Originally posted April 10, 2015 for the A to Z Challenge.
“Jessica! Did you listen to 96.1 this morning? Bruce was talking ’bout you, girl. Why’d you tell him about Whitmore?”
Jessica held the phone away from her ear as she walked toward her car in the parking lot. She had just finished a stress-relieving workout at the gym, spending forty minutes on the elliptical and another twenty on the stair climber. Although she had stretched in the locker room before she left, her calf and thigh muscles immediately tighten at Whitmore’s name.
“His radio show, The Girlfriend Whisperer. He comes on right after my top twenty countdown,” Alex said. “Today he needed advice on this beautiful, smart, funny girl who’s stuck with a loser boyfriend. I knew right then he was talking about you.”
“Advice about what?”
“Asking you out, girl! He likes you. I knew he would. You couldn’t tell on your lunch date?”
Jessica collapsed into her car and laid her head back on the headrest. “I was too distracted by guilt!”
“Oh please! You and Whitmore are done. The city has spoken. Everyone was calling in saying, ‘Steal her! Steal her!’ A couple pathetic, insecure douchebags chewed him out for trying to date someone already in a relationship. I swear, one of them sounded like Whitmore. Does he listen to 96.1?”
“I don’t know.” Jessica sighed and rubbed her temples.
“Whitmore’s been calling me all day.”
“Wonderful!” Alex said sarcastically. “Where are you?”
“Just finished at the gym.”
“OK, go home. Take a nice, warm bath. Turn off your phone . . . well, don’t turn off your phone, because Bruce may call. Just, don’t answer if it’s Whitmore. Give yourself a break from always having to explain yourself to him. He’s such a crick in your neck. I bet Bruce could get it out. Give you a nice, oily, back massage too.”
“Oh my god, Alex. I’m hanging up.” Jessica ended the call, chuckling to herself. She turned the ignition and put the car in gear.
On the drive home, she thought of Bruce. Would she be happy to hear from him if he were to call? Would she pull away again? Would she allow Bruce’s advances to be the kick she needed to end the relationship with Whitmore?
“I’m seeing another man,” she said aloud. Would Whitmore accept that? She’d tried ending the relationship before: You’re smothering me. You want too much. I need my space. I’m not ready for that kind of commitment.
Whitmore had rejected her arguments. “These are problems that are easily fixed,” he’d said, “and don’t I make you happy?”
In Whitmore’s mind, he did everything to make her happy. If she was happy, she had no reason to leave him; she had no reason for not wanting to marry him. But what did he define as her happiness? Smiling, laughing, kissing everyday—was that happiness to him? Having sex when he wanted? Overtly showing gratitude when he bought her gifts she never asked for, or took her out to expensive dinners neither of them could afford? The truth was, she wasn’t happy, and ‘happy’ was such a generic, unmoving term; she cringed whenever he spoke the word. He had this false sense of security that as long as he continued to do what he thought made her ‘happy,’ she would always belong to him.
Jessica pulled into the Clemmons apartment complex. She noticed a white Nissan Sentra parked in front of her neighbor’s apartment. Whitmore drove a white Nissan Sentra. She brushed it off. A lot of people are driving that car, she told herself. She hiked the stairs to the third floor.
The door to her apartment hung crookedly on the hinges and rubbed noisily against the jamb whenever she tried to open or close it. Jessica often had to pull the door up using the loosely screwed door knob, slam it shut, and then deadbolt it for it to close properly. If she didn’t, people could simply push the door open and enter her apartment, not needing to turn the knob, not even needing a key. Her cheap apartment manager still hadn’t called anyone to fix it, and with the recent string of break-ins, she didn’t feel safe.
She leaned against the door and kicked it at the lower corner under the hinge to keep it in place. When she pulled the knob, the door didn’t budge.
Satisfied, Jessica walked straight to the bathroom and turned on the water for a nice, hot, bubble bath. She squeezed the cherry blossom scented soap into the water, allowing the perfume to rise back to her nose with the steam and lift her off the floor.
The sudden sound of rattling and banging from the living room startled her to her feet. She went to investigate, and found Whitmore standing in the middle of the room—the door wide open behind him—holding up his phone.
“How’d— you get in here?” Jessica asked. She didn’t mean for her voice to crack. She didn’t want to sound fearful.
“You haven’t been answering my calls.”
“Was that your car parked outside?” She made sure to sound more assertive. He wouldn’t intimidate her.
“Did you listen to 96.1 this morning?”