"Don't worry he's okay. Terri is actually here on a date with my friend. I introduced them last week, after she got back from her trip…"
Completely distracted, grading papers, haunted by the thought of Alexandra following us in New York. There were too many coincidences, and so many unwanted reasons for her to become a part of our group. I mean she was 'dating' Terri for starters. Everything about that picture felt wrong.
Shaking the thoughts from my head, for the 5th time, I continued to correct the stack of exams. To top things off, Byrnn's mom had invited us over for dinner. Understanding her weak and nauseous symptoms, coping through her last months of pregnancy, I hoped that was the legitimate reason for not showing up to the barbeque. Seeing as how my gut-wrenching feelings were always on target, brushing this third time off was unlikely.
My mind was slightly relieved by the distinct ringtone of Brynn's call, only to be pushed even further to the ground.
"Aaron, I-I'm kind of panicking right now." Her voice trembled.
"What's wrong Brynn?!" The hairs on my body shot up, sensing a danger.
"I-I don't know, I got this weird letter. It has no return address nor does it say who it was from."
"What does the letter say?" My voice grew frantic as I stood up, rubbing my forehead in worry.
"That's the weirdest thing, it just says "He deserves better". What's that supposed to mean? Is this about us? Is it that girl from the past texts?"
Before Brynn could ask the third question, I was already out the door. Shoving the pile of papers in my briefcase, I told her I was on my way. Once we hung up, I speed-dialed my TA and gave him instructions for the following classes. If Brynn was in danger, than that's where I needed to be.
The letter had no further clues. The envelope was blank. The words were typed. Deciding it was time to confess all the details about this suspicious Alexandra "Terri's date" to Brynn, I braced myself for her reaction. The thought of a single student causing this much stress in not only my life but that it was affecting Brynn…the cops had better do something now.
"So you think Alexandra, Alexis, took these pics?" Brynn asked while observing the texts on my phone.
"Who else could it be Brynn? She is the only possible suspect I can think of, and not to mention her persistence in texting me over and over again."
"Does she even realize her obsession with you, how it's crossed the line? Do you think she's just mentally ill and can't take no for an answer? The awful thing is I don't believe we have enough evidence that points to her posing a threat to us. Plus Lilah won't buy it."
"Can't you see? She finds out Lilah is my cousin, becomes best friends with her and bam! Now she knows our friends, our family…she was inside my house! She now knows where you live. I think we have plenty of evidence!"
"Then let's tell the police everything, hopefully they can tell us what to do."
As Brynn had foreseen, there wasn't sufficient evidence. The best they could do was look for any suspicious activity from Alexandra and run a background check. Knowing things were still in its first phase, I acted promptly; worried what could happen if it grew into the worse stages. Imagining if something should happen to Brynn while I'm away in San Diego...could I even go back?
My instincts told me different, but Brynn didn't want to mention any of this to her parents, to not cause an alarm. Feeling that she didn't want something to add to the weight of our engagement, her mother would surely see me unfit for her daughter. But now we were finally going to have dinner with her, and while I'm usually a pretty confident guy…I was terrified.
Driving up to the house, Brynn let out a sigh of disappointment and confusion.
"What is he doing here?" Her tone was serious.
Noticing a truck in the driveway, I could only assume it belonged to Terri.
"I thought it was just us and your parents?"
"So did I. Aaron, I'm sorry. I know this isn't easy for you. And I also want to apologize beforehand on behalf of my mother. I honestly don't know what's gotten into her lately. She has been serious and distant with me…"
Byrnn was saddened by this reality. From what I gathered, she and her mom had an amazing relationship; it was enviable. The fact that I knew I was the source of the problem laid a tremendous burden on my shoulders. Willing to endure it but unsure how to resolve it; I mentally prepared myself for the evening.
"It makes me sad to hear you say that, and I know it's because of me."
"No. No, I will not have you saying that or believing it. I love you and we are together. Whoever doesn't like it will just have to deal with it, whether it's some psycho stalker or my mother!"
Smiling sympathetically at her attempt to convince me otherwise, we encouraged one another and got out of the car. We had made a stop to pick up a bouquet of flowers for Brenda, so I made sure to hand it to her personally. Greeted by both her and Kevin, we walked in and I gave a friendly smile to the rest of the company that awaited us in the den.
Terri sat on the floor by the fireplace while Janet and Ian were on the couch, with a little boy I assumed was his son. This wasn't an intimate dinner at all. I shook Terri and Ian's hand then proceeded to sit in one of the empty arm chairs. I felt singled out, attacked by a stealth virus. I remained calm and nonchalant. Then Brynn came to sit on my lap which made me feel a whole lot better.
