Bianca Caraza - Fiction
by Bianca M. Caraza
I never mean to with guys. Sometimes it just happens.
It’s not that I don’t like Val enough. Of course I do— with his bouncing curls like a little boy that he ties into a messy knot and only lets down to frame his face when we’re alone. Just us, faces close together, talking about Rubens or Dali or the mannerists. Of course I like his straight white teeth which he has a habit of showing to everyone, melting every girl’s heart and driving us all crazy. Of course I love the white scar that runs through his eyebrow.
At the museum, things seem right. We hold hands and my heart flutters a little when he kisses me— chastely, on the cheek— because I still can’t quite believe this is really happening. Our third date. Me and Val. How did I make that happen?
The art is weird— Mexican Masters— and the painting before us is a bleeding, suffering Christ. His back is being torn open as he hunches over, scourged in an impossible field of red flowers crowded and open and all facing him. Soft, velvety petals red and round as drops of blood.
Val tries to tell me about the artist, reading from the little green plaque, but I am rapt— held in agony by Christ’s sorrowful face. I think the word sacrifice one time and it gives me chills. I crush my face into Val’s chest and let his cologne pull over me like a blanket, it’s citrus and musk and a wild smell. He tucks me under his arm like he’s hiding me from that blinding sorrow and we move on, a shy, four-legged creature.
415 Sawyer St. Lana’s parents are out. Bring something.
Val pulls his phone out of his pocket and shows me the text. He looks up
from me to the art on the walls and I can feel his question. You mind? He’s gonna say. We’re done here, right?
I don’t want to hang out with his friends. I don’t want to drink. I don’t want to go to a stupid house party. I want to go through the Goya exhibit and get coffee and talk about Colonialism. But I don’t want him to say something as stupid as Are we done about the LACMA so I beat him to it.
“Let’s go,” I say, and I’m game girl. Cool girl. Up for anything girl. I smile a stupid smile.
And then he’s grinning that white smile and I’m on his heels.
Lana’s house is a McMansion in the valley and by the time we get there the driveway is full and we have to park on the street. I have to get out of the car into a river of black mud and the heels of my boots sink into the ground. Val holds my elbow and then kneels, using a napkin from his glove box to clean my boots. I bite my lip and hold onto his shoulder, dizzy for a brief moment of ecstasy.
As soon as we enter, Val’s arm is around my waist and he’s introducing me to everyone he knows. At least, I think he must know them. He flashes them all his perfect teeth.
“This is my girl, Jo,” he says, dapping up some guys I barely recognize.
These boys give me hungry looks and Val sips his drink and tips a cup in my direction. I shake my head, the foam so close it tickles my nose.
“Did you catch the new album...?”
“So much damn autotune.”
Val finishes his beer. And another. And he and the boys talk music— a conversation I can’t really follow— and show each other YouTube videos with crappy iPhone speakers. And when he asks me for a drink I’m almost relieved to go and fetch it for him, lingering in the kitchen for a moment.
I find a girl there with a pretty smile and she asks me where I’m from.
“LA,” I say, “downtown.” I lean in toward her and she smells sweet as cotton candy.
“Me too,” she says and she’s asking me my major and my favorite artists. She tells me her name is Laurie and she’s in a band. Would I like to see them?
When I return, I can see Val’s hands moving wildly around as he speaks with his friends. He’s gotten louder, his movements sloppier and bigger. It occurs to me that he’s drunk. Already. He’s drunk and we are in the fucking valley. I think, I’m not driving home.
I pass him the full cup silently and he talks for a while more— no thanks, impeccable manners gone— before pulling me away.
“I want to...” I start, but he pulls me close to him.
A slow song starts and he puts his face in my neck.
How bad is Friday night traffic? I wonder.
He’s kissing me and holding me and taking me through narrow hallways until we’re in what’s probably Lana’s bedroom. His breath tastes sour and I shake my head but I’m too breathless to speak. I don’t feel it coming. His lips are soft on mine and for a moment I forget why— and then I feel his hands harden, sharpen in mine and my palm bursts open. I wrench away and his face is changing already, his mouth twisted open in horror. His antlers are white and velvety and sprawling out endlessly. His face his long and brown as his curls. There’s a scar over his big, round eye.
He stares at me, sorrowful as Christ. I clutch my bloody hand. The smell of the forest, of wild things and earth and moss fills the room. His stare accuses and I recoil from it. I don’t remember meaning to.
There’s a knock at the door. It’s Laurie’s muffled voice.
“Hey, Jo, I’m leaving if you need a ride.”
I glance from the door to the stag before me. I don’t ask the question or make an offer.
“Yeah, that’d be great,” I call before slipping out the door.