Everything was warm and bright. Something soft was underneath. Charlie wondered if it was possible that she was actually dead, and tried to take a breath out of curiosity. Pain flared all down her left side. Definitely not dead.
Her face scrunched in response to the pain, and she swallowed thickly. Her tongue was like a swollen chunk of sandpaper in her mouth. She was about to open her mouth to call out when she heard a tapping sound from where her feet should be. Like a cane tip hitting the floor.
“Mm-mm-mmm.” A deep voice hummed. “I don’t know what to do with you, child.”
Samedi. Sitting on her feet.
“Let me see if I understand this. You are lonely. You create a pet. You love this pet, and it loves you. Then you kill it. Then you try to make it a real boy, like Geppetto and Pinocchio. This is confusing.”
She could just barely whisper. “A person. Not a thing.”
“No, what you summoned was a thing. A spirit inside, yes, but still a thing. It made you happy. Why destroy it?”
“What wasn’t, the man or his feelings for you?”
“Well, now you will never know what was real or not. You kill the pet to resurrect the man, and you hope the man loves you back. What if he doesn’t? Did you think of that?”
“I’ll know. I’ll live.”
He exhaled a loud sigh. “Mon dieu. You are strong. Not so smart, but strong. Open your eyes.”
They felt like they’d been glued shut, but with effort, Charlie managed to open them. It was a small white room, and she was in a hospital bed. Samedi sat at the far end, legs crossed. What was frightening about him in the dark made him look utterly ridiculous in daylight, like a late-minute entry to a costume contest.
He pointed his cane at her, the tip almost touching the end of her nose. “No more second chances, child. This life, you ride it to whatever end. Understand?”
She nodded as best she could.
“Sleep then. And good luck.”
Sometime later, there was a weird wheezing, gurgling sound coming from next to her. They must have brought a really sick patient in next to her, because it sounded like someone choking to death on their own tongue. After a few minutes of it, she began wondering why someone wasn’t helping this person, then she realized what she was actually hearing.
Snoring. Really loud, obnoxious snoring. She opened her eyes and turned her head slightly. Mary sat in the chair next to her bed, legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles, arms crossed over his chest, head tipped back as far as it would go, and his mouth hanging completely open. Even asleep, he was annoying as hell.
She cautiously took a deep breath through her nose, careful not to strain her left side, and grimaced in confusion. She took another breath. He didn’t smell bad anymore. The gross, rotting meat scent was gone. “Either he miraculously doesn’t stink anymore” she thought to herself, “or I stink now, too. Fantastic.”
Desperate for some water, she started feeling around the bed for a call button, and her IV tubing clanked against the bed rail. The snoring became coughing, and Mary shot up straight in his chair. He looked like absolute shit run over by a dump truck a few times. “Well that was fucking dumb.”
“I’m inclined to agree. I’d kill for a sip of water right now.” She tried to push herself up in bed, but her arms were too weak and pushing down with her left arm made her side scream in agony.
“No, no, no. Let me get a nurse or something. If they aren’t all busy yammering with Casanova out there.”
She gave him a confused look. “Who’s that?”
“Vinnie” he said, sarcastically. “He’s the only one of us that speaks Italian, and he’s been spinning some shit about what we were doing in a graveyard in the middle of the night, and how you ended up with a knife sticking out of your chest. Whatever he said worked, ‘cuz no cops have shown up. Now we just need to get you some clothes, and I can text Doctor Fucknuts to open a portal so we can get the hell out of here.”
“Is he coming with us?”
“Copia. Have you talked to him? What happened after I…passed out?”
“Uhh, lots of panicking, lots of screaming at each other. He wanted to pull the knife out, I told him no, that would make you bleed out faster. He said he would go get help, since he spoke the language, but he was practically naked so I had to give him some of my clothes. I packed up our shit as much as I could, then carried you out to the road. He went to the church and got some priests to help, they called an ambulance. By some ‘miracle’, they didn’t know who he was, so we don’t have to worry about that hanging over our heads. He said he told the EMTs that someone tried to rob us, and they stabbed you when you refused to give them your backpack. After we got here, he handled talking to the doctors and shit, I just sat here.”
