Destiny Ever-changing
Author: Tasha Ivey

Chapter 6
Brooks - The Puppet Master

Brooks:

 

I watch Laura walk away into the darkness, and I feel terrible about my mood toward her. None of this is her fault, and I don’t want to bring her into my world of problems. I know my demeanor changed after Jacqueline showed up, but it was like a wakeup call to me. I had almost forgotten everything that I had been depressed about after I had a few beers and Laura showed up. I was shocked to see her here; I didn’t think I would ever see her again.

We didn’t have time to talk much before Jacqueline showed up, but just in those few short moments, she made me feel like a real man again. I have been having this strange dream every night about waking up with puppet strings attached to my hands and feet, and when I look up to see where the strings lead, I see that my father is the puppet master. He laughs eerily and begins working the strings, and I suddenly realize that I am being led down the aisle at a church. As I look to the front of the church, I see my bride pointing at me and laughing insultingly. When I reach the altar and lift her veil, I see Carl Martens’ face instead of Jacqueline’s, and that sight always wakes me up.

Being with Laura for just those few minutes made me forget all of that for a little while. I felt an urge to talk to an attractive woman and get to know her, just like any other man in the world would. There was the nervous banter at first, but then we smiled, laughed, and joked with each other. For a moment, I felt like I was in total control of my own destiny. I didn’t have a puppet master to make my decisions for me.

As soon as Jacqueline showed up, I felt those imaginary strings working their way around my hands and feet again, and I was suddenly thrown back into the reality of my near future. The situation reminded me of skydiving without a parachute. You would experience exhilaration and thrill for few short minutes, but then you would slam into the groundtaking away all memories of pleasure and leaving only pain. My demeanor drastically changed toward Laura after that because I came to the sudden realization that no matter how hard I try to fool myself, my destiny can’t be changed.

I look off into the distance down the shoreline, and I can only see the faintest silhouette of Laura. That little flashlight can’t be producing much light for her to see, and I worry that she’ll fall and hurt herself. You also never know who you’ll stumble upon on the beach at night or what their intensions may be. I should have offered to see her home safely, but I was too wrapped up in my own frustrations to think of it at that moment.

I decide to follow her to be sure she makes it home without any harm. I’ll just stay back as far as I can, so she doesn’t see me following her and get scared. I don’t know where she lives, but I will walk ten miles if that’s what it takes. I’m not sure what it is about her, but I have an overwhelming desire to protect her. I hardly know her, but I know she’s unlike any other woman I have ever met. She’s not confident at all, and she seems very shy. She doesn’t even appear to be aware of how beautiful she is.

I saw her face very closely while we were hiding out under the stairs earlier. I couldn’t tell that she had any makeup on at all. Her skin was creamy and radiant, and her cheeks had the slightest natural blush. When she got embarrassed, the color in her cheeks intensified, which just make her glow even more. I didn’t have any trouble keeping eye contact with those emerald green eyes and thick, dark lashes. When she spoke, I noticed how her pale, pink lips looked so soft and supple. Everything from her clothes to her hair was so simple and yet so spellbinding.

I watch her outline up ahead as she walks. Her hair is whipping around in the wind, and I see her hips swaying in a steady, graceful rhythm. She walks with determination, never looking back. I am startled when she abruptly veers to the left off of the beach, and I am hoping that she has made it home. I’ve been walking for nearly forty-five minutes. 

Once I make it up to where she turned, I stop to look for any signs of her. There is a small, white house, but I can’t see any lights on. It suddenly occurs to me that I know this house; I pass it all the time. There is another building next to itI believe it’s a garagewith a room above it. A set of doors leads out to a balcony, and there is a lamp on in that room. I can’t see Laura or anyone else, so I wait a few minutes to guarantee she has, in fact, made it home.

She emerges after a moment, wearing a towel on her head, a long t-shirt, and a thin robe. I watch her as she takes the towel off her head and flips her head upside-down to dry her hair. She flings her hair back as she stands up straight again, and I feel my breath catch in my throat. She is the most gorgeous sight I have ever seen with her wet hair falling wildly around her shoulders and that long white t-shirt.

I see her walk over to the doors, and I know it’s time for me to leave before I am seen. I should have left as soon as I saw that she was home. Now, I’m going to have that picture in my head of her with the wet hair and t-shirt. That’s the last thing I need; I can’t let myself get attracted to another woman right now. I’ve been letting myself get distracted by Laura, but I have to face the fact that nothing can ever come of it. In less than four months, I’ll be married to Jacqueline. I am resolute to stop thinking about Laura and focus on how I’m going to get through the next several months.

