Altered Reality Ch. 01byAddicted2Writing©
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a story I've been trying to 'perfect' for the past three years now. After finding this site I thought I'd throw it out just to see what y'all thought about it. Any comments would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, and I hope you enjoy the read.
Just as rush hour peaked on the mid-October day, Aimee Chadwick stepped outside her office building and immediately noted the early autumn weather matched her mood.
As she walked along the streets of Washington, D.C. to the Metro station, she could not ignore the dark, menacing clouds that cast shadows under shop awnings or the chilly breeze that carried loose papers and fallen leaves around her feet. The distant thunder spoke to her in an odd, foreboding voice, which was not a surprise to her.
She tightened the collar of her jacket tighter around her neck, took a deep breath then proceeded further along the sidewalk, purposefully avoiding looking into the faces of those she passed. Walking by the coffee shop, she glanced inside and stopped dead in her tracks.
Her eyes caught the questioning glare of the man she had noticed the past year or so. He sat at the same table every morning but there was never any food or drink as there was none now.
Aside from how good looking she thought he was there was also something mysterious about him that intrigued her. He was taller than the men she at first was attracted to, but his physical attributes was something she simply could not ignore: He was at least six feet tall, if not taller, with silky black, wavy hair cut in a slight military way, medium complexion, broad shoulders, and although he always wore long-sleeved shirts, she could see his thick, strong biceps. And she had even checked out his unbelievable rear view when she stood behind him in line to place their orders.
On the few occasions when they would make eye contact, Aimee often found her heart race wildly when she gazed into his light blue-grey eyes, which were outlined in a deeper blue. She always wanted to say something to him but with the exploding brain cells nothing came out. All she could do was nod good morning.
Aimee was about to turn and walk away when he crooked his index finger, motioning for her to come inside; her heart stopped. She shook her head politely and headed back down the street.
Just as she reached the intersection an unfamiliar voice shouted, "Hey! Wait up!"
It being the Nation's Capital, someone always hollered in the street. As usual, she paid no mind to it as she pressed the kiosk to cross the street. A moment later, a gentle hand rested on her shoulder. She turned around to blast the intruder who had touched her but froze when she saw it was Coffee Hunk, as she had dubbed him.
"Hi. I'm sorry to startle you," he said then promptly removed his hand. Even though Aimee had heard his voice when he placed his coffee order, now, however, it was strangely calm and alluring, even intoxicating.
With a hard swallow she replied, "Yes, well, it is D.C. Ya can't be too careful. There are some . . ." Stop rambling, idiot!
When he saw the small box tucked under her arm, he asked, "Is it your birthday?"
Actually, her mother died only a month earlier in a horrific vehicle accident. Even with two weeks off to settle her mother's estate and to deal with the deep loss, it still was not enough time to function on any level. Filing for time off under the Family Medical Leave Act was the only way she believed she would be able to heal. When that healing would begin she had no clue.
"No. I'm just taking a leave from work. It's a care package from my boss."
"Oh, that was thoughtful of him."
Suddenly feeling vulnerable and emotionally exposed to him, she said, "I'm really sorry, but I'm meeting friends for dinner in a bit." The truth was she was going home, nuking a frozen dinner, taking a long, soaking bath with candles and soothing music then going to bed early.
"Okay." His voice was full of disappointment. "Well, maybe we can chat at the coffee shop another morning."
"Yeah, sure," she replied, even though she doubted it would ever happen.
"By the way, may I ask your name?"
The answer to his question was simple, yet she had become oddly cautious. "Aimee."
"Nice to meet you. I'm Ian Mathison."
Shifting her feet, she looked over at the crosswalk sign in hopes it had changed to allow her a quick escape. Thankfully, the seconds ticked down steadily. "Look, I'm running late," she informed him, somewhat relieved.
"Oh, right, sure. I'm sorry. Good luck."
As she crossed the street, she was grateful to get away from him, yet had an awkward sense that he was burrowing his eyes into the middle of her back.
And he certainly was watching her. He knew it would not be the last time he would see her.
As soon as Aimee got onto the train, the clouds opened up, and it rained relentlessly. By the time she reached her house she was soaked to the bone, as well as relieved when she finally walked in the door. After relaxing in the tub for almost an hour, her stomach growled in hunger so she decided to grab something to eat.
Just as she stepped out of the tub and grabbed the bath towel the phone rang. She did not want to answer it. She only wanted to be alone and wallow in her misery. Sighing heavily, she wrapped the towel around her as she went to the nightstand, picked up the phone and answered it unenthusiastically.
"Hey, Aimes. You got cable, right?" It was Sam, a very good friend from work.
She ran her fingers through her damp hair as she sat down on the bed. "Yes, I've still got cable. Why?"
