By: Elizabeth G Walzel
As the wedding date and all of the festivities associated with a wedding approached, John could feel the enormity and the weight of the decision he was facing. He had to consider what it would mean to “the others” and what could possibly happen to Paige if she found them out. That is when he really began to sweat. John Sharp had tormented himself about deciding to call off the wedding. He thought he loved her, but when he realized that he had so very much at stake, and so much to loose, he realized that he didn’t have a choice. He had to break it off. It had become just too difficult to keep his secrets from her. It was her fault, after all, even though she didn’t see it that way. She accused John of being responsible for the breakup, when really she had only herself to blame. This is what she got for being such a damn snoop. It made him furious when he would see her head bobbing up and down, like a ridiculous doll, checking under here and over there, like some kind of agent 007 when she was at his house. She hadn’t been this way before their engagement. She had always seemed more quiet and subdued, sitting with her hands neatly folded in her lap the way they should be, instead of touching and looking at his things. Somehow, she seemed to think that just because they were to be married that she had the right to know all there was to know about him.
“I mean, who did she think she was, asking about so many details of my life? She just thought she was free to wonder around my apartment like she owned the place.”
He was thinking out loud, pacing back and forth in his modest apartment living room. He was speaking to “the others” now, and just thinking about it made them livid; well except Junior who didn’t seem to be bothered by grownup thoughts. The dull brown shaggy carpet, that looked as though it had been a throwback from the 70’s. It was wearing thin from the countless footsteps he had treaded across it throughout the years. This is where he did some of his best thinking. The familiar musty smell and worn furniture somehow was comforting to him, and even though it was dated, John was meticulous in his housekeeping habits. To his way of thinking, everything had a place and everything should be in its place.
Returning his thoughts to Paige, he recalled a discussion he had with her about a month before the wedding date, when he had actually caught her in the act of looking under the cabinets in his kitchen. The nerve.
“What the hell do you think you are doing digging around those cabinets?”
He raised his voice to her, sounding indignant. And that stupid little tramp had simply shrugged her shoulders like she was surprised that he was asking her about it. She even smiled at him,
“Well, silly, I’m looking for the dishwashing soap. What did you think I was looking for?”
“You just shouldn’t be down there. There might be dangerous chemicals in there.”
John puffed up, and walked over to her, bent down, put his hand inside the cabinet door to retrieve the dishwashing soap. Standing back up to his full height, he handed it to her; waited for her to stand up, closed the cabinet door, turned his back to her and left the room, mumbling under his breath.
She was infuriating, and this was the mentality he was going to have to put up with if he went through with the wedding. Dealing with her ditziness and trying to maintain peace with “the others” was not something he could see himself doing for the rest of his life. They would never allow it. John just couldn’t afford to let anyone get in his way, and that included Paige. But, Paige belonged to him: body, mind and soul. Period! He owned her. The sooner she understood this, the better it would be for everyone.
Jason and Carla had become almost deafening in their fight for dominance over the group. Their struggles to rule over John and Junior were abusive, and the utter chaos of the group was driving John to madness as he found himself in the constant role of “fixer” and peace-maker trying to pacify them all. It was becoming increasingly more difficult to function outside of the safety of his home.
Jason believed himself to be the best choice for leading the group due to his obvious, and superior intelligence. The others, however, saw him as a bully who enforced his authority with a roaring cruelty, constantly stirring the pot and pouring salt in any wound. Carl wanted the others to call him/her Carla. Was that so difficult to understand? She hated Jason. He constantly picked on her, and called her horrible names. Junior was just a lovable, twelve year old boy, who reminded John of himself at that age. He was smart and his favorite thing to do was to play computer games. He thought in very logical terms, loved numbers, and constantly wanted to take things apart and put them together again.
“I have asked you to call me Carla! You are just trying to upset me and disregard my feelings”
Carla’s voice was growing in exasperation as she yelled over Junior to Jason.
“That’s because your name is Carl, you little queenie.”
“Don’t you call me that you brute. You just think you are so smart, when really you are just a bully on steroids.”
The heat was rising alongside their argument, when Junior interrupted,
“Stop it guys…I hate it when you fight.”
“You are both just a waist of body space.”
Jason retorted, and his face was turning red with fury.
“Why don’t you just leave and go back from wherever it was you came?”
“You know exactly where we came from, Jason.”
Carla screeched back at him, her teeth clinched.
“And we know what you are after too.”
“You know nothing.”
“You want to take over! We all know it, Jason. You want to take over, and we won’t let you. John will not let you.”
