Saturday, April 7, 2012

"My Ex From Hell"


The text message had arrived at some point during the last three class periods, but my phone had been on silent so I hadn’t noticed.  It wasn’t until the end of the school day, when I was gathering the stack of papers to grade over the weekend, that I found it.

With only four weeks left in the school year, my mind was on everything except cryptic, errant text messages.  But the fact that this one was from Julie, my ex-girlfriend, sent a shiver down my spine.

Julie and I never had what could be called a functional relationship.  Meaning, we fought.  A lot.  The topic never really seemed to matter.  Actually, we never really talked that much unless we were fighting.  We dated for a year and I still doubt that I knew her favorite color, so we never, ever talked about ‘the relationship’.  

Not that it was all bad.  All the fighting meant lots of make-up sex, which seemed to make all the fighting worthwhile (for a few months, anyway).  And we certainly weren’t just using each other for angry sex; I thought we were really in love, for a while.  But, despite the good times, Julie and I seemed to be toxic to one another. 

We hadn’t spoken in over a year.  I wasn’t even sure why I still had her number in my phone.

I shivered again and closed the door to my classroom, and then quickly dialed Julie’s number.  It rang seven times before diverting to voicemail.  “This is Julie.  Leave a message,” her throaty, sensual voice purred. 

“Hey, Julie,” I said, and my voice cracked from nerves. “This is Randal.  I just got your text.  What’s going on?  Call me back.  Bye.”

The second I pressed the ‘end call’ button, my phone buzzed with another text.  I CANT TALK NOW. NEED 2 SEE U 2NITE.  CAN I COME BY YOUR PLACE?

I wanted to ask why Julie wouldn’t just call me, but, then again, she had always been a strange, particular creature.  SURE.  ILL HAVE PIZZA N BEER.  C U @ 8? I texted back.

A few seconds later:  C U THEN.

The doorbell rang at five minutes after eight that evening.  I had been so nervous about Julie coming that I had graded the entire stack of Geometry tests and already cracked into the six-pack I had picked up on the way home.  After I was sure that the table was clear of tests and beer bottles, I opened the door to my apartment. 

Julie was just as beautiful as I remembered her.  Five-foot-six, head full of thick, raven-black hair, emerald eyes, thick, pale lips. 

The toddler she held in her arms, however … that was new. 

“Hey, Randal,” she said, her eyes full of emotion.  “Can we come in?”

“Are you sure she’s mine?” I asked for the hundredth time in half an hour.  The pizza and beer were long gone.  Julie had disposed of most of the pizza.  I had handled most of the beer.

“Positive,” Julie sighed yet again.  “I told you, Randal, there wasn’t anyone else, and there hasn’t been anyone else since." 

The baby was beautiful.  She already had a frock of black hair on her little pink head, just like her mother.  The baby’s eyes were hazel, but, as it goes with babies, that could change.

“Brigid,” I said, watching the baby suck on Julie’s fingers one by one.  My Catholic upbringing sparked a memory of the name.  “The patron saint of infants and fatherless children?”

“Mm-hmm,” Julie replied, her eyes on the baby. 

I stood and pulled my fingers through my hair as I paced the room.  I desperately wanted another beer.  “Why didn’t you tell me sooner, Julie?” I cried.  “I mean, she’s, what, six months old, now?  You couldn’t have called me when you first found out you were pregnant?”  The more I talked about it, the more I felt like I was going to collapse.  Damn it, I needed another beer.  “Why did you suddenly decide to pop back into my life tonight?”

Julie’s eyes briefly flashed with anger.  I had seen that expression before.  “If you knew, Randal, you’d be a little more understanding.” 

I braced my feet and threw my hands into the air, ready to scream my response.  Then I noticed the baby in her arms, calm and placated, and made an effort to lower my tone.  “Please, enlighten me.”

The anger in Julie’s face melted as she looked away from me.  I caught a shadow of shame and embarrassment on her face before she managed to mask it.  “There’s something you don’t know about me,” she began.

“Like the fact that you were off having my baby somewhere, while I was living my life, thinking I was free and clear of my ex?” I said.  “I think I’ve realized that by now.”

“No, you asshole!” she cried, holding the baby closer to her chest.  “That I’m not even human!” 

Her cheeks flushed with red and she gently rocked Brigid, who seemed to be getting fussier by the second.  I stared incredulously at Julie, but she wouldn’t meet my eyes.  “Oh, what is that supposed to mean?” I huffed.  “Is that something a psychologist told you?  Like, ‘you’re only a human by the people that define you’ or some other new-age crap?”

The angry blush crept down Julie’s neck onto her collar bone.  She shook her head slowly.  “Do you have to be such a prick?” She smoldered.  “No, Randal, I mean that, by definition of species, I am not a human being.”  She sighed, and the shame and embarrassment that I had noticed earlier returned.  “I’m a demon.”
I had been preparing a come-back for when it was my turn to argue, and already had my mouth open, ready to let it fly.  But at Julie’s last words, whatever I was going to say evaporated from my mind.  I closed my mouth.

