The Beast in Me


//Author’s Note: This sapphic novella is strongly related to one of my previous sapphic novellas,Attack Decay Sustain Release. ADSR is not required reading, and this is not a direct sequel as it follows different characters, but it does fill in gaps and enrich the reading experience here to know the whole story.

This is the romance that CDPR should have given us.//


Lucia turned in her seat and smiled as she looked out the window. Her dad, looking tall and trim as he always did, was walking up the side of the bus. He couldn’t see her through the tint, and it didn’t look like she could open it from the inside of the big Greyhound, so she slapped her palm against the window. It was louder than she realized it would be, and she shrank a little when she saw the bus driver stare at her in his overhead mirror. Her dad smiled and held his hand up against the window, and she quickly matched him.

“Cada semana!” he shouted.

“Every week,” she repeated, lining up her hand with his.

After a few seconds he smiled and backed away, and Lucia settled into her seat. It felt good to be going home to Portland. Her real home. She pulled the little paper out of the inner pocket of her jacket, the one she’d fallen asleep holding more nights than not, and stared at it. It wasn’t much: a few ripped up pieces she’d meticulously put back together with tape, but it had been her guiding star for the last six months. Six long, exhausting months getting back on her feet. In her mind, it was a lot like coming out of a coma, and that made her feel very connected.

It had taken a lot to get her parents to trust her to be back out on her own again, but it had been worth it for that moment. She was goinghome.

The patchwork piece of paper had originally been part of a larger picture that included all three members of her old band, Insanity Hall, though the piece in her hand only showed two of them. It had been taken from the pit by some AP photographer, angled up at them as they looked out over one of the largest crowds they’d ever played to. Arms around each other’s shoulders, grinning and sweating.

“I’m coming,” she said, as she brushed her thumb over Vivian’s ecstatic, slightly smudged face.


“Hey, um…”

Lucia looked up from packing away her Jackson six string, and bit down on her desire to chuckle. Her student, Gene, was blushing as he likewise gathered his equipment now that the lesson was over. “Mhm?”

“I looked up your band. You guys were pretty cool!”

“Aw thanks,” she said, hefting her guitar case and holding the door open for him. They moved out into the long hallway, leading toward the front of the shop, and walked side by side. “I’m really proud of what we did.”

“Can I ask you… ahhh, this is a dumb question.”

“No such thing,” she said, leading the way out into the storefront area. “Fire away.” She set her case down next to the counter and continued on with him as they headed for the door.

“When you wrote songs, did you write them in drop D tuning? Sometimes it sounds like there’s, like, a… uh… a djent kind of thing going on?”

Lucia took a deep breath, and held in her sigh. “So much to unpack.” She unlocked the front door, but only leaned against the frame while considering her words. “Everything we ever played was in open G tuning, usually in the key of A or G. Our singer, Kevin, only knew how to play in open G. He was super lazy, and he also didn’t have a whole lot of range, so we made it easy on him.”

“Okay,” he said, nodding, “so you wrote your songs in open G.”

Lucia shook her head. “First of all, I only did a little bit of writing. I mostly recorded and co-produced. Our bassist was the… She did all the writing.”

Gene’s face lit up. “Ah cool!”

“Most of the time, though, Vivian wrote in standard tuning, in the key of C. That was better forher voice, when she… whenshe was writing. She’d bring in these… It was less like a structured song and more like a vision board of ideas, with bits of riffs and some pieces of lyrics built around a theme,if we were lucky, and we’d all get together and fix them into what you heard.”

Gene nodded slowly and smiled. “So you guys were transposing it all down.”

“Part transposing, part transcribing. That… thatdjent-iness was just because Vivian had a big sound. She wanted to be loud.” Lucia smiled sadly, eyes unfocusing. “We never wrote songs where the bass and guitar overlapped very much, because she didn’t want to be invisible. She’d always say ‘Don’t Newstead me, bro’. We’d make them have some interplay, and because Vivian had small hands it meant she played the higher strings more often than not. Her and her tiny, stupid hands.”

After a beat, she added, “She never went for that deep droning. Instead, we had her playing what would otherwise be, like, a rhythm guitar line.”

“Cool,” Gene said, enthusiastically. “My buddies and I have been messing around with some ideas, but we’re all coming at it from different angles. Different backgrounds. I didn’t know how much bilecik escort we needed to get on the same page to start with.”

