John debuts in fine style...
We were so close that her heart and my heart were touching, as if fused together. She looked up at me, her eyes clouded with confusion.
“What do you mean?” she said.
“I have a confession,” I said. “I’m afraid it’s going to tear us apart, but I can’t keep on like this.”
“Oh, God. I should have known,” she said. “Too good to be true. What, you’re married?”
“No. Remember when you said it was the worst thing and the best thing to ever happen to you? Well, please keep both possibilities in mind.”
It was the first time we had made love with the lights on. It wasn’t teen-aged apprehension or the shame of flabby thirty-somethings gone to seed. There were simply things she didn’t want me to see. I knew they were there. They didn’t affect me. At least not the way she thought. She was worried about the surface, how she looked. But I was in love, and appearances didn’t matter. She was beautiful, and the flaws did nothing to take away from that. She was baring herself to me. I felt like it was time to reciprocate.
“I really don’t mind the scars.”
She stood looking at herself in a full-length mirror affixed to the back of the bedroom door. She turned this way and that, twisting to find the right angle to take in another part of her body. In bra and panties, the scars were clearly visible. They snaked up her forearms, made red splotches on her lower legs and angry welts along her neckline.
“You don’t mind them, do you?” she asked,
“No,” I said. “Now come to bed, and this time let’s leave the light on.”
“I don’t know how I would have gotten through this without you,” she said.
She sat next to me on the couch in my apartment, her legs up under her, her head on my chest. I didn’t respond, simply ran my fingers through her hair. It had grown out into a bob that made her seem younger.
“I kind of feel like I’m falling for you,” she said.
“That’s not a surprise,” I said, taking her by the shoulders and pulling her upright. “I’ve been taking care of you.”
“No,” she said. “It’s something more.”
Mr. Jennings paced back and forth across the back room. I caught a glimpse of collegiate flesh through the door to the front of the tanning salon.
“Is this going to be a problem for us?” he said.
“No, sir. It’s under control. It’s strictly professional.”
“It had better be,” he said, stopping directly in front of me. “There’s no room for guilt in this business, David.”
I nodded. “It was my mistake. I’m just trying to make it right.”
“Just don’t make it any worse.”
“You’re doing what?”
Chris had just gotten back from picking up payments. We were sitting in the back of the salon.
“It’s only until she gets on her feet. I’m responsible, so I thought I’d help her out.”
“Well, she is hot. Saw her picture in the paper,” he said. “What did the fire do to her?”
“She has scars, but the doctor said they’ll fade with time.”
“Guess she won’t be coming in here any time soon,” Chris said with a laugh. “These piece-of-shit beds would finish the job.”
“Did you get that from me?”
We were on my couch, watching TV. She had pulled aside the collar of my button-down to reveal a small, red scar in the shape of a heart.
“I guess. It’s just like yours,” I said, pointing to her neck. “Your necklace must have heated up in the fire and branded both of us when I carried you out.”
“I still don’t know how to thank you.”
“There’s no need,” I said. “Right place, right time. I was lucky.”
“No,” she said. “I’m the lucky one.”
I wheeled her to the hospital door and then helped her up and led her to my car.
“You’re sure you want to do this? I’ll be getting in your way.”
“Nonsense. I have plenty of room.”
“OK,” she said. “I guess I should expect no less. You didn’t miss a day the whole time.”
“Figured you could use the company. Now I figure you can use the help.”
“My guardian angel,” she said, rising onto her tiptoes to give me a kiss on the cheek.
“Something like that.”
I rushed in, pulling my jacket over my head to repel the flames already licking along the walls. The screams were coming from a bedroom in the back. I kicked in the door and found her trying to open a window that had been painted shut. I grabbed a blanket and picked her up in my arms. Holding her tight against me, I rushed back through the blaze and toward the sanctuary of the front yard.
I packed the explosives next to the natural gas line that fed the furnace. It needed to burn so hot that no one could determine a cause. Mr. Jennings’ had made that clear. I wasn’t sure if it was an insurance thing or something more. He assured me the house would be vacant.
I stepped out to my car parked halfway down the block, and whispered a countdown under my breath. I fingered the trigger, heard a muted blast, and then everything was aflame.
Then I heard the scream.
John Kenyon is a newspaper editor in Iowa and keeps the blog Things I'd Rather Be Doing (tirbd.com). He has published stories with Thuglit, Crime Factory, Beat to a Pulp and many other fine purveyors of crime fiction.