You know how they say to write the book you would want to read? I’ve got like, 50,000 stories I want to read, but there’s one that’s come to mind repeatedly as of late, and I badly want to read it. I sort of wish someone else would write it, because I’m lazy and I usually choose reading someone else’s work over writing my own but if this book is out there, I haven’t found it.
I have seen the scenario played out a ton of times in books and movies, and they’re always the same; a normal girl meets a notable figure (usually an actor), who she treats like a leper, but for some inexplicable reason (don’t try telling me it’s refreshing to be treated like an idiot) he decides he’s in love with her.
The premise annoys me for two reasons. One, it’s difficult to make a likeable protagonist out of a person who, based on their prejudices, treats another person like crap. Most writers can’t do it, but it’s treated like an indestructible trope, like a writer can’t mess it up because why wouldn’t the normal girl eventually fall for the sought after actor, and how could the actor surrounded by people who aren’t what they seem not fall for the refreshingly real girl? Because she’s rude, and he’s only interested in the chase, that’s why.
Secondly, as alluded to above, I think it dumbs down the concept. It’s really a modern retelling of a “peasant/prince” story with all of the romance and heart taken out of it.
I always wonder, “why are these girls always so aloof???” There are tons of other girls who would be happy to win the guy over with kindness, but I never read about them. What about the girls (I’m deeefinitely not one of these girls…. 😳) who don’t hate men just because they’re actors? Or the girls who don’t hide their admiration behind a mask of cynicism? And what if one of those girls met their actor crush and found out the downside of meeting a person who is the object of their creepy Google stalking?
I decided to take a whack at it and write something fun before I try to participate in National Novel Writing Month. 😳
So here’s the story I want to read.
I don’t really even like potatoes, I’m actually kind of allergic to them. They make my eyes swell and my voice gets all raspy like I’ve chain smoked since I was in utero. But I also lack a spine, and when my terrifying, frowning boss orders some kind of frilly, french potato dish for us without thinking to ask what I want -which I can’t blame him for, since he is footing the bill – I don’t have enough of a backbone to tell him that I can’t eat anything in the nightshade family.
He’s been my boss for the past year, and it was almost six months before I could even speak to him without having to hide how badly my hands shook. His temper was known to be unpredictable, and I didn’t enjoy when it was aimed at me. For the past month though, he’s been throwing hints about some kind of change in the company. I’ve been walking on eggshells for weeks, wondering if the promotion I’ve been hoping and working for would ever happen, and I can feel it coming.
I can tell today that he’s leading up to something, setting the stage and straightening his tie, firming up his posture, readying himself to deliver the news.
The food arrives and I chew on the inside of my cheek, wondering if I can push the food around enough to make it seem like I’ve eaten some. “Ellen,” he says, nodding as the waiter pours us each what can only add up to a dozen or so drops of red wine. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” his eyes flit down to my plate, and I quickly pick up my fork and shovel a bite into my mouth, squinting up my eyes in what I hope fills in for a smile. I’m going for delicate appreciation but it feels much more like ravenous caveman.
My throat is a little ticklish so I take a gulp of my water and he pauses as if he’s a little put off by my uncouth manners.
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we work well together.” He says, his eyes combing my face in a predatory way that makes me blush. Compliments from him don’t come often, which is a fact I’m thankful for. I can handle sternness, even shouting, tenderness from him makes me uncomfortable.
“Thank you.” I say, trying to meet his gaze, knowing I need to appear more assertive and sure than I really am.
I feel proud though, because I think I’ve earned his compliments. I’ve worked myself sick, staying late to go over projects with him, making sure everything is clearly planned out for him, and I hope that the extra time spent with him will have shown him how I deserve the new position. I have been needing the raise, and despite my effort not to imagine all the worries the money would ease, I am already depending on it. I lean forward, fiddling with a fork in my agitation, and I’m surprised by the sudden pressure of his hand on top of mine.
