Page 12

I'm staring, still not believing it. Why? "Why does this shit happen to me?" I jab my thumb at the people watching us in the next room. "It doesn't happen to them."

Peter nods and waves at them with a smile he tries to cover with his hand. The people disappear back into their room. "Well, for starters, they didn't take a lame bird off the highway and let it wear a bra all day. If you ran it over like a normal person, we wouldn't be having this conversation." Peter is so close to laughing that he can't keep a straight face. "By the way, next time I'm saving you from a giant chicken, stay inside."

Peter drapes his arm over my shoulder and walks me back inside, closing the door behind us. "You were going to fight whatever was out there, weren't you?" He nods. "What makes a man turn pacifist and then back again?"

"A knife in the side changes a guy." Peter looks around for the turkey. It's under the sink, preening. "Uh, Sidney. I'm not sleeping on the floor with that thing in the room. I'm not even sure if I can sleep with that thing in the room."

"Then throw him outside."

Peter looks back at the animal and then at me. He laughs and shakes his head. "No thanks. Besides, he'll just do it again."

"A cat probably tried to eat him."

Peter lets out a loud laugh. "He probably ate the cat and the dog that was chasing it. Now, he's ready for bed. If you look really close at his beak," Peter is pointing so I lean forward to see what he sees, "you can see the white tip of a cat's tail."

I slap his shoulder and laugh. "You're an idiot."

"You're going to invite me to bed."

My face goes blank. "Excuse me?"

"I'm not spooning with a vulture. God knows what he'd do with my little bits."

A smile creeps across my face. "They're little? That's not the kind of thing a girl likes to hear."

Peter sits down next to me. "You realize the reply to that comment is that you should come and see for yourself, right? Do you really want me to say that?"

I try not to smile. I try to look serious but the corners of my mouth twitch. "Maybe."

Peter laughs and reaches for me. His fingers tickle my sides lightly and I fall back onto the bed with Peter leaning over me. "Can I sleep with you, Miss Colleli?"

"That's rather forward, Dr. Granz."

"I'll keep my hands to myself. I promise."

"You'll keep everything to yourself." He looks at me, confused. I explain, "When I was younger and I first heard about sex I thought it sounded disgusting. I couldn't imagine why anyone would ever do something like that, ever. But babies are really cute and come from somewhere, so it must happen on its own."

"On its own?" Peter gives me a confused look.

"Yeah, like it"—I gesture toward his package—"sneaks over in the middle of the night while they're both sleeping and does the deed on its own."

Peter lets out a loud laugh and hugs me hard. "I'll keep it in my pants, Colleli."


In the morning as Peter loads up the car, I flip open the room bill. I blink at it a few times as the bird waltzes out of the closet or wherever he slept and jumps into the car. I think he adopted me, but I'm not really sure.

I fold the top of the page back and look at Peter. "There's a $250 charge on here for something. Did you order a bunch of porn after I fell asleep?"

"No, and for that price I could get a hooker. Let me see that." Peter slams the trunk closed and holds out his hand.

Placing the paper in his grip. "Yeah, a hooker with a peg-leg, maybe."

He doesn't look over at me. "You'd be the one to get a pirate hooker, not me. The eye patch turns you on."

My jaw drops open and I gape at him. "How could you say that?"

"Because it's true. Admit it, you like the idea of a guy wearing a pirate shirt with burly forearms with the smell of the sea on his skin." I don't say anything. Peter looks up at me and drops the paper to his side.

"You just described half the guys in Jersey. Damn, Peter, I have better taste than that."

"Really?" I nod. He glances at the car and then taps the bill with his fingers. "You sure about that? I mean, you have a pet vulture."

"He's a turkey. He's just misunderstood, that's all."

"He's going to eat your face off in the middle of the night, and the $250 bucks is a cleaning fee because this hotel is supposed to be pet-free."

I pout without thinking about it. "He's not a pet. He's an accident victim. Something ruined his wings."

"I'll take care of this and then we can go." Peter starts to walk off toward the front of the motel. He stops when I call after him.

"You're right, maybe. I would like you in a pirate shirt."

Peter turns around with a wry grin on his lips. "Oooh, talk dirty to me, baby."