"So have you guys talked about the big day? Do you have a date set?" Brenda asked dryly.
I desperately wanted to talk to her alone, see if she would confess her true feelings again like she had did that day. Regardless if I didn't follow through on her wishes to hold off on marrying her daughter, she had to know that I was willing to do whatever to make Brynn happy; even if that meant changing my future plans entirely.
I liked Ian, he seemed very observant, as he took notice of the awkwardness between Terri and I. Trying to be neutral, he'd ask us both questions to get the conversation going. I had no problem with nice talk, unlike Terri who kept his answers to a minimum. He was preoccupied texting on his phone, and I prayed that he wasn't inviting Alexandra over.
"I'm going to check on the casserole. Kevin, get the wine in the garage please honey." Brenda instructed.
She struggled to get up, if it weren't for her husband's assistance. Knowing this was my chance, I tapped Brynn on the knee so that we could switch. My heart was in my throat, my mouth completely dry.
"Brenda…" She turned around and gave a flat smile. "I just want to apologize if I've disappointed you in any way."
It took her a moment to respond. That hurt. Taking off her mittens, she held onto the counter and shot a mama bear stare at me.
"Aaron, yes I am disappointed. I thought we had an understanding…that you were willing to back off or at least put any wedding plans on hold…for a few years."
"I love your daughter and you know that. She is happy. If not than she wouldn't have said yes."
"She doesn't know what she wants…She needs to live her life without being completely attached to men that-that hold her back."
"I'm not going to hold her back. I'm going to encourage her to succeed in her dreams."
"Excuse me." She said while walking in to the hallway.
Clenching my fists against the counter, a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach; she still didn't approve of me. For one moment I wondered, if I were Terri would I have been accepted?
"Are you ok?" Brynn asked as she walked in the kitchen.
Not wanting to make a bigger deal of it, I nodded and smiled. The rest of the evening was uncomfortable and straining. I grew tired of faking a smile and trying not to display my true feelings for others to question. Even Janet, her stepsister, wasn't very welcoming. Doubts pulsated, not of my love for Brynn but of the possible sacrifice she'd be making to stay with me.
Months cooled of the tension with Brynn's family. We held off thinking about any dates for a while, giving a chance for everyone to warm up to the idea. Throughout that course of time, the weird texts and notes had stopped as well. My guard wasn't completely down, but slowly Alexandra was winning over the hearts of all Brynn's friends…including Brynn.
It freaked me out that the only physical difference between Brynn and Alexandra were their eyes. From behind they looked almost like twins, while face to face Alexandra had bold almost ghostly blue eyes. It reminded me of some freakish science fiction horror movie of a body snatcher, Alexandra being the clone. She was sweet with everyone, a little too sweet.
On my way to Brynn's place for the weekend, I was alarmed by the girl chatter from the doorway. I walked in to find Brynn with Elizabeth, Janet, Lilah and Alexandra. Feeling like the odd man out, I said my hellos, kissed Brynn and got some clothes to change into after my shower.
"Hey." Brynn whispered as she closed the door behind her.
Drying myself with a towel I gave her the look.
"I know. I know you don't like her here. But how many times must she have to apologize?"
Sighing heavily, I shook my head in submission as I wrapped the towel around my waist.
"You're right honey. I'll stop with the paranoia. I just don't want to come home to the news that my fiancé was butchered in an alley somewhere." I smirked.
"Shhhh, silly. So we're going to the mall for a while. Do you want to come?"
"Uhhhh…let me think about that one. No."
"Isaiah is going to meet us there, so you won't be the only guy. Please, I told him you'd come with us." Brynn pouted.
"Oh so now I'm getting sweet-talked into going? Under one condition…" Brynn gave me a questioning look. I leaned over to whisper in her ear. "You wear those leopard panties for me tonight."
Giggling, Brynn caught hold of my towel. "How about we find some newer ones that I can model for you in the store?"
"Even better. Let's go shopping ladies!" I shouted, resulting with laughter outside the bathroom.
I slapped on some jeans and a comfy plaid shirt and drove Brynn and Elizabeth in my car. Lilah took her own car with Janet and Alex. I didn't know what stores we were going to but I was looking forward to our stop at Victoria Secret, and most likely Isaiah was too. We met with him at the entrance, at first we started out holding our girlfriend's hands but ended up just walking behind all of them.
"So Brynn says you're finally coming around." He initiated.
"I have, for her sake. But you know that weird feeling you get with some people? That weird vibe?" Isaiah nodded. "I can't help it." I admitted.
