Steve Loved Her to Pieces
It was at Fatello’s that he let her know.
Over a plate of chicken cacciatore, Steve informed Greta that he really liked her.
“I love you to pieces,” he smiled, still holding a fork full of meat, diced tomatoes and red bell peppers.
Greta was melting into a warm state of mellow.
“That is just so nice of you to say,” she said, awash in the sweep of the moment.
Her eyes began misting up. She fought the urge to babble away with a stream of I’m-so-happy declarations.
“How’s your ravioli?” Steve asked as his smile grew ever wider.
He thought his query about his date’s food would make for a nice change-of-pace interjection. Greta eagerly acknowledged her meal was fantastic.
“You know something, I’ve been meaning to tell you how much I like you for quite some time,” Steve assured.
He straightened out the knot in his tie while awaiting a response.
“It means a lot to me,” Greta said.
She meant what she said. The night was becoming truly magical. The restaurant was oh-so classy. Greta was in her best dress; classic black, with long sleeves that flowed into frilly lace at her wrists.
The background music was Dean Martin. As Martin’s “Volare” wafted across the tables, Steve continued with words of endearment.
“I do indeed love you to pieces; if I could, I would rest your heart in the most exquisite jewelry box on Earth -- your heart is like a fine diamond … sparkling, and radiating warmth.”
After his oratory, Steve raised his glass of red wine in a toast.
“To my Greta … your heart would glow outside the confines of your body,” he said with the most earnest of gazes.
“That’s really, really amazing … you have such a way with words,” said Greta.
Steve’s poetic nature didn’t totally surprise her. Still, his flowery words were actually making her blush. She loved his sharp, narrow eyebrows. When he emphasized a point during conversation, the eyebrow on the right would shoot up like a diagonal exclamation point.
“I like your teeth -- there, I said it, and I’m not sorry,” Steve gushed. “They’re so white and perfectly aligned. Dental offices should proudly show those type of teeth in the waiting room!”
Greta burst into laughter. She laughed so hard that the wine she was drinking shot through her nose.
“And those eyes, those eyes; they would float like blue starbursts around your face, if they could just pop out of your head,” Steve rattled on in locomotive fashion.
Greta thanked him for the thoughts, but didn’t verbalize her feelings that the accolades were getting to a peculiar point. An unsettling ambience was descending.
“ … And oh yes, your hands … your hands belong on a display in an art museum,” Steve continued with ongoing sincerity. “Your hands are like fine porcelain; I’m not just saying that.”
It was the “not just saying that” assurance which eased Greta back into bliss; he really did mean all he said -- don’t be cynical, she told herself.
“Oh, one other thing,” Steve added. “Those legs -- your legs. Excuse me for being bold, but those are sleek little limbs that should be separated from your body and shown as a full-page ad in one of those oversized fashion magazines.”
Greta loved the attention, but harbored the growing impression her boyfriend was getting a little too personal.
“Like I said, forgive me, but I do just love you to pieces,” Steve repeated.
He made the pronouncement with a shrug of the shoulders that implied helplessness over Greta’s charms.
As the exchange of smiles and glances continued, Steve sized up his new love. She was not unattractive, he thought -- maybe a bit chunky, but not bad. Taking a last bite of the chicken cacciatore, Steve tried not to be too obvious with his attention to her hair. There was a conclusion reached after the discreet perusal: The hairdo was cropped nicely around the shoulders, but the color was mousy.
The eyes, however, were a savior. They were the color of a clear summer sky. They accented plump cheeks that were fairly child-like … even adorable, Steve conceded.
Her smile -- infectiously vulnerable -- was another selling point.
For her part, Greta had assessed Steve quite a while ago. He was lean and handsome, with clean, angular facial features. Tidy black hair impeccably groomed. A knack for dressing well. Expensive suits were the norm, like the charcoal pinstriped number he donned tonight. When animated -- which was often -- his eyes took on a delightfully devilish air.
A rapscallion, to be sure.
It was all quite a package to Greta, an administrative assistant at a law firm.
He was a up-and-coming commodities broker.
They were both in their early 30s. This was their fourth date. It was dinner at a swank Italian restaurant, then home.
“I had a great time,” Greta said as Steve pulled his car up in front of her apartment.
They exchanged innocuous pleasantries. They kissed in Steve’s stylish Volkswagen Passat.
“I’ll see you soon then?” Greta asked hesitatingly.
The thought flashed across to her that maybe she was being too forward.
Steve answered quickly: “I’ll see you sooner than you imagine.”
The announcement was made with a wicked flash of his eyes.
Greta was happy, though not quite sure about what he meant by “sooner than you imagine.” She stepped out of the car and into the brisk autumn dark. Steve drove away.
Her head was still swimming in an emotional high.
“I can tell you really like this guy,” her brother, Walt, told her by phone the next morning.
“Yep, I do. He’s very nice, and I guess I partly like him because he’s, he’s … mysterious.”
The word she was searching for finally drifted in.
“How mysterious is he?” questioned Walt.
“You sound worried,” Greta replied.
“Not necessarily. But ‘mysterious’ sometimes isn’t good,” offered the sibling.