“How does he seem? Like….normal?”
“I think he’s been running on pure adrenaline since he woke up. He could’ve gone home at any time, his brother still lives in their parents’ house not far from here. I think he wants to make sure you’re ok before…deciding anything. For what it’s worth, he didn’t leave your side the entire time they patched you up. He was muttering to himself the whole time. I think he was praying. I’ll get you that water now.” He stood up and started walking towards the door. “Also…by some other ‘miracle’, that knife managed to avoid every organ and major artery in your chest. That shouldn’t be possible. A favor from friends in low places?”
“Something like that. No more, though. Next fuck-up is permanent.”
“Then stop doing stupid shit, ya dumbass.” He smirked at her before turning away.
She looked out the open window next to her. There were trees just outside, and she could hear birds singing. The scent of something cooking on the breeze drifting in. Compared to the cold, gray city, this place was almost magical. It made her sick to her stomach, but she could understand if Copia decided he wanted to stay. There were suddenly raised voices in the hall outside. She could hear Mary’s boots clomping.
“Tell them I’m taking her some water. She’s awake and she’s thirsty. She also needs clothes. Once the doc says she can go, we’re gone.”
Another man’s voice, frantically speaking Italian. Copia, right on Mary’s heels, translating as fast as he could. They stopped right outside her door.
“She didn’t say she wants to see you. She just wants some water right now. Sit your ass down, and the second she asks for you, I’ll let you know.”
“Don’t speak to me like that. I will knock you flat on your ass a second time, and you’ll be glad we’re in a hospital.”
Charlie managed to clear her throat. “I’m gonna send you both screaming to Hell if you don’t knock it off!”
Silence. The door opened. Mary walked in, set her cup of water on the bedside table, and went back to the door. “We’re not waiting for the doctor, we’re getting out of here before the cops show up asking questions. I’m gonna find her some clothes. You have until I get back.” His boots slapped against the linoleum as he walked away.
The door slowly inched open, and at first, Charlie didn’t recognize him. There was no black makeup, no white suit, no hat and gloves. He was wearing one of Mary’s death metal t-shirts and a pair of torn jeans. His hair was longer, his face thinner, but it was still Copia. He looked incredibly anxious, wringing his hands together in his telltale way.
Charlie could’ve cried with relief and happiness, but she didn’t want to aggravate her injury any more. She looked over at the table. “Could you please hand me the glass? I can’t really move my arm.”
“Oh! Yes, yes, of course.” He awkwardly scuttled over to the bedside table and placed the cup in her right hand. He shuffled between one foot and the other while she slowly sipped her water.
“Do you need to pee or something?”
“Hmm? No, no. At least, I don’t think so. It’s…taking a bit of getting used to, having my real body back. I can’t remember what hungry or thirsty feels like. I think I’m tired, I feel…heavy. I don’t know, it’s very…” He pressed his hands against his chest and stomach, like he was making sure they were still there. “Very weird.”
“I can’t imagine what it’s like. I’m just…relieved that it worked.”
He nodded, then turned and walked to the foot of the bed. “We don’t have much time, but…I just wanted….” He suddenly grasped the footboard of the bed with both hands. “You stabbed me in the fucking eye. You sent me back to the void. Then I’m pulled back into my body, which fucking hurt, by the way. And there you are, bleeding to death all over me. Why? Why all the bullshit? You said you loved me.”
Those last words stung. It took Charlie a moment to gather her thoughts.
“I do. I just couldn’t live with myself if your feelings for me were….not actually yours, only what I wanted them to be. You’re not my slave. The choice had to be yours. And I’m truly sorry about the eye. If it’s any consolation, that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I understand if you’re angry, or if you want time apart….if you want to stay here. Like I said. The choice is yours.”
