**This is the original 2010 version. I don’t like the ending, so I’ll post the re-write as soon as it’s finished.**
Every day at 5:37AM she would get on her bicycle and ride to work. She worked at Betty’s Bakery on Fourth Street as a pastry chef. Her danishes were the best, though everything that came out of her oven was spectacular. I loved watching her at work; she was in her element, aglow with her life’s passion. Her strawberry blonde curls up in a messy bun, porcelain cheeks pink from the heat of the kitchen. Such a delicate girl, a petite girl. Dainty hands, slim wrists, a slender frame. She was a ballerina once, I heard her say to a customer. But then her ankle surrendered to the strain and she could never dance again. She had gone to Julliard on a full scholarship. What a pity.
So now here she was in downtown New York, doing what she loved second best in all the world. It was surely fate, for I would have never met her otherwise. Since the moment I saw her she became my everything. So beautiful, so graceful… Never have I seen a more perfect creature. Her faultless pale skin, her cascading curls, her periwinkle eyes. She was magnificent.
I first saw her at the bakery. I was on my way to work at the Brookhaven Laboratory six blocks down. There wasn’t any closer parking, so I parked in front of the store. The sign on the window caught my eye. Yellow and white checkered letters bordered with powder blue read “Betty’s Bakery.” So inviting, I remember thinking. I recalled I hadn’t eaten yet that morning—I ran out of my usual Grape Nuts—and figured I would give it a try.
As I stepped through the threshold, a cowbell clunking at my entrance, there she was, in a light blue apron with “Betty’s” embroidered in yellow cursive in the corner. She was handing a little boy a glazed donut, her pearly teeth beaming. A halo of light surrounded her. I froze in my tracks.
“Hello,” she sang, or at least I thought she sang. Her voice was so light and full of music. “Welcome to Betty’s. What can I get you?”
For a moment I forgot why I had come in, where I was. I quickly regained my bearings and asked what she recommended.
She laughed more musically than she spoke. “I would recommend everything, but I just took these strawberry danishes out of the oven. Why don’t you try one of those?”
I nodded. She continued to smile and procured a danish for me. Her movements were so beautiful. Everything she did was a song and dance, full of light and joy. I took the danish and handed her a ten.
“Keep the change,” I said and left as fast as I could.
At first I tried to continue living, to pretend I hadn’t met such a girl. But she was all I’d ever think of. I’d see her in the clouds, between the words on bulletin boards, on cans at the grocery store. I wondered about her. What her favorite color was. If she had a cat. What her hair smelled like. Eventually I stopped going to work. I quit going to Paddy’s every Friday. I stopped bowling. All I wanted was her.
I started going to the bakery every day to see her. I tried every pastry she made, and eventually I learned her name: Geminez. Though I’m an attractive man, I am not good at talking to ladies. I am quite shy, which works to my advantage a good portion of the time. Women find it endearing. Geminez was no exception.
But she didn’t want me. She didn’t love me. There wasn’t another man; I just wasn’t her type. I was too old, she said. True, the age difference was something to be considered—Geminez had turned only twenty in May. I turned thirty-nine in January. But that didn’t matter to me. She was an angel, a goddess in the flesh. There was never a minute I didn’t think of her. I couldn’t let her slip away. She was the one. I needed her.
I begged her to reconsider, but she was firm. Her family would disown her, she said. It didn’t matter if I was a rock star or the mayor. I was too old, and that was that. We could still be friends, though, she said. Still be friends.
I was wrought with grief. I pulled all my blinds closed, locked the door, turned off the lights, and lay on the hardwood floor of my studio apartment, staring into darkness. I didn’t eat. I didn’t sleep. Just lied there and stared into the darkness of my mind for three days. I realized I couldn’t live without her. She had to be mine.
I started to follow her. From home, to work, to the library, to her piano lesson, to her friend Jamie’s house, and back home again, I watched. Every Tuesday at two thirty she had her piano lesson at Mrs. Nightingale’s house, a nice older woman who happened to be Geminez’s great-aunt. She worked every weekday morning from six till two, which left her just enough time to ride her yellow beach cruiser to Mrs. Nightingale’s. She’d always bring her a wax papered blueberry Danish in her basket. Afterward she’d ride to the marketplace and pick up some fresh fruit or some flowers. She loved daisies—so simple and sweet, a parody to her soul.
After a couple weeks I started to take pictures. I had toyed with photography in the past and owned a relatively nice camera; a Nikon D3000 Digital SLR with an AF-S DX 18-55mm lens. On a good day I could find a parking spot that looked right into the window of the bakery. I could see her hair bouncing, her shining smile, her bright eyes. I got some great candid photos of her kneading dough, setting the oven, dishing out change. Now that I knew the typical pattern of her day I could anticipate a good photo opportunity. I started to make a collage on my wall.
Once my wall was completely covered, I told myself I would be satisfied. But I wasn’t. I needed more. I needed something of hers. Something tangible I could hold onto and cherish. Something she cherished and held. One night I dug through the dumpster outside her apartment complex, remembering the general area she placed her garbage bag earlier that morning. Yellow strings, I kept telling myself. She uses the garbage bags with yellow strings.
At last I found it, and what luck! A clump of her gorgeous hair lay at the top, the remnants from an overburdened brush. I pulled it close and smelled it. Cherry blossoms. I shuddered. I tossed the rest away and headed for home. It was past ten-o-clock. Geminez had shut her blinds and was reading Midsummer Night’s Dream.
