My hand passes over my new pendant again, as I step off the bus. The little bit of snow that fell earlier began to melt and polished the street. My feet slowly walk two blocks down the road. All the dark stone homes look the same, but I know Judah’s own by heart. My mind wonders on what crimes Judah commits right now.
But my eyes look up to the stairs, tearing my thought apart, and see scattered bright red circles on the ground. My legs climb towards Judah’s front door. I don’t see his car and know he’s not home. Getting a closer look at what trails on the doormat, I realize that they are red petals. I stare at them, as the wind blows them to the side.
I push the door open and find some more fallen petals.
“Judah?” I call out in the hallway.
There’s no answer and I figure that he’s not yet home. I don’t know what I expect to find, when I hike up the stairs to the bedroom.
There, lying on the bed, is a giant bouquet of red roses. Some petals have spilled onto the carpet. My mouth drops open at the extravagant sight. My hands tuck my hair behind my ears, before I walk closer to this botanical garden in front of me. My fingertips brush over the soft plush flowers. If I didn’t see the note placed in the middle with my name on it, I wouldn’t believe that these were for me.
The black lace dress laid out next to the bouquet catches my attention. My sceptic eyes dart between it and the note. What’s going on? I frown, picking up the note.
I’m more scared than anything else. I open the small piece of paper and read Judah’s handwriting for the first time. It’s eloquently slanted in cursive letters.
I forget sometimes how delicate you are.
But I’ll keep my promise.
I shift my eyes to the roses, then to the dress, then back to the note. I can’t seem to understand. It all looks foreign to me. This side of Judah is more than foreign. But my lips smile and my cheeks blush. I try to hide it, even though no one is looking.
As I keep staring at the setup on the bed, my brain wakes up. This is most likely a distraction to... whatever he’s really doing. Of course, it can’t be anything else. My mind comes up with various hypotheses for Judah’s absence. Going ‘places’ and doing ‘business’.
He’s good at hiding reality.
Although my want to be naïve and blindly in love is overpowering, I remind myself that Judah is someone who is deeply broken. Letting my heart beat for Judah is like playing Russian roulette—I’ll never know when the bullet will go off. It hurts to think about it, but that’s just how it is. It’s only a matter of time before I meet the monster inside of him—the one he warns me about, this thing he tries his best to repress.
He tells me time and time again not to get close to him, because he’s scared I’ll see it. My teeth chew my smile off my face now.
My clock says it’s 9pm. I stand in the mirror again and pin my hair up. The black dress hugs me tight, bares an open back and runs see-through lace down my arms. I snip a glazed rose from its stem and tuck it in my loose bun, thinking it’s a nice touch. Thinking about Judah calling me his rose bursts butterflies in my stomach.
I sit in the living room and turn on the TV for no particular reason.
“Gang going underground—a new phenomenon resulted from intense rivalry.”
I wait patiently. The strong scent of roses begins to irritate inside my nostrils. Too much of a good thing can be bad, I guess. This has never been more true. Before I can overthink things, I hear a short honk go off outside.
I slowly file the black heels on my feet, stepping on Jimmy Choo’s name. My ankles stretch to their limits. I drop the black cape blazer onto my shoulders, as I bring myself outside in the dry, frosty air. My cold hands pull the door shut. The night sky is clear and the stars are visible.
My eyes stare at Judah.
He’s freshly dressed in a black button-up shirt, which he didn’t button all the way up, and slim black chinos. I stand still on the porch for a moment, feeling nervous. Judah’s hair is combed back, showing all aspects of his stunning face. His grey eyes are so bright. His tall body leans on a new shiny car, looking hot as hell.
Judah smiles. His smile makes him look human. Taking a deep breath, I walk down towards him. He braces a hand on my back and kisses my cheek.
“Hey,” he says.
“Um, hi,” I say, looking down at his chest and the writings peeking through his shirt.
It becomes quiet between us, but I can feel his stare. It burns me up all on its own. I lock my jaw and make eye contact with him again.
“What?” I ask.
Judah opens his mouth for a second, as his smile widens a bit.
“You look beautiful.”
The gentleness in his voice gets my heart racing rabidly. My cheeks betray me and go red. The last thing I want is to lose my balance in these high heels.
“Thank you,” I say, blushing.
“Ready to go?” he asks me.
“W-where are we going?” I ask.
Judah opens the car door for me. I look in his eyes, trying not to get my hopes up.
He smirks, “Places.”
Great. I hate going places with Judah. They’re usually dangerous and unknown. I sigh and get inside the car.
He drives the car as reckless as anything else. City lights gleam past us, shedding warm light on our differences. The yellow and white lines in the middle of the asphalt come and go quickly like bullets.
Judah’s hand fossilizes on my thigh. We drive in the night, twisting and turning on the road. I look out the window, remembering my high school days. It was quite boring compared to now. I never used to talk to boys, and nor did they talk to me. But here I am now, in the company of a man who enjoys taking advantage of me in every way possible. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to admit that I enjoy it, too.
