Bad Habits


by Ilyana Anderson


“Caroline,” I nod at her from the landing as she ascends the steps leading to our cramped nest of a condo.

I’m hungry.

“I don’t get it,” she says. The smoke particles hang in the air, taunting us with their promise of cancer and of love. It’s getting dark.

“You smoke,” she’s searching for her keys even though the door is not locked, “Why the hell did you want a non-smoker? Your ad. No pets, no smokers. You fucking smoke yourself. Or did you just start?” She turns. Her lips part, showing the dark tenderness inside her mouth. Streams of dirty-yellow vapor gush from her body for a few delicious moments, then settle down, enveloping her in a rich, golden mist. “Are you trying to quit?”

I walk to the door with my cigarette still burning. As I brush past her, I feel that familiar, sweet, sweet tingling. The lower part of my belly clenches. Should I… “You mind if I hug you?”

“Oh,” she smiles with a small, puzzled frown.

I drop the cigarette, stamp it out, push the door open. I step inside, leaving Caroline to trail behind me.

“You said you wanted a hug? Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” My palms hover over her back, on the brink of an actual touch. The residue of the golden mist swirls through my fingers, and the fading blues in it drive me insane. It’s like when the smell of ripe, fresh wild strawberry hits your nose, right before you get to taste it. I close my eyes and inhale the mist into my hands, up my arms, and into my chest. I think I know what cocaine addicts feel on their first hit after a stressful day.

“I love it when you see right through me,” I stroke her hair ever so lightly.

“What do you mean? You really are trying to quit?”

“Yesss,” my lips stretch in a smile despite my efforts to look repentant, “I’m weak. I’ve been trying for a couple of years now. To quit.”

“Oh,” she says, and the exuding vapor thickens and shifts in color to burgundy. “Did you join some, um, support groups?”

I love it when they feel superior. I make a few tiny sips of the burgundy syrup with the tips of my fingers and sigh, letting her go. “I’m making a resolution. No more smoking.”

Easy.

#

Caroline rummages in the fridge, producing a burger–my Juicy Lucy burger.

“Be my guest. I have more.”

She saw the contents of our fridge but chooses to believe my words rather than the reality. She blushes, emanating that darker, hungry kind of red. “But I’m on a diet.”

“Okay. Put it back then.”

She shoves it into the microwave, right in its Styrofoam container.

“Wanna watch a movie?” I push a button and a DVD tray slides back into the laptop with a neat click.

She wolfs down my burger, still standing next to the microwave, the grease running down her smooth, porcelain chin. She nods.

“You want some wine?”

“No, thanks,” her eyes are fixed on the screen now. “Wine’s bad for me.”

I shrug, pour a glass for myself, and light two tall wax candles. I also open a pack of white chocolate squares and offer it to her.

We sit close on a custom-made, upholstered in fox fur loveseat–our knees touch. I could let my eyes flutter shut and I’d be watching the movie secondhand, through Caroline’s emotions. I prefer it this way.

Distinct, emerald green streaks have sneaked into the bubble-gum currents swishing about my elbow. I know I should make the mist linger, let it settle down on me, like ashes, until it sinks into my body under the gravity, almost on its own. But this is… This is like the most perfect, the juiciest medium-rare porterhouse you could order in an upscale steakhouse.

Covered in goosebumps, my skin tingles. I draw, I gasp, I draw again and hold her vapor inside me, praying for the will not to devour it all in one gulp.

She pauses the movie.

“I’m kind of tired right now…” She stirs, stretching her legs. “You go ahead and finish it. Sorry.”

“Oh.” Stupid, stupid, stupid! I glance at a moon-like clock on the wall. It’s been only about forty minutes; I could have gotten so much more if I had gone slower. “Are you going to bed?”

“No. I need to prepare a presentation for tomorrow.”

“Do you want me to give you a massage or something? Before you get to work on your presentation?”

“No, thanks.” Her eyes grow wary. She’s leaning away from me. “I mean, if you gave me a massage, I’d fall asleep for sure.”

“True,” I force a laughter and get up, giving her space, “I read that there are certain places on your palm,” I show her, “that you can press on–and you can do it yourself, too–you’d feel more energetic.”

“Interesting.”

I start collecting chocolate wrappers.

“I feel horrible,” she says.

Sorry, Caroline. I didn’t want to make you feel this way. I just couldn’t…

“I came home planning to work and to eat healthy–I guess I should have bought salad or something–”

“It’s my fault. I’m sor–”

“No. It’s not your fault. I have no self-control. I procrastinate. I have these… bad habits. I’m just like you.”

Huh?

“I mean, the smoking and…” she points to the bottle of red, forlorn and three quarters empty on the coffee-table. “I’m, like, addicted to bad, bad things… But I’m… I’ll make a resolution. Like you did. Starting tomorrow I’ll be a better person. No more bad habits.”

“I can help you with your presentation if you want.” I don’t know what else to offer her, how to make it up to her.

