Friday Night in Beast House
by Richard Laymon
Mark sat on the edge of his bed and stared at the telephone.
Do it! Don’t be such a wuss! Just pick it up and dial.
He’d been telling himself that very thing for more than half an hour. Still, there he sat, sweating and gazing at the phone.
Come on, man! The worst that can happen is she says no.
No, he thought. That isn’t the worst. The worst is if she laughs and says, “You must be out of your mind. What on earth would ever possess you to think I might consider going out with a complete loser like you?”
She won’t say that, he told himself. Why would she? Only a real bitch would say a thing like that, and she’s . . .
. . . wonderful . . .
To Mark, everything about Alison was wonderful. Her hair that smelled like an autumn wind. Her face, so fresh and sweet and cute that the very thought of it made Mark ache. The mischief and fire in her eyes. Her wide and friendly smile. The crooked upper tooth in front. Her rich voice and laugh. Her slender body. The jaunty bounce in her step.
She’ll never go out with me. But jeez, he thought, why not ask? It won’t kill me to ask.
Before today, he never would’ve seriously considered it. She belonged to another realm. Though they’d been in a few classes together since starting high school, they’d rarely spoken. She’d given him a smile from time to time. A nod. A brief hello. She never had an inkling, he was sure, of how he felt about her. And he’d intended it to remain that way.
But today at the start of lunch period Bigelow had called out, “Beep beep!” in his usual fashion. Alison hadn’t dodged him fast enough, so he’d crashed into her with his wheelchair. Down she’d gone on the hallway floor at Mark’s feet, her books flying.
“Jerk!” she yelled at the fleeing Bigelow.
Mark knelt beside her. “Creep thinks he owns the hallways,” he said. “Are you all right?”
“Guess I’ll live.”
And the way she smiled.
“Can you give me a hand?”
Taking hold of her arm, he helped her up. It was the first time he’d ever touched her. He let go quickly so she wouldn’t get the idea he liked how her arm felt.
She knows my name!
“You’re welcome, Alison.”
When she stood up, she winced. She bent over, lifted the left leg of her big, loose shorts and looked at her knee. It had a reddish hue, but Mark found his eyes drawn upward to the soft tan of her thigh.
She fingered her kneecap, prodded it gently.
“Guess it’s okay,” she muttered.
“You’ll probably have a nice bruise.”
She made a move to pick up one of her books, but Mark said, “Wait. I’ll get ’em.” Then he gathered her scattered books and binders.
When he was done, he handed them to her and she said, “Thanks, Mark. You’re a real gentleman.”
“Glad I could help.”
He stared at the telephone.
I’ve got to call her today while it’s fresh in her mind.
He wiped his sweaty hands on his jeans, reached out and picked up the phone. He heard a dial tone. His other hand trembled as he tapped in her number. Each touch made a musical note in his ear.
Before pushing the last key, he hung up fast.
I can’t! I can’t! God, I’m such a chickenshit yellow bastard!
This is nuts, he told himself. Calm down and do it. Hell, I’ll probably just get a busy signal. Or her mom’ll pick up the phone and say she isn’t home. Or I’ll get the answering machine. Ten to one I won’t even get to talk to Alison.
He wiped his hands again, then picked up the phone and dialed . . . dialed all the numbers.
His arm ached to slam down the phone.
He kept it to his ear.
Yeah, but nobody’ll pick it up. I’ll get the answering machine.
If I get the answering machine, he thought, I’ll hang up.
Hang up now!
Oh my God oh my God!
“Hi,” he said. “Alison?”
“It’s Mark Matthews.
“Ah. Hi, Mark.”
“I, uh, just thought I’d call and see if you’re okay. How’s your knee?”
“Well, I’ve got a bruise. But I guess I’m fine. That was really nice of you to stop and help me.”
“Oh, well . . .”
“I don’t know where Bigelow gets off, going around
crashing into everybody. I mean, jeez, I’m sorry he’s messed up
and everything, but I hardly think that’s any excuse for running people over, for godsake.”
“Yeah. It’s not right.”
There was a silence. A long silence. The sort of silence that soon leads to, “Well, thanks for calling.”
Before that could happen, Mark said, “So what’re you doing?”
“You mean now?”
“I guess so.”
“Talking on the phone, Einstein.”
He laughed. And he pictured Alison’s smile and her crooked tooth and the glint in her eyes.
“What’re you doing?” she asked.
“The same, I guess.”
“Are you nervous?”
“You sound nervous. Your voice is shaking.”
“The answer is yes.”
“Uh . . .”
“Yes, I’ll go out with you.”
I can’t believe this is happening!
“That’s why you called, isn’t it?”
“Uh, yeah. Mostly. And just to see how you’re doing.”
“Doing okay. So. I’ll go out with you.”
OH MY GOD!!!
“How about tomorrow night?” she suggested.
“Sure. Yeah. That’d be . . . really good.”
“On one condition,” she added.
“Don’t you want to hear the condition first?”
“I guess so.”
“I want you to get me into Beast House. Tomorrow night after it closes. That’s where we’ll have our date.”