Authors: Laura Del
I laughed. “Well, I wasn’t expecting that. But okay. Uh, in a little town called Danville. It’s about an hour or so away from Allentown, Pennsylvania. You?”
“Louisiana,” he said with a shrug. “When were you born?”
I leaned closer to him, pointing my toes under the table. Ready for anything. “January sixteenth, and I’m not telling you the year. When were you?” I asked him back.
“July twenty-fifth. I’ll be thirty-two.” He smiled, and I loved that accuracy. “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
I laughed. “What is this, twenty questions?” It had to be a lawyer thing.
“Sorry.” He grimaced. “It’s been a while since I was out with a woman.” I disregarded that.
I sighed. “To answer your question, I have an older sister. What about you?” I found myself asking as I stirred the straw in my soda.
“I’m an only child,” he said, running his fingers through his hair, and my heart skipped a beat. “Are your parents still alive?”
My left hand slipped from under my chin, and it banged the tabletop. “Wow,” I breathed. “Well, my pops still is.” Even after all these years, I couldn’t talk about my mother without it getting to me.
“What about your mom?” he asked. He wasn’t very observant.
“She died a little over three years ago,” I answered without emotion.
He frowned, placing his hand over mine. “What’d she die from?”
“A brain aneurism. One day she fell asleep and she never woke up.” I said it as fast as I could, so that the emotion wouldn’t catch up with me. “What about yours?”
His eyes seemed endlessly sad. “Both of my parents are dead. They died when I was eighteen.”
“I’m so sorry.” I said, noticing our fingers were locked together, and I felt my heart squeeze. “Was it a car accident?” Only something that sudden and traumatic could cause such pain and sadness.
“Yes,” he sounded surprised. “How’d you know that?”
“I just guessed.” And as it turned out, it was a pretty good one.
Thankfully, our food came before it had gotten too awkward, and I pulled away from him as Theo put our plates down. Then he asked if he could get us anything else, but we both shook our heads, so he left.
“How did you become a lawyer?” I asked, trying to get off the subject of death.
“My father was one.” That didn’t work out like I intended. “So I decided that I would follow in his footsteps.” That seemed to bring a smile to his face.
I smiled back. “That’s nice.” I paused, eating a fry. “Do you like it?”
“Wow.” He rubbed his neck. “I never know how to answer that,” he admitted, smiling even brighter, his green eyes sparkling. “Some days are better than others. But most of the time,” he paused, “yeah, I do.”
“That’s the way it is with me too,” I said, winking at him, and he laughed. Then we started to eat, and after a minute or two I asked, “Are you married?”
He shook his head, laughing. “No.”
“What’s so funny?” I shied away from him. His sudden outburst scared me.
“I was gonna ask you the same thing,” he said, still laughing musically.
I gave him a thumbs-up with a smile. “It’s a good thing you remembered.”
“Yeah,” he said, his laughter and smile gone. “Good thing.”
I wanted to ask him what was wrong, but I was too focused on my growling stomach to care. We ate in silence for a long, thoughtful moment.
“How long have you worked for Samuel?” I wasn’t really interested in the answer, but the silence was a killer.
“About seven years,” he said through tight lips.
“Oh.” My voice was soft because he was obviously angry. “That’s a long time.”
After another short silence, he banged his fist on the table, and I jumped, almost choking on my food. “What’s wrong?” I asked, concerned.
“I can’t take it anymore,” he whispered, furiously running his fingers through his hair. “He did this on purpose. He always does this. He takes somethin’ that I love, and he ruins it.”
I was confused. “What’re you talking about?” Was he talking to himself or to me?
“You,” he said, a little louder than I had expected, and I moved away from him. “I’m talkin’ about you.”
I blinked. That was unexpected. “Me?”
“He didn’t even know you existed until I told him,” he scoffed. “And then—” He laughed without humor. “
he decided to marry you?” He banged his open palm on the table. “Goddamn him!”
I held up my hands. He was completely hysterical. “Whoa, you’ve
to calm down.” As soon as I said that, he took some breaths with his eyes closed. “Now,” I breathed, “what are you talking about?” When I asked, he opened his mouth and eyes. “And say it calmly.”