It’s a long walk back home, but I’m glad.  I have no idea how Jacqueline is going to react when I get home, so I try to think of something to say. I need to figure out a way to keep the peace with her until this is all over. If I don’t, she’s just going to make me more miserable than she already does. I’ll just have to learn to grin and bear it as best I can, but I know it will be hard. She isn’t an easy person to like, and I sometimes wonder how I ever cared for her at all.

When I reach the stairs leading up to my house, I gather my beer bottles and toss them in my bucket. Just before I begin going up the stairs, I see the moonlight reflect off of something on the ground. When I pick it up, I realize that it is a necklace with a locket on it. It must be Laura’s, or I would have noticed it earlier. Now that I know where she lives, I’ll just stick it in the mailbox tomorrow, so I don’t have to see her. I don’t want to risk being around her again and having those feelings of magnetism draw me back in.

I trudge up the stairs and try to open the gate to find out that Jacqueline has locked it. She knew I was out here, and she’s just trying to annoy me. I leave the bucket outside the fence, and I somewhat nimbly scale the fence and make it over to the other side. I don’t see any lights on at the house, so I’m hoping she’s asleep. I’m exhausted, and I would much rather go to bed than to fight with her tonight.

Both the front and back doors are locked, and I know she thinks that I won’t be able to get into the house. I’m always locking myself out of the house, so I have keys hidden for that reason. I go out to the garage and find one of my spare keys, and I’m in the house in no time. Her muffled snores echo from upstairs, so I am pleased to realize that I have the downstairs to myself. I have everything I need down here, simply because the master bedroom closet is full of her things. I keep all of my clothes in one of the downstairs bedrooms. I grab a change of clothes, and I gladly step into a scalding hot shower. I didn’t think I was going to get one today, so that makes me appreciate it even more.

I throw on a pair of shorts and go into the kitchen to find something to eat, and all I find is a huge mess. Jacqueline doesn’t know how to cook, but the woman certainly can make a mess. It looks like she attempted to make something, but it is unidentifiable. There are mixing bowls, spoons, plates, measuring cups, and pots and pans everywhere, and there is a peculiar substance spattered all over the countertops, wall, and floor.

I spend the next hour cleaning up the glutinous mess and loading the dishwasher. After I start the dishwasher, I make myself a sandwich and sit down in the den to eat and watch television.

Next thing I know, I’m waking up, and the sun is starting to rise. I try to go back to sleep, realizing I have probably only slept a few hours. My back is killing me from sleeping in the recliner, so I decide I should go into my bedroom and make an effort to go back to sleep. My bedroom is just one of the guest rooms; I tried to sleep with Jacqueline the first few days we were here, but I just can't do it. The reasons for that should be painfully obvious.

As I pass the back door on the way to my room, I look out at the sloped yard, and I can barely see the ocean just over the privacy fence. The sun looks as if it’s coming straight up out of the water, and I feel a sudden urge to sit on the beach and watch it.

I slip on some shoes, and I make my way through the yard to the gate and then down the stairs. I find my usual spot on the bottom step and look out over the sparkling water as the sun finishes emerging from the horizon. I prefer sunsets, but the sunrise is almost as breathtaking. Glancing down at the damp sand, I can see Laura’s faint footprints staggering up the shore.

I didn’t think you were going to think about her anymore.

After a few moments, I go back up to the house and crawl into bed. It will still be at least a few hours before Jacqueline gets up, so I know I need to sleep now, if I am going to. I can’t help but wonder if this is what the next four months are going to be likeher trying to intentionally drive me insane and me desperately trying to avoid her. This is going to be an endless summer, it seems.

I toss and turn for at least an hour, and I finally doze off to sleep. I dream about the puppet master again, except this time I try to run as he’s leading me down the aisle of the church. I fight the pull of the strings, causing the string attached to one of my hands to break, making a loud snap. I wake up at the noise, and I realize that Jacqueline is in the room with me clapping her hands to try to wake me.

“Do you want to tell me where you were last night and how you got into this house?”

I roll over and face her. “Nope. I don’t.”

“Well, it really wasn’t a question. It was more of a demand.”

“That’s amazing,” I say sarcastically. “You made it sound just like a question. That’s some talent you have there.” I know I’m pushing her buttons, but I can’t help it.

“Joshua,” she says bitterly. “I don’t know what your problem is. After everything I do for you, you treat me like a dog. What more do you want from me?”

“What is it exactly that you do for me? I have to know, because I can’t think of anything other than you making my life a living hell. You don’t cook or clean; I do it all. I take care of paying for everything that you decide to buy, because you can’t ever seem to remember to pay the bills even though you have plenty of money. You do nothing to even try to make me happy; actually, you do quite the opposite. You don’t care at all what I think about anything, and you seem to think that the only opinion that matters is your own. If I do try to tell you what I think about something, you laugh at me and degrade me. Yeah, Jacqueline, I guess you do an awful lot for me.”