I can smell Judah’s faint cologne. It gets me excited and I don’t know why. Where is he taking me and what are we going to do? He gives me no hint and no chance.
“Where did you go off to today?” I ask, glancing at him.
He takes a deep breath and sighs, focusing on cutting some drivers off.
“Met up with someone,” he answers.
My finger plays with the elegant seatbelt. I pull my lips one way. Someone? Like who?
“A... woman?” I ask, slowly.
He grins lightly with his eyes on the road. I mentally slap myself for asking that silly question. Ugh. Don’t sound so stupid, Rosalie.
“Why? Would you be jealous?” he checks his rear-view.
I mumble incoherently, “N-no. It’s—I...”
Judah then pulls up the car and turns the key out. He turns to me, taking a hold of my chin. I stare in his grey eyes that like to twinkle.
“You’re my only woman, sweet cheeks,” he winks.
I stay speechless and pout. What’s that supposed to mean? Because anyone who would hear him say that would know he’s lying. But somehow, I want to believe him.
The door on my side opens for me. I come out and face a high-end restaurant. I keep my pouty lips in place. Judah walks to my side. This doesn’t add up...
Sticking me to him, he wraps an arm around my waist.
I cast my eyes down on the dark red carpet, as we walk forward. A host escorts us right away to a table deep inside the restaurant. We seem to cut the line-up. Some fancily dressed girls give me direct stink-eye for reasons I won’t think of. Only a few rich-looking folks dine here.
My feet carefully walk in my heels on the dark wooden floors. The dim lights bounce off red fringe curtains that sweep in between tables. It looks too luxurious for me to step into.
I feel more uncomfortable when Judah and I walk towards a round table with two couples of fine looking people.
I sigh quietly, scolding myself for thinking that it was going to be just the two of us.
“Judah! Ah!” the first guy grins.
We join and sit. I stare downwards, not wanting to participate in any dialogue.
There are two men, each with their own lady friend sitting beside them. They look as young and tatted as Judah. One has a groomed beard and the other has a nose ring. Yet they’re dressed in cuff shirts. The contrasts of punk faces in fancy clothes tell me that they’re Judah’s friends. I fixate on fixing my chair.
“Humphrey,” Judah greets, casually shaking hands.
This Humphrey hurries to catch a long look at me, looking surprised to even see me.
“And who might this be?” he asks.
Judah gives me a quick glance. I’m not sure if he notices my borderline broody expression on my face, but I leave it there.
“My girl, Rose,” he answers, his voice wet with warning.
Humphrey grins and raises his hands, taking heed.
“Nice to meet you, Rose,” Humphrey says to me.
I politely smile and go back to fiddling my thumbs on my lap.
“How’s the business going?” the boy with the nose-ring asks.
Judah sits back in his chair and answers, “It’s going well.”
I’m not sure what business they’re talking about. The two blonds seem severely bored and try to find ways to gain their men’s attention. I, on the other hand, wish for some vacation days away from Judah’s attention.
They talk about dollars and coins, nearly making me yawn. But I decide not to resemble the restless girls across from me.
Soon, food arrives.
“You’re a very beautiful girl, Rose,” Humphrey compliments me.
I look up and then look at Judah, nervously. He’s cutting his steak. I’m afraid he might flip the table or break Humphrey in half. But nothing happens.
“U-uh, thank you,” I reply.
That was so out of nowhere... I keep glancing over to Judah. He’s fine. But no one can really know for certain.
“Judah, how did you get such a lovely girl to agree to go out with you?” Humphrey laughs, about to sip his wine.
“I have my ways,” he answers.
I shamefully look down at my eloquent plate, as the two men laugh it out.
“So what do you do, Rose?” nose-ring boy asks me.
I don’t know how I became the conversation topic, but I’m constantly finding myself looking over at Judah for safety reasons.
I don’t know how to answer these guys. I don’t know if Judah will throw a fit at them or at me... He’s unpredictable! And it’s stressing me out!
“I go to college...” I say.
“Oh, a college girl?” the guy looks at Judah, like he’s impressed or something.
I shift in my seat and clear my throat out of apprehension. This makes me wonder how old Judah is. But he can’t be that much older. Perhaps they’re impressed that I’m not some kind of call girl... I’m clueless when it comes to their world. I begin to rethink my life and my decisions.
“What are you studying?”
“Accounting,” I tell him.
“Nice,” he nods, looking very interested in my major.
Now he got me thinking of school and I’m missing classes like crazy, staying down here.
“What do you guys do?”
“Business,” nose-ring boy answers.
“What kind of business,” I press on, despite myself.
Humphrey puts down his wine glass.
“Stocks,” he responds.
That can mean anything. Why do these guys have to be so vague? Obviously, whatever they do isn’t fully legal. If they are Judah’s friends, they’re probably part of the mafia, too.
“Do you invest in lots of companies?” I glance between the two men.