He checked himself before he spoke. “I’m the fan, not him,” he admitted with a sigh. “I’m the one who has everything you’ve ever written. I even have your picture on my desk.” Sure, that’s not creepy. “I know how it sounds, but I’m not a stalker. I promise. I just respect your work because you help people. I mean, come on.” He threw up his hands. “He didn’t even know who you were until a couple days ago.”
“What?” I was seething. I couldn’t believe my husband was such a backstabbing bastard. He’d lied to me. Again. And I was really hot under the collar.
“I was tryin’ to get up the nerve to meet you,” he said, and I believed that. Mike didn’t seem like the stalker type, so I let him explain. “So I called your editor and asked if you had an assignment. When he said yes, I wrote down all the places you’d visit. Then…um…Sam came by and asked me if I was goin’ out. I said I was, and that’s when he grabbed the paper from my hand and wouldn’t give it back to me until I told him everythin’. And when I did, he just laughed at me. He told me I was a fool for tryin’,” he paused, staring into my eyes, and I swear they pierced my very soul. “Finally,” he continued, “he said that since I was being a coward about the whole thing that he’d go as my advocate. Ya know, to tell you how wonderful I was. Then he’d bring you back to meet me. You see how well that turned out?” He gestured to nothing.
I shook my head. “That’s why you looked at me like I had ten heads.” Now I understood his reaction yesterday, and I felt bad for him.
He nodded, taking a deep breath. “Imagine how shocked I was when you said you were his wife.” He ruffled his hair again. “I knew somethin’ was up when I saw you in that robe, but I didn’t expect
He thrust his hands at me, which made me feel even worse.
“Why didn’t you tell me all of this yesterday?” I asked. It would’ve made more sense if he had just been honest with me instead of letting it fester inside of him. As my mother used to say, “Fester, fester makes things messier.” It wasn’t one of her better sayings, but it got the point across.
“Because,” he squeaked, and I had to stifle a laugh, “you don’t know Sam. He would’ve killed me.”
How would he have known?
Was what I was about to say. But then I understood. “Charlie.”
He shrugged. “He tells Sam everythin’.”
“So that’s why you took me out?” It took me too long to figure all of this out. And when he nodded, I felt like an idiot, and my heart sank. “Mike, I don’t know what to say.”
“You love him, right?” he asked, his mouth set into a tight line. I knew that there was nothing I could say that would make him feel better.
I frowned, a cold breeze griping me. “Less and less each hour,” I said, feeling the truth behind my words.
“But you still love him,” he said, and even though it wasn’t a question, I slowly nodded. “Then there’s nothin’ more for you to say.” He got up, pulling out his wallet, and placed a fifty-dollar bill beside my plate. It felt like he was placing it on my nightstand instead of the table. “That should be enough for the bill and a tip. Just tell ’em to keep the change. I’m gonna be late for work.”
“Mike.” I grabbed his elbow. I felt so sorry for him. But when I touched him, I could feel the heat and anger roll off him.
He held up his hand, sliding his elbow from my hand. “There’s no need for that. I feel bad enough for myself already.” And with that he left.
I flagged down Theo, paid the bill, and ran out to my car. I sat down inside, closing the door and placing my hands on the steering wheel. I gripped the wheel so tight I was white knuckled. That’s when I screamed so loud that my ear rang with the sound. I was just so angry with myself.
“What have I done?” I yelled. It had been so stupid to marry a man I hardly knew. A man who would betray whatever Mike was to him for me of all people.
I wished I had done it all differently. I’d done one stupid spontaneous thing in my entire life, and now I was stuck with it—for as long as we both lived.
“Dear God,” I prayed, taking a deep breath, “help me get through this.” But I knew that He was not going to listen.
I drove for hours so I could clear my head. And when I walked through the door of the Satané Manor, it was beyond dark outside.
I saw that Samuel’s car was parked in the drive, and I had a bad feeling that this would lead to a fight. So I dragged my feet all the way inside.
