My hair was the brittle color of drying blood.
Lola had done it in her mother’s kitchen. She said we needed to be more glamorous. She said, I dare you, and the next thing I knew, I was standing at the sink with my head under the faucet while a flood of vivid water ran down the drain.
It wasn’t glamorous, but red like desperation. The kind that says look at me look at me please please tell me I’m pretty! It was a Lola color, is what I’m saying. When I pictured my own face wearing it, I could taste it in my mouth like metal.
We were the only girls in the pit. Onstage, Mason Tyler was humping his guitar, crooning in his signature rasp. He was the official love-mascot of Lola’s life. She wrote poems about his hands. She dove into the crush, where boys made plunging circles and didn’t care about the bruises. Their arms thrashed like branches, a forest of bodies, and Lola was the gleaming fairytale tower at the center of it. I was no one. Red-headed cipher. Zero.
The guy in the hunting jacket wasn’t punkrock. He didn’t bic his head or bleach his hair or wrestle it into a prissy double-hawk. He didn’t look like Henry Rollins or Jimmy Urine or Johnny Rotten, is what I’m saying. He didn’t look like anything.
Lola didn’t see him coming. Her fist beat time to the bassline, and when he smacked her with his shoulder, she didn’t even flinch. He hit her again, harder, slamming her against the rail. The look on her face when she turned was close to magical. She punched him in the back of the head and everything got slow.
For a second, I thought he’d grab her by the throat. His teeth were sharp, crowded in the front and I was in hard, sudden love with the set of his shoulders. By love, I mean terror. I mean, in awe.
He caught her by the collar of her shirt and yanked her up on her toes while the rager boys thrashed around us.
“Hey, Red,” he muttered, barely glancing at me. “Get your skank out of here before she does something she’ll regret.”
He opened his hand and Lola stumbled backward, scrambling away from him. She grabbed me and dragged me out of the pit. I could feel his eyes burning into my back.
Lola made me stand by the stage-door to wait for Mason Tyler. She took the pass from security when Mason pointed, and left me there in the crowd. Whatever Lola wants, right?
It took the guy in the hunting jacket less than three minutes to find me. “Well, well, well, if it isn’t Red. Looks like you’re all alone.”
“It’s auburn,” I told him with my arms folded over my chest, but the shade was cheap and sticky.
“So, what’s your fantasy?” he said, all wicked smile.
He gestured to the wall behind me. The ad was four feet high, for cologne or gum or snow tires. It showed a glossy spread of twigs and leaves. The girl, index finger pressed coyly to her lips. In bold caption, she declared, I want to run naked through the piazza.
“I want to go home.”
“Then what are you doing standing in the dark?”
“I don’t know how to get to the bus station, and Lola left with Mason Tyler.” His name came out shrill and bratty.
“It’s close,” the guy said. “I’ll take you.”
I knew then that I was just as desperate, twitchy, needy as Lola. I was just as hungry. We weren’t going to the station.
His apartment was a studio with nothing in it. He didn’t have a TV. He didn’t have junk mail or magazines. There was a beat-up stereo sitting on a pair of packing crates and he turned it on. Mason Tyler’s voice came blaring out into the room. It was the last thing I wanted to hear.
“You’re pretty,” he said, coming in close, and my skin began to prickle. “I like your hair.” He ran his fingers through it. They got stuck and he kept pulling.
“I like your skin,” he said against my neck, and his breath smelled like beef jerky. Like a dream I had once of being eaten alive.
When he moved, he did it fast, the weight of his body pinning me against the wall, one hand hard against my throat.
“You’re hurting me,” I said, and my voice was high and soft like a little girl’s.
On the stereo, the music was too loud. The kind of loud where the neighbors bang on the ceiling, and complain about the noise and sometimes they even call the cops, but only after a couple of hours. The kind of loud where they don’t hear you scream.
The knife was in case of emergencies–one of those ones that folds out when you press a button. I kept a lot of sharp things in case of emergencies. I held it to his neck and felt him go rigid.
My mouth was inches from his ear. “What’s your fantasy? If you tell me you like to cut up girls, I’ll gut you.”
He repositioned himself on the blade, leaning into it, pressing his throat against the point. He was smiling. One hand was tangled in my hair, guilty-red wound around his fist. We held the knife between us, his other hand over mine, the cold, shining center of the world. His eyes were bright and hungry.
“I dare you,” he said.