He ignored her question. "What are you wearing?" he asked sexily.
She shook her head when she heard his smile through the phone. "You are such a perv."
"And I'll never change. You want company tonight?"
She was in no mood to be social. "Oh, sweetie, I'd love to have you over, but now isn't a good time."
"I figured, but the truth is my cable went out because of the storm, and there's this movie I want to see. I was hoping I could watch it with you."
"Tell you what: you bring Chinese food and some beer and we'll watch the movie."
"Uh, you got a sexy red nightie you can wear?"
She could imagine the devilish grin on his face by the tone of his voice. She had seen it many times before. "Sam, knock it off."
"Okay, okay. What kind of Chinese do you want?"
She sighed but wore a half-smile. "What do I always order when we've had it at work?"
"Moo Goo Gai Pan of Crap."
"Uh, no," she chuckled.
"Sesame chicken, fried rice and one egg roll with lots of Duck sauce. Is that right?"
"Yes, exactly. See ya in a bit."
"Okay." He was silent for a second before he added quickly, "A pink nightie—"
After they hung up, she sat on the bed for a while thinking about their friendship. When they first met at work she was a naïve eighteen year old, Sam was a few months younger. They were as different as night and day, yet as they found common interests, their friendship easily evolved.
He was a good, sweet guy, and they had been out as friends a few times through the years, hitting clubs, dancing and drinking, which sometimes ended Aimee spending the night at Sam's. But Aimee knew full well it wasn't a good idea to go any further than that, being that they were coworkers. Sam seemed happy to be just friends, though he tried often to break down her wall and date seriously.
Sighing heavily, she headed back into the bathroom to dry her hair. As she dried the last strands of her shoulder length golden blonde hair, she thought she heard a knock. She turned off the hair dryer and listened intently. Within a second, another knock on the door confirmed her suspicion.
Booger, her calico cat, sauntered into the bathroom, brushed up against Aimee's leg and meowed. Cat Speak translation is, "Someone's at the door, Mommy. Please see if they have catnip for me."
"Thanks for the warning, Booger."
Throwing on a thin, full-length robe, Aimee headed for the door. She could not help but giggle when she peered through the peep hole and saw Sam making a goofy face.
"Hey," she said as she held the door open for him. He simply stood in the doorway and looked her up and down, his eyes wide with a sly grin on his lips. "Shut up and get in here."
Sam winked as he walked past her and headed to the kitchen with Aimee closely behind. As he dug out the food from the large paper bag, she pulled out the plates and silverware and set them on the counter by the six-pack of beer.
Grabbing a beer, she popped the top and drank it thirstily until it was half empty, not even paying attention to the expression on his face as he watched her.
"Ah. I needed this," she said as she set the mug on the counter and finally looked at him. "What?"
"I didn't think it'd be that difficult to get you drunk," he teased with a sly grin.
Shaking her head, she said, "I'm going to go change. Why don't you take the food and plates in the living room, please?"
"I have an idea. Why don't you put something sexy on?"
She stopped in mid-turn and looked at him. "All you get to see me in tonight are sweats and a t-shirt."
"Hmm. Does that mean you aren't drunk yet?"
"I'll be right back. Booger, keep an eye on that man!" She dressed quickly and joined Sam by the coffee table on the floor and prepared her plate. "What time does the movie start?" she asked with a mouth full, then playfully stuck out her tongue.
"That's completely disgusting, you know that?" he admonished, but then laughed before he suddenly choked on his food, coughed heavily and patted his chest. He took a swig of beer to clear his throat. "It starts in half an hour. Think you'll be done eating so I don't choke to death?"
"I'll think about it," she teased before she completely shut down and grew solemn, pushing the food around her with fork.
"What's wrong? I was only joking."
"I know. Sam, I'm going to be so lost without seeing you every day."
He was in the middle of putting a fork full of food in his mouth when he realized how grave she had become. He placed the fork down on the plate, grabbed his beer, leaned against the couch and stared at her, trying to read her thoughts.
"Aimes, I know it's been hard. But I'll just be a phone call away. You know that, right?"
"Yeah, I know. Thanks," she said then finished her beer.
"I'll miss you too. No one can make coffee like you do. But you are coming back. What are you planning on doing?"
"I was thinking of heading somewhere for a few weeks, England, maybe. I need a change, get out of this rat race, clear my head."
"Give yourself time, Aimes." He put his hand on her shoulder then noticed the time on his watch. "The movie is starting."
"What channel?" She grabbed the remote, swiveled around to face the TV and turned it on.
"Oh, sorry. I don't have that movie channel," she told him seriously.
His eyes grew wide with disappointment until she chuckled. "That was mean."
"Maybe, but I'm cute."
Both settled against the couch and finished the food. Since she had seen it twice in the past, she thought of Ian, frustrated that she could not get to know him better . . .
