Fiona paced through her living room with the intensity of a caged animal, taking the time for the occasional glance onto the street from the large picture window. She moved with a swift pace, ignoring the heaviness of her limbs.
On a typical day, she enjoyed the view from the third floor, the lights of the high-rise buildings twinkled like stars that you could not see in the city. Tonight the view did not matter. It seemed lost on her, although she did notice the loud and disrupting traffic peppered with more sirens than usual. It all seemed too much for 7 p.m. on a Thursday night. Most people should have left the city by now, the workday long gone, as they ventured back to their suburban homes.
“Where the hell is she?” she said aloud. It was not like Jenny to close shop and not come up stairs right after. As an agoraphobic, Fiona traveled the streets more than Jenny.
Desperate for someone to talk to, and to reassure her that she did not make a colossal mistake, Fiona needed Jenny now. At times like this, it hurt that she did not have another girlfriend. The last few hours, still blurry in her mind, left her feeling hopeless. Doug had stopped by that afternoon to share startling news, and she had been on an emotional roller coaster ever since.
“My wife found out about us,” he had said. Those were the hopeful words she thought would lead to him saying he left her and they could be together at last. Instead, he continued with words she didn’t expect, words that seemed foreign to her, and ripped her heart to shreds. “I can’t see you anymore, Fiona.”
Like that, he could give her up as if she were salt bad for high blood pressure. Fiona’s temper simmered, so her pressure had skyrocketed, but she didn’t care if she dropped dead right there. It would serve him right. “But you told me that you were leaving her, Doug. You said you didn’t love her.” The words seemed familiar, and she had used them before, but this time she expected a different outcome. Doug loved her. She was sure of it.
His silence made the room spin around her even faster. Then, he finally spoke the words she dreaded. “I don’t know what to say,” he said. “We talked about it all night, and decided to give it a go for the sake of the kids. It’s over and that’s the way it has to be. Try to understand my position.”
She gasped. “And try to understand mine.”
“But you don’t have one, Fiona,” he said as if he had no heart or compassion. What happened to the months they spent planning their future? “I’m the one with the family,” he continued. “You didn’t have to hide this affair from anyone. You’re alone.”
His harsh tone cut through her and she stumbled over her response. Surely, he didn’t mean them. He loved her. “Don’t say that,” she begged with tears welling in her eyes. In a matter of seconds, they slipped down her face. “I’m not alone, Doug. I’m with you.” This seemed all too familiar since it had happened so many times before. Still, she clung to hope. Doug loved her. He loved her!
Begging never changed the outcome, yet she pleaded with the man before her, who slept beside her whenever he could, believing with all of the faith she could muster that it would this time. She had to do everything she could to save this relationship. She couldn’t function without it. “You love me, Doug, and you want me. I know you do.” It wasn’t pathetic if it proved to him just how much she loved and needed him, she reasoned. Men liked it when women needed them, right? She had to prove to him that she loved him more than anyone, and wanted to please only him.
“It doesn’t matter what I want,” he said. “I can’t let her divorce me. I worked too hard to give her half of my business.”
His words cold and unemotional continued to stab her. “Your business? That’s what’s important to you? If it’s the money, I can find it for you. I’ll get a second job or…”
“Stop!” he shouted interrupting her drama. “We’re caught, Fiona. It’s over. For God’s sake, deal with it!” Doug sighed. His face tightened as he clasped his hands tightly leaving his knuckles white. It looked as though he was going to deck her and for moment, she grew afraid. “Look, one of her friends knows who you are. She told my wife everything. My wife said she was going to find you and make you pay, but I think I talked her down. I think she will leave you alone, but we can’t even talk to each other or she might go off the deep end. I want to make sure you’re safe, Fiona. I’m risking a lot talking to you now.”
“How did this happen?” she asked feeling bewildered.
He let out a small laugh and raised his hands above his head in disgust. “Fiona, you’ve told too many people about us, and you knew you weren’t supposed to. I kept telling you to stop, but you didn’t. This is your fault.”
“But I love you, Doug,” she said, sounding like a wounded and pathetic child, and the vision of Megan’s face came to her, as it did when each of her breakups occurred. “And I know you love me, too. I won’t tell anyone else, I promise. We can work this out.”
“It’s too late to promise,” Doug replied. “You sabotaged this relationship, Fiona. You have no one to blame but yourself.” He began to walk towards her front door, and turned to say more. “Be careful for the next week or so,” he said rather bluntly. “Things should be fine once she calms down, but don’t call me. Not ever again.”
Fiona stiffened with fear. She had heard that before, a long time ago, and it all came back with brutal force.
“I don’t want to have to change my number,” Doug continued, not noticing her sheer terror. “I’ve had this one for five years. My customers have it, too and it’s such a pain to change and adjust to a new one.” He walked out without another word shattering her world and leaving her in tears.
A few hours passed and the tears stopped, but now, pacing the floor, she needed Jenny to talk her off the ledge. Finally, she heard the downstairs door open, and she ran to the top of the steps to call her friend’s name.
“Jenny,” she shouted. “Thank God you’re home!” Fiona watched Jenny walk by without even acknowledging her. “Jenny, did you hear me?” she shouted again.
Without looking up, Jenny opened her apartment door and said, “Not now, Fiona!” With that, Jenny slammed the door.
# # # # # #
The anger on Gilbert Crawley’s face said everything she needed to know when he walked out of the bathroom. “What are you doing going through my wallet?” he asked, opening it to make sure everything was inside. “Are you stealing from me?”
“I didn’t taking anything,” she said, feeling caught, and for the first time, a little guilty. “I wanted to look at the pictures. What are you doing with a picture of Megan Downey in your wallet? Do you know her? Is she your girlfriend?”
