Romance Funny Horror

I remember the first day I saw him. It wasn’t his good looks. Sure, he was ruggedly handsome, messy hair and perfect stubble, but that wasn’t it. It was his smile. 

When he smiled his eyes disappeared and he was all teeth and chin and cheekbones. Then he’d laugh and blink bashfully, and grin like he was just so happy to be in your presence, grateful that you were giving him the time, even though, really, you were the lucky one.

He was sitting on the edge of one of the eastside planters, him and a group of co-workers. They were having a post-lunch sit-n-chat before having to return to the drudgeries of the tenth floor. He was holding court, the rest of them laughing along.

I didn’t work with any of them. I work in the mailroom on B-1. Even though I pass all their desks every day, I’d be surprised if any of them knew my face, let alone my name. Except for him. He knew my face… and my name. He’d say it every time we met with a warm patient smile.

I barely said word-one to him for almost two years, single the whole time of course. He’d say hello and I’d giggle or just smile, and then one day he asked me how I was doing, and I just let it fly. I was funny and smart, and we laughed, and he told me all about himself. As I was leaving, he mentioned that everyone was going out for drinks afterward. I’m not much of a drinker, but it sounded like it might be fun.

It’s kind of embarrassing, and maybe even borderline creepy, but I actually went down there, sat at the far end of the bar, and never built up the nerve to go say hi to any of them. Here’s the creepier part; I did that three times. Perfectly psycho. 

The third time I went down there he actually spotted me as I was paying to leave. He’d had a few and his rosy cheeks made him even cuter. I pretended like I was just getting there. He laughed and said how funny that was because they were all just leaving. I laughed along and agreed. The waitress came with my receipt. He tilted his head as he tried to figure it out, and when he did, he just gave me a knowing nod and pretended not to see. We exchanged smiles and he gave me an adorable wave as he rejoined the group, seamlessly integrating himself into the conversation as they filed out.

I couldn’t get him off my mind all weekend and on Monday I told myself that, that was it, and I was going to ask him out. When I went by his desk he wasn’t there. I dropped his mail and commented to Debbie as I handed her her correspondence. “Not here today, huh?” I gave a nod toward his desk.

“Eh?” She turned a grimace up to me as she stabbed a pen into her giant red hairdo, scratching her scalp. 

I nodded toward his desk again.

She followed my line of sight and coughed, “Oh.” She disregarded me with a wave, pulled the pen from her hair, and returned her attention to her ledger. “Out sick.”

When he returned on Wednesday, I had lost my nerve.

We had lunch the week after that. I don’t know if he would call it our “first date,” but I would. I know everyone thinks of a perfect first date as candles and wine and sultry confessions, but I prefer some comfortable conversation over chips and a club. 

We’ve been living together for the better part of the year now, and as far as I’m concerned things are going great. Every relationship has its rocky periods, especially in the beginning. I mean, I’m not perfect, but he’s pretty needy. And he’s not that much of a contributor. Since he moved in I do virtually everything. And the truth is, I don’t mind. First of all, I love to cook and clean, Second, I’m not especially social either. I like our solitary life together, even if I am putting in all the work. I’m not complaining, I just wish he’d put in a little more effort.

“Garlic, parmesan…” I rifled through the grocery bag, the bundles of basil batting me in the face with their comforting, fresh and breezy aroma. The smell of sand seawater washing off of your wind kissed skin. The dark anise that waves at you from below the thick oil of black licorice. I kicked the door closed behind me, huffing a breath of relief as I held them up in victory, “Pine nuts.” 

I unloaded the rest of the groceries and started getting to work. I was going to make his favorite. Pesto polenta, linguini and clams, and a fresh caprese salad. It’s true, the polenta was actually mostly for me, but he liked it too, and before long the enticing aromas were sure to improve his mood.

The pesto came out perfect. I nailed that expert balance of parmesan that binds the oil and basil together. It used to come out too thick but taste perfect. You didn’t want to thin it down with oil and throw the flavors out of balance. So, I always resigned myself to having slightly-too-thick pesto. 

One day I had too many tomatoes. And I was looking for any excuse to use a tomato in any recipe and I was staring down at this uncooperative sauce clumping up all over the place, and I thought, Just throw a tomato in there. What do you got to lose? And it was the best thing I had ever tasted. Ever since then I’ve always thrown a fresh tomato into my pesto.

Dinner was done, I had cleaned as I cooked, and the kitchen looked great, and everything was all set. I took a deep breath, soothed myself with a humming moan, and ran upstairs to change. 

