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Drama Suspense Contemporary

Francesca struggled to keep up as she stalked the woman leaving Sak’s Fifth Avenue. Weaving through hoards of pedestrians, she knew she couldn’t lose sight of the black and white shopping bag swinging from the lady’s arm. Her eyes followed the bag as it was tossed into the passenger seat of an ugly blue hatchback.


Panicking, Francesca scanned the busy road for a familiar flash of yellow. Upon spotting it, she threw her hand out to hail the taxi, breathing a sigh of relief when it stopped in front of her. 


“Follow that car!” Francesca cried. “The tacky blue one!” The hunched, middle-aged man grunted in response and pulled the taxi directly behind the hatchback. He didn’t so much as blink at her demand; he had clearly heard stranger requests in his line of work. 


Massaging her aching feet, she silently cursed herself for wearing 4 inch stilettos. Her devotion to fashion caused her a lot of pain, both literal and figurative— she had the twisted ankles and maxed out credit cards to prove it. In her defense, she hadn’t known she’d be chasing a stranger through the city when she’d selected her footwear that morning. 


As they drove, Francesca felt a prick of apprehension. She wondered if she was being ridiculous. Probably, she considered, but some things warranted ludicrous behavior— and this was one of them. 


Still, sweat beaded on her forehead as she watched the miles and dollars tick by on the taxi’s meter. She had no idea where this woman with the bag was headed. For all Francesca knew, she could be following her for hours. Just as she was considering giving up and asking the cab driver to just pull over, the blue car slowed and pulled into a parking spot in front of a small coffee shop. 


The driver glanced at Francesca through his rear view mirror, eyebrows raised. “You gettin’ out here?”


“Yep,” Francesca said, tossing him some bills. She had barely closed the cab door when it sped off, leaving a trail of black smoke in its wake. 


Franscesca straightened her hair and strolled casually toward the coffee shop, matching the pace of the woman she had followed. Now that Francesca could see her properly, she was taken back by the plainness of her. Dull brown hair, pale gray eyes, and completely unremarkable in every possible way. She doesn’t deserve that dress, Francesca thought, checking her own stunning reflection in the coffee shop window. 


Francesca knew she was anything but unremarkable. She had long auburn curls and shocking green eyes, paired with a face and a body that could— and often did— stop traffic. If Dolly Parton wrote the song ‘Jolene’ today, it would be called ‘Francesca.’  


The girl reached the door first, and held it open for Francesca with a shy smile.


“Thank you,” she said, stepping through the door before doing a double-take, feigning surprise. “You look so familiar!” Francesca cocked her head like she was trying to place her. “Wait a second— didn’t I just see you at Sak’s? Wasn’t that you who snagged that last Givenchy gown— the gorgeous red one with the open back?”


The girl looked slightly bewildered. “Y— yes, that was me. How—”


“Oh gosh, you probably think I’m crazy!” Franscesca chuckled, putting her hand to her chest. “I only remember because that dress was such a show stopper. Absolutely stunning!”


“It’s… well, it’s a little louder than what I usually wear,” she chuckled nervously, glancing down at her modest jeans and cream colored sweater. “A little outside of my comfort zone, you know?” 


Well that much is clear, Francesca thought, but what she said was, “Nonsense! I’m sure it will look perfect on you. What’s the special occasion that requires such a fabulous gown?” 


They had reached the coffee shop counter, and began to study the hand-lettered chalkboard menu behind the cashier.  


“I’m sorry if I seem nosy,” Francesca said, wincing. “I work from home, so I don’t have much time for human interaction. When I finally go out in public, I tend to just kind of… explode all over the first person I have a conversation with.” She smiled apologetically. “I’m Francesca, by the way.”


“I’m Megan,” the girl replied, smiling kindly. “You’re not bothering me at all. I do have a special event, actually. A charity gala for my fiancé’s company. It’s black tie, and his favorite color is red. So… I thought a red gown would be appropriate.”


