Dark ghostly figures stand behind shaded windows of tall buildings. I watch Judah lean his back against the brown brick wall. We stay deep in a doubtful alleyway. My shoulders shake a bit. The temperature has gone down, which takes a toll on my skin. I look left and right and left again. I don’t know why I’m here.
Judah looks as though he’s waiting for somebody. He looks right, left, and right too. I don’t want to be around this sketchy place. The man next to me lifts his hand to light his cigarette. I keep quiet. So does he. We haven’t said anything to each other since we got here. To my surprise, I haven’t’ made a complaint out loud. The silence between us contorts now, because Judah glances at me.
“What?” I question.
He doesn’t say anything. He just keeps looking at me, smoking into destruction. I tear my eyes away and count the cracks in the concrete. My emotions get tangled inside me.
Finally, a shiny car pulls up beside us. I press myself into the wall, hoping to become a chameleon and blend with the background. Judah, on the other hand, takes a confident step forward. The Benz’s window winds down, revealing a pair of men in black sunshades. They hush their words, and I don’t even try to listen. The driver gives Judah a wad of cash wrapped in rubber bands. I watch him stuff it in his pockets.
“Have you seen the boss yet?”
Judah smirks, “He’ll find me.”
“Don’t take too long,” the shaded driver warns, “Brag is in New York.”
“I know,” Judah straightens his back.
There’s a pause. The driver looks ahead.
“Do something stupid again, and I won’t hold back.”
Judah smirks and gives the man a wink, “Don’t tempt me.”
With that, the car drives off. The engine cries and groans in the distance. I look at Judah. He has such an ironclad personality, like he’s afraid of nothing and no one. When he turns, giving me a glimpse of his light grey eyes, he carries a satisfied look on his face. I follow him to his car. I jump in and buckle my seatbelt. I need to remind myself that he’s the bad guy here. I study the lines on my hands, just to avoid staring at Judah’s jawline. I wonder how long I would live, if I kept this up.
“Many of those kind of guys hate me.”
I look up at Judah, hearing his information. He focuses on the road ahead. I sit completely still, even though my nose itches. I don’t understand why he’s telling me this, nor do I understand the context of what he’s saying. My mind can’t even process whether he’s talking to me or not. But I decide to speak up, since the silence is suffocating all on its own.
“Hate is a strong word,” I tell him.
He smiles a bit and glances at me, “Is it?”
I look away, blushing. If I see him smile one more time... Now my mind trails off. I nearly miss the next thing he says.
“Hungry?” he asks me.
My mouth hangs open, failing to use words.
“Uh, uh—No, I’m fine.”
“I’m hungry,” he utters anyway.
I pout, wondering why we’re having this conversation.
“Um,” I start, taking a deep breath, “You can take me home. I—”
He darts his eyes on me, “Then who’s going to watch me eat?”
I sew my lips shut and give him a long stare. There’s no way to understand this guy. How is he serious? Why didn’t he come with a manual? I internally scream.
Judah pulls the car in front of a French style restaurant. Although we’re downtown, I don’t recognize the neighbourhood. I watch him turn the key and cut the engine.
“Don’t you have other friends,” I say, feeling awkward, “That you could hang with?”
Judah stretches his arm, which makes me flinch. But he only reaches into the backseat. He then throws a small pink striped gift bag at me.
“I didn’t get this for my other friends,” he also throws, pushing his door open and exiting.
Frozen from head to toe, I stare down at the little bag in my hands. It’s only when I feel the night breeze that I realize my door is open and that Judah stands by impatiently. I scurry out the car and onto my feet. He looks down at me. I find his height is overbearing, as my forehead reaches his chin.
“Y-You didn’t have to get me anything... We—”
He groans a sigh and grabs me by the hand. He makes it clear that he doesn’t want to listen to my mumbles.
“So noisy,” he mutters under his breath.
I feel like I need to lie down in an ambulance, because nothing in my life right now is making any sense. The bag shakes in my hand. My heart bounds out of control and jurisdiction. My shoulders are as stiff as steel. Judah forces me to follow him, nonetheless. We walk into the restaurant. In no time, a host brings us to a table on an upper terrace.
“Judah...” I frown.
“Sit,” he commands, already looking into the menu.
I exhale and take the seat across from him.
I start again, “Judah.”
He lifts his eyes to mine, finally giving me his attention. I don’t know why, but his attention rips me to shreds. Though, I can’t quite get enough of it. I forget what I initially wanted to say. I then get even more distracted by his grazed knuckles. My lips wrinkle. He notices my stare.
“I’m not going to talk about it with you,” he calmly says, setting down the menu on the rustic table.
Then, a waitress appears, pouring drinks into our glasses. I look down at my lap, where the gift bag sits. Silence strikes, until the waitress goes back to where she came from. I look again at Judah. He never looked away, however.
“Don’t you think... you should get them bandaged—”
He cuts me off again, “It’s fine.”
“Don’t cut me off,” I snap back, feeling more and more frustrated with him. I blow out some air and look elsewhere. “I’m trying to be nice...”
Thankfully, there aren’t many customers around to witness how red my face goes. Judah draws his hands beneath the table for a moment.
“My sweet cheeks worried about me?”
I frown long and hard, “I’m not your sweet cheeks. Quit calling me that...”
