Dark red blood oozed from his lip. He brought his hand to it and wiped it away like it was nothing and did the same to the blood coming from his nose.
Charlie looked at him without pity.
“It’s your own damn fault for following me,” she told him.
“My fault?” he asked. His voice rose as he repeated, “My fault?”
“I was just fine on my own.”
She thought best of the first retort that came to her mind and instead said something she didn’t think he could argue with. “Maybe I was exactly where I wanted to be.”
He laughed. “Oh yeah? That’s where you wanted to be? Really?”
“Yeah,” she said, stepping towards him. “I am a slut, after all. That’s what you said, wasn’t it?”
“I never said that.”
“I never said that.”
“You said I couldn’t keep my legs together. I can do the math in my head.”
“I said I didn’t want you around my son anymore. I said what I meant. There was nothing ambiguous to infer, you did all that on your own. You’re the one putting words in my mouth, kid.”
“Yeah, well, I took the hint. I went to look for fun elsewhere, because I’m just a dumb slut who can’t go without it for five minutes.”
“I never called you a slut!” he cried.
“But you think it.”
“Yes, you do.”
“No,” he stepped closer to her. His voice was calm, but his blue eyes looked on her so severely; she’d never seen him so angry. She almost felt ashamed, taken aback by his intensity, but she regained her momentum quickly.
“Okay, so you don’t want me around your kid, you don’t want me with the carpenter, and now you don’t want me with the bartender.”
“He was the one who called you a slut,” Bass flared, losing his calm once more. “He had you up against a wall and he called you a slut.”
“So, you hit him.”
“Because he called you a slut and it was not a term of endearment.”
“So, you hit him.”
“Yes, and I’d do it again.”
“I’m not some damsel. That first time you saved me in a tavern—I was drugged. I was in control this time. I had it under control. I’m not a princess. I don’t need saving.”
“His hand was around your throat—in the bad way.”
“And I could handle it. I was about to handle it.”
“You are so annoying.”
“What?” she laughed. “You’re the cockblock.”
“Anyone else would say thank you.”
She snickered and rolled her eyes.
“Don’t you get it?” he asked, throwing up his arms. “I would do anything for you. Anything. And I have, believe me, I have. I have watched you be with my son and others, and with you laughing at me most of the time. And still, I would do anything for you. I got my nose broken tonight for you. And it was not some macho bullshit. You, someone I—you—were in trouble and I dunno, I just had this urge to help. It’s what you do when...”
He frowned and shook his head. “Forget it. I’m going back to camp.”
He turned around and headed in that direction, but she grabbed him and forced him to face her.
“When what?” she demanded.
“When you look at someone and you care about them no matter what, whether they give a crap about you or not, whether they even look at you. When you wake up in the morning and instead of thinking about yourself and your needs, you think of theirs. When you lie awake at night and wonder what they’re thinking, which sounds so fucking stupid when I say it out loud, but you do really stupid things to my head. And I’m the fool.”
“You’re jealous,” she realized.
“Yes, Charlie, kick me when I’m down and bleeding, because that totally helps.”
“All the stupid shit you’ve been doing for the past few months is because you’re jealous. And not in the you wish you were fucking me just because I’m the only desirable woman within a twenty mile radius way, but in the you can’t stand seeing me with anyone else kind of way because you actually want me in the way a person really wants another person. Why did I underestimate you?”
“Because you’re stupid,” he suggested with a shrug.
“And you would do anything for me.”
“Yeah, I said it like three times. Do you want to throw a fucking parade or something?”
“You’re not a fool,” she decided. “You would do anything for me,” she repeated. The words were like a mantra for her epiphany; the more she said them, the more she realized it was true. “I’m the asshole,” she told him suddenly; she grabbed his face and kissed him hard on the lips. Her mouth ripped into his, busting his lip open again, but he didn’t care and neither did she. She could taste the blood he bled for her.
Everything was new now.