She was frozen in shock as he spoke.
“I don’t know why you keep doing this but the fake image you keep presenting is completely unnecessary. The reason I was on your neck in school was that I knew you needed the pressure. If I had not been a kind of a thorn in your flesh, you would have been sloppy with your classes and finally end up a dropout. That probably is something you will eventually regret. Then who would you blame? Your parents? Sure, but in the end, everyone is responsible for what they turn out to become based on the choices they make.”
“I have not finished talking.” He interrupted coarsely and she fell silent but her heart was vibrating with tension and denial as he continued. “It is clear that somehow, all you want is attention but life is too short to spend it working hard to present a false image of yourself. I still see you as someone special, but don’t you ever seek me out to use me again. Because the next time you try it, I will ensure that it does not end in your favor. Always remember that you never really knew me, hence, you can never guess what I’m capable of.”
He broke off the embrace, releasing her. She remained frozen in place and refused to meet his gaze. Her eyes had filled with tears, which were running down her face. With a finger, he lifted her chin and forced her to meet his smoldering gaze.
“Goodbye, Elizabeth.” He said “May our next meeting be normal and more pleasant. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll go sort things out with the waiter.”
He stepped away from her and headed back towards the direction of the restaurant. Zee tried to fight off her tears as she found her footing and hastened towards her car. She didn’t want to completely break down out there in the parking lot of the hotel. Several people were about the place and she didn’t want to draw attention to herself in her current state. She quickly got inside her car, placed the bottle of wine he had gifted her on the passenger side, and turned on the car and air-condition.
Zee sat back in her seat and let herself cry. It was the first time she was crying brokenly in a long time. His words had cut deep into her skin like a knife. She loathed it but he had spoken the truth. Indeed, the truth was a bitter pill to swallow. She had lived this life for a long time and she didn’t think that she would be able to change. She had no idea where to start. She was not even ready to do that. This was who she was now.
After crying her heart out, she began to feel the heaviness leave her chest. It was good to cry sometimes. It did have its way of providing relief and she was feeling somewhat relieved. With that feeling of relief came thoughts of the last dare. She had performed her dare. It was over and it was time to move on. She was free and she could not wait to share the good news. Who better to share the good news with other than her best friend, Inara?
Zee picked up her phone and dialed Inara’s number. It seemed like Inara had been waiting because the phone had barely begun to ring before she picked it up. Zee hoped Lemuel was not close to her. That husband of hers could be such a killjoy as far as she was concerned.
“Hey Zee, I’ve been expecting your call.”
“Is Lemuel there?”
“No. He’s at work.”
“Yeah, so what’s up?”
Zee knew what she was asking. “I couldn’t bring myself to do it.” She said solemnly.
“Oh, Zee,” Inara said, disappointed. “What is wrong with you?”
Zee started laughing.
“You’re pulling my legs? I should have known.” Inara said excitedly. “Tell me. How did it go?”
“Very well, Inny. I did it.”
“He declined. So everything is fine, now.”
“Thanks. We need to celebrate.”
“Yeah, but…” Inara began, full of hesitation.
“Spare me.” Zee cut in mildly. “I know. Lemuel won’t let you go out with me because I’m a bad person. It’s no longer news.”
“I’m sorry, Zee, but I’m happy for you.”
“Thanks. Don’t worry. I might bring the celebration to your place as usual.”
“That will be great,” Inara said with more enthusiasm.
“I know, right?” Zee replied with a chuckle. “Say hi to my little thumb sucker.”
“He will hear.”
“I saw Amara today.”
“I also saw Cassy frolicking with some guy by the street today.”
“Don’t even mention that name.”
“I wouldn’t care but she happens to be Michael’s fiancé.”
“Oh my god.”
“You don’t need to tell him, do you?”
“Nopes. But I’m pretty sure if the tables were turned, she would talk.”
“Don’t bother, Zee.”
“I won’t. Talk to you later.”
Zee ended the call and turned on the radio. An up-tempo pop song poured out from the stereo. It was uplifting and she was starting to feel more positive. She deserved to. The last dare was over in her life. Now she could truly move on. The job she had been eyeing was now paramount in her head.
“Interview, here I come.” She announced, started the car, and drove away from the hotel.
The next day, it was a race against time for Zee as she sped her truck down the rural one-lane expressway and whipped past Sips.
The nature-themed park seemed quite packed as several cars lined either side of the road and people milled around inside the premises. Being a Saturday, it was no wonder if people were bound to unwind and enjoy the weekend. Weekdays could be quite exhausting.
Her eyes hit the time on her dashboard. The time was 12:30 pm. She let out an expletive, pressed on the accelerator, and gathered speed, the truck tires, screeching aloud on the tarred road. Thank God for small favors, she thought. The road safety officials barely patrolled the area, hence, she had no fear about getting a speeding ticket.
Zee found it quite relieving that she was not the only one speeding. Most of the few vehicles that advanced or overtook her, were on high speed too, taking advantage of the liberty the road had from the vigilant eyes of the road safety officials.
As she sped down the road, she noticed painfully as an old beetle moved slowly ahead of her. A tow truck and a host of other trailers were advancing slowly at a close range, making it impossible to overtake the beetle just before her. She had to slow down and this annoyed her so much that she began to hit the horn continually with impatience.
Whoever was inside the beetle did not seem to care and continued driving at a snail’s pace. Gosh, who still drove an old beetle, especially one as worn out like that? She thought angrily. The vehicle looked like something that belonged in an old garage for unwanted cars.
Zee was frustrated. All the person had to do was move faster. Damn, she needed to get to her destination fast, otherwise, she would feel like a pathetic loser if she didn’t get to make it.
The empty can of beer that lay on the passenger seat caught her eye.
“Damn you.” She cursed at it. “You caused this lateness. You’re the one to blame.”
She pressed the horn again but the beetle driver was not budging. The convoy of trailers was passing slowly by her. Angrily, she stuck her head out of the window.
“Whoever you are, damn you to hell.” she cursed out at the beetle driver.
“Same to you with knobs on.” she heard the driver respond as she drew her head back inside the car. The voice belonged to an elderly woman.
“Damn hag,” Zee swore and cursed under her breath, painfully resigned to following behind at the woman’s slow pace. It was only a few minutes before the trailers finally passed her by but to Zee, it felt like hours.
As soon as the tail of the last truck passed her, giving her a free pass, she swerved over to her left so that she could overtake the beetle driver. However, even though she was dangerously late, she could not resist falling into line beside the beetle just so that she could have words with the woman who looked to be in her seventies, her pristine gray hair held back in a severe ponytail that emphasized the bony structure of her slender frame.
“Your car belongs in the museum, Grandma.” She threw at her.
“Oh, thank you.” The woman responded in a good-natured manner. One would think that Zee had just given her a compliment and this annoyed Zee more.
“You could make a lot of money if you keep it there so that you can get a new car.”
“Thank you, Child.” The woman answered, a smile on her face, and then it dawned on Zee that she was wasting her time. The woman was the kind of person who would take her sweet time annoying you while remaining relaxed as you fumed. Zee was not ready for that kind of drama right now. Her destination was of more importance than bantering words with an indifferent senior citizen on the road.
“You are one disrespectful young woman,” she replied, her tone casual. There was no anger in her voice. The words simply came out as a statement of fact. “Have a nice day.”
“Have a terrible one.” Zee cursed at her and added gear so that she could gather speed and continue to her destination. As she raced her car forward, she heard the woman’s last words.
“The last dare will no longer wait.”