His hand. It’s gripping mine. My eyes widen, and I before I can stop myself, my lips curve into a frown of irritation. I frantically look up from his hand on top of mine to see his face. He doesn’t seem to notice though, because he continues talking. His voice holds the same stern confidence it does when he’s talking about business, but there’s an oily look in his eyes, a look that makes me feel like I’m caught in the web of some deadly creature. His voice breaks through my thoughts. “I want more of that.” He says meaningfully, his hand lifting mine and slipping his fingers between mine. I am so dumbfounded that I can’t bring myself to pull it away. “I want more of you.”
His voice is commanding, and he doesn’t have to expound on his intentions for them to be clear. His dry thumb is rubbing my palm and his eyes are searching my face like I’m a boiled lobster he’s trying to decide how he’s going to eat. I swallow, finding it hard to breathe, and suddenly I notice that I can’t. Breathe, that is. My throat is scratchy, and when I try to swallow, it feels thick and stiff.
“I want to take you home.” He says, finally pulling me from my stupor, and suddenly I am no longer shocked into silence. I’m embarrassed, and angry, but I’m not speechless. It’s all so insulted that I feel tears coming to my eyes, which are starting to itch so badly I can hardly keep them open. Maybe if I didn’t have a dozen other things on my mind right now, I would realize what was happening inside of my body beside the rising urge to strangle him, but I don’t even consider it.
All I can do in my bewildered state is stutter out a quiet, “B-but the management p-p-position…” my voice fades out on the last word like it knows how useless the question is.
“Of course.” He says slowly, “We can talk about that later.” His fingers tighten around mine and I realize he’s offering a package deal.
If my throat wasn’t already closing up, I’m sure that it would be full of bile right now. I feel an unpleasant chill as I picture what he’s suggesting, and when I open my mouth to speak, I can’t find the words anymore, words to adequately express the horror, the revulsion, the absolute affrontery I’m feeling.
All the hours I wasted with him, all of the extra work I’ve done was worthless. Was I overlooking leering glances and double entendres? Was I really foolish enough not to see it until now? A slew of memories suddenly surge together and slap me across the face, sending me reeling. Little comments I’ve laughed off, glances that I’ve ignored. They never seemed important then, because it was so impossible that they could mean anything. I didn’t invite attention, I never led him to believe I was interested in him. It never even occurred to me that I could be the subject of advances, from him or from anyone else.
I’m certainly no seductress. I’ve not even cosmopolitan. I spend my free evenings and weekends reading botany textbooks and popping in to check on the bluebird who lives next door while his owner is out of the country for the year. I haven’t been on a date in years, I don’t even remember the last time I caught a man looking at me.
It makes me angry now, to think that he has deluded himself so badly, when I never gave him so much as a hint I was interested.
“I-” he begins, but I rip my hand out of his grasp and stand up so quickly that my chair tips back and falls to the darkly stained wood floor with a clatter, stopping him.
“No!” I shout, surprised that saying so is even necessary. My voice sounds like it’s being grated out of my windpipe and I choke on my spit, trying to regain my dignity. I speak as loud as my throat can allow and right now I’m hoping, for the first time in my life, that everyone in the room can hear me. “I wouldn’t. I… I wouldn’t touch you!”
I turn to go, but stop myself. “I quit!” I shout, straightening my jacket and staring him in the eye. “And I hate potatoes!”
Feeling reassured that I’ve adequately cleared the air, I wipe at my tears and snatch my bag from where it has fallen to the floor, but when I turn to run from the room and bump into a waiter, my eyes are itching so badly I can hardly keep from sitting down right where I am and scratching them until the itching stops.
But I can feel that man’s eyes on me, and that gives me the strength I need to rush past the waiter and out of the room, back into the restaurant entrance where patrons are seated on tall chairs and stools, waited to be seated. I stop momentarily to dig through my purse, looking for my keys, and the tightness in my throat comes suddenly into focus. It’s becoming increasingly laborious to breath, and everyone in the lobby is looking at me as if they’re worried I’m contagious, even though it should be obvious to them that I’m simply in the last stages of a very unfortunate punishment stemming from my own stupidity.
