Loud conversation filled the air around Dee and I as we made our way to a table in the bar. I couldn’t wait to dish and analyze with her, except I was having trouble deciding exactly what it was that I wanted to share and what I wanted to keep hidden. It would be hard to justify my dilemma without telling her why I had my hesitations. She’d just find his secrecy intriguing and if I wasn’t going to chase him down I wouldn’t be surprised if Dee asked for sloppy seconds. The bigger the challenge the better for her. It was a conquering game in her dating life and she was thirsty for victory. We sat down with our drinks and Dee was obviously annoyed by my lag.
“So are you going to spill or not, girl? I can’t wait any longer!”
I smiled and took a deep breath. Dee was my best friend and I couldn’t keep anything from her. Right?
“He took me to some cute little place outside the city and drowned me in desserts. Then we went back to my place,” I said raising my brows over the rim of my drink.
Dee was delighted. She tilted her head back and shook her fists before refocusing on my mouth to make up for the background noise.
“He knows what he’s doing, Dee. Not just in bed, but always. Everything is so well thought out, so planned, it’s hard not to feel like the center of the universe.”
“You say it like it isn’t the best thing that could have ever happened to you! What are you hung up on, dark little cloud? I thought the sun shone and parted your clouds from between his lips?”
I giggled and her innuendo. “It does, god, believe me, it does.”
“But what, Kate?” Dee was annoyed. She hated the negative part of my personality.
“I still don’t know anything about him. He’s so elusive. He works super hard to make sure we never talk about him and his life. I mean, I finally got him to sort of tell me about his job, and once he did, he just grew more confusing. It’s like he just makes up whatever lie he can think of in the moment.”
“Well, are you going to pursue a relationship with him?”
“I’m not sure.”
Dee sipped her drink and watched the room, thinking. I scanned her beautifully rich, ebony skin as it glowed beneath the dim lights, trying to guess what she was thinking. She trailed a finger around the rim of her glass. I envied her to my core. She was so exotic, so multilayered and well learned. She oozed confidence and adventure. Men fell over her and she had her pick from the top of the market. I was just dumpy, basic, mopey, Kate. Eli was the best thing about my life and that wasn’t saying a lot, truthfully.
“Here’s what I think,” she chimed, always weighing the options. “If you want to just play and enjoy all the magic of Eli, then who cares if you don’t know him very well. It’s not like you’re planning on meeting Mom. But if you think it could be something, or you want it to be something, then treat it with respect….and patience.”
She was scolding me and I laughed. She had no clue what was coming.
“If he wants to take his time letting you in, who cares? He’s a man. Expect him to not understand our need for emotional connection. They don’t work that way. Give him a break, Kate.”
“It’s not that,” I argued, “he specifically does not want to talk about it. It’s not like a typical dude who just wants to get naked, or have fun. He’s not ordinary, Dee, I swear. I don’t get why he’s so into learning everything about what makes me tick, but I can’t ask him anything without him trying to avoid the truth. Not even surface questions.”
“I guess that’s a little weird. What does your intuition tell you?”
I bit my lip. This is where it got complicated and I wasn’t sure if I wanted Dee to know the details. Shit. I was going to have to fess up.
“Well, things are a little more complicated than I let on.”
She leaned in. I could see her razor sharp glare from across the table and I needed to prepare for her response. It’d be brutally honest and too painful for my indulgent, stupid side to endure.
“Spit it out!”
I drained my drink and the shot that I was avoiding. Once my face twisted out of the disgusting aftermath of tequila, I took a deep breath, wishing there was pizza somewhere nearby to comfort me.
“Well, for one he isn’t a waiter, and he doesn’t work at the theater, he owns it. He’s also a scientist of some weird research that helps with cancer or something. He also knew who I was before we met.”
“Yeah….and Lucas too.”
Dee’s eyes bugged out of her head, and a slow rage was building on her face. She wasn’t stupid by any means and I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d be able to figure it out on her own. But she wasn’t going to let me waste time now.
“Dee…Eli is the one who hit us.”
It felt like all the air was sucked in through her lungs when she gasped. Shock and anger and shock whipped around Dee’s expressionless stare. I started to sweat. She was scary when she stepped onto her soap box. She was scarier when she was silent.
