“I don’t want to share a drink with you, Troy. I told you the last time we ran into each other at the movie theater, I think it’s best if we just remain acquaintances.”
“You don’t even want to be my friend anymore? That’s just messed up, Jess.”
“My name is Jessie. I don’t like it when you call me Jess—which you would know if you bothered to listen.”
“Wow, you’re really pissy today, aren’t you? Shit, are you on the rag?”
“You did not just ask me that,” I growl, thinking it’d be a great time to use that pepper spray—in his eyes—until the canister is empty.
“I think he did.”
My breath lodges in my throat and I close my eyes as my heart rate kicks up in speed.
“Who are you?”
“Jessie’s man,” Allen says from behind me, and his words allow me to become unstuck and turn around to look at him.
“Allen?” I whisper, my voice hoarse as breath still feels like it won’t fill my lungs.
“Hey, Jessie,” he says and looks down at me, his lips spreading into a smile. “Sorry I’m late,” he adds, and I blink, not sure I’m understanding the conversation.
“For our date, sweetheart. I got held up with work.”
“Oh… That’s okay,” I whisper, trying to snap out of the Allen “haze” I seem to have fallen in.
“Date? You’re dating?” Troy asks, his voice thick with anger.
“We’re doing a lot more than that,” Allen says, and he pulls me to him, and then hides me behind him as if he’s protecting me. I play along, shocked at what’s going on, and trying to process it all. “Who are you?” Allen adds.
“Me? I… uh… Jessie and I are… we used to… date.”
“We dated,” Troy says stubbornly.
“You dated this guy?”
“It was a moment of insanity that lasted three dates,” I answer, embarrassed.
“How long ago?” Allen asks.
“A couple of months,” I murmur.
“We’re trying to work things out,” Troy answers and my mouth drops open. I move from behind Allen, shaking my head no, feeling my own anger rise.
“You’re delusional. I told you on our third date I didn’t want anything to do with you anymore,” I yell. “You keep following me around! It’s bad enough you show up at my shop, but you even followed me to the movie theater. That’s harassment!”
“This fuck-wad has been stalking you?” Allen asks, and until he phrases it that way I never really thought of it like that.
“I, well… I don’t… Oh my God! You have been stalking me!” I exclaim—like an idiot.
“That stops now. I even think you are breathing the same air as Jessie, I’ll make you regret it. Are we clear?”
“You don’t have any control if we bump into each other. I live close by. There’s always a chance—”
“Then you need to move.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“I am deadly serious. You do not get close to Jessie. Not again, because if you do, you won’t like how I deal with it.”
“You’re being ridiculous. There’s nothing you can do.”
“Try me, Troy,” Allen replies, basically daring him. He also makes sure his body is between me and Troy now. Even in my mini-panic at discovering Troy is probably following me around, I recognize what he’s doing and I can’t help but like that he’s protecting me. I don’t know if I’ve ever had that in my life. Actually I know I haven’t, not by a man. My mother always did, but this… this is different and it feels different.
“I didn’t realize this was the kind of man you wanted in your life, Jess. It’s so disappointing. You deserve better,” Troy says, giving Allen and me both a look of thinly disguised hate. He turns to walk away and I find myself screaming.
“My name is Jess-ie!”
Troy looks over his shoulder and this time the hate is crystal clear—so much so that it turns my stomach. He doesn’t reply, though, just turns away and keeps walking.
I watch him for a few minutes while I try to suck in my emotions. Allen turns to me, his broad chest filling my vison as his hand circles against the side of my neck. I feel his touch and my pulse leaps, but I don’t move. My eyes concentrate on the faded black color of the jacket he’s wearing. He applies pressure and his thumb moves under my chin as he tilts my head so I’m forced to look at him.
His face is closed off. I can’t tell what he’s thinking for the life of me.
“Hi,” I whisper when it seems the silence has gone on too long.
I get an immediate reward when Allen’s face goes from closed off to a smile…
A really beautiful smile.
“I knew the moment I saw you that you were going to be trouble,” I mumble to myself.
“What?” she asks, her eyes round with surprise.
“Hasn’t anyone ever told you that you shouldn’t be traveling so late at night alone?”