"Hey, where were you?" She turned to find Sam looking over her face inquisitively. "You didn't even watch the movie."
When she focused on the TV, the credits scrolled up the tube. "I, uh, I've seen it before."
"Oh. What were you thinking, by the way? Are you okay?"
"Sam, I feel like I'm sixty years old, not twenty-four. I don't know how everything can change so quickly. Since Mom's been gone, I can only sleep a few hours a night, and when I do I dream of Mom then can't go back to sleep. I can't stand being by myself. I leave most of the lights and the T.V. on so I don't come home to a dark house."
He did not say anything but instead grabbed the empty plates and went to the kitchen. Knowing how he hated being around melancholy people, she sighed then followed him, leaned against the sink and watched him put the dishes in the dishwasher. When he was done, he stood beside her with his hands on the edge of the counter and looked over her face carefully.
"Girl, you can talk to me if you need to."
She nodded. "I'm just scared to death. I don't think I should have taken the leave. Maybe work would have been a good distraction."
He shook his head fervently. "No, you made the right decision. I've noticed how difficult things have been for you, understandably enough."
She shrugged her shoulders but did not say another further.
"Who was that man you were talking to at the corner this afternoon?" he asked curiously.
Aimee's head swung to face him. "You were following me?" She did not know why she had flared up angrily like she did, but she did not have a chance to compose herself.
He walked out to the living room, but he did not return, so she went out after him and stopped at the couch, watching him. He'd pulled out a small pocket calendar from his coat pocket.
"When I saw this sitting on your desk, I went after you and saw you talking to him. You seemed into him."
"Are you jealous?" she asked, half joking, yet half serious for some odd reason. He frowned, seemingly hurt by her accusation.
Sitting down heavily on the couch, Aimee ran her fingers through her hair, suddenly feeling extremely exhausted. A second later, the cushion next to her shook as Sam sat beside her, his elbows on his knees and leaned forward, scrutinizing her face carefully. "That wasn't fair. I'm sorry, Sam."
He brushed his shoulder against hers that made her look up, and their eyes immediately locked. "I just don't want . . ." His voice trailed off, and he looked away ashamed.
"You don't want what?" she pressed.
He sighed heavily then looked back at her. "I don't want you to see that guy again." The expression on his face was something she had never seen from him, and she knew how dead serious he was.
While she was curious about his feelings, she was also briefly angry. "Why? We've already talked about crossing the line of our friendship. But you've never had a problem with my boyfriends before -- wait, I've never had any, really. Do you know him?"
He shook his head. "I know his type."
She placed her hand on his knee, and immediately pulled back when she felt that familiar sexual tension build within her; it was the last thing she wanted at the moment. "I'm a big girl now. I can take care of myself."
"Maybe," he said as he forced a comforting smile but failed miserably. "I'm allowed to worry about you if I want to, aren't I?"
She smiled. "I love that you worry about me, but you don't need to."
Again, their eyes locked, and she suddenly felt her cheeks burn, something she always hated because she could never keep her true feelings hidden. She did not break eye contact and before she realized it, their heads drew closer until their lips met.
They closed their eyes as the kiss grew, but she was alarmed when she felt her pulse quicken, and her head began to swim. She groaned before she pulled away from him. His eyes were closed for several seconds before he realized her lips were no longer on his. He slowly opened his eyes and looked over her face.
"Should I be frightened?" she asked, trying to forget how comforting his lips were.
"That depends on you. Wanna give me that back massage you promised me on my birthday?" he answered flirtatiously.
"Seriously, I mean about Ian." He nodded, seemingly ashamed. "What's with this guy?"
"I just don't want you to see him. He's dangerous."
As she searched his eyes, she understood how vital it was that she stayed away from Ian. She also realized that maybe Sam wanted her for himself.
Ian hid behind Aimee's neighbor's bush across the street and had grown very impatient and grumpy, almost bored. When Sam had first arrived, Ian silently cursed him, and for an instant he was thrilled at the thought of taking care of both of them at the same time.
But that was not why he was there. He simply hunkered down and waited for Sam to leave.
Before Sam showed up, Ian had planned on it taking only a few minutes. In and out; easy peasy. But after three hours, he had resolved that Sam would be staying the night.
Although disappointed, Ian was about to leave when the front door opened and Sam stepped through the door, gave Aimee a hug and walked onto the sidewalk. Ian's heart began to race; his mouth even became dry. He prepared to stand to approach the house, but Sam suddenly turned from his car and went back to the house.
He knocked on the door a few times before Aimee finally answered and allowed him inside again, closing the door behind him.
Ian cursed aloud that time when the living room light came back on. He had to remind himself that there was no rush.
He could always come back.
He would come back.
And he would take care of her.