Chapter 26: Her
I hung up first just to get off the phone. He sounds quite different over the phone. Probably even more different when he’s tired and I clearly just woke him up. I knew I should have waited until 8:00! But I couldn’t wait. It was eating me alive and I freaking hate that, so I gave up and moved on with the rest of my life. And now we have a date tonight. Crap. I don’t even like New York all that much! I don’t even like Jack that much!
Then again… he does have that voice and I am trapped here a little while longer… hmmm…..
I don’t really spend too much time thinking about it. I just make sure that I have everything ready for that evening. I work on my blog, pay some bills that I’ve been neglecting, and keep up my social network that I’ve been neglecting for a few days. Somewhere in there I had some lunch down the street and rather enjoyed it. There were some people that came in the church that thought it’d be loads of fun to come talk to me and I was actually nice to them. I got to talk with them and answer some of their questions about some of my stories. They seemed nice.
I was halfway through my inbox when 5:30 rolled around. I jumped up and scrambled around, remembering what it was that I was supposed to be doing. I was pulling my boots on when there’s a knock at the door. Jack pokes his head in.
“Miss Eliza?” he asks, seeing me all sloppily dressed, with one boot on and untied, hair flying out of its messy bun as I race around the room.
“Just a minute!” I fight with my other boot and end up falling on the floor.
“Can I help you?” he walks in, hand out.
“Absolutely not!” I untangle myself quite successfully by myself and get up. “I simply need to tie my shoes and grab my coat. I do apologize. I was distracted.”
“I figured.” He smiles. It’s a nice smile. Not one I’ve seen before. Not the creepy “I’m going to gobble you up” smile you’d expect from a stalker, but a nice, gentle, and almost harmless smile.
Nevertheless, I grab my can of mace and stick it in my pocket before heading out on the street again. I managed to fix my hair before I left, so it’s not so messy and dangerously loose. Jack doesn’t attempt to hold my hand as we walk. He just seems to be… content in my presence.
“Is there somewhere you wanted to go? I’m game for anything. Steak, lobster, cheese sticks, or even burgers. You name it. My treat.” He says, almost carefully.
I think about it, curious as to why he’s offering to take me to dinner, when I thought I made it very clear last night that I didn’t want to have dinner with him.
“I mean, we don’t have to go eat something. We could just walk. Or go watch a movie. Or nothing. I’m gonna shut up now.” He says it so pitifully, I just had to laugh. He sounds like a little kid trying to impress a girl. I guess we’re all little kids.
“I like Chick-Fil-A. You got a branch of them out here?” I say, and he perks right up.
“Of course! I love that place. I’ll show you.” He walks off, with more purpose than before. I keep up, since I have a swift stride of my own.
We walk in and that delightful smell of grease and their fabulous waffle fries entices me. No matter how many times I walk into Chick-Fil-A, that smell always gets me hungry. He gestures for me to order first. I go as classic as always, chicken sandwich with everything, those perfect waffle fries and a chocolate milkshake to boot. Mmmm….
I hear Jack laughing beside me quietly.
“What’s so funny?”
“You look just like a kid. You’re practically bouncing up and down.” He smiles widely, laughing at me.
“And? You’re buying. I’m eating. So… stick it.” I toss my head and smile. He just laughs more.
“Very funny, Miss Rein.” He chooses then to order his food, which is more on the grilled side and anti-vegetables. Oh well.
We sit down and eat our food. I do as best as I can to be ladylike, but come on, it’s good. So yes, I was less than polite and was very happy eating that highly unhealthy food. Very happy. He keeps smiling and laughing at me on and off, but I do not care. I have food. And it is yummy.
“Yes?” I poke my head up.
“Is this okay?” he asks, a little timid.
“Yes. I like food.” I nod sharply.
“But hanging out with me…. is that okay? Is this okay?”
“I guess. Better than hanging out with some other people I know.”
“Yes. Like your friend Thomas.” I decide that’s enough of that, since I don’t wish to discuss such a filthy creature. “Tell me what caught your attention in my work. Why do you like it so much?”
“Because it’s deep. It’s meaningful and heavy. There are lots of religious undertones in it, but you never outright condemn anyone. Not even your characters. Each one has a good side and a bad side. They all have this brilliant ideal and motive, even if that motive leads them to do wrong. It’s incredibly good writing. It holds my attention better than anything else I’ve ever seen.”
“So… is your attraction simply to my work, or to me?”
He pauses, contemplating my question. I watch the gears turning in his head, wondering if this is a trap. I didn’t mean one, but I suppose it could be perceived that way. I really want to know. He’s been stalking my work for a long time, but has only known me a couple days. Yet, his attention has been very focused on me nonetheless during that time period.
“I guess… both. I like your work, and have liked your work for a long time. With that said…” he says carefully, “I think an author’s work reflects who that author is. They may be very imaginative and their writing may have nothing to do with their past experiences, but it still shows who they are.” He focuses, his eyebrows coming together as he tries to say this as carefully as he can. What’s he gonna do, scare me away? “Does that make sense?”
“Yes. It makes a lot of sense.” I nod, encouraging him to go on, hoping my expression is blank.
“Umm… I guess I wouldn’t know about you without having read your work first, so maybe I have simply convinced myself that I like you, when really it’s your work that I like.”
“I can understand that. Some people are like that.” I shrug. “As long as you recognize that they are two totally separate things.”
He nods rapidly like a bobble head. “I know they’re totally different, but then I actually met you, and it is different. Your writing is not exactly how you are, but it is a lot of how you want to be seen. You want people to see you as a really deep and thoughtful person. You want them to think that you don’t ever have fun, that you’re a good writer, and that you don’t care what people think.” He bites his lip, afraid he went too far.
“You may be right.” A look of shock crosses his face.
“Yes.” I shrug again. “So what if I want to be seen that way?”
He shuts up, staring at me with a great deal of confusion on his face.
“So what if I want the whole world to think I’m stuck-up, rude, sharp-tongued, capable of deep thought, and not fun? The whole world isn’t going to meet me in person. Most of the world will only see my work. Let them like it for what it is. It is simply work. It is not me. For the world to take my work and say that it is me is an entirely different matter. They cannot take my work and say that it is me. I am a person. The writing is nothing more than characters on a page. Not even a page, just characters on a screen! I am a hundred thousand times more valuable than just some letters. So yes, let them attack some letters, some characters, let them enjoy themselves with it. Let them think whatever they want about it. But I know who I am. And I am not my work.”
Oh, well done, Eliza. Go and give a lecture in the middle of a restaurant. Don’t you ever shut up?! He didn’t want to hear about your ideals! Shut up, Eliza! Shut up!
He applauds slowly, the look of surprise still on his face.
“Wow. That’s… good. That’s really good.” I turn bright red and duck my head. “No, no. Don’t be ashamed. That was good. Wow.” I don’t look at him and we just sit in awkward silence for a while.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to lecture.”
“No, no! That’s good. It was good.” He smiles. “Eliza, I’d like to get to know you as a person, not just your work. Is it okay if I do that?”
“Why?” I ask, same as I do with everyone who asks to get to know me better.
“Because I am familiar with your work and I like it. I’ve gotten to know you a little bit, and I don’t think you’re as bad as you want everyone to believe you are.”