Jess had a new boyfriend.
She met him at work when he brought in his sick brother, then demanded to get her phone number afterward. It wasn't strange that a guy would ask her number, but it was strange that even after telling him about Mal, he was more persistent. They went on three dates, which Jess claimed to have been the best dates of her life.
In short, she liked him. A lot. She was giddy when she told Nova about it. She could hear it in her voice. She was happy. Eric was his name. He worked for an investment company, and after losing his parents years ago, he had been taking care of his little brother. The way Jess had described him, Eric was a keeper. He was different from all the men she had dated, and she wanted Nova to meet him first before she lets him meet Mal. I would like him, was what Jess kept saying.
And here she was, about to have dinner with him. Mal was at a sleepover, so they had the house to themselves. Jess cooked and Nova helped her set up the table. Everything was perfect. At exactly seven, the doorbell rang. Jess shrieked in excitement and Nova laughed, telling her to go open the door while she got herself a glass of water. She had been thirsty for minutes and Jess wouldn't let her drink anything without setting everything up first. That was how much Nova knew her friend liked him, and she hoped she would like him too.
She filled her glass with water, then heard Jess call her from the living room. Holding the glass in hand, Nova walked into the living room and looked around, stepping into their direction. Jess' boyfriend's back was turned to her, and all she could see was khaki pants and a red sweater vest thrown over a grey shirt that hugged to his form, showing how cut he was. Her eyes traced the silhouette. He was tall and his shoulders were big.
"Nova!" Jess called when she noticed her presence in the room. Nova was surprised that she did. She had been so engrossed in her boyfriend a few seconds ago; her cheeks were red and her mouth had flattened into a smile as if he was telling her something. Nova's stomach had warmed. Jess really liked him; she wasn't kidding. "Eric, I want you to meet my best friend, Nova."
Nova gulped down the entire glass before keeping it on the coffee table. Eric slowly turned around, and the next thing she knew, She was spewing out the water she had just drunk onto the floor.
Dark eyes, angular high cheekbones, and lips that were frequently stitched into a frown was curved high into a smile. Nova didn't realize she was choking until Jess started to rub her back in small circles, asking her if she was okay.
I'm not okay.
She was fucking far from okay.
It took a few seconds before the coughing subsided, her eyes blurry with fresh tears that she blinked back. Straightening up, she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, not paying attention to what Jess was saying. She was only watching him as he watched her. He looked more like a deadly weapon than anything, and the ridiculous attire he had on could not hide what he was. An asshole. A deadly asshole.
Her teeth sank into her cheek.
"Are you okay, Nova?"
She murmured, "I'm fine. The water just went down the wrong pipe." She caught how the side of his mouth lifted into a half cocky grin. Son of a bitch.
"Good." Jess gave her one last pat before she swept past Nova to walk over to her boyfriend Eric. "Nova, meet Eric." Hand in hand, she walked him over to her. Eric stretched his hand out for Nova to shake. She stared at it, then back at his face.
Jess wasn't seeing it, but she figured out that look he had on his face. He was challenging her. He wanted to see what she was going to do, if she was going to start screaming that he was not who he said he was. It was what he wanted Nova to do. Whether she knew the reason why, she couldn't lose her shit right now. Not in front of him anyway.
She took his hand to shake it, making sure she held it in a tight grip. A smirk slipped past his mouth. He knew what she was doing. He knew she was shaking with so much anger. Nova didn't think she had ever seen him smile this much.
She dropped her hand that she itched to wipe away on her jeans as she took a step back, forcing a detached smile on her face. It hurts so much to smile when she was roaring with the fire from the deepest pits of hell.
"Nice to meet you, Eric."
"Of course," he answered politely, and Nova could have sworn he meant it if she didn't know Ghost's cousin probably spent all night wishing he had shot her that day in her living room. "The pleasure is all mine."
Nova was trying to grasp why Mario was pretending to be Eric, who worked for an investment company when he was Mario, a gangster, and what the hell he was doing with Jess. For a fact, she knew the asshole had another intention. He didn't like Jess. There was no way this was a coincidence. Nova was so pissed that whatever the hell was happening between them, he just had to drag her friend into it.
