Here's Part Two of "Goodwill" by Jason Lee Brown
The Austin mansion had sixteen rooms, including eight bedrooms, and Dee said she wanted to see them all. The two parlor rooms were packed with guests and a white noise of chatter that hung in the air. She held Ed’s hand and pulled him into the butler’s pantry, away from everyone else. Ed leaned against the all-white pantry, and she, still holding his hand, pulled herself into him, as if slow dancing. She wore the dress he’d bought her a few months ago, a short black number with lace on her shoulder straps and upper thighs; it gave him hope.
“Let’s check out the bedrooms,” she said. Her eyelids drooped, the way they did when in character, playing a role that existed only in her head. He’d seen her transform to get her way countless times, but that had been for other men, not Ed. The electricity between them pushed the moment forward, and he couldn’t believe his plan was coming true. He was blinded by all of it.
Still holding her hand, he followed her up the dark-cherry staircase to an opening with shiny wood flooring that stretched out to each bedroom. She dragged him from doorway to doorway, peeked inside, until she found the master bedroom with the turreted sitting area that was right out of 500 A.D. Rome—thick maroon curtains and a maroon couch with one armrest. She pulled them inside and shut the door behind her. He pushed her hips toward the queen-size bed and large white pillows, but she broke free and skipped to the maroon couch, sat with one elbow resting awkwardly on the armrest. She crossed her legs and the lace on her dress slid up her thigh.
“Call me Domina,” she said. She was in complete character.
“If you say so.”
“Yes, Domina.” He sat next to her.
“At my feet.”
“We shouldn’t waste time.”
“You will kneel,” she said. “At my feet.”
He wasn’t making the same mistake twice. He wanted to prove he too could be forceful. He scooted closer to her. “For one kiss, I will.”
“Kneel or be banished,” she said. Without looking at him, she pointed to the floor.
His instincts screamed to back down, but he leaned in anyway. His right hand pulled her cheek close, and he kissed her closed, motionless lips. Before backing away, he knew he’d snapped his momentum and the electricity. She stood and stared at him, her soft brown eyes and pink lips were a mix of disappointment, disgust, and pleasure.
“We should get back to the party,” she said. Her black heels clicked the hardwood when she strolled out of the bedroom without looking back.
By the time he got downstairs, she’d already saddled up to this douchebag in a red sweater vest who was slobbering on about how he had grown up poor but made his first million before twenty-six. “No way,” Dee said. “No way.” Ed couldn’t believe it either. A fucking sweater vest! It was almost summer. And humid. She touched Sweatervest’s back, laughed at his dry jokes. She poured it on for a man she usually ignored or pitted against other men for her affection, and now Ed was one of those other men.
Ed smelled Sweatervest’s Clive Christian cologne from across the room and about near choked on it when he stood next to Dee. Ed waited for her to lose control, grab everyone’s attention by dancing on a table until men surrounded her, but she stayed with Sweatervest in the parlor, next to the empty fireplace. Sweatervest smiled at Ed for approval to fuck the woman Ed wanted more than anything, and in the past, Ed had shrugged his shoulders for the go-ahead, but this time he smiled a Go ahead and try. She rested her hand on Sweatervest’s shoulder, a sexual gesture, yes, but also a controlling one that held him in place before he escaped.
“Ed’s my ride,” she said softly. “I wouldn’t worry about him.”
Sweatervest palmed the top of her ass then inched his way down and whispered in her ear. She giggled. She was in complete control. Ed was sure Sweatervest had never had his hands on a woman like Dee. Sweatervest had no idea what he was in for.
For the next couple hours, Ed hid in the hall next to the restroom. The windows were open but the humidity thickened by the minute, and he couldn’t stop the beads on his forehead from racing down his cheeks. He sipped through more than half his pint of Wild Turkey, each swallow smoother than the one before. He had another pint in his pocket for unexpected occasions just like this. He nodded at folks who entered and exited the restroom, but no one talked to him. Between sips, he thought about how ridiculous it was to live in poverty when you didn’t have to. He hated not knowing if he could stretch money from paycheck to paycheck, especially when she doubled his bills, and he didn’t know what it was like to purchase an item without wondering first how much it cost. If he had access to her parent’s wealth, he’d take advantage of every dime.
“Where you been?” Dee grabbed his elbow and turned him around.
The swivel made him lightheaded. He cracked open his second pint and took a wallop of a drink. It was later than he thought. Past midnight. Her insult, the blow-up, never happened.
