Strange Love

*DISCLAIMER* You know the drill by now. I write horror. Enjoy!

“Large iced coffee!” I shout, trying to overcome the dull roar of the 10am college coffee shop rush. Much to my dismay, no one moves. “Large iced coffee!” I try again. I’m about to set the coffee on the counter and move to my next drink when I look over the counter into the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen.

“Sorry, that’s me,” he says softly, brown hair falling into his face. He gives me a look that’s half-smile, half-smirk as I hand him the coffee. His fingers brush mine, and something flutters in my stomach.

And then he’s gone.

It takes a second for me to regroup, and I find my mind wandering hopelessly back to those eyes.

“Do you know who that was?” I ask my coworker.

“Who? Alex?” Miranda replies, her face scrunching up as she tries to decide who I’m referring to.

“Dark hair, blue eyes,” I say, almost dreamily. I can’t believe I’m acting this way.

“Yep, that’s Alex,” she says. “He’s in my psych class, I can give him your number if you want.” I nod my response. “He’s super cute, a little weird, but definitely cute!” She turns back to her work, leaving me to daydream.

Later that night, I get a text from him, and instantly I’m infatuated. Miranda must’ve followed through on giving him my number. It’s insignificant—he just asks how my shift was, but the fact that it comes from him is enough. I can’t sleep, I can hardly breathe, thinking about him, so after an hour of trying, I hop out of my bed and take to the street. The chilly night air prickles in my lungs, but it’s what I need. I wander down the road next to campus, only vaguely aware of my surroundings, when I see him. He seems to be stumbling a little, which is strange. Drunk on a Monday night?

I’m about to call out to him when I realize he probably won’t even recognize me. He saw me once in the coffee shop, and has been texting me for, what, two hours? Instead, I pull up my hood and begin to follow him, just far enough behind that he won’t realize it. He ends up stopping in front of a house so small it could pass as a shed. The deep green paint is chipping, and a few of the windows are cracked. Surrounded by adorable shotgun houses, it looks shaky, out of place. I watch what is either a large rat or a small possum crawl out of a bush and through a crack in the wooden siding.

He unlocks the door and staggers in. I can barely see a single, dirty lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. As the door swings open, it emits a strange, yellow light over the front sidewalk. I have to position myself carefully behind a neighbor’s hedge to be sure he doesn’t notice me. I hear a faint shouting, but I can’t tell where it’s coming from. Probably one of the bars down the street.

The slam of the front door jolts me from my haze. I quickly bookmark the location on my phone and then shuffle back home. It’s almost 4am by the time I get back into bed. When I allow my lids to droop closed, all I can see are his eyes.

I awaken to the sun streaming in my open windows and a text from Alex. He apologizes, saying he was drunk last night. I have to stop myself before I reveal that I already knew this. Instead, I ask if he wants to get coffee with me as a hangover cure. He says he can’t, and for some reason this hits me much harder than it should.

I pack up my bag and head for the coffee shop anyways, knowing I’ll drive myself crazy if I stay home. The scene of him staggering home replays through my head, over and over again. I see him pushing the door open, I see that single lightbulb swaying, I see roaches and rats and filth everywhere. He deserves better. I could give him better.

Finally, I’m at the coffee shop, and suddenly it’s too loud to hear my own thoughts.

“Hey, Annabelle, can you hop in and help us?” Miranda shouts to me as I go to set down my backpack. The line’s almost out the door, and I can’t be in my head anymore, so I jump into the monotony of making endless lattes.

Finally, after almost an hour, I’m released from my unscheduled work. It’s then that I see him again. He’s back in the coffee shop, sitting alone. His unopened backpack sits next to him. For a second, I consider leaving without speaking to him. I can’t shake the image of him in that horrible house.

I try to push the thoughts away and force myself out of the café, but suddenly he looks up at me and smiles. Those eyes, those damn eyes, stop me in my tracks. I’m mesmerized, trailing helplessly over to him.

“Hey,” he says, pulling out the chair next to him, “sorry I couldn’t come in earlier. I had some stuff to deal with.” It’s as though I’m watching myself from a distance, sitting down next to him.

“That’s fine, I kinda got roped into helping anyways,” I say with a smile. There’s something flirty in my voice, something I didn’t know I had. He smiles back at me. I think something twitches in his eyes, but it’s so quick I probably imagined it.

“Annabelle, right?” He asks, charming as ever.

“Yeah, that’s me.” My cheeks are growing warmer.

“Well, I have a ton of homework to get done, but I’d really like to see you soon.” The warmth of his voice bleeds into my ears. Something in my stomach tells me that I shouldn’t be seeing him again, but I hear my own voice betraying me, agreeing with him anyways. My eyes flit to the untouched backpack next to him.

He stands and pulls me into a quick hug that sends flutters through my mind. Then, just as quickly, he’s gone again, releasing me to walk back home. Before my mind can wander too far, I pull headphones over my ears, blasting music.  

I’m not sure what to do with myself, so I once again decide to take to the streets and find myself being drawn to the house I know is his.

And suddenly I’m at the door, my hand hovering over the knob. No. I pull my fingers back, but it’s as if I’m bound to the spot. Finally, I’m able to drag myself away from the door. As I reach the end of the walk and get a few steps away from his house, I see him turn the corner. My heartbeat quickens, but it feels more like panic than butterflies.

The easy smile on his lips does nothing to quell the fluttering in my chest.

“Hey, what are you doing over here?” He asks. I have to remind myself that it’s not an accusation.

“I went for a little walk and ended up here,” I say carefully. Is my voice shaking? I think it’s shaking. “Do you live around here?”