They trudged their way to the dinner table and sat down. They drank the wine Jess brought out. She served him food, while Nova flipped through her phone. When Jess complained about the lack of attention, Nova kept it down. Jess talked and talked. She laughed and talked so more, trying to engage them in a conversation. Mario complimented her on the food, rewarding her with a kiss.
Nova didn't talk. Not really. She was waiting to see how he was going to broach the subject. But of course, he didn't. He pretended as if he didn't know her, fascinated by the stories Jess was telling him. Laughed when it was necessary to laugh. Compliment when he needed to.
She was fed up.
"So, Eric," she finally spoke up, cutting off whatever he was about to tell Jess. They turned their heads in her direction. Nova stared into her plate, poking at her food like she had no appetite. "What is it you do, anyway?" She met his gaze square in the eyes.
"Nova, I told you he works for an investment company."
She stabbed her steak with her fork, cutting into the medium-rare filet, chewing the piece of meat, her face blank. "Yeah, you told me, Jess. I just wanted to hear it from him," she replied, her voice devoid of emotion, but she was smiling through her words. "How long have you worked there?"
"Six years," he answered in a beat, not taking his gaze off her.
"Six? Wow, that's long. You must love your job."
"Eric actually told me that his dad was a cop, and so was his uncle too. He wanted to pursue that career, but couldn't because it was a dangerous job and he had his brother to look out for." Jess beamed proudly, placing her hand atop his. "Isn't that nice?"
Nova chuckled, draining her glass of wine, making herself comfortable. "A cop, huh? So, your dream was to catch criminals? Must be nice." Jess raised her eyebrows. "I bet you played cops and robbers as a kid too. And let me guess, you played the bad guy? It's the face, isn't it?"
Jess chuckled. She chuckled with her.
Mario's jaw tightened, but his mask never falls. "What can I say? I had the most memorable childhood. What about you, Nova? What is it you do?"
"I'm a waitress."
"That's cool. But I could have sworn I saw you a few days ago." His tone was clipped, and surprise, surprise, he was no longer pretending to be nice. "Do you have a second job?"
"I'm sure it must have been someone else," she seethed. "People often mistake me with other people." The game Nova had started didn't seem to be heading in the right direction if Mario accidentally lets out that she also worked for them. Imagine how that would turn out. She didn't want him to tell Jess, and he clearly didn't want Nova to tell her about him either.
"I actually asked Nova to go for an interview in our hospital for an occupational therapist, but she said she would think about it. I know how much she doesn't like her job."
"I can't help that my boss is an asshole and my co-workers are douchebags," she confirmed, leaning forward, elbows on the table. Mario didn't say anything. Just kept watching her with a blank face. "Don't tell me you guys have never worked with people that piss you off constantly?"
"Then come for the interview," Jess pleaded. "It's a great opportunity and it would be amazing if we work in the same place."
"Jess, let's talk about this another day. Your boyfriend might feel a little bit left out. After all," She flashed him a grin. "We're here to get to know each other.
"Oh, Eric, Nova is a fan of basketball like you. Maybe you two can catch a game together sometime? What do you think?”
"I actually hate sports now."
She shot her a look. "Since when?"
Nova shrugged. "Since I hated it. One day I loved it, and the next I hated it. It's like something just flipped inside me. I'm sorry, Eric. Maybe you can get Jess into it." The hate and tension radiating from both of them were thick in the air like suffocating smoke.
Jess' phone rings.
She excused herself to take the call from work.
The minute she left the room, Nova's lips thinned until they were practically invisible. "What the hell are you doing, Mario?"
"What do you mean?"
She sent him a death glare. "Is this another game to hurt me?" It felt like it. Mario had a vendetta against her, and the best way to hurt her was through her friend. "Jess has nothing to do with you." She was trying not to scream at him. "Why did you have to drag her into this? And playing with her feelings like that? That's sick."
"This is fun," he muttered darkly, his lips barely moving. "Not for you, but for me. Getting her to fall for me was a fucking piece of cake. Imagine how easy it would be to dump her ass."
"What the hell is wrong with you?"