For a time during their engagement, John moved into Paige’s one bedroom apartment, that overlooked Ocean Drive, so that he could be near her; at least, that’s what he told her. In reality, though, the family voted for him to move into her apartment to keep her away from their house, where all of the secrets lived. Jason and Carla were always the most vocal, and wanted to keep an eye on her every move. They were obsessed, wanting to know everything about her. It really wasn’t a choice either; it was just the way it had to be. John had allowed this distraction to enter into all of their lives, and now she would be the one to pay for their many inconveniences. John knew what he had to do. Their many fears had grown and they were constantly worried about Paige; about her fidelity; about what she knew and about what she might discover. They wanted to know what she ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner; who came to visit, who called, what music she listened to, what books she was reading…anything and everything about her. These were the ramblings that were at the forefront of the collective anxious thoughts that raced through John’s head.
To calm them and to put them all at ease, where Paige was involved, Jason and Carla had the brilliant idea to place multiple surveillance devices, and cameras around her apartment so that they could monitor her every move. John went on to place tracking mechanisms in her cell phone and under the hood of her car. Then he hacked into her computer, so they could monitor her email accounts and search histories. All of this, of course he rationed, was for her: moving in, keeping her safe, listening for anyone who might hurt her. Everything! Couldn’t she see it? He loved her. He hated her. She was nothing and she was everything.
John knew that it had become necessary that he take care of the Paige situation; and sooner rather than later, because each of the voices were getting stronger. Their distinctive demands were becoming more aggressive, echoing in his brain, causing very painful, throbbing, blinding headaches. John knew, without a doubt that his highest priority was to protect the family. He loved them so much, and that meant that he must first protect himself. Their problem would have to be eliminated at any cost. The catch-22 now, was to make a plan to set everything into motion. Paige would be handled, and if she thought for one minute, that he was ever going to allow anyone else to have her – that would be her biggest mistake. There were going to be a few rules for her if she wanted to survive.
Paige was still baffled by the fact that she had allowed herself to be talked into this blind date, of all things. Jules though, it seemed, had always been able to talk her into practically anything. Like, for instance, the time they were at camp and Jules had talked her into raiding the boy’s dormitory with shaving cream and face paint. They got caught by the head counselor, who did not see the humor in their shenanigans and landed them right in the middle of KP duty for a full week. Washing dishes and cleaning bathrooms with tooth brushes was about the worst punishment they could have ever imagined. They were twelve. Or the time they got caught spying on that high school party across the alleyway from Paige’s house. This time, they were 10 years old. They climbed the big tree in the backyard with binoculars and giggled like the little girls they were, while watching the big kids dance and even kiss in the back yard of their neighbor’s house. It had been so humiliating when Paige’s parents made them walk over the next morning, to the neighbor’s house and apologize for what they had done. They ambled slowly, step by daunting step, with their heads bowed low, and their metaphorical tails tucked down between their legs, Their pitiful little faces were red with embarrassment, and pouting. Not to mention, when they were 14, and they got caught throwing cumquats, a tiny fruit that resembled an orange, so small that could never do any real harm, at the cars driving down their street. Ugh, when that car came to a screeching halt in front of the house and that scary man bounded up to my parent’s front door, hoping to discover who was throwing the unidentified flying objects at passing vehicles, they knew that they had been busted. Trembling with fear and hiding in the dark garage, behind the tires of that old powder blue Cadillac with the white top that hadn’t been driven in years; holding their breaths and hoping, just hoping that they might get a reprieve from the inevitable, and not be found guilty for the prank that they had most definitely played. Ha! The list went on and on, and 9.9 times out of ten, each instance had been instigated by Jules. She was horrible and wonderful and so much fun, and Paige couldn’t help but smile in remembrance of those awful, and comically amazing stories that were apart of their history and childhood. She rolled her eyes and had to laugh at the absurd question as to whether or not she would ever learn her lesson with Jules’ “great” ideas. The answer, of course was was a clear and resounding,
“No! After 33 years, the answer was more than likely not!”
Checking her watch again, for the umpteenth time, Paige heard the sound of footsteps that caused her to look up. The closer he approached, the higher she had to tilt her head. The man who was coming toward her was dark, and imposing. He stood slightly over six feet tall she guessed. He had thick corded arms that caused his navy blue Polo shirt to stretch around them. His was a big man, and Paige just knew by looking at him, that he would smell good, masculine and clean, like soap, and cologne. Her breath caught and her toes curled at the thought. He walked with purpose, as though he was on a mission. His long stride carrying him quickly to his intended destination. His eyes were intensely penetrating, seeming to see right through to the depths of her soul, which sent a chill right through to the very depths of her core. They were liquid brown – his eyes, and reminded her of Crown Royal, Canadian Whiskey. Paige felt a warmness travel through her body as his eyes seemed to captivate her. She struggled to fight the unwanted attraction that made her want to follow this man’s movements as he advanced in her direction. Somehow, she was able to clear her head, if only a bit to divert her gaze and refocus on her own task, which was to find the man who was to be her date for the evening. It was at about this moment that Paige began to wonder is there was any possibility that this towering man could be Ben Davis. He had better not be! Jules made him sound like the boy next-door, wholesome and “happy-go-lucky”. Hadn’t she even used the term, “teddy bear”? This guy was no “teddy bear”. He was scary…intimidating…masculine…and, well beautiful.
