Chapter 3 – Alyssa
“What are you doing?” Instinctively, I hide behind a large tree growing in someone’s yard. Hey, nobody seems to be home… if someone comes out and asks, I’ll say that this man is stalking me! It’s a common enough problem in Portland. “Are you wearing jeans?”
Julian lowers his sunglasses, the sun instantly hitting his (majestic, chiseled, kill me now) face. He blinks away the glare before finally dropping his arms again. “For the love of God, Lyssa, can we talk?”
My sneer can be felt all the way over in China Town. “No! I mean, my lawyer does not advise that.” Neither does my conscience. It says that if I talk to Julian for too long, he might seduce me again, because my pathetic ass can’t help itself.
“Fuck your lawyer. Lyssa, you know this whole thing has been blown completely out of proportion. Let’s go somewhere to talk.”
He’s still standing on the sidewalk like he owns the whole block. For all I know, he does!
And I’m still standing behind this tree like a pathetic basket case.
“I’m not going anywhere with you, Julian. It’s over. You get it? It was over when you seduced me under such disgusting pretenses.”
“Would you at least let me explain?”
“Explain what? That you get off on turning an ordinary girl’s life upside down like it’s Christmas for you? I know that’s how you rich people get your fucking jollies!” They can afford any experience in the world, including seducing women like me and taking us on the whirlwind romances of our lives. Then they dump us when they’ve had their fill and move on. I know it was only a matter of time before that last bit happened to me.
He guffaws. “You don’t seriously believe that, do you? Come on, Lyssa!”
We still haven’t resolved the fact that he’s not wearing a suit – this is the man who would wear a three-piece suit to the gym if he could get away with it – and now it’s all I can think about. In the months I dated him, I rarely saw Julian Marcus wearing anything but slacks and a dress shirt at the very least. For him, going without a jacket and tie was the epitome of casual. He must be dressed like this because he’s trying to blend in with the Portland crowd.
I almost falter. I hate to admit it, but I almost falter. If anyone saw Julian the way I do now? They would have that moment of weakness smack them upside the head as well. After all, he’s Julian fucking Marcus! One of the handsomest men in this wretched, cursed city, and he’s wearing tight jeans!
If those same people saw him and knew as well as I did that he could fuck a girl’s brains out? Nobody would blame them for driving off into the sunset with him.
Except me. I would blame them. I would certainly blame myself for getting back into that loveless mess.
To think… I had told him that I was falling in love with him. That I believed him when he said he might have feelings for me.
It’s a good thing one of the residents of the house chooses that moment to step out onto his porch, arms crossed and glaring in Julian’s direction. The man is middle-aged and nowhere near as fit as Julian, but bless him, he puffs himself up as he takes command of his property. “Can I help y’all?” he asks with a gruff voice. He briefly glances at me and notices the look of panic on my face. “You being bothered, Miss?”
Ah, good. I could possibly get Julian arrested for trespassing and harassment. Okay, so he’s on the sidewalk and I’m the one on the property, but those are minor details.
Oh, fuck it. This is a hopeless situation.
“I’m… fine.” I step out from behind the tree and give the man a small wave. “I think we’re having a misunderstanding here. Sorry!”
Just like that, I take off down the sidewalk.
“H… hey!” Julian comes after me. That’s what I get for taking one second to look over my shoulder instead of booking it like I wanted to. “Lyssa!”
Run… run… I’ll keep running until I finally put this man behind me and never think about him again. Guess that means I’m gonna run forever.
Nope. I make it to a park a whole two minutes away before my winded ass needs to plop down on a bench and hope someone doesn’t accost me for money. Luckily, on a day like today, most of the park is occupied by dog walkers and kids playing. And Julian Marcus, who caught up to me in about ten seconds. Damn him. He’s not even out of breath.
“Lyssa,” he growls. “I swear to God, you try me.”
I flash him the most heated look I can muster when I already feel like a winded sack of sorry shit. It’s a good thing, too. It sort of puffs me up to brave the man I thought I loved. The strong, handsome, sometimes ironically funny man who had really convinced me that we may have had a chance. For a while, anyway. “Not as much as you try me.”
“Would you let me explain myself for two seconds? This whole mess could have been avoided had you ever listened to me.”
“Let me guess,” I say with a sniff, “if we were still together, you’d give me a good spanking for my current insubordination. Right, sir?” I make sure to spit his favorite word.
“Alyssa Pendleton,” he barks back at me. “You are one of the most incorrigible women I have ever…”
I don’t let him finish. “I know. You thought I’d be some docile target for you to try out, yes? Oh, wait. Sorry. You didn’t even choose me. According to Cher, it was Mr. Bradley who chose me for you.”
“Why in the world are you listening to her? She’s a liar! A conniving, scheming, money-hungry…”
Deep down, I know it’s the truth. I know that Cher’s end-game, as soon as she saw the opportunity, was to milk these men for as much money as she could get. What better way to do that than to get a nice lawsuit out of them? Once she realized she could bring me down with her, that only solidified her case.