She let her head fall back on the pillow. Just this small bit of conversation was exhausting. Copia’s head hung down, as he appeared engrossed with the back of his own hands, avoiding her gaze. “Maybe…maybe that’s wise. Take some time….think about things.”
“Yeah,” she whispered, tears filling her eyes. She closed them, turning her head away so he wouldn’t see. The familiar clomp of boots started coming down the hall, and she started trying to push herself up to sitting one-handed. It was still too much, and she fell back against the pillows.
In the blink of an eye, Copia was at her side, grabbing her hand. “I’ve thought about it. I would rather die again than be without you. I want to go home. Let’s go home.”
Charlie squeezed her eyes shut and nodded, the tears now spilling down her cheeks. He leaned up and kissed them away before bringing his lips to hers. “No more stabbing me in the eye, though, yes?”
She couldn’t help but laugh. Looking at him up close, she noticed his left eye was still white, but there was no pupil. She tilted her head. “Can you see out of that eye?” He frowned in thought for a second, then covered his right eye.
“Huh. I can’t. It’s all black. There goes my professional sports career.”
She cackled loudly, then groaned as another wave of pain rippled through her side. “Maybe not so much with the jokes right now.” He smiled and kissed the back of her hand.
“Of course. There’s time for jokes later.” The door opened, and Mary stomped in, a pair of surgical scrubs in his hands.
“Put these on. I saw cops out in the parking lot, we’ve got like, 5 minutes at the most.” He pulled his phone out and began typing.
Copia yanked the blankets off the bed, and helped Charlie sit forward enough to undo the ties on her hospital gown. He helped get her arms and legs to the scrubs, then elbowed Mary in the side for help in standing her up. Together they stood her up and Mary held her while Copia pulled the pants up. She plopped back down on the bed while Mary grabbed their bags, just as a circle of orange sparks appeared on the wall next to them. Inside the circle was the conjurer’s dirty apartment, and he was definitely not expecting the scene in front of him.
“Holy shit, what happened to you guys? Who’s the other dude, is he coming with you?”
“You bet your ass,” Copia said, scooping Charlie up off the bed. He stepped through first, with Mary right behind him. Just as the portal closed, they heard voices shouting in Italian.
“That was way too fucking close,” Mary panted. He threw himself down on the couch. “I’m calling an Uber. You guys want in, or are you gonna carry her all the way home?”
The next week was difficult, but it would have been impossible without Copia. He insisted on carrying Charlie everywhere, even to the toilet. He gave her sponge baths so her stitches wouldn’t get wet. She managed to talk him through online grocery delivery, and he did all the cooking. He even made that weird bread salad that she liked.
Mary even stopped by a few times, usually bringing some kind of sugary snack. “We’re the talk of the town, apparently. Doctor Dicklick has been telling everybody within earshot of Bela’s what he thinks happened in Italy, which varies from an assassination attempt on the Pope, to participating in a Black Mass, to making bestiality porn.”
“Is bestiality porn legal in Italy?” Charlie asked. She and Mary both turned to look at Copia. He gave an irritated shrug. “What makes you think I would know?”
“You like fucking dogs. Right, Snoopy?” Mary gently elbowed Charlie in the ribs.
Things were still contentious between the two men. Mary didn’t appreciate the fact that Charlie almost killed herself to save Copia, and Copia didn’t appreciate Mary’s rude sense of humor. They were like two tomcats circling each other, with her in the middle. It got to the point where she risked pulling out her stitches just to get up and throw something or slap one of them on the arm. They would pout, mumble an apology, and go back to their respective corners.
The nights were the hardest. They would crawl into bed, completely exhausted but unable to keep their hands off each other. Charlie was too sore to move, and Copia was too afraid that her stitches would pull or the wound would tear. Their solution was simple: he would give her oral, then she would jerk him off as he sat between her legs. One night, it was just too much for her, seeing him so overcome and she quickly slipped him inside.