She startled, taking a step back, as if in retreat, when she heard her name. His voice was deep and smooth, like you might imagine coming from someone so large and so…dreamy.
Looking up into the man’s eyes once again, he was coming directly for her.
“You are Paige, aren’t you? You look just like Jules described.”
He began to lean down as though to kiss her on the cheek when she stumbled backward. He seemed to instinctively, even gracefully, reach forward and catch her around the waist. The heat from his large hands surrounding her seemed to penetrate right through the silky material of her yellow dress and travel up her neck and onto her face which created a blush on her creamy, pale skin. “Ugh, how embarrassing,” Paige thought.
Laughing a little, under his breath, he said,
“Woe there. Are you alright? I didn’t scare you, did I?”
A trace of a smile hinting at his perfect mouth. He added,
“I won’t bite.”
Then, a bit theatrically, he considered for just a moment, and went on,
“well not hard anyway…”
And his devilish grin broadened.
Paige thought that he was attempting to be funny, but quite honestly, she wasn’t sure. Clearing her throat and attempting to regain a small modicum of stability, she replied,
“Are you Ben?”
Then, completely out of character, she gave him a look as though sizing him up, and continued,
“You are nothing like Jules described.”
Gasping while simultaneously slapping her hand over her mouth, she startled at the realization that she had just spoken those words…out loud…and to him…Ben…her blind date…the somewhat beautiful, scary guy with the voice that made her knees melt. Rolling her eyes in self-disgust, then squeezing them shut tightly as though she could hide behind them, the words in her head raced, “Oh No! Please tell me that I did not just say that. Ugh – So embarrassing.” Her body temperature rose quickly as the blush color on her face and neck blossomed to an even brighter shade of red. She slowly opened one eye, and then the other, looking for his reaction to her blunder as she straightened her body back up to her full height of 5’2″.
Ben paused to consider her. Looking down into her beautiful big blue eyes, he smiled. Apparently finding humor in her statement, he simply replied,
“Really? Well that sounds like a conversation we should save for dinner. Are you hungry? Jules told me that you like seafood.”
Comforted by his good natured response, Paige felt herself relax, but just a bit.
“I’m not from around here, but I know a great place that serves some of the best seafood I have ever eaten. How does that sound?”
Paige pretended to appear more at ease than she felt, gave him a hesitant smile, and nodded her head saying,
“Seafood is my favorite.”
It was obvious by his appearance and the deliberate precision in which he carried himself that Ben was a strong, confident man who felt comfortable in his own skin, so to speak. He seemed to radiate success, with every movement appearing natural and absolute.
“Jules tells me that you are an author! That sounds fascinating, and I would love to hear all about it.”
Paige could feel her shyness begin to creep back in at his interest in her writing, so she put the attention back onto him.
“First, tell me about you. How did you meet Jules?”
Taking Paige by the elbow, he placed her hand in the crook of his arm and proceeded to lead her on their way, all the while, captivating her attention with the story of how he and Jules became friends.
Paige listened intently to Ben’s story as they walked to the restaurant just up the strand. The early evening sunset shimmered across the blue-green Bay waters, that set a tone which lulled them both into a kind of easy rhythm. The waves gently brushed against the sandy beach while the sky boasted the colors of the rainbow, lending a peaceful ambiance that was the Corpus Christi shoreline.
Ben told Paige that he and Jules had both attended the University of Houston Law Center in Houston, Texas, taking several classes together. Their second year, Fall semester, they had a professor who brought them together to serve on a research team for a group project. They were to explore certain aspects of a case that was about to go to trial, where Professor Landry was the lead counsel. It was a murder trial, and Ben and Jules had been chosen as two of his top 4 students to participate in an exploration of case materials. Ben explained,
“Our main objective was to find supportive case documents that Professor Landry could use for the defense of his client, who was actually, more than likely, guilty. It was challenging, and, I think, influenced each of us on the type of law that we would eventually practice.”
Shrugging his shoulders, he tilted his head, raising his eyebrows and continued,
“From then on, everyone referred to us as the dynamic duo because we seemed to be able to read each other so well. They said we acted like an old married couple; completing each other’s sentences as though we could anticipate each course of action before it happened. Needless to say, we worked well together and became close friends.”
