"What are we going to wear?"
Jeff was sick of hearing it. He could have given less than a shit about throwing on a hot latex mask and prancing around the neighborhood. It wasn't bad enough that he was twenty-five years old being forced to celebrate a kid's holiday, but Halloween would be eight years to the day his high school sweetheart had been killed in a car accident, and it was a night he preferred not to remember. Unfortunately, his new girlfriend, Tracy, was insistent, absolutely adamant that they would dress up, they would go out, and Jeff had little or no choice in the matter.
That particular afternoon, Tracy had been dragging Jeff to nearly every godforsaken costume shop in the city looking for the perfect ensemble. Fred and Wilma? Ricky and Lucy? Sharon and Ozzy? Jeff's head was throbbing. All he wanted was an escape from Tracy's tireless journey, but he knew it would never happen without a confrontation, and he hated confrontations with Tracy. The statuesque blonde was beautiful, but she could be a viper when she wanted.
They stood at a rack in what could have been the sixth or seventh costume shop that day, Jeff shifting uncomfortably back and forth on his feet, watching Tracy rifle through the costumes.
"Tracy, I don't really give a shit, would you just pick some goddamn thing?" As soon as the question left his mouth, he knew it was a dive off the deep end. He could see the hurt cross her face almost immediately, and he wondered why he could never keep his mouth shut at key moments in his life.
"Jeffrey, I'm sick of this," Tracy said, brushing her long hair impatiently out of her face, "you've been moping around all afternoon, you haven't contributed a damn thing, and you've been ignoring me. I'm asking you to do this one thing and you can't even do it."
"You know how much I hate Halloween," Jeff said firmly, "I always have, but--"
"Oh, boo-hoo, don't start with the sob story again, Jeff, I'm sick of hearing it. Get the fuck over it."
Jeff's head was still throbbing, but now he could feel his face flush red with anger. Tracy could be brutally insensitive when she really tried. In his heart, he knew it wasn't anything malicious, it was just the way she was. But it hurt nonetheless.
"Thanks, sweetheart, for being so kind and understanding about this."
Tracy sighed in frustration and looked at him earnestly. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to say that. It's been eight years, Jeff, why can't you let it go?"
"We've talked about this, it's just not that easy."
"Why isn't it that easy?" For a moment, Jeff thought he could see genuine hurt in her eyes. "Do you still love her?"
"Of course I do. I never had any reason not to love her, I'll always love her."
"You have to move on," she said frankly.
"I know. I have. I've moved on, why do you think I'm here with you? I just...this is the one night I'd prefer not to remember. It's the one night I don't want to celebrate. It's too hard. You've never done what I've done, it's just too hard."
Tracy's face softened a little. "Jeff, you didn't do anything, it wasn't your fault, it was an accident." He supposed she was right, it hadn't really been his fault, it had been a drunk driver who plowed into his little car. But still, if he had been paying attention, he might have seen the guy coming sooner...
"Look," Tracy said softly, "we don't have to dress up, but please come with me to Charlie's party--" Jeff could feel himself starting to grumble "--I know, I know you want to sit at home and brood, but I think it'll be fun, and I think it'll be good for you to get out. Please do this for me."
She gave him "the eyes," and he knew he was going to give in. With a gaze of her blue eyes, she could get anything. Homecoming queen, prom queen, as a high school girl Tracy had taken everything she wanted, and still as a twenty-two year old college student, there was no denying her a thing. In all honesty, they had very little in common, but she had been too beautiful for Jeff to pass up. He knew she used her looks to get what she wanted, and it never really bothered him.
"Okay," Jeff said with resignation in his voice, "I'll go with you to the party."
Tracy clapped excitedly and threw her arms around his neck. "Oh, thank you, thank you, honey. I promise you'll have fun." She pressed her lips to his, her tongue slipping through his lips, against his own tongue. He never quite lost the tingle he experienced when she was close to him, when she kissed him. She broke the kiss and smiled seductively. "I promise," she whispered, "I'll find a way to pay you back."
"I'm sure you will."
She pulled away from him and glanced at the clock on her ever-present cell phone. "I have to go, baby, I'm getting my nails done at three." She pecked him quickly once more on the cheek and turned to go.
She turned back to him, the light from the shop windows striking her hair perfectly so that she absolutely glowed. "Mm-hmm?"
