By Dakota Priest
I’m in my car, headed across town to her house. My head nods rhythmically, slowly, while I listen to the low music coming through the speakers. It is very quiet outside. In fact, it’s silent. I cruise through the beautiful neighborhood, careful not to disturb the perfectly fallen blossoms on the ground. The end of summer is wonderful. I find it breathtaking. The cherry blossom trees that line this street are portrait-worthy; it’s surprising that one of the local artists downtown has not stood at the top of this block with an empty canvas and gone to work on it. Well, that’s just my humble opinion.
This visit will be special. I have been waiting a long time for this. I can’t get this girl off my mind. Ever. There is always an image of her in my mind somewhere. That pretty face, those seductive eyes, the way she scrunches her nose when she smiles, the alluring figure trapped underneath those polo shirts she tends to wear to work…I find it all so captivating. It’s hard to believe she ever wanted to be mine. I mean…she did tell me. She wrote a note that said it. She said it to my face. She whispered it in my ear. She even said it without saying it. And whether she lied or not is irrelevant; she made me believe it. So now I’m moving at just over 10 mph, scanning the addresses on the mailboxes in front of the ranchers and split-levels that create the development. 385…here we go. I let the car drift to a stop just past her mailbox and slip the gear into park. I take a very deep breath; the butterflies in my stomach are being battered by the iron in my lungs. I close my eyes and press my head against the headrest in attempt to calm myself. I’m not sure if it’s working.
I turn my head to the right, looking over and ensuring the safety of the bow-tied gift box I brought and bundle of extra long-stemmed roses I cut for her myself. The roses sit in the floor, the box is on the seat, bow crafted very neatly and unmoved from where I pressed it on the top of the box. I was told there would be no need to call her, so I don’t bother picking up the phone. I brush off the pants of my black suit, put the roses in my lap and pick up the box, completely unable to help the smile that pulls itself from ear to ear. I’m even blushing a little, imagining what it will be like when I step inside. Oh, forget it. I’ll just play it all by ear. I mean, she did say she trusts me. It can’t go that far off track. I exhale everything in me and slip off my wedding ring.
I feel like I lost you. Let me start from the beginning.
I’m married. It hasn’t been as long as many you know, but it’s been a day-by-day process. It’s great, though. We love each other very much. Our relationship isn’t bad…but this has been quite a trying journey. As with any relationship, nothing has been easy or free. I guess our lowest point came when I started this new job.
I’ve been working as head of advertising for a party entertainment company for about 8 years, but at the point this all began, it had only been just a few months. I wasn’t a big fan of it, but my campaigns were averaging an increase in gross profit per quarter of about 0.8 percent, the largest the company had seen since its inception. I was just doing what they told me—rolling out new ways to advertise our services to untapped markets; it really wasn’t a big deal to me. I’m not going to act, though, like I didn’t enjoy the recognition. Plaques, bonuses, my own office, multiple shout-outs on the website. It was great. When the company started to expand, they decided that, since we were branching out, they would also give me a few guys under me and an assistant. She was in the mass interview. She had no training in marketing. But she didn’t need it; she sold me on her smile.
“Hello, my name is Natalie.”
I still hear that greeting in my head occasionally. I didn’t freeze or anything, I didn’t buckle my knees or suddenly excuse myself from the meeting. I shook her hand, introduced myself as well, and got back to meeting everyone else before moving on to our PowerPoint presentation. I thought she was attractive. Gorgeous. Hot. But that was the extent of it. I wasn’t flirting. I wasn’t concentrating on her at all. I hardly even looked at her. I just used my laser pointer to navigate the screen and point out specific bullets that would be pertinent to the open positions. She just happened to be sitting beside me.
The very next week, HR had gotten back to me with the names of my new subordinates. Adam, Andreas, Felicia, and of course, Natalie. I kind of smirked when I saw her name on the stack of resumes, but I didn’t think twice about working with her. My wife was thrilled about the idea of me being put into a supervisory position. More prestige than clicking away in a cubicle, more money on the check. It was grand. The next Monday came and the new hires flooded into my office bright and early, carrying their various Starbucks and Einstein Bros. fare. I kept my head down, looking at my phone, as I waded through them to my desk, inviting them all to have a seat without any eye contact. I did not look at one. I did not turn my head. But when I moved closer to my desk, that third person caught my eye. Or, should I say, her cleavage interrupted my field of vision, just off to the right. Out of pure reflex, my head snapped toward her. We made eye contact and I noticed the suppressed smirk. It was barely noticeable, but the corner of her mouth gave it away. That errant dimple…the tiny gesture that ignited this inferno.
