Broken Pasts
Author:C.M. Stunich

chapter 11

“He's following us,” I told Nathaniel as we pulled out of the parking lot and started heading south on 'A' Street. Rhea turned around at my words and tried to look out the back window.

“Who?” she asked as I tried to swallow my anger and put on a fake smile.

“Just Joel,” I said, trying to lighten the situation. “I bet he's just mad that we beat him tonight. What do you think?” Rhea nodded and stuffed the massive lollipop that she'd won from a claw machine into her mouth. Joking aside, Joel had seemed just the slightest bit ticked off that we'd won. Apparently Jamie had been right: having Nathaniel on The McMaster Lizards had been a double blessing. Not only had my game been better because of him, but he was an awesome bowler.

“It's okay,” Nathaniel said, calm as always. “Just relax. It's an intimidation tactic. If there's one thing these … ” He paused as if considering his words carefully. Trying to talk secretively in front of a nine year old is not the easiest thing to do. “These bowlers like to do. It's to make you feel scared or upset. Oftentimes, that's their only motivation. They want you to feel small because it makes them feel big.”

“Like a bully?” Rhea asked and Nathaniel nodded.

“Exactly like a bully,” he said as we turned right and started back towards the house. I didn't like the idea of leading Gary back there, but then, it wasn't as if the location of my house was a secret or anything. Besides, if Nathaniel said it was going to be okay then it was. Call me stupid for wanting to trust him, but it really did make sense from a psychological level. He'd failed to save his wife from her ex-husband and now he had the chance to save me from mine. Even with just the redemption factor in place, it was worth it for him to be right about this, to protect me. That's not even mentioning the face that he was getting paid to do it. Or that he had an interest in me. I shivered involuntarily and then had to deal with Rhea's raised eyebrows.

“It's hot in here,” she said without any further explanation as I forced myself to keep my gaze forward and off of Gary's silver BMW. I don't know where the white car from the previous nights had come from, but he was back in his own vehicle now and he was riding our tail like nobody's business.

“Please tell me you have some cute bumper sticker about how you're going to kick his … ” I looked down at Rhea's inquisitive face and altered what I was about to say. “Butt if he keeps tailgating us.”

“Unfortunately no,” Nathaniel said with a small smile that I caught in the rearview mirror. “But I could still kick his butt when we get back to your house if that's what you want. We'll just say he was threatening you and call it a day.” I smiled back at him and forced myself to keep my hands folded gently in my lap. I could see how the stress of this could kill a person. I decided to try and flirt with Nathaniel again. It had worked beautifully at the bowling alley. It was as if since he was being forced to play the part of the 'boyfriend', that he could let himself go and just enjoy being with me. I wondered if it would still work with just Rhea as an audience member.

“Would you join me for a terrible romantic comedy this evening?” I asked. “It's kind of tradition that Jamie and I go home and each watch a different one after bowling, so we have something to talk about in the morning. We've done it for years.” I waited impatiently for Nathaniel's response. Bodyguard warred with boyfriend for a moment as we paused at a stoplight. Finally, he answered me and it wasn't what I wanted to hear.

“Under different circumstances … ” he started and I held up my hands, hoping that he was glancing back at me.

“That's okay,” I said, not wanting him to feel the need to explain. I didn't know why I'd even asked. He'd be there anyway, standing behind me and staring at the wall. He'd hear most of the good parts, either way. Besides, most movies were bad enough that they weren't much better than staring at a blank wall.

“I know you're probably getting tired of hearing that,” Nathaniel supplied, and I could tell that he felt the need to explain himself whether I wanted him to or not. “But with this … ” He gestured vaguely towards the back of the car, and I nodded. “I don't know if it's safe.”

