I have been around women all my life, Maggie. I had a mother, just like everyone else. An aunt. Two cousins. Five friends. All women. So you see, it is not the woman herself that has enraptured me, not some fixation on the female being. It’s you, Maggie. It’s simply you.
Perhaps you have forgotten that day, so long ago, that we first met. Or perhaps “met” is too precise a term. I know that I have often tried to forget that day. Believe me, I have. But that image of you—newly independent, college student, 18 years old—has seared itself so deeply into my mind that it has become impossible to see anything without the imprint of you upon it.
You looked at me. Do you remember looking at me? Across the distance of the coffee shop? You looked at me and you smiled, and—Maggie, how can I make you understand what it felt like to be caught up in that smile? Anything I say would sound like those cheesy romantic comedy movies you hate, so perhaps it will be enough to say that it pinned my feet to the ground and my bottom to the chair. Oh yes, you had looked away rather quickly, too. You’d gone up to the counter and placed your order—small caramel macchiato, extra hot—and stepped to the side, patiently waiting for them to call your name—which they did incorrectly. Margery, they’d called you, while I’d clearly heard you say Maggie from where I sat beside the window. Your last name was the easy bit: you’d walked in wearing your volleyball jersey which proudly proclaimed “Coleman” along your shoulder blades in thick block letters.
I’ve heard a lot of men my age complaining about the horrors of the internet, but honestly, Maggie, I do not know how we could have come together without it. Of course, I’d gone back to the coffee shop, hoping to do things the traditional way—bumping into you, striking up a conversation, and so on and so on. But you didn’t come back, Maggie. For that whole week, you didn’t go back to that coffee shop. There were simply no other options besides searching your name, Maggie Coleman. “Search” is another curious term for what I did because it really took no searching at all. One click and up your photo came, attached to your public Instagram account.
So really, when I sat in the last row of bleachers at your next volleyball game, it should not have surprised you. I suppose it didn’t since you didn’t see me beneath my baseball cap. I never asked you, but I assume you thought I was a relative—uncle, perhaps—come to cheer on one of your teammates. Honestly, your teammates were more of a hindrance to my view of you than anything else. But that view of you…again, I shall refrain from ridiculous sentiments. It wasn’t simply the wonderfully tight clothes they had you wear—you were good, Maggie. Genuinely and exceptionally talented.
With your blonde hair dripping sweat and your pale face flushed, you won that game. You screamed and hugged your teammates. You graciously accepted congratulations from other parents and your coach (obviously the most gifted player on the team). Not your parents, though. Your parents weren’t there. I remember thinking that could easily be explained away if you were far from home, but after the game was over, you’d packed up your things and driven (in an adorable red bug with the license plate number 6UJK362) straight to a two-story home.
You had an old woman living with you. Your grandmother, the neighbors told me. Though she was little help to you; she slept so much she was practically already dead. And without a home alarm system, you were essentially all on your own in that house.
There wasn’t exactly a clear view of you from the street, though your silhouette was distinguishable enough through the blinds. That night—unlike the other nights I observed—you slept early. I had never seen someone sleep the way you did with their hands curled gently beneath their chin and knees pulled tightly to their chest. There had been a troubled line between your brows at whatever film was playing behind your lids, and I couldn’t help myself from leaning over and smoothing it away. Immediately, your skin had melted under my touch and you’d huffed out a small breath against my wrist, making goosebumps spread all over my body.
I had tried one night to stay away, to sleep in my own bed, far away from you. But what was the point, Maggie, when my eyes remained open until the walls were painted with the dawn’s light and my fingers itched to feel your skin again? No, that simply wouldn’t do.
There was really no problem, Maggie, between you and I. None at all, until February 14, exactly five months after we’d met.
I was too far away to hear what you’d said. Even today, I cannot guess the precise words. But I had seen your smile. I had seen the way your face lit up when you looked at him.
Perhaps, I’m not explaining this correctly. You see, that was my smile. It was reserved for me. It was the way you had looked at me in that coffee shop and it was how you relaxed under my touch into your bed at night. That smile was mine, yet there you were, dazzling that boy in front of you as he offered a wilted rose. And I saw you laugh, Maggie. You had laughed. And you took the rose and leaned against your car and he had shuffled closer to you and you smiled and smiled and smiled and smiled and smiled and—
Please excuse the shakiness of the writing above. I will try to keep my emotions in check.