I smirked back. It was more like that kind of salutary grin you give a stranger when you pass them in an elevator. I knew I was giving it too much thought, so I forced myself to sit down and get to work that day. The next week was spent training. And eventually, of course, it ended up one-on-one with me and Natalie when everyone was dispatched to their respective desks. I had to walk her through my personal system of filing and creation, scheduling, etc. She paid close attention and rarely got off track. She wasn’t legendary, but she surely did her job well. I loved it. As long as she keeps this up, I thought, we will have no problems whatsoever. She did make good eye candy, though. Andreas and I would occasionally get into guy talk sessions about her in the break room.
There came an evening when I was told that the next client we wanted to contract with was an aftercare center in a neighboring city. They had been in business for four months and seemed to have a decent budget, as parents were talking about taking their children there all over social media. It was a Friday, just after 6 p.m. I knew that if I went home, the opportunity to seize the client may be gone by Monday, depending on the center’s operating schedule. I decided to stay late. Natalie casually offered to stay with me. I readily accepted the help, hoping to get out of there quicker with two heads working instead of one. I was ready to go home and play some video games. I don’t pick up a controller during the week, so my weekends are extra special when I get an hour or two to just waste on shooting monsters. With this project, the company saw a gold mine. I saw a new challenge.
Natalie saw me.
I ordered a pizza for us and got to click-clacking away on the keyboard, Natalie just beside me looking over my shoulder. Her laptop sat adjacent to mine on the same table. I would occasionally ask her a simple question just to keep things moving smoothly, like, “What was Monday’s date?” or, “Do you remember what Andrew told me before he left?” She answered in a normal manner, never letting on her secret energy or enthusiasm in this occurrence. She just did exactly what I needed her to do. During a loading screen for a website, I looked to my right, where her computer was, and noticed a tab open in her browser that read, “Fallout Strategy Guide”. That’s my favorite video game. That’s what I was so eager to play.
That’s where I fucked up
“Oh, you play Fallout?”
She chuckled a little. In retrospect, I see that it’s because she realized she’d found her in with me. “I have to,” she responded, “how else will I keep myself safe during the Great War? I need to suit up with Vault-Tec!” I thought that was funny. She thought so as well. I grabbed a slice of pizza and stuffed my mouth with it. I could feel the intimacy of the situation taking hold of me, about to make me say something I shouldn’t say. Can’t talk with my mouth full of cheese. She asked me questions about the character I had created on the game, what missions I had done, what weapons I preferred. Before I knew it, we had wasted nearly two hours just gushing about the video game and getting no work done. I sighed and looked down at my watch. I could have been playing this game and not just talking about it with this…hottie. But I got a little irresponsible with my time. I just moved my focus back to my computer screen and kept at my craft. I couldn’t believe I let that happen. She distracted me so much.
The very next day, she came to work wearing the hottest modest outfit I’ve ever seen. She was fully covered, save for just an inch of cleavage shown by her V-neck sweater. It was very tight. Her curves were downright exaggerated by the corset she wore beneath it, which also gave her quite a bit of, um…”lift”. Every step she took caused a great deal of seismic activity beneath her chin. It wasn’t overly distracting, but it was enough to grab every guy’s attention in the office. The only reason I knew she had on a corset was because I noticed the very slight indentation of the hooks down the middle of her back. She was breaking necks as she walked. The only part of her outfit that did not cling to her was the subtle flare at the bottom of her pant legs. They were slacks, but she was plus-sized. She filled. Them. OUT. She wore dangling earrings that glimmered beneath her perfectly pressed black hair. Her fingernails had just been painted. She wore two-inch heels and ruby-red lipstick, which looked deadly good against her pale skin. She was marvelous. She came in and sat down on her side of the table, giving me a smile as she opened her laptop.
“Good morning, sir.”
I was caught. I didn’t know if I should simply greet her back, act surprised at how she looked, give a casual compliment, pretend I didn’t notice anything… So I did what any commonsensical person would do.