Checking his wallet once more, he seemed content that everything was in place. “It doesn’t look like you took anything,” he said. “I guess I should be grateful for that.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she said, feeling a little uneasy. “What was I supposed to take?” Confused, Fiona felt dizzy and she attempted to take a deep breath to try to calm her nerves.
“The game is up I suppose,” he said in a softer tone, yet with anger still in his voice. “And I can’t say I’m upset about that. It wasn’t supposed to end this way, but I can’t do anything about that now.” He grinned. “I’m kind of glad it’s over and I don’t have to pretend anymore. I didn’t like this gig.”
Fiona shook her head. “I don’t know what you mean,’ she said, fidgeting.
Gilbert shrugged. “This was supposed to be a little payback for everything you’ve done over the years.” Gilbert shook his head. “I heard plenty about you through the years, and I was warned, but I didn’t expect you’d try to steal from me. That’s my fault for letting my guard down.” He said the words with a wicked grin on his face, as the room turned cold and his personality took a dive. The man who listened to her hopes and dreams for the future didn’t really exist and in his place stood a cold, shrewd man she did not recognize. For the first time in a long time, since the night her brother hit her hard across the face when he heard something about her on the streets, Fiona understood terror.
“What do you mean you heard about me?” she asked. Could it be that her reputation crossed city and county lines? “Is Megan your girlfriend?” she asked again, terrified of the response.
“Why? Does that matter to you?”
“Yes,” she said. “It would matter.”
He looked at her and said, “It didn’t matter before.”
Fiona said nothing.
“No, she’s not my girlfriend,” he continued. “She’s my little sister.”
Of all of the things Gilbert could say, this stunned her the most, stopping her in her tracks and slamming her to the ground. “Aren’t you going to ask how I know Megan?” she asked, still hoping for the coincidence.
“I know how you know her,” he said. “You ruined her life. Now you’ve ruined the plan. It was supposed to play you a bit more before you found out. I suppose I dragged it out too long.”
“Who told you about me?” She already knew the answer. “And what were you going to do?”
“A lot of people have told me what you’ve done, Fiona. You’re legendary,” he said mocking her. “ My sister Megan is one of them. You broke her heart, you know. And now I’ve failed her, too.” He paused for a moment, as if he were cursing at himself because he did not get the job done. “I was supposed to get you into bed, screw you, and then humiliate you, as you did to my sister. Maybe rough you up a little, but more mentally than physically. I’m a gentleman, after all.”
Her face fell and she laughed with nervous in trepidation. “You said your last name was Crawley.”
“Not that it’s any of your business, but my mother married Megan’s dad after she divorced my father,” he said with an icy tone that pushed through her.
Fiona crossed her arms across her chest for warmth, trying to hide her shaking hands. “What happened between Megan and me was four years ago.”
He looked at her with a face full of hate, and she heard the advice of so many girlfriends who walked away. “What goes around comes around,” they had said. It had come around all right, and it hit her square in the face.
“It’s time you realized your actions have consequences,” he said. “She’s never recovered. Megan was a smart young girl with a bright future ahead of her, but you destroyed her. Did you hear that through the grapevine? My sister’s life is ruined. She never went to college because of you.”
“But it wasn’t that big of a deal,” Fiona pleaded. “It was a silly high school relationship.”
“Megan and Brandon have known each other all of their lives, and she loved him. Everyone had expected that they’d get married, even when they were children.”
“So why aren’t you after him then? He did this to her, not me. I didn’t even know her.” Fiona’s logic did not seem to work on Gilbert the way it had on Megan all those years ago. She also knew Brandon lived on campus in North Carolina. They had not spoken much since everything had gone down years before, but you would have to be oblivious in this town not to know that he received a full scholarship for football. The news had broadcast it all over town, and the mayor gave his family the key to the city, as if he’d done something great.
“Don’t worry about him,” he said. “You’re practice, that’s all, the way you were for every guy you slept with.”
His words stung, but she could not deny they were not true. “So, what was the plan Gilbert? How far were you going to take this?”
“It does not matter now. I couldn’t go through with it anyway, even though you are a low life piece of dirt, and you deserve it. You have a pathetic life in a pathetic little town where no one likes you, you embarrassed your family, and you have no hope for any future success because you are an uneducated slut. I couldn’t even stomach the possibility of going where so many guys have been before. It makes me sick to think about touching you. You’re diseased.”
He looked down upon her, making her feel every bit like the trash he called her.
Harsher words had never been spoken to her, at least not too her face. That is when she realized what she had created, and the walls crashed in around her. Scared, she rushed towards the door, but he stopped her by holding it shut.
“What makes you think I won’t call the police,” she snapped. “I’ll put you behind bars for a long time if you don’t let me go!”
“I haven’t done anything illegal,” he sneered. “Besides, who the hell would believe you? I didn’t force you to come back to my hotel room, did I? We have witnesses in the bar, I’m sure.”
As the tears fell down her face, she knew he was right. Her small town gave her a big name, and she thought that is what she wanted.
“No man will ever want you, Fiona, at least not for more than a few minutes. You’re doomed to a life of lonely solitude and you brought it all on yourself.”
Fiona watched Gilbert collect his belongings. Her nerves felt raw and she clenched her jaw backing away from him as far as she possibly could. He turned to her before he left the room and grinned.
“One more thing you should know, I’ve written and mailed a letter to your parents detailing everything you did,” he said coldly. “I think they should know what they raised, don’t you? They should find it pretty entertaining.”
He walked out of the room a split second before she fainted.