The bar I followed her to is getting crowded. It’s semi-dark and smells like beer. I spot Elise sitting at one of the tables near the back. It looks quieter back there, more intimate. The seat opposite her is empty. She’s waiting for me, I know she is. She’s so beautiful, taking small sips of her drink, blotting her lips with a napkin when she finishes.
She was ready sooner than usual today. Every Saturday afternoon for the past two months she has wrapped herself in a skimpy black bathrobe, turned up the music on her stereo and paraded around her house in curlers. From my porch I can see her through her living room window. I am the only member in the audience while she performs her one-woman show. She mouths the lyrics to the songs while she dances around to the music. I know it’s all for me: she leaves her blinds open so I can see. When she’s ready she takes her curlers out one by one, letting her brown hair tumble down her back. I bet it feels like satin. She paints her face with many brands of make-up and sprays herself with orchid perfume.
She leaves her house at a quarter to 6:00. At 5:30 I make sure to read on the porch swing or weed the flower bed. I didn’t know much about gardening before Elise. When I saw her caring for her flowers I knew there was something special about this hobby.
We’ve spoken twenty-three times since she moved next door last fall, twenty-four if you include tonight. The first was when she brought over mail that had been accidentally delivered to her. My old neighbor never did that. That’s how I know Elise is special and that I am special to her. I know she’s the one I want to spend the rest of my life with. Her flowery perfume was so fragrant that I went out that night and bought the flowers to place on my bedside table; her scent lingered when I fell asleep, granting me sweet dreams.
The day we met her smile penetrated my skin, deep down into my bloodstream. We introduced ourselves and the sound of my name on her lips ignited something in me, something I’ve never felt before. It’s like bees drawn to honey, or a moth to a flame. Tonight is our night.
Elise looks up and casts a smile in my direction. She looks so beautiful in her red dress, with the long loose curls framing her face. I want to kiss her now. I have to caress her cheek. I’ve been waiting so long for this.
The guy behind me knocks my shoulder and passes me as he navigates the crowd holding two drinks above his head to keep them from spilling. He apologizes, but I shrug it off. A million people could run into me tonight. I wouldn’t care. Nothing can ruin our moment.
Elise’s eyes focus on the man who bumped into me, the one with the drinks. He kisses her on the cheek. She takes the drink and holds his hand. He sits in the seat across from her, creeping his hand over her knee and up her thigh. My body turns to ice. She laughs. At him, at something he said. She laughs at him.
He leans across the table and kisses Elise dead on the lips. I expect her to pull back, but she leans in. Each second their lips touch my heart freezes another degree. She mouths the words “I love you.” Those words are the final hammer on the wedge driven into my heart. It shatters. I shatter. And the screaming! I wish it would stop. Whoever is screaming sounds as damaged as I feel. He sounds angry, hurt, broken. He has to stop before I explode.
I jerk my head around, searching for the man in pain. People speak loudly over the music playing from the touch-screen jukebox in the corner. They dance and they play pool. They laugh and knock back drinks. No one seems to care that this man is in agony. I lunge for the bar.
“Why isn’t anyone helping him?” I spit at the bartender, struggling to steady my breath. Each rise and fall of my shoulders breaks my chest open wider.
“Who? Is someone hurt?” He scans the bar.
“You don’t hear him? He won’t stop screaming!” I can’t breathe.
“Are you alright? Maybe you should take a seat.” The bartender raises an eyebrow.
I back away from the bar and shove my way through the crowd. The voice won’t stop screaming. I clench my hands to my ears and rush out of the bar. The screaming follows me to my car. I whip my head around; people walk up and down the street, wait for the bus, and drive past in cars. I see no one to accompany the terrible noise I hear. I fall into my car and slam the door shut. The screaming is right in my ears. The murderous sound stalks me the whole drive home. I can’t get into my house fast enough. I run into the bathroom and look in the mirror. The screaming won’t stop. It echoes through my head.
Elise didn’t see me, didn’t notice me. She kissed him. The images of her lips against his are burned into my brain. The screaming is ringing in my ears. I slap myself in the face.
“Fix this!” I yell at my reflection. “This is not how our story goes!” I grab a glass from the sink and smash it against the wall. I shrink to my knees and I scream. I mimic the scream of the man in the bar. The anguish, the despair, the helplessness all merge into the sound that spills from my mouth. His screaming stops as mine begins.
