“You did what!” Alex’s eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets. She’d always had wide eyes though, appearing surprised by everything. That day she wore color contacts, which puzzled Jessica because Alex had 20/20 vision and her eyes were already green, thanks to the wide color spectrum of her multiracial heritage.
Jessica shook her head. She needed to focus. This wasn’t about Alex’s eyes, although she wanted to ask if they were drying in the chilly breeze, if it hurt to blink because her eyelids didn’t stretch down far enough. Even now they seemed to be protruding further from her head, as if they were being drawn out the more upset Alex became, similar to the wooden fibber Pinocchio and his lengthening nose.
“He followed me to the bathroom, what was I supposed to say?”
“Uh, ‘Get out!'” Alex rolled her eyes, and they looked as if they would roll right out and onto the grated picnic table. “You know they got laws for that now. Don’t really know how they’ll ever expect to enforce ’em, but the truth of the matter is they’re there. And they’re there to protect stupid women like you from making dumb ass decisions with creepy ass men like Whitmore.”
“I really don’t think that’s what the lawmakers had in mind.”
“Jess!” Alex grabbed the edge of the table and shook it, rattling the silverware on top of their empty plates, the ice in their glasses. “You’re missing the point. You told me you were going to break up with him.”
“It was our two-year anniversary. I couldn’t hurt him like that.”
“Then you lie and tell him you want to remain friends, you don’t accept his marriage proposal!”
It sounded insane hearing it said out loud, but Alex wasn’t there. She couldn’t begin to understand Whitmore’s strategy. She remembered all those nights they’d fought about his need to always be in control. Jessica was a grown woman. She shouldn’t have to check in by text every night to assure him she would answer whenever he called, she shouldn’t have to tell him she loved him a certain number of times before he finally believed her. She didn’t appreciate behind compared to his cheating ex-girlfriend, even down to how they styled their hair.
“If I remind you so much of her, why do you stick around?” she’d demanded.
“Because I love you. Does that mean nothing to you, that I love you? That I want to make us work? That I’ll do anything to make us work?”
And it was the way he always made her feel so guilty. As if he was doing everything right, and she was the one being unreasonable. As if he was the best thing that had ever happened to her, and she was stubbornly ungrateful. As if he was the only boyfriend who cared enough to make sure she was satisfied first when they made love, who would buy her the entire world without her even having to ask, who would grovel and kiss her feet not because he wanted forgiveness for something he did wrong but because he worshiped the ground she walked on. No man would ever love Jessica as desperately as Whitmore loved her, and didn’t she want that? Didn’t all women want to be loved unconditionally, incessantly, adored body, mind, and soul, by the men in their lives?
“Well, he loves me. Is that so bad? And maybe, with more time, I could grow…”
“No! No!” Alex pressed her knuckle against her ears. “I’m not hearing this. I’m not hearing this.” She dropped her hands in her lap. “I mean, dammit, Jessica, did he brainwash you too.” Her dad’s Italian roots were beginning to show. Her voice rose a level higher, became edgier. Once again all eyes were on Jessica’s table. Despite their sitting outside, the traffic from the street across from the café where they’d just had brunch was doing little to drown out their conversation. Alex lifted her hands again and waved them in parallel motion, front to back, side to side, as she spoke. “Whitmore doesn’t love you,” she continued. “He’s obsessed with the idea of loving someone, and you just happen to be the unfortunate girl he’s latched onto.”
“That’s a little much, don’t you think?”
Alex held up five fingers. “Let me finish.”
Jessica shrugged. She tried to ignore the glint shining in her eyes from the sun’s reflection in the diamond jewel on her engagement ring. She rolled it around her finger so that it faced the table and all she saw was the studded band. It was easier to pretend it wasn’t there then.
“When you love someone, you know them,” Alex was saying. “Or at least you make it a point to try to get to know them as much as you can. Whitmore knows nothing about you.”
“How do you figure?”
“First of all, he took you to a fondue restaurant, and you’re lactose intolerant! If Whitmore loved you so much, he would know that cheese, or chocolate, or anything with milk in it makes you gassy as hell. And then he followed you to the bathroom that you just funked up with all your farting to ask you again to marry him? Who does that? No girl wants to get proposed to after she’s just stunk up a bathroom. She wants it to be romantic, memorable. She at least wants to smell fresh! Tell me y’all didn’t have sex too.”
Jessica burst out laughing.
Alex rolled her eyes, which only made Jessica laugh harder at how they were a nudge away from being popped out.
“I’m glad you think this is funny. We’ll see how much you’re laughing when Whitmore decides y’all have to live together. You really think he’ll wait till after the wedding to start on baby Whitney?”
Jessica’s phone buzzed in her purse that was slung across the back of her chair. She twisted around, took it out of the front pocket, and looked down at the screen. It was Whitmore.
Alex smirked. “Speak of the devil.”
Jessica hesitated to answer. She didn’t want to admit to Alex that after she’d told Whitmore yes, he’d given her a key to his apartment too. “We’re building a new life together now. There’s no reason why we should still live separately,” he’d said. And again she couldn’t think of a way to refuse him. She had already accepted his proposal—how could she be ready to spend the rest of her live with him, forever and ever, if she wasn’t willing to come home to his bed now?
“Where are you?” He spoke through his nose. A sign he had grown impatient. Impatient of what? Had she not passed his ultimate test?