I know this. But what am I going to do? Walk away? Go back to Julian, so he can continue to string me along and humiliate me? I don’t think so. I’d rather keep some shred of dignity and get what I can out of this.
Then again, just because I hate what he’s done, doesn’t mean I want his business to be ruined. “What does it matter?” I finally ask. “I’m humiliated.”
He slowly sits down on the other end of the bench, his arm slinking along the back as if we’re real lovers enjoying a nice day at the park. I bristle. What I would give for it to be true. “For what’s it worth, I do genuinely like you, Lyssa.”
I almost believe him. In fact, I do believe him. All those weeks together, letting me see some of the most intimate sides of him… for fuck’s sake, this man once walked in on me using the damn bathroom and politely pretended to not have seen a thing while he grabbed a towel and his toothbrush before bed. We were about to reach that part of our relationship where the good kinds of familiarity settle in. Knowing we can count on each other, what we like and dislike, seeing the perfect present and awaiting the smile on our lover’s face… we were almost there.
Then it was ruined.
“Tell me the truth, Julian,” I say, still unable to bring myself to look at him. “Was what Cher said about that night true? Was I really a bet you had with your business partner?”
His silence is telling enough at first. At least enough for me to get up and walk out of his life forever. No, I don’t need him to verbally confirm. I know.
He at least has the decency to do it anyway.
“I was staying in the office late on a Friday night. You know how Preston is. Always concerned that I’m not having enough fun in my life. I don’t know how the conversation turned to it, but I told him that if I wanted to, I could go out and seduce any woman I wanted if I felt like it. I believed it, too. Hell, I still believe it. It’s not something I’m ashamed of.”
I scoff, my whole body turned away from his. A golden retriever runs by with a Frisbee in its mouth. A young boy chases after it with shrieks of laughter.
This is supposed to be a happy park for families and lovers enjoying the sunshine. Here we are, polluting it with our drama.
“He disputed the fact. I told him he was full of shit. You know how we are. He ended up making a bet that I couldn’t seduce within two hours whatever woman he chose for me. He wanted to use one of our interns for our bet. He, uh, chose you.”
My body is so tense that I need a million massages to feel normal again. “I bet he chose me because I was the ugliest of all the interns.”
“No. He chose you because he thought you were the least like my type. Showed how little he knew me.”
“So you ordered me up with a false story and then proceeded to lie about always being attracted to me. God! I knew it was bullshit, Julian. All that stuff you told me didn’t make sense, but how could I resist you? You’re right! You can seduce anyone you want!”
“I highly doubt that.”
“What makes you say that?”
He looks away. “I doubt I could seduce you right now with you feeling like this.”
He’s right. As much as I wish we could go back to his penthouse and roll around in his California King Bed, it wouldn’t be right. I would be full of these bitter feelings, and he would be making a huge legal mistake.
“Thank you for telling me the truth.”
“Lyssa, I…” Julian moves to touch me, but retracts his hand at the last moment. “It’s also the truth that I enjoy being with you. I really do think… thought… of you as my girlfriend. To tell you the truth, I’ve been fucked up since you left.”
Dare I believe him? What part of this is a performance? Did Mr. Bradley bet him that he couldn’t seduce me again? Get me back? Where do the lies end and the truths finally begin?
What do I do?
“The fact of the matter is,” I finally say. “You seduced me under those pretenses. You lied to me through omission.” I hate that I’m saying this. “If we got back together, I would forever wonder if you truly did care for me or were only putting on appearances to make a point. We already had a precarious relationship, Julian. I’m sorry it’s come to this, but I’ve been left with no choice.”
“So…” he begins, clearing his throat. “That’s it, huh? Gone like that? It’s over?”
“Guess so.” Some other voice in the back of mind screams that it isn’t so. But dare I listen to it? Ha! I don’t listen to anything but reason and logic right now. Both are telling me to calm the fuck down before Julian has the chance to woo me with his kind words again. Saying that he truly likes me… wants to be with me… thinks he’s taking me to his brother’s wedding… “Sorry. Bed made and lie.”
“All right, Lyssa.” He stands, and I’m already panicking that he’s going to walk away, out of my life forever. How pathetic of me! “I’ll leave you alone today. But I’m going to ask you again the next time we meet. And the time after that. If you deny me three times, I’ll stay out of your life forever.”
I stifle a laugh.
“Deny you three times… who are you, Jesus?” I let my laugh fly loose now. “Guess that makes me Judas!”
“I didn’t mean it that way.”
Is he flustered? Did accidentally making a religious joke throw him off his game? Too good to be true.
“All right, Julian. You get two more shots. But you better make them good, because I plan on denying you both times.” I have to, for my own sake. I can’t live the rest of my life falling for whatever a man tells me. The next man I get involved with might not be as good as Julian. I might end up with a Preston Bradley, who orders up girls for his friends.
“I will, Lyssa. You have my word.” Julian gives me one last look before turning away, his body swallowed up by the summertime sunshine. “Next time, you’ll falter more.”
I wipe a tear from my eye as I go back to Cher’s. I blame it on allergies.