Rumpled Guy Dave turned out to not actually be a Dave, surprising no one. His drivers’ license said he was Derek Jeremiah Cossald, 27, 5’7, 183lbs, sandy hair, hazel eyes.
His wallet also had his home address, neatly printed in a little insert card, and his keys were in his pocket, so I voted Henry take him home and let him recover on his own couch. I even volunteered to accompany him on this chore.
Henry gave me those eyes, the puppy ones that were wearing thin; I was starting to think kicking would be too good for him. And then I took a deep breath and made myself some tea.
“I just want to say, this is not what I signed up for,” I said as I clattered through the cupboard in search of mugs. “Want a cup?”
“Oh, thanks, yeah,” Henry said, fussing around R.G.D., or Derek, as he was properly called.
I still hadn’t decided if I was going to grant him the dignity of a proper name, seeing as how he’d invaded my home. R.G.D./Derek, that is, not Henry. I wasn’t about to go around calling Henry “Superhero”, after all. Even though he’d looked pretty heroic. And I guessed I’d end up using Derek’s name once he woke up, since R-G-D really wasn’t that easy to say. R-G, though… that wasn’t so bad. Arrrgeee. Yeah, I might keep that.
“April? Where can I get more bandaids?” Henry held up the empty box in illustration.
“That’s all of them.”
“We need to go shopping.”
He just raised one eyebrow at that, and went back to fussing over RG. I went back to clattering in the cupboard. He was right, unfortunately. I was not set up for this, in too many ways. I’d need more pillows and towels, if nothing else. And beds. And chairs. And glassware, plates, food… Yeah, we needed to go shopping. Crap.
I poured the tea, picked up a mug for Henry, and put it down again. Why should I serve him? Just because I’d agreed to let him stick around. RG groaned in a groggy, not-ready-to-commit to awakeness sort of way.
“Tea’s ready,” I said, picking up my own mug and leaning against the counter pointedly.
“Thanks,” Henry was kneeling beside the couch looking at RG. He shook his head. “I don’t think he’s gonna be ready for a trip out soon. Better hope there’s not another attack any time soon…”
“You might want to back up,” I said helpfully, “I’m not sure the first thing RG needs to see is your face.”
It sounded nastier out loud than I’d expected. I’d only meant he was kinda dazzling; though maybe RG wouldn’t pick up on that. He didn’t seem the type to put much stock in appearances. But a shirtless, bandaid-plastered Henry seemed like a bit much for anyone to wake up to.
“Hmm,” Henry grinned at me and backed up a few steps. “Maybe you’re right. He’d probably respond better to you anyways. You want to keep an eye on him while I have a shower?”
“No,” I said, over the rim of my mug. “No, I would not like to keep an eye on the guy you dragged home. Your stray, your responsibility.”
Henry came over to pick up his mug of tea and loomed over me in that un-self-conscious way of his, still grinning.
“Is that what you are? One of my strays?”
“House rules,” I bared my teeth at him in a humourless grin and took another sip of tea, refusing to engage. I’d set myself up for that one. “Perimeter of four feet, rmember?”
Henry tilted his head and looked down at me, still smiling, knocked back the tea like it was a slug of whiskey and marched off to the bathroom.
“And, RG?” he called back over his shoulder.
“Rumpled Guy,” I said, watching him go.
Something was bothering me. Oh yeah, he had nothing to change into. And he was leaving me alone with an unconscious RG. Like I’d told him not to.
“Hey!” I smacked my hand on the bathroom door and hissed at the sting. “Hey, don’t-“
I could hear Henry’s laugh over the rush of water as he turned the shower on. But short of storming in there to drag him out naked - which violated my house rule of, you know, clothes - there wasn’t much I could do. And RG was making moany sleepy sounds over on the couch like he was about to wake up, which was just great.