“Nah,” Lucia said, finally finding a smile worthy of Insanity Hall’s legacy. “Let it be messy in at the start, and find your own way. Don’t listen to what anyone else tells you aboutwhat you need to do if you’re gonna be serious musicians.”

“Except you,” Gene said, laughing nervously, “because you’re my teacher.”

Lucia leaned on the door, letting in a soft breeze as she did. “Eventually, you’ll outgrow every piece of advice you ever get. Even mine.”

“Whoa,” he said, staring out into the night. “Deep.”

“See ya next week, Gene.”

Gene smiled, and hustled out the door with a quick wave.

“And keep practicing,” she called after him. “Your calluses suck!”

She pulled the door shut and locked it, and leaned against the handle. She hated talking about Vivian like Vivian was just some friend.

At a sound behind her in the showroom, she tensed up and rubbed furiously at her eyes. “Just… locking up!”

Bill, owner of the eponymously named guitar shop, said “All done?”

“Yeah,” Lucia said, as she reached over and shut off half the lights in the showroom. “That’s the last one. Hey, listen, are we still getting those new Dean models tomorrow?”

Bill nodded, not looking up from his paperwork.

“If you don’t mind, I think I’m gonna stick around for a bit and reorganize aisle five. Make some room for them.”

This time, Bill looked up at her. “That’ll be the third night this week, yeah? Staying late?”

Lucia tried to swallow, but her throat refused. Instead, since she didn’t think she could talk, she just nodded.

“Look,” Bill said. “I been married 42 years. Take a piece of advice. Just go home and apologize. Your boyfriend will forgive you. Whatever it is you did, it isn’t as bad as you think.”

She couldn’t meet his gaze, so instead she looked down and nodded.

“Go home, Lucia.”

Lucia looked over at the clock. 7:45 pm. Way too early. “Look, just let me—”

Bill, in his stubborn-yet-affable way, started toward her with her guitar and a tight smile. “It’s for your own good.”


“Go on,” he said, handing her her guitar. “Git.”

A minute later, Lucia found herself outside in the crisp autumn’s air, sullenly kicking a rock along the pavement. She got to the bus stop and, after a moment’s consideration, pulled out her phone.

Are you going tonight? she asked, via text.


Lucia hadn’t planned on raising her hand, but there had been a bit of a silence once the meeting got under way and she felt compelled. That was always how it happened when she spoke: never planned. Whenever she planned to speak going in, someone else in crisis would beat her to it.

She got up, put on a smile when the room clapped for her, and moved toward the front.

“Hello,” she said. “I’m Lucia, and I’m an addict.”

“Hi Lucia,” the group replied,en masse.

“I’m, um…” She licked her lips. “I’ve been clean for two hundred and forty three days… which sounds way cooler than sayingalmost eight months.”

A few chuckles, and a lot of emphatic nods.

“I really needed a meeting today, you know? I, uh, I usually go every three days, and I just went a couple days ago, and then… so last night, I’m sitting in my apartment, feeling lonely, as you do, and I did that stupid thing that I always do when I’m feeling lonely. You know? I started missing her.”

Alot of emphatic, empathetic nods, and a little bit of clapping.

“It was so stupid, you know? I… I saw that she was playing Russell’s, over on Main, and that’s, you know, right around the corner from my apartment. Right around the corner, and like”—she paused, laughing and shaking her head—”and like two connecting buses. All the way across town. And then, like, a mile on foot. You know, right around the corner.”

Lucia shook her head, chuckling, while the rest of the room nodded in solidarity.

“We were in a band, her and me. Before. She just performs solo now, and she does that thing where she plays one instrument for a little bit and then loops it? And then picks up another one and plays a little more? And she, like, assembles these songs live. It’s, uh… yeah. It’s really cool, because I taught her, um… And I just… I watched the whole thing from a dark corner. I shouldn’t have been there. She doesn’t even know I’m back in town, right? She’s living her life, doing what she loves, and… and her new girlfriend is super cute.

“She looks really happy,” she said, and then added, after a slight pause, “already.”

A murmur passed through them, but Lucia couldn’t really look up at the assemblage. She pushed on because she needed to, even though it hurt.

“Her girlfriend comes up on stage at the end of every show. Ask me how I know that.”

“How do you know that?” one of the group members shouted from the back.

“Because I go to every damn one of her shows, Stan. That was rhetorical.”

