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“Your leg is shaking really bad,” Alison noted. An eyebrow reached for the awning, asking what’s up with that?

John wondered how long for. He looked at his date intently enough to see if he could read her thoughts, not enough to make her skin crawl. The leg troubled her; that sardonic eyebrow told him as much. But she remained engaged. Alison had not given off any of the so-called signals which hinted at attraction. She did not play with her hair and refused to face her body towards him. Maybe she liked him and refused to give out those signals for fear of rejection. He wasn’t sure. He had been out of the game for years. He didn’t know what to do anymore. He felt his now former-married life had crushed his sexuality to a pair of pips.

He had tried to do the right thing, asking Alison about herself, and never bringing the conversation back to him, just letting her know that her experience was on a par with his.

“What about you?” she would keep saying.

She wanted him to do the talking. Sometimes she made it feel like a job interview. If you want me, you need to impress me – about your job, your values, your experience. Nevertheless, he liked her, despite himself. He enjoyed how her long neck fell into her V-neck top. He resisted the urge to stick his head forward.

They had met at a mutual friend’s party the week before. John could not believe his luck at her presence, and that she had initiated the conversation. She thought she had seen him before, but couldn’t work out where. She told him about her work. She loooved being a lawyer – couldn’t think of anything more fascinating. He got her number before she got pulled away by other social obligations.

Last week’s eagerness had turned a little frosty.

“First dates are always a mess.” She had honesty. The hurt surprised him. “This one has been the messiest I’ve ever been on.”

He kept his emotions next to the ice-pack. She was rejecting him. His bones told him so. The awkward moment allowed him to look elsewhere. They sat outdoors at a restaurant that charged wallet-emptying prices for food that did not rent all his stomach’s available space. Some couples talked, some people-watched – making it obvious they were making fun of somebody by the way words escaped the corner of their mouths. A couple three tables away were on a date worse than his. It warmed him up.

A wry smile sprung, an unexpected bonus in this situation. “It’s the second messiest I’ve ever been on. The worst was when I was twenty-four years old. She was also called Alison – wanted to eat in McDonald’s and then told me all night about her dream honeymoon.”

Alison’s eyebrow asked him if he hadn’t known this in advance. He wondered if she exercised that eyebrow in a mirror.

“Blind date,” he explained.

“Do you have children?”

He felt his leg go again, spasm-ing like a piston in a past-it motor. “I had a daughter…”

She had the grace to look away and not show him pity, letting the moment wear itself out. The date mattered again.

Those men… they had all escaped punishment.

A scream – a woman in her mid-twenties – pulled him back. The pitch was not over a dropped ice-cream. It reached into his ears and played the Psycho screech on his heart-strings. A toddler had broken free of his mother, looking to play with those big fast cars on the road. John jumped the barrier between the sidewalk and the restaurant and pulled the boy from a certain impression on the road. Returning him to a grateful mother, he happily took her grateful kisses, accepted a hug, and jumped the barrier again to a standing ovation.

Not quite what he wanted. He did not want people to remember him.

Alison welcomed him back to the table warmer than the start of their date, pushing her chair closer. She faced him and played with her hair. Once congratulations from staff and other customers subsided, they started quaffing the free bottle of champagne the restaurant gave him for his heroic act. He dreaded the idea of a news crew from the cheesy local TV station.

“This date has become interesting. What more have you got?”

“What do you mean?” What did she mean?

“Who are you, John? Where are you from? What do you do?”

“It’s a question I could ask you. You keep batting away questions as if I was a journalist.”

“I try to keep a sense of mystery. I like to reveal a layer at a time. All at once and I’ve lost you.”

“You ought to feel the same about a man.”

“I do. And now I want to know you, layer by layer.”

He scratched the back of his head, squeezed his shaking leg, and tried to pull the strings of his nerves into obedience. “I’m from Colorado, just like you.”

“How do you know that?” she frowned.

“Your accent.”

She digested his response with food. “Which part?”

“Lakewood.”

“You’re good”, she commended. “You ought to be a lawyer.”

Damn, she now touched his leg after every question. As she leaned in he avoided peering down her top. He sensed that he would get an uninhibited view eventually.

“The ambiguity would get to me.”

She smiled at that. “When did you come here?” she asked.

“Two months ago.”

Her foot brushed his leg, so nonchalantly it could be mistaken for an accident.

“Such short answers, John. What are you hiding?”

He flinched. He couldn’t hide it. She clocked it. It brought her in deeper. The woman liked danger.

“Nothing.”

She played with her glass and examined a couple of ants by her feet. “You don’t need to tell me. I understand.”

“Understand what?”

“You lost your daughter. I’m guessing you lost your wife too.”

He ignored the comment. Her former grace had dripped. She didn’t understand anything.

“I was in the army.”

“Any scars?”

He blinked. At twenty he would have shown her everything. In her twenties she could have asked. In their thirties she should have known better.

“Plenty.”

She wanted to see. Every dilation and expansion of her pupils showed her desire.

“I killed people. A lot of them.”

She was his. For all her sophistication, she was primal underneath. Her work in law lent her a sheen of respectability, but she took that route because of the grime. She took her wealth from human misery, enjoying its detail while proving her intellect in closing cases.

Her toes lifted his trouser leg, looking for bare flesh. A smile told her he was receptive. “I have boutique coffee at my place, unopened. I’d love to share it.”

Anything with boutique in its name was enough to put him right off going any further, but he nodded. “That’s an offer I can’t refuse.”

They paid the bill and left for hers, John glad she did not question him about his kills. None had been while he was in the army.

 Buy Bullets, Teeth & Fists at Amazon US and UK.

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photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/eole/5056183269/”>Éole</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photo pin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

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