I let them stare and rub at my face, daring them to draw away as I pass. It’s easier to get at my eyes without my glasses on, so I toss them into my purse once I reach the privacy of the darkened street outside and use to sleeve to dry the tears beginning to escape and make paths down my cheeks. Now would most likely be the best time to administer my epinephrine, if I want the swelling to stop before my eyeballs disappear forever, but as I dig blindly through my purse, I’m acutely aware of the absence of my medication. I push aside a pack of gum, a ticket stub and my wallet, and I’m vaguely aware that my purse is strangely empty, but the Epi-pen is all I can think about.
I’m feeling around in the lining, becoming quite frantic when I come up empty, pawing at my watering eyes and trying to swallow through the cotton in my throat, when suddenly I’m aware of someone rushing outside after me, calling for me to wait.
It’s a male voice, and although his voice is calm, he sounds relieved, like he thought he had missed me. “Pardon me, but you dropped these on your way out.”
I freeze and feel my heart skip to a stop, my own relief turning to panic because I know that voice. I know it like I know my own voice, like I’ve known him my whole life. It sounds so serene falling on my ears, velvety and rich like warm chocolate, but with a power that’s like a shot of whiskey. I’ve heard it coming from my DVD player, my CD player, the youtube page on my computer. It’s so unexpected, so impossible that I could be hearing his voice so close to me that for a moment, I think that someone has turned on a television somewhere nearby. There’s no way that the voice I’m hearing could be coming from the real –
I snatch up my glasses and place them back on my face, peering up at the man holding my cell phone, my copy of Gone With The Wind, and my epinephrine.
“Thank goodness!” I breath, and it’s a good thing I’m already wheezing, because it hides the gasp that escapes my lips when I see his face.
His hair, normally swept back, has tumbled over his face in his haste, and his eyes are shielded by a pair of reading glasses, but it’s impossible not to recognize him. Not when I’ve seen his face so many times before.
I take the book and my phone from his hand, but he keeps the epi pen, turning it over in his fingers shyly. He’s looking at me, but I know that he’s not seeing me, only my appearance.
I can’t bear to meet his eyes, because I know exactly who he is, far better than a stranger should, and that fills me with a sensation not at all pleasant.
For a moment, I can’t understand why I’m displeased. For years I have dreamt of this very thing happening, minus the constricted airways and watery eyes, of course. I’ve dreamt of meeting Harry Bristow, striking up a conversation and charming him the way he has charmed me for over a decade. I would avoid mentioning any of his movies, because actors never like discussing themselves, and he would ask me all about myself, sensing intrinsically how I love to talk about myself. He would be captivated by me, as I already was with him, and we would carry on from there.
But never, in any of my dreams, had I imagined what it would feel like to stand before this very real man, alive and quite tangible, knowing all of the things I know about him.
It’s all so mortifying. He’s standing only a few feet away, looking at me with a polite smile, as if I’m just another person he’s met on the street and not someone who has spent her late night hours googling him, listening to his voice as it echoed through her house.
In all those years, it had never seemed like a real possibility that I could be in the same city as him, much less the same room. I didn’t believe that it would ever happen, and he almost became more of a mascot than a real person, malleable to my imagination and lacking the real intricacies humans possess. And though I knew, with the same certainty with which I knew that the man who lived in my thoughts was really a product of my own perceptions, that I would never meet the real Harry Bristow, the thought had lived on in my mind as something to think about when life grew monotonous.
And never supposing we would ever meet, I had learned as much as possible about him, using my knowledge to flesh out this perception I held of him. My mind would use the facts I had gleaned to flesh out a personality for this imaginary fantasy man. All single girls had a dream man, didn’t they?
But with the man who I’ve come to feel didn’t really exist standing in front of me, all of the things I know about him flicker across my mind in rapid succession. I know where he grew up, what his favorite food is. I know that he doesn’t like crowds. I know about the accident when he was six that is responsible for the scar tissue that makes his smile curve just a bit less on the left side of his mouth. I know that his birthday is two days before mine, and that he’s never liked his nose.
And me? He knows nothing.
