The rage Within

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Chapter 22

I got home and got cleaned up as fast as I could. I was just out of the shower when I heard the front door.

I was stepping out of the bathroom, on the way to my bedroom, when I ran into Ted, who had just come home from a late class. He was standing there staring at me with a semi-guilty look on his face.

“She came to your work didn’t she?” He said with a straight face. Obviously wondering what happened.

“Maybe.” I said, unable to hide my grin.

“Dude. You said she was pretty, but holy hot damn…” He said. “I hope it was okay that I told her where you worked. I thought of just taking a message for you, but when she asked I just...”

“No, it’s fine, thanks. Makes no sense though, right?”

“I guess there’s hope for me yet. So, what did she want?” he asked excitedly then sat on the couch waiting for full details

“She asked me out to dinner.” As I said this I looked at the clock on the wall and saw the time.

“Shit. I don’t have much time.”

Ted followed as I hurried to my room. After seeing her I knew that his interest was piqued. He needed details.

“She asked you out? I mean, she just went to your work and asked you out on a date? I never heard of such a thing. A woman like that must be beating men off with Personal Protection Orders, not asking out regular guys. No offense Jack, you’re a good looking guy, but come on, she is rock star pretty.” Ted looked confused for a second. “I’m not sure if that’s a thing, but you get my point.”

“She is just a normal girl I guess, who happens to be genetically gifted. I would love to stay and ponder the query, but if I keep talking I’m going to be late. I got news for you; I’m not gonna to be late.” I said.

I pulled on my last shoe, grabbed my keys, and headed for the door.

“Make sure to wait up.” I said, enjoying the moment more than I should have.

The thought of someone else knowing that I had a date with a girl like Viki was icing on the cake. I know it’s childish, but it felt good. It had been ages since I let myself get this excited about anything, and if nothing else, I felt happy. I needed happy.

“See if she has a sister?!” I heard Ted yell as I closed the door behind me.

I got to the coffee shop a few minutes after nine, but I was glad to see that she wasn’t there yet. I grabbed an empty seat out of the way and waited. Trying to waste time when you are excited about something is a rather difficult and futile task. Trying to kill time when you are about to go on a date with a beautiful woman is tenfold. Whatever task you reside yourself too is just an empty process designed to take your mind off all the things that could go wrong. Luckily I was only waiting about ten minutes and only had time to mentally ruin the date sixteen different ways.

I was seated around the corner from the front door and couldn’t see when anyone came in. I did have a view of everyone else though. I felt the draft from the big front door opening and from the reaction of the two young teens standing at the pick-up counter I was fairly sure she had arrived. Either that or the place was about to be robbed.

Viki came into my view, but didn’t notice me right away. In that fraction of a second I was left bewildered.

Ted was right. She was out of my league?

Pretty, beautiful, or even gorgeous are ridiculous attempts to describe how she looked at that moment. The natural beauty and ease of being herself was intoxicating.

“There you are.” She said as she turned in my direction.

As I stood up to greet her, she moved in at the same time and gave me a gentle, but firm hug. She even smelled beautiful.

She was wearing a snug fitting black dress that went down to her lower thigh and a light jacket that matched perfectly. Even though I was dressed decent, I felt way under dressed. I could have been in a tuxedo and would have felt the same way.

“You look amazing.” I said, feeling proud that I got that out without stumbling.

“Thank you.” She said. “You look handsome as well.”

There was no way this was going to end good for me.

“You sure you are okay with me making all of the dinner arrangements?” She said.

“Absolutely. You just saved us the twenty minute, where do you want to eat volley.”

“Good. I’m glad you’re not one of those machismo idiots that think it’s a blow to your manhood anytime a woman makes a decision or even a suggestion.”

“Wait. Slow down. I never said I wasn’t an idiot.”

She gave me playful push on the arm. “You’re funny. Now follow me, idiot.” She winked and started walking.

I followed.

We walked about two blocks before I could think of anything to say. I had always heard that the only thing worse than an uncomfortable silence, is the idiotic attempt to break it with something moronic. That always stuck with me for some reason. Just before I could make an attempt at something clever she spoke first.

“You’re not a vegetarian are you?”

“God no. If they stopped selling cheeseburgers I don’t think I could go on in this world.”

“Good. This place is said to have good food. Not sure about cheeseburgers, but good non-the-less.”

“No restaurant is perfect.”

