My mother once told me, you only really love once.
I remember it clearly. Her eyes were full of tears, her smile was wavering, and her heart was breaking so loudly I could almost hear it cracking. She'd taken my hand in hers when I started to sob like a little baby, and told me how much she loved me. She also said that when my father realised he'd made a mistake in leaving us, he'd be back.
My mistake was that my first love had been a murderer.
My name, my real name, is Amelia Spitz.
The witness protection agency had me down as Louise Dennis.
When I was sixteen, my first love brutally murdered his best friend.
After the trial, I moved to London. 500 miles away from the prison he was kept in. I moved alone, my mother no longer wanting anything to do with me. She was still under the crazy impression I tricked her boyfriend into trying to seduce me. I haven't heard from her in ten years. It was almost comical.
But she was never a good mother.
His name was Nathan Taylor, and he was to become the bane of my life. His rendezvous with my best friend landed them deeply in love. Then she landed his father. And somehow along the way my heart, mind and soul became shackled and twisted within their story.
I went to Hertfordshire University and majored in Media Studies in my four years there. I lived in the halls, not really making any close friends, and got on with life. Not surprisingly, I didn't talk to anyone about my past. I wanted a fresh start, a new leaf, the whole shindig.
It was a year before I graduated that I found the newspaper that would change my life. (Surprisingly, it would be the newspaper's sister-magazine company that would offer me a job weeks later as their new advertising manager.) It was lying on the table in the common room. And on a large, black and white picture on the front was the photo of a handsome man, smirking. I picked it up. My heart was pounding as the title read, 'THE FACE OF DEATH' and my eyes scanned over the text, filling with horror.
'Convicted murder Nathan Taylor has been released from HMP Hull today. Taylor was sent down for a murder that occurred in April 2001. '
This shocking revelation could potentially change the world of crime. When Taylor exited the prison he didn't seem to show any sign of regret, and even smirked devilishly at the paparazzi. Taylor hadn't shown any regret in court when he was convicted for the murder of his best friend Charlie Horrocks. A trustworthy source has told our reporter that Taylor was influential within the prison walls. He was let out for good behaviour, 15 years prior to his court sentence. Continued on page 4'
I can recite it because I read it so much. I read it with a heavy heart and a petrified soul. My eyes would drop back to the picture. At first, I didn't recognize the mug shot, until I saw his eyes, his deep blue eyes. His hair was cut short, dark, his jaw line strong, covered in stubble, sneering at the camera. His looked absolutely terrifying. His shoulders looked broad and muscular. He'd grown up and turned into something more amazing than he'd started off as. I read through the whole article, studied the pictures. But there was not one mention of me. None at all. I felt disheartened. This was a boy- a man who had proclaimed he'd love me forever. He'd shouted my name in court. He killed his best friend for me. I was everything that went wrong in his life and yet, no mention of me. The thing that struck me the most was that Naomi was mentioned. Then I realised I probably wasn't mentioned due to the witness protection my mother set for me. A part of me secretly wanted him to find me, to scoop me up. But the rest of me was screaming that I was far better off without him. He murdered someone.
I had kept that newspaper, and still had it, two years on.
The day I turned 27 I knew that I wasn't going to have a party. There was nobody to throw me a party. Sure, I had my work colleagues, but they all thought I was a bit weird. It was true. I had heard them talking about me. The truth is, they were all so far up their own arses it was unbelievable. We all worked for a magazine company, which was big in the UK, called 'Viva la Diva.' It was unsurprisingly fronted by the thickest woman you could hope to meet, who unsurprisingly owned the biggest front in the business. She was stunning, obviously, and her father had a wallet measuring up to the size of Russia.
I knew it wouldn't be my mother who would throw me a party. That was laughable. And it certainly wouldn't be Leona, the girl who deserted me, failing to keep in touch with all the letters, emails and texts I sent her. I never got one reply. It broke my heart. I had no one.