“Just go slow and be careful,” she panted. She actually came again, just watching him slowly rock his hips, his head thrown back in ecstasy.
“Ahh…my god, I love you so much…” he whimpered. He ended up leaving bruises on her thighs from the death grip he had on them. After cleaning them both up, he very carefully spooned up behind her.
“Seriously, though. Are we out of Werther’s? I still have a craving for them.”
SIX MONTHS LATER
The small crowd’s cheers scared the living daylights out of Charlie and Copia as they exited City Hall. The only person that knew they were there was Mary, but of course he couldn’t keep his mouth shut. The smug little fucker was actually wearing one of those tuxedo t-shirts with suspenders hooked to his ripped jeans.
At some point, he’d had a major attitude adjustment, and arranged fake citizenship papers for Copia. Charlie hadn’t even considered it, she figured he would just stay at the apartment all day and watch tv when she went back to work. Now that he could ‘legally’ work, he insisted on getting a job. He got hired almost immediately at a customer service call center, where he didn’t have to worry about people looking at him, since he went back to painting his upper lip black. His numbers were not that great, but his customer satisfaction rating was through the roof.
When Charlie finally went back to work, someone had already clued Wilhelm into what had happened, and he told her to just come in whenever she felt good enough, because he had another employee to cover for her. She was a bit confused, as she thought she was the only other employee. Her first day back, there was an older gentleman sitting at the register. The word that came to mind was ‘dandy’. He was reading a newspaper, and peeked over the top at her.
“Oh, hello Charlotte. Nice to see you back at work.”
She blinked. “Mr. Schwartz?”
“Who else would I be?” The last time she’d been at work, he was a cat. He’d apparently managed to switch back into his own body while she was gone. She just smiled and went in the back of the store.
She had not spoken to her parents since the disastrous dinner. Once she was well enough, she had gone to the bank where the settlement money was kept and moved it into her own account, where they couldn’t touch it. The bank was required by law to inform her parents in writing, and she said that was fine. They never said a word.
In the midst of a particularly enthusiastic love-making session, Copia suddenly exclaimed, “Marry me!”
Charlie stopped moving. “I’m sorry…what did you just say?”
He seemed just as surprised as her. “Uh….well…I want you to marry me. I have for some time. I just…didn’t expect to say it like that.”
She smiled at him slyly. “Ok, then.”
“Ok, then what?”
“Let’s do it. I’ll make an appointment at City Hall. Fill out some paperwork, go before a Justice of the Peace, and it’s done.”
“Bu-but…we don’t have any rings.”
She took his hand and placed it on the scar on her ribs. “I have this, you have a blind eye. Do we need anything else to symbolize our connection?”
He thought for a moment. “I suppose not. Although-” He leaned down to place a few kisses along her spine. “It would be nice to have something that shows you are mine.”
She raised her eyebrows at him. “Oh, really? We’re going there? I thought we were done with the whole ‘ownership’ thing. Besides, I think you’re forgetting your position, sir.” She squeezed her muscles in a way that usually drove him crazy.
He gasped loudly. “Fair enough.”
Their paperwork was completed in near record time, and in less than 20 minutes, it was done. Charlie had told Mary about the appointment, in confidence, but he took it upon himself to make it even more special. He’d managed to get together a group of regulars from Bela’s, along with Wilhelm and Mr. Schwartz, and they waited outside City Hall with balloons and noisemakers. Charlie shrieked with laughter while Copia looked like he was going to drop dead.
The other surprise was even better. Wilhelm and Mr. Schwartz let the others decorate the roof of Vogel’s with lights and streamers, turning it into a mini-reception hall. There was plenty of alcohol, and Mary even dragged his band’s shitty PA system up there, in order to blast tacky 80′s dance hits.
Everybody danced, not caring how stupid they looked. Charlie’s left foot gave out on her a few times, but Copia never let her fall.