Walt had a way of cutting through the clutter. He was a no-frills blue-collar guy -- a mechanic at the city garage. Greta loved her brother, but wasn’t about to overanalyze aspects of her relationship.
She was merely waiting for Steve to call again.
That night, she was heading to the kitchen for a snack when something caught her eye. A small envelope had been slid under her door. It was a thank-you card. Inside, it read, “Love you to pieces, Steve.”
Greta’s emotions were mixed.
Odd, yet so nice.
She pondered why he didn’t just phone her.
Later, while trying to fall asleep in bed, Greta mulled her history with Steve.
They had met at a bar she had gone to with her girlfriend. He was there by himself, in a suit, his tie loosened. Steve explained that he was unwinding after a hard day of handling a couple of irritable clients.
In the beginning, the banter was superficial … jobs, favorite foods, the weather … .
Substance entered the picture when Steve Jarrosek took a photo of his mother from his wallet.
“She’s a lovely lady; you look a lot like her,” Greta Stepprenek said, taking the photo and raising it close to her face.
This was the moment Greta and Steve connected.
They would definitely date, that was for certain.
They were sitting close to one another at the bar, and commenting on the basketball game that glowed on the big screen in front of them The photo of Steve’s mom was the icebreaker.
“She has a big heart; it should be displayed in a trophy case,” Steve said as Greta continued to scan the picture.
Steve’s mother had short salt-and-pepper hair. She wore a faded floral-patterned house dress. A sweet-looking lady with a wisp of a smile. Nothing flashy. The only thing that really stood out were her fingernails. They had a deep red polish on them.
The color really didn’t go with the simplicity of the dress and hairdo. But it was no big deal.
Greta handed the photo back to Steve. The motherly image helped win over Greta’s affection.
“I’d like to meet her sometime,” she enthusiastically told Steve.
He, at the very least, appeared noncommittal about such a meeting.
“Yeah, maybe,” Steve said in a dispassionate tone.
He tucked his mother’s photo away while glancing up at the TV.
Steve and Greta would end up exchanging phone numbers. Steve bade his new friend goodnight with an affectionate squeeze of her shoulder.
Greta had no trouble recounting that touch while drifting off to sleep. The memory was something to embrace. The only damper was the conversation she had just had with her brother.
Greta happened to mention to him that Steve told her his mother’s heart was so kind, it should be put in a trophy case.
“Trophy case? Didn’t he also tell you he loved you to pieces, and that your hands were so pretty they should be in a museum?” Walt asked in bewilderment. “It’s bizarre.”
Greta reacted with a streak of anger: “Not true, not true; he’s just being nice … poetic.”
Getting to sleep was harder with that tense exchange rolling around her head. In the middle of the night, Greta was awaking from a fitful period of sleep when she saw a shadow in the bedroom doorway. After closing her eyes and then refocusing them, the shadow seemed to move out of the doorway.
Greta jerked up in bed. Heart pounding, she looked around again -- and listened.
This time, nothing.
She sat up for a minute, scanning the bedroom and listening for anything, including footsteps. Still nothing.
She figured it was just a dream at the edge of her semiconscious state.
In the morning, Greta noticed the deadbolt lock was not locked, although the doorknob lock was in place.
There was only momentary concern. Greta had the bad habit of only turning the lock in the doorknob into its proper position. Once or twice she had even forgotten to set any kind of lock on her apartment door for the night.
The specter she thought she saw the night before was a fading memory. Everything seemed secure in her apartment.
Life went on.
No call from Steve that day.
Or the day after.
Or the day after that.
He would never talk to her again. He had only been to her place twice.
Greta tried phoning him after not hearing from him, but just got an invitation to leave a voice-mail message.
Still, after three days of no contact, she was still holding out hope. It wasn’t as if they were in what could be classified as a serious relationship, so maybe -- she thought -- he was merely keeping things loose.
Walt heard a rumor that Steve had moved out of the area. Greta wasn’t quite sure what to think. She considered driving past his home, just to check if it looked vacant.
She tried distracting herself by doing neglected cleaning in her apartment. There were dust bunnies beneath her bed. Reaching under the bed with a dusting cloth, her hand bumped into something. It was a shoebox, which didn’t look like one of her shoeboxes.
That was curious.
Kneeling down, she opened the box to find small bits of something. Picking up one of the specks, Greta discovered it resembled a fingernail.
False fingernails maybe? They were, after all, obviously polished.
However, she felt tiny ridges on the surface of what she held.
She accidentally dropped it.
Patting the floor to try to feel for it, she knocked it under the bed.
“Crap!” she muttered.
Refocusing attention on the box, glints of crimson could be seen on the remaining dime-size objects.
There were six or eight of them, she quickly estimated. The glossiness had to be nail polish.
She picked up one of the crimson bits from the box. It had short, delicate shreds attached.
“My God!” Greta gasped.
The shreds seemed to be flesh. She rolled the strands between her fingers.
They were indeed skin -- they had to be!
A small, folded piece of paper was in the corner of the shoebox. She warily unfolded the paper.
It was a note.
It said, “I loved my mother to pieces too.”