“Right,” I said and was suddenly convinced that the world had it out for me. Either that or I was just embarrassed at getting turned down. It was probably for the best anyway. What kind of woman falls in love while she's being stalked by her ex? It just didn't seem right though I knew logic wouldn't play a part in any of my decisions. It never did, especially when it came to love. Not that I thought I was in love with Nathaniel, of course. But I was definitely in lust. I hadn't had daytime sex fantasies ever. Now I was spending half my idle time wondering what Nathaniel looked like under all that suit. I was guessing he waxed, or at least shaved. I couldn't imagine a hairy chest or back on the man. “But I am going to start asking for rain checks.” Nathaniel grinned and I could tell the expression was genuine, even if I couldn't see most of it.

“I could definitely agree to that,” he said and I felt my heart skip a beat, just one, but it was enough that I took notice. It was nice to know that the poor thing wasn't too wounded to get up and try again. It had been beaten, bruised, and bloodied, broken in two and wrapped up again, but it was still there, still thumping away for one more chance at that perfect kiss, that perfect person that could take the darkness and the bad memories and the anger and push it all away again, bring out the sun and light up my soul.



***

“Two freaking days, Jamie,” I said as I carefully applied my eyeliner and batted my lashes at my reflection. “You can't even remotely pretend that I know the guy after two days.”

“Three days,” Jamie corrected me as she slurped something noisily in my ear. I adjusted the volume on the phone as she continued to talk. Convincing me to have sex with Nathaniel had now become her number one priority. I kind of thought it was because she really wanted to fuck him and so was living vicariously through me, but I didn't say anything aloud. Partially that was because Nathaniel was standing just outside the bathroom door and partially because I knew Jamie would kill me if I said it. “And you're thinking about it all wrong. How long does a first date usually last?”

“A good one or a bad one?”

“Why does that matter?”

“The bad ones always last longer.” Jamie sighed.

“A good one then,” she said as she started chewing. “A great one, an amazing one, one where you hit it off right away, find each other attractive, and have a lot in common. One where you just can't wait to jump into bed together and start humping.”

“Dear god,” I said as fluffed my hair and pouted my lips. I'd found an aquamarine dress in the back of my closet, a sleeveless one with a square neckline that showed off my breasts and complimented my skin. I hadn't looked this hot since I'd met Glen, since I was a teenager. “I'll pretend you didn't just say that and answer the question. Say we do the standard dinner and a movie thing, I'd say about four hours, tops.”

“Okay, so barring the time with Cedric and time to sleep, you've spent say, forty-eight waking hours with Nathaniel?” I could see where this was going, so I rolled my eyes.

“I'm hanging up now.”

“That's the equivalent of twelve dates, Theresa.”

“Goodbye Jamie.”

“Think about it.” I hung up the phone, turned off the sink and the fan and opened the door to find Nathaniel staring at me. He was smiling and didn't look at all like a bodyguard, more like a very close friend with a secret to tell.

“You don't have to pretend to go to the bathroom to get some privacy,” he told me as he stepped out of my way and allowed me to pass by him and into the kitchen. After I'd dropped Rhea off at her friend's house for a play date, I'd come back to the house for awhile, intending to get most of my work done from home. It was easier than facing Gary's gaunt face. He'd sat outside all night long in his car, just waiting for me to come outside. When I had that morning, he'd gotten out and sat on the hood. When I'd come back, he'd done the same. It made me want to turn the house into a fortress, barricade all the doors and windows and just hide away. Nathaniel wouldn't let me, but he also couldn't force me to go anywhere, show the world what was happening. A couple of Glen's friends worked at the office next door to mine. If they saw what was going on, they'd tell him. That was for sure. It was Saturday, so maybe I was being paranoid, but I wasn't going to take any chances.

“What are you talking about?” I asked as I poured myself a cup of coffee and pretended not to be mortified. I sipped it black, savoring the bitter bite on my tongue. I found myself glancing at the clock and realized that it was almost time for him to leave. Disappointment flooded through me and I felt a frown cross my lips before I could stop it. Nathaniel just kept this wicked, little smile on his face.

