“Heads, we get married; tails, we break up.”
Jared held a grimy quarter out where Lena could see it in the glow from the fire. She noted the coin lay tails up on his palm. “Romantic.”
“Hey, I’m just trying to do the right thing,” he said.
His voice was different, whiney, and not at all what she’d come to expect from him. His cocksure, smooth articulation was marred by a spoiled rotten kind of timbre that picked at her nerves.
Lena raised her head and stared into golden brown eyes that glistened in the firelight – eyes that had won her heart and convinced her having sex was right and natural. Those same eyes had glowed with sincerity while he made her believe he wanted nothing more than to love her forever.
Those lying eyes.
She returned her gaze to the coin doing cartwheels across his knuckles. Lena swallowed the heat in her mouth and tossed another small stick onto the meager fire she’d made in a drawer. The old chest was the only thing left in the abandoned house. Abandoned, like me, Lena thought.
He continued to grumble. “I’m being practical. We won’t last long as runaways, but if I marry you…” He shrugged. “My mama won’t be mad long. And your folks will forgive you if you have a husband. I can even visit on the weekend.”
“You mean, it’ll be life as usual, you out with your friends and me an outcast.” She drew her coat tighter around her. Its gray wool, once so soft and pretty, was now damp and stained. Lena fiddled with one of the leather-covered buttons. In another few weeks, the coat wouldn’t be able to close over her stomach. “I’ll be stuck at home while you go on doing whatever you want… with whoever you want.”
Jared tossed the quarter down into her lap. “Why don’t you cut me some slack?”
That was more like it. The sullen, soon to be baritone was back with all the arrogance she had grown to despise. Lena glanced up at him, at the dark face she once thought handsome, at the thick black hair she had longed to touch, to the beautiful mouth now twisted with scorn. She wondered why she ever thought she loved him. “Why didn’t you cut me some? You chased me like I was your last meal. I loved you, and all you ever wanted was for me to prove it.” She pulled at her coat until the taut fabric flipped the quarter off unto the floor. “That should have told me something.”
Jared made a noise, a snarling chuckle. “You’re not too bright, are you? Why else would you run out here, expecting me to stay with you?”
Her eyes stung, but Lena would never, ever cry in front of him again. She had cried that horrible night, the tears spilling over as she told him she’d missed her period; bawled like a baby when he’d asked how she could be so sure the baby was his. Yeah, those tears were the last he’d ever see from her.
Lena plucked the grungy quarter from the litter-strewn floor and flipped it off her thumb.
“Heads, we get married; tails, we break up,” Jared said, following the flight of the coin with his eyes.
“Yeah, heard you the first time.” Lena had a feeling he’d done this before.
The quarter tumbled, over and over, up into the air, into the dark. It seemed to hang for a second before returning to the floor. The silver disc didn’t bounce. It didn’t lie flat, either. It stood, steady as you please, on its edge.
“How the hell did you do that?” Jared squatted and stared at the coin.
Lena was reminded of his presence, his size. His physicality had once made her feel safe. Hovering above her, inside her, his body had made her feel sexy. Now, with what looked like hatred in his eyes, his size frightened her. She wasn’t tiny, but at 6’4”, he was a full foot taller than she, and outweighed her 110 pounds by at least a hundred. She flexed her right arm. Two nights ago he’d shown her his violent side. The brown skin on her upper arm still had a purplish hue.
Lena placed her hand into her coat pocket; let her fingers slide along the cold metal inside. “I didn’t do that.”
The quarter remained on edge.
Jared muttered something, snatched up the quarter, and flipped it off the nail of his index finger. Lena noticed his lips moved silently, as if making a wish on the outcome. The quarter lingered longer in the dark this time, but all too soon, it plummeted back to the floor.
To stand on edge.
“It never did that before,” Jared said.
“What?” Lena leaned forward and stared first at the coin, and then into the face of the man she had thought she wanted to spend her life with. “What do you mean?”
“Nothing. Must be a trick coin,” Jared said. He squinted at the quarter, biting his lower lip.
Lena suppressed a snort. She kept one hand in her pocket while the other rested on her abdomen. It was too soon to feel anything, yet she thought there was a tiny bulge there, a bump that had appeared almost overnight. She pressed at her belly while staring at the quarter. The coin seemed to shimmer, shinier. “Maybe you’re asking the wrong question.”
Jared glared at her. “You’re right. I should be asking why the hell I’m out here in this dump freezing my ass off.” He unfolded his long frame and strode across the buckling floor into the darkness at the edge of the room. For a few moments, he stood at the shattered windows and muttered curses out into the night. Then, as if something there had given him his answer, he spun back to her. “I’m going to drag your stupid ass back home and forget this shit.”
Lena rubbed her belly, considered the quarter. “The wrong question…” She picked up the coin and squeezed it tight. “Heads I break up and go home; tails I kill his ass and leave town.” The bright, clean quarter leaped off her thumb, spinning into the dark.
“I’ve had enough of this shit,” Jared said, advancing on her.
The quarter fell, slowly, and landed just to the right of the tiny fire. It lay on the floor in front of Lena, gleaming.