Her giggle was like a schoolgirl having been acknowledged by a star athlete. She turned and got back to logging in. And at that instant, I knew I had an extramarital crush. I didn’t want to acknowledge it. It was low. It was a bad thing to have. It was a terrible thing to admit, but it was there. I mean, I can say that now. She went the whole day acting like corsets are a normal thing to wear under clothes in the 21st century. Pretending she always wore earrings or lipstick. Pretending that heels were nothing out of the ordinary for her. She normally wore flat sole boots, actually. But that day… That day, all of this was set aside. She dolled up good. And I liked it.
She continued doing that, shocking us all with her occasional dress-up day for another month before the next night we stayed late together. This time, I decided to be vigilant. I refused to fall prey to another of her traps, no matter how entertaining the video game. It just happened to be another surprise dress-up day again. She went with sheer lip gloss this time. Pink, sparkly lip gloss. She had on hoop earrings. Her hair was down again, perfectly straight. I could even see eyeliner and mascara. Her hips protruded against the sides of her dark leggings, gracefully followed by her thick thighs. I stopped breathing when I noticed this. What I did not notice, though, was that she noticed that I noticed. One big notice cycle of death. When I looked back up at her after feigning like I was checking my shoe laces under the desk, I saw that she was looking at me as though she knew exactly what I’d been looking at. And she did. She leaned forward, allowing her breasts to fall against the collar of her shirt and open it just a little more, and shimmying just a little to make them jiggle. My nervous reaction was a laugh, but I was both turned on and filled with a sudden rush of the purest anger I’ve ever felt in my life. My heart leapt against my chest, trying to punch her in the face. Her air was not one of trying to seduce me; she seemed to be just trying to make me laugh. But the sheer concept, the simple thought that she would do it, burned my blood. My laughing continued, even though I was struck with the urge to breathe in and use the cold air to shock the sense back into my system. What came out was a strange combination of gasping and humming. I acted like I didn’t notice, when in all actuality, I was really wondering if she thought I was a spaz for it. I was actually concerned with what she thought, and for that, I wanted to just die. I burned my eyes into the picture of my wife on the desk, hoping I could use it to distract myself and forget what just happened. It did not work.
At the end of the night, around 9:30 p.m. we finished up, closed our laptops, and headed toward the break room to retrieve our coats. Amidst talk of Fallout avatars and weaponry, she confidently, matter-of-factly informed me:
“I have such a huge crush on you.”
I was caught completely off guard, but I was facing away from her, so she was unable to see my look of shock. I reached for my coat and took all the time in the world to lower it onto my shoulders while putting it on. I felt dirty. I felt guilty. I felt like I had already cheated. I couldn’t believe I had let myself be so stupid, as to stay there so late with her. I felt like a horrible husband, a horrible person. But I couldn’t let her know that. I couldn’t let her force me into that kind of mentality. So I dissociated. I left the moment. I abandoned my body and fled to a space in my mind where nothing could hurt or scare me. And I shouldn’t have done that. Because what came out of my mouth next was the worst thing I could have said.
“Oh…I know you do.”
She grinned, a little surprised at my answer. I made no secret of my marriage, my pictures of my wife, or my dedication to her. But I also made no secret of my weakness for pretty women to Andreas. It was so true—I found Natalie stunning, as though she was crafted from pure gold. For all I knew about her, she was.
We progressed back through the office, toward the elevator to the parking garage. I stepped aside as the door opened, allowing her to board first. Even with a heavy peacoat on, her hips and thighs formed an entrancing bell curve that I couldn’t help but stare at until she turned back around, catching me yet again. She smiled again, but this time, she licked her lips. It wasn’t a “that was funny” smile. It was more like a smirk of preparation. Like she knew what was coming next. Her back was pressed to the rearmost wall of the elevator, both hands gripping the strap on her purse. I pushed the basement button and stepped back beside her, putting my back to the wall as well. She turned to me, not saying a word, just…staring. I looked back at her, at first trying to see what the fuck she was doing, but ultimately hypnotized by her. She stood on her tiptoes and forced the softest kiss to my lips. It was not quick. It was drawn out, slowly evolving into a deep, passionate tongue-kiss. I felt weak. I felt foolish and reckless. I could actually hear my life shattering behind me as we made out. Her unabashed hand made its way to my crotch and grabbed me. All of me. I tensed up.