Judah grins lightly and plays with the mini salt packages.
“I suddenly feel special,” he raises a brow.
I get back to my first concern.
“We shouldn’t be around each other,” I tell him.
“Why’s that?” he asks.
“Because... You’re some kind of gang... person,” I say.
Judah leans back in his chair and crosses his arms. It seems that I’ve offended him. I sort of feel bad, all of a sudden. Maybe that wasn’t the best way to say it, I think to myself.
“I—I didn’t mean it like that...” I quickly try to correct my words.
“Right now, I’m hungry,” he says.
I nod, feeling more apologetic than ever. He orders for the both of us. I can’t bring myself to eat anything, because my insides are eating me out. I think what bugs me is that his grin has gone away. Also, he’s stopped talking all together.
After our silent meal, Judah pays and drives me home. We exchange no words. I try not to breathe too loud, in case I might set him off. His face is so serious and still, I’m afraid he’s angry. I avoid looking into his grave eyes—I can’t bear that pain.
We arrive in front of my dorm, to my content. He turns the car off. I jump out and search my back pocket for my keys. Before I know it, Judah’s behind me. I walk up to the door, trying hard to ignore him. It’s just impossible. His shadow takes up too much space. The moon twinkles far away from us.
The night is heavy and the air is foggy. I turn my body around and look into Judah’s eyes for the first time in hours. They are surely one of a kind, because there are no other gazes that can make me feel the way I do right now.
“We should stop seeing each other,” I try hard to say.
He stares at me. My palms sweat. In fact, my whole body perspires.
“They say I’m a nightmare,” he says slowly, as I listen to his deep voice crack.
“Maybe because you choose to be frightening,” I pout, looking over the tattoos his skin owns.
“Am I frightening to you, Rose?”
Can’t he tell? Is he blind? He terrifies me! His rhetoric sets my brain on fire. Even if I were honest and said yes, would he leave me alone? Do I really want that, anyway? The answers don’t come to me in time.
Judah takes a leisure step towards me, closing in the gap we had. I’m blanketed with anxiety. My lips tremble, preventing me from saying anything. Delusions hit my mind. All my pupils can do is look directly into his pupils.
“I—” I murmur, as my head lowers.
“Don’t blame me, if you can’t wake up.”
How can I... when it’s always night around him? He surely is a nightmare.
He’s darker than the other side of a black hole.
He makes me feel things... that I shouldn’t even think of feeling.
He’s a mystery who burns his own clues. I can’t figure him out—nor can I figure out my feelings. I’m too confused and too light headed because of him! Ugh! Who else can I even blame? He takes another step, and I end up against the old door.
“Judah?” I ask, not able to process his proximity.
“Hm?” his breath lands on me.
I swallow the rocks in my throat. It’s like close isn’t close enough for this guy.
“I... have to go...” I whisper, despite myself.
His mouth opens slightly, making me stare at his lips. Shivers ambush my back.
“Then go,” he whispers slowly.
Why haven’t I gone yet? The door is there. My body just refuses to move. My shaky hand lifts, trying to find the door knob behind me. My mouth turns dry. I watch his brows descend.
“Um,” I breathe, “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight,” he replies.
I push the door open and swiftly escape Judah’s aura. I shut the door, without looking back. I run up the stairs, shaking my hands in my hair. I’m going insane for sure. I hyperventilate around my room. I need to escape this.
“What’s in the bag?” Mara asks.
We relax in my room, trying to study—at least I am. 24 hours later, the tiny pink gift bag Judah gave still sits on my desk atop my biology books. I feel like I’ll lose my life if I look inside.
“I... don’t know,” I answer my nosy best friend.
She looks at the bag and then me.
“You said Judah gave it to you,” she affirms.
I nod, “Yeah, but I don’t want to open it.”
Her mouth drops and pitches her textbook behind her.
“You have to open it!” she screams, “It could be keys to a new car!”
She jumps and grabs it. I get up to take it back.
“No, I don’t want anything to do with him,” I vocalize, “He’s a gang member and I can’t afford to randomly hang around him any longer.”
Mara rolls her eyes twice, “I beg your pardon? A gang member? Then what’s he doing showering you with gifts and giving you joy rides?”
“It’s a bait,” I believe, “And that’s why I’m done seeing him.”
“But he’s so-o hot!” Mara whines. I grab the bag from her hands, before she rips it open. Mara pinches my arm. “And I’m certain you want to know what’s in there.”
I do. But the way Judah handles a load of cash and drives expensive vehicles makes me scared. Only God knows the types of things he’s done to sport around town lavishly. I’m sure the amount of money he has in his pockets is much more than what the ATM machine across the street has.
He’s not the only one. I’m sure the girls who’ve been kidnapped these last few weeks also were mesmerized by the men who took them, one way or another. They probably opened many gifts and sat in the passenger seat for many hours... until the worst thing possible happened. It’s hard for me to judge Judah in that light, but I need to be much more careful. He said it himself—he’s not the best person to put my trust into.
I pull out a white satin pouch from the gift bag. Mara squeals like we’re close to winning the lottery. I sigh and put it back, instead of opening it. I rest it on top of my shelf and out of my sight. Curiosity kills the cat.
It kills everything.