This was it–Ivy’s house. He had tried calling her all throughout his march, but it only rang and rang and rang. Either it was a wrong number, or she had no answering service. The rest of the time he cursed and prayed he wouldn’t end up hovering over a mutilated body.
At the beginning of her block, he froze. What would she think? A strange guy she barely knew coming to her house with no provocation. Someone who snuck into her workplace, found her address, and walked all the way here. What was the difference between him and the stalker?
The difference was that Ash wasn’t deceptive. Ash wasn’t trying to hide in the shadows. He wasn’t trying to spy on her, coerce her, or attack her. And the way to prove that would be to tell her to her face.
A dog across the street barked. Three others joined in, but it was too dark to see if any of them were unleashed and coming for him. There were no street lights in this part of the city.
He walked down the sidewalk, repeating to himself ‘I’m a White Knight. My job is to protect people. That’s what I’m doing’.
Ivy’s house looked blue. There was a small Honda Civic parked in front of the steps leading up. No sign of the stalker, but he could barely see his hand in front of his face.
Ash couldn’t find a doorbell, so he rapped on the storm door. She was there in a few seconds, dressed in a gray T-shirt and sweatpants. She had no make-up on, but her face was speckled with glitter. Even now, she was sexy.
“Yes?” she said.
“Um, hi. Do you remember me?”
She furrowed her brows and tilted her head.
“We met at the club, yesterday. My name’s Ash.”
“What are you? Some creep?” She backed up. “How did you find where I live?”
“That’s not important.”
“Get out of here, or I’ll call the cops.”
“No, no,” Ash said. He wasn’t opposed to calling the cops, except that it meant they’d take away the wrong guy. “I’m here to help you. It’s about your stalker.”
“Yeah, right. I see only one stalker here.” She moved to shut the door.
“He knows your address. He paid the manager for it.”
“Yeah, and how’d you get it?”
“I snuck in and found the office. I hid in the room with all the monitors and heard the exchange.”
“What?” She pulled the door back open. “The Perv Room? You saw it?”
“Is that what they call it? It’s got security cameras and files and pictures of all you girls.”
“Shit. Fucking Moreno fucking lied to me. Fucking shit.”
“Look, there’s still the matter of your stalker.” Ash looked into her house to see if he’d already broken in. “I think he might be in the neighborhood. It might be a good idea if you leave for the night.”
“Leave my house?”
“Unless there’s someone who can help you. You have a roommate?”
“Then maybe you’d better go someplace safe. Or call someone.”
Ivy looked confused, and why wouldn’t she be? Here was a total stranger telling her someone was trying to kill her, giving her advice, and asking nothing in return. She lived in a world where favors were traded like cards.
“Yeah, I can go to a friend’s house,” she said.
“Okay, good.” Ash sighed in relief.
“I’ll go get my stuff.”
“I’ll wait out here. To make sure you get to your car.” She looked at him puzzledly. “I don’t want to leave you alone.”
Something hit Ash between his shoulder blades. It didn’t knock him out, but he collapsed, rolling on the grass.
Ivy shrieked and held her hands up to her face. Someone grabbed her shirt and pulled her forward.
Still fuzzy from being hit, Ash could only see a shadowy figure against the porch light. He was holding Ivy against him, pinned by a thick stick at her throat. It was a baseball bat, probably the same thing that had smashed him in the spine. She twitched and gasped, while he restrained her.
Ash stood up. “Hey, asshole, you just won the ‘my bitch’ award.”
The man stopped. He threw Ivy against the side of the house. She hit on the concrete stoop with a sickening thud.
The stalker leapt forward and swung the Louisville Slugger in a diagonal arc. Ash duck, but lost his balance, and fell on his back. He thought he was done for, but the stalker spun around and headed to the backyard.
“If you run, you’re only gonna die tired,” Ash said. He got to his feet and ran after him around the house.