Paige cleared her throat, and wearing an ill-at-ease grin, she told Ben that she was surprised that she didn’t remember Jules ever having mentioned him before the other day, when she told her about the blind date. Going on, she asked,
“Did you guys date?”
Ben barked an incredulous laugh. Although he was still a very large and extremely impressive looking man, he seemed much less intimidating now as she was getting to know him a little bit.
“Oh no, it was nothing like that. Jules and I are great as friends, but if we ever tried to be a couple, we would probably kill each other and find ourselves in the courtroom, but this time, sitting on the wrong side of the table.”
Paige found herself smiling at his remarks and he went on,
“We are way too much alike and strong-willed to ever be together as anything other than colleagues and friends. I think she is the best and I have a lot of respect for her.”
Reflecting on the story that Ben had just shared, Paige said,
“There have been so many times that I have thought that I would give anything to have her confidence. It is one of the things that I admire most about Jules.”
And she meant that in the most loving way, looking up into Ben’s eyes. He looked down into her deep, Caribbean blues and responded with a warmness of an old friend that she hadn’t expected,
“Paige, I think you’ve got your own brand of confidence, it’s just that you’ve temporarily tucked it away; with a little here, and a little there.”
Smiling and warmed by his kindness, Paige found that she was intrigued by this large, strong, mysterious man. At the same time, though, she was reserved and somewhat wary. Her “red flags” were waving vigorously in warning. After all, being dumped at the altar tended to make a girl a tad-bit cynical. It was his eyes though, that seemed to grab and hold her attention. She tried not to look into those whiskey colored eyes; because when she did, she felt as though he could see much more than she was ready to reveal. But they were mesmerizing and called to her on some basic, even primal level; and so, she looked.
Paige was trying to relax and ignore the warnings that were, at this point, really unfounded. Ben had been nothing but nice and well mannered, yet she couldn’t seem to shake her many insecurities. Even while they walked, she felt on edge. She couldn’t help but feel shaky. Unable to explain it, Paige had the feeling that she was being watched; that they were both being watched. Ridiculous, she knew it was all in her head, but for some reason that she couldn’t explain, she often had this disconcerting feeling that someone was watching her. Nervously, she looked over her shoulders and across their surroundings as they walked to the restaurant. “Silly girl, focus Paige. Just get all of those feelings out of your head and focus on the here and now.”
Hiding behind some ornamental bushes across the street by the Bank Center, John was lurking in camouflage, watching vigilantly over Paige. His anger seething.
“You little tramp,”
John mumbled to himself as he scoped her walking arm and arm with a complete stranger.
“What are you thinking?:
He was careful to remain hiding and out of sight, never loosing his focus on her every movement.
“This is not good little Paige…Not good at all…You are just asking for trouble! You want trouble?”
His anger was rising to a boil as it seemed to aggravate every cell of his body. He continued to secretly spy on Paige walking up the drive toward the restaurants along the strip, discretely maneuvering to remain undetected.
“Just wait until Jason and Carla find out that they were right about you all along. You think you can just disregard us like that? You are going to be sorry, Tramp, You are going to have to pay.”
He quietly whispered to know one. But the voices heard. They heard everything.
“We’ll show you, Tramp. You just wait.”
His temper needed to remain in check as long as he was in public, even though the heat in his face continued to heighten to a brighter and hotter flush.
“We are going to watch you and watch you, and watch you…and when we decide on the perfect time; you will pay.”
His pulse thundered in his ears as his outrage became more incensed.
“Oh yeah, baby, you will pay”
As charismatic as she found Ben, Paige couldn’t help but ask herself over and over again,
“What could Jules have been thinking? I mean, could we BE more different?”
After all, in her opinion, Ben didn’t seem her type at all. And, she didn’t seem his. He was a serious, no-nonsense kind of guy. Intense and purposeful in his every action, while she was shy, a bit clumsy, and almost always, hesitant to act. He was interesting, well-mannered, and even chivalrous. While she was well-read, reserved and introspective.
Trying to appear more at ease than she was, Paige tried to slow her breathing. She wanted to concentrate on the present moment and the good conversation, but the thundering in her ears was distracting.
To her relief, he didn’t seem to notice, and still, she seemed to hold his full attention. Throughout the meal, his focus was singularly on her as they enjoyed a delicious assortment of seafood, paired with a dry rose’ from northern Spain, and then shared a heavenly slice of cheesecake for desert. And if that hadn’t been enough, they ended the dining experience with a glass of champaign and chocolate covered strawberries. For some reason that she couldn’t wrap her head around, Ben seemed to find her both
“intriguing and basically adorable”,
and she knew this, because he told her so.
Copyright © 2016 by Elizabeth G. Walzel.
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For more information please contact Elizabeth@writersdialog.com