“Just having brunch with Alex.” She could hear him sigh on the other end. He never liked Alex, and she made no secret that she disliked him too and would do everything in her power to break them up. She couldn’t fault Alex for that. She was only looking out for her best friend. She only wanted what was best for Jessica, especially since Jessica hadn’t figured out what “best for her” even meant.
“Are you almost done? I have a surprise for you back at your place.”
Her place? That was right; she had given him a key, contingent on emergencies only, because she didn’t want him to get in the habit of popping over whenever he wanted, even though he did it anyway, because to Whitmore anything was an emergency. Jessica tried to feign excitement in her voice anyway. “What kind of surprise?”
“You’ll just have to see when you get here. Don’t keep me waiting. Love you, beautiful.”
Jessica hung up the phone, then clutched it in her fist and groaned when she realized she didn’t say I love you back. She would pay for that when she got home. Perhaps Whitmore would be too eager to show her the surprise to even let her slip up bother him. After all, they were engaged to be married now; Whitmore could finally be satisfied with the love she was willing to give him, not all-consuming like his but enough, she hoped.
Jessica’s stomach began to bubble again, and the food she’d just woofed down—overly sweet strawberry pancakes with cream cheese filling— rose at the back of her esophagus. It was unlikely Whitmore would ever relent his controlling love over her. If anything, now that he had her sealed, he would get worse.
“Rushing home to daddy?” Alex asked as Jessica gathered her things.
“Stop,” Jessica said.
“I just want you to be happy, Jess. Can you honestly say that he makes you happy.”
“Name one couple you know that’s actually genuinely happy in their marriage,” Jessica snapped. People doing get married to be happy, and if they do, they have a lot to turn. Marriage doesn’t guarantee happiness, or fulfillment, or even freedom. They were both products of divorced parents; they knew full well.
“Just do me a favor.” Alex took the pen from the bill booklet the waitress had left on the table and scribbled a series of numbers on one of her unused napkins. “There’s this guy who works at the station. Great guy, hilarious. You’d love him.” She put the napkin in Jessica’s hand. “Call him when you get over this façade love with Whitmore.”
Jessica blew air through her cheeks, but she nodded, took the napkin and stuffed it away in her purse to forget about it. She didn’t want to alert her friend that she was in too deep, there was no saving her after this.
She took the long route home, but still arrived five minutes earlier than she wanted to. A U-haul truck was backed into a parking spot right outside her apartment. Boxes surrounded the back of the truck, and she wonder which one of her neighbor’s was moving out, until she saw two men carrying her couch into the trailer. She sprang out of the car. Her apartment was open, and Whitmore was standing in the doorway. She ran to him.
“Whitmore, what the hell?” she breathed.
He didn’t answer, only clasped her face in his hands and lowered his head to kiss her. He slipped his tongue between her lips and pushed further into her mouth, their teeth knocking. He stayed there long, steady, rolling his neck as he kissed her. When he finally pulled back, Jessica gagged for air.
“Don’t you have something to tell me?” he asked.
“What?” Jessica said after a series of coughs. She could still taste him, a trail of his saliva sliding down her tongue back to her throat. She swallowed and gagged again when the hint of flat SunDrop rose to her mouth again.
“When we talked on the phone, I think we might have gotten disconnected.” He waited for her to confirm. “I told you I loved you, and…”
“I love you too?”
“Are you asking me or telling me?”
She couldn’t answer.
“Do you love me?”
He was starting to whine like a child, and Jessica had to put her foot down. Things were moving too fast. It was like the earth was spinning triple its rotation. She felt dizzy, like she would faint at any moment, but she gathered her composure, tried to remain as level headed as possible—one of them had to be.
“Whitmore, where are you taking all of my things?”
“To my place. Whatever doesn’t fit we’ll put in storage.”
“Have you lost your mind?” Jessica blurted.
“You said your were ready to live with me.”
“I didn’t mean today! I can’t just up and move without giving notice. I still have five month left on my lease.”
“Can’t you sublease? And if not, I’ll just take care of the bill until it’s up. Jessica, I want you with me. I want you all to myself. Don’t you think I deserve that?” He didn’t give her a chance to answer. He kissed her, harder this time. When she tried to break free, he cupped the back of her head and pulled her closer, his larger, wider nose blocked the airways to her nostrils. With his tongue deep inside her mouth again, she had no alternative to breath. He was suffocating her.
He took her arms and put them around his neck. With his lips still locked with hers, all she could do was moan, which sent him the wrong message. He scooped her up, wrapping her legs around his waist and carried her back to the bedroom where only her box spring remained— her mattress, bed frame, and all other furniture, including the clothes that hung in her closet, she presumed, had all been packed away in the U-haul. He laid her down on the box spring and stood over her.
“Whitmore,” she gasped. Her lips felt tender to the touch, almost to the point of blistering.
“Shhhh,” he said, and lowered himself on top of her, locking their lips again so she couldn’t speak.
It is Short Story A Day May, and all this week the prompts are geared toward novelists! Today’s prompt asks us to write a story in which our protagonist makes the other choice. Picking up where we left off yesterday with Whitmore and Jessica, what if Jessica actually said yes? What if Alex never set Jessica up on a blind date? What if there was never a Bruce to sweep Jessica off her feet and steal her away from Whitmore? How would the story develop then?
If you want to learn more about the characters, Whitmore, Jessica, and Bruce, check out my 2015 A to Z novella…