“How do you know?”
“He told me.”
“The first night,” I cringed, waiting for her to respond.
“Oh my god, Kate! I can’t. I don’t even. What!”
She walked to the bar to order more drinks and I exhaled. Lord, this was going to be rough. When she returned, she seemed a little calmer, but no less high strung.
“Okay,” she refocused, “so you’re telling me he confessed to killing Lucas and you still slept with him?”
“No. He waited until after to reveal that bit.”
“So why did you keep seeing him? Kate, what is wrong with you?”
“I didn’t plan to! I ran the second he told me. But then he showed up at my place with coffee and all sorts of apologies…”
“Your place?” she cut me off, “How did he know where you lived?”
Shit. I forgot that part. The worst part.
“Because he’d been following me since the accident, trying to apologize. He said he was too much of a coward. Then the night I was at Maggiliano’s, he saw me, which was unplanned, and knew it was now or never. He couldn’t just come up to me and declare his truth so he faked his persona.”
“Are you defending him?!”
“No. Yes. I don’t know,” I yelled over the crowd before hitting my forehead against the table.
I looked up at her, not wanting to hear the truth that had lingered in the back of my mind for the last week.
“Look. I wanted him to go. Then you came. Then you loved him. I was going to leave it alone after he finally walked out of the apartment, but then I accidentally liked his pic on Instagram and I couldn’t just be a stalker of a stalker. I thought maybe there was more to it. I mean, you liked him until now. Maybe there was more to the story.”
“No, you wanted the sex and the distraction and the arm candy. Don’t justify this shit to me, Kate, I know you. You were so goddamn sick of your boring ass life that this was a way out and you got desperate. You thought as long as you didn’t tell me the whole truth, I’d approve and you could do the same. But it’s all a lie! Kate, he’s insane! Did he even apologize for what happened? Did he say why it happened?”
“He told me exactly what happened. He was drunk like the report said. They had been celebrating at the theater, and he got a phone call from his mom who was sick. With cancer. She’s dead, now.”
Oh my god, I was defending him. Was that bad? I wasn’t sure. But the look on Dee’s face didn’t support it.
“Oh boo hoo. An eye for an eye. Sorry, I can’t get on board with this. He stalked you for two years. That kind of stops it for me, I don’t care how hot or sad or whatever he is. You better be careful. Obsessive psychos like that don’t just leave your life because you want them to. You let him in. It’s going to be that much harder to get rid of him. Have you considered calling the police?”
I shook my head. Now I was getting mad. Not that I knew why. Dee was right.
“No, what would I say? Hi, this man told me he killed my brother on accident then stalked me for two years so I slept with him anyway, can you help? They’d laugh in my freaking face.”
She didn’t reply. At least we agreed on that.
“Kate, I am going to get wasted tonight because of you,” she laughed despite herself. “You wanted drama and here it is. And no matter what I say you’re going to see him again, aren’t you? Don’t even answer that.”
She took a deep breath.
“Okay, if you’re going to do this, then I have to support you, and by that I mean make sure you don’t get in over your head. When are you seeing him next?”
“I don’t know. He left in a hurry this morning. I bugged him about the fact that he never tells me anything about himself. He said it’d be better if he just showed me and left. Didn’t say when or anything.”
“Tell me about it.”
She shook her head.
“You know how to pick ’em.”
“On the bright side, he genuinely does want to make up for what he’s done. He’s been hellbent on bringing me out of my slump.”
“Well, he’s certainly accomplished that already! Nothing slumpy about this shit.”
I finished my drink and felt the guilt sliding off my chest. At least I had Dee’s support.
“He had this stupid key in his jacket. When I mentioned it to him he got super pissed off that I had gone through his things. It was definitely something to take notice of.”
Dee glared at me.
“Yeah, I know. Give up while I’m still relatively unharmed. But it’s me. The journalist me has to investigate him. I have to know why he got so mad and what it was about the key that ticked him off. I mean, why does he have so many personalities? Aren’t you the least bit curious?”