“I can assure you that if you request it, I won't listen in on your conversations.” I bet you're wrong about that. You'd definitely want to hear about these ones, I thought, but I said nothing aloud.

“Thanks. I'll try to keep that in mind.” I took another sip of coffee. “I was thinking, on Sunday, when you come back, if you'd be willing to teach me to shoot. I don't need to learn anything fancy, just how to point and click in case … in case anything happens.” In case I have to shoot Gary in an altercation. In that scenario, the gun wouldn't be the problem, my emotions would. I just didn't know if I'd be able to do it.

“Of course,” Nathaniel said and I could see that he was more than happy to oblige. He put his hands on the countertop and paused for a moment, running his tongue subconsciously across his lower lip. My eyes followed the motion and then flickered away to stare at one of Rhea's drawings on the refrigerator. “I don't mean to alarm you, but can I make a suggestion?” I nodded. “If this doesn't stop soon, I think you should consider applying for a CHL.” I stared at Nathaniel and tried not to squeeze the ceramic mug too tightly.

“What makes you think I'd need to carry a concealed weapon?” I asked, trying to sound nonchalant, but instead I think I sounded angry. Not at Nathaniel but at Gary.

“Just as a precaution,” he said as he dropped his hands by his sides. “I know he hasn't tried anything yet, but that could be because I'm here. If you were to stop by your office in the evening or on a weekend … ” I cut Nathaniel off, determined not to go there.

“Thanks for the advice,” I said and although it came out sounding a bit snippy, I really meant it. “I'll look into that.” I set my coffee cup on the counter at the same moment the doorbell rang. Nathaniel answered it without another word and welcomed a stoic Cedric into the living room. The two of them whispered for a moment before they both came back over to talk to me. “He's still out there, isn't he?” I asked. It was Nathaniel that answered me.

“He's touring the house across the street.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” I snapped. The house opposite mine was the gem of the neighborhood with a backyard full of fruit trees and three stories of brand new siding that towered over my little rental and threw it in shadows during the best part of the day. It had been up for sale for quite awhile now, lost in a drowning housing market. Gary and I had planned on buying it because I loved the neighborhood. That was just weeks before I'd left him. Like I said, cold turkey. He hadn't given me a warning or a transition period. He had just changed into a different person and left me reeling. “He can't possibly still be considering buying it.” Nathaniel and Cedric glanced at each other, but neither of them said a thing. I slammed my coffee cup down on the counter and tried to control the font of rage that had just opened up inside of me. “I'm going over there,” I said suddenly. My fear of Gary had just dissipated in a cloud of anger.

“I wouldn't advise that,” Nathaniel said as I moved past him and grabbed my coat from a hook near the front door. He followed after me, Cedric in tow, but didn't stop me as I opened the door and started towards the street. “The way he's been acting lately is a bad sign, Theresa. He's like a bomb that's ready to explode.” I ignored Nathaniel, even as he kept pace with me, a perfect column of darkness in his suit, hair showing the slightest hint of red when the sun hit it.

“I don't care,” I said, feeling angry not just at Gary's recent behavior but all of it. I felt tricked by him, used. He'd fed me a false personality, tricked me into liking him, made me feel wanted. Then he'd flipped everything around and started threatening me. It wasn't fair; it just was not fair. I couldn't keep getting the short end of the stick. I deserved to be loved, didn't I? Rhea and I deserved the house with the fruit trees and the wraparound porch, right? I hadn't told anyone, but I kind of had my heart set on that house. It might seem stupid. I mean, if not Gary then someone else might swoop down and buy it, but there was something about him doing it that just set me off. And it really had nothing to do with the stalking incidents, at least not in the forefront of my mind. This was about the principle of the thing, and sometimes principle is all we have.

“I'll wait outside,” Cedric mumbled as he took a position by the front door. I grabbed the knob and let myself in. Nathaniel was right behind me.