He cocks an eyebrow but doesn’t elaborate on the gesture. “Yeah, this is my house actually.” He motions to the tiny house with the broken windows. “I know, it needs a little work. But I got it for a steal. I’ve been saving to get my own place for a few years now.”

Was my disdain that clear? “It looks cute,” I try to redeem myself. I hope my face isn’t betraying me.

“You don’t have to say that. I know it looks gross.” I can’t tell if it’s sarcasm or true anger in his voice. “I’m working on it. It’s got a great little man-cave that’ll be perfect for parties.”

“You’ll have to show me sometime.” The words tumble out before I can stop myself. I expect him to step back, look at me like I’m crazy, but instead that smile creeps back on his lips.

“Definitely,” he says softly, reaching out to brush my hand. “But not yet. It’s still a work in progress.”

I feel the smile worming its way onto my mouth.

“Sorry, I’ve actually gotta get to working on it, if you don’t mind.” He turns me around and almost pushes me away from the little green house.  

I rub my eyes as I begin walking back home. I pick up my pace, wanting, needing to be back in the safety of my own house. Back in my bedroom, I pull the giant headphones over my ears, but I can’t seem to crank the sound up fast enough.

Before I can stop myself, I’m pulling the little jar from under my bed. I can feel the little orbs rolling ceaselessly, lightly bumping the edges. I clamp my eyes shut.

And then suddenly it’s the middle of the night. The jar is on the floor, cracked. I dive down to clean up the liquid that should have leaked through the cracks, but there’s nothing there. How long was I out of it? I’m painfully aware of the silence pouring from the headphones. That means it’s been at least 3 hours.

Carefully, I pick up the jar, trying to avoid the broken shards. One nicks my finger, and the blood wells up immediately, but I can’t be bothered to wipe it off. Slowly, I bring myself to look at the contents of the jar. Staring back at me is a set of deep, warm brown eyes, the polar opposite of Alex’s startling blue.

I’m abruptly aware of how dry they must be, the liquid having leaked out who knows how long ago. I pull another jar from under my bed, this filled only with the slimy preservation solution, and quickly transfer those perfect little spheres.

The urge to run to him is more than I can resist. It’s been over a year since the last time. The aching has been relentless, but I’ve been patient, waiting for the perfect set to complement my father’s beautiful brown eyes. I’ve earned this. I deserve this. It isn’t worth fighting anymore. I simply pull the bag of supplies from my closet, yank the hoodie over my head, and walk carefully to his house. Not a shred of light is visible through any of the broken windows. I look at my watch and realize it’s almost 2am. Of course, he wouldn’t be awake.

I’m once again drawn to his front door. Surprisingly, the knob turns without any resistance.  

I’m easing myself into the entry way, glancing at the photos on the wall, taken aback by his beauty, when I hear a noise behind me. When I turn, I can’t see anything, so I shrug it off without another thought. I take a quick glance around the house, but Alex isn’t in the bed that sits in the corner of the living room.

I notice a hatch that must lead to a cellar. There’s a padlock on it, but it isn’t locked. I lift the door open and descend the stairs. The pungent, metallic smell of blood reaches my nostrils almost immediately. For some reason, though, I keep walking. Before I can fully take in the sight of the basement, I feel a pinch in the side of my neck. Slowly, the edge of my vision goes fuzzy. The blackness inches inwards until all that’s left is a patch of light, barely bigger than a pinprick. And then: nothing.

When my eyes finally open again, I think I might be dreaming. Right next to me lies Alex, his blue eyes clear and unblinking. I’m slowly aware of cold, hard ground beneath me.

“Isn’t this the perfect little man cave?” he asks, his voice dark and husky. He still hasn’t blinked. His eyes twitch, and this time I know I didn’t imagine it. I try to look around, but everything is still fuzzy. I try to move, but I find that my limbs won’t cooperate.  

I’m finally able to see the room around me. The walls are hard concrete, melting seamlessly into the floor. I see a dark spot on the floor near me. It looks as though it was recently cleaned. There are a few splatters of blood on the walls, but I’m not sure if that’s what he was cleaning up or if the blood is mine.

He pulls a little knife from his coat pocket. It’s frighteningly familiar; only a few inches long, slightly hooked. I’m taken aback by the golden-flecked black handle. This knife isn’t just familiar, it’s mine.

“What do you do with a knife like this?” he asks gently. I try to move again, but my limbs are leaden, unyielding. “You won’t be able to move. I gave you a paralytic. You should still be able to speak, though.” The lack of emotion in his voice is startling.

“Eyes,” is all I can manage to say. My tongue doesn’t quite fit in my mouth. He examines the knife, measuring it up against my eyelid. He brushes my cheek ever so gently, sending a wave of shivers down my spine.

“Can I kiss you?” he asks. The question causes me to pause. Isn’t this exactly what I wanted? I achieve a small nod. He’s surprisingly gentle, brushing my hair behind my ears and carefully cupping my chin as he kisses me. I’m not sure how long we stay like that, but it must be a while, because movement slowly comes back to my limbs. He presses the knife into my hand and whispers breathlessly to me, “show me.”

It’s almost more than I can bear. I push the knife carefully around one of his unblinking eyes. Blood wells up, drips down his cheek, but he never flinches. I hold the orb carefully in my hand as I pass the knife to him. He repeats the motions on me; the euphoria keeps me from truly feeling the pain that I know must be there. He stands, taking his eye from my hand, moving to rinse them in the sink in the corner of the room. I pull the spare jar, full of preservation fluid, from my bag. I’m completely mesmerized as he drops those beautiful spheres in. He pulls me tightly into his arms, and I feel as though I’m home.

I’m only vaguely aware of the set of eyes watching us from the jar. One’s a pale blue, one’s a deep forest green.

They are perfect together.

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