“Yeah, but not at the sake of your safety. Well, maybe a little bit at the sake of your safety. I approve forward action so long as you keep me updated as you go; honestly updated, Kate, not just what you want to choose to tell me. I can’t have my girl getting messed up or wose. Who else would I talk shit with?”
We laughed and enjoyed the rest of the night, watching the lonely barstool occupants, trying to pick out who would marry Dee. None of them were ever good enough. We were man haters. So many times they’d left us burned or disappointed that we had given up hope for any real man to come along. Even Eli had his strange and unappealing quirks. Except I found it easy to accept them, they were intriguing. Dee was far enough under his spell that she wasn’t protesting my decision to dig a little deeper either. Maybe it was a sign. Maybe I needed to stop being so judgmental and accept the imperfection that was the human race. I spaced out, lost in the background noise, thinking about my own lacking qualities. I really wasn’t that bad of a person when it came down to it. I just chose to wallow in the worst parts of myself. Now, after two years of making it my gloomy little home, I was ready to move out. If nothing else, Eli was an ass kicking; in more ways than one. I couldn’t help but smirk to myself and what made up fantasies I was already creating in anticipation of his next surprise.
The crowd trickled out as time went on, and by midnight we were over it. We weren’t exactly the endlessly energized twenty-somethings we used to be. Last call hadn’t seen our crazy antics in years. Nonetheless, I wasn’t looking forward to the hangover that was coming tomorrow morning. It had taken way too much alcohol to get through the truth telling and Dee’s concerned opinions. At least she was a snooping bitch like me, and had my back to dive deeper into Eli’s unknown life.
“Remember, every detail, and if I so much as smell a fib or diversion from the truth, I will call the cops myself. I will embarrass you and make sure that potential creep gets a damn restraining order,” Dee demanded as we drifted out of the bar.
“I swear. The worst is out in the open now. Kinda nice to have it that way. I’m going to need the support. And logical observation from a woman who isn’t completely seduced by his body,” I laughed.
Dee raised her brows and spun on her heel.
“See you Monday, girl.”
I turned and headed back to my own apartment, anxious to get under the covers and get some real sleep. Tequila always made me tired. So did overanalyzing. I ran a hand through my hair and shook my head. It wasn’t like me to be so obsessed with a man. I hadn’t crushed on someone like this since I was a teenager, but I had to admit that it was kind of fun.
I pulled my phone out of my purse, hoping to see an elusive text or message from Eli. Then it hit me. He didn’t have my number; at least not because I gave it to him. Maybe in his effort to be less creepy, he was waiting for me. I mean, he had never actually called me before, he had always contacted me through different social media platforms. No, that’s wasn’t right either. The only time he had contacted me through my cell phone was on my private dating profile. How strange. I pulled up Messenger and took some time finding his Facebook profile. I wasn’t sure if he ever went on the thing, but it was worth a shot, so I typed:
Hey, as much as I love a good surprise, I should probably give you my number so that when you decide it’s time to “just show me” about your life, I can have a little more time to prepare.
xoxo Kate 555-0132 call me!
“Call me,” I mocked in my best valley girl accent. I rolled my eyes at myself and hit send anyway. It’s not like I needed to impress him, he knew about my faults and still seemed to really like me. I tossed my phone back in my purse. It was refreshing after all the time I spent trying to be interesting just to get a plate of food. I wasn’t sure if it was solely Eli, or that enough time had finally passed, but I was feeling like myself again. I even wanted to start writing. Maybe I’d ease back into it with journaling. I mean, my life was far from boring now.
I was starting to get sick of walking everywhere too, especially as the buzz wore off and my eyes were getting heavier and heavier. My heel was shredded from my shoes and I could feel the blisters forming on my pinky toes. I couldn’t help but daydream about being carted around in Eli’s Tesla with his heavy hand on my leg to soothe my nerves. As intimidating as he was, there was a magnificent healing quality to him that I couldn’t get enough of. I rounded the corner to my apartment, staring at my sore feet, and dozing so hard that I didn’t see the woman standing in front of me.
“Watch it!” she yelled before I collided right in to her.
“Oh shit. Sorry!”
I tried to slide the other way, but so did she. We were caught in each other’s paths this way and that before we both stopped.
“Thanks for the dance,” I teased.
