"You look absolutely amazing tonight," Chase admired me from across the small, entirely too cramped wooden table.
I could feel my face turning redder than the Merlot I was sipping on. No matter how much time had passed, I still felt butterflies in my stomach whenever I was around Chase. It was almost as if he were my kryptonite; my one weakness. It was both frightening and exhilarating at the same time.
We were at our favorite hole-in-the-wall pub just a block from my apartment. Chase and I were not much for appearances preferring the rugged, manly atmosphere that our pub offered. We’d spent many a date night here without it ever having grown old, even as the atmosphere around us had grown more unsavory. It was unusually quiet here tonight with only one other couple seated a few feet away from our table and a couple of men playing pool in the corner. I liked the quiet, but this was a tad unusual, even for this place. Chase took a sip of water, swishing it in his mouth as he rolled the glass around in his hand.
"Tap water, vintage 2009," he announced discerningly.
I couldn’t stop myself from bursting out into laughter revealing the dreaded snort that came whenever I was thoroughly amused by something. The other couple near our table looked up in surprised amusement causing my face to flush.
"Absolutely adorable," Chase proclaimed happy with himself.
"I bet you won’t think that in twenty years," I retorted.
"Twenty years? I was going to trade you in for a new model after ten."
"Celaine, I love you with every fiber of my being. Until my dying day, my heart will be yours, or at least until you get sick of me."
"Chase Matthews the day I get sick of you is the day that pigs sprout wings and take to the sky."
"You know that isn’t entirely impossible…", he started breaking into what I affectionately referred to as his "nerd lingo", which usually involved talk of DNA, chromosomes, surgical procedures and pretty much anything else remotely related to the human body and how it worked.
"I’m sorry," he stopped. "I think I’m boring you."
"No, no not at all," I lied.
"Really? Your eyes were starting to glaze over."
"I just like it when you go all nerdy on me."
"Thanks, I think.
Chase glanced up at the television on the wall to check the final score of the baseball game taped earlier that afternoon. Since the curfew, many professional games were taped as opposed to aired live allowing the public an opportunity to actually attend the games. The taped games were then broadcasted at their normal times for the rest of the country to view within the safety of their homes. Tapping not only abided the curfew laws but also served as a deterrent for The Man in Black. The shock value of an attack on a taped game was significantly less catastrophic than if the attack were to take place during a live broadcast.
Watching Chase, I looked up at the screen just in time to see a recap of the day’s news scroll across the bottom of it.
"What do you think of the death of one of our supposed superheroes?"
"It’s weird," he replied, "I can’t say that it surprises me, but it surprises me.’
"I know exactly what you mean."
"There’s nothing out there that is impervious to everything. Whatever this psychopath is, he can and he will be stopped. It’s only a matter of time. What makes me wonder is what will take his place...if something hasn’t already."
"What do you mean?"
"Doesn’t this all seem a little odd to you Celaine? We voted to basically give up some of the basic principles of democracy by being fed with the explanation that it was for our own safety. How does that even happen? Do you think the public would have been so quick to give up any freedom, no matter how small, if The Man in Black didn’t exist…if there were nothing to fear? Do you think that President Brooks would now be serving his third term? There’s just something fishy about this whole thing. Yet the people approve of this madness. They think just because the attacks have decreased by a couple percentage points over the last few years that what he’s doing is working and we’re going to win this battle when, if you ask me, we’ve already lost."
"I think it’s a hundred percent plausible but not probable," I replied in a tired, half-hearted attempt at sounding only half as eloquent as Chase.
He smiled his crooked smile. "Well Ms. Stevens, I do believe that we need to start heading back as Big Brother will sick the Feds on us if we break curfew."
"Hey, you have a hospital badge. You know the curfew doesn’t technically apply to you."
"That may be true when I’m actually on duty, but right now I’m just a humble civilian. Nice try though."
"Can you blame me for trying to live on the edge?"
"Yeah, you’re a real rebel." He rolled his eyes at me from across the table.