"I'm sorry I was such a pain in the butt about this. I'm trying to get better."
She smiled sweetly, showing the perfect rows of white teeth her parents had paid big bucks for when she was a kid. "It's okay, I forgive you."
And then she was gone.
Jeff wandered the grounds of his college campus for the rest of the afternoon. The North Carolina air had turned crisp and cool, and he admired the lush reds and oranges of the trees that covered the tiny southern campus. The bittersweet smells of the season filled his nose, bringing with them mixed emotions.
Halloween was in three days, and Jeff was dreading every second of it. The first Halloween after Lilah had died had been the worst imaginable. Jeff, at only eighteen years old, had spent that particular holiday hidden away in a motel room with a bottle of rum and a shotgun, waiting for the moment when he would gather up the courage to use it. The moment wouldn't come, not that night, and not Halloween the following year. The pain, like all pain, had eased away slowly, but it never died completely.
Two years after Lilah's death, Jeff began wandering out to the woods near the spot where Lilah had died every Halloween. He was far from being an avid outdoorsman, but he discovered that in the quiet of those nights, he could find peace. He never had to listen to groups of noisy kids roaming the neighborhoods or, even worse, groups of drunken teenagers and college kids. Agreeing to go to a party with Tracy would mark the first time in six years Jeff wouldn't be spending Halloween alone in the quiet wilderness.
He had expected that his life would change when he started dating Tracy, and it certainly had. Jeff supposed it was why he had stayed with her, he knew he needed a change. He had stayed single for almost eight years, even through four years of college, to avoid the pain of lost love, but it came to a point that he realized there was no way to avoid that. Life was full of pain, and he just had to deal with it.
When he was ready to start dating again, Jeff sought out the most beautiful, most lively woman he could find, and he had found it in Tracy. She was gorgeous, she was full of life, she was full of attitude, and she never tried to hide any of it. But in the end, she had changed Jeff for the better, had helped bring him out of his shell, and in a small way, he owed her his life for it. Despite the fact that she could be obnoxious, sometimes downright mean, she understood the man that Jeff could be, and she never stopped trying to bring it out of him.
With all that in mind, Jeff found himself walking to the flower shop just outside the campus. It was the least he could do for acting the way he had that day. Tracy was just trying to have some fun, trying to have some fun with him, and he'd moped all day long in return. He shelled out forty dollars for a dozen beautiful roses, of course Tracy's favorite.
Tracy's condo was in a nice gated community about two blocks away. Tracy's parents had decided they felt more comfortable with her living in her own apartment than on campus, and she certainly hadn't argued. The irony was that far more illicit things had gone on in that apartment than Jeff had ever seen on campus. Jeff had freely fucked Tracy in every room she had, and it was much more comfortable than a dorm room.
He smiled at the thought as he climbed the stairs to Tracy's third-floor condo. He was already feeling a slight tingle in his groin; post-fight sex was always, always the best kind of sex.
Jeff reached Tracy's door by the time he remembered she'd said she had an appointment to get her nails done. He checked his watch. 3:15.
He was about to leave when he heard a faint noise from inside the apartment. He reached out and tested the knob. The door was open.
Later, part of him would regret not just walking away and living in ignorance. When he stepped into the living room, he could hear the sound a little louder, and his ears told him it was a sound that his brain didn't want to hear. He tiptoed through the living room, down the hallway to Tracy's bedroom door. The door was cracked just a little, just enough to see the bed inside and what was happening on it.
Jeff could feel his stomach drop and his mouth go dry. There was that body he'd lusted after daily, that perfectly tanned, athletic body with all the right curves in all the right places. Tracy's head was thrown back in ecstasy, and straddled between her thighs was the head of another man, his tongue thrusting between her wet lips as she ground her crotch onto his face, her hands grasping his hair trying to push him closer. Jeff's barely functional mind recognized it as one of Tracy's favorite positions, and he could see that the man was enjoying it as well. Behind Tracy, the man's large cock was throbbing relentlessly, begging for release.
Jeff's head was spinning. He was frozen there, staring at his girlfriend. He could barely see anything but her face, her beautiful face, her eyes squeezed shut as she bit her lower lip. A violent shudder ran through her and she cried out loudly as the man brought her to a rippling orgasm. She stayed there for a moment as it passed, and when she moved off the man, Jeff could see that it was Charlie, that fucking asshole Charlie whose party Tracy had been begging Jeff to attend on Halloween. The irony bit into Jeff's brain like a drill.
