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The Other Cheek (Ogden)

Gloria wore the pressures of a late night and a hard interrogation like an evening gown as she strode into the office with Morrison. Madeleine handed them both coffee. Like most internships, Madeleine filed papers, made coffee, picked up lunches, none of it applying to the practice of law but a bureaucratic shit test to see if she paid attention. Once, after a particularly numbing day, Madeleine watched 12 Years A Slave and appreciated the film for it’s honesty.

Judging by Gloria’s expression, things had gone well.

Avery had not gotten in touch. Madeleine was wounded by it, even as she knew that he would be looking after his brother. Despite the victory, a man was still dead and more than one life had been stripped of illusion by it. Sandy had not been seen at all, and Madeleine could not imagine what she was going through, a double dose of bereavement and the murderer still walking around.

It came to her, that Harlan, out of love, had been a murderer of sorts. He killed a marriage. She chided herself for the unkind observation, filed it away without dwelling on it. She was still pleased that she had done the right thing.

She had gone out to pick up lunch. Gloria had a brie and cranberry on sourdough, Morrison a Philly Cheese Steak on rye and she would go for a green salad or a Caesar with the low fat dressing. Really, she would have liked a double bacon and cheeseburger with home fries and the gravy but the resulting food coma would have made the afternoon unbearable.

She had parked, and sat there, enjoying the a/c before she got out. There was a small tap on the window and she jumped, flinching until she saw who it was.

Avery. He had not shaved, and the skin beneath his eyes was dark with the travails of the last few days but he looked hale. His smile was disarmingly boyish, as he stood back to let her open the door.

‘Hi.’ she said.

She caught the faint musk of him on the breeze, such as it was. He wore a t shirt that clung to his shoulders and biceps over faded blue jeans. She swallowed down the tingling that attempted to creep up her spine, a flowering plant of desire that sought to bloom in the forefront of her mind.

‘Thank you for your help. Harlan’s home, but I guess you knew.’

She hid her smile, tried to go with a non committal shrug of her shoulders.

‘It was nothing, Avery. I’m glad that he’s out too.’

He rubbed his hands together, looked straight into her eyes and pressed his lips together.

‘Could I stand you lunch sometime?’

She grimaced and the corners of his mouth slipped downwards but she put her hands up, cursing herself. Henry had inspired fondness but nothing more and his approval or disapproval barely moved the needle. Avery had started to lay a direct line to some ancient, knowing part of her soul without doing anything specific. She was appalled and thrilled by this development.

‘I only get half an hour for lunch.’

He grimaced and began to turn his upper body away from her.

‘But I’m free for dinner.’

Don’t say every night, don’t say every nigh, she pleaded with herself.

‘Most nights.’

He grinned and she ran her tongue over her lips. The moment throbbed between them and when he finally spoke, she barely heard him over the thumping of her heart.

‘Dinner would be great. Are you vegetarian?’

She shook her head. She had been once, but she was tempted into a Faustian pact by an unscrupulous room mate and the smell of grilled bacon. They made arrangements for tomorrow evening. She did not ask if Harlan would be there, and she was intrigued by the idea of him cooking for her. He’ll grill something, she imagined and was amused by the idea. Probably something he’ll hunt himself too, and she was about to ask him something along those lines.

‘You’ve got a fucking nerve.’

They both turned. Sandy, her brunette curls now combed into oily curtains down the sides of her face and the skin hanging, sallow and grey with grief. She wore a faded grey sweatshirt, the sleeves pulled up the elbows and as she shuffled forwards, Madeleine caught the whiff of unwashed flesh. A greasy, bland sadness that you could almost taste.

‘I’m sorry for your loss, ma’am.’ Avery said.

He turned towards her, lowering his chin but looking directly into her eyes. Her face twisted into a knot of anguish, like the world had picked her up and crumpled her soul, something to be tossed away.

‘Your faggot brother cost me everything.’

Madeleine blushed furiously, her liberal instincts called into play but Avery was unmoved as he held his ground.

Even when Sandy’s hand came up to slap him, the impact loud against his cheek but he bore it without flinching, even as he gave a terse grunt.  She managed to slap him again before Madeleine came forward to intercede but Avery put his hand out, gentle but firm and shook his head.

To stop Madeleine.

‘Better me than Harlan. He’s been getting beat on all his life.’

Sandy stood there, shuddering with her pain and her anger before she began to sag, bending at the knees and bringing her arms around her. Avery, his cheeks red with the force of the blows, scooped her up in his arms as she began to shriek through her grief. Madeleine looked past them, saw that Sandy’s sister was barrelling over, panicking and stuttering her way through a litany of apologies. When he let go, and stood up, Madeleine looked at him with something approaching awe. Henry would have ran, sought to demonstrate his empathy, as obvious as a mime show but Avery stood there, rubbed his right cheek as Sandy was led away before he turned back to Madeleine.

‘So, tonight?’

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