I wondered if she was in her head as much as me. Men always think women are calm and cool on dates with no worries. I don’t know why that is, it just seems that way. Maybe she was a ball of nerves on the inside like I was, but you sure wouldn’t have known it. She was a tower of confidence and self-assurance. There really isn’t much sexier than that.

“We are getting close. It’s just around the corner.” She said

As we rounded the corner two young men were walking in the opposite direction and one of them ran into Viki. He was holding a plastic cup and whatever was inside spilled when they collided.

“Watch where you’re going you stupid bitch!” He said.

It was clearly unintentional and I was surprised by his blatant over reaction. Not to mention pissed about the insult.

“Take it easy. It was an accident.” I said to the guy.

“Jack, it’s no big deal. Let’s go.” Viktoria said.

She grabbed my arm and pulled me along gently.

“Besides, it’s probably the only female contact he’ll get all year.” Viki said as we were a few steps away.

We both snickered, which only further infuriated the guy. They looked like two frat boys on the way to a party. Not uncommon on the streets of Ann Arbor.

“What did you say you filthy skank? You and your homo girlfriend think you’re hilarious don’t you?” The guy said.

Viki stopped dead in her tracks. The look on her face changed and it was obvious this guy had crossed a line with her. She turned around slow and deliberate.

“What?” She said sternly.

It was apparent that the guy was drunk. He was unsteady on his feet, but clearly approaching us in an aggressive and hostile fashion.

The other, more sober, guy tried to grab his loud mouth friend from walking toward us, but to no avail. The bully yanked his arm away and kept walking closer until he was upon us.

“You heard me bitch.”

This was one of those scary moments when you know a confrontation is inevitable and you hope it ends well. I had never been one of those guys who got into many fights, but this guy was way over the line. I resided myself to the fact he was not getting away with this behavior. Though I was incredibly nervous, I was ready to do what it took to keep him away from Viki. I just hoped to high heaven I didn’t get my ass kicked to bad in front of her. I had too many chips stacked against me already.

I tried to step in front of Viki to intercept the jerk from getting too close, but she moved faster than I thought and got in front of me, cutting me off. Just as the guy came within arms-length of Viktoria he dropped to his knees and started wheezing, as if desperately trying to get air.

“Are you okay young man?” She said in the most insincere voice I ever heard. Almost as if she was talking to a small child

I couldn’t clearly see what happened due to the lighting and the fact that Viki was directly in front of me.

The guy just continued to grasp for a full breath and stared at the ground. When his buddy came over to help him up he stared at Viktoria with a weird look on his face. It looked like fear, but like I said, the street lights were not that bright in that spot and this all happened in a matter of seconds.

“Let me help you.” Viki said as she grabbed the guy by the wrist to help him up. The guy screamed in agony as she pulled him up, so Viki just let him drop.

She turned to me and said, “Let’s go Jack. This young man seems to be lost for words all of a sudden.”

We walked away and Viki couldn’t have been calmer considering the situation.

“That was crazy. What just happened?” I asked

“I’m not sure. I was about to slap him when he fell to the ground. He must have asthma or something. I hope you weren’t offended. I know you were going to defend me and I appreciate it. I just don’t have any tolerance for that kind of bully behavior.”

“I can see that. Remind me never to piss you off.”

“I’m sure you’ll never need reminding.” She said as she playfully bumped into me.

Viktoria was not going to be boring. I could see that right off. As we walked away I looked back at the guy and he was still grasping for breath. His friend was simultaneously pulling him up and yanking him in the opposite direction, presumably to get medical attention. He really did look like he was having a problem. I almost felt sorry for him.

We walked for another few blocks when we came to a door located between two store fronts. It was a just plain blue door. Not even a window.

“This is it. I hope you like it.”

From the outside it didn’t look like any restaurant I had ever seen, but this was Ann Arbor and anything was possible.

“Is this one of those restaurants you need a password to get in?” I said.

I was only half kidding. There was nothing on or around the door, but 214 right above it.

“You’re not too far off the mark. It’s an exclusive place. They don’t let just anyone in.”

Viktoria opened the door with a key and we immediately came to a stairway going up. I could hear faint music in the background as I followed her up the steps. When we arrived at the top of the stairs the loft came in view. Though it had a slight female flair to it, I would have had no problem moving right in and calling it home. It was very nice.

“Exclusive indeed. I’m so gullible.” I said.

She smiled at me, taking pride in her little ruse.

