“Screw it,” I muttered and walked down the hall.
If he meant right now, soon, then he would have to wait. Heaven forbid he relinquish a little control in this psychological affair. I wasn’t going anywhere without a shower first. The hot water felt good on my tight shoulders, and I let the stress of the week dissolve. Even though I didn’t care about my job and excelling, I had strict inner moral code that wouldn’t let me be as lazy as I wanted to be. As lazy as I wished I was. It was Dee’s fault, I couldn’t let her down. She’d pulled a lot of strings to get me hired in a time I desperately needed a job and a distraction. I owed her the magnificent employee personality I adopted; she’d been there for me when I had no one. But I hated this job, this workplace, and everything about my good old nine to five. I slicked the soap off my body, wrung out my hair and turned off the water. It was definitely a man’s world and we were the pretty dolls that organized it. I know Dee worked it to her advantage and called it a use of her divine power, but I found it predictably suffocating. I was not a woman who got off on using her sexuality to move upward. I wrapped my hair in a towel and walked back to check my phone. Still nothing. I sighed and looked at my kitchen. I guess I was going to need a date after all. I picked up my phone. Then put it down. I was that kind of girl, I just used it for food instead of promotion. God, fat kid at heart. I sat down on my couch and stared off.
I didn’t want to go on dates anymore. I didn’t want to pretend. I was exhausted. I flipped on the television and picked up my phone to order a pizza. I hadn’t been this upset about a vague, semi-not rejection since I was in middle school. Why couldn’t Eli just tell me what he meant? I searched through endless crappy movies, hellbent on finding the perfect romcom to drown my sorrows in. I couldn’t even remember the last time I had stayed in on a Friday night. It was like I was breaking one of my rules. Did I even have rules? I must have made them somewhere along the way or how else would I be so messed up? Wait, why did I care? I did have rules, and this was me breaking a big one. No questioning my feelings or thoughts or actions.
“Nicholas Sparks it is,” I mumbled and clicked play.
Netflix and chill, check. Now I just needed to figure out how awful I was going to make the pizza. My granola inspired week was officially over and I was not about that life. I clicked onto Instagram and scrolled through my feed, bored before I started. I tapped the search icon and hesitated. It wasn’t like he’d have an updated photo. I typed in his name and touched his profile, bringing up his inconspicuous account. It may not be revealing as to his current nature, but he had to have been different before the crash. Just like me. I scrolled carefully downward, beyond the moment it seemed we both hated to relive.
My buzzer cut through my creeping like a cow prod in the butt and I nearly fell off the couch.
“Never mind, your neighbor’s letting me up.”
Shit. He was here. He did mean soon-soon. I scrambled. I had about ten seconds before he got to my door, and I was a hot mess. I ripped the towel off my hair and shook it out as best I could. It was too late. I had towel hair. God, what was wrong with him? Did he have my phone bugged? Was he filming me on my own home, waiting for the worst moment in the world to surprise me? Why did he always have to surprise me? And why does everyone find him so trustworthy? He literally killed my brother. Just let him right up on, George. Thanks!
He knocked on my door. Shit. Shit. Shit.
I tilted my head to the side and plastered on the sexiest smile I knew how to make. Why was I flirting? Why was I so fake? When did this happen? I unlocked the door.
“I guess you really meant soon,” I said too seductively.
He stared at me. Not in a good way. He was confused. Come on, Kate, get it together.
“Well, I would have been more specific, but your anger only proved to me you weren’t ready to be prepared. If we’re going to do this, Kate, then you need to be yourself. You’re still hiding behind that smart mouth of yours.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but he stepped in and kissed me. His lips felt like pillows on a Sunday morning after really great sex. He tasted like cigarettes. Mr. Fight Cancer smoked? Or was he nervous? Anxious? Did Eli even know what these emotions were? His tongue slid across my lower lip and I forgot what I was thinking.
“Stop, Kate,” he ordered as he pulled himself off of me. “We both know it’s a front. So are you going to let me take you out? The real you?”
I rolled my eyes and bit my tongue. I wanted to make some comment about his fake ass personality. How he tasted like a bar and preached like a saint, but I was hungry. The pizza!
“I already ordered pizza Mr. Mysterious.”
“Can I come in?”
He strode in like he lived here and was merely allowing me to think I was running the show. He was lucky he was so hot because he was also irritating as hell.
“Pizza delivery on a Friday night? We’ll be gone before it gets here.”
“But I can’t cancel it.”
He looked at me a little surprised. He placed the box he was holding on my table, wait when did that box appear?
“Does this solve your dilemma?”
He threw forty dollars in front of me.
“We can leave it outside your door. That should compensate for the inconvenience you caused the delivery boy. Stop worrying about being a hinderance to the world, Kate, we aren’t all like your parents.”
I had nothing to say in return, that one hurt. But he knew it would.
“I thought you wanted to show me how you could treat me, Eli,” I whispered a little too delicately.
“You’re right,” he softened. A lot. But he didn’t apologize. Interesting.
“What’s in the box?” I asked, changing the subject, “And if you say a dick you’re leaving now.”