Peter presses his hand to his heart and pretends to lose his footing. "Not here in the parking lot. How can I control myself when you have a mouth like that?"

"It's the lips you have to watch out for." I blink after I've said it, not realizing how dirty that sounded.

"Sidney, please! You're going to make me blush." Peter winks at me and jogs the rest of the way to the front.

I climb in the car and look back at the bird. "You're going to be a pain in the ass, aren't you?" The bird has his head turned backward with his beak under a wing. It looks wrong. Heads are supposed to face forward. "You need a name. Let's see…"

Peter returns to the car quickly and slips into the driver's seat. It's really cute with the way he bounces into his chair and beams at me. Dark hair falls forward into his eyes, making them seem bluer than gemstones. I forget what I'm thinking and get lost in the moment.

Peter grins at me. "Ogler."

I smile hard and look away. "You like it."

"I didn't say that I don't. In fact, you can fondle me with your eyes whenever you want."

I snort laugh and settle back into the seat after pulling up my feet and putting them on the dashboard. "Wow, what a pick-up line."

"I don't need a pick-up line. I've already got you, and if memory serves me correctly, you're the one who came onto me." Peter pulls the car out of the parking lot and heads for the interstate.

"Mmm, so you've said. So back in the day, was it a normal thing for you to take home random girls that sat down at your table?"

An embarrassed look flitters across his face and disappears in a blink. "Maybe."

"So the newspapers saying you were a playboy, those reports were…?" I'm fishing, trying to get a feel for his past. I want to know more about him. I pick at a spot on my jeans with my finger and look over at him from the corner of my eye.

"An understatement. I uh…" He lets out a rush of air and glances at me. "What specifically are you asking?" Peter seems nervous and grips the steering wheel harder.

"Rumor has it that you punched or screwed everyone you came across for a while."

"I punched guys and screwed women, not the other way around. Tell me that's not what you're asking—I'm not bi and I don't hit ladies." He glances at me quickly and then returns his gaze to the road.

"Good to know." I become silent, trying to figure out what I think of him and how it fits in to what I already know.

"What about you?"

"What about me?"

"Same questions—do you have any bisexual inclinations or punch random women? I could get on board with both of those, ya know."

The corners of my mouth lift. "You're so stupid."

"You didn't answer, Miss Colleli."

I shrug. "Up until I met you I thought I was broken. The idea of being with anyone like that wasn't appealing."

"And now?"

"Now, I might be tossing the idea around a little bit, maybe." I grit my teeth together and mentally scold myself as my face grows hot. I bend over and press my face into my knees.

"I told you that you like coming onto me. I think we should play it this way." I glance up at him, loving that he didn't comment on my red face. "I won't have sex with you. You're the one who decides that stuff, and I'll follow your lead, okay?" He takes my hand and squeezes it. "Thinking about it isn't bad, you know. It means you're moving on."

My mood deflates like a balloon. I glance out the window after taking my hand back. "No, I'm not. I'm just tired of waiting to get over it."

"Sidney, you're farther down the road than me. I'm going to lose sight of you soon. I think you're right: we don't really forget what happened, but we accept it and learn to live with it. I haven't done that yet, at all, but you have and you are. I wish…" His voice trails off. When I glance at him, I notice how tight his jaw is, like he locked it to keep from speaking.

"Tell me," I say gently and reach for his hand. His palm is hot, but the skin on the back is cold to the touch. I thread his fingers through mine, wishing I could erase his pain.

He smiles sadly. "Sometimes it feels like I'm standing at the brim of a mental cliff. My toes are over the edge, and the slightest wind will knock me off balance. I know I'll fall, but I can't back away. That's my life. That's my brother's life, except he went over the rim. I don't want to end up like that. If I stand there, I know I'll fall, but I can't seem to back away." He inhales slowly and lets out a shaky breath without looking at me.

Trees zoom past the windows as the turkey rustles in the back seat. The animal makes a noise and goes back to sleep. "Yeah, I know what you mean. For the first couple of years, it felt like I fell into a gorge. My stomach was in my throat all the time. I was worried about what would happen to me when I hit the bottom."