I don’t feel excitement over finally meeting him. I don’t feel nervousness, or indecision over what to say. All I feel is embarrassment that this real, flesh and blood creature standing in front of me knows nothing of me, while I know what he looks like without a shirt.
I also feel a sudden determination to get up and run, but when I move to stand up, he steps closer, looking at me with concern. “I… saw what happened in there,” he gestures toward his face with a sweeping motion, not wanting to state the obvious, but eventually he does, “with the swelling, and everything.”
He’s looking at the epi-pen in his hands, and I can’t help but cringe. I’m sure everyone in there noticed me.
“It wasn’t that bad.” He says kindly, and I laugh, not believing a word of it.
His voice is exactly the same as all the other times I’ve heard it, but there are so many things about him that are different than I thought they’d be. His hair has a tint to it that reminds me of the color of soft, warm brown sugar, and I like that. But although I can tell he’s just washed it, by the way the streetlights hit it, it’s messy, like he’s been too busy to even look at it. He’s pale, and he looks tired, much more tired than I’ve ever seen him before. But what surprises me most is how underwhelming being with him is. In my imaginings, we were drawn to each other, as if we’d known each other all our lives, as if we were corresponding magnets, but I don’t feel drawn to him at all. Because despite all that I know about him, I don’t know him. I have no idea what’s inside his mind, I don’t know about the parts of him that make him who he is. Despite my knowledge of him, he is a stranger, and I am a stranger to him.
“I think you’d better have someone else do this…” He says softly, holding up the epi-pen. I try to smile, but my chest constricts when I realize what needs to be done. If I don’t get epinephrine into my bloodstream soon, I could be in serious danger, but I’ve never actually used my epi-pen, and although I’ve carried one with me for years, I never really considered the fact that someday I might in fact need it. The thought of jabbing a needle into my own leg makes me woozy, and the cruise control my brain has shifted into spurs me into action. I quickly sit down on the curb so my leg will be positioned right for the shot and he takes that as my answer.
As he prepares the pen, I let my eyes roam over his face, hardly realizing what I’m doing, but I already know it by heart. I know before he looks up and meets my gaze that his eyes are brown and his teeth are almost perfectly straight, save only for the slight overlap of his two front teeth. It feels like I should know him, but I don’t.
“Th-thank you.” I choke out, and he gives me a funny little smile, like he’s surprised by my gratitude.
“Of course.” He says quietly, but he’s not looking at me anymore.
He connects the two segments and the corner of his mouth lifts into a smile that doesn’t reach his eyes, so deep is his concentration. “I’ve had to do this dozens of times on my mum, if that eases your mind.”
It doesn’t, but I don’t tell him that. I’m not the bravest person in the world, but there’s no way I’m showing him how scared I am.
He puts his hand on my outer thigh to steady it for the injection and my eyes shoot open. “It would probably be best if you didn’t look.” He says, a smile in his voice, as if he sees right through my acting, but when I tip my head up so I can’t see what he is doing, I can see that he is deep in concentration.
I squeeze my eyes shut. “One,” he says, and I try to stop my hands clasped in my lap from shaking, “Two,” as he speaks the word, he jabs me with the pen, and I gasp at the sudden prick of the needle, feel it pierce into the muscle of my leg. And then it’s over.
“That’s good.” I say, laughing. “didn’t even see it coming.”
He’s smiling as he holds the needle in place, allowing the medicine to disperse, and I fight to keep from looking. “This doesn’t happen often, then?” I hear him say, and I give in and open my eyes so I can see him.
“Never.” I say, and after a few more seconds, I can feel my breathing become less labored. “I’m usually much better at avoiding this sort of thing. I’m lucky there was someone around who knew how to handle that thing.”
At that moment he pulls the syringe from my leg, and when I look at the needle in his steady hand, I feel relieved that it wasn’t my responsibility to handle it.
My breath comes in shallow bursts, and slowly, I feel my throat relax as the medicine spreads. “Much better, thank you.” I meet his gaze, and I can’t help stealing a few moments, just to take in the sight of him. He is replacing the cap to the pen, and when he looks at me, with a guarded expression, as if he’s wondering whether I’ve recognized him, I feel an overwhelming sense of self-preservation force an impassive expression onto my face.