So you can imagine what a shock it was when I was sat in my spacious office at work - pencil skirt clinging to my thighs, feet upon the desk, heels upon the floor, pale pink shirt untucked, blazer strewn across the filing cabinets and curls loose across my shoulders - and there was a knock at the door. I shot up, thinking it was my boss on a spot check, and leant forward, scribbling nothings onto a note pad at full speed and shuffled some sheets.
"Err- Come in."
I quickly threw the plastic from my sandwich into the bin (God forbid she would catch me eating) and span around in my chair, grinning. The smile promptly dropped as I saw a tall, lanky blonde woman with red lips grinning at me. She was holding a bouquet of a hundred exquisite long-stemmed, large-headed red roses, sprinkled with sparkling diamanté pins.
My gut flew into my mouth.
The woman, Paula the receptionist, passed me the heavy flowers with a large grin. I saw a crowd gather at the door. It wasn't every day the work's loner received a £500 bouquet of flowers. There was a card, neatly attached to the side, and with shaking fingers I set the bouquet on the table.
My eyes turned back to the hopeful people at the door, and I raised my eyebrows. They grinned back at me. I rolled my eyes, knowing they wouldn't go away no matter what. I picked the card from the plastic and turned over the neat red envelope.
I slowly tore it open, feeling the tension rise in the room. The card slipped out, and I frowned. It was completely blank on the front and back.
Then as I opened it, I let out a shriek. A wad of £50 notes had fallen into my lap.
The room let out a yelp, and I jumped a few feet into the air, before grabbing the wad, and examining the thickness. It was wrapped in a red ribbon, with over 300 sheets. My eyes moved back to the card, and in neat, precise handwriting, were the words.
"Buy an outfit. Then on Saturday Night, 9:45, go to Personal. Ask for Leo Handowzich."
My eyebrows knitted together, and I felt my stomach lurch. Who was this creep sending me a bunch of flowers more expensive than I've ever seen? Paula, the receptionist, peered over my shoulder at the letter.
"Oh Louise!" I had almost forgotten that was my name. "Leo Handowzich?" She cawed, "Well, I've never heard of him and I know everyone. Have you?"
Her reply was a screech of replies from the pack.
"-And Personal!" Her voice was high and cringe worthy, "That's the swanky new club in the centre of London. Used to be Wetherspoons. Leather floors."
Leather floors? I went into a day dream as they struck up conversation in the middle of my office, staring enviously at my beautiful flowers and wad of money. How did they know me? Do I know them? Do I know anyone? And then a horrible thought struck me. What if the flowers hadn't been meant for me? What if somewhere, in an office similar to mine, a woman was sat waiting for expensive flowers from her husband? I swallowed guiltily.
The women at the door paused for a second, eyes glued to the expensive flowers, with greedy looks on their faces. I felt a sudden urge to grab them to my chest. The jealousy in their eyes was almost scary, so I slipped them a nervous smile and softly said,
"I really must get back to work. Thank you Paula."
It was on the way home, after doing nothing but contemplating all day, that I questioned the situation some more. I climbed into my little black beetle, setting my flowers gently down beside me. The money was tucked away in a purse in the bag at my feet. I started the engine, shivering from the cold outside, and waited for the air conditioning to kick in to heat up my icy bones. I rubbed my hands together, flicking on the radio for Lucie Silvas to fill my car, breathing in life. I sang along. I was never too bad at singing, but it wouldn't be something I should ever take up as a career.
The roads were surprisingly empty, and quiet. That was apart from the loud beep that came from behind me when I was sat daydreaming at a traffic light. I nearly pissed myself, but drove on, smiling foolishly. I glanced in my wind mirror, frowning as I saw a black, sleek car that had been behind me since I left work, and pulled onto the main road. I licked the inside of my lips, rubbing my forehead with my free hand as we pulled up to another set of lights. I waited for a few seconds, noticing how dark the nights were getting. I hated waking up in the morning when it was pitch black, and then having to drive home in the dark. I cast my eyes into the mirror as I set off in afterthought, seeing the same black car, but I thought nothing more of it.