“And no, that’s not some new-age or born-again Adventist crap,” Julie went on.  “I really am a flesh-and-bone demon.  A succubus, to be exact.” Julie closed her eyes and snapped her fingers.  When she opened them again, the green hue that I had fallen in love with was gone.  Instead, her eyes shone like two orange garnets.  Julie then braced Brigid against her hip and lifted her own black bangs.  Jutting from her forehead were two tiny red horns, each no longer than two inches. 

I didn’t realize how quickly I was backpedaling away from her until I collided, hard, with the dining room table.  I gripped its edge until my knuckles turned white.  “What the hell, Julie?” I tried to cry, but my voice squeaked out at just above a whisper.  “I mean … like … what … the hell?” 

“I didn’t tell you when we first met because … well … because I liked you.  A lot more than any other mortal I’ve ever met.” She dropped her bangs and cradled Brigid again.  “Normally, succubi just use sex to sustain ourselves.  We need it to survive.” She finally raised her eyes to mine.  “But it was different with you.”

Her voice was sultry and her words were honeyed, but my freaked-out brain wasn’t listening very well. “Oh my GOD, Julie!” I yelled.  “You’re a demon!  Like, a real, freakin’ demon!  And you don’t tell me until after you give birth to my child?”

The shame and embarrassment in her face were replaced with anger and hurt.  “You want to know why I never told you?” she defended.  Her voice was husky, like she was on the verge of tears.  “This.  This is why.  Because you’re the only mortal that I’ve ever … that I’ve ever loved … and I couldn’t stand the idea of you rejecting me, okay?!” She hid her face.  I would have sworn that the tears running from her amber eyes were made of gold.  “As for why I didn’t tell you about the baby until now: succubus births can get a little … complicated.  Not to mention that, for the first few months after birth, cambions – that’s the offspring of a succubus and a human – are sort of volatile.” 

I released the edge of the table and slowly approached my ex.  Yes, she was a real, honest-to-God (no pun intended) demon … but she was still the same Julie I had always known.  The only difference was that I knew what she was, now.  And, actually, for as little as I had bothered to learn about her during that year we dated, I probably would have ignored her if she had tried to tell the truth.  Hell, for all I knew she had tried to tell me, but I had been too unconcerned with our relationship to care.

God, she was right.  I was an asshole.    

“I’m ... I’m sorry, Julie,” I whispered, sitting cross-legged in front of her.  I gently touched her knee, and to my relief she didn’t shirk away.  “I’m just a little freaked out.  Ex is back in town.  Ex brings my baby with her.  Ex tells me that she’s not human, and our baby isn’t exactly human by proxy.  It’s sort of a lot to process.”

“I didn’t mean to do it like this,” she said.  Her black hair hung around her face like a curtain.

“Can I hold her?”  I asked, the words tumbling out faster than I could consider them.

Julie raised her face. Her eyes were back to green, but bloodshot and puffy.  Succubi really aren’t that different from normal girls.  “Of course,” she whispered.  She lifted the baby beneath her pudgy little arms.  Brigid wore a little pink onesy with ‘cookie bandit’ written across the front.  She kicked her legs in excitement as her mother held her aloft. 

Following Julie’s lead, I took the baby beneath the arms.  “Hey, baby,” I tried to say in my most comforting voice.  It felt strange, holding a baby.  It felt even stranger to know that the baby was mine, and stranger still that she wasn’t precisely human.  “I’m … um … I guess I’m your daddy.” 

The words weren’t as terrifying as I thought they’d be. 

Brigid giggled, and I found myself smiling.  “You are the happiest baby ever,” I marveled, bouncing her up and down.  “Why, I’ll bet you smile all the time.”  I bounced her a little higher.

“Um, Randal, you don’t want to do that,” Julie said quickly.  “She just ate, and cambions can be sort of …,”

Brigid’s mouth flew open and a gout of fire engulfed my face.

“Ohmygodohmygod!” I screamed.  Brigid was instantly taken from my hands and I slapped at my still-smoking eyebrows with both palms.  The smell of burned hair filled the air.

“When cambion babies spit up, they spit up fire,” Julie said meekly. Though her tone was apologetic, I could tell that she was trying to suppress a laugh.

I blinked against the spots that were forming in front of my eyes.  Brigid, however, was now laughing harder than ever.  Julie laughed and bounced the baby on her knee, though more gently than I had. She looked so beautiful during the simple act, more beautiful than she ever had during our long argument and makeup sessions.  “I guess it’s something I’m going to have to get used to,” I said simply. 

Julie’s eyes turned garnet again and her tiny horns reappeared.  In our rocky history, the two of us had never done much talking.  The look of relief and appreciation that came over her spoke louder and more clearly than any conversation me and my succubus girlfriend ever had.