Humble Beginning by Susannah Cecil

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 driver’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.

“Afternoon ladies,” he said, leaning into Dewey’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 they’d noticed, they would’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 – just to drink him in again – the shadow vanished, hushed to a faint cloud of dust that settled to the ground at his feet.

“Hey wait!” he called, trotting up behind her. “Did you just look back at me?”

Tessa stopped, grinned to her friend, then to him, “Who wants to know?” she asked. She took a long, lazy pull from her straw, assessing him from under the curve of her lashes. Desi’s mouth watered and his breath came short as he swallowed the drive to seize her then, and there.

“Name’s Desi,” he answered, exhaling slowly. He steadied his mind and collected his impulses. “Desi Rabelais,” head tossing, “Yours?”

“Rabelais?” she laughed, sliding a smirk toward her friend. “That’s not a Forsyth County name. You aren’t from around here, are you?”

Desi tensed at her mocking, clenching his teeth a mite harder as he gnawed his stale Juicy Fruit. “No pedigree, sweetheart, just a name. How ‘bout you?”

The girls continued walking, sucking their straws, and Desi back-stepped to face Tessa as they glided onward. The curly-haired friend tugged at Tessa’s sleeve and nodded down the walk toward the filling station.

“It couldn’t hurt…” Tessa scowled back, turning defiantly to Desi. “It’s Tessa,” she answered, “Miss Porter to you.”

“Miss Tessa Porter,” Desi stepped in front of her, stopping her mid-stride. “Mm-hmmm,” he bowed and took her hand. “I haven’t heard so pretty a name since I arrived in this little corner of heaven.”

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 woman’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 Tessa’s hand.

A quiver spread through Tessa’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.

“You know what they say, Mr. Rabelais,” the curly-haired friend interrupted, rescuing Tessa’s hand from his grasp, “pretty is as pretty does.” Curly Hair put her arm around Tessa’s frame and pivoted her away. She pushed Tessa through the clanging doors of Porter’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.

“…bitch…” he breathed smoothly.

If anyone had listened, they would’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.