I marched over to him and stared down, hands on my hips. Up close, he really lived up to his name. Shaggy, shapeless pale hair. Bruised pale skin that showed his brandless athletic wear had to be some kind of fashion statement, as unlikely as it seemed. His jacket was shedding dried mud all over my couch, which was looking quiet a bit worse for the wear after bloody Henry and blood me over the last 24 hours. His pants had soaked up mud, and blood from a torn spot that Henry had widened and meticulously cleaned under, lining bandaids up along a long scratch that tore down his shin.
When he finally opened his eyes, I found his license had been awfully kind - they weren’t so much hazel as a muddy greyish mess, too pale to be brown, too confused to be steely grey. He’d looked younger, unconscious, like he could actually be 27, but awake, his face scrunched up in confusion, he looked a decade older.
“No more taxes,” he said, in a creaky sort of voice that gave me flashbacks to movie math and chess-club nerds. “Just let me die.”
“If only,” I tried to run my hand through my hair, got stuck in all the tangles, and braced it on my forehead instead, like that’d been my plan all along. “But neither of us are so lucky, so how about you get along to asking the normal-people questions, like who are you, and where am I, and what happened?”
RG blinked, his murky eyes watering. “You’re a girl.”
I rolled my eyes and hollered, “Henry! Get out here and deal with your head case.”
Maybe he didn’t hear me over the shower, or maybe he was hiding out, because all I heard back was a sort of squeak from RG. I sighed, pulled the chair closer and sat down.
“OK, look, I’m just gonna go ahead and lay it out there, because as far as I can tell, Henry sucks at explanations and you need to get up to speed.”
“Henry?” RG asked, shifting uncomfortably, as if he wanted to sit up, but was too intimidated to move. Which I kind of enjoyed.
“Did I say you could ask questions?” I demanded, and Henry shrunk back further into the grubby couch.
I had to suppress a smirk. If I had to have surprise roommates, it helped to be the one intimidating them.
“Right, here’s the deal. A nightmare came after you. Henry saved you. He does that. But nightmares don’t like losing their prey, so it’s gonna keep on after you”-RG got even paler at that part and opened his mouth, but I kept right on rolling-“so Henry’s gotta keep you close, like line-of-sight close to keep you alive. So if you were serious about wanting to die, I’d run now while he’s in the shower.”
I paused to give him a chance to make a break for it. Hey, I’m nothing if not fair.
“No? OK then, so here’s the deal. This is my place. I’m April, by the way. I’d say nice to meet you, but I don’t say things like that, so don’t expect it. Henry had the misfortune of saving me first, and now I have the misfortune of housing some kind of hero in return for my continued survival. Apparently, you now need to stay here too. Unless you’d rather take your chances and go?”
I paused hopefully. RG blinked a few times and shook his head cautiously.
“Oh well. Figures. Anyways. We’re still working out house rules, but here’s what we’ve got so far: that room”-I point to my bedroom-“is my space. Keep out. This out here? Also my space, but I’m sharing, for the moment. Also, personal boundaries; I get a four foot perimeter at all times. You can have that, or negotiate your own perimeter with Henry if you prefer. Clothes; we all wear them. We’re working on finding Henry some. You don’t seem to have that problem; keep it that way. Oh, and you all are quiet and leave me alone whenever I say,” I said, in a fit of inspiration.
“That’s it so far, but I reserve the right to adjust, increase or otherwise dictate house rules as I go. By the way, what was your nightmare?” I asked.
RG sat up, finally, eyeing me as if I might be the answer to that last question. “Um. I don’t do well with paperwork,” he said mildly.
“Your nightmare was paperwork?” I nearly fell off my chair. “Paperwork. Like, reports and forms and stuff?”
“Um,” he said, licking his thin lips and looking out the window warily, “and stuff.”
I didn’t have much to say to that. RG was turning out to be a real weirdo. His does one get attacked and killed by nightmarish paperwork, anyways? Death of a thousand cuts? Crushed by the weight of reams of paper?
“Oh, good, you’ve introduced yourself,” Henry said, stepping out of the bathroom in a towel. “Can we go shopping now?”
Come back next week for Chapter 15 on Friday, March 10. In the meantime, why not check out my other webserial, Flame of the Connarii or a preview of my upcoming book Blind the Eyes?