Luckily, the elevator door parted a second later and we had no excuse to stay inside. In fact, it would have proven dangerous for us both. So I wiped my lips, adjusted myself in my pants and stepped out, heading as quickly as I could toward my car across the empty parking lot without letting on that I was trying to put distance between us. She strolled toward her own, which was parked close to mine. Her heels echoed through the level. My chest hurt. At that moment, I knew with certainty that I was the worst man on Earth. There was no hope for me. I was condemning myself for allowing it to happen. I turned to her and said goodbye. She winked at me.
I hopped into my car and pulled out of the parking lot. I turned my music way up and pulled off to the side of the road when I saw there was no one else around me. I balled my fists and banged the steering wheel, screaming and crying. How could I do such a terrible thing? I asked myself mentally. Why didn’t I shove her away? Why didn’t I choke her, throw her across the elevator, and roar her down for attempting such a stunt? There was only one explanation for it.
I wanted it. It was the only thing that made sense.
I held my breath, choking on sobs and trying to regain my breath while my eyes were closing, gripping my steering wheel so hard that I heard it crackling beneath my hands. I was shivering. I was broken and busted up. And I did it all to myself. I was distraught. But by the end of that few-minute stint on the shoulder…I had come to terms with it. And I went home and led my life as though nothing was wrong. I just knew something brand new about myself.
It carried on for several months after that evening. We would work together during the day, text all evening, make the occasional excuse to stay at the office late and get nothing done. In my empty office, she straddled my lap, shirt fully unbuttoned, gripping my collar with both hands and kissing me like I was going off to war. Her skin was warm. Her eyes were ice. Her fingers would make their way into my zipper. During these times, I was an entirely different person. This was not to justify the act; it was just a mechanism to deal with the fault I knew was stacking higher and higher on me as I let this go on. She leaned back, allowing the panels of her button-up shirt fall to the side and reveal her thin, lacy bra, looked me dead in my eyes, and told me, “I want to be yours.” I had gotten past the point of her words interrupting my heartbeat. I was in over my head. I was breathing the proverbial water at that point, so very little she said caught me by surprise. Which is why I responded with, “Say it again.” She pulled me closer, kissing my cheek, licking my earlobe and whispering to me.
“I want so badly to be yours, it hurts. I want you.”
My eyes fell to her shoulder, which was secured against my mouth. I felt it. I felt her desire and her attraction. It seemed genuine, that she wanted to be with me. And honestly, it felt great to feel wanted. The feeling of being desired by someone else on more than just a sexual level was…addictive. I closed my eyes and just kind of reveled in it for a moment, imagining what that would be like. What a fantasy it was. She kissed my neck several times, trying to get some kind of response out of me, but I stayed silent. I didn’t even look at my wedding ring. She stayed on my lap, grinding on me, making it impossible for me to stand up. She wasn’t too heavy for me to move, I just didn’t want to. I let my hands rest on her hips. Her sexy hips… It was the one section of her body that had me completely under her control. And when she moved them, I was completely dead to the world. My only hope was that she would never actually learn that fact.
I went home that night, having gotten cocky in this routine. Little did I know there was lipstick on my collar. Whenever I saw that in movies or on TV, I couldn’t understand how men would let it happen. Then it happened to me, and I learned the hard way. My wife saw it, and questioned it with a laugh. “How the hell did you get lipstick on your collar?” she asked playfully. I realized that this was as good a point as any, so I spilled. I told her everything. I told her about the first late night, the last, and every one in between. I told her about the elevator. I told her about the break room. I told her about the anger I felt. I told her about the clothes she wore. I poured my soul out. But the one thing I didn’t mention was what the girl told me in the office. I kept that part to myself.
There was a long period of awkward, tense silence when I was done. She sat there, staring at the floor, or somewhere in the middle distance. I wanted to beg her to respond, but I wanted her to take all the time she needed to formulate the right thing to say to me. I threw myself at her mercy. And even for just a moment, it felt good to let her know most of it. I told her what was weighing down on me. She shook her head slowly and asked, “Do you love her?” The light tremble in her voice made waves in the waters of my soul. I was brought careening back to the dark reality that I had cheated, quickly. “No!” I exclaimed, “No, it’s not like that. I told you what happened; I’m not in love with her, baby.” She didn’t argue with me. She didn’t burn me with many more questions after that. She just let her silent tears fall while she leaned in for a hug.
“Just promise me it will never happen again,” she pleaded.