He laughed. So did I. The tension faded and for a second, I felt where this could have gone if it wasn’t where it had been. Careful, Kate. Don’t forget the entire truth. He picked up the box and opened the lid. A dress I never would have picked for myself lay perfectly folded inside, complete with accessories and shoes. Damn, okay.
“It’s like you knew I wouldn’t be ready for you.”
He struggled between personas. It was visible.
“I wanted to spoil you. Make you feel as special as I think you are. Let you dress in the way someone who admires you views you.”
I wanted to ask if it was hard for him to be so nice. But I didn’t. It was obvious he was struggling not to push my buttons, to turn down that intensity that was so sexy. I didn’t know what to do with this softer version. It made me feel weird. I didn’t hate it. I plucked the stuff out of the box, remembering I was still in a towel. Ugh, my hair.
“How long do I have?”
“As long as you need,” he smiled, sitting down on the couch.
He grabbed the remote and turned up the sappy movie I had left playing. I stared at him. He looked over at me.
“Go get ready. I’ll be here, analyzing your movie choice.”
And he was back. He was exhausting. I trotted down the hallway, hoping he’d be watching. I snuck a look back over my shoulder as I slipped into my room only to be disappointed. I stared at the back of his head, wondering just what he was all about.
“As long as you need, Kate. Not as long as you want.”
What was he? Freaking Batman? I closed the door harder than I needed, mouthing off.
“Not as long as you want, Kate,” I muttered, slipping on the dress.
I looked in the mirror, raising my brows. Eli had great taste. Probably a dress left at his house from one of his little floozies from Christmas past. I knew it wasn’t. They were too skinny for this size. It was too new. It still smelled like the store. I would have never picked crushed velvet, but these long sleeves felt amazing under my fingertips. He was a sensual man. The short length proved it. Definitely not as pretty as I would have guessed from him. This was darker. Chic grunge.
The strappy heels, though. I was all about them. I slipped my foot through like a sinful Cinderella, buckling the thick ankle strap with joy. It had to be his background in theater. I wonder how being an actor allowed him such perfect judgement on a woman’s foot size. Definitely at the top of my questions for him tonight. He had no idea what he was in for. I was coming armed with an interview. He wasn’t going to get to enjoy me in this dress and not give me a little of what I wanted too.
My hair was hopeless. Years of bleach did not offer the beautiful, silky hair that a good shower gives everyone else. I missed my chance for leave-in conditioner. I’d need to play on this alternative vibe he asked for. I grabbed some waving mousse and ran it through my hair, hoping for beach waves, getting a day at the pool kinks instead. I sighed. Hopefully he was enough of a man not to notice how awful it looked. I dug through my makeup bag and quickly smeared on foundation and a half assed smoky eye. I fingered through my lipsticks, but thought better of it. Maybe I was being hopeful, but if this was going to end like before, colored lips would only make things messy. Or was it supposed to be? I grabbed something subtle that I could slip on in the bathroom somewhere if the occasion called for it. One last look in the mirror. I smirked. Not bad, Kate.
The heels clicked like a power goddess against the old wood floors and Eli stole a glance over his shoulder before standing. His eyes dissected every detail like the animal he was.
“How’d we do?”
“Perfectly. Should we go?”
I nodded and he grabbed the forty off the table for the poor pizza guy. I held up my hand.
“Don’t. That’s a couple rounds of drinks, and I have a feeling I’ll be needing some.”
He didn’t say anything, slipped the cash into his pocket, and opened the door. I picked up my keys and purse, which sorely matched my outfit, and walked out the door. He offered his arm on the way down the stairs. I could smell his cologne; it was expensive. I felt kind of bad that he was trying to impress me on a waiter’s income, he didn’t need to, truthfully. We walked through the apartment doors. He unlocked his car with a click. I stopped. First of all, he drove a Tesla S Coupe?! Second of all, nope. I didn’t do cars.
“You own a Tesla?”
I guess I did sound dumb.
“Why don’t we just walk to dinner? It’s always such a hassle trying to get around in the city.”
He put his hands in his pockets, leaving the passenger door open.
“We can’t walk to our destination. It’s time to get in the car.”
He was being sweet about it, even if I could almost see his pulse rising with impatience. I knew I was a stubborn bitch, but this was just something I couldn’t budge on.
“We don’t have to go to that place, then. There’s plenty of nice places nearby.”
His shoulders slumped slightly, a pain flashing over his eyes, a quick admittance of guilt for my hang up. He walked to me and put his hands around my arms. He didn’t say anything, just looked me in the eyes, searching for the right thing to do. It wasn’t something to push me into doing and he knew it.
“It’s time, Kate.” His mouth was inches from mine. I could feel his breath on my mouth. Before I could react, he lifted me in his arms and straight up princess carried me into his Tesla threshold like the damsel in distress I was being. He fastened the seatbelt and closed the door. My heart was racing. He slipped behind the wheel and reality hit me. He was driving. I was in the car with the man who had smashed into me and killed my brother. He was deviously excited and revved the engine. Quiet, but no less predatory in performance. Just like him. He was sending me a reminder. I had been seduced and trapped.