My apartment wasn't small, but it wasn't a penthouse either, not in the least. There were two bedrooms, a living room, a large kitchen, a bathroom, a study, and a balcony in my room. I loved my bedroom. It was big, with a massive bed in the centre, headboard against the wall. I had the comfiest mattress known to man, and umpteen sheets and covers. All a cream and brown colour. A large shag rug lay in the centre of the room, cream to match the carpet. It felt so soft on my feet in a morning. I had a walk-in wardrobe -every girl's fantasy- and an antique dressing table, filled with makeup and hair clips.
But the most striking thing about my whole flat was in the living room. Complete with big, overpowering cream sofas and cushions, a plasma television on the wall, and a large fake fireplace it was already a lovely room. But on the opposite wall to the door, was the gigantic image of a young boy and girl, sitting in a café, sipping their milkshakes and staring into each other's eyes. I always denied that it was me to my few visitors to escape the questions. But it was quite obvious who the girl with short blonde hair and a vulnerable face was.
I slumped down in the chair nearest the kitchen door, and softly smiled at the picture. It was from an art project I'd done in school, with the boy I'd never thought I'd fall in love with. In the end, I'd got an A. He had never gotten his mark, because he was in prison. I finished off their story book with a picture of their hands, interlocked through the bars of his cell.
While the officer had stood there besides me, attached to me like the plague, none of the vicious criminals in there had mocked him. They had just ignored us and kept staring through the bars with an empty expression on their faces.
Biting my tongue, I tilted my head, before standing up and walking to my bedroom. I crouched at the dressing side table, pulling out a yellowing newspaper and stared at the handsome chiseled face. I put it back straight away, leaning against my bed and closing my eyes. My gaze moved back through the door to where I had set the flowers down. Stumbling to my feet, I took off my shoes, before moving over to the large cream curtains that covered the doors to the balcony. Unlocking the door, I stepped out, my feet bare on the cold marble. The soft wind blew my hair as I gripped onto the railings and stared down the street. There were a few cars, and the street lamps cast a soft orange glare in the sunset. It was quite beautiful. Sucking on my bottom lip, I sat in one of the metal garden chairs around the table, putting my feet up and letting the breeze blow up the hem of my skirt, cooling down my legs.
I contemplated the card again. What if I turned up and it was Leo Handowzich waiting for his Mrs? I sighed, throwing back my curls and shaking my head. Maybe I was just thinking too far into this. Maybe it was just a guy who'd seen me around town and knew me from the magazine. He did an article not so long ago. Given I never actually saw him in the flesh… Maybe he'd seen me? I pursed my lips, before shaking out the thoughts of the mystery man. I'd go. Just to cure my curiosity, then I'd leave.
Then my mind changed to the magazine, which was out on the first of next month, a deadline that was daringly close, to say I wasn't ready in the least. I still had to do the Agony Aunt pages. I sighed. It'd be the same as the adverts I'd put in every time. Plastic surgery ads. It was sickening really. Persuading young women to have plastic surgery on a psychological base. I shook my head again, and picked my lonely butt up. I closed the doors behind me, before changing into my pyjamas. Settling down onto my settee, I glanced back at the large image, before sighing softly and switching on the television.
I woke up on Saturday morning about half past ten. I was lounged on the sofa with my little white cat, Jasper, perched upon my stomach, snoring. I smiled, rubbing his fur to his now delighted purrs, and laid back my head. I cast my eyes at the television, before reaching for the remote and turning it off. The sun was pouring in through the cracks in the curtains, but it was also raining, I could hear it hitting the windows.
I stood up, and walked to the kitchen and poured myself a strong black coffee. My mother had also said that if you didn't like coffee black, you didn't like coffee. I smiled fondly, before adding cool water to the hot and sipped. Placing the cup on the coffee table in my living room, I set out my plan for the day. I'd do some work first, grab some tea, then shower, dress and go to Personal. I would take the money with me, and I'd return it. I would explain that he got the wrong person, but that I'd keep the pretty flowers that looked stunning in the centre of my kitchen table.