Tracy twisted around on the bed, and immediately sucked the full length of Charlie's cock into her mouth, down her throat. Charlie cried out as Tracy pumped her mouth up and down his member. His hands went to the back of her head, forcing her to take it deeper each time, his hips pumping against her mouth.
She was loving every minute of it, Jeff knew it. It was the way she was. She would never change, not for him, not for anyone.
Charlie's primal moan changed gradually into almost incoherent words, "God damn it, you fucking whore, swallow all of it."
It was more than Jeff could bear. As he swung the door open, the squeaking of the hinges caught Tracy's attention. She glanced over and saw him. His head swimming, things began moving in slow motion for Jeff; Tracy's eyes widening, Tracy pulling her mouth off Charlie's still pulsing member, Tracy bolting upright and covering herself with a sheet, like she was hiding something he'd never seen.
Charlie, in an impressive display of poise and grace, rolled himself off the bed to the floor with a loud thump. He stayed there and didn't bother to get back up, as if Jeff hadn't seen him already. Jeff could only stand in disbelief as Tracy cringed behind her sheet, her eyes full of horror and embarrassment.
"If you're going to cheat on me," Jeff said calmly, "the least you could do is lock the fucking front door."
"Shh," Jeff whispered, pressing a finger to his lips. He slowly approached the bed, and Tracy pulled away as if he were going to hit her. Instead, he held the bouquet of flowers in her direction and waited for her to take them.
"These are for you."
Tracy regarded the flowers with a furtive eye as if Jeff were handing her a rattlesnake. Very slowly, she reached out and took them.
"I'm sorry for the way I acted in the store today," Jeff said, "it wasn't fair of me, and I apologize. Goodbye, Tracy."
Jeff turned to leave, then stopped in his tracks. "Hey, Charlie? If I ever see you again, prepare yourself."
Jeff exited the room and made his way back out to the living room. Before he could leave, Tracy came running down the hall, still wrapped in the sheet, her eyes full of tears.
"Jeff, wait, please," she pleaded, "I'm so sorry, it was a mistake, I didn't mean to, I just...I don't know, I don't know what I was thinking..."
Jeff looked at her, sadness creeping into him. She looked so pathetic standing there, sobbing like she'd lost her best friend. In almost a year since they'd started dating, he'd never seen her look pathetic. She was always so put together, so in control, but now she was losing the one thing that had always been a sure thing.
There would be no Happy Halloween party for Tracy this year. Jeff knew the kind of guy Charlie was, and it wasn't exactly the commitment kind. Charlie would never listen to Tracy and actually remember what she said, he'd never spring for a nice romantic dinner for her birthday, and he sure as hell would never buy her flowers when they fought. Tracy's parents would despise the deadbeat Charlie if he even stuck around long enough to meet them. If it was a stable, giving relationship Tracy was looking for, and Jeff knew it was, she wasn't going to find it with Charlie.
And he felt bad. A slow, creeping guilt was beginning to sneak into his gut. Maybe he could give her a second chance.
"Please, Jeff," Tracy said, "I'm sorry."
He reached out and tenderly brushed away a tear from Tracy's face. "Tracy," he said softly, "I hope you're happy. Don't ever come near me again, you vicious cheating whore."
And without hesitation, he left.
Jeff didn't sleep a wink that night, and the next day wasn't much better. He found it nearly impossible to concentrate on practically everything. Work that morning at the coffee shop he managed was unbearably slow, and what was worse was that the shop was one of Tracy's favorite hangouts. Every time the little bell over the door rang, Jeff tensed up, worried it was her, wondering what she had come to say. Fortunately, she never showed up.
As if work wasn't bad enough, Jeff still had two three-hour classes to attend that night. He vaguely considered skipping, but decided it was silly. He was an adult, he was paying for his own grad school education, and the idea of wasting a single cent of that money was ridiculous.
Jeff was like a zombie through his first class, an international business course that bored the living hell out of him on a regular basis anyway. Even his second class, a lively French class taught by an enthusiastic little Frenchman, held his interest little. He sat in a daze, counting the minutes until the professor gave them a break halfway through the class.
