Jeff T. Jefferson Parker

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Red Light

You might not have liked Aubrey Whittaker. She acted superior. She walked as if she were the most beautiful woman on Earth, which she wasn't. She didn't say very much. She was tall but wore heels anyway, and if she finally did say something, you felt like a driver getting a ticket. Her eyes were blue and infinitely disappointed in you. She was nineteen.

She let him come to her place again that night, something that had only happened once before. Strictly against policy. But he was different than the rest, different in ways that mattered. In her life she had learned to read men, who were as easy to understand as street signs: Caution, Yield, Stop. But did you ever really know one?

Aubrey had chosen a small black dress, hose with a seam up the back, heels with ankle straps and a string of pearls. No wig, just her regular hair, which was blond and cut short, sticking up like a boy's. The lipstick was apple red.

She made him dinner. She could only cook one thing well, so she cooked it. And a salad, rolls from the bakery, a pot of the good French roast coffee he liked, a dessert. Flowers in a squat round crystal vase that had cost a lot of money.

Red Light
They sat across from each other at the small table. Aubrey gave D.C. the seat with the view of the Pacific. "D.C." was the abbreviation for Dark Cloud, the nickname she'd invented to capture his pessimism about human nature. It was an ironic nickname, too, because D.C. wasn't dark to look at, but light, with a broad, tanned face, a neat mustache, sharp eyes and a chunk of heavy blond hair that fell over his forehead like a schoolboy's. He was quick to smile, although it was usually a nervous smile. He was taller than her by a good three inches and strong as a horse, she could tell. He told stupid jokes.

She told him he could hang his gun on the chair, but he left it holstered tight against his left side, farther around his back than in the movies, the handle pointing out. Whatever, she thought. The idea of safety pleased her, made her feel compliant in a genuine way. Aubrey Whittaker rarely allowed herself a genuine feeling, couldn't always tell them from the ones she portrayed.

They talked. His eyes rarely strayed from her face, and they were always eager to get back. Hungry eyes. When dinner was over he sat there a moment, wiping the silverware with his napkin. He was fastidious. Then he left, at exactly the time he'd told her he'd leave. Off to see a man about a dog, he said. Another little joke of theirs.

At the door she put her arms around him and hugged him lightly, setting her chin against the top of his shoulder, leaning her head against his ear for just a moment. She could feel the tension coming off him like heat off a highway. She thought that the kind of guy she wanted would be a lot like D.C. Then she straightened and smiled and shut the door behind him. It was only ten minutes after ten.

She flipped on the kitchen TV to an evangelist, put the dishes in the sink and ran water over them. She watched a car roll out of the parking area below, brake lights at the speed bump. It might have been D.C.'s big, serious four-door or it might not have been.

Aubrey felt warm inside, like all her blood had heated up a couple of degrees, like she was just out of a hot bath or had just drunk a big glass of red wine. She shook her head and smile lines appeared at the edges of her apple-red lips. It's just unbelievable, girl, she thought, what you've done with your life. Nineteen going on a hundred. You finally find a guy you can halfway stand, he trembles when you touch him through his clothes and you let him drive away.

Oh that you would kiss me, with the kisses of your mouth!

Song in the Bible.

I sucked you off in a theater.

Song on the radio.

Has everything changed, or nothing?

She rinsed the dishes, dried her hands and worked in some lotion. The fragrance was of lavender. Through the window she saw the black ocean and the pale sand and the white rush where the water broadened onto the beach then receded.

In the middle of the living room Aubrey stood and looked out at the water and the night. Thinking of the different shades of black, she pried off her high heels, then got down on all fours. Balance. She could smell the lavender. From there she was eye level to the arm of the black leather sofa.

Tentatively she placed her left hand out. Tentatively she raised her right knee and slid it forward. Then the hard part, the transfer of weight to her other hand and the moment of peril as the left knee came up to support her.

She wavered just a little, but when her left leg settled beneath her she was okay and very focused because she had to repeat the whole complex procedure again. Her doctor friend, the shrink, had advised her to do this. She had never learned. She had walked at eleven months.

Her doctor friend had said that for an adult to develop fully, to form certain concepts, especially mathematical ones, she needed to know how to crawl.

Then she heard the knock at the door. A flash of embarrassment went through her as she realized what she was: a six-foot woman in a short black dress crawling across her living room through the scent of lavender.

She sprang up and walked over. "Who's there?"

"Just me again, Aubrey—"

It was a little hard to hear, with all the cars roaring by on Coast Highway.

"—Your Dark Cloud."

She flipped the outside light switch and looked through the peephole. The bug bulb must have finally burned out because all she saw was one corner of the apartment building across the alley laced with Christmas lights, and the tiny headlights out on Coast Highway, miniaturized in a fish-eye lens clouded with moisture. She hadn't replaced that bulb in months.

When she opened the door she was smiling because she half expected his return, because she knew he was in her control now. And because she was happy.

Then her smile died from the inside out and she formed her last thought: No.

© T. Jefferson Parker