The backyard was completely black–not even the ambient light penetrated. Ash groped along, hoping he wouldn’t trip over anything. Then he heard a metallic clank in the corner, like someone running into a metal fence.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” Ash said. Maybe taunting would flush him out. There had to be plenty of hiding spots–sheds, junk furniture. Too bad pyrokinesis wouldn’t let him see in the dark.
But maybe he could still burn him, like he should have done in the first place. Ash closed his eyes and concentrated on his target’s form, his body, reaching out his power.
Nothing happened. The energy bled off, like a movie projector aimed at the sky. He couldn’t burn what he couldn’t see.
Another noise. The stalker was trying to find a way out.
“Goddammit, show yourself.” Ash sidled next to the wall, and ran into a garbage can. “Aha.” He picked it up. If he couldn’t set his enemy on fire, he could set everything else on fire.
Ash threw the garbage can as far as he could and set it ablaze. Debris rained down, burning fast and bright like sawdust. It illuminated the pitiful man standing three feet away, clutching a baseball bat like it was his best friend.
“Peek-a-boo, I see you,” Ash said.
The stalker rushed forward and swung the bat at Ash’s leg, smashing him in the back of his knee. Searing hot pain throbbed in his calf muscle. He collapsed, letting out a girlish yelp. The garbage can rolled away, fire extinguished.
The stalker ran towards the street, while Ash struggled to stand up. He couldn’t move, which meant he couldn’t catch anyone.
No, he couldn’t let that happen. He couldn’t let him get away. Not for Ivy.
Resisting the urge to scream out, he put his weight on his good leg, and hobbled to the front yard. He kept telling himself to ignore the pain. Pain was temporary.
In the front yard, headlights flickered on and a car coughed to a start. The dashboard illuminated the stalker’s silhouette. He peeled out from the curb.
No, Ash could not let him get away unscathed. But what could he do? What could he set on fire? The bumper? Wouldn’t burn. The gas tank? He tried, but he couldn’t see it, so nothing happened.
As the car pulled away, Ash thrust his hand out and focused on every part of the interior he could see. The inside of the car lit up bright as day. It swerved in and out of white lines, like a drunk driver, and slid against a parked car, screeching and casting off sparks.
Still burning, the car turned the corner and escaped. The stalker must have thought his car’s spontaneous combustion wasn’t as big a priority as escape. Doubtful he’d be back any time soon, especially if the fire spread to the gas tank.
Ash sighed, and fell onto the grass. The pain in his knee asserted itself, and he rubbed his calf. But then he saw Ivy still laying on the porch. He suppressed the pain again and limped up to her.
She looked unconscious, but was coming around. “What the fuck…” she moaned.
“Are you okay?” Ash asked.
“What? Who is that?”
“It’s me, Ash. He’s gone, the stalker.”
“What? Did you get him?”
“In a way. Don’t think he’ll be coming back for a while.”
She sat up, rubbing the side of her face. “That fucker. I better not have a cut or anything. Son of a bitch,” she muttered. “What happened to you?”
“He got me in the knee with a baseball bat,” he said and took a step, sucking air through his teeth.
“Is it broken?”
“Don’t think so. He got the meat, not the bone.”
“Son of a bitch. Next time, I’m calling the cops. I swear I will.”
“I’m pretty sure there won’t be a next time.” Ash didn’t want to argue anymore. Saving the damsel in distress was a lot more painful in reality. He shifted his weight to his aching knee, and fell on his butt. “Arrgh, shit. Do you have an ice pack or something?”
“No,” she said.
Ash waited for her to offer something else. When she didn’t, he said, “Um, would it be all right if I came inside? To rest up?”
She sighed. “I guess. Sure, why not. Here.” Ivy offered her hand. Ash took it–it felt like the hand of a goddess. He shifted his weight onto her, but she wasn’t good at supporting him, so he hobbled into the living mostly on his own power. He fell in the nearest seat–a cloth recliner chair.
Ivy stood in front of him, not quite sure what to do. “Uh, do you want something to drink? I’ve got wine coolers.”