As I made it through the front door, I could hear Samuel screaming in the study. “What are you talking about, Mike?” The minute I heard his name, my heart leapt into my throat. There was no way he was here. Not now. “No, Mike! She is not here! Where is she?” When he asked, I tapped lightly on the door. “Enter!”
I walked into the study, making sure I was as quiet as possible. Samuel’s face was an impassive mask, and he hadn’t looked up from the desk when the doors creaked open. He banged his fist on the desk at something Mike said, and when he looked up, he did a double take, and his mouth fell open. “Never mind,” he said calmly, eyes wide as he scanned my expressionless face. “She is home.” I could hear Mike scream something on the other end of the phone, but Samuel hung up.
We stood across the room from one another, staring for a moment or two. Then he leaped over the desk, rushing over to me and picking me up. Automatically, my arms and legs wrapped around him as he kicked the doors closed, pushing me up against them. After a moment, he brushed the hair out of my face, his cold blue eye searching for something, but he found nothing. His lips grazed along my jaw until they found mine. Then he kissed me harder than ever before. And reluctantly, I kissed back.
“Where were you?” Samuel finally asked when we were naked on the floor.
“Driving,” I managed to say while I stroked his cold cheek. I wondered what else he was hiding from me.
His blue eyes scanned my face as if he was trying to remember something. “You had me worried sick. I thought I had lost you.” He closed his eyes tight, and when he reopened them, they were a little less intense. “I couldn’t remember your face, and it drove me crazy.”
In case you were wondering, he stole that line from
, one of my mother’s favorite movies. Brought up in England, she relayed (more like forced) all of her culture to my sister and me. Unfortunately, I was the only one who’d soaked in any of it. And when he said that, I couldn’t believe he was being so unoriginal. Obviously, he didn’t think I was very bright. Otherwise, he would’ve at least said it right, or like Robert Taylor.
“All I could think about was you,” I said with disdain. If he wanted me to smile, he was going to have to live with the disappointment.
He chuckled. “You say that like it is a bad thing.”
I shook my head, closing my eyes to the red-hot rage that was threatening to bubble over if I’d let it. “Why did you do it?” My voice was surprisingly steadier than my insides.
He rubbed my arm, and for a fleeting moment, I felt like strangling him. “Do what, my love?”
“Why did you marry me when you knew how he felt?” I asked, and I knew I didn’t need to clarify who “he” was. Samuel knew.
“I wanted you in my possession,” he said matter-of-factly. My eyes shot open in terror and rage. “That came out wrong,” he backpedaled, but it was too late. He’d already said it.
“You know what?” Ugh! I had no reason to explain anything to him. I was livid.
I got up, grabbed my clothes, and put them on, making sure all the pieces were on the right body part. Everything was just so infuriating.
“What are you doing?” he asked after a long silence.
I rushed out of the study, making my way to the front door. “What do you think I’m doing? Leaving! Nimrod!”
“You cannot leave,” he screamed, wagging his fist at me.
“Watch me!” I hissed, and as I opened the door, he slammed it shut.
leave,” he commanded, and when I looked into his eyes, everything seemed to go fuzzy, and a cold wind washed over me. “Let me explain,” he whispered. I tried to look away, but I just couldn’t. “When I saw you sitting there in the diner, I was drawn to you, and I fell in love with you. So I had to have you as my wife.”
That was a lie. And I sure as heck didn’t believe him. “I believe you,” I said. Wait. What? I didn’t understand why I told him that. It was not what I was thinking, and it was not what I wanted to say.
“Do you feel bad for Mike?” he asked, and his eyes seemed to go on forever.
Yes, I do,
my mind echoed the thought. “No, I don’t.” What was going on? I thought one thing and said another. This was strange for me. After all, I usually say whatever comes into my mind. But it seemed agreeing with him was all my mouth could do.
“Do you love me?” He cocked his head, the coldness making my fingers go numb. And as I stared at him, I realized it was his eyes.
I willed myself to look away, but even that was harder than it seemed. “I—I…”
I don’t know
. The voice in my head was rational. “I…”
I don’t know!