Her skin is so pale, translucent, and her eyes are aglow with fever.

“No… I really don’t feel… good,” she stammers, “I think I’ll go lay down now. I’ll wake up earlier tomorrow and work… Yeah.”

“Do you want me to help you with anything? Are you okay?” I’m ready to catch her if she falls on her way to the bedroom. “Do you want me to drive you to the hospital? Call a doctor?”

She thrusts her hand at me, in a defensive gesture. “I’ll be fine. Don’t worry. I see you tomorrow, okay?”

The door to her room shuts into my face.

#

I wake up in the middle of the night. I know I have gorged on the feast only tonight, but the hunger is still there. I don’t know what to do about it. I’m a black hole.

My toes find fibers of the carpet, and I drag my body into an upward position. Let’s just say that I’m not hungry, but merely thirsty.

In darkness, I slither into the kitchen and pour water for myself. I will drink it, go to bed, and read something until morning. Just one last round around the apartment, to make sure everything is okay.

Still with the full glass of water, I somehow wind up hovering over my sleeping roommate. I don’t even remember whether her door was open.

I cannot hear her breathing. Not a single muscle moves on her face. She lays on her side, with the comforter bunched up in a tube and stuck between her legs. I tilt my glass to drink, and a drop of condensate lands on her comforter, next to her knee.

I lean closer. I can hear–or imagine–how the hair stubble is growing on her legs and a thin film of perspiration is forming above her upper lip.

What if she wakes up right now, with me brooding over her bed like that?

I recoil.

She still probably doesn’t feel well. She’d need more time to restore herself.

I drop to my knees, set the glass aside, and scan the air above her bed with my hand. It is what I thought it was: a barf-like, dark mass dissected with white threads, moving and liquefying by moment.

I’m sorry, Caroline. You’ll feel better soon. I hope…

Back in the kitchen, I wash my face and my hands. It dawns on me why I haven’t had a roommate before. After my feasts I never had to see how all those people fared.

My mouth tastes bitter.

#

I forgot the damned glass in her room.

A wave of horror jolts me upward in my bed. I inhale and exhale, my brain beating against the walls of my skull, scrambling for a solution.

“Sorry,” the darkness whispers to me.

Caroline’s sitting on the corner of my bed, red mist puffing from her in thrusts. Hunger? Lust? It doesn’t make any sense. Why would… Do I still have to explain the glass in her room?

“How do you feel?” I ask, also in a whisper.

She takes my hand–for the first time in the three weeks we’ve been living together she initiated physical contact–and pulls it to her face. It’s wet.

“Did… Did you have a nightmare?” Or an erotic dream, more like? Perhaps, she got better. All this sleep she got–and the time away from me–she must be…

My hand fumbles for the light switch on my night stand. I’d see nuances better if I could actually use my eyes.

“Don’t,” she kisses the other hand–the one she’s still holding. “Do you mind… Can I hug you?” she asks, and I have to strain my ears to catch that. The blood pumps in my temples.

“Sure…” I feel silly. I feel weak. I don’t understand. I know Caroline. She’s not into girls. I know that because I can see and I can track every time red streaks appear in her vapors, and they never… Well, right now they are definitely red.

I try to relax my grip on her. I don’t know if I can take a sip of her red, if I’m allowed to, after mere hours… Her flow is so powerful she must be fully restored. Those raw emotions. I need to be careful. I cannot lose my head this time…

“… made a resolution,” the deluge of her words fills me just as I’m basking in her pool of lust, “I know. But I’m so weak. I can’t. Tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll be a good person. I know it doesn’t make much sense. They will find… They’ll look! And I’m your tenant. I know. But this is the last time…”

What is she babbling on about?

The room moves in circles, and the scarlet streaks wash over her silhouette in a fountain. She brings my hand to her face again, and it’s still wet. Why? Tears? Or is that water? Water from the glass I left in her bedroom… The thought makes me lose the precious strands of energy, making the flow uneven, rich and dangerously sparse in different moments of space, different locations in time.

I feel hot, liquid hands on my back through my T-shirt. They trace my spine up and down, poke me, thrusting jets of nectar into me.

Her body–I always thought of it as of a fragile, breakable vase–is made of wiry steel, and I want to pull away just a little, just to take a breath and to clear my head. But the red’s still trickling into my back, into my neck, and I remain motionless, like a rag doll in her strong arms.

“Sorry,” her hot breath is on my neck. She licks it. She presses on it with her teeth, some of which protrude in separate peaks.

My ribs hurt, I twist and turn, but I can’t, I can’t breathe, I can’t move. Her teeth–fangs–tear my skin with a sickening sound that reverberates deep in my brain. Something warm and very real trickles down my neck.

Her red, it seemed to be the scarlet red of lust, but it has a different hue now. Not lust.

I freeze. The razors of her fangs burrow deeper into my flesh, catching my neck on fire.

It’s close, but it is not lust at all.

I squeeze my eyes shut.

Caroline…