
So letting go was a pretty easy choice to make, and I’d almost blocked out everything else, but the sweet spigot suddenly shut off when Olivia jerked sideways with a soft gasp. She answered my bewildered look with a smile as she looked down. Her shirt had come off somewhere back there, and light from the back porch threw her bare torso into distracting relief.
“You’re pinching my fat,” she said, but then dismissed it with a shrug, so I did it again as I pulled her back down and went for her zipper. I didn’t get far before she held my hand tight to stop it, and glared at me with those bright green headlights, so I stopped, but she just kissed me again and pulled my hand down her suddenly unzipped jeans. The light outside flickered, almost dying in darkness, and I fell out of time and got immediately, hopelessly lost in her.
I was still with it enough to come up for air though, and strange images burned into my memory during these snatches of reality: distorted silhouettes on the far wall; Olivia’s eyes, now two bottomless, shadowy ovals; the sofa lurching tectonically with the rhythm she slammed out as she moved on top of my fingers. Sometimes the universe destabilized a bit and I drifted back to autopilot before recovering to work on her again. Her breath crackled like sparks as it hissed between wet teeth, and waves of heat layered the whole room in their stifling cascade. Eventually she began to ease up a little, which I only really noticed when her whispered Spanish began to filter into my ears.
“…y no deben ser desagradable…”
She said it softly, and I guessed maybe she thought I wasn’t giving as good as I was getting until I registered the familiar word, felt a lead brick hit me in the chest, and the ride came to a shuddering halt. “What did you say?” I slurred most of the question before focusing on her elbows, which were planted right on top of my sternum.
“Just sweet nothings,” she replied, but I wasn’t paying attention. Half my mind had been brutally wrenched back into a Nightmare Of Fiery Death, and whatever held it there wasn’t letting go without a fight. Olivia’s lips brushed my right ear again. “I said ‘you know you can have it if you want,'” she whispered. “No need to be so disagreeable. I was gonna say ‘coy’ but only boys quote song lyrics, right?” She snickered, but the pun went right over my head. I couldn’t balance the tempting flesh with creeping terror, and my cerebral traffic promptly drove off a cliff before I could answer.
“You do want it, don’t you?” Olivia stared at me, not pleading, just curious why I wasn’t continuing to make the obvious choice. The one she wanted, the one she expected. I took too long to reply, so she decided for me, shifting her arms and slumping down to lay her head on my chest. We stretched out in silence for a few long minutes, decompressing rapidly. She didn’t talk, but it was enough time for me to extricate myself from recurring mental doom.
“Too much too soon,” she sighed. “I should have known. Should have done my homework a little better.” She seemed to have stalled in a very fragile place, and I felt like my voice would shatter it, but I wasn’t following her.
“Homework?” I was frantic for mental footholds.
“Figuring you out,” she said evenly. “I thought you might be worth exploring a little. I just like to study people, you know? Learn their habits, get into their heads.”
I gave a sour laugh. “I don’t think you want to be in my head, Liv.”
“Too late, I’m already there.”
“I’d know it if you were.”
“I think you do know it. You let me in today, Roy. Our little chat at school was revealing and cathartic, qué no?”
Holy shit, I thought. Did I mention nightmares? Had I been that careles? I couldn’t remember, but the idea burned me up with shame. “I’m glad you found it useful,” I sneered, and tipped Olivia’s chin over so she could face me. “Should I have really listened up? Did you say anything potentially mortifying, too?”
Olivia’s face hardened. “I’m just surprised, that’s all,” She turned to pull on her shirt before laying back down on top of me. “I assumed that sooner or later you’d get tired of lurching around like a zombie for one girl who cheated on you, and then for another who lied to you.”
“Oh, come on. You know who the cheater is. She and I pretend to be friends every few months.”
“Yeah, Nadia,” I said, annoyed, “but I was the last one to fucking know.”
Olivia looked smug in the dim light. “Well, at least she stayed within the band, didn’t she?”
I smirked. “Just forget about her, okay? I sure as hell have.”
She shrugged, then came right back at me with Frankie. “And your college girl? The one who has totally failed to do what I find so easy? The one who can’t be trusted, as you put it, ‘to even make up her own mind’ about you?”
“Okay, well, I shouldn’t have said that, but that’s all I said about her, and anyway, how would you know if she lied to me? You’ve don’t even know her.”
Olivia did a double-take, but said simply, “Because I know everything, Roy Owen Reed,” and then continued her litany as if the crumbling of her master plan was all my fault,”I should have realized that the absolute helplessnes you displayed back on my birthday was the real Roy, just amplified by alcohol. I felt sorry for you, too, because no one seemed to care except your brother. Nadia was chasing Alan, and Derek was too obsessed with his own problems. When he was leaving, he barely remembered to help you out of there, and you’d already passed out.”
The darkness hid my blush. “I told you, I don’t remember any of that.”
“Well, I couldn’t stand it,” she went on, but without the edge in her voice, “because I knew my cousins were on the warpath, and I didn’t want you to get caught in the middle, so I tried to stop the party. I had R.J. try to get everyone out of there as fast as he could, before I-”
“Okay, okay,” I cut her off. My head was swimming again and I needed air. “Jesus, it’s hot in here.”
“Well, what can I say?” she intoned blithely, brushing off the interruption with a little pout. “I like to start fires, Roy. Don’t you?”
“Huh?” I reached up to open the window, unnerved, and the night air slithered over us, its fangs injecting me with an icy, shuddering fear. “What do you mean, ‘start fires?'”
“Oh, nothing. I just thought you might relate, that’s all. Trust me, I know what you’re capable of. You know how to start a fire.”
“What I’m…capable of?” My mind hovered in limbo for a few precious seconds before comprehension bashed it into submission, and liquid terror poured into the fresh wound. “I think I’ve done something awful,” I whispered. “Started a fire. Didn’t realize it.” My eyes had long since adjusted to the dark, and I saw Olivia raise her eyebrows. “Well, it sure got out of control quick, didn’t it?” She was clearly losing patience.
The cold terror quickly festered into an ominous conclusion. I couldn’t be sure if she really was telling me that I’d actually set Aliso Canyon ablaze six months ago, before somehow blacking out and ending up back at school. If it was true, though, I was in no fit state to face it, so I couldn’t bring myself to clear things up. I tried weakly to elude the Furies, hoping they couldn’t get me while I was conscious, and fearing that night’s sleep.
“I’m sorry Liv. I don’t think I can do this with you right now.” She said nothing, so I continued, “Look, why don’t we-”
“No no, forget it,” she interrupted, her face an opaque mask of cool. Olivia made to get up, but when I tried to keep her still she relented and lay inert on top of me. “What are you going to do, Roy?”
“Why?” I said. “Do I have a choice now?”
“You always did, up until now anyway.” She tried to push off again, but I didn’t bother stopping her this time, and watched her retreating shadow drift around a dark corner toward the front room. I tried to get my shit together as quickly as possible, but she’d still had enough time to slip upstairs and then back down again before I staggered toward the door.
Olivia was waiting for me there, transformed via flannel pajama-bottoms from a plump brown sex goddess back into a high-school senior, and I felt like a lecherous swine. We stared at each other for a minute or two before she stated the obvious with single crack in her voice. “I think we both broke things tonight, Roy. You better get yourself home before anything else falls apart.”
She was right. The night was destroyed, all because of me. I could do nothing else now but accept my fate as a venal masher and slink away with the word “arsonist” virtually tattooed on my forehead. As I fled Olivia’s house, driving home up the hill, I tried to forget how hurt and defeated she looked. It wasn’t easy.