"I mean from what she told me, I see your reasons for not trusting Alex. But I think she's proven herself to be a pretty nice girl."
"Yeah, you're right. I guess I just want to be married already. I keep getting the feeling that something bad is going to happen before then."
"So plan the wedding sooner." Isaiah suggested.
"Hell I would man. I just don't know about Brenda."
"Maybe now is good time since she's distracted with the baby."
"True. I didn't think about that."
Alas, after stopping at every clothes store we reached lingerie heaven. Brynn broke free from her clique and took me along to the many bins of colorful underwear. Reminding me of a candy shop, there was so much to choose from. Isaiah and I carefully stood by the entryway to the fitting rooms, waiting for the opportune moment to sneak in. I watched his back first before running in.
I didn't realize how fond I was of animal prints until I saw them worn on Brynn. I wanted to buy them all. I snuck a couple of nibbles on her neck before she pushed me out. Isaiah snuck out shortly after and we repositioned ourselves back at the entrance, right as Alexandra walked in.
"You guys are behaving right?" She snickered.
"Of course, we're not beasts for goodness sakes." Isaiah replied to her.
"How far did you get." I teased him.
"Farther than you man." He wiggled his eyebrows.
Laughing we gave each other high-fives. Suddenly, Alexandra walked out to stand in front of the wide mirror towards the end, wearing only hot pink undergarments. Thrown off we immediately turned around. What the hell was she trying to pull? She knew we were standing right there. Isaiah's face said it all, and for once someone was beginning to side with me.
At the line I refused to make any eye contact with Alexandra. She stood in front of us chatting with Janet.
"I think Terri would love this one don't you think Brynn?" She said raising the hot pink set high for all of us to see.
Brynn looked at me funny then rolled her eyes.
"Lilah, I have to stop by to get that box of books in the garage after this."
"Okay. What if we ordered pizza and watched a movie tonight. We could invite Terri and Ian."
"Count me out. The hubby has been with the kids all day. I have to relieve him of his duties, while wearing this nice black piece." Elizabeth smiled while holding the bundled nightgown in her hand.
"Nice, now that's a good wife!" I grinned at Brynn.
Receiving a shy blow to the stomach as Brynn so loved to do, I smothered her in my arms instead.
"Yes Brynn, take notes darling." Elizabeth added.
"I'll text Terri right away." Alexandra interrupted.
Cringing at the thought, but not wanting to take Brynn away from her friends, I played along. If Alexandra was busy with Terri, no matter how awkward it was, then Brynn and I could snuggle somewhere…hopefully not on the same couch.
When we arrived I headed straight for the garage and began repacking some of my last boxes. I took them to my trunk. Walking back I almost didn't notice Alexandra standing at the corner.
"Can I help you with anything Alexandra or is it Alexis?"
"I prefer Alexandra, at least I wish my mother would have given me that name instead of Alexis."
"How are your classes coming along?" I remained focused on organizing the rest of my things on the shelves and storage tubs.
"They're great. I heard you were teaching down in San D?"
"That's a lot of traveling back and forth, doesn't Brynn get lonely."
"She's been handling it well. I'm very lucky to have her."
"She's a strong woman. I know if it were me, I would just move down there with you. I guess that's what I like about her; she's so sweet and optimistic. I want to be just like her."
I couldn't believe how creepy that sounded. "You are fine just the way you are Alexandra. You don't need to be like anyone but yourself."
"I know but maybe if I was more like her…I could also find my very own Aaron Shields."
Like an evil magnet, my hairs shot up with fear. I wish I were wired so I could have this little chat recorded. Running out of every possible response towards that, I was done cleaning.
"Let's head back inside shall we." I implied while passing her.
What to think or feel about this girl hanging around Brynn? Was Brynn in danger? Was it too early to get restraining orders? I hurried inside to tell her I wasn't feeling well and wanted to leave. I felt like a girl about the whole situation, but I couldn't explain it all now.
"I'm just going to run to my room and see if I have anything left in the closet."
Running upstairs and searching through the closet as quickly as possible I had almost missed the pink duffle bag by my bed. I had no pink bag. My curiosity got the best of me as I almost hoped it was Alexandras. I locked my door and began to tear through it, shoving out every piece of clothing. Then at the very bottom I spotted one of my undershirts. I pulled it out and a book fell out.
It was a thin journal. There were pages upon pages of writing which I didn't care to read. But then I flew to the middle of the book. There were printed pictures of Brynn and myself. Including little articles I came out in; at least a dozen pages. I put everything back in the bag except for the book. Grabbed a small backpack of mine, a few shirts to stuff in it and took off. This time I had my evidence.