Well, it’s now Elyse’s birthday… and surprises await her everywhere she turns. In fact, it’s actually starting to feel kind of magical the way all of the pieces of her life are finally beginning to fall into place… but, is it for better or for worse?
EXCERPT FROM: “PS, BOOK 1”
CH. 6, “TORTURE”
“Have you noticed how insane everyone is around here?” The sound of his voice entered my ears and infiltrated my veins causing my pulse to race.
Don’t bother looking at him. He’s not talking to you.
Our hands reached out for the same pack of strawberries. I felt the warmth of his skin skim mine and forced myself to pull away. He kept speaking, “Totally insane.”
I searched for the grocer, who was on the other side of the store. I searched again, this time for other shoppers, but Brendon and I were the only ones there. Was he actually talking to me? I looked up slowly into his eyes. I had to tell myself to look away.
“Sorry. Did you want those?” he pointed to the strawberries.
“Yes, thank you. Who’s insane? Are you referring to me?” Even I noticed the tinge of exasperation in my voice as I reached to pick up the strawberries again, this time on my own.
“What?” he laughed sweetly, smiling his crooked smile, and ran his fingers through his hair. I shuddered imagining what that felt like. “No. Everybody.”
“Oh, so not me specifically… but me inclusively?” I mumbled, not meaning to be funny, but he laughed anyway.
“So, how’ve you been?” he went on.
I hadn’t realized it because I’d been focused on trying not to look stupid while simultaneously paying for my groceries and holding a conversation with him, but Brendon and I were walking down the street together toward my apartment — and he had slipped his hand under the straps of my shopping bag to carry it for me. I attempted to speak, but no sound came out.
“So, you live here?” he asked, as I stopped in front of my door. I removed my fingers that had become entwined with his and reached for my keys.
“Um, yeah. Did you… want to come in… or… something?” Why did I just ask that? Of course he doesn’t want to come in.
“Um, okay. So I guess I should warn you that I’m going out of town in about an hour.” I held the door open so he could walk in ahead of me. Charmant leapt off the bed and stared at us from the middle of the floor. “Claire’s picking me up.”
“Warn me? Where are you going… on an African safari? Do I have to worry about you getting eaten by lions?” he laughed, but his voice was somber as he patted the top of Charmant’s head. He walked toward the back window as though securing the premises and then faced me, his eyes narrowing slightly. “So where are you going, Elyse?”
“Mystic. It was Claire’s idea. She and her friend Abby and I are going. It’s actually…” I was silent as I pondered whether or not to mention my birthday to him.
“What is it… actually?” he insisted quietly.
I hesitated long enough for him to glare at me. I winced, “… my birthday getaway weekend.”
“Wait… it’s your birthday?” Brendon’s voice suggested he thought he should have known sooner. And he probably would have, if I hadn’t stayed away from him for so long.
“Hmm… well, happy birthday,” he mumbled.
“Thanks,” I smiled. “The big one-nine.” I waved jazz hands at him.
“Yep. You’re definitely getting on in years.” He stated wryly.
I threw a small pillow at him. I meant for it to bump him on his head, but he caught it effortlessly in mid-coast.
Brendon surveyed the room, getting a feel for it… for me. “This is a great space.”
“Umm, yeah… it’s small but comfortable for me… and my cat.”
He turned away from me to look around, but I could tell he was laughing.
“Umm… did you want to sit down?” I altered the subject.
“May I look through your CDs?” He altered it again.
“S-sure,” I stuttered. I couldn’t imagine him approving of my music collection, so I decided to head him off at the pass, “but… you probably won’t like any of them. My taste in music is kinda weird.” I scrunched myself between him and my CDs and stared up at him a moment.
Brendon looked down at me as if I was specifically and inclusively insane, then closed his eyes, “Please move out of the way.”
I rephrased myself, “I mean, eclectic.”
“Mine, too… let me see.” He waited impatiently until I staggered away from him, fretting in silence as he rifled through pages and pages of discs for several, overly long minutes.
“You’re missing some great stuff,” he ultimately accused.
“Oh, yeah? Like what?” As if I wasn’t already self-conscious enough around him, now Brendon had deemed my entire music collection unlistenable.
“… A lot of new stuff. Umm… and what is that vinyl doing over there?” He was looking at the shelf where I thought I had adequately hidden my records.
I frowned at him and turned on the radio. Much safer. I lowered the volume as Brendon nodded his approval and found a place to sit on the floor with his arms stretched back behind him.
“We actually have some of the same music,” he said, pulling gently at my pant leg. “Sit with me.” But the idea of being that close to him both delighted and scared me all at once. I chose to take a seat in the rocking chair beside my fireplace instead. “Do you use that?” he motioned behind me.
“The fireplace? Umm, not yet. I’m a little afraid. I don’t want to burn down the neighborhood. I love the idea of it, though.”
He laughed. “I can show you how to build a fire, if you like.”
I looked away from him so his eyes wouldn’t read mine. I thought about what it would be like to watch Brendon build a fire. I imagined him blowing on a small flame and placing tinder around it to make it grow. The vision made me catch my breath. I wouldn’t have been able to trust myself around him in a situation like that. “Umm… I’ll think about it. Thanks.”
“Well, I know you have to get ready for your trip, so I should be going.” He stood up abruptly from the floor, tucking his hands loosely into the pockets of his jeans and rocking back on the heels of his Vans.
“Oh, okay,” I said, attempting to mask my disappointment. He was right, though. Claire would be here soon and I didn’t want to have to explain him to her. I wasn’t ready to share him with anyone. Not that he belonged to me.
We walked together to the door. A rush of fragrant autumn air swept in as I opened it. It strengthened the depth of Brendon’s own naturally rosy scent and overtook my entire body. I stumbled. He caught me, just enough to steady my imbalance.
“Careful out there,” he whispered seriously into my ear. Then he smiled his good-bye and was gone.
I closed the door behind him and sank against it. Charmant trotted over to me and meowed as if to say, “Where’s Brendon going?”
I shrugged my shoulders in reply and picked him up for a quick snuggle. “Honestly, I have no idea.”