I took Chase’s hand as we walked out of the pub to my apartment. It was a spectacular night, perfect for a long romantic walk. Too bad we couldn’t be on the street past ten. One thing I’ve never been able to get use to is walking through a city completely devoid of people when logic says it should be teaming with activity. Perhaps there was some truth to Chase’s theory. In moments like this, it made perfect sense.
However, despite the absolute perfection of our moment together, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something didn’t feel quite right. As we turned down the alleyway to my apartment it seemed like there was someone watching us; calculating our every move. My body tensed as my stomach shifted from the euphoric butterflies to a sudden sickness as if something terrible were about to happen. In a flash, I whirled around to face the dark street laid out behind us.
"What are you doing?" Chase asked with uneasiness in his voice.
"I don’t know what it is, but I suddenly have this strange feeling that someone is watching us."
"Oh man, I knew this would happen someday. The fresh air has made you delusional. That’s it, I’m never letting you out of the house again."
"You may want to check your faucet, your sarcasm is leaking. I’m serious Chase, I feel someone watching us. We’re not alone. I mean…we are alone, but we’re not…it’s just…oh…you know what I mean."
Chase placed his hand on my shoulder. "Celaine, there’s no one there. If there were, we would’ve noticed it. There are only so many places a person can be on this empty street."
He was right, although I would never have admitted it. Behind us, there was nothing but the dark, deserted alleyway. Ahead of us, more of the same. Knowing that I wasn’t going to let it go, he opted for a compromise.
"Okay, if someone had been following us they obviously aren’t now and, if they are, I hope whoever it is enjoys the show." Chase scooped me in his arms passionately pressing his lips to mine. "Well, we had to make it worth their while, right?" he smirked.
"Uh-huh." Great, not only was I paranoid, now I could hardly walk.
In the shadows, he waited for her at exactly the place they told him she would be found. He lit a cigarette checking his watch impatiently. It was almost curfew meaning that she should soon be in his sights. The hunter would have his prey. This amused him. In fact, it’d been just about the only amusement he’d experienced in the last several months. Slumping further down the wall, he wondered if she would come with him willingly or if she would need to be dealt with. Oh how he hated dealing with people, it left such a mess.
Out of the pub she walked. As instructed, he cautiously took steps out from his place in the shadows to engage her, quickly backtracking at the sight of someone else with her. Oh great, a boyfriend, he thought to himself. They hadn’t said anything about there being a boyfriend.
With no other option but to remain hidden, he watched his new target. She was beautiful, he observed. Tall, long, dark hair, with a nice figure-from what he could see of it. There wasn’t a single thing about her that screamed "killer" prompting him wonder if they hadn’t completely lost their minds in their selection of her. When they’d told him that she would be a "she" he envisioned a woman with more girth and slightly more muscle. After all, she was the first woman they’d ever chosen.
His target turned down an alley with her boyfriend in tow. He couldn’t allow himself to lose sight of her. At all costs, he had to stick with her until his job was done, no matter what the outcome may be. With the cigarette still aflame between his lips, he leapt onto a fire escape, scaling the side of the building lining the alleyway. Along the edge of the roof he walked until he saw her further down the alley. Her boyfriend was clutching onto her in a passionate embrace almost as if it were the last time they would see each other again. Who knows, depending on how his mission turned out, perhaps it would be.
Love, it was the dirtiest four letter word of them all. That dreadful emotion rendered a person weak and vulnerable which was unacceptable to him. It was a hypocritical emotion, love. Not only did it instill immense pleasure but it also served as a catalyst to excruciating pain and suffering. It was unexplainable and he didn’t like the unexplained. Besides, nothing lasts forever, so why pursue an impossibility.
Quietly from his vantage point, he observed the couple entering her apartment complex. He would approach her tomorrow, he decided as he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket.
"Blake," the response to his call rang into his ear.
"I’ve located Stevens and will make contact tomorrow," he reported.
Without waiting for a response, he shoved the cell phone back into his pocket, stomping the cigarette out on the roof. He wondered how long she would last.