The furthest corner from the stairs had a gas fireplace and large floor to ceiling book shelves on either side. There was even one of those rolling ladders to reach the top shelves. The only enclosed areas were the master bedroom and the bathroom. The open kitchen, dining area, and living space all looked professionally done. It wasn’t really much in square footage, but it was more than enough.

“Interesting place.” I said as I walked and took in the space.

“Do you like it?”

“It’s not bad, if you are into everything that’s cool.” I said, still in mild awe of her apartment.

There was a balance between modern and classic styles when it came to the furniture and the art alike. In the kitchen she even had a small classic print of Dogs Playing Poker, but all the dogs looked like Alaskan Huskies or something.

I instinctively made my way to her book shelves. Her collection was amazing. All the classics of course, and some obscure books that looked almost new, but it was obvious they were older first and second editions.

“You have to be kidding me.” I said as I placed my hand on a book and looked at Viki. “May I?”

“Of course, this isn’t a museum. You can touch anything you want.” She said.

Again I got that quick sinister smile that just screamed flirtation. And of course at the time it flew right over my head. Seems ridiculous I know, but you really had to appreciate and understand the dynamics here.

“Can I get you a drink?” She said as she walked over to the large double door stainless fridge.

“Sure. If you have a light beer I’ll be your best friend.” I said.

I pulled the book off of the shelf and saw that It was a first edition Lord of the Rings. She had all three volumes as well as the Hobbit and the Silmarillian.

“Do you have any idea what this one book is worth?” I said.

She glanced over at the book I was holding.

“Not really. I’ve had most of these books a long time. A couple grand maybe? And yes, I’ve read them all. Twice. I’ve got my nerd card.”

I had to laugh at that. Where was she when I was in high school?

“A first edition set like this sold at auction recently for $70,000 and I’m sure they weren’t in the same shape as yours. These look like they were just printed.” I said trying to not sound too excited.

“Hmm. That’s nice.” She said as if it was of no real concern then went back to getting our drinks.

The more I looked at her books the more I was astonished at her collection. Not just at the mint condition of the classics, but at the different genres of books. She had everything from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, to newer fantasy novels I never figured someone like her to be into. It was as if someone designed the perfect woman based solely on everything that I liked. I was starting to feel like I was being punked.

“Here you go.” She said as she handed me a bottle of beer.

“Thanks. You are full of surprises aren’t you?” I said.

“Maybe.” She said. “How do you mean?”

“I don’t know. Just when I think I am starting to get a handle on you, I see a completely different side. Then I have to start the process all over.”

“Keeps things from getting boring don’t you think? Besides, you haven’t even begun to scratch the surface.” She said.

That smile again. I liked it, a lot.

“I’m sure you have a fair share of surprises Jack.” She said.

“Pfft. I’m as normal and boring as they come. I’m sure I should keep such well kept secrets to myself, but better you know up front.” I was trying to sound witty, but truer words were never spoken.

Viki walked closer to me, very close actually, and looked me in the eyes.

“You are far from normal Jack. One day you will see that.” She said.

Her stare was hypnotizing and I could only stare back in silence. She broke her stare and walked over to the window that overlooked the street below. I felt myself relax, not realizing that I was holding my breath.

“How do you like working at the Antique Store?” She asked over her shoulder as she walked toward the front window.

“It’s great. I know it seems like a little store, but it’s a much bigger operation than it appears. I’m learning a lot about the art world I never knew existed. It really is a global market now, which makes it very interesting. I...” I stopped myself before I rambled any further.

“In short, it’s a great job.” I said.

I walked over and stood next to her trying to see what she was looking at.

“Do you like your boss?” she asked innocently.

“Yeah. I know Bili seems like a hard-ass, but she has good heart when you get to know her. I’m assuming anyway, as I don’t really know her that well yet. Still the new guy.” I said trying to make excuses for Bili’s behavior earlier.

“She owns the Store then?”

“Oh, no. Theo is the owner. He’s a really nice guy, but I don’t see him all that often. Mostly it’s just Bili and me at the store. If you ever wanted to sell any of your pieces you should talk to Theo or Bili. They would get you top dollar for sure.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. Can I ask you something Jack?”

“Sure, anything.”

She started to say something when her cell phone began to ring. She had one of those old school telephone rings from the 70′s. Back when phones hung-up and had cords.

Her phone was on the counter in the dining room and it looked like she took her time getting to it, like she was hoping it would stop ringing. She stared at the screen for a long second before reluctantly answering.