Stan, escort bilecik an older man in a beat-up Stihl baseball cap, folded his arms and smirked at her.

“She, uh… she was the first person who saw good in me, you know? The first since my grandmother, anyway. She was one of the only people who’d really trust me. I-I had burned a lot of bridges at that point. Like, alotof bridges, right?”

A smattering ofyeah’s and clapping.

“I thought I had it under control, but Vivian, she… she wanted me to change. Wanted me to clean up.Gotme to clean up, really, but I hadn’t hit rock bottom at that point. No.” She paused to sniff. “No, I didn’t hit rock bottom until the first time I snuck out on her to go shoot up. One more time to get right, you know?”

This time she did manage to look up, and the whole room was right there with her. Many of them were quietly mouthingone more timethemselves.

“So there I am, last night, lurking in a shadow so she won’t see me, and I had this, like… I had this realization, or an epiphany, or… I don’t know. It’s like… when I’m lonely, she’s all I can think about. She’s in my head. She’s right there behind me. I hear her, and if I can just turn around fast enough, she’ll be there, you know? Like some sort of ghost… except… that’s not real. That’s just in my head. Truth is that I’m the ghost. I’m the one that’s hovering just out of sight, lurking in the shadows where she can’t see me. I’m the one who can’t let it go, and just…”

She blinked, and it startled her that her vision became so blurry so fast. She sniffed again and wiped at her eyes.

“I bet a lot of you have a Vivian. Someone who really tried, and had their hearts in the right place, and we… we weren’t ready. Just needed that one more time. One last hit.” This time, when she looked up, a lot of the room was averting their eyes. Lost in their own thoughts. “I bet a lot of you have someone you miss. Someone you hurt. Someone who won’t pick up if you…”

Her voice got quiet as her throat tightened. She coughed roughly, trying to clear it, and continued, saying, “It might feel like…”

That was as far as she got before the tears became too much. Three people in the front row immediately got to their feet, came around the podium, and hugged her tightly.

Lucia had never been much of a hugger. She’d been very touchy-feely, laying hands on everyone around her—on shoulders, the small of the back, or hips—but hugging had always been too much. Too visceral and real. Scary. That fear had waned since she started going regularly to NA. They were huggers all the way down. Every single meeting, at every location she’d ever been to. Hugs coming in the door, hugs during, and hugs on the way out.

The three people hugging her didn’t say anything. They just held her and cried right along with her. The pain was still fresh, still agonizing, but she wasn’t alone with it.

That was something.


Lucia stared into the space in front of her, eyes not really taking in anything. There was nothing to see behind the bar. She held her glass in her hand, swirling it absently. The ice made a clear ringing sound that cut through the low, indistinct chatter around her.

“Back again, huh?”

Lucia froze in a way that came close to defying human anatomy.

The bartender had more hair than any woman Lucia had ever seen. Most of it was pulled back into a full ponytail that reached her shoulders, but there were enough stray hairs to frame her face. Huge, warm brown eyes.

She was alsobuilt. She had a thickness to her that was intriguing. Her sleeves were rolled up in a way that showed off her arms, and the way she was wiping the glass clean said she knew exactly what she was doing. Very purposeful.

“No,” Lucia lied. “I’ve never been here before in my life.”

“Couple nights ago,” she replied, easily. “Came to see the show, right?”

Lucia narrowed her eyes and, with a wave of her hand, said, “This is not the Latina you’re looking for.”

“No?” she asked, and then gave Lucia a look that saidWe both know you’re lying.It was all cocked eyebrows and quirked lips.

Lucia sighed, shook her head, and went back to staring through the wall in front of her. “I plead the fifth.”

The bartender smirked and moved a couple steps closer toward her, so that they were about diagonal to each other. “You know that scene in TV shows where someone goes into a bar and asks the barhandhave you seen this woman, or whatever, and they say something back likeI see a thousand faces every night, how am I supposed to remember one? That’s not me. I’m good with faces.”

“Oh yeah?” Lucia said, tilting her head slightly. “What else are you good with?”

The raised eyebrow she received in return was so wild, so unimpressed, and at the same time so impressive. That eyebrow was working overtime, getting paid time and a half.

Thick eyebrows too. Lucia suppressed a shudder.

“If it helps,” the bartender said, “I grew up here. I bilecik escort bayan know all the right spots to stand if you’re trying to hide, and I know what the people standing in those spots are doing.”