Ash didn’t feel much like drinking, but didn’t want to refuse anything from her. “That’s cool.” She walked into the adjacent kitchen, while he rubbed his knee. Ash heard a fridge door open and she came back with two strawberry breezers.
“This place is nice. You live here all by yourself?” Ash asked, and placed the bottle on his knee.
“Yeah, something wrong with that?”
“No,” Ash said. “I was just making conversation.”
“I make good money. I’m not whoring myself out or anything, if that’s what you’re saying.”
“I’m not saying anything like that!” Ash said.
“Good, you don’t have any right to judge me.”
“Look,” he said after a slug of breezer. “I understand you’re on edge. You’re probably always dealing with sickos or psychos, right?”
“Yeah, most of the time. They think I’m a sex machine, that I’m not human.”
“They either condemn you or exploit you,” Ash agreed.
“Yeah. And I suppose you’re different.”
“Yes.” In many ways. “I don’t think it matters what you do. I think everyone’s got a purpose in life.”
“And you think mine is being a stripper?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I haven’t known you that long. Do you think it is?”
“What are you, a psychologist? Maybe you want me to lay down on the couch here?” She fell back on the sofa, laid a hand on her head, and spoke in a fluttery tone. “Oh, it all started when I was a child. My father abandoned me, and I’m trying to replace him by dancing naked for all these men. Is that what you want to hear?”
“Is that true?”
“Hey,” she pointed. “I choose to do this. I can walk away any time. I’m not like the other girls. They’ve got bastard kids and boyfriends and business on the side. I’m not like them.”
“I’m not saying that at all. In fact, I agree with you. You’re not like them. That’s why I like you.”
His eyes widened. That part wasn’t supposed to come out.
Ivy flipped over and stared at him. Her expression softened. “You really were telling the truth. You really wanted to make sure I was all right?”
Ash rolled his eyes. “Now she gets it.”
“Why? I just said. I like you. I think you’re… beautiful.”
She scoffed. “Do you know how many guys ask me for my number? Or to be their girlfriend? Or run away with them?”
“But they’re idiots. They’re too into the fantasy. They think you’re something you’re not.”
She smirked. “Yeah, that’s a good way of saying it.”
“But you, you’re the special one. You’ve got that… I don’t know. There’s no words for it. Some sort of energy around you. You’re in your element. And you put that energy into it. That thing that makes it something genuine. Something lovely.”
She grinned. “You’re sweet.”
Ash smiled, and tipped back the rest of his wine cooler. God, he could gaze at her all day.
Ivy stood up. “How’s your knee?”
“Better,” he said. Everything’s better when you’re around, he wanted to say.
“You know, I do get the biggest tips at the club,” she said, stepping closer.
“I believe it.”
“And all the other girls are jealous of me. I’m the only one without implants.” She took another step.
“I believe that too.”
“It’s cause I know what men want. You have to be the person they want you to be.”
“Kinda. But I’m off duty now.” She slid onto Ash’s lap, her smooth legs and satiny gym shorts sliding on his hips. “You know, I never properly thanked you for… saving my life, I guess.”
“Um…” Ash felt paralyzed. “Y-you’re welcome.”
She slid her hands under his shirt, rubbing up and down. She paused.
Ash froze. His scars. Before he could stop her, she lifted the shirt all the way up.
“I- I-” Ash said.
“Mmm,” she said, “You’re warm.”
Ash looked puzzled. He thought she would have freaked at feeling skin the texture of cold oatmeal. Or asked a question. Or even gasped in horror. Her hands emerged from his collar and wrapped around his neck.
“You know how else I get tips?” She nuzzled his neck, softly blowing on it. Ash thought he would melt like an ice cube.
“Little things,” she said, “Little teases.”
“Y-you know, you don’t have to do this. I didn’t help you to-“
“I know,” she said. “You know, some girls hate working at the club. But it makes me horny. And you saved my life. So… you wouldn’t tell a pretty girl ‘no’, would you?”