She awoke on her bed, certain of where she was and completely unaware of how she’d gotten there. Kris had a bad habit of waking up in familiar places for unfamiliar reasons. More often than not, it was a combo of drugs and The Arcade that did it.
The bar was a retro-retrofit of an old-time saloon. Someone had once attempted cash in on a wild-west craze with it, but far as Kris knew, she’d never lived through one. That the Arcade had been abandoned thirty-odd years or more before its present incarnation.
It wasn’t the best or the worst place in town. That was reserved for Downtown and the ghetto respectively. Though nowadays an argument could be made that everywhere that wasn’t Downtown was a ghetto, it was an argument made only by the people unaware of a real ghetto’s realities. Kris had grown up in that part of the city, and really, it was a different world.
One of the things about being black in Jackstaff; Male or Female, you were certain to interact with the ghetto, no matter how hard you tried not to. If you came from it, you lived it. If you didn’t, your family or friends did. Else-wise, your enemies or rivals did.
Of all the options, that last was the worst. Hood rats, Kris knew, stuck together like a rat-king. They traveled in packs, could devour you in passing swarms. She was just glad she’d managed to dodge them as much as she had.
She let her eyes focus. The groggy blur of perpetual hangover resolved into the water-stained ceiling of her loft. Like the rest of the world, her place was in between worlds; not a slum, (mostly in name only) but not the hangout of the Elite either.
Mostly, it wasn’t a slum because some damned fool got it in their head to paint half the town without actually repairing it. Then, they charged higher-than-normal rent rates for ghetto-slum living. The idea caught on, spread like wildfire.
Now, it was damned near impossible to find a place not molding, mildewed, or otherwise rank. Even if, you’d be nearer uptown than was affordable.
Kris couldn’t complain too much though. She’d lucked out. Even as she stared at the spotted ceiling, she felt a warm body beside her. She was only vaguely aware of it until her periphery resolved again and formed into the smooth, supple outline of a petite body.
The night rushed back like a freight-train. If she’d been standing, it would’ve knocked her down; sitting, it would’ve stolen the wind from her. The body was the newest bartender from the Arcade, Yuki.
Yuki was the kind of Asian-American girl whose parents hailed from their homelands. They never let her forget that. Half-Nipponese, half-Korean, she’d said once she’d “been cursed with the worst of both worlds,” from parents both monumentally judgmental and over-demanding.
Yuki’d played along until she’d turned eighteen, then fled San Diego to wander North, fucking, sucking, smoking and snorting until ending up in Jackstaff older, broke, and looking for work. She’d yet to recognize that was how most people ended up in Jackstaff.
All the same, she’d bar-hopped and couch surfed since her arrival. Months had passed with the only semblance of stability the nightly rush of gaming, drugging, and bar-tending. In a way, Kris felt, they were perfect for each other.
That feeling had gotten the best of her. She couldn’t say for sure how much so yet, but the aching in her legs and the warmth in her groin said it was enough. The distinct feeling of her cotton mouth spawned by moaning rather than drinking and getting high confirmed it. Unbeknownst to Kris, Yuki remembered it all, was too dead asleep to say it.
Didn’t matter in the end: good nights were marked by lost memory; the best by the severity of bodily exhaustion come morning. Judging by Kris’ strained lower-half, this was one for the record books.
She tried to rise from the bed; her legs wobbled, knees buckled. She fell to her ass on the bed with a whompf of old mattress. Yuki groaned half-asleep, mumbling something in Nipponese first, then Korean. She pulled the wool blanket over her head, further blotting the gray leaking in from the frosted windows, then stilled again. A moment later, she was snoring again.
Kris surveyed the room, awaiting her legs’ wake up: nights were cold already, forced the peeling trim to condensate and peel further around the windows. The drafts were enough to make her knees lock-up first thing in the morning. Usually though, that was only if the windows iced over on the coldest nights.
She suspected Yuki as the cause for her lameness this morning. Or part of it. It explained why they’d slept ’til noon; they’d been unconsciously spooning for warmth.
Kris shivered, boyshort panties and t-shirt too little to cover anything worthwhile. Her nipples hardened, forming small circus-tents on her chest. She groaned, rose again, and wobbled like a drunken sailor until she caught her footing. Gait wide, low, she sumo-wrestlered her way to the kitchenette to make coffee, lace it with Irish cream.