“Hallo.” She said, then she mouthed the word ‘sorry’ to me as she walked toward the far side of the loft, just far enough where I could barely hear her. It was funny, but I thought I detected a slight hint of an accent in the way she said hello.

It seemed that the other person was doing most of the talking because she hardly said a word. I didn’t like the look on her face as she listened either. Must be some bad news.

I heard her say I understand several times in a rather aggravated manner before she pushed the disconnect button. She set the phone down and didn’t move for a minute, as if she was collecting her thoughts about something.

“Everything okay?” I asked.

“No. That was my boss. I have to go into work. Some type of business emergency that apparently cannot wait until tomorrow. I’m very sorry Jack.” She said.

I am sure the disappointment was all over my face, but I did my best to hide it.

“I understand. Works work. Thanks for having me over. Maybe we can do it again sometime?”

“I really hope so.” She said with genuine sympathy in her voice. “I feel terrible.”

“Don’t. I had a nice time. Thanks for the beer, and kicking that guy’s ass for me earlier. Good times.”

She gave me another warm apologetic smile, which I took as my queue to make a dignified exit.

I set my beer down on the counter and walked over to the stairs to let myself out, assuming she would be rushed. I turned around to say goodnight one last time and when I did I found her right behind me. Before I could say anything she pushed my back up against the wall ever so gently and kissed me.

I have kissed a few girls in my day, but this was another level all together. Maybe it was the situation, the newness of the relationship, the fact that she was gorgeous, or all of the above, but whatever it was, it was the greatest kiss of my life. Just long enough to let me know that it wasn’t generic, but it was short enough to make me mentally beg for more.

“So, I guess I will talk to you soon.” I said.

“You will.” she replied as she looked into my eyes.

I think it was the first time I really looked back into hers. They could tell a story themselves. It was like looking into the ocean surface at night. You know damn well there is plenty going on underneath, and some of it dangerous.

I forced myself not to say another word, in fear I might ruin a great moment. I didn’t think anything else needed to be said.

Maybe that was her plan from the beginning. Start the greatest date ever then cut it short. If it was, it was genius. I ached inside as I walked out into the night.

An involuntary smile spread across my face as strolled down the sidewalk. And strolled I did, as I was in no hurry to be anywhere, except in my own head thinking about that kiss. Even though the night ended way too soon, it ended better than I could have hoped. I got the feeling that she really did want to see me again. If she didn’t, well, then I would just lie to myself and think it was for the best.

I was halfway home when I got the feeling that I was being followed. It was odd, because it was still early evening and there were a number of people walking about. I didn’t see or hear anything unusual, but I couldn’t shake the sudden onslaught paranoia. I picked up my pace and looked around as I walked, but still saw nothing.

I’m losing my mind. What’s wrong with me? I need to see a shrink or a bartender.

When I reached the house I was surprised to find several cars parked in front, as well as the sound of a party coming from inside. This was not Ted’s usual evening at all, and my curiosity swelled. When I went in I found Ted, Ben, Cyndi, and another girl I had never seen before, all playing cards.

“Hey buddy.” Ted said grinning ear to ear.

The excitement on his face was obvious, as well as the fact that he had had a few drinks. There had to be a story here.

Ted almost never had company over without me here, not to mention I couldn’t remember the last time Ben or Cyndi had ever come over. I didn’t remember setting up any card games, or asking anyone to stop by, which made this situation odd to say the least.

“Hey everyone.” I said.

I immediately forgot about my paranoia, wondering more about how this impromptu party had come together.

“Hey Jack. Glad you could make it.” Cyndi said. “Sorry to ambush you like this, but we stopped by to see if you were home and Ted was nice enough to invite us in.”

Ben, who is never one to pull any punches, made it instantly uncomfortable.

“Cyndi forced her way in with no regard to Ted’s comfort level.” Then Ben looked at Ted. “Nice house by the way. You never told us you were a frickin millionaire.”

Ted’s ears became red with embarrassment. He didn’t like the focus of attention on him.

“It’s fine, really. I don’t mind.” Ted said shyly, glancing in Cyndi’s direction every few seconds.

“He’s a sweetheart.” Cyndi said, patting Ted’s arm.

Now Ted’s entire face was red.

“Jack, this is my friend Ceana.” She continued, as she raised her eyebrows slightly, just in case I missed the fact that this is the girl she wanted me to meet.

“Hi Ceana, nice to meet you.” I said.

I walked over to the table and sat down next to Ted. I knew my presence would help him relax, though he seemed to be doing alright for himself tonight.