I really don’t understand what you saw in that boy, Maggie. One of his teeth was out of alignment despite his four years of braces. He didn’t have a job while you work two. He treated his parents like rubbish while you wish for your parents’ loving arms every day. He hardly studied; he’d rather have been getting drunk or high in an alley somewhere. Yet I suppose he had hidden that rather well from you. He never wore his ridiculously oversized shirts in front of you and his trousers never sagged like they did when you weren’t around. No, to you, he was the picture of innocence. The kind of boy your father would have wanted you to bring home with his perfectly ironed polo shirts and perfectly pristine khaki pants and perfectly combed hair and perfectly smooth skin.
I know it wasn’t your fault, Maggie. If I’m being quite honest, how could I blame the boy for wanting you? Me, who wants you more than anything? Why should it have been any different for the boy? But you see, Maggie, you were so lonely. You’d been that way since your parents’ car accident, and this boy was simply a means for you to escape that loneliness. You weren’t thinking clearly. You couldn’t see how wrong this boy was for you.
No one else was going to help you, Maggie. I was the only one looking out for you.
When they explained it in court, the lawyers made it sound as if it was some act of madness that had driven me into a murderous rage, but it wasn’t like that at all. You must know that. I am not mad. I am in love. Though perhaps those are one and the same.
It wasn’t a murderous rage. I observed him, Maggie, just as I had observed you. I saw how he’d leave your house to go to another girl’s, I saw the disturbing images he had on his computer, I saw the disgusting paraphernalia he’d had around his room. Really, he was a criminal in the making. Completely unworthy of you.
I tried to tell you, Maggie. Do you remember the note I left you? I explicitly told you not the see that boy again. But you just ignored me, Maggie. You didn’t listen. You disobeyed. What was there left for me to do?
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that not even the lawyers were able to reconstruct how it happened. They had several theories. I slit his throat then burned the body. I drowned him then buried him. I suffocated him with my bare hands then scattered his dismembered body around my yard. In truth, their minds are much more disturbed than mine.
Did I wish for him to hurt? Of course. Did I act like some crazed animal when I killed him? Absolutely not. Detailing his death here will most definitely increase my sentence, so I am counting on your discretion to keep this letter to yourself.
The only thing the lawyers got right was that it wasn’t quick. I do not know exactly how long it took, but by the time I had looked at the dashboard, the once full tank of gas had lowered to three-quarters empty.
Why couldn’t they find him, you ask? Allow me to put it this way. Do you remember how you used to enjoy playing with chalk as a child? You’d go out and paint the sidewalks with pinks and blues and greens, and then your mother would come out and spray your masterpieces away. Was there any trace of your picture? No. So perhaps you can think of what I did in the same way. With your car, I painted the concrete street with red and washed it away as if it had never happened.
You were free, Maggie. I saved you.
Was it a day or two before you began looking over your shoulder? I can’t remember exactly but it was very soon after your liberation that you did. Several times I had thought you’d seen me. You’d looked directly at me and I’d found myself stuck in place as I had that first day. But then you’d continue on your way, fisting the strap of your backpack so tight that I could see the whites of your knuckles from where I stood.
You called the boy almost hourly. Always leaving a voicemail, always asking him to call you back, was he okay, why had he disappeared, etc. You obviously have an aversion to change. His disappearance was something you had to be eased into. I could do that for you, Maggie.
Really, it was ingenuity on my part that I had saved his phone. A few nasty messages from the boy—from me—and that was all it had taken for you to forget about him. You moved on, but you were different. You missed your volleyball games. You came home later and later. You distanced yourself from your friends. You stopped wearing makeup. Your hair hung drably around your face. And you never stopped looking over your shoulder.
I have often wondered if you knew what you were doing that day in the park. Were you aware I was there? Did you know I’d hear you? Or were you simply hoping I would? Either way, I did. I heard you when you sat on that bench and said, “Stop hiding from me.” Maggie, if you only knew how my heart had fluttered at those words, both terror that I’d been found out and eagerness that you were ready for us to be together. I swear, I nearly leapt out from behind that tree at that exact moment.
You had searched the grounds of the park for a sign of…well, me, presumably. But you didn’t see me. I remember you had sighed and I immediately kicked myself. You had wanted me in that moment, Maggie. I could feel it. You had wanted me there with you and I had let you down. I had squeezed my eyes shut and shook my head in total devastation that I had missed my moment. And when I had opened my eyes…
You had vanished. In a split second, you were just gone. It took me about an hour to find you again. I had wondered where you’d been that entire time only to be found in your house. Of course, I know now.
It was that next week, Maggie, that showed me just how well suited we are for each other. I do not know what you told yourself of our love affair; I never got the chance to ask. Whether it was as exhilarating for you as it was for me, I know not. But it was that moment that you presented me with irrefutable evidence that we are the same.