My mind screamed at me. “I—I d—do.” That wasn’t right. Why was I saying that? Why couldn’t I tell him how I felt? That’s when I realized I was saying what he wanted.
“Take off your clothes,” he demanded in a purr, and I obeyed—just not willingly.
My mind struggled against every fiber in me, but it only hurt when I disobeyed him. The coldness spread to my chest, and I could feel myself shiver from the outside in. As the cold went through to my shoulders, I felt my mind and body doing two different things. Then the coldness went into my lungs, and my breathing became rough and shallow. And as if my body couldn’t take it anymore, I blacked out.
I woke up Thursday morning, feeling very nauseous. It felt like all the blood had drained from my body. And the only thought that came to my mind was,
I swung my legs over the side of the bed, and when I stood, I fell right back down. My head was spinning like a top, and for the life of me, I couldn’t understand why.
Did I have a hangover?
the thought popped into my pounding head. I didn’t have anything to drink. I also didn’t have anything to eat, which was probably the reason for the headache.
A gentle squeak of the door alerted me to someone coming in. “Good morning, Pat,” Charlie said with a smile, bringing a tray of food in with him. “Did you sleep well?”
“No,” I said, feeling dizzy again.
“Why not?” he asked, but he didn’t seem too surprised by my answer. I was missing something.
“Your boss.” Was there an echo in here? It felt as though my brain hadn’t quite caught up with my mouth yet.
“Are you all right?”
he seemed concerned.
I held up my hand so my mouth could catch up with my thoughts.
“No, I’m not. Something very strange went on last night. I was leaving, and then…ahhh!” Pain shot through my skull. I couldn’t remember. No, I couldn’t talk about it. I knew what happened, but it hurt to tell him.
“Pat,” Charlie’s hands hovered over me, trying to soothe the pain, “are you hurt?”
“Headache,” was all I could say, even though “brain ache” was more like it.
He shook his head at me. “That was no headache.”
I wanted to tell him, but something in me told me not to. “I’m just hungry,” I said as everything in the room spun, including me. “I didn’t eat last night.”
Charlie looked confused. “Don’t you remember having dinner?”
Dinner? “No.” The lack of memory scared me, but I just chalked it up the pounding of my brain against my skull.
“Well, you did,” he said, his eyes searching for any sign of memory. “I think I should call the doctor.”
“No.” My voice was too loud. “No,” I recovered, “I’ll be fine.” The last thing I needed was a doctor sending me to the psych ward. “There’s no need to involve medical personnel.” I was babbling. “And speaking of calls…” Well,
was a leap. “Could I have the phone? I forgot to call my editor.”
“Certainly.” He nodded and reluctantly walked out of the room to fetch it for me.
He brought it in, hooked it up, and left in a hurry.
I punched in the numbers for the office for the millionth time and got Eddie. She was one of the receptionists, and I liked her. But what I really loved was the way she answered the phone. “Howdy there. This is Edwina Forest speaking. How may I direct your call?” Her Georgian accent was adorable, and she twanged it perfectly every time.
“Hey there, Eddie.” I couldn’t help but smile into the receiver. “It’s me.”
“Well, butter my biscuits.” I told you she was adorable. “If it isn’t Miss Patty Duke herself. How ya doin’, sugar plum?”
That was what I liked about her: she was always a pleasant voice, and she loved calling me Patty Duke. Besides, she wasn’t only a pleasant voice. In person she was just as wonderful. Every time I saw her, she always had a bright smile on her dark face. Her gray hair was always swept up into a neat French twist. And the older she got, the younger she looked. The woman was an angel.
“Good, Ms. Eddie. And you?” I asked, even though I knew the answer. But my mother always said, “When someone asks you a polite question, you ask one back just to even the keel.” The Wyatt women are very competitive and not surprisingly very sarcastic.
She laughed. “Sweetie, you know I’m always peachy keen when I hear your voice.” I could see her smile. “So, what can I do for you today?”
“I need to speak to Joey.” My voice wasn’t above a whisper. I felt a wave of pain shoot through my head again, and if I spoke any louder I might’ve fainted. “Is he in?”
