Here’s the final installment of my serialized short story. If you missed part I and II you’ll want to read those first. Hope you enjoy it!
Sally and I grabbed a booth in the back of a little bistro we were favored. The food was pretty mediocre, but the booth was out of the traffic pattern and it gave us a little privacy.
She looked ravishing today. A bottle blonde, with bobbed curls in a dark suit with what looked suspiciously like a negligee poking out from the jacket — while she wasn’t an unnaturally busty half-naked warrioress, I was still definitely interested.
We’d done this little dance fairly regularly for the last month, so as my pasta congealed and her salad grew soggy, I scooted closer and tried to whisper something teasing in her ear.
She scooted away with a scandalized glance and cut her eyes at my stalker, who’d parked a chair at the end of our table. “Your friend!” She muttered with wide eyes.
“He doesn’t mind,” I said, nuzzling into her hair.
She gave me a shove. “I mind.” I got distracted by the view down her blouse as she straightened her jacket, so I almost missed it when she said, “I told you before. I’m not fooling around with an audience.”
I gave my stalker a flat look and he returned it in kind.
“I’m sorry he’s so rude.” Sally used a totally different voice when she addressed my stalker. It was very professional and deferential.
I didn’t really hear his reply.
“I’m sorry. I’ve been being rude.” I said, in my rudest possible tone. “Sally, this is Stalker McFollowMegus. He insists on creepily going everywhere I do.”
To punctuate my point, I jabbed my fork down into my pasta and shoved it into my mouth.
My stalker made noises that may have been words, I’m not sure. I couldn’t really hear them over my angry mastication. But my ears pricked up as Sally replied.
“It’s just that… I think people should be allowed to do what they want, y’know?”
He nodded, as though he thought exactly the same thing. I shoveled another bite into my mouth, trying to remember what he’d asked that prompted her response… and missed what he was saying again.
It didn’t matter. Not really. I’d come here to flirt with Sally. That was what this lunch was about, and he’d forced himself into the middle of it. Now, he and Sally were chatting and I was left out in the cold.
Angrily, I scarfed down another cold bite of pasta. It tasted awful.
Sally and my stalker were having some weird philosophical discussion about people making their own choices or whether they should be forced into compliance with some standard of good behavior. I wasn’t really following it. I barely even heard that he was talking, and she was so engaged, her eyes sparkling with an intelligence I’d never noted, leaned forward toward him, almost bouncing in her seat — it made me angry. Jealous. He was trying to steal her from me. That’s what this was about.
I slammed my fork down on the ceramic plate with so much force it cracked.
Sally gave me a shocked look. “Are you okay?”
My stalker laid a hand on my shoulder, gently. I violently batted it away. “No. I’m not okay!” I shouted.
Our server apparated beside the table, showing a bit too much white around his eyes.
“Sir, you need to stop shouting. You’re upsetting the other guests.”
“I’m upsetting the other guests?” I ranted. I decided I was going to show this server just who he was dealing with. I’d stand up, puff out my chest and loom threateningly as I poked my finger in his face and told him just what I thought. I mean, c’mon! This freak show was following me everywhere. Into the freaking shower! He’d wrecked my lunch date, and some idiot had the gall to say I was the problem?
I lost a lot of momentum trying to scoot around the bench of the booth so I could get out. Then as I tried to stand, Sally grabbed my arm and pulled me back. I fell back against her, crushing her against the booth and knocking the wind out of her. She held onto my arm, though.
“Settle down.” She hissed.
I flailed my arm to get her off, but only managed to knock over my drink. Sally shrieked as 32ozs of crushed ice and a tiny bit of coke gushed into her lap.
Finally, I made it to my feet, just as the manager came over.
“Sir, we’re going to have to ask you to leave.”
“Me?” I demanded, indignant. “What about this clown?”
I pointed at my stalker. His eyes glistened with unshed tears, and there once again was that love I’d seen. He was so desperately in love with me.
The rage whooshed out of me and I felt oddly hollow. I looked at Sally. Her face was red and blotchy. Far from fetching, she now looked more dangerous than one of my warrior woman cards. Her squinty eyes were promising a harsh retribution and they weren’t trained on the waiter or my stalker, they were spearing straight into me.
“Do I need to call the police?” The manager already had his cell phone out.
I looked back at my stalker. He was getting slowly to his feet.
The broken plate, spilled glass, Sally’s ruined suit and… puffy lip? Had I whacked her on the lip trying to get up? I felt a horrible surge of shame. What had I done? So what if Sally had a stupid conversation with… whoever he was? Why had I lashed out at everyone and created this mess?
I felt a vise grip on my arm. “Come with me.” The manager said in a no-nonsense tone, pulling me away from the table.
“Stop!” The voice was strong, authoritative, and everyone froze.
This man who’d been following me all day rose slowly to his feet. When he spoke again, his voice was quiet but firm. He stood confidently, in absolute control, but without a hint of tension. Smiling at me gently, he said, “This is my fault.”
I started to protest and he shushed me.
“I will pay the damages.” He said to the manager. Raising his voice to the other customers, he continued, “I’m sorry for creating a scene.”
For a moment, it was like a tableau, the entire restaurant was motionless, as though time had stopped. It hadn’t. I could hear the faint clicking of a mechanical clock on the wall and see the second hand marching forward. Then, as though on cue, everyone went back to their meals. The manager gripped my stalker by the arm, where a moment before he’d held me, and my stalked was escorted away, to pay the bill and be ejected from the restaurant.
Sally looked up at me. “What a jerk.” She said, waving after him.
The word came involuntarily. “What?”
“That idiot, smashing a plate, yelling and making a scene… who behaves that way.”
I was flabbergasted. She was clearly pointing and gesturing to my stalker, but describing my behavior. It wasn’t just her. I could see across the restaurant, everyone had transferred their anger to him. It was as though my slate were washed clean, and he’d somehow taken complete responsibility for what I’d done.
All day long, he’s been walking along with me, smiling, encouraging, speaking quietly, and I’d been ignoring him. I struggled, trying to recall a single thing I’d heard him say today. Nothing would come.
I looked at Sally, annoyance writ large on her face as she glared across the restaurant at the man who’d followed me all day.
“What did the two of you talk about?”
Her eyes flicked to me, surprised, maybe even a little guarded.
“I was just saying I think bad things should never happen.”
I nodded. That made sense to me.
“So what did he say?”
She shrugged and shook her head. “He was saying something about how people have to be allowed to make their own choices.”
I turned and watched as he paid the bill for my meal and the plate I’d broken. Additionally, I watched as he bore the weight of all I had done.
“Excuse me,” I said, rising from the booth and crossing to the counter where my new friend was paying.
He turned and smiled at me as I approached.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Thank you for being with me today. Will you… will you be with me tomorrow?”
He gave me a probing look. “Do you want me to be?” He asked.
* * *
Morning drug me out of my reverie without compassion. I got up, took a shower, grabbed breakfast and headed to work, only to wake up and realize it was a dream. The clock said I was running late. So I rushed out the door to work and then woke up again. Another dream.
I clawed my way out of bed, stumbling drunkenly toward the bathroom, and… I saw a man sitting in the chair in the corner. He was watching me. What was he doing in my home? Had he been watching me sleep?
“What are you doing in my house?” I shouted.
He smiled gently at me, shaking his head. Something in his expression seemed familiar. Had this all happened before? It seemed eerily familiar…
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Did you enjoy the story? Did it make you think? What stands out to you? Did you see yourself in this at any point? Let me know in the comments.