The ancient auto-drip protested its continued life with spitting hisses and gurgling moans. Kris ambled across the loft, returned in flannel pants and a spare blanket; as near to fully clothed as she was willing to approach so early in the morning.
Yuki tossed again. Kris poured liqueur in, then coffee, stirred. She swiveled to lean back, letting the warming plate radiate at her back while staring headlong at the bed. Yuki’s outline deformed, re-formed, pulsating beneath the woolen blanket that rose and fell with her breaths.
Kris’ eyes wandered again, up, to the decor tacked to the plaster wall. A black and white photo, enlarged to poster size; two women, spooning from a side angle. Perfect shapes, perfect skin, perfect nudity, and perfect joy; all hinting that level of perfect, pornographic class every half-romantic/half-pervert aspires to and knows doesn’t exist.
Kris stared at it, as she did every morning, assessing whether or not she’d attained that level of perfection. As usual too, she doubted it.
Even if something felt different– she guessed her jaded cynicism was finally taking over– waking up beside Yuki felt the image’s utter antithesis. The girl’s life was so hellish she’d begun running, never stopped. No perfection involved, save perfect despair.
Fact was, Kris knew the pair in the image. They weren’t a couple. They weren’t even gay. They were straight. Straight as every lipstick Lizzie drunk on curiosity then hungover on shame.
So far’s she knew these days, they weren’t even friends. They had been, once, when the photographer took the image. Somewhere between there and here, one screwed the other’s man, and they ended up at each other’s throats.
Still, the image had a resonance. Art was art, regardless of reality’s shortcomings.
She’d zoned out so hard she didn’t even notice Yuki ambling over. “Some for me?”
Something stirred inside Kris. Her eyes fell dully to Yuki.
So much happened in the span of a heart beat, it felt as though time stopped with her outside it, still running. Yuki’s voice; the high softness as petite as the rest of her. An edge of perfectly feigned timidness suffused it, concealed otherwise atom-honed steel. Something in its timbre, its rhythm, opened a flood gate in Kris’ mind.
The night came rushing back.
As if happening again, in doubled-time, Kris saw herself in the Arcade alone, bored. She saw herself getting high in a bathroom, Yuki with her. Nipponese lips pressing hers, shotgunning pot-smoke into her with growing heat of arousal,
Then, Kris remembered the hustling; players at the tables where the oldest console games ran on emus. She faked out a bar-full of players, letting Yuki run the bets’ odds rise until they’d worked the crowd to a sufficient level of belief.
Then, Kris wantonly kicked ass.
She stormed and combo’d her way through ultra-gore M-Ks, Doom M-Ps, and Street-Fighters. Each time, she won killings, killed winnings. She drank and drank, smoked and smoked. Before long, she was making eyes at Yuki; the girl who’d run from hell, somehow wound at its edge as herself someone else’s heaven.
Kris realized it then. That was what she’d felt. Why she’d brought Yuki home. The girl had wandered, drifted. She couldn’t be allowed to anymore or who she’d become would begin to be tainted. Kris felt all her feelings anew. Her stoned revelations hit in double, triple time along the gallop of a metal beat from a long-past era.
Love at first feel, and they both knew it.
They hated it for making them wrong, making them have to take back what they both thought they knew about the world, about love, but loved it too because they loved each other.
Time resumed at-once and she found Yuki before her, coffee steaming in a hand. She shoved the mug onto the sink counter separating the kitchenette and loft, shoved Yuki atop it. She didn’t resist. In mere moments they were back in bed, breath heavy, bodies slicked with sweat.
The collapsed beside one another afterward. Kris lit a mix of hash and grass, still naked on the bed. Liqueur coffee steamed the air, melding into the skunky smoke of the lit spliff. Kris watched Yuki’s small breasts sink with hit, thoroughly enjoyed the sight.
She recollected her bulwark of memory, her feelings. Mostly, she wanted to be sure Yuki’d felt it too. Her tacit admission came with a smile and nod. Then, a deep kiss that ended with blowing smoke into Kris’ mouth.
She took their joint as Yuki slurped up coffee.
“I guess you’re right, ya’ know?” Yuki finally said. “I was running. For a long time. Now I don’t need to.” She laughed paraphrasing Kris, “Running from hell to end up someone else’s heaven.”
Kris was right, too, and neither one minded a bit.