“Honey lamb, he’s always in,” she said, as if I’d asked the strangest of questions. “You just hold on now, darlin’. He’ll be on faster than you can say Jiminy Cricket.” I loved this woman.
She put me on hold, and I waited a whole nanosecond before Joey’s Bronx “hey” came over the line. He always tried to make it sound like The Fonz. It never worked.
Joey was a nice, middle-aged, balding man, and he was as tall as he was wide. And did that man have a great sense of humor and a personality that just made you want to hug him. The real thing that made him stand out was his way with women. I had never seen a man who had so many girlfriends in my life, and none of them had complained. Not once. So whatever he did to keep them happy, more power to him. Many a man could use him as a role model.
“I hear congratulations are in order,” he said after a moment’s pause.
That threw me for a loop. “Congratulations?”
He laughed at me. “I heard you got married.”
I rolled my eyes. Tina must have told him. She never keeps her mouth shut. “Oh,” I said as the smile dropped from my face. “Thanks.”
“Gee.” He laughed again. “Don’t sound so excited.”
“What did you want, my sweet?” I perked up, because no one—and I do mean no one—could resist that man’s laugh.
“Now that’s more like it,” he said, and his chair squeaked in the background. He had me on speaker. I just knew it. “What do you think about working here full time?”
I shook my head. “I told you before, Joe. I do freelance because I love the spare time.”
“I know that,” he huffed. “Would you let me finish? God.”
“Get to the point, please.” I waved him on even though he couldn’t see me. He always drags everything out. He considers it suspenseful. I consider it annoying.
“What if you worked for the magazine full time and still kept your ‘hours’?” When he asked, I could see his stubby fingers air quote the word “hours.”
Okay, I was excited. Who wouldn’t be? “That would be amazing. Could you do that?”
I could see him shrug. “I gotta talk it over with the higher-ups next week, but it’s not impossible.”
I bounced on the bed. “Joey Styles, if you could do that I would love you for the rest of my life.”
“Then,” he paused, “consider it done.” Suddenly, I was feeling a lot better. “All right, sweetie,” he said. “You take care now.”
I couldn’t help smiling, even though he’d called me sweetie. “You too, Joey.”
“Ciao, bella.” I loved when he said that.
“Bye.” Still grinning, I hung up. “Charlie?” I yelled, my heart pounding I was so excited.
He came in the room again, and I realized he must have been outside the whole time. “Yes, Pat?” he asked with a smile.
“I’m going out,” I told him, and I stood without difficulty. I was on a mission.
He looked stunned by my miraculous recovery. “Where?”
“To see a friend,” I answered, kissing him on the cheek, and I skipped out of the room.
I was washed and dressed in a hurry. Then I put on my low-rise jeans, an ACDC long-sleeved shirt, and my black, red, and white Converse with star laces. I pulled a brush through my wet hair, making sure there weren’t any tangles, rubbed product in my hands, and gently scrunched it in order to give it volume.
Finally I went downstairs, made a quick phone call, and before I left, I put on my black zip-up hoodie, placing my bag over my shoulder as I ran out of the door.
I was in front of the old building in no time.
He was waiting for me, as I knew he would be, and when I saw him, I pointed to the corner, and he nodded.
I met Mike at the door to Potters and hugged him so tight that he told me he couldn’t breathe. So I backed off and noticed that he looked really nice. He wore a black polo shirt with the buttons open and a pair of khakis. And as we walked into the café, he asked for the same booth.
The goth hostess (whose name, I found out, was Jen) showed us to our seats, smiling. Theo was our waiter yet again, and he took our orders and promptly scurried off.
I took off my hoodie and placed it next to me along with my bag. I was so excited that I couldn’t hold it any longer. “Mike, I have great news.” My lower lip was about to bleed. I was biting it so hard. “My editor called, and they want to put me on full time.”
He smiled. “You’re kiddin’! That’s great. I’m so happy for you.”
When I spoke, I could finally breathe. “Me too. I finally get the chance to do what I want, when I want, and how I want it. And the best part is I don’t have to worry about what might happen next.” I sighed. “It’s such a relief.”