The sketch wasn’t right. Hell, he wasn’t right. Dare cursed and crumpled up the piece of paper he’d been drawing on and tossed it toward the trash can. Ever since he’d done the walk of shame from the ranch three days ago, Dare had tried to…well, he didn’t know what, exactly. It’d been clear to him that neither Chiz nor Bowen wanted him for more than that one hookup despite anything else that might have been said.
Heck, Bowen hadn’t even been able to stand the sight of him. It’d been Chiz who’d talked to him, fed him, then sent Dare on his merry way.
Okay, yeah, the biting thing had weirded Dare out. He’d been sure there was something unnatural about the injury itself.
But when he’d snuck a peek at it before Chiz had escorted him off the property, it’d just looked like a bite, not the bloody, nasty injury Dare could have sworn he’d seen right after all the spectacular sex had happened.
He rubbed at his temples. He’d had a head injury, too. Maybe he’d hallucinated the blood and deep puncture marks. He must have, because people didn’t have the kind of teeth necessary to make such a bite.
Dare closed his eyes. His insides felt like hot lava. No, like butterflies made out of hot lava and Brussel sprouts, his least favorite food in the world. His gut was hot, heaving, queasy.
His usual method for dealing with shit, or escaping from it, wasn’t working. Every time he tried to draw, his brain couldn’t or wouldn’t cooperate with is hand. Dare was so frustrated, he could have screamed.
His cell phone rang. Dare grunted and ignored it. He’d thought he’d turned the damn thing off after the last call from his mama.
Not that he’d answered. Or checked the voice mail she’d left. In fact, he’d avoided his family, because frankly, he was sick of them all. They’d never let him be anything or anyone other than what they wanted him to be—which was no better than them. Dare wasn’t conceited by any means, but a life of crime and lack of morals weren’t things he aspired to.
When the cell stopped ringing, Dare picked it up. He didn’t check the caller ID. No need to since his mama had her own ring tone. He pressed the button to power the phone off, and liked to have leapt out of his skin when someone banged on the front door.
Dare dropped the phone on the table and started sweating. That sounded like angry knocking, and that almost certainly meant family.
He didn’t have anything on the table to use to cover up his sketch pad and pencils, so he called out, “Just a sec!” before taking his art supplies and rushing to his bedroom. He shoved everything under his bed then ran his hands over his unkempt hair. Didn’t bother checking himself in the mirror; Dare was pretty sure he looked as messy as he felt.
Despite his request or announcement, someone kept pounding on the door the entire time Dare had been moving about. His temper escalated with each thud of that fist on the door. When he finally grabbed the knob and yanked it open. Dare was spoiling for a fight.
And since it was his brother Earl on the other side of the door, Dare knew he was going to get one.
Sure enough, Earl swung without warning. Dare managed to turn his head enough that Earl only grazed his cheek, but he didn’t expect the left to the stomach.
“Umph!” Dare fought not to hunch over as the breath left his lungs. Earl would have slammed his knee into Dare’s face had Dare given him the chance.
Rather than risk a broken nose, Dare remained upright. He tried to shut the door, but Earl kicked and shoved.
“You ain’t getting away from me, asshole!” Earl bellowed. “Fucking think you can ignore mama and your family? Think again!”
Earl got past Dare and into the room. Dare spun around and blocked a punch with his forearm. “Cut it out, fucker,” he demanded.
Earl’s beady eyes held an unholy gleam. “Fuck you, pussy boy.”
Dare wondered what that even meant. He blocked another punch and kicked Earl’s left knee.
Earl yelped and went down hard. Dare hopped back out of range of legs or arms. “What the fuck is your problem?”
“Think you broke my knee!”
Dare felt bad, but he wasn’t getting closer to Earl. “Yeah? Well, maybe you shouldn’t show up here trying to kill me.”
“Beat some fuckin’ sense into you,” Earl snapped as he started to get up. His knee was obviously not broken, and his ploy to get Dare close enough to hurt, failing. “You think you’re better’n us, but you ain’t. Blood tells.”
“Tells what?” Dare asked, and damned if he didn’t sound a little snotty there. “Doesn’t seem to be saying much between you and me except that you want to spill mine.”
“Teach you you ain’t any better,” Earl said. “Too good to talk to your family?”
“No.” Maybe? Or not too good, but not…enough like them to get along. Dare wasn’t going to say as much. “I’ve just been sick and didn’t want anyone to fuss, which I guess gets a psycho sicced on me.”
Earl sneered at him. “You look shitty, and fuck you. I hope you got something that’ll kill your ass. You can fight, you can answer the phone.”
Dare’s anger burst out of him before he knew it. “What the fuck is wrong with my family? Y’all ain’t going to be happy until I’m a criminal? Why is that? Why can’t I just live like I want to without all this stupid violence and bullshit? Huh? Why can’t I just be me?” He surged toward Earl. “And fuck you for showing up at my home, starting shit ‘cause you’re bored or insecure or—“
This time, Dare expected the punch, and he ducked it easily. He was so mad, and he wasn’t sure it all had to do with family. There was the lack of a job, the frustration of his attempts at drawing, the being ditched like a piece of used ass—
It felt good when his fist connected with Earl’s jaw. Felt better to hear him grunt, to see spit and blood fly out of his hateful mouth.
The violence felt too good, in fact. That scared Dare and he grabbed Earl by the collar, spun him around, and shoved him toward the door. “Get out, and don’t come back here again.”
Dare expected more argue, more fighting, but Earl went out the door, stumbling, not looking too steady as he left.
Dare watched him, worrying that he’d done some serious injury. Earl stopped at the end of the sidewalk and turned around long enough to flip Dare off and call out, “Better watch your back, bitch.”
Well, that was likely accurate. Dare doubted he’d see Earl coming next time. Earl was a skeeze, and he’d try to hurt Dare without risking harm to himself, so a dagger in the back—literally-- wasn’t unlikely.
Dare couldn’t find it in himself to worry too much. The anger he’d felt left him and all he had was a sense of emptiness. He couldn’t draw, couldn’t find a job, couldn’t stop having a pity party for himself. He rolled his eyes and closed the front door. Dare locked it, then strolled over to the small living room window.
Is this what it’s like to be depressed? Because if so, I might have been depressed for a long time. No, no, I’m not mentally ill. That’s… He stopped himself from ending that thought with ‘crazy’.
The truth was, the hopelessness, the apathy wasn’t completely unfamiliar. He’d had some rough days here and there.
The sensation that he was dog-paddling in wet cement, and sinking fast? That was new, harder than the periods of time where he’d slogged through life. This was different. He could feel the hope slipping out of his pores one tiny particle at a time.
Dare pressed his head against the glass pane and closed his eyes. Was it a mood, a set of circumstances that had him feeling so low?
He wasn’t sure. Dare tried to examine his feelings, but there was a big ache deep inside of him, a hollowness that he didn’t understand. The need to sketch it made his fingers it, but he was afraid he’d fail and simply frustrate himself again.
So he let his mind do the drawing, and the mix of darkness, shades of black that he had no names for, swirled in his mind.
He felt cleaved in half, emptied out.
And he was being a melodramatic idiot. There was no reason for him to be missing two men he didn’t know—which was, he concluded, the root to his immediate problem.
God, he was a clingy jerk, wasn’t he? Having sex with Chiz and Bowen(ish) didn’t give him a claim them. They weren’t even his friends.
Dare opened his eyes and pushed away from the window. “Stop being a pathetic idiot,” he said to his reflection there. “Seriously. Grow. Up. It was just sex.”
Maybe if he said it often enough, his stupid brain and, more importantly, his heart, would actually believe him.