I did not hesitate to make that promise. I swore, on everything I held dear, that I would never get into such a situation again. And just like that, my soul was saved. She sacrificed herself for my salvation, and for that, I will forever be grateful.
I told Natalie that my wife knew. She felt terrible, beating herself up quite a bit about how she let herself be so vulnerable to her hormones. She was ashamed and mortified that she was trying to get with a married man. I never tried to console her about it. That surely would have been dumb of me. Instead, I just told her how equally terrible I felt about it. So instead of secretary and boss having an affair, we just became good friends, trying to stay within the bounds of our professional relationship. And it worked well for a while.
She only worked there for another month before leaving for a better employment opportunity or something like that. My wife suggested that since she was gone, there would be no more need for me to ever call her again. This went without saying, of course, but I agreed anyway. All I cared about was that she was gone. And I was glad. I wanted my simple life back. I wanted to get back to being able to focus on my job. I was glad to have her replaced by my current assistant, Lila. The female assistant thing is just a coincidence–the position was offered to Adam, but his schedule was too unforgiving. I didn’t even bother to consider working alongside Andreas, who would have only served to remind me of the girl. I didn’t need that.
And as it turned out, I didn’t need him for that, either. That is to say, I did not need to be reminded of Natalie via any external sources. She would sporadically pop into my head while I worked, causing me to close my eyes and shiver, trying to escape the thought. The sound of her moans would echo into my ear and get stuck in my head like an earworm. The first few times it happened, I would twitch nervously for a few seconds, literally trying to shake it out of my head, and then I would be fine, cruising about my day making good money. But it continued, becoming more and more frequent. I would hold my breath in an effort to pass out, going for a proverbial reset button on myself. I would take handfuls of Excedrin, hoping to get just high enough to not care she had ever been there, but still be able to work. I started drinking way more, sometimes even on lunch breaks. I started seeing a therapist without my wife’s knowledge because of the hallucinations. Those terribly vivid images haunted me. It was one thing to audibly recall what she sounded like whispering her submission and full trust to me. It was a totally different thing to have my heart stop because I saw her walking toward my office door. My doctor suggested I was being a little too hard on myself and that, instead of punishing myself for having done what I did, be thankful that it didn’t progress to anything more permanent, like pregnancy or an incurable disease that I passed on.
He clearly did not understand the gravity of the situation. Fuck him. The visit he suggested that was my last visit there, and had very much soured me on the idea of seeking another doctor.
I began a downward spiral. It got even worse. So much worse, in fact, that I nearly had a heart attack when Lila knocked on my door one day while I was, um…”dealing” with that thought. There was a half box of Kleenex involved. I’ll let you do the math. Luckily, I was able to tuck, zip, and find a casual pose to strike before she turned the knob. I had become obsessed. I was crazy. I was hungry. I didn’t want to be that way. I was trying my damnedest to move on, but she just wouldn’t let me. No matter how hard I tried, Natalie was always one step behind me, reaching out and grasping me in her tight-hugging arms, captivating me with affectionate words of flirtation and random goings on about Fallout. I haven’t played that game in years, by the way. I still have the disc in the system and everything. It might work, it might not. It’s been seven years, present day. I’m not even sure I remember what to do in that game.
I went home one evening, intent on making love to my beautiful wife, but she was sleeping by the time I got there. I was 10 Excedrin in, and a little drunk, but I just knew that anything that would bring us closer together would be exactly what I needed. I took every step carefully, trying not to let on how intoxicated I was while putting down my backpack and getting undressed. Keys on the nightstand, suit jacket on the closet door. I slipped into bed completely naked, cuddling up to her and closing my eyes. In thirty minutes or so, I was fast asleep.