“Ooooh that sounds fancy!” Francesca said, then nodded towards the menu board. “Why don’t you let me buy you a drink, and you can tell me all about it— if you have a few minutes? Honestly, you’d be doing me a huge favor. I’d just kill for some good old-fashioned girl talk.”


Megan hesitated, but quickly softened at the pout and puppy dog eyes Francesca wore. “Sure Francesca, that sounds nice.”


They ordered their drinks (iced sugar-free hazelnut macchiato with an extra shot, light ice, and no whipped cream for Francesca; Americano for Megan) and claimed a table by the window. Francesca brushed crumbs from the table and chair before sitting down and looking at Megan. 


“I hope you don’t take this the wrong way,” she began, removing the paper wrapper from a plastic straw, “but I’m afraid that with your complexion, red might completely wash you out. You would look much better in some cooler tones— something blue or green!” Francesca stirred her drink with the straw before lifting it to her lips. “I am a self-diagnosed shopping addict, and haute couture happens to be my drug of choice. I have several gowns that would look incredible on you. You should come try them on! I only live a few blocks from here!”


Megan shook her head. “Oh no, I couldn’t…” 


“Please,” Francesca begged. “I insist. Plus… I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have an ulterior motive.” She gave Megan a guilty smile. 


Megan’s brow furrowed. “You want the red dress?”


Francesca nodded. “I do— but not for me. It’s for my boss. I was sent to purchase that specific dress and I am not allowed to return without it.”


Megan’s expression was puzzled. “I thought you said you worked from home.”


“I do!” Francesca assured her. “I’m a virtual assistant— and this was my first non-virtual errand so I really can’t afford to screw it up!


Megan sat her mug down and sighed. “I’m sorry… I wish you all the best, but I really should get going. I need to start getting ready for the gala.”


“Now I don’t wanna have to get on my knees and beg,” said Franscesca, placing her hand on Megan’s arm, “but I will. Please… just come over for a few minutes, have a glass of wine to calm your nerves, and try on a few things to see if you like any of them. No pressure! And if you find one you love, I’ll let you have it for free— and if you happen to decide to sell me the Givenchy gown, I will pay you double what you paid for it.”


Double?” Megan sputtered, choking on her coffee. “That dress cost me like three months worth of rent!”


Francesca shrugged. “It’s a great dress.” She smiled at Megan, taking in her bare face. “And I can help you with your makeup, if you want? I’ve watched like a million tutorials online. I’ve gotten pretty good at it.”


That got Megan’s attention. “I am hopeless at makeup,” she admitted. “I guess I could come over for just a few minutes— but I have to leave for my hair appointment at 5:30.”


Francesca clapped and squealed before pulling Megan into a hug. “That’s more than enough time!”


The two women finished their drinks before exiting the coffee shop and walking to Megan’s car. 


“Cute car!” Francesca exclaimed as Megan unlocked the doors. “I took a cab here, so I’ll just call another one and you can follow us to my place.” Francesca made a show of taking her phone out and tapping at the screen, knowing she wouldn’t actually be needing another cab. 


“Don’t be silly,” Megan said, moving the shopping bag to her backseat. “Hop in. We’re going to the same place.”


Franscesca beamed at Megan as she climbed in the passenger seat. “You are an angel!”


When they arrived at Francesca’s building, Megan parked and grabbed her Sak’s shopping bag before locking her car. Francesca let them into the apartment and dropped her purse on the counter. “Come in, I’ll give you the grand tour.”


“This is the kitchen, obviously,” she said, gesturing to the room they stood in. “Living room, dining room, guest bathroom…” Francesca led Megan down the small hallway next, pointing to the doors and naming the rooms behind them as they walked. “My bedroom, master bathroom, linen closet, storage closet, and the second bedroom that is actually just an extension of my closet,” Francesca said, opening the last door. The room was overflowing with designer clothes, stacks of shoes still in their boxes, and piles of luxury handbags.“Did I mention I‘ve got a bit of a shopping problem?” she laughed. 