“I’m Nell.” I say, shaking his hand with as much firmness as I can muster.
“Alex.” He says, and even if I didn’t know his name, I’m sure I would have caught his lie just by seeing the mischief that’s in his eyes.
He’s watching me to see how I react to this, but I nod as if I believe him and quietly say, “Alex,” testing the word on my tongue as if I’ve never heard it before. In a way, the name does fit him, but I know better, and I feel mortifiedly certain that he knows it. I gesture to my leg, “You’re a good person to have around, Alex.”
It feels like I should be saying more, but I remain adamantly silent, afraid of giving myself away and desperate to escape. I don’t want to open myself up to any more conversation than is absolutely necessary, and I don’t trust myself to hide my obsession. The less that is said, the better, and after a moment of silence that I deem a reasonable conclusion, I rise to my feet.
“I should be going.” I say, as apologetically as I can, though I’m not sorry at all. I can hardly wait to go home and pretend none of this ever happened. Pretend that I don’t know his middle name and that he has a niece who takes ballet.
His eyebrows lift in confusion and he purses his lips like he’s going to say something, but I don’t give him the chance. I begin to inch down the street, and I peek at him over my shoulder as he reaches into his jacket pocket and steps inside to give it to the hostess. I can hear his low voice resonating through the open door, and I can tell he’s attempting to hurry back outside so he can catch up with me, but I’m already cantering down the sidewalk at a breakneck speed by the time I hear him bid her goodbye. It’s still a bit difficult to breath, and my eyes are continuing to itch, but I don’t care. If I can just round the corner of the next block, I can get away and never see him again.
“You need to go to the hospital.” He shouts, and I can hear the pounding of his shoes on the pavement, coming in my direction. He’s running after me. My stomach clenches at the thought of saying another word to him.
I stop and slowly turn to face him, trying to avoid his eyes, because they’re doing that thing I’ve seen so many times before. It’s always made me sigh before, but right now it’s not so enjoyable. It’s terrifying, because it’s beginning to fluster my brain.
“Oh, don’t worry about me.” I say softly, trying to hide the hoarseness of my voice. “I’m really fine.”
He can’t hide the amusement in his eyes, no matter how still he keeps his mouth. A stranger he may be, but he is still just as handsome as I imagined, especially when his eyes are smiling at me the way they are. “I…” he stops looking at my face and looks at me, “don’t think it would be good for you to chance it.”
I start to walk backwards away from him, but he raises his eyebrows and points across the street. “My car is just over there. Let me make sure you get there alright.”
I feel sweat beading up on the back of my neck at this suggestion, but I keep the anxiety from my voice the best I can. “No!” I say, too frantically. I look across the street to the car he’s gestured to and shake my head emphatically. “I live around the corner, I just need to get home.”
Yes, I need to get home and collapse face first on my bed where I can invent a whole new identity for myself…
He furrows his eyebrows and looks down at the pavement, “Look, I know you don’t know anything about me,” I flinch, but he isn’t paying attention, “and I don’t know anything about you, but you need to get to a hospital,” his eyes flit up to me and he is looking at me from under his eyelashes, “and I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if you went home and that medicine wore off, and I could’ve gotten you to a hospital but didn’t.”
There’s concern on his face, and I don’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed by his dispassionate interest in my welfare. There isn’t a trace of the admiration, the amorous regard he always conveyed in my daydreams, and although he’s been nothing but kind to me, he’s looking at me with an analytical sympathy, like one would look at a wounded cat, or an old woman who has wandered into the street. Definitely not the way a man looks at an attractive female.
And I start to wonder if maybe he is right. He’s not asking me to marry him, he is just going to drive me to the hospital and that will be it.
I glance over at his car and chew on the inside of my cheek. “I don’t want to be an imposition.” I shrug, and as if on cue, my last word ends in a low pitched croak.
His chest shakes with silent laughter and I can see that there’s nothing to do but follow him across the street.