everything. Became the beauty I didn’t think he’d resist. Lived the
lie I thought he could love.
to recover the years that she took from us. Yet, I’m still empty-handed.
I’ve earned him. It’s time to collect my prize, and I’ll be
damned if I let anyone come between us this late in the game.
my greatest obstacle would be me.
I’ve easily blown through half a grand today following Brooks around like this, but no opportunity has felt right until now. I watch him disappear into Publix, and squeal with delight as I come up with a plan he won’t be able to ignore. I check my makeup in the mirror, and then tell the Uber guy he’s free to go before tipping him generously. I’m such a great customer.
I’m careful as I pluck a cart from a stall and enter through the automatic doors, my eyes sweeping the immediate area for any site of him. It rolls smoothly across the floor, the store so quiet I can hear my heart drumming in my ears. I reach up to my lip and wipe the sweat away, pushing the cart faster as I realize I could lose him. When I come to the end and still don’t see him, I figure we must have missed each other and decide to turn around. Quickly, I push my way through each aisle, my armpits growing wet with each passing minute.
On the fourth or fifth aisle I’ve turned down, I slow as I approach an elderly man in a motorized cart—temporarily blocked as a display is taking up the other half of the aisle. My lungs fill with a deep breath, my teeth gritting as I prepare to turn around, but then…
Brooks—my beautiful soon-to-be fiance.
He’d been kneeling on the other side of the display, eyes staring at cans in front of him. Just like a man, taking more than two seconds to decide on some tomatoes. Quietly, I back down the aisle, quickly scanning the neighboring aisles to find what I’m looking for—a middle-aged schmuck who’ll take my money.
“You,” I nod to a tall man with a receding hairline, keeping my voice at a whisper. I hand him a hundred bucks. “You can keep it if you follow me around for a few minutes and hit on me, say creepy things, do that whistle shit you guys do.”
His eyes narrow at me as he stretches out the bill in his fingers. “What?”
“There’s another where that came from if you just do it and don’t ask questions,” I say through my teeth. I pull the other hundred from my purse and show it to him. “I’ll hide it under the giant Easter Bunny near the front door on my way out. You have my word.”
He cocks an eyebrow, staring at me for a moment before lifting a shoulder. “Sure, whatever you say, Lady, as long as you don’t try to get me arrested. I’ll even grab you if you want!”
My nostrils flare. “That won’t be necessary.”
He shrugs as I swing my cart back around, but he follows me as ordered. I urge him to back up a bit, so he keeps a fair distance. When I return to the aisle Brooks was on, my heart slows with relief when I see that he’s still there, fingers trailing over the noodles this time.
I straighten my dress and walk past Brooks, glancing back to make sure Creep-For-Hire is in tow, but of course he is. He wants that extra money.
“Please leave me alone before I get the manager!” I say over my shoulder, looking back and giving him a wink.
“Mmm,” the guy says. “If the manager is a lady as hot as you, we can make it one of them menage things, whatever they call it.”
“Go away!” I hiss as my cart edges past Brooks.
Brooks’s head begins to turn. I pretend I don’t see him and keep going, Creep still following.
“Damn, baby, you fine.” Maybe he’s enjoying this too much.
“I’m going to call the police!” I say, turning my head to look at Creep, my eyes intentionally connecting with Brooks’s.
“Emily!” His eyes widen, the noodle box falling from his hand as he rushes to my side and grabs me by the arm. “Who is this guy?”
“I don’t know him,” I shake my head. “I think he’s a rapist or something.”
Color drains from the man’s face, his jaw slackening. “Rapist!? Lady, you—”
I widen my eyes at him, my fingers waving the money at my side.
“Get lost,” Brooks says, stepping in front of me. “She’s not interested.”
The man doesn’t look pleased. Doesn’t look amused that I’ve put him in this precarious position. I mouth the word Bunny, and he turns, looking unsure as to whether I’ll actually leave it, but likely not wanting to risk any criminal charge.
“What a creep,” Brooks says as the man turns from the aisle.
“I know, right? A woman can’t even shop these days.”
He shakes his head. “I only need a few more things. Stay with me.” There’s a glimmer in his eyes as he says it, and I want to tell him how I’ll always stay with him and never ever leave, but sigh … another day.
After abandoning my cart, I follow my love throughout the store, swinging my hips exaggeratedly as Brooks finishes up his light shopping. Creep occasionally comes into view, and I wink and flash the money every time. When Brooks is done, I grab things a few things for myself that will drive him absolutely crazy: strawberries, chocolate, candles—most importantly one of those miniature “neck massagers” they sell that we all know women are using on their pussies instead.
After I place it in the cart, I see the pulse thumping in Brooks’s neck and note the avoidance of eye contact. The gears are turning. Yes!
“I have the worst neck pain lately,” I whisper.
A hoarse clearing of his throat before we reach the check-out. I make sure to bend and twist just right so as to torture him like he deserves. Sweat has prickled on his forehead, still avoiding my gaze before insisting on paying my thirty-two dollar bill. I wander toward the doors as he loads his own stuff onto the belt. Stuff the money under the bunny—Creep immediately rushing to pick it up to continue his shopping with a smile on his face and a skip in his step.
As we enter the parking lot, Brooks asks, “So, you been keeping the gas tank full?”
I smirk at him. “Unfortunately for you, huh?”
He doesn’t get the joke. Maybe he’s the one who needs to take a class. “You need help loading your stuff in?”
“No, thanks.” I smile. Like I need help with one fucking bag. I turn my body as if I’m about to walk away. “Oh, wait. Dammit.”
I sigh, my shoulders sagging. “I totally forgot. I took an Uber here, because I had a couple drinks, but with that creep following me around, I forgot to request another car. Would it be too much trouble for you to take me home?”
“Drinking this early?” He smiles as I nod. A contemplative sound escapes escapes him before he chews his cheek. “Yeah, I guess I could do that.”
When we pull up at my house, he’s polite and helps me out of the car, my bag in his hand. Inside, he pulls the items from it and places them on the counter, a damp spot having accumulated in the center of his shirt. I really think this is it, the start of our true journey together. He’s going to kiss me, I just know it.
Disappointingly, Lucy trots in, and he immediately bends to her, his hand raking over her fur before he heads to the door.
Oh, my God, he’s leaving. Really? What do I have to do to get this man’s attention?
I panic. Yank a coupon from my fridge and call out to him, holding it in the air. “Have you ever eaten at this place?”
He turns suddenly, then walks over and looks at it. “No, but I’m sure it’s good.”
“Hmm. I might check it out later tonight. After I use my massager for a bit. I’m so tense.” My hand rises to my neck, and I close my eyes. Lick my lips.
When I open them again, he’s looking at my mouth—his eyes stuck, pulse racing in his neck.
“Yeah, do that,” he says, except I don’t know if he means fuck myself or try the Mexican, but I’m guessing he was talking about the Mexican, because he heads to the door again like a gay man would. “See you later.”