I cannot guess how others would have planned my demise. I assume they would have contacted the police who would have laid a trap for me and captured me in that way. But that is not what you did, Maggie.
I was waiting near your car—as was my habit every day while you were in class. I do not know what made me approach your car; I had never done that before. If I were to guess, I would blame my scrambled mind on that day in the park. But sitting on your windshield, underneath the left wiper, was a folded piece of paper. I presume my name would have been on it if you had known it. As it was, it simply read, “My Friend.”
You know the feeling you get when you land too heavily on your foot from a high jump? That sizzling vibration that tingles the sole and shoots up your leg? That was how my entire body felt. I can practically hear you rolling your eyes already, but I promise you it is not an exaggeration. I was a live wire, and when I read in your letter that you wished to officially meet me, I could have died contently. I had known you wanted to be with me. I had known it all along. It had taken you a little longer to realize it, but that was forgivable. You had invited me into your home, told me we’d have dinner together. We could get to know each other properly, you promised.
So, of course, I’d gone back to my flat and gotten ready. It must’ve been during that lack of surveillance that you had set up your little trap.
I do not know why I was surprised. You are a smart little minx, after all.
But this is what I mean by saying you are like me. You didn’t just want to catch me. You wanted to humiliate me in the process. Recall that image, if you will, of me standing on your porch in my best clothes, a bouquet of roses in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other. I knocked, and you opened the door, clad in a dress that hadn’t been hanging in your closet the night before. You’d bought it especially for me.
And you’d blessed me with that smile and ushered me in and…oh, Maggie, how to put into words the pure elation I felt? To be welcomed by you, into your space. To see it in the light with your eyes on mine.
And you’d cooked for me. A wonderful feast was laid out on the dining table. I’m sure you can better recall what was served as I was much too dazed by your brilliance. It was as if I’d stepped into the sun for the first time in centuries. Again, I am at a loss as to what I said that was so funny, but you had giggled. Such a sweet giggle, filled with childlike innocence, and I swear, Maggie, I felt as if I could collapse then and there.
Though there are admittedly gaps in my memory, there are a few words that will forever be burned into my mind. You must know what I’m referring to. I shall write the words here all the same.
You looked at me over your drink as you took a sip, set your glass down, and thanked me for my help with the boy. You told me how you’d wished for his disappearance for so long before I’d delivered you from him. And I’d told you there was nothing I wouldn’t do for you.
I will forever remember the smirk that had spread across your face as easily as butter as you had asked, “Would you die for me?”
With no hesitation, I’d said yes. And your grin fell away and you commanded, “Then I’ll pray for that day as long as I live.”
I was tackled from behind. I looked up at you as the police wrenched my arms behind my back. You were scared to put a face to that shadow you’d felt following you, but, more than that, you were angry beyond words. Your eyes gleamed with it. And that look remained on your face while I was in the police cruiser, while you were on the witness stand in the courthouse, while you called me “unstable,” while the jury foreman read out my conviction, while the judge decided my sentence. I do not pretend to know what you are thinking, but I imagine you like to think you are better than the unstable man currently rotting in prison.
You and I, Maggie, are one and the same. You are exactly like me. You’ve always been exactly like me. It is why I was so drawn to you.
So why have I written you this letter? Surely you already know all or most of the story. You were there after all.
Do you know what is a positive aspect of prison? It allows one’s mind plenty of time to think, to contemplate, to play events over in one’s mind, which I have done quite often. Nearly constantly, if I’m being honest. Over and over, I have run through our love story in my mind, remembered how I protected you, watched over you like a guardian angel. Yet, here I sit, within the stone walls of a prison while you are out there, gallivanting with God knows who doing God knows what.
God and me, I should say. Because here is the thing, Maggie: my incarceration has not diminished my ability to find you. Not in the least. If nothing else, it has provided me with more resources, more connections with people who are willing to track you for me. So it is God and me who know whom you are with and what you are doing.
I love you. I love you so wholeheartedly that I am consumed by it. I protect you to the point of death, I keep you company when you are so alone, and I am there for you when no one else is. I gave you everything I am, and you betrayed me. You shoved me into this cage and you didn’t so much as look back when they locked it. It is your fault, Maggie, that I am here.
But that’s okay, Maggie. You have to learn is all. To be disciplined. And I can teach you.
So you may move to the other side of the globe, you may change your name, you may alter your appearance. You could live in the middle of nowhere Africa where not even the wildlife venture to roam because of its desolation, and I will still find you, Maggie.
I will find you.
And when I do…
You shall see how “unstable” I can be.
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Ashley_TropeaWrite a Review