“There are so many men who would give their right arm to be with me, so you should consider yourself lucky. I buy things for you that you won’t even wear. I try to get you to let me take you to a spa to do something with your hair and skin, but you won’t ever go. I dress up and look nice for you every day, and you don’t appreciate it.”

“Jacqueline, first of all, if someone loves you, they don’t try to change you. Also, I like the clothes that I pick out, and I like my hair and skin just fine. I’m a man; I don’t need or want you to make me over. Another thing, you don’t dress up for me. You dress up for you and anyone else you might see. I have told you so many times that I don’t like all that makeup and stuff, but you refuse to let anyone see you that way. If it was at all about me, you would dress down for me while we’re at home.”

“I don’t try to change you. I’m just trying to better you, because you won’t better yourself. And if you loved me, you wouldn’t try to change me either. I feel good when I look my absolute best, and I’ll never let anyone see me any other way.”

I can’t take this anymore. “You don’t get it, do you?”

“What don’t I get?” she asks, tapping her stiletto heel on the floor.

“I don’t love you. I never have.”

She laughs hysterically. “Yeah, right. You’re just saying that, because you’re mad at me. It would be impossible for you not to love me.”

I stand and walk across the room to face her. “How could I love you?”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“How could I love someone like you? You want nothing more than to change who I am. You care nothing about how I feel about anything. You make fun of me when you should be backing me up or trying to make me feel better. You don’t care about other people at all, and you don’t worry about who you hurt as long as you are getting what you want. I have never known a woman that was as self-centered and self-righteous as you are.”

She starts lightly scratching her fingernails up and down my bare chest. “Oh, Joshua, you are overreacting as you always do. If you didn’t love me, you wouldn’t have asked me to marry you. We’re meant to be together. We’ve known each other all our lives, and it just makes sense for us to be together . . . considering our social status.”

“You couldn’t be more wrong, and you know that status means absolutely nothing to me. You mean nothing to me, and I don’t know why you get the impression from me that I care anything about you. I’ve never intended to give you that notion.”

Jacqueline wraps her arms around my waist and positions her face a mere inch from mine. “Let me level with you, Joshua. I know what I want, and I know how to get what I want. Do you think that it was my father who brought up the idea of the company merger? Ha! You did, didn’t you? I knew his company was in trouble, and I knew of a way to save him from financial ruin. I had to make sure that my financial future was set; as you well know, I have expensive tastes. Even if you divorce me, I’ll get a good chunk of the company stock that we own in addition to alimony from you, which will be a substantial amount. I have everything planned, and I know what length your father is willing to go through to see that the merger goes through. Go ahead and try to make me call the wedding off. It won’t work, no matter what you do.”

Jacqueline smiles devilishly as she leans in to kiss my neck, and she digs her long fingernails into my back. I push her away, and she just laughs.

“Just remember, Joshua, I always get what I want. You can’t run away from me for long.”

I grab both of her shoulders and jerk her right up to my face again. “You may get all of my money and everything I have, but you’ll never have me. That’s not something you can manipulate or buy.” I push her down onto the bed and storm out of the room.

I walk out onto the back deck and pace back and forth, taking in everything she just said. It looks like I had the puppet master wrong all along. Jacqueline is playing games with me and both of our fathers. She just knew how greedy my father is and knew that he’d agree to it. We are all just her pawns.

I hear the back door open, and Jacqueline steps out. “Are you going to stay mad at me all day, sweetie? I’ll try to be better, I promise. Look, I’ve hardly spent any time with you since we’ve been here, and I was thinking we could go for a drive or go shopping.”

I know those sugarcoated words are just a ploy. “You don’t need me to go with you to spend my money. Just go.”

“You do know me, don’t you?” Her mouth curls up mischievously. “By the way, Will called a few minutes ago, and he’s coming up to visit for a few days. I told him it was fine, so you’ll need to pick him up at the airport this afternoon at four o‘clock.”

She closes the door, and within a few minutes, I hear her car leaving the garage. I’m glad that Will is coming, and hopefully he can help keep everything off my mind for a few days. He’s been my best friend since we both started at the same prep school in fifth grade. He knows all about my father’s ultimatum and the impending forced marriage to Jacqueline, so he knows that I need a good friend on my side right now. I am surprised, however, that he’s taking time away from his own girlfriend, Sarawho is just as superficial as Jacqueline isto spend time with me. Even though they have only been dating for a few months, it’s not like Sara to let Will out of her sight.

