Desi craved the respect he was due, but it was fearsome hard to come by. He stepped down from the truck and threw one hand in the driverâ€™s direction. With the other, he slung a knapsack across his back. He hummed to himself as he ambled across the Stratford Road Exit to the row of shops below. Desi Rabelais lurked beneath the genetic boon of smoky blue eyes, shaded by a canopy of lashes. A scruff of sandy brown hair fell over one brow, causing him to toss his head every so often, which he did as the girls approached.
â€œAfternoon ladies,â€ he said, leaning into Deweyâ€™s storefront window. He slid his hands into his pockets and crossed his legs at the ankles. Tilting his head one way, his simpering lips another, Desi fashioned every morsel of muscular good fortune to his favor.
They had seen him from the distance, and were lured by what they supposed was his charm. They carried on, too distracted by their own simpering to see his expression shift as they passed. If theyâ€™d noticed, they wouldâ€™ve seen the glinty-eyed grin darken, revealing a glimpse of the shadowy creature beneath. The change was subtle, such that when Tessa slid her gaze back over her shoulder â€“ just to drink him in again â€“ the shadow vanished, hushed to a faint cloud of dust that settled to the ground at his feet.
â€œHey wait!â€ he called, trotting up behind her. â€œDid you just look back at me?â€
Tessa stopped, grinned to her friend, then to him, â€œWho wants to know?â€ she asked. She took a long, lazy pull from her straw, assessing him from under the curve of her lashes. Desiâ€™s mouth watered and his breath came short as he swallowed the drive to seize her then, and there.
â€œNameâ€™s Desi,â€ he answered, exhaling slowly. He steadied his mind and collected his impulses. â€œDesi Rabelais,â€ head tossing, â€œYours?â€
â€œRabelais?â€ she laughed, sliding a smirk toward her friend. â€œThatâ€™s not a Forsyth County name. You arenâ€™t from around here, are you?â€
Desi tensed at her mocking, clenching his teeth a mite harder as he gnawed his stale Juicy Fruit. â€œNo pedigree, sweetheart, just a name. How â€˜bout you?â€
The girls continued walking, sucking their straws, and Desi back-stepped to face Tessa as they glided onward. The curly-haired friend tugged at Tessaâ€™s sleeve and nodded down the walk toward the filling station.
â€œIt couldnâ€™t hurtâ€¦â€ Tessa scowled back, turning defiantly to Desi. â€œItâ€™s Tessa,â€ she answered, â€œMiss Porter to you.â€
â€œMiss Tessa Porter,â€ Desi stepped in front of her, stopping her mid-stride. â€œMm-hmmm,â€ he bowed and took her hand. â€œI havenâ€™t heard so pretty a name since I arrived in this little corner of heaven.â€
He was spider-like in his sense of things. Imperceptible feelers could glean the slightest tremor of voice, or the thrum of a carotid pulse belying an uptick in heart rate. His nostrils could lift the tang of excitement from between a womanâ€™s breasts as she passed, even as her every sinew denied that she felt his animal heat. Desi registered each detail as his thumb caressed the back of Tessaâ€™s hand.
A quiver spread through Tessaâ€™s belly and flooded into her chest. She was used to boys admiring her, but this brazen display in the middle of town by a perfect stranger made her chest, then her cheeks redden.
â€œYou know what they say, Mr. Rabelais,â€ the curly-haired friend interrupted, rescuing Tessaâ€™s hand from his grasp, â€œpretty is as pretty does.â€ Curly Hair put her arm around Tessaâ€™s frame and pivoted her away. She pushed Tessa through the clanging doors of Porterâ€™s Gas-n-Go. Curly hair then locked the bolt and pulled the shade, leaving Desi staring at his reflection in the darkened glass.
Sliding his hand into his pocket, Desi fingered the sharpness of its edge. His thumb sliced hard against the blade to quiet the injustice, and he felt the liquid warmth seep into his pocket.
â€œâ€¦bitchâ€¦â€ he breathed smoothly.
If anyone had listened, they wouldâ€™ve heard the low rumble pour over his voice. They would have witnessed the dust gather from around his feet and drape itself across his throat in a shadowy yoke of evil. But nobody listened. No one saw. Desi Rabelais put his stinging thumb to his tongue, spat into the dirt, and turned toward a world that owed him his due. This would be the place. Here, it would begin.