You have to get her back. The man’s whisper lingers in my ears. I stop screaming and look around me.
“Who is that?” I shout. “Get out of here!”
You need to get her back. I jump to my feet.
“Where are you? I’ll call the cops!” I wander out of the bathroom and check the few rooms in my house. There’s no one there, though I feel him breathing down my neck.
My heart is pounding. My eyes hurt, my face hurts, my body hurts. I have to pick up the broken glass in the bathroom. I gather four big shards before one slices my finger. Blood drips into the sink. I glance in the mirror to gauge my distraught face and freeze. I’m smiling. I’m miserable, so how can I be smiling? I step back in shock. My reflection stays put, the smile widening on my closed lips. I yank my hand to my face and touch my mouth. I’m not smiling, and my reflection is not touching my… his face.
“What are you?” I whisper. I rub my eyes. My reflection snickers.
Who, not what. I’m you. His mouth doesn’t move, but I hear every word he says. I can’t breathe, I can’t speak, I can’t think.
You don’t have to. Let me think for you. My body trembles involuntarily. I smack my forehead several times.
“This isn’t real. You’re not real.”
I’m as real as you are. I’m as real as Elise and the man she loves. My reflection, My Other Self, shakes his head sympathetically.
The thought of Elise and the man sends knives through my body.
“She’s mine!” I shout, spit flying from my mouth. I sink to the floor. I can’t see My Other Self anymore, but I know he’s there. His voice is in my head; his words reverberate through my body.
I’ll help you get her back.
I cradle my wounded finger, “How?”
What do you do when someone has something you want? You take it from him. Steal her away. She’s yours. He is your Enemy.
“How do I do that?” I take slow breaths to try to get back to my senses.
Wake up. Take control. Make her fall in love with you.
“What if I can’t?”
My Other Self slowly leans out of the mirror, shaking his head and clicking his tongue. He sneers.
So naïve. You have so much to learn about yourself.
I press against the wall as hard as I can. My Other Self crawls down the sink, bones cracking with every move, and touches his forehead to mine. I can see him. I can feel him. Up close I notice he’s thinner than I am, gaunt with sunken cheeks. A thick band of red circles the pupils in his eyes. His skin is ice cold. His voice sends chills down my spine.
“Where did you come from?” I whisper. My Other Self cracks a smile, revealing a mouthful of pointed teeth. He reaches towards my upper body and gently prods my chest a few times before plunging his hand through my sternum. He grabs hold of my heart and squeezes. I struggle for breath as explosions of pain ripple through my body. He squeezes tighter.
I’ve been right in here, waiting for you to find me. His voice hisses in my ear. He releases my heart and tugs his hand out of the gaping hole in my chest. I tear my eyes away from my blood on his hand and force myself to look down. There is no hole in my body, there is no blood. I clutch my chest with shaky hands.
“What if I didn’t want to find you?” I whisper.
Of course you wanted to. I wouldn’t be here if you didn’t want me. You want Elise and you’ll have her. My Other Self is so confident I have to believe him. I have no other choice. I’m cold, I’m tired, and there’s glass and my inner demon on the floor. He beckons me to put my head in his lap. I have no energy to protest this cold blooded monster.
I curl up on the floor, my heavy head and heavier heart resting against my beast. I sneak a glance at him. He stares at the wall, lost in thought. He runs his tongue slowly across his jagged teeth, round and round his mouth it goes.
I close my eyes, breathe deeply, and think of Elise. I picture her cooking dinner and doing her morning exercise routine. I imagine her falling asleep in front of the TV at night, her long hair falling across the pillow, a blanket partially covering her legs. I envision brushing her hair from her forehead. I fantasize about carrying her to her room, tucking her into bed, and watching her dream.
I lie there and long for my dream girl. My Other Self calms me with the steady murmur of his voice. He never falters, he never skips a beat. I fall asleep with the sound of her name echoing through my ears.
A streak of dirt mars Elise’s perfect face. I get a few seconds to admire her before she takes her hands out of the dirt. She pulls a few more weeds and tosses them onto our growing pile. She wipes the back of her hand across her forehead, painting a new stripe of dirt. I laugh.
She beams at me, “What’s so funny?” I grin, pointing at the smudges.
“You have a little dirt here,” I move closer and gently touch her cheek, “And here.” She wipes her face.
“Is it gone?” She smiles at me. I shake my head. Elise laughs and stands, brushing the dirt from her knees.