After they choose a few dresses for Megan to try on, Francesca told her to make herself at home in the small living room while she retreated to the kitchen to pour both of them a glass of Merlot. 


“Thanks,” Megan said, accepting the glass. “I guess one drink couldn’t hurt.”


They chatted as they drank, discussing what style of makeup and jewelry Megan should wear to the gala. 


“That’s a beautiful ring,” Francesca said, nodding towards Megan’s left hand. “I'd kill to have a diamond on my finger.”


Megan looked fondly at her ring, then moved her gaze to Francesca. “You could easily get a proposal from at least three-fourths of the men in this city just by showing up and asking nicely!”


Franscesca smiled sadly. “Maybe… but I don’t want any of them. There’s only one man for me.”


Megan slurped her wine noisily before wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. “Go on,” she said, grinning and wiggling her eyebrows at Francesca. 


Francesca stared down at her wine, then placed it on the coffee table. She looked up at Megan and let out a sigh. “He was my boss. I was his assistant, and I had the biggest crush on him. Things got a little heated between us after the company Christmas party two years ago. We started sneaking around after that, spending our nights off at his place or mine. One day, about a year ago, he told me I was being transferred to a different department and that I’d no longer be his assistant. I thought that meant that things were getting serious and that me working under him had become a conflict of interest. I actually thought he was planning to propose,” she said, shaking her head and closing her eyes. “I was so stupid.”


“You are not stupid, Fran— franchester… sorry. Francesca!” Megan slurred, splashing a drop of wine on the couch as she waved her glass around. “You… are… beautiful.”


“ And you, my dear,” Francesca said, turning to face Megan, “are a lightweight.”


Megan snorted into her wine. “I really am,” she said. “So, what… what happened? With the boss guy?”


“As it turned out, our relationship meant much more to me than it did to him. I don’t even think he considered it a relationship. While I was busy planning a fall wedding and naming our babies, he was seeing another woman.”


Megan gasped, then hiccuped. “No!” she said, clutching her nearly empty glass to her chest. 


“That’s not even the worst part. He told me that his relationship with her was becoming ‘serious,’ and that what we’d had had ‘been fun,’” she said, making air quotes with her fingers as she spoke, “but that it was time for him to grow up and start thinking about his future. And that’s when I realized— he didn’t consider me ‘serious relationship material.’ I was just something fun to pass the time while he looked for a wife. That’s actually another reason I wanted to get that red dress, if I’m being honest. I wanted him to hear about how well I’m doing at my new position so he can see me as someone mature and responsible... someone serious.”


Megan shook her head furiously back and forth. “That is just— woah,” she said, placing a hand to her forehead and closing her eyes. “I am so dizzy,” she laughed, placing her empty wine glass next to Francesca’s. “I better sober up.”


“Stay right there. I’ll get you some water.”


Francesca returned with a glass of ice water and a muffin. “Here,” she said, handing them to Megan. “I'm gonna grab a couple more dresses from my bedroom closet.”


Megan flipped through channels on the television as she chugged the water and nibbled at the muffin. Francesca returned minutes later with an armful of gowns in varying shades of green and blue. 


“Those are gorgeous!” Megan breathed, staring at the sparkling pile of silk and tulle. “Gosh, you are so nice!” She looked to her right, then her left, then in front of her. Grabbing the Sak’s bag from under the coffee table, she said, “Here, Francesca— go try this on!”


Francesca’s fingers brushed the black and white bag as she tried not to appear too eager. “Are you sure?”


“Yes!” Megan shouted. “Sorry,” she said, a little quieter. “ Yes, Francesca, go put it on! I wanna see it on you!”


Francesca took the bag into her room and closed the door. Several minutes later, she stepped into the living room, spinning around so that Megan could see the gown from every angle. 