The realtor, a pretty woman in a red suit jacket and black pumps, was staring at me like I was crazy. Gary, who looked much better now than when I'd seen him earlier, smiled at us, ever the perfect gentleman in a charcoal gray suit. His hair was slicked back and he was clean shaven. He was even wearing the watch I'd given to him for a wedding present.

“Good, you're here,” Gary said as he put his hand on the realtor's shoulder. “Miss Aimes, this is my wife, Theresa.”

“Ex-wife,” I corrected, feeling this tiny sliver of fear work its way into my heart. It was cold and sharp, a painful reminder of the e-mails and the phone calls and the way he stood outside my window and stared. God, Theresa, what are you doing here? Gary's smile faltered but only briefly. Miss Aimes looked confused.

“Theresa, honey, don't be so cruel. I didn't put in the offer without you, now did I?” he said, like this was all some big, stupid joke. I glared at him and forced myself to swallow past the fear.

“You're not buying this house,” I said and Gary held up his hands in surrender.

“Okay, not this house then. I thought you liked it is all. We can look at other houses.”

“We're not looking at anything,” I told him, feeling brave with Nathaniel at my back. It might've been because he was a bodyguard or because he was armed, but I don't think so. I just liked having him there. His presence was comforting. I glanced at him briefly and noticed that he'd taken up an overly professional position with his arms crossed in front of him, sunglasses back in place. I knew it. It's a defense mechanism. “You're leaving. Now.”

“Theresa – ”

“Now!” I said, but the only person that was startled by my voice was Miss Aimes.

“Maybe we'd better call it a day?” she suggested and her voice was mousy and weak. I hope I never sound like that, I thought as Gary's brown eyes found mine. They didn't look the same as they had before, when we'd first met. Back then, they'd be gentle and friendly, warm. Now, they were shiny, too shiny, like Gary wasn't really home. This man might've looked like Gary, talked like Gary, but he wasn't Gary. There was no soul behind those eyes, just want, hunger. It scared me, really scared me.

“Theresa,” he said again and his eyes found Nathaniel, gave him a once over that said volumes about his opinion of the man. “Why don't we talk about this outside?”

“Why don't we,” I said, but my voice had lost some of its oomph. Miss Aimes let us out, carefully locking the door behind us. When she saw Cedric, she nearly had a hear attack. After she was done, she practically ran to her car; she didn't even wait for us to get off the porch.

I stood there with Cedric and Nathaniel at my back, feeling protected but kind of silly, too. What if someone were to drive by and see this? What would they think?

“Theresa,” Gary began, but I cut him off. I really didn't feel like listening to him talk. The things he'd said in his messages and his e-mails had been enough. When he stepped forward, I moved back and he paused. Gary licked his lips and glanced over at my house.

“Please leave me alone,” I said. I didn't beg, just asked. My voice was calm and assertive but not aggressive. Gary's eyes swung back to me and held onto my face, searching for some emotion that I wasn't giving him. The shine was still in his eyes, but he seemed marginally more sane now than he had when he'd been standing outside my house that morning. Maybe he'd started taking his medication? I mean, I didn't know if he had any or not, but it was the most plausible explanation for his flip-flopping behavior. Gary had a mental disorder of some sort, I was sure. “Just stop,” I told him. “I don't love you anymore.” I paused. Love. It was such a strange concept. It was something that should be everlasting, something that could wipe out any disagreement or hurt or pain, and yet, it was, more often than not, the cause of those very things. And in my life, it'd always come in short, little bursts that faded faster than they'd begun. It made me question if I'd ever even had it all. I told Gary so. “In fact, I don't think that I ever loved you, Gary.” It was harsh, and as soon as I said it, I regretted it. Even though I knew it was true.

I felt Nathaniel shift behind me, but he didn't say a thing. Neither did Gary. He just stood there with that strange glaze in his eyes and looked at me like I was the crazy person.

“And we're not getting back together, do you understand that?” Still, no response. “Gary?”

“I love you, Theresa,” he said before he descended the steps and disappeared.