Mario rubbed his jaw. "There is nothing wrong with me." His stare was vacant. "There is something wrong with my fucking cousin for putting you in my path. And you know what I gotta do now? My fucking job. Congratulations, Nova, I'm going to be your worst nightmare."
He leaned forward, his expression remaining cool.
"We have started to keep an eye on all our delivery guys after your cunt brother fucked us up, so I volunteered to keep an eye on you." He got up from his chair and took a step in her direction. Mario kept one hand on the back of her chair as he leaned down to her face. "I thought, how do I get close to this bitch, and the opportunity presented itself. I can't wait to fuck things up for you just so I can watch you join your brother in the fucking grave."
Furiously, she raised her hand to slap him across the face, but he captured her wrist, stopping her before her palm reached his cheek, shaking his head.
"You gotta earn the right to slap me, Nova, and you're not quite there yet."
Jess had called her six times in the past five minutes, but she didn't have the heart to take her call. Nova didn't even know what to tell her. She had stormed out of the house before Jess could finish her phone call, ran like a scared little mouse. Maybe she was. She could handle Ghost, but Mario was different. Unpredictable.
Her heart ached. She wanted to tell Jess the truth, but there was a chance she might not believe her. Mario wouldn't create a fake identity without having strong proof to back up his lies. Nova would only end up looking like a fool and lose her only friend. So, she chose to run and hide from Jess. Cursing Mario to hell and back.
He didn't love her.
So, she turned all her frustration to the one person she knew that deserved it. But even he wasn't answering any of her calls. It's been thirty minutes and she had left him about fifty missed calls on his phone. Whether he was seeing it or not, she didn't care the slightest. He had to answer her on why he was giving her a babysitter, and why he would choose to play with an innocent woman's heart.
Ghost had to answer her.
And he did. Another thirty minutes later.
"I've been calling you for hours!" She practically screamed and seethed into the phone, moving back and forth in her bedroom. She was shaking with adrenaline that needed release.
"I know. Has anyone ever told you that you're a bit....clingy?" Ghost's voice dripped with boredom.
"Shut up! Your cousin is going out with my friend!"
"Really?" His surprised tone was bullshit because it sounded fake as hell. "What a small world."
Nova's pulse beat against her throat. "It's not a small world. You put him up to this." Because you're so hellbent on ruining my life and the people in it. You pleasure in terrorizing innocent people.
"You're under the impression I control what Mario does?"
"Why would he choose to go out with her?" The words were quiet, bitter on her tongue. Her priority was getting Mario off Jess’ back, but she also wanted to tell Ghost about his threat. If he knew that Mario planned on ruining things for her, would he do something about it? Or was Mario testing her to see if she would run to Ghost?
"Maybe she has bigger tits than you?" he stated, casually. "Mario does like a nice rack, but he likes a pretty face too."
Nova sucked in her cheeks, feeling her jaw locking as she raked her fingers through her hair, frustrated. "Don't act like you're not in on this, Ghost because I know you are! Like you told me, there's no such thing as a coincidence, bitch," she hissed out.
His chuckle was loud. Impressed. "Bravo, Nova. Every time I think it wasn't possible, you end up making my dick even harder. It's a fucking tent right now, want a pic?"
She was horrified that his vile words affected her somehow. It seemed like no matter what he said to her, he always left an afterthought. In her brain. In her thoughts.
Her voice shook when she muttered, "I don't want a pic, you disgusting pervert. I want you to tell your cousin to stay the fuck away from Jess, or the next time I see him, you'd be carrying his dead body."
"Message delivered. Mario says cool, and the next time he's inside her, he'd be thinking of you." He went quiet for a second, and when she thought he wouldn't say anything else, he decided to make her feel like hurling her phone across the room. "She must really be carrying assets. I would say show me a picture, but we both know my little doll’s verdict.”
Her lips thinned into a hard line. Her hands curled into fists until she had to tuck them between her thighs.
"You know what you should be thinking about, muneca? Tomorrow." He sounded serious now. She could hear him shuffling around, then adding in a final note, "Tomorrow will be your first delivery. Rather than getting worked up about what others are doing with their lives, worry about fixing yours. And don't mess it up."
Her first delivery.
She didn't forget.
What could possibly go wrong?