I dragged my lifeless body into the bedroom, flopped on the soft surface of my bed and rolled my eyes back into darkness. They filled with images of where I grew up, with snapshots of my father in between. I vividly remembered the day I'd found out about his relationship with the secretary. Sighing gently, my eyes caught my reflection in a large mirror that almost spanned one of my walls. I looked completely knackered, my hair loosely pulled into half a ponytail, the rest of my long dark hair around my shoulders. I flicked the fringe from my eyes, which were drooped and surrounded by black, blue and purple tell-tale signs of insomnia.
I had worked for 'Viva la Diva' for a few years actually, and it wore me straight out. I enjoyed the job itself, but the whole place was a bit shallow. My job was to organize the advertisements into their places in the magazine, which sometimes got a bit dull, but mostly had its up points- predominantly being able to read the whole magazine before anyone else in the building Most of my days were actually spent, bent over sheets of papers and old magazines. It was a wonder I didn't have a bad back. I did a lot of my work on my lap top, before sending off the images to the printing office. It's all very thrilling, believe me.
It was half eight when I sat up, my neck was aching, and glanced at the clock. Swearing softly, I realised that I had to shower, dress, put on my make up and get into the centre of town on a Saturday night, in the next hour. I jumped to my feet, downing the rest of my lemonade, before sprinting into the bathroom and having the quickest thorough shower I've ever had. Forty five minutes later, I twisted my way into cropped grey trousers, a pale pink wrap crochet top and a pair of black patent peep toe heels. I left my hair curly, around my shoulders, and put silver onto the top of my eye lids, before adding the usual eye makeup and hunted down my purse.
I grabbed a taxi, knowing I wouldn't be able to get into town if my life depended on it, and jumped in, telling him the directions. His face crumpled as he looked me up and down, obviously thinking I didn't look rich enough for where I told him to go. I ignored him, making sure I still had the £15000 in my bag. I still couldn't believe it. When I arrived I paid the driver and stepped from the taxi, straightening my trousers, gulping loudly at the daunting looking club. Everywhere were neon lights upon the tall, long building that seemed to tower over the street. My eyes cast onto the entrance line, which disappeared miles back. Swallowing down my pride, I sidled up to the doormen.
"Yeah. Leo Handowzich? I'm with him."
The bouncer laughed in my face, and I glared. He was a stout, broad shouldered man, with a dirty snigger and a childlike immaturity in his dark eyes, his glance shifting to the man next to him, who was looking at me with wide eyes, interested. His finger rolled down the clipboard he held. He frowned, casting his eyes up to me. "Name?"
"Am- Louise Dennis."
I watched his Adam's apple bob, before he turned to the other guy, tall and muscled, and whispered something into his ear. The blonde looked at me accusingly, before a flicker of fear went across his eyes and he nodded, flicking his head for me to follow him. It was the music that hit me first, loud and blaring, it vibrated on my school. The room I walked straight into was fifteen times my whole house, spanning back some good metres, into a pit of darkness, occasionally lit by neon and strobe lightening fixtures, which beamed down on a rich, dancing crowd. The bar was situated dead centre, and stood as a beacon of light in the silver and black room. The bar staff were running about, flicking bottles in the air to the delight of a drunken crowd, and winking deliciously at their customers, each one full of charisma and startlingly good looking. Everybody here was good looking.
The bouncer headed up some stairs, and then another flight until the music got quieter. He spun, half way up the stairs, and turned to me, his face solemn and mysterious, which confused me further.
"Listen. If I were you I'd go home now."
"I just want to give him back his money."
"He gave you money? How much?" The man looked puzzled.
"What the hell?"
My words were almost shouted, bringing me the attention of a few drunken couples loitering on the staircase. The bouncer realised he'd made a mistake at the horrific look on my face, and turned, continuing up the stairs at a pace I couldn't match. His hand rattled on the door straight at the top, knuckles first. There was a pause, and then a woman's voice replied.
The bouncer told me to wait where I was, slipping inside and leaving me scared witless outside. What the hell did he mean? The whole situation was a bit like a book I had read about at primary school, 'Room 13'. At the top of a dark staircase, a door- hiding a darker secret. I shivered. The bouncer stepped back out quickly; giving me a look I couldn't decipher.
"You can go on in now."