I held Chase tightly with my head on his chest just over his heart, running my hands through his hair. Most couples had a song to define their relationship. We had a star and it was shining proudly over us as if realizing its significance. Our star was the last star comprising the handle of the big dipper and was chosen primarily because it was one of the few stars I knew I’d always be able to find. Chase tried explaining the constellations to me once but his lecture was drowned out within fifteen minutes by my snoring.
"So, do you still feel like someone is watching you?" he asked.
I sat up to meet his eyes. "Yeah, but somehow it doesn’t seem as foreboding now."
"I guess I need to try a little harder then," he chuckled. "It’s getting late, we should probably go inside."
"Don’t blame me, blame our employers."
"What? Are you telling me you can’t do your job on only a couple of hours of sleep?"
"It’s not me I’m worried about, it’s my patients. Would you want to see your surgeon yawning only a couple minutes before he was scheduled to cut into your body?"
The flame from the candles bounced around my bedroom walls creating a ballet of light that illuminated Chase’s bare torso. As we lay in my bed, I traced the lines on his abdomen. He worked out obsessively when he wasn’t at the hospital and it really showed. Oh man, did it ever show. My head rested on his broad shoulders, his hands caressing my back. It was a moment bathed in perfection. It was a moment I wished would last forever. Chase moved his fingers up my back, tracing my spine until reaching my head where he lightly stroked my hair."My sentiment exactly."
"When are we going to move in together?" he asked breaking the silence.
"My guess is that you’re enjoying this just as much as I am."
Even though we’d been together for two years, the whole idea of the big "C", or commitment for those brave enough to use the word, scared the hell out me. It wasn’t as if I imagined my life without Chase, because I didn’t. I was just afraid of the unknown. I’d never been married nor had I ever lived with anyone I’d been in a relationship with so the whole prospect was rather frightening.
"I don’t know. I was always taught that people should be married before they lived together," I asserted in an attempt to grab a hold of the topic to steer it over a cliff.
So…you want to get married?"
"No…no…oh my gosh no….I mean…you mean...right now?"
He laughed. "Not this very second and thanks for the confidence booster by the way."
"Chase, you know how I feel.
"I know. You’re afraid of commitment and I think that’s the most intriguing thing in the world because I’ve never met another woman who seemed to have that problem." He rolled over to face me, cupping my cheek with his hand. "I also know that the majority of that issue stems from the loss of your family. Trust me Celaine, come hell or high water, I’m not going anywhere. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me."
I leaned in and touched my lips to his. He ran his finger tips from my neck downwards toward my back creating an electric like tingling sensation to surge through my body as he pulled me closer.
"Do you want me to stop?" he asked.
I opened my eyes. It was morning and it was raining; terrific.
"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey. You’ll never know dear, how much I love you, please don’t take my sunshine away." Chase kissed my cheek. "Good morning beautiful," he cheerfully greeted me.
"Ripping off songs now are we?"
"When you’re a suave as I am, you can make anything sound good."
"What time is it?"
"It’s about time for the both of us to get up and get ready for work."
"Well it was good while it lasted," I mused.
"Yes, yes it was."
At that moment, the alarm on my nightstand went off. Chase leaned over me to turn it off.
"What? No snooze button," I teased.
"I have to pull a double shift and will be on-call after my shift for the rest of the week so I’ll pretty much be MIA for the next few days."
I gave him the best pathetic looking face I could.
"Don’t look at me like that," he smiled turning his gaze to the ceiling, staring seemingly off into space.
"What is it?"
His gaze was fixated on the ceiling as if he were some sort of intense concentration. After a moment, he spoke, "How about you and I have dinner at Angelo’s on Saturday?"
"Angelo’s? What’s the occasion?"
"No occasion. I just figured we could use a change of pace from our normal routine."
"It’s a nice thought Chase, it really is. Isn’t it pretty expensive there? After two years, I think we’re well beyond having to impress each other. I really don’t want you to spend that kind of money on…"
He put his index finger to my lips. "Don’t worry about the money. I have some extra funds lying around just itching to take my beautiful girlfriend out."
"Well, when you put it that way."
"Angelo’s on Saturday then?"
"Consider my arm thoroughly twisted."