“The game was rigged!” Lucia exclaimed. “So, grew up in a bar, huh?”

The bartender shrugged and moved a little closer. “My dad used to own this place. So what’s going on?”

Lucia took a sip from her glass to buy herself a moment to think. “Nothing.”

“It’s okay,” the bartender said. “You can tell me. I’m a doctor.”

“You’re a doctor,” Lucia said, without inflection.

“Oh yeah,” she replied, keeping a very straight face. “As soon as Harvard approves the thousands of clinic hours I’ve put in around here, listening to other people’s problems, it’s just a matter of time until they mail me a degree.”

Lucia laughed and threw up her hands. “You won that round.”

“What were we playing for?” the woman said, moving even a little closer.

Lucia leaned forward over the bar, and bit her lip. “What are you up for?”

Without missing a beat, the bartender smiled at her, and propped herself on the bar with her elbow. “I dig your tats. How far up do they go?”

Lucia looked down at her arms and smiled back.

“I got a room upstairs,” the bartender said, “if you wanna—”

Lucia nodded vigorously, and downed the last of her ginger ale.

“Through the door in the hall,” the bartender said, nodding toward the back of the building. “The one across from the ladies room.”

As Lucia was making her way across the room, she heard the bartender yell, “Karl, I’m going upstairs for a bit. Cover the bar.”

She didn’t hear Karl’s reply.

Lucia could have sex with just about anyone, given the right circumstances, which is not to say that she was without standards. Her range of attraction crossed race, age, and gender, but anyone who did not meet those standards only required some extenuating circumstance to bridge the gap. The greater the gap, the more pressing the circumstances required. She had once gone down on a heavyset man she didn’t know on the side of the road, and none of those details helped. The fact that he was a cop had not worked in his favor either, but her expired, out of state license and lack of insurance had made it just about the easiest blowjob she’d ever given.

The bartender was one hell of a woman. Her lion’s mane of red-brown hair was perpetually shrouding part of her face as she moved, giving her a ridiculous air of mystery. She caught up to Lucia at the top of the stairs, working her arched eyebrow like the deadly weapon it was, and unlocked the door. Lucia only made it a few steps inside before the bartender took her hand and led her toward the bed.

As far as Lucia was concerned, sex was a commodity and had always been something she leveraged in the pursuit of her larger goals. Sometimes it had felt like the only thing keeping her band together was the sex she orchestrated. It kept the tensions down, the morale high, and the creative juices flowing.

The apartment above the bar was mostly one large, open space. Tall windows that ran from her knees clear up to the ceiling let in a wild carousel of indirect neons from the assorted signage up and down the other side of Main Street, painting the bartender in a kaleidoscope of baby blues, soft whites, and pinks. Her grip, her touch, was gentle but firm.

In hindsight, Lucia knew she’d crossed a line with Vivian. Her erstwhile bandmate had caught feels even before Insanity Hall became Insanity Hall, and hadn’t ever been very good at hiding it. She had often looked at Lucia with a longing that gave her a lump in her throat, but Lucia had always been able to see sex for what it really was: power. An exchange. She had given Vivian what she could, and in return Vivian had given them four stellar albums in five years, each better than the last: art she was proud to have her name on, and that had been a fair deal all around.

Or at least, it had seemed like it at the time.

That first kiss, next to the bartender’s bed, was good. The second one, after shirts had been tossed and bras had been unhooked, was great. The third, as Lucia crawled backwards on her elbows while the bartender moved with her, over her, on hands and knees, was goddamn dynamite.

It had been over a year since the accident, and almost exactly a year since Vivian had come back… different. Serious. Driven. Everything had gotten so messed up. Lucia had completely lost it at the prospect of being the only one of them left standing, at having to be the responsible one, stubbornly insisting all the way down her spiralling tailspin that she had it all under control. The speed with which it had unraveled often made the now-sober Lucia wonder if she’d ever had any control to begin with.

The bartender had the largest breasts she’d ever played with, which was not saying much. Lucia’s previous experiences with women had almost exclusively been with other addicts, and substance abuse rarely aids in the retention of body fat. The bartender’s were enhanced to some degree, surgically, but they suited her torso, and her build.Perfectly,Lucia thought to herself,if I’m being honest. Being underneath, on her back, afforded Lucia a magnificent view, the wonderful feeling of being comfortably crowded, and two free hands to explore with.

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