He ran down the steps, and left me to my own devices. I pressed my palm against the wood door. It was cold beneath my warm hand which was still flushed from the heat of the club, and took a deep breath before pushing it open.
The room inside was dim, with a small dark wood desk in the centre, walls red, wood floor and a large mirror covering the left hand side wall, which made the already plenty sized room look bigger.
Smoke billowed from an ashtray on the desk and I notified myself placidly that it was illegal to smoke in public places. I said nothing however.
A stunning brunette sat at the table, a sneer on her pink lips and as she looked me up and down, she reminded me a lot of a girl that I had once gone to school with -she had promptly later tried to wreck my life-. The secretary was thin, with the prominent cheekbones of a long face, perfectly shaped white teeth and dark eyes. Her skin was tinted a golden colour and spotless. Her voice was the sickening, thickly coated in honey that would wrap around your neck and make you choke.
I did as I was told, heading toward another door. I pushed down the handle and slowly entered, expecting to see a stranger, a Leo Handowzich, staring back at me through surprised eyes.
"Fucking hell Princess." His voice was deep, low, masculine beyond belief, and it scared me witless. He sat behind the massive oak desk, his eyes wide, dressed in a black suit, collar undone and shirt untucked, his blazer was hung up on the wall to his left. Stubble dashed across his jaw line and his hair was cut short, sculpting his face. His eyes were travelling up and down my body and his face was covered by a gentle smirk, which made my stomach ache. "I see you did something good with my money then?"
It was not Leo Handowzich.
Everything went a little bit blurry for a moment, and my brain couldn't register anything anymore. In grievous floods, memories began to flood my mind, which had gone into meltdown at his sudden appearance back into my life. Chills ran down my spine at the lack of kindness in his eyes. They way he was looking at me… like I was a piece of meat.
Then something snapped. Something inside me went boom. I swallowed deeply, still staring in shock, before I reached into my bag, grabbed the wad of cash and threw it down in front of him. His eyes slowly dropped to it, and then lifted to me. I turned around, walking back to the door and opening it. But he was behind me in a flash, slamming the door shut, his body pressed up against my back. I wiggled underneath him, whimpering like a child, wanting to get away. Finally I gave up my struggle, and rested my head against the door, closing my eyes. He was breathing heavily in my ear. He turned me around in his strong arms, and I rested my hands on his chest, applying pressure on the muscles I felt there. I refused to meet his eyes, instead glancing past his shoulder to stop any tears.
"Amelia." He whispered so soft that my whole body went hot. The room was suddenly really small. I was so puny and he was so overpowering. I felt dizzy. He took my chin gently into his hand and glanced back into my eyes. He'd completely changed, except for his eyes.
"Who are you?" I whispered, shaking my head in confusion.
He didn't reply, but pressed his lips against mine. I gypped. Pushing him away, I backed off, catching him off guard, and pressed my back against the furthest wall away from him.
"Amelia, get here now." He was frustrated.
"Tell me who you are. Leo Handowzich?"
I sobbed, the noise raw in my throat.
"Now Amelia. Come here."
"No. Who's Leo Handowzich? You're not the same person you were before. Why did you come after me? I was hap- fine. I was fine!"
"You have no friends Amelia. You have no family. Everyone disowned you and the people you work with think you're a freak. You're telling me you were fine?" He reached his hand to his jaw." You changed your name?"
"Witness protection, so you couldn't find me. Ever. You shouldn't have found me!"
"I'll always find you." He was coming towards me.
I made a run for it, throwing myself from the room, and out of his office, I ran as fast as my feet could carry me down the steps, and down into the club. I could hear his shouts behind me. Then something amazing happened. People actually moved out of his way. They jumped back. Then I realised what had made the bouncer run. The man following me was a murderer. A powerful, spine chilling murderer. I screamed as his hands closed around my waist, trying madly to fight him. Trying to get away from the past, once and for all.
His strong hands shook my body beneath them, and I looked up, my hands clutching onto the shoulders of his shirt, bunched up, knuckles white with the tight grip. I felt his fingers digging into my back, his force pulling me flat against him, his voice tingling against my ear.
