That was just what I needed.
As I lie next to Brady on his lumpy queen-size bed with his itchy comforter partially strewn over us, I feel like I can barely catch my breath. I look over at him, and he gives me this dopey grin, and I’m pretty sure my smile looks just as dopey. I’m a little loopy from the whole thing.
“Good?” he asks.
“So good,” I say. “You’ve improved.”
He bursts out laughing. “Since college? I sure hope so.”
I don’t want to admit to him how long it’s been for me. I’ve been out with other guys since college, but not many. I move closer to him, allowing him to put his arm around me and pull me close. I wonder if maybe I’ve been over-cautious. Maybe it wouldn’t be the worst idea to let him have my phone number. For a repeat performance or two. Or ten.
“I was so glad to see you tonight,” he murmurs into my hair. “I was sure you were never coming back after last night.”
“I’m glad I did.” I lift my head to look up at him. His five o’clock shadow has gotten very dark. “How long did it take you to recognize me when I came into Christopher’s the other night?”
“About two seconds.”
“Really?” I raise my eyebrows. “I think I look pretty different.” “Not that different. Anyway, you’re hard to forget.”
I don’t know entirely what he means by that. Is it a compliment? I suppose it must be, considering we ended up here. I don’t like the idea of being memorable. I’m glad when my patients remember me, but the idea that a guy I knew only briefly in college would know me so quickly makes me a little uncomfortable.
Brady must sense my discomfort, because he adds, “I just feel like you’re the coolest girl I ever dated.”
“The ‘coolest’ girl you ever dated? Now I know you’re making stuff up…”
“You are!” he insists. “I never met anyone like you before. There’s just something different about you.”
There’s nothing different about me. At least, not something I advertised to anyone I knew. To Brady, I was always just plain old Nora Davis. He never knew about my past. And he never will.
“Also,” he adds, “you’re the most beautiful woman I ever went out with.”
I laugh. “Yeah, right.”
“You are.” He squeezes my shoulder. “You and Laurie Strode are my top two ever.”
Laurie Strode? Who is Laurie Strode? I never even heard of… Oh no.
I remember why I broke up with Brady.
He must sense my body going stiff. He touches my chin with his fingers. “Nora?”
I sit up in bed, yanking my green scrub top from the floor where I abandoned it. “I have to use the bathroom.”
Brady sits up in bed, watching me pull on my shirt, underwear, then my pants. As I tighten the drawstring, he frowns at me. “Are you leaving?”
“I have to get up early for surgery in the morning.”
“Yeah, but…” The blanket falls from his muscular chest, and for a moment, I’m tempted to stay. “It’s not that late. Stay a little longer. We can order a pizza or something.”
“I don’t think so.” “Chinese?”
“Sorry.” I look around the bedroom for my shoes, then remember I left them at the front door. “I just have a very busy schedule.”
Before he can protest again, I race into the bathroom and slam the door behind me.
I look at the doorknob and find a little lock. I turn it, even though I think it’s very unlikely that Brady will attempt to burst in on me. I’m sure he’s still sitting in his bed, wracking his brain to try to figure out what he did wrong. But I need a moment of complete privacy. Just to myself.
I check out my appearance in the mirror. I had pulled my hair out of its bun at some point between the kitchen and the bedroom, and the black locks are strewn everywhere. Luckily, I wasn’t wearing any makeup to get smeared, but I look decidedly disheveled. I splash some water on my face and take a deep breath.
Laurie Strode. Of course.
Laurie Strode was the girl in Halloween, played by Jamie Lee Curtis. You know, that movie with Michael Myers, the guy in the white mask who tries to kill the babysitter. I watched that movie with Brady in college because he loved it. Then we watched the rest of the Halloween movies. And Friday the 13th. Nightmare on Elm Street. He loved slasher films.
And I grew to love them too. My favorite part of the day became curling up with Brady on the futon sofa in the common area in his suite and watching actors get bludgeoned to death. It was probably the best relationship I had ever been in. I had never felt quite so connected to another person.
I can now remember the exact moment when I stopped liking him.
It was a Saturday night. We had been invited to a costume party, but we waited until the last minute to deal with the costume situation. I had mostly figured I would just go as a sexy cat or something along those lines, but Brady insisted he had some scary masks in his closet. From Halloweens past, he told me.
Sure enough, he had about half a dozen masks stashed away at the bottom of his closet. I laughed when he held up the Jason hockey mask. Or the Freddy Krueger mask that was a mass of scarred skin. Scared yet? he teased me.