I turned in the mirror and smiled. I looked pretty good. I narrowed my eyes on myself and turned with a smirk and let my belly push out. I scoffed and sucked it back in and stood straight, pulling at the hems of my garment. I shook out the silliness and breathed and smiled at myself. “You love each other, and you’re going to make this work.” I nodded in conclusion, pulled my shoulders back, and marched out of the room.

I fumbled with the keys. I was nervous. Even after almost ten months together he still made me nervous. I found the right one and managed to unlock the door. I shook my head and forgave myself for letting everything get to me. I pocketed the keys and went downstairs.

He was a mess. He’d been declining for a while now, but he was starting to get ridiculous. He looked uncomfortable and I didn’t want to give him the whole speech about how if he just put in a little more effort, it would all be so much easier. I sat on the bed and rattled the keys as I pulled them from my pocket. I bent and rested my elbows on my knees, dangling them. “Are you hungry?”

He moaned.

I rolled my eyes and looked at him with a patient smile. “I made your favorite.”

He bowed with a grumble of gratitude.

I laughed and waved a hand. “I made polenta too.” I rolled my eyes again, more mischievously this time, “I guess that’s mostly for me.”

He stared at me with a furrowed brow, like he had no idea what I was talking about. It was kind of infuriating. I took a breath and pulled his gag loose. “Is polenta ok?”

He coughed and sputtered and stared up at me wide eyed and finally only managed to get out the word polenta

“You’ll try some.” I patted his ankle as he flinched away from me. 

You’re going to like it, I thought. “You want to try and eat in the dining room? Are you going to behave?” I narrowed a humored appraisal on him.

He nodded slowly and spoke in a shaky voice. “Yes.”

I thought I could see a hint of a smile in his eyes. I smiled in return and held up the ring of keys with a rattle. “Want to get those off?”

He tugged at his shackles and looked up at me nervously. He nodded slowly, his wrists trembling as he held them out to me.

I put my hand on them, and he flinched away. “Relax,” I said, in my most soothing cadence. And smoothly unlocked his cuffs. I chuckled as I set them on the chair next to me and rested my chin in my palm. Even all stressed out like this he was still so endearing. 

He fell back against the wall, rubbing his wrists.

I stood. “Well, let’s go have a nice dinner.” I waved a self-congratulatory hand. “I think you’re really going to like it.” 

He tried to stand and stumbled.

“Oh,” I held out a hand to keep him from trying to stand again, “I’m sorry.” I jangled the ring of keys searching for the teeth that unlocked the foot shackles. I found it and smiled up at him. “You’re going to behave, right?”

He cleared his throat, nodded, and shook his head, before opening his eyes wide and leveling them on me. “Yes.”

The thing is; that’s all I wanted to hear. I just wanted him to try. Try and make this work. I smiled with relief and bent down and unlocked the cuffs.

After that I saw stars. His foot had come up so fast into my chin, I was genuinely surprised. I thought he had grown far too weak to mount such a vicious attack. I whirled around and wiped the blood from my nose and smiled. He’s forgotten about the chain that held him about the waist. I get it. The shackles are just so exhausting, you kind of forget about the less uncomfortable things.

He snapped against the chain, his legs and arms shooting forward before he thumped against the hard, coarse cement floor.

I winced at the thought of him hitting his head. 

He moaned. 

I opened an eye. “Are you ok?”

He moaned again.

The food was getting cold, and just as I was getting ready to call it quits and go clean up and eat some left-overs alone and bring him a plate, he pushed himself up and at least made the effort to smile that warm, friendly smile we used to share. “I want to come up and eat.”

I smirked and squinted an eye. “Do you really?”

He coughed, shrugged and slouched in defeat, “Yeah.” 

I know what you're thinking. I don’t know why I believed him either. But I did it anyway. I unchained him and helped him to the stairs, and he blindsided me and shoved me across the room, scrambling up the steps in a panic. 

I ran after him, holding up a hand. “Stop. don’t go.”

He stumbled and turned back. “You’re crazy.” 

I smiled, “Stop,” and waved a hand toward the kitchen. “You’re going to love dinner.”

He stared at me in disbelief. 

For a second, I thought he was going to reconsider, and come eat.

He huffed a cough of disbelief, turned, and continued scrambling up the stairs.

I held up a hand and called after him. “But I made pesto.”

September 29, 2023 23:38

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.