I had a dream. It felt like a lucid dream. Hell, it felt like real life. I was in a post-apocalyptic wasteland at midday. I was dressed in bulletproof shingles and a battle-worn combat helmet, carrying a high-powered .308 rifle and a leg rig full of ammunition. I observed my surroundings, taking in every inch of the scenery. It was bleak, but bright. I could see for miles, and thusly, picked a direction and started walking. The sun never moved, even after miles of walking. I loaded my gun just for the hell of it, preparing to fire when I heard a scream. I turned my head to the source of the sound and dashed forward, running to the top of a nearby hill. At the bottom, I saw a woman being attacked, fighting off a large bear and two huge poisonous hornets. Their attacks were very square and predictable, but even so, they were terrifying. I flipped the gun stock up against my shoulder and took aim, firing at the bear first. I hit him right in the shoulder, causing him to charge me. The next shot laid him flat, flying through his nose and into his brain. The woman was wildly swinging an electrified sword at the bugs. She managed to hit one of them while I fired two rounds at the other. I proceeded closer, shooting every chance I got. By the time I was within ten feet of her, the hornet was tiring itself out. I took that chance to gun-butt it and knock it to the ground. She took one last swipe at it and cut it clean in half. We were both panting, but I was glad she was safe. She turned around to me. It was fucking Natalie, wearing baggy cargo pants, and a scant bustier made of rivets, leather, and car parts, and a headband. Even covered in oil, sweat, and bloodstains, she was so gorgeous. All I could hear was my breath. Even the wind’s whisper took a backseat to the sound of my inhaling. “Come on,” I told her, “I’ll take you to a nearby town and we’ll get you cleaned up.”
We began the trek to a nearby city made up of trailers, Christmas lights, and wooden crates. I asked for a medic and a room for rent. We paid in soda bottle caps and bullets. I watched as the doctor bandaged her wounds, making sure he took good care of her. We made our way across the lot to the trailer we’d rented for the night. Inside were a single ratty mattress, a table, and a window covered by a tattered curtain. It was perfect. She lay down and crossed her feet, setting her sword against the table like an umbrella. Her stomach was exposed by the open front on her…whatever you may call it. It was really an “X” of wide cut leather bands covering her areolas, reinforced on top by two individual riveted steel bars. Her boobs nearly fell out of it as she lay on her back. I gave it no second thought as I lay beside her and set my gun down on the opposite side of the bed. She turned to me, stroking my hair and giving me the same look from the elevator. Before I could ask a single question, we were locking lips again.
I awoke to the sound of myself moaning her name and starting to touch myself. As soon as I realized what was going on, I quieted my voice and turned to my wife, who was still sound asleep, but stirring due to my sudden movement. She didn’t hear a thing, but I did. And that was all it took. I snapped. The bitch had invaded the sanctity of my dreams and I would have no more of it. There was nowhere left for me to run. I had no one to tell about it. I don’t see any of my old friends enough to confide. I couldn’t tell Andreas. I wasn’t close enough to Adam. I sure as hell was not telling my wife, and I wasn’t keen on finding another psychologist to tell me that everything was okay. It was NOT okay. It was pretty fucking far from okay. I felt hopeless. I was under the control of a force that I could not battle. I was left with two choices: continue fighting and completely exhaust myself, or give in to this fantasy that was taking over my entire life, by hook or by crook.
So here I am, in front of her house a month later, preparing for the most special date of my life. Ironically enough, the only money I plan to spend has been used on this gift. We’re spending our time inside at her place. It’s been so long; I’m sure she’ll be shocked to see me. I open my car door and shut it quietly, not wanting to alert her that I’m here too early. I want to catch her a little off guard. I check my watch. I’m fashionably late, I guess. It’s 4:07 a.m.
My footsteps are silent and catlike as I make my way up to her front door. I hear from Facebook that she has a daughter now. The little girl is about five. I’ve seen her pictures, too. So adorable. Her name is Allison. Lucky for us, Allison is off camping with her father for the weekend. At least, that’s what the post said. I sure hope they didn’t cancel the trip and I wasn’t made aware. I got the address from an invitation she must have accidentally sent to many of her online friends. I mean, she didn’t invite ME, but she invited someone I knew, and she hasn’t moved in six and a half years. I peer into the living room through the window. Oh, what fun–she just happened to fall asleep on the couch. A smirk makes itself present on my mouth, and it’s the very same smirk from when we met. She’s absolutely beautiful, even with a loosely- bound robe and her hair in a ponytail, holding a game controller in her hand. I wonder what she was playing before she tuckered out. I slide back to the left to hide myself from view, holding the roses in my left hand and the box under my left arm. I pull the ski mask down over my face and take a knee, removing the folding lockpick set from my pocket and tapping the tumblers inside the knob until I hear each one click into place, held by the pressure I’m applying from the Bobby pin to twist the lock. As easy as she fell into my arms seven years ago, the lock falls to the side and gives me passage into the vestibule. I close the door quietly, engaging the handle lock, the deadbolt, and the chain lock.