"Do you see this Amelia?" His whisper was slight, and he turned me around harshly within his grasp, his hands dragging frightfully at my clothes . People were staring, not at me, at him, with fear, desire and horror evident in their eyes. The room blurred at the edges, and I felt so heavy. I was being groped around the hips by a man who killed… Kills still, for all I knew.
"These people… all look at me with dread. They look up to me. Like you will. I found you and I won't let you go. Not again." His grip tightened, and his voice blew over my neck, making all the little hairs stand on end. The warmth of his body radiated to mine, and I tried to arch away from him, but his hand pulled me back. He turned me back to face him, the silence of the crowd eerie. The music carried on playing, but no one was paying attention to anything other than him. His eyes were the same intoxicating colour they were a decade before, and the look they sent me was full of something I remembered distinctly. But I couldn't take it.
With one strong, meaningful push, I sent myself careering away from him and onto the cold leather floor. My hands scraped across the tiles as I stumbled to my feet, and I turned to see his hateful air return around him. The crowd stepped back. I stepped back. Shaking my head at him, I turned, bag on my arm and started running out of the club.
As I stumbled through the heavy door, the bouncer that had escorted me up the stairs grabbed onto my upper arms, pulling me around the corner of the building.
I just gazed up at him with hurt in my eyes and his countenance softened.
I shook my head and glanced at the floor, my body shaking, but no tears occurred.
"Come on, let's get you a taxi."
He gently placed his arm around my waist, and ushered me to the curb side. His large, muscled arm lifted into the air, and almost immediately, a black car pulled up. He sat me in the back, asked me once again how I was. I told the driver my address, and watched embarrassingly as the bouncer handed him the money.
"Amelia. It's fine."
"Thank you… err…"
He nodded and shut the door, before I watched him turn and walk back to his post, eyes glued to my car. The other doorman turned and conversed with him, but they were interrupted by the door flinging open and a youth being thrown out, in a drunken stupor.
How had the bouncer known my name…? Amelia.
I'd told him Louise.
I flung myself around in the car, eyes groping for him. I saw Nathan slip out from the door after the troubled boy, and watched his hand creep around Leo's shoulder. Leo had looked so fearless, but next to Nathan, he was almost priestly.
Nathan knew I wouldn't come if it was his name on the card, so would he have used someone else's? Was I that easy to manipulate? Obviously so, I thought as I swallowed the bile raised in my throat.
The car set off, and I gazed out the window, absorbed in my thoughts. My heart was going at a speed I hadn't felt since the day I found that newspaper that changed everything. Since the day I saw him go down. I swallowed as the cheery driver asked me something, about the weather I think. I gave a short answer, and I think he got the idea that I wasn't in the right mood to talk.
My feet collided with the pavement as I thanked the driver softly, and shut the door, feeling the light breeze travel up my legs.
My shaky body managed to carry me up to my apartment, before my knees buckled and I went flying against the doorframe of my flat. I swallowed, feeling the tears piercing the backs of my eyes, and fiddled with the key, missing the hole every time. I hit the mark, and my weight caused the door to career open. I skittered across the floor, catching myself on the side of the hall table, and my eyes caught the manic flash of the telephone upon it. I pressed play on the message, and felt my heart pound with anxiety, for it might be him.
It wasn't. It was British gas calling about the end of the month payment they had failed to receive. The one I could have paid, but had completely forgotten about. I glanced at the mail bin beside the phone, down in dismay at the other bills I hadn't got around to paying.
I licked my top lip, feeling a bead of sweat on it, and moved across the soft carpet, and landing in a heap on my beautiful sofa. Tears leaked upon my cheeks as my eyes closed, hating myself for being so sensitive, especially after everything I had already been through. Apparently you never forget your first love and I never had, I just wished to God I had. Because no longer was he my first love. He was a grown man, a criminal. My gut churned, and I turned my face up to look at the image on the other side of the room -on the other side of the world to me- of a boy and a girl hopelessly, pathetically, madly in shameful childish love.
And I realised; at that exact moment just how shameful it was.
love my beta.