She didn’t say much, just stared, and I wasn’t sure how to take it. I cleared the haze from my eyes and actually looked at her. She was tall, leveling my gaze as I stood in four inch heels. She had the brightest eyes I’d ever seen; not quite green, not quite brown. Her hair fell wildly down her back and over her crazy sculpted shoulders. Even her dress was a killer.
“Cute dress,” I offered, again trying to slide passed, feeling a little uncomfortable.
I managed to creep beyond her, but without avoiding her marked glare as I slinked off towards my door. I took my time getting there, not quite wanting to let her see where I lived. She continued watching me, muttering something I was too far to hear, so I decided to lap my building. Now I was whispering. I didn’t want to keep walking and it was this crazy woman’s fault I had to cautiously elude my bed a little longer.
“Psycho,” I spat with one more corner to go, angrier than I should be at this hour.
I peeked around the corner to see if she still stood there, but she was gone. Hopefully just another drunk passing in the night. Maybe she’d had too much tequila too. I shrugged and strutted to my complex door, buzzing in, and wasting no time in ripping off my shoes to climb the stairs. I stepped tenderly, letting the cool wood soothe my throbbing feet. In moments like this, I wished fervently I hadn’t fallen so in love with the history of the building because I could have chosen a place with an elevator instead. But no, the romantic writer in me just had to have the refurbished 1920s apartment, complete with no A/C or heating, and beautiful architectural details. You could also hear everything with its shitty insulation, and unlike any other Saturday night, someone was outside banging on a door they probably locked themselves out of.
“Why can’t I just sleep in peace,” I cried to myself as I climbed the last set of stairs, hearing the pounding loud and clear. I didn’t want to live next to college kids anymore.
I stopped at the top of the stairs, eyes bugged. It was Eli. Eli was pounding on my door, disheveled and worried. Or at least, as messy and out of sorts as he could look.
“What are you doing?” I breathed, moving closer to him, looking around to see if any of the neighbors were peeking out to complain.
“Where have you been? I’ve been here for fifteen minutes.”
“I was coming back from drinks with Dee. Why are you here? Why do you care? Why are you so worried?”
I wondered if this was the controlling behavior Dee had warned me about. She said it’d turn up sooner or later, and I hadn’t really believed her. Or at least, I hadn’t thought he’d show it this quickly.
“May I come in?” he asked, more hurriedly than I was used to.
“Uh, yeah, sure,” I said, unlocking my door.
He practically ushered me inside and locked the door in haste. I should probably be on alert at the way he seemed to lock me in, but I was more concerned over his behavior. It wasn’t like him. I was also way too tired to care.
“Look, Eli, whatever it is, be quick. I’m exhausted.”
Anger flashed through his darkening eyes and I was annoyed that he was angry. I wanted to sleep and I had the right to do so. His arrogance was really starting to get on my nerves.
“Why are you so freaked out?”
He said nothing and sat on my couch, running a hand through his beautiful dark hair. I sighed and sat next to him, placated a little by his unending sex appeal. Lady parts be damned.
“It doesn’t matter anymore. I came because I wanted to see you. Then, when you didn’t answer, I got worried.”
“But you knew I was going out. Why didn’t you just assume I was still out with Dee?”
He looked at me, and the harsh features of his expression softened just a little before he leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.
“Let me guess. More stuff you can’t just talk about?”
“Eli, you can’t expect me to be at your beck and call. We are seeing each other. We are not together, not married, and even if we were, I’m not okay with a dominating partner. I don’t even know you enough to consider this as acceptable behavior going forward.”
His shoulders slumped a millimeter and he laced his wide fingers in mine, watching how they wove so perfectly together.
“I’m sorry. You’re right. I’ll go. Get some rest, and I’d like to come tomorrow morning. We have a lot of preparations scheduled at the theater tomorrow as we get our next show together and I’d like to show you. If you want…” he trailed off, more defeated than I’d ever seen him.
I squeezed his hand.
“I’d love that,” I smiled, wanting to make him feel better, though I wasn’t sure why.
He smiled, and stood. Without making a sound he was gone as quickly as he had come. I fell back against the leather cushions, empty of energy, wondering how I was even going to make it down the hall to my bed.