“I’m going to clean this off; now’s a good time for a drink break anyway. You want something?” Elise walks backwards across the grass. I nod.
“I’ll be back,” Elise says, walking into her kitchen.
I stretch out on my back in the grass. Elise and I have become pretty good friends. At first we started gardening together several times a week. She was struggling with a bag of mulch a few days after I caught her with My Enemy. I went to offer a hand and carried it to her backyard. She asked if I’d help her spread it. I said yes and I haven’t looked back. A few days later she asked if I’d help in her garden again. It was awkward at first. There was too much talk about flowers and seed brands with too many silences in between. I couldn’t keep her talking, but that’s Elise. She completely immerses herself in gardening. Her brow furrows and she gets lost in thought. I wonder how many times I cross her mind. She runs miles through mine.
Elise’s door slides open. She leaves her porch and shuffles through the grass. She kneels back down next to me and hands me a paper cup of red wine. This is the progress we’ve made. It started with a glass of water the first day. Then she made iced tea. The pink lemonade with fresh slices of lemon came next. A few weeks later we graduated to wine. Elise thoroughly enjoys red wine. I’m a white wine person, but I’d drink a thousand glasses of the red if it meant I could spend time with Elise.
It’s hot out; I mop my forehead with my sleeve. Elise never sweats when she’s gardening. It’s because she’s perfect. Perfect people don’t sweat.
Elise downs her first cup of wine in a matter of minutes and pours another. She’s never brought the bottle out for us before. She sips this cup slowly and tucks her feet under her legs. I pull a few weeds from the flower bed.
“Hey, it’s break time. Break time means you stop and, you know, take a break,” Elise laughs. I grip my cup of wine. I need to keep my hands occupied to prevent myself from touching her. I want to straighten her lopsided ponytail. I want to take her in my arms and kiss her wine stained lips. I need to kiss her. I’m going to kiss her. I’m not going to kiss her.
“Touché,” I say, finishing my wine. I clench my teeth to keep from grimacing. I really don’t like red wine.
“More?” Elise asks. I nod, holding my cup out. She happily refills it.
“When do I get to help with your garden?” She asks.
Do it now. My Other Self hisses. I shake my head.
“I’m not ready,” I tell My Other Self.
“Oh, okay,” Elise shrugs her shoulders. “I didn’t – I didn’t mean today, just whenever you need an extra pair of hands.”
The blood drains from my face. My Other Self cackles softly in my ear.
Don’t lose this opportunity.
“Sorry, of course you didn’t mean today,” I smile and drink the rest of my wine.
Ask her now.
I swallow the lump of fear in my throat and wash it down with wine. I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I can’t do –
I can and I will.
“How about next time we join forces, we do it at my house. I’ll throw some fish on the grill and introduce you to the wonders of white wine. As for the rest of the evening, we can play it by ear from there.” I feel a sly smile creeping on my lips. I want to stand up and run in the opposite direction. My demon spoke through me.
You’re a coward. I have to do everything for you.
“That sounds great. I just – I hate to make this awkward, but do you mean like a dinner date?” Elise looks softly at me. I sit up to meet her gaze. My heart melts.
“If that’s what you’d like to call it, then yes,” I say hopefully.
“That sounds awesome, and I’d love to. While I’m flattered, I can’t call it a date. You know I’m in a relationship. I’ve told you many times before.” She raises her eyebrows at me. My heart drops to my stomach, through my toes, and into the earth, deep down to the core. I don’t think I’ll be able to dig it out.
You can’t, but I can.
“Sorry, I know, I just… I thought it might be fun,” my voice cracks on the last word. I clear my throat. “So you guys are pretty serious then, huh?” I ask casually. Elise bites her lip, smiling.
“Yes, I’d definitely say so. We’ve been together for a little over nine months now and...” she hesitates, chewing her lip more, “And I don’t know. I think this relationship is going places.”
She tells me more about My Enemy; I can only listen for so long before I have to tune her out. It’s too painful, yet I can’t ask her to stop. Her voice is like listening to wind chimes; it’s calming, beautiful, musical. Instead I think of the times she’s called me a Very Good Friend. Very good friends climb the ladder to Special Friend. They climb until they reach the top, reserved only for the Lover, Partner, Equal. This can’t be the end of my story. She’s my only destiny. There is hope. I focus my attention back on Elise.