“Nice to meet you too Jack.” She said.

As Ceana smiled at me I got another one of my Deja Vu feelings. There was something familiar about this girl, but I was fairly certain I had never met her before. She had straight raven black hair past her shoulders, not much make-up, glasses and a slender build. The best way to describe her would be librarian Goth.

“Have we met before?” I said cautiously.

“Nice Jack. You just get back from a date and you immediately start dropping cheesy pick-up lines on Cyndi’s new friend.” Ben said.

The look that Cyndi gave me was more surprise than disappointment, but I knew what she was thinking.

“Damn Ben. Just once when your head tells you to speak, ignore it.” I said as I shook my head.

He just giggled to himself. Getting under peoples skin was his favorite pastime.

“You do look familiar. Maybe we have met.” Ceana said. “Do you work around campus?”

“I used to work at the book store on Liberty.” I said trying to think if that is where I may have seen her before.

“Jack here actually landed a real job that pays actual money. The amazing part is that his degree was of some actual use. Miracles can happen.” Cyndi said, trying to make up for Ben’s rude comment and build me up at the same time.

“Let me guess.” Ceana said.

“Yes.” I said cutting her off.

She smiled in a very flirtatious manner. Enough so, that I was even able to pick it up.

“That’s good to hear. It gives me hope. Philosophy Major.” Ceana said as she waived her hand as if outing herself.

Ben rolled his eyes.

“Great. Another one. Looks like Ted and I are the only ones who will be paying any taxes so this country can function properly. Now are we playing cards or what?”

We ended up having a really good time. We played cards for hours, had some laughs, and most importantly Ted seemed to have the time of his life. I was happy for him. Ben was even trying to help him with Cyndi by telling her how smart and rich he was, which furthered Ted’s confidence. The beers helped too I’m sure. Though he didn’t engage Cyndi in conversation directly, he did add to the general discussion and even got a few laughs. Like I said, he just needed a chance.

I was cleaning up as the night was coming to an end, and Ceana helped me with the dishes. I saw Cyndi smile out of the corner of my eye, obviously pleased with herself thinking she may have made a match. Though Ben told her I was on a date, she had no idea that it was the best, all be it the shortest, date of my life. The last thing on my mind was trying to set up a date with Ceana.

“Where do the glasses go Jack?” Ceana said.

“The cupboard above the sink. Left side.” I said as I pointed. “Thanks for helping, but you really don’t have too.”

“I don’t mind.” She said. “You know, I think I have seen you at the book store. I’m in there all the time.”

“Yeah, most students are.” I said.

I was talking to her in the bright lights of the kitchen and I saw something that struck me as unusual.

That’s odd.

I shook it off and we finished the clean up together, while the others played a three hand rummy game. I knew Cyndi went through the trouble of setting me up on this quasi blind date ambush and I felt bad because I wasn’t into it. I was polite though, thanked Ceana for the help, and then excused myself to my room. I could hear the party wind down soon after I left.

There was a knock on my door.

“You sleeping?” Ted whispered.

“No, come on in buddy.”

Ted came in and sat on the edge of the bed.

“I just wanted to thank you.”

“For what?”

“Everything really. Tonight was pretty cool. Your friend Cyndi is really nice too.”

He didn’t have to say anything. I knew he had a crush on her before, but after tonight I could see that he had it bad. I knew the feeling.

“I will put out some feelers for ya if you want. You know, to see if she is interested. If you want that is?”

“Yeah, yeah, if you wouldn’t mind. Hate the thought of my soul-mate slipping through my fingers cause I’m a wus.”

“Girls like the silent evasive type. Trust me. Hey, you wanna get some fresh air? I think I need to take a walk, clear my head a little.”

“Thanks, but you go ahead. It’s time for some TV and some Z’s. If you run into Cyndi while you are out there though tell her I love her and want her to have my kids.”

“I can text her right now if you want.” I said as I grabbed my phone and began to mock text and speak. “Ted..says..he..loves..”

Ted threw a pillow at me.

“The sad truth is that if I knew it wouldn’t make me look like a pathetic loser I would actually have you send that text.”

“Hey, you are not a loser, and if Cyndi has half a brain, which I think she does, you got a real shot with her. She likes the intellectual type.”

“Thanks. Now go power walking, or whatever.” Ted said.

I could see the look on his face. It was hope, and I was glad to see it. He deserved good things to happen for him, and if I could help him in any way I was going to.

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