He wandered out to the hall and took a sip from a nearby water fountain to help with his seemingly chronic dry mouth. It was his intention to go outside for a cigarette, but instead he ended up falling onto a bench by the classroom. Anymore, he had very little energy for much of anything, and as badly as he wanted to smoke, he didn't feel like going all the way outside.
A few moments later, a quiet, slight girl dressed all in black with long auburn hair in a ponytail came out into the hall. Jeff glanced up at her. She was in his class, but he couldn't quite place her name.
Damn. She remembered his name, and now he was destined to look like an asshole. He searched for the name over and over in his mind. Lisa? Laura? Something that started with an 'L,' he knew it.
"Are you alright," the girl asked softly. Jeff didn't think he'd ever heard her speak, now that he thought about it. But she had to have spoken sometimes; it was a full participation class. Maybe he just never listened.
"Are you okay? You don't look so good."
Jeff snapped out of his trance. "Uh, yeah, I'm fine, sorry...um..." What was her name?
"Lauren, yeah, I know," he said with a weak smile. He would have been so close. She gave him a look that said she didn't believe him, but it was quickly replaced by concern.
"You're sure you're alright? You're just not speaking out in class like you usually do, and...well, frankly you look sick."
Jeff sighed deeply and nodded his head. "I know, I look like hell. It's nothing, just a thing with my girlfriend."
She sat down beside him, and for the first time, he noticed how wonderful she smelled. It was a mixture of scents he couldn't quite place, something sweet and flowery. He glanced over at her. She was a slight girl; thin but not too thin, and she had a kind of unassuming presence that made Jeff not notice her before. Then again, being apart from Tracy was making him notice a lot more.
Lauren's mannerisms made her seem nervous, or maybe she was just nervous around him. Right from the start, her character seemed to be the exact opposite of Tracy's, and that made Jeff comfortable.
"Anything you want to talk about," she asked.
"Not really. I appreciate it, though."
"Okay," she said, nervously running her fingers through her hair. "Listen, I was wondering what you were doing later?"
Jeff couldn't help but frown. Was she actually asking him out? This timid, quiet little flower of a girl was actually hitting on him? His brain wasn't even close to being prepared to handle this kind of situation.
"Oh, no," Lauren said quickly, "I didn't mean it that way, I know it sounded like..."
"No, it didn't sound like what it sounded like..." Jeff laughed quietly, and Lauren joined him. The conversation wasn't going the way either of them had expected.
"What I meant," Lauren said, "is that you're the best student in this class, and I really need some help. I'd buy you a cup of coffee if you could give me a hand before the test tomorrow night."
French wasn't exactly what Jeff wanted to be thinking about, let alone a test, the very test he had completely forgotten about. He could think of a million reasons to turn her down, but he was going to need the help as well. Maybe playing the role of wise old tutor would give him a necessary distraction.
"Okay, I'll help you."
"Great," Lauren said excitedly, "I really appreciate it. I heard there's a really great coffee shop down on Main street, have you ever heard of it?"
"Yeah," Jeff said, referring to his own coffee shop, "I've heard about it once or twice. Want to walk there after class?"
"Absolutely. Thank you so much."
"No problem. I'll see you back in class."
Jeff stood up and made his way down the hall. He decided to have that cigarette after all.
Class ended around 10:30, not soon enough for Jeff, who had been fidgety for the entire three hours. When his mind started focusing again, he realized that his notebook was covered in the tiny drawings of flowers and animals Tracy had meticulously cranked out when she was bored. It was disquieting not being able to look at something as simple as his French notes without thinking of her. He hoped Lauren kept her own notes, otherwise he'd get nothing done that night.
They met up after class and walked silently across campus to the coffee shop. Jeff found that he didn't have much to say to this girl, nor did he have the energy to try. If it was good conversation she wanted instead of awkward silence, she had come to the wrong place.
Despite his lack of focus and attention, Jeff took notice of how pretty Lauren actually was. Though she seemed to be nervous around him, her general movements were smooth and graceful, as if she were completely at peace with herself and the world around her. At somewhere around five-foot-four, she was at least six inches shorter than he was, and the way she carried herself on her small frame, her arms folded, her movements slight, made her look even smaller. Regardless, there was something about her Jeff would have found extremely attractive under normal circumstances.