“Only a few, really,” nose-ring boy says, “The big ones.”
Suddenly, Judah’s fork picks up a bite from my plate.
“Don’t believe, them,” Judah says, smirking. “They only make pocket change.”
Humphrey scoffs an inside joke, “Don’t blame me if the market is getting slow.”
“That’s not the only thing that’s slow,” Judah mutters under his breath.
I can’t help but laugh.
“Hey!” Humphrey scowls, “Take that back.”
Judah takes a bite of his steak, “Hey yourself. I only take cash.”
They all laugh with each other. I’m amazed how pleasant this dinner turned out to be. I’m also amazed how normal Judah seems. Usually he’s domineering and distant. Right now, he looks happy. It’s rare, but it feels good. I don’t know how else to react to it other than smile at him.
Suddenly, just when I want to reach to touch Judah’s arm, the air changes, after a large figure walks up to our table. Three tall men approach us with dark stares. I know immediately that they’re trouble, just by the way they chuckle intrusively.
“I was sitting over there, and I couldn’t help but think that this guy looks just like Judah,” the man in the middle says, “I had to come and see for myself.”
“Are you done seeing?” Judah demands.
The man gives him an evil laugh. I hold my breath in.
“It’s been so long—I didn’t recognize you, Judah.”
Then, Humphrey and nose-ring boy stand up. The man, not looking intimidated at all, continues talking. I watch Judah’s hands roll into fists.
“I have to give it to you... You’re a hard man to find,” he says.
Judah stands up also and faces the man.
“For reasons you must know,” Judah replies.
I cling to my chair, feeling the tension. I pray nothing drastic happens.
“I apologize if I interrupted your dinner,” the man chuckles more, “I’ll leave you to it.”
Judah shrugs his shoulders, “My steak was cold anyway.”
“Give me a call,” he says lowly, before walking away.
I watch Judah’s jaw clench. It’s quiet at our table.
“Should we—” nose-ring boy starts.
“No,” Judah cuts him off, with a sigh. “I’ll see you guys later.”
The boys give each other a short nod. Judah begins walking off. Troubled, I grab my coat and hurry behind him. Whatever that was, it left a bad taste in my mouth.
We stand by a long bridge. I stare at the black water flowing below, reflecting the bright city lights and Judah’s sublime expression. He smokes a cigarette quietly, distantly. He had bought me a hot cup of coffee. I’ve yet to sip it. I just keep it between my hands to keep warm. His face is calm, but I can tell he’s bothered by the stranger who came over earlier.
He has many lives and many enemies... it seems. I feel a little scared getting into the mix of him. The road is damp with vehicles and traffic and impatient loafers. I grit my heel against the pavement.
“Where’d you get all these expensive clothes?” I finally ask, to my heart’s content.
“At the store,” he answers flatly.
I look at him carefully and murmur, “Are you sure?”
He only throws me a look, before smoking some more.
I smooth my hair a bit against the wind. I watch him lean against the concrete hedge, looking out to the canal.
“Who are those people?” I ask.
“Just people,” he answers.
I frown, annoyed that he never really answers me. But what’s new?
“A-are you okay?” I ask, stepping closer to his side.
He stands straight to face me now, his cigarette dangling off his lips.
“Should you care?” he asks with a grin.
My shoulders drop and I stare into his grey eyes. I count his lashes.
“Well, I do,” I say.
I get absorbed in his gaze, standing toe to toe with him. He throws away the extinguished bud and exhales the last of his toxins in the air above my head. He then looks down at me. His height forces me to strain my neck to look up at him.
“You shouldn’t get close to me,” he warns me.
Shivers latch onto my back.
“Then why do you keep pulling me towards you?” I ask, in a low voice.
He swallows instead of breathing, and stares me hard in the face. His brows lower themselves, looking angrier.
“I’m afraid you’ll slip away. I can’t think of losing you,” he tells me.
My heart flutters uncontrollably. I don’t know what he means with his words. I can’t tell truths and lies apart when words come out of this man’s mouth.
“Judah...” I hum, hesitantly.
“One day, you’ll wake up from this nightmare,” his voice plummets. His hands caress my cool cheeks. “And you’ll leave me.”
Leave you? I don’t know how?
He’s right, though. He’s my nightmare. He’s the drug that induces me to dream all night. He’s everything.
“Nothing is special about me... You can have any woman you want,” I say in a loose laugh, feeling ridiculous.
I frown and look down in Judah’s chest. He’s afraid of me slipping away, but I’m afraid he’ll drop me. I feel his fingers pinch my chin, as his lips grin.
“You’re cute, sweet cheeks,” he shuts me down.
I stay silent for a moment. He always says that.
“You always say that,” I mutter, rolling my eyes.
Then he’s silent. His gaze diverts away from me and I feel colder.
“I’m just waiting for you to believe me,” he says lowly.
“I’ll believe anything you say. Remember?” I challenge, turning away.
He says nothing.
But I should have known better than to turn my back on Judah.