Cupid + Valentine 4Eva!!! Part 1 (of 2)
Sophia Trepidation knots my belly as I shave my legs carefully. I can’t believe I’m doing this, going over to his house for a first date. I’m so nervous I’m nearly numb, can’t even feel the cool enamel of the bathtub, moist from the shower, against the back of my thighs. Maybe I should call to cancel, but he’ll be so disappointed. And truth be told, so will I. It’s been a year since I went on a proper date. I reapply the shaving gel and shave upwards this time, against the grain, getting the last bits of hair. I’m thorough and methodical, no nicks, no cuts, perfect for him. For Alexander.
Alexander I sit in my father’s study. Even though he’s been dead twenty years, I still refer to it as his study. Sometimes I can still hear his voice in here, smell his cologne. I try not to think about how much I miss him, to ignore the dull ache in my chest.
I focus on my task, cleaning my crossbows. My prize possessions glint in the mood lighting of the study, beautiful and cruel at the same time. The room is silent but for my elbows skimming over the old newspaper I’ve spread on the antique desk to protect it from the wax and lubricant. I’d already restrung the bow and now I carefully wax the new cables and lube the rail and trigger box. My hands shake but I ignore their tremors. Nothing matters until tomorrow. Tonight must go well. I don’t know if I will be able to hunt next year.
A knock at the door. Mr Hound, my butler slash valet slash bodyguard, stands in the doorway holding two outfits. I pick the light blue cashmere sweater. I don’t want this to be too formal. Plus, it makes me look kindly and welcoming. “I’ll go and pick her up now, Master Alexander,” he says. I nod. He takes the sweater and the khakis up to my dressing room. A few minutes later I hear the faint jangle of the automatic gate letting him out into the night.
Sophia I get his text. His driver is on the way. I realize now why I have so many misgivings about this night. He has way too much power over the situation. His car, his food, his house in the middle of nowhere. I pack my things in an overnight bag in case I get lucky. In case he gets lucky, I remind myself firmly. I repeat my self-affirming mantras again. Confidence blooms in my chest. I check that I’ve got everything I need.
It bothers me that I’ve not been able to find anything about Alexander’s family, friends and loved ones. Maybe he is alone in the world, like me. Nevertheless, I still pack my leather roll bag. Even if it doesn’t work out, I still have a couple of valentines I can send out later; last year was very fruitful, though not like this.
The car arrives. I instinctively smooth down the front of my black strapless dress and throw on my red bolero cardigan. I am beautiful, I am fierce, I say to myself, taking a deep breath. I’m seeing this really great life coach.
I grab my bag and meet Alexander’s butler. He is tall, all angles and edges, radiating malice. I wonder if he has any family. There might be a Plan B here. “Would Miss like to listen to any music?” he asks me after he stashes my bag in the boot.
“No thanks,” I say.
The calf leather seat gives a sigh as I settle into it. The windows are almost opaque. This makes me uncomfortable. It means that despite my best efforts, I don’t know the way to Alexander’s mansion. The butler puts up the privacy screen separating the spacious back from the front of the car and pretends I don’t exist.
An hour later, we arrive at the house that has supposedly been in Alexander’s family for generations. It’s huge, but not tacky at all. He’s been waxing lyrical about his grounds and garden. Yes, he actually has grounds.
I’m shown unto the raised patio. Alexander is waiting for me on a small balcony overlooking the pool. It looks like a slab of raw turquoise.
“Did you bring a swimsuit?” He asks. I feel him appraising me. I will myself not to blush.
“No; you forgot to mention you had such a lovely pool.” I say, laughing nervously.
“No worries. If you want a dip later, I’m sure we can find you a suit in my sister’s things.”
My eyes light up. He does have family! I can send them a valentine. “You have a sister?”
“We’re not close. She lives far away.”
His voice takes on an edge and I chastise myself for being nosy and sounding so excited about it. I can’t help it. It’s been so long.
Alexander She looks much better in real life than her pictures. Not that she looked that bad in the pictures. She seems pretty relaxed about the house, although I notice her eyes perk up at the pool. Good, I can use that.
I mention my sister and her mask of calmness slips briefly. I feel my eyes cloud over as she asks about Rebecca. I answer shortly, and she realizes I’m uncomfortable.
I change the subject. I ask her about her job. She’s a surgeon at Western General. I look at her life-saving hands and find myself imagining what they will look like impaled with one of my arrows. My mouth waters and I swallow hard.
“So what do you like best about surgery?” I ask after swallowing a divine piece of crab cake. Mr Hound outdid himself this time. “Must be an incredible feeling to know you’re saving lives.”
“Honestly, it’s the warmth,” she says. “When I stick my hand or finger in a fresh incision, and it’s just so…incredibly..warm …” She revels in the memory, eyes dilated, a far away look on her face. She catches herself. Embarrassed.
Sophia Why can’t I just act normal? How am I supposed to get him to let his guard down if I say stupid things? I steal a glance at him, expecting a look of revulsion. Instead he stares calmly at me.
“Isn’t it great to be alive?” he says. “To feel that.” He cracks a secret smile.
He’s so nice, trying to make me feel better, throwing me a lifeline. I seize it like I’m drowning.
“Yeah, it’s just a sign of life, you know? When you feel how warm they are it’s almost like you just touched their soul.”