Megan looked up and choked on her water. “Francesca!” she breathed, eyes wide and tearful. “You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in my life. That gown was made for you. You have to take it.”


“Well,” said Francesca, swaying her hips and watching the red fabric brush the tops of her feet, “if you insist.”


….


Francesca’s heart pounded as she stepped into the room. She had already spotted him near the bar. His back was to her, his head falling back as he laughed at another man’s joke. She smoothed the fabric of her dress before sauntering over to the bar, pretending not to notice all of the heads that turned her way. 


As she stood in line, she felt his eyes on her. When she reached the front of the line, the bartender asked, “What can I get you?” She felt him step up beside her and heard him say, “She’ll have red.”


Francesca looked up lazily and smiled, cocking her head to the side. “Oh, hi Grant,” she said, before taking the wine from the bartender. 


“Francesca, wow,” gushed Grant, leading her to a small table. “You sure know how to make an entrance. You know I can’t resist a beautiful woman in red.”


Francesca blinked up at him beneath long dark lashes. “That’s right, I forgot red was your favorite color.”


But of course, she hadn’t forgotten. She’d thought of him whenever she saw the color red, and her heart had ripped a little more every single time. She had thought of Grant nearly every minute since he’d broken things off last year. Their company was so huge that she rarely saw him at work, so she’d followed him closely on social media. 


She’d cried herself to sleep the night she saw the engagement announcement. What could he possibly see in that drab, styleless mouse of a girl? She had decided to find out. 


Francesca had laughed that afternoon when she’d checked the GPS tracker she had placed under Megan’s car weeks ago. How convenient that Francesca herself was already there, browsing through the new Manolo suede pumps. She took it as a sign. She’d smirked when she’d seen Megan paying for the gown, knowing why she’d chosen such a bold color— and knowing that Megan’s uncertainty in it would be the perfect bait to lure her in. 


Getting Megan to her apartment had been easier than Francesca thought. Slipping the Rohypnol in her wine and ice water had been even easier than that. The stupid girl was too trusting. Too naive. Francesca felt like she was doing Grant a favor, in the long run. 


Megan didn’t even have a password on her phone. It had been a breeze to cancel her hair appointment and schedule a text to be sent to Grant’s phone later that night, letting him know that she was leaving town and warning him not to come after her. 


Everything had been so easy, Franscesca thought as she sipped her wine and pretended to listen to Grant while her mind wandered. The hardest part had been dragging Megan into the third bedroom— the one she’d kept locked. The one she’d soundproofed weeks earlier. The one with no windows. 


She’d taken Megan’s car keys from her pocket before locking her in the room, securing the outside with a steel door barricade she’d purchased online. She’d driven Megan’s car to the train station, wearing a brown wig and being careful not to leave any fingerprints. She would have to make some difficult decisions about what to do with Megan after tonight, but Francesca would deal with that later. She had more pressing matters at hand. 


“So,” Grant said, his arm brushing against hers as he leaned closer, “What have you been up to? Are you seeing anyone?”


“Not really,” she said, giving him a coy smile as she tucked a loose curl behind her ear. “Nothing serious.”






January 28, 2023 04:08

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5 comments

Ashley Haynes
04:16 Feb 13, 2023

I really love this story! And I loved the dark twist and I love how it has fashion in the story! 🥰

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Karen Kinley
21:06 Feb 01, 2023

Well that story took a twist! At first, I thought she was unbelievably shallow chasing down this woman for just a dress. But then it was revealed that there was something more sinister going on. I like the way the details of the story unfolded as it went along. Nice journey for the reader!

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02:24 Feb 02, 2023

Thanks Karen!

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Tricia Shulist
18:44 Jan 30, 2023

At first I thought that she was trying to steal the dress. And then it got dark. I enjoyed that little bit of going farther into stalkerdom! Thanks.

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23:53 Jan 30, 2023

Thanks! 🥰

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