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Author's Chapter Notes:

A private man finds himself in a relationship with someone who'll do anything to get the information she desires.

Through two holes in the ceiling, light and air entered into his otherwise dark enclosure. One week ago, when he still could, she made him hold a pencil and pierce the holes himself. "You'll be spending a lot of time in there, bud! Why don't you do your future self a favor. If he has to ask for my help, who knows what it'll cost him?"

Then her mouth curled into a smile nearly as wide as he was tall. "Unless you think you can win it all back?" She left him alone, then. Her head, half a mile in the air, tilted back; she gave a full-throated laugh as she walked away from her doll. Every time they talked (i.e. when she had something for him to do), he could hear it in her voice: pure triumph. The terms were always in his favor. Win, and he'd be completely restored. Lose, and he'd be reduced. But she always won.

A few moments later, he poked two holes in the lid of the Monopoly box. His hand was just big enough then to cover the hole.

Outside, there were voices. Company. The front door swung open, and the tinkling of chimes on the porch swelled into a sudden burst of activity. Miles away from him, one voice tripped over another in an exchange of high-pitched greetings. Instinctively, he braced himself. Heels tapped and boots chuffed along the wood floors he'd once spent two days polishing (at her "suggestion:" "You're just so close to the details, babe.").

Some of the voices receded in the direction of the kitchen, but she approached, with someone else right behind her. "Are you gonna check on him? Can I get a sneak preview?"
"Sure! Only for sec, though. He's gotta rest up or he won't last the night."

Last the night. A despondent chuckle escaped him. A long time ago, he could drink night under the table. He'd work all day, come home, feed the cat, down two shots of Woodinville, and shoot back out before the sun had fully sunk. And then he saw her in a dive downtown. Texas was up by twelve in the last half of the fourth quarter. The crowded bar, the shifting colors of the screens, the boisterous whoops and shouts, and her, sitting by a plastic Longhorn. As the clock hit zero, and the hands and voices of the crowd flew up in a final, triumphant cheer, she palmed her chin and watched the bubbles in her drink ascend her highball. She asked him if he knew of anything more interesting going on, and he said he did. He did not last the night.

The roof vanished and light flooded in and, without thinking, he leapt for a corner of the box. "Look at him all curled up like a rolly polly! He's so cute!" They were tall enough to touch the moon. He turned from the wall and fell onto his back trying to get a full glimpse of them. A hand descended, and though the sight was familiar by now, he could not help but scream. "Don't be scared. Hop on, little guy. Let Farah get a good look at you."

Farah? he thought, Why would Farah be here? Obediently, he climbed onto the palm, the tawny skin bouncing ever so slightly as he walked. Slowly, she hoisted him up until he was eye-level. It was her.

She had deep brown eyes and frizzy, auburn hair. Her chin curved to a sheer point like a bight, and her nose, once the cute, button nose he'd tapped playfully so many times before, was a mound of earth nearly the size of him. "It really is him! This is so fucking sick!" With utmost control, she patted him on the head, and cooed, "But he's just a little guy now, a little bug boy! Ooh, I bet I can..." she plucked him from her palm and held him in a free swing between her thumb and index finger."... I can! You used to be a handful, you know? Now I can keep you at arm's reach with two fingers!" She beamed. She blew on him and giggled as he swung helplessly in the scent of tequila and lime. She puckered her lips and brought him closer, and he closed his eyes and mouthed a curse against that bar, those lights; and Kenzie shouted stop and told her to be patient.

"You don't have to rush into things, girl, pace yourself! Game night hasn't even started yet!"

Chapter End Notes:
Stay tuned for the next installment. It'll be out by 15 December!
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