“So…what’s with Sweatervest?” he said.
“I like him,” she said. “What’s with you?”
“We should go before I can’t drive.”
“I have a ride,” she said. She snatched the pint from his hand. “You should take a cab.”
Wasn’t until he was home puking into the toilet that he realized she’d planned this to spite him, teach him a lesson: whenever she wanted, she could take what he held most sacred and stomp all over it. He’d kicked on the window unit, but it was too late. The smothering room was too hot for the ticking air conditioner. He puked until he stopped sweating and no more fluids came up. Then the chills hit, then more sweat.
He was dry heaving when he heard Dee’s voice outside. He cracked open his front door for a peek. Taillights in the fog tinted everything red. Dee slammed shut the BMW’s passenger door then staggered around the front of the car, the nearly empty pint of Wild Turkey in her hand. She stumbled but caught herself on the black hood. The glass pint smacked the metal.
“Get off!” Sweatervest screamed out his window. “You are crazy.”
“Fuck you!” She pounded the bottle on the hood and a thwack-thwack echoed throughout the neighborhood. “Fuck! You!”
Sweatervest swung open the door and stood, one foot still in the car, no sweater vest. She backpedaled onto the boulevard, pointed the bottle at him like a weapon.
“Don’t touch me!” she screamed. “Don’t you fucking touch me.”
“You and your creepy friends can go to hell,” Sweatervest said.
“You go to hell!”
“I don’t know what your fucking problem is,” he said, “but I’m not your Daddy!” He slammed his door shut, and with a quick burp of the tires, sped off. A dog barked, then another dog barked, until the two were barking at each other.
Ed stumbled out of his apartment, vomit droppings on his white T-shirt, and met her on the sidewalk. He wrapped his arm around her shoulder as if he had an invisible blanket, and she sobbed into his armpit. She too was dripping with sweat, her black dress clinging to her.
“What happened?” he said.
“You’re the best,” she said. “Best plus one ever.”
It wasn’t true. He had no goodwill left, made every decision for selfish reasons, and deep down she knew it too, but ignoring their demons was how they got through each day. He caught a whiff of Sweatervest’s cologne when he lowered her on his mattress. She was half asleep as soon as she hit the pillow, a security-blanket grip on the bottle. When he pulled on the pint, she yanked it close to her chest, jumped to her feet. “I need a drink.” She struggled to open the lid until she gave up and stared at the bottle, swaying, as if she were about to puke on it in revenge for what it had done to her.
“Sleep,” he said. He sat her on the bed. “You need sleep.”
She leaned back, wet black hair clinging to her shoulders, and stuck her high heels in the air. He slipped them off and dropped them.
“Stockings,” she said.
He peeled the left stocking off her leg, but the right got caught on her heel. He jerked and it snapped off, spreading open her glistening legs. He stared at the small purple heart on the front of her black underwear. Below the heart, the black fabric was soaking wet. When he lowered down on her, hand on each side, she curled up and patted the mattress behind her. He squeezed in and pushed his cock against the back of her hand. She turned her wrist and grabbed him, squeezed, her fingers warm through his boxers. He kissed her salty neck and she moaned, but not in a sexual way. By the time he got the back of her panties down, he noticed her grip was loose, her limp arm awkwardly bent back as if wounded. He kissed behind her ear, but when he heard the light snore from the back of her nose, he expected nothing to wake her. He couldn’t believe what she’d done. His cock was all twisted up in his boxers. He wrestled it free then pressed it between her cheeks, his warm sweat mixing with hers. He pulled her in tight, slid up and down for as long as he could before his body shuddered away and he came in the palm of his hand.
The next morning, she said she wanted to stop the parties, show him how much their relationship meant to her, how tight they could be even without sex. She found a new job down the road at Coffee Hut, and evenings she cooked him meals, cleaned his apartment, took him shopping with her first check. She pushed the cart with the wobbly wheel because she said no one else wanted it. When sober, her goodness shined through. For weeks, they watched movies, alternating choices, played cards and board games. She was trying. Really trying. Her smell, which reminded him of blueberries though it didn’t smell like blueberries, blended in with his clothes, sheets, bedding—his entire apartment. He hated every bit of it; he’d already tasted what he wanted. He bought her wine to trigger one of her binges; she drank one glass with dinner and one with the movie, acted like that was enough. But he knew her. She couldn’t cling to a routine for long, so when she got fired from the job she cared nothing about, he made a big deal about it, said it wasn’t right, said they needed to get out of the apartment and do what they do.