My joy was short-lived. The next day, while slowly sipping my black coffee at the café across the street from Betty’s, a handsome young man strode into the bakery. Geminez took one look and squealed in delight. She ran into his arms, and they embraced a good long while. He even lifted her off the ground and spun her in circles. She kissed him on the cheek.
My stomach plummeted. Could this be who she had been talking to on the phone for the last week or so? She had been on the phone a lot these days, having very animated conversations. Was it he? Was he taking her from under my nose this entire time? I assumed it was Jamie, that something had happened in Jamie’s life and they were discussing it. I should have been closer. I should have eavesdropped. How did I not see this coming?
They talked for a minute or two, then he hugged her and let her get back to work. He ordered a strawberry danish to go. He said farewell and returned to his vehicle I didn’t see him exit. He got into a white Mustang convertible and drove away. This was it. He was her knight on a white horse.
I turned to look at my sorry 1997 blue Dodge Neon. What a fool I’d been. I was too engrossed in her, too hypnotized by her spell to not see what was going on around me. He took her. He took her from me and I didn’t even see it.
I felt a burning on my thigh. I looked down and realized my hand holding my coffee cup was shaking violently, my knuckles white with the grip. I carefully set it down on its saucer and left five dollars on the table. I must make a plan, I thought. She had to be mine.
It was Tuesday, and I know she would never cancel her piano lesson, so I had until three-o-clock before I had to worry about Prince Charming. I looked at my watch. 10:57. I had four hours.
I went home and paced my apartment. In order to fight a knight, and a prince, no less, you had to fight to the death. I knew this much. But what weapon should I use? Gun? Knife? Sword? A sword would be best, most fitting for the situation, but that would be a difficult object to conceal and carry. Gun? No, not sportsmanlike. It would be over too quickly. Knives seemed like the best option. My father left me several excellent knives when he died, two being Muela Scorpion knives. Splendid. One for him, one for me. May the best man win.
But what about Geminez? She cannot interfere. If she were hurt my entire world would crumble. She was my foundation. She needed to be out of the way.
I went to my cabinet and sifted through the different chemicals I had collected over the years until I found the chloroform. I grabbed an old rag and filled a bowl with the substance, then put the rag in it to soak. I checked my watch. 12:25. I sat at my kitchen table and watched the red paint peel off the walls.
2:20. She was almost done with her piano lesson. I retrieved and carefully wrung out the rag, wrapped another rag around it and washed my hands. I grabbed the rags and two knives and placed them in a backpack. I locked my apartment and left for Gem’s house.
I watched her come home. Hair long and waving in the wind, long pink skirt soaring. She locked her bike up and dashed up the concrete steps and through her complex’s door, typing away on her cell phone as she went.
I waited. 3:20. 4:20. 5:20. Finally he pulled up. Shaggy brown hair, blue button-up shirt. Mr. Trim. Mr. Young. Mr. Wonderful. I ground my teeth and gripped the steering wheel. He had that musical air about him, too—no wonder she loved him. They were soul mates.
But I had to wait longer. It was still daylight, and the window to her bathroom was facing the busy street. But she left it open every night. She always forgot to shut that window.
Night slowly engulfed the city. Every inch of darkness made me more and more anxious. At last, the moment was right. I got out of the car and slung the backpack on my shoulder. I crept up to her bathroom window and listened for their voices. They were in the living room. They were laughing, soprano and baritone chimes clanging in my ears. I popped the screen off and eased myself inside.
I hid in the shower and got the rag ready, hoping Gem would come in to use the bathroom. They talked for a while, and then I heard her rise, excusing herself. She opened and shut the bathroom door. My heart sped up and slowed down simultaneously. This was the closest I’d been to her in two and a half months. All the sneaking, all the photos, her luscious lock of hair I stole… And here she was. All to myself.
She locked the door and stared at the screenless window strangely. While preoccupied I leapt out and smashed the rag to her face, barely giving her time to scream. I removed the cloth quickly, only giving her enough to render her helpless. She collapsed into my arms. I gazed at her for a moment; a precious swan. So beautiful.
But Prince Charming heard the little cry. He raced over to the door and banged on it. “Gem!” he cried. “Gem! Are you all right?”
I gently lay her on the floor, putting a towel beneath her crown. I got the knives ready and opened the door.
He was mid-knock. His blue eyes widened, two great oceans of fear. “Who are you?!” he demanded. “What did you do to her?!”
“She’s fine,” I said. I pointed one of the knives at him and told him to move. He obliged.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“I want you dead.” I tossed him one of the knives. “You took her from me. She’s mine. I have to have her.”
“Why are you giving me a knife, then?” he asked.
“Because if you’re better than me then you deserve her. May the best man win.” I poised my knife, ready to duel.
He stood there a moment, dumbstruck. A deer in headlights.
“Go!” I cried. “If you don’t make the first move, then I will!” I lunged forward and slashed his shoulder. Red seeped through his shirt, a delicious contrast of colors. He cried out and grasped his shoulder, but saw I was coming in for the kill. He dodged, and stabbed me hard between the ribs. Blood spewed out, rained on both of us, painting the carpet.
He couldn’t get the knife out of me. He pulled and pulled, tried desperately to wrench it free. I saw my advantage and took my knife and slammed it into his skull. There was a deafening hollow crack, and everything stopped. Ocean eyes wide, mouth agape, he stood there, frozen. We both collapsed.
As the Prince lay slain and I lay dying, I heard a small cry from the bathroom. I managed to turn my head to the open bedroom door and saw Geminez’s face one more time. She could barely move her lips.
“Brother,” she mouthed, a tear slipping down her face. “Brother…”
© 2010 Claire Myers/Fiori