The closest Quincy had ever come to paying someone a compliment had been to a girl called Betty Courdiroy.
She had moved into the vacant apartment down the hall when he was seventeen; she had been nineteen, a year graduated and still living with her mother. He hadn't payed attention the way his neighbors had, but he heard from Dexter (who tried to feel him up twice during this conversation) that her real name was Bethany Coussok.
Betty or Bethany, Courdiroy or Coussok, Quincy paid little attention to the chemically lightened fair-haired girl, who looked like a ghost when she stood out on her balcony and smoked hot pink cigarettes. She kept largely to herself, and over the next six months, created a reputation for being odd and very quiet.
Her mother, however, soon made it perfectly clear that she and her daughter were to be left alone by their neighbors.
Quincy had spoken to her once, which was more than enough for him to come to the abrupt conclusion she was a legitimate cunt. One of those fifty year old New York broads who looked eighty and lived off of some insurance coverage she'd scrounged from a failed marriage. She wore nightgowns and bathrobes and never left her apartment if she could help it, but when she did, there was almost always some kind of fight or commotion in the halls as an immediate result.
It took considerably longer to form an opinion on Betty, and although he couldn't fault her personality except that he was certain she was insane, he knew he hated her almost immediately.
It was the sharp-toed stilettos with the heels that peeled because she'd bought them secondhand. The bleach-job and the mod haircut, the red lipstick that was always lathered on her thick lips, her high-fashion appearance, dirtied by the fact that nothing she wore was new.
Her leopard spotted scarf and her old antique camera.
Her hot pink cigarettes and her little pearl teeth, her big shitty-brown eyes.
Shallow fashion bullshit.
He didn't notice her watching him until well into his final year of high school. Eighteen by now, with flushed cheek and chapped lip from the cold, he stood on his balcony smoking his cigarette. He didn't notice her for a few moments, because she was only doing exactly what he was, leaned over the metal railing and breathing foggy smoke out into the night.
But when he finally looked over, her eyes were on him, lidded and expressionless, but clear and shrewdly observant.
He'd flipped her the bird and tossed his cigarette out towards the street several stories down, already turning to go back inside.
He avoided her, because she watched him.
One night, coming home early in the morning from some fucking waste-of-time party, he saw her at the end of the hall, curled up on the floor with her thin back pressed to her door. Her high-heels were propped up on the opposite wall, and she had her face pressed into her knees while she ground her heels into the paint. It chipped under the pressure; already there was a small pile of shavings on the shitty carpeted floor.
It had taken her longer than usual to notice him. Her doe eyes lifted, settled on his face as he unlocked his door.
The grinding stopped.
"Do you want a cigarette?" she asked him.
She had a soft, girlish voice, and it was weak, trembling. It barely made it the distance to his ear, and he shrugged it off with a soft sneer. Today she wore electric green leggings and a black blouse. Belted at the waist.
"I have my own."
He doubted she said anything more, but if she did, it was lost to him with the slam of his door behind his back.
He didn't really /know/ Betty Courdiroy till the night her mother died.
He opened the door five minutes after she'd stopped knocking, but she was still there, staring down at the pointed toe of her turquoise shoes. Her arms had wrapped around herself, fingers gripping to her sleeves tight. He thought the position suited her; she looked like she ought to fit perfectly in a straitjacket.
Her eyes were pink around the edges, and swollen. Her lipstick was a red gash across her mouth.
He hadn't bothered to ask what was wrong; everyone knew the bitch was dying. Not, perhaps, of any physical disease, but Dexter had said any day now they'd find her hanging from the lofters.
He spoke first:
"She did you a favor."
She looked up at the ceiling and stared at a crack in the plaster. He lit a cigarette in the silence.
"I had always thought she'd take all those pills in her bathroom."
Her voice was a thread of noise hanging high and precarious on the air between them. Quincy's lip curled.
"I saw that coming."
Her lipstick cracked the way her voice did as she said, "It's gruesome. Do you want to see it?"
And it was in that moment, staring at her sallow cheeks and her pointed chin that Quincey considered something strange for the first time and said, "...You're fucked up."
Even still, he closed the door behind him, shrugged on his coat, and Quincy followed Betty Courdiroy down the hall and into her apartment. Betty's mother had hung herself in her bedroom, which stank of pit and vanilla, and they stood side by side in her doorway, looking at her as the smoke from their cigarettes twined and curled between them.
And that was when he decided that Betty might be worth his time.
Now, the almost-compliment he'd give her was slow in coming, because he never saw her fully naked until several months after they had gone into her apartment that first time and looked together at the feet that turned counter-clockwise with the breeze from the shitty apartment air conditioner.
She stayed in the apartment her mother had bought, living off what money remained in her trust-fund. Betty never locked the door, and Quincy came in whenever he wanted.
He learned several things about Betty over the course of several months.
For one thing, she never ate. Not once did he see her put any food in her mouth, and she had the figure to attest to this; even through her sloppily (fashionable) clothing, the bones of her shoulders jutted out rather than curving down.
His first impression - that she was crazy - proved to be correct, but it was a subtle and sad illness, and he always found himself commenting on it when they were tangled together in bed, both in various stages of undress and dishevelment.
He'd kiss her clothed shoulder and say, "You are so broken."
She'd clack her teeth and try to comb her spindly fingers through his wild hair: "Even the Mona Lisa's falling apart."
They'd been fucking for weeks before he actually saw her completely naked, and when he finally did, it was by accident.
He'd walked in on her sleeping (two in the afternoon), naked in bed with a towel around her hair and her bedsheets clumped at her feet.
He'd made a point of walking loudly across the room, and her eyes had cracked open just the slightest by the time he'd taken a seat at the edge of her bed.
His hand was rougher than her skin was, but she was colder, pale and suddenly covered in goosebumps as he ran his hand flat over the jutting piano keys that were her ribs. Her hip was a sharp enough angle that he could have cut himself. Her chest was nearly flat and covered with scars.
She looked like a little girl stretched out and painted white across her cheap red bedspread.
A little girl, a paper doll; her brown eyes looked black in the flickering light of the candle she'd lit several hours earlier.
He'd been grotesquely fascinated, content to sit there and touch, his hand devoid of lust or excitement but curious in its exploration of a body that was just as wasted and broken as her spirit was.
And it was at this moment that the words formed and the closest thing to a compliment he'd ever given came slipping from his lips like smoke from his lungs:
He'd leaned down after several moments and said into her dark eyebrow;
"You have a beautiful skeleton..."
Her natural hair color matched her eyebrows, and her roots were beginning to show through the short, bed-mussed mop of white blond. He traced his fingers over her hollow cheeks and down to her throat, tracing the dip of her collarbone.
He pressed lightly, but it was enough to make her gasp.
"But not much more than that."
And then Betty smiled drowsily and told him in the soft murmur of a love-drunk Juliet that she had just taken an entire bottle of Codeine.