Ed and his mother were on the living room floor rummaging through Goodwill clothes, and Ed couldn’t stop thinking about what would have happened if the cop found him in the box. His mother held up clothes, inspecting each one for flaws—not that she was against keeping clothes with a well-hidden stain or hole—and he wanted to ask her if she would go to jail, if the cops would take his little sister away, but he knew his mother justified stealing by saying they were the exact in-need people the clothes were meant for. She picked up an orange Illini hoodie, turned it in front of her.
“This looks great,” she said. “Faded a bit, but other than that. You want it?”
Ed could not reconcile the resentment welling in him. He knew whose sweatshirt that was. Dave Godry. A lawyer’s son who got whatever he wanted whenever he asked for it, the newest Jordans, toys, bikes, you name it, and he acted entitled to it all. He wasn’t even that smart. Ed was smarter, just not as confident. Dave donated his belongings because he didn’t care about clothing or toys. He treated them the same as his friends. New ones were always one purchase away. Ed wanted the hoodie, but he couldn’t wear it to school without everyone knowing his mother was not only a thief, but a thief who stole from Goodwill.
Ed was sure the Evel Knievel doll had been Dave’s, too, but he didn’t care; he was keeping it, hidden, in his closet, where only his hands could touch it. He couldn’t stop from fantasizing about sucker punching Dave Godry, square on the nose, as hard and often as he could for the most possible amount of blood and pain. Between the urges to covet that sweatshirt and Evel Knievel doll and the absolute resentment for what Dave Godry stood for, Ed decided, if offered the perfect situation, he would sucker punch Dave Godry. He was still waiting for the opportunity.
They’d been told to leave the party after Dee slapped the face of this white-haired man she’d been flirting with all night then busted her wine glass on the driveway. Three guys circled her, and the white-haired man said she wouldn’t think she was so clever if they showed her where flirting got her. Ed repeated he was sorry, then pulled out the excuse that had gotten them out of trouble numerous times. “It’s her birthday,” he said. “We got way way way too drunk—we just need to go home.”
The white-haired man slapped Ed, open handed, right across the ear. The contact struck like a punch and dropped Ed to one knee. The driveway spun, and through the ringing, the three men laughed. “Bitchsmack him again,” one of them said.
Ed begged the white-haired man to please let them leave. He didn’t wait for a response; he grabbed under Dee’s shoulders, nearly lifting her, and directed her down the driveway. She fought every step, screaming back even louder, calling the white-haired man a pervert who needed to be in prison. Pervert! Pervert! Ed wondered if his selfish choices were catching up to him. The sound of footsteps followed them down the long concrete drive, and without looking back, Ed rushed her toward the car. By the time he stuffed her in the passenger seat, the men had turned around and were laughing their way up the driveway, giddy at the entertainment, a night they’d probably talk about for years but Dee would forget by morning.
On the drive home, she leaned her head against the window, mumbled something about her father, and then dozed off. Ed parked outside his apartment, and when he shut off the engine, her eyes sprung open and jerked back and forth while the rest of her body remained still. He helped her out of the passenger seat, and her arms latched around his until they got inside. His apartment was unfamiliar in its tidiness. She’d kept the bed made, dishes done, carpet vacuumed, fridge full. She’d washed and folded all his clothes, her smell embedded into everything. This was as close as she was going to let him come to domesticating her.
“You can’t treat people like that,” she says. “It’s just not right.”
“Help me out of my suit,” she said.
With her hands on his shoulders, he squatted and slid down the gray skirt suit, his face right in front of the pink polka dots on her white underwear. He sat her on his bed, unbuttoned and slid off her pink blouse. She leaned in and kissed his forehead, her lips as moist as he remembered. Her eyelids drooped shut for a second, then popped open. She smiled, as if surprised to see a man taking care of her.
“You’re the only good one left,” she said, looking at his pillow. She hugged the pillow then curled her knees to her chest. “Spoon me.”
The air conditioner ticked and huffed out warm air. He stripped to his boxers, then snapped in next to her. His breath on her neck asked for an invitation for more. When she didn’t respond, he pecked her collarbone with kisses.
“Just hold me,” she said.
“I got you.”
He encased her body and waited for that light snore in the back of her nose.