“I can see myself marrying him. I feel like when you know, you know. Is that crazy?” She looks at me with hopeful eyes.
It’s not crazy. I knew I wanted to marry her the minute I saw her.
“It hasn’t been long, but that’s the feeling he gives me,” Elise says, closing her eyes. “I see myself walking down the aisle in the white dress and veil, and I don’t feel scared. I never thought of marriage like that before. Of course I could never tell him that or else he might take off running,” she laughs. “I’m happy to have you to talk to.”
Elise pats my arm softly and sighs. I force a smile. She can see herself marrying My Enemy. This cannot be; it must be a dream. No, not a dream, more like a corrupted nightmare. There is no hope.
We must create our own fate. We’ll take her heart before it’s too late. Don’t be stupid, there is hope. I shake my head. No, there’s no hope.
I can’t stop pacing. I’ve circled my small backyard at least a hundred times since coming outside sometime after midnight. Crickets chirp, leaves rustle in the wind, and I pace.
This afternoon Elise told me My Enemy asked her to move in with him. She said yes. She’s not going to live next door anymore. She’s going to move into his apartment with him. An apartment. She won’t even have a garden; she’ll be so unhappy without a garden. She needs it. She has to have a garden to work on with me. She needs our time together. She needs me.
She can’t have a life with him. They’re destined to fail. She doesn’t belong with him. He’s not the one, I am. She needs a voice of reason.
“And say what?!” I cry, dropping to my knees. My Other Self is silent. “You don’t know what to say either!”
Silence still. I pound the ground with my fists. I grab handfuls of grass, wrenching them from the earth. I pull up clods of dirt and send them flying across my yard. I scream into the crook of my elbow to muffle the sound. My neighbor’s dog howls in response. I collapse on the broken patch of earth where the grass used to be.
“This can’t be real,” I whisper into the ground.
She thinks she’s in love. She thinks he loves her too.
“I don’t care how he makes her feel. I can see through him even if she can’t,” I say, defeated. “This is not his place.”
Make him leave.
“You have to tell me how. I can’t do this without you,” I say desperately. My hands shake. My head throbs. She’s going to move. She’s taking his outstretched hand and leaving me behind. It’s too much pressure. This weight I carry is going to bury me. I can’t do it alone.
“I… I need your help.” The words taste bitter on my tongue.
What do you want do?
“Punch him in the face.”
Is that all?
“No. I want to break his nose, his jaw. I want to break his heart like he broke mine. I want to run his head into a tree,” I say angrily. I hurl another dirt clod against my house. I do it until my body shakes with anger and my lungs struggle for air.
You know what you want to do. Admit it. You want to kill him.
“No!” I cry, covering my face with my hands. My voice echoes in the night. “I just want him to leave. I want him to go away and leave us alone. I want him to disappear.”
Then you have to kill him. I can help you.
“I can’t kill him!”
What other choice do you have? She’s going to move in with him. She’s leaving you behind. She’ll be gone forever if you don’t.
I think of Elise, of the smiles she gives me every time she sees me. I think of her leaving her house and moving in with My Enemy. I think of her with him, in his arms, in his house, in his life. My anger burns. My beast is right. What other option do I have? Elise is going to leave me.
“I have to kill him,” I whisper, the realization dawning on me. “I want to steal his life like he stole Elise.” I shiver at the thought.
I take shallow breaths, trying to slow my heart rate. The moonlight shines through the cracks in the tall wooden fence that separates my yard from Elise’s.
“I’m going to kill him,” I say aloud. I instantly feel nauseous. “I can’t do it. I can’t take someone’s life.”
He’s had no problem taking the one you’re supposed to have with Elise. He’s right. My Enemy has stolen everything I’ve ever dreamed of for us. It’s time to claim what’s mine. She’ll never leave him and I wouldn’t blame him if he never left her. I can’t leave it up to chance. I have to act soon. I might die if I don’t try.
“What do I do, hunt him down and shoot him?” I wonder.
You’re an idiot. Noise and gunpowder residue: you can’t shoot him. Use a knife. Buy a new one, stab him, and throw him in the lake. No one goes there, it’s too murky. It’s perfect. I won’t let you fail.
The weight I’ve been carrying, the burden I’ve been living with, lifts in seconds. The night sky becomes more luminous, the stars brighter. My Enemy will be gone and Elise will be mine. I’m going to take a life to save my own.