My breath is catching. I can’t believe she’s right in front of me again! She’s looks every bit as amazing as she did the day we met, hasn’t aged a second. In less than a minute, I’m standing right over her, trying to calm my choppy breath. She’s still fast asleep, not for a minute suspecting that anything is different in her house. I kneel beside her, my face just six small inches away from hers. I’m holding my breath so that I don’t disturb her. Damn, Natalie. You are just so pretty. I sit here watching her breathe, plucking the petals off the roses one by one for at least thirty minutes. Soon, I have a small pile of rose petals on the floor in front of me, and some very long stems by my leg. I think it’s time to give her her gift now.
I set the box down beside me. My quaking fingers lift off the top and pull out the large syringe of adrenaline that I bought online. Oh, the wonders of the information highway! I saw this in a movie once, and because I don’t have a “felt pen” or a “fucking magic marker”, my first shot has to be precise. I planned this in a very specific manner, and this date has to go perfectly. I use one finger to separate the panels of her robe just a little bit, exposing her chest. Wow…there’s so much more of it than was there last I saw. Kids, I tell you. I turn the needle upside down on my right hand. I fill my left hand with the rose petals, as many as I possibly can hold. My eyes scan carefully for the sign of a pulse or sternum. Ah…there you are, my pretty. I slow my breathing, breath by breath, until I have a stable respiration of nothing at all. It’s quiet. It’s so very quiet.
It’s nighttime elevator ride quiet.
I use the strength of my entire arm to drop the point of the needle through her ribs and into her heart, slamming my thumb down on the plunger. Her eyes shoot open and she starts to scream.
My left hand follows up quickly, shoving all the rose petals into her mouth and holding them there. Her limbs freak out, flailing and kicking every which way. “Sssh, ssssh!” I demand, throwing the needle aside and using my right hand to jam two fingers behind her collarbone, helping to restrain her to the back of the couch. Her breathing is rapid, but she’s not screaming anymore. Her limbs are as tense as those steel bars from my dream. She’s groaning a little, likely from the taste of partially chewed rose petals. Once I see that she’s still, I address her.
“Natalie… Wow. I missed you so much.”
The look on her face goes from surprised and afraid to skeptical, shocked confusion. “It’s me,” I assure her, pulling the mask off my face. “Remember? From Freddy’s?”
She squints, checking over my face quickly. She obviously is still thinking of a way to get out of this. I really wish she wouldn’t. She’s making it far more complicated than need be. “NATALIE,” my voice booms, startling her again, “you know me.” I lean forward, putting my lips next to her ear.
“You wanted so badly to be mine…”
Her eyes shut tightly. I can tell she recalls now. She speaks, her voice muffled and her words totally meshed by the flowers. I don’t care what she’s asking. It doesn’t matter at all. I lift my face to hers again. She knows me. She knows our whole history. What she doesn’t seem to know, though, is how I found her home. How did I get in? What did I do to her? What could I possibly want years later?
Now is a good a time as any to say so, right?
“You hurt me, Natalie. You really got into my head and fucked up my life. It wasn’t all your fault and I can’t pretend it was. I let you think we had something when I shouldn’t have. I let you keep going until there was nothing more for you to take. It was my fault we started. It was my fault we ended. The guilt…I just couldn’t take any more of that terrible guilt I felt about you. It made me sick. It made me depressed. But once I got it out, I felt better. I felt so much better that I was able to begin to get past it and gain my life back. I remember…I was a little disappointed to see you leave, but it was for the best. I mean, you got a better job, you liked it more, it was closer to home, whatever… Why did you have to come back? Why couldn’t you just stay gone and let me live, babe? You had your wonderful life, I had mine. It would have been lovely to just forget the past and move on. I mean, that’s what I thought…”
I take a moment to wipe my eyes as my voice cracks.
“See…I got used to you not being there. I grew accustomed to knowing I would come to work and not see you. I cared about you as a friend; like, I didn’t want you hurt. I didn’t want to hear that you weren’t doing well when we were working together. You were my friend; I cared about you. But you couldn’t just let it end when it was over, could you? Why did you have to come back?! I WAS OVER YOU!”
She flinches, eyes darting back and forth repeatedly. I strengthen my hold on her and keep going.