And then he pulled another mask out of the pile. When he held it up to his face, a shiver went down my spine. What is that?
This is my Halloween mask from like ten years ago, he explained. Remember that serial killer from right here in Oregon, the one who killed all those women and cut off their hands? The Handyman?
That’s when I knew for sure what I was looking at. Brady owned a Halloween mask of my father’s face. Of course, why was I so surprised? Hadn’t we spent our entire relationship watching women get bludgeoned to death? It was a fictionalized version of my father’s life.
Looking at that old mask, I was so sick, I had to make up an excuse to avoid going to the party. The next day, I broke up with him. And for the rest of college, every time I saw him, I ran the other way.
God, how could I have forgotten? I must’ve blocked it out. After breaking up with Brady, I never watched another scary movie. It was never the same after that.
I wonder if he still watches slasher films. I wonder if he still loves them as much as he used to.
I wonder if he still has that mask of my father’s face.
I take a shaky breath and come out of the bathroom. The door to the bedroom is closed—did I close it when I left? I can’t remember. I put my hand on the doorknob, intending to tell Brady I’m leaving now. I owe him that much at least. It’s not like he did anything wrong.
But the doorknob doesn’t turn. The door to the bedroom is locked.
I frown and try again. Why did he lock himself in the bedroom? That’s strange.
“Nora? What are you doing?”
I jerk my head up. Brady is standing next to me, now dressed in the jeans and T-shirt he had on earlier. His eyebrows are bunched together. “I was just going back to the bedroom,” I say.
He looks over his shoulder. “The bedroom is over there. That’s my office, remember?”
He snorts. “I think you’re the first person ever to get lost in this tiny apartment.”
“Yeah…” I look back at the locked door, my stomach suddenly queasy. “How come you lock your office?”
He shrugs. “I’ve got some financial papers in there. Just… keeping them safe.”
I can’t help but notice the way Brady avoids my eyes. Is he lying to me? Is there something else in this locked room? Something he doesn’t want anybody to see?
I can’t help but remember the locked basement door in my old house growing up. What turned out to be behind that locked door.
But this is entirely different. People lock doors to rooms in their houses, for God’s sake. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a psychotic serial killer. And Brady seems perfectly nice. I can tell.
I take a deep breath through my nose, trying to detect that distantly familiar smell of old blood and rotting flesh.
Not even lavender.
“Anyway,” I say, as I walk back past Brady to the living room. My purse is where I left it on the kitchen counter and my clogs were kicked off in the living room. I slide my feet back into my shoes. “I’m going to head out now.”
“I’ll walk you to your car.” “Unnecessary.”
He shakes his head. “It’s not a great neighborhood. I’ll feel better if I walk you to your car.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“Is there a reason why you don’t want me to walk you to your car?”
I pause in the middle of putting on my jacket and look up at Brady. There’s a hurt expression on his face. I realize I’m kind of being a bitch. We had a good time tonight, and I’m taking off on him pretty abruptly. He didn’t do anything to deserve that. He’s been nothing but nice to me. And what he did back in the bedroom was…
“Fine,” I say. “Let’s go.”
Brady grabs his keys off the kitchen counter and shoves them into his pocket. Then he follows me down the stairs and out the front door. We don’t say a word the entire time, but I hear his footsteps behind me.
Even though it was dark when we got here, it seems darker now. The neighborhood isn’t very well lit. I look at the front of the house, and at first, I think that old woman is still rocking on her chair, but then I realize the chair is now empty. It must be rocking from the wind.
As much as I hate to admit it, I’m glad Brady came out to walk me to my car. He even comes around and holds the driver’s side door open for me. Even though it’s my car. Someone raised him to have good manners.
It makes me think again of that tie he wore on our first date. How hard he was trying. It’s almost enough to make me want to stay.
“Nora,” he says.
I slide into the driver’s seat and look up at him. “Yes?” “I had a really good time tonight,” he says.
He chews on the side of his lip. “Do you…?” He doesn’t even finish the question. He knows the answer. “Look, you’ve got my number. You know where I work and where I live. So… I’m here, if you ever want to… you know.”
“Yeah,” I mumble. We both know I’m never going to call him. “Bye, Brady. Thanks.”
He lets out a breath. “Yeah…”
I slam the door closed, then I start the engine and take off. I don’t look back, but when I glance in the rearview mirror, Brady is still standing on the street where I left him.