He laughs and takes a sip of wine. “Well put!”
I relax. Laughter is a great icebreaker. “So what kind of things do you write?” I ask.
“Nature books mostly. Hunting, fishing, that kind of thing. I could show you some later if you like.”
The butler brings out the next course. Crown roast of lamb with garlic and rosemary baby potatoes. It smells heavenly and for a brief moment, I hate myself for not being able to just savor this. But all I can think about is how I’m going to execute my plan.
Alexander I watch her closely. It seems a little creepy, I know, to gaze at her, to watch her eat, but let’s face it; it’s not as if she’s leaving this place alive. I’m not worrying about a second date, if you catch my drift.
Her profile made her seem boring. No close family or friends. No real hobbies besides work and books. She loves Sense and Sensibility. I knew then that my house, with its Regency style grounds and the Maze, would intrigue her. My trap was set.
She was the kind of target I preferred. Lonely and trusting, the kind of person who dies alone in their apartment and never gets found until her money runs out, her direct debit starts failing and her utilities get cut off. Or maybe it doesn’t even take that long. Maybe the neighbors complain about the dead animal smell coming from 3B. Maybe the building manager or the super enter the sparse apartment and see her, undignified in death, half sitting in her chair. No, this will be better. This is more fitting.
I feel almost bad about it, though. I catch a glimpse of her eyes. They remind me of a hawk. Sharp, wild and full of life. I think about what would happen if I could be different. If I could lie to her stupid, unremarkable face and pretend I was a normal person. If I could do without the Hunt every February. If I could maintain this mask longer than a single dinner.
She seems nervous. I wish she would calm down and enjoy the meal. It is to be her last, so she really ought to savor it. I can’t help but giggle at the thought. Her head snaps up at the sound. “What’s so funny?” she asks.
“You.” I reply. “You’re so nervous and awkward. Its kind of cute actually.” I smile so she knows I’m laughing with her and not at her.
“You laugh like a 5-year-old girl.” She says, laughing.
I laugh harder. This is good. We are going to have so much fun.
Sophia His laugh does not fit him. It is high pitched and tinkly. He’s not incredibly masculine, probably just average, but even then the laugh sounds like something from a young girl.
I look across at him, this mysterious man in his baby blue sweater, and something stirs in me. I watch his throat move as he eats, drinks and speaks. I am nearly transfixed. I notice he seems edgy, impatient. He’s almost finished his food. Good … so have I.
I excuse myself. The butler shows me to the guest suite, with its opulent bathroom. I find myself wishing again that I could just enjoy this. That I didn’t have this desire. I could, you know. I could just enjoy this. I saved those two sleazeballs I met off SexSpace last year for a rainy day, everything is set, and I’m sure their families would appreciate the valentines.
I could just relax, make love to Alexander, and soak in the hot tub with some more of his wine. I could be a normal, young woman for once. As if threatened by this train of thought, my desire rushes through me again with such force I almost get a nosebleed. I have to steady myself against the granite sink.
I pull myself together and go back into the room. My overnight bag sits on the bed. I open it up and reach for my roll bag. My hand glides gently over the leather, feeling its grain. It was a 30th birthday present to myself.
When I head back out to the patio, neither the butler or Alexander are anywhere to be found. My heart races. I look around — is this a test? My eyes scan the walls, the light fixtures, looking for a hidden camera. If there are any, they are well hidden, probably top of the line. I quickly unroll the bag, the blade of my scalpel catches the light briefly. The syringe is prepped, 25cc of Pavulon. I’m glad I don’t have to use it. It’s usually a last resort thing. Plus it’s bloody expensive and hard to steal. The other problem is I might have to intubate him so he doesn’t die too quickly. Not my favourite thing in the world to do, especially with the butler lurking. It occurs to me that I’ll have to take care of him too.
Instead I withdraw a small bottle full of crushed Xylazine from a pouch in the bag. It’s usually used by vets for large farm animals, but I find it does the job for my goals. I empty it into the bottle of wine. I shake it, thinking to myself how lucky it is that the bottle is dark so he won’t see the residue settle on the bottom unless he’s looking for it. I shake the bottle again. I’m probably bruising the wine or something. He would probably be freaking. I can’t help but giggle.
Alexander Arousal makes my hands shake. That’s what it is. Just the thrill of a new Hunt. Not my brain letting me down. I change out of the slacks and the sweater into my hunting gear. People tend to look scornfully at my kit. “City boy hunter,” some sneer; then they see my skill with a bow and it shuts them up.
I’m wearing fatigues. It gets me in the mood. When I put the camouflage jacket on, I can feel my hands stop trembling. I feel alive, virile even. I’m glad I don’t have to wear the high-viz vest, one of the reasons I prefer this kind of Hunt to the other public ones. Those vests are particularly unstylish.
I look in the mirror. Kind, shallow-shouldered Alexander has been replaced by something altogether more terrifying. I make to put on some camo face paint but Mr Hound quietly shakes his head. What would I do without him?
I walk over to the security console. I type the six-digit code, father’s death day, and mumble my voice-activation command- Jaeger. It blinks red briefly and chrips, signifying that the system is armed. Now only Mr Hound or I can disarm it. A good hunter is a prepared hunter, father always said.
He hands me my favourite crossbow. I draw a deep, shaky, breath. It’s show time.