“You were…in my mind. You…you were in my office, you were in my fucking dreams! You kept coming back. I couldn’t make any progress with you there. Why was what we had not enough? I asked myself so many times why you would stay with me so long after the fact, why you would risk so much coming back. I became quite convinced that you didn’t give a damn about me. I just knew it. You didn’t care about my life, my success, my goals or my dreams. I just knew that you didn’t care if I was happy. And then I thought about it…maybe… Maybe it was you trying to tell me something, maybe you were suggesting something without saying it outright. And I heard it one night. I heard it in a dream. You said it, right in my ear again. You told me…you said you loved me. And I was upset that it took so long, so much heartache and confusion and denial for me to realize that…”
I raise my teary eyes to meet hers.
“…I love you, too, sweetheart.”
Her breathing quickens, blowing across the back of my hand over and over. I laugh while shaking my head. Oooh, it felt so good to finally say that! So I’ll say it again.
“I LOVE you, Natalie. I can’t stop thinking about you. I see now that you were coming back so that we could finally be together.”
She writhes beneath me, trying to escape my grip on her clavicle. She’s not going anywhere. I kiss her forehead, ceasing to hold back any and all apprehension to do so. It’s not like before anymore. I don’t have any reason to keep it to myself. She’s finally all mine. “I’ve already decided,” I explain, “I won’t see my wife anymore after tonight. She can keep the house, the car, everything. I just need to hear you say it…please. I’m begging you. Just tell me you want to be mine again.”
She falls silent, clearly mulling it over. What’s not clear, though, is whether she’s thinking about saying it because she is afraid to start a different life, or if she is just trying to get off the couch. But it’s simple: the fact that it’s not clear MAKES it clear.
“Natalie…I don’t hear you.”
She doesn’t speak for another few seconds. That’s okay. It’s all I needed to hear.
“Let me get this straight,” I start, “You meet me, you flirt with me, you SEDUCE me, then you fucking LEAVE me, you follow me, you stalk me, you tempt me and you drive me crazy, only to have me give in and you deny me? Who are you, Carmen fucking Jones? This doesn’t make any sense, this doesn’t make any sense…”
I start tapping my finger on her mouth, looking around, literally trying to find the logic in her actions. This can’t be right. There’s nothing sensible about this. She was there…in my office, on my desk, in the elevator rides, in the car, in my house, in my mind…she was ALWAYS there. And now she’s walking out again. I drop my head. Here I was thinking I had come to terms with wasting the rose stems.
I grab the bunch of them, twisting them into a rope and wrapping them around her neck. I use it to drag her into the floor. The thorns dig deeply into her skin, getting deeper and cutting sideways the more she flinches and squirms. She is unable to scream past the wet blossoms in her mouth, which are falling out bit by bit. She gags, causing a few pieces to shoot down her throat. Good. I want her to suffocate, just like she made me do when she kissed me, just like she made me do when she sat on my lap. I want her to choke like she made me do when she touched me. I mumble to her while she fights me.
“This…is the same pain…you caused me…every…fucking…time… You didn’t care about me. You never cared. You’re leaving me again…and if you’re…going to go… All I want is…the promise…that you will leave… “
Her hands start to fail grasping at the prickly vines. Her mouth is open, but the soft petals gently silence her screams.
Her left hand falls to her side. Her eyes are wider than I’ve ever seen them. Her irises glisten with saline tears in the light of the moon. Her hair tie came off long ago, causing her silken locks to fall wildly about her face. She looks so sexy.
Her struggle comes to an abrupt halt. Her head falls to the side. I’m on my back, with her back to my chest. I’m panting, eyes closed, satisfied that she was awake, alert, and completely able to feel every second of the suffering she bestowed on me. She looks tired. That’s fine. But I’m not taking any chances. I cannot take the risk of her returning to torment me. I grab her chin and support the back of her head with my other hand, wrapping my legs around her frame. I give a strong pull upward and then whip her head hard enough to return a quick, loud series of cracks from her neck. She’s gone now. She looks so peaceful. Thank you, WikiHow.
I pick up my cell phone and dial 911, lifting the speaker to my ear. I will never see my wife again after tonight. She will have the house and the car. She will be able to move on eventually and find someone better for her. She will be able to have another, more lively chance at happiness. And I will finally be able to sleep without being preyed on. I will have my mind back. I will have peace. I will rest. And I will never have to play or speak of Fallout ever again.