I go into the house and eat a quick lunch. It’s an hour to the airport from here, so I only have three hours before I need to leave. I have to clean up the house before he arrives, and I need to go to the store and pick up some steaks to grill for Will and me tonight. I also want to go ahead and drop by Laura’s and leave the necklace for her that she lost.

I quickly make my way to each room of the house and put everything in perfect order, along with dusting, vacuuming, and sweeping. The only rooms I have left are the master bedroom and bathroom, and there is a reason that I saved them for last. I open the door to survey the damage, and I am shocked at what I see. I don’t know how anyone that looks so put together can be so disorganized and lazy.

There are clothes strewn all over the floor, bed, and sofa, and I can’t tell if they are clean or dirty. There are dirty dishes on the nightstand along with an empty ice cream container. In the bathroom, there are more dirty clothes and towels scattered everywhere. Various types of creams and makeup litter the vanity countertop, and there are several different bottles of lotions and cleansers lined up along the garden tub. For the sake of my sanity, I just close the door to the bedroom. It would take me a solid week to bring some order to that room, and Will won’t be coming up here anyway.

I run back downstairs and look at the time. I only have two hours to spare before I have to leave for the airport. I hurriedly change into some jeans and a t-shirt, grab Laura’s locket, and rush out to the truck. As I lay the necklace in the passenger seat, I see that the clasp is broken, so I decide to swing by the jewelry store while I’m in town to see if it can be repaired fairly quickly while I pick up some groceries.

When I arrive at the jewelry store, the lady at the counter says that it will only take about fifteen minutes to repair, so I tell her that I will return promptly. I walk to the end of the block to the market and pick up some t-bone steaks and a few other items, and I bring it all back to my truck. I reenter the jewelry store just as the woman is finished mending the necklace, and she polishes it with a soft blue cloth.

“Does this belong to your girlfriend or your wife?” the jeweler asks.

“Neither, actually. Just an acquaintance.”

She looks up with a kindhearted smile. “Well, doing sweet deeds like this will probably make her your girlfriend or your wife someday. I’ll put this in a little gift box to keep it safe.”

I smile politely. “Thank you, ma’am. That’s a fantastic idea.”

She hands the box to me, and I rush out of the store and jump into the truck. As I’m on my way toward Laura‘s house, I think about what the woman at the jewelry store said. Maybe I should have left it alone and given it back to her just as it was. I don’t want her to think that I am trying to lead her on. A friend would do something like this, though, wouldn’t they? I’m sure I would do the same thing for any friend of mine, and it is the noble thing to do. I’m hoping she’ll only think of it as a friendly gesture.

I pull up in front of her house, and I come to a stop in front of the mailbox. I pull a little slip of paper off a notepad in my glove compartment, and I write a short note to put in the mailbox along with the necklace. I wrap the note around the box, and I stuff it all into the mailbox as I look up to the house to make sure no one sees me. It would be awkward to see her again, and I need to avoid her as much as I can.

 

I drop the groceries off at my house, and, after an hour drive, I’m sitting in the airport terminal waiting for Will’s flight to arrive. I hear him long before I see him; he is extremely loud and boisterous. As usual, he is flirting heavily with two airline attendants. Once he spots me, he says his farewells to the ladies and sprints up and bear hugs me, nearly picking me up. I can smell the alcohol on his breath, so I know he’s had more than a few drinks on the flight.

“Okay, Will. What’s wrong?” I know he rarely drinks hard liquor unless he is upset about something or stressed out.

“What are you talking about, Brooksey boy? I’m just fine! I guess you can tell that I’ve been celebrating a little bit.”

“Yes, I certainly can. What’s the occasion?”

“I broke things off with Sara, and it was about damn time. She was about to bleed me dry, and I’m not talking about only money. The woman sucked every bit of life out of me. I couldn’t do it anymore.”

“Must be a nice convenience to have,” I say enviously. He just laughs and slaps me between the shoulders as we grab his bags and head toward the truck.

Once we get on the road, I notice that he keeps looking over and staring at me. “What? Why do you keep looking at me like that?”

He grins and studies my face. “How are you holding up in all of this mess, Brooks? You don’t look so good. You look pissed at the whole world. I can practically see the steam coming out of your ears.”

“Is it that obvious how happy I am?” I ask sarcastically.

“Very much so, my friend, but I know just the thing to cheer you up. What do you say we kick Jacqueline out and have a guy’s night?”

“I love the way you think, but I can’t just send her home, you know. We’re pretty much stuck together out here. I did get some steaks and a couple cases of beer, so I was thinking you and I could do some grilling, throw the old football around on the beach, and then maybe play some pool.”

“Sounds good to me, man,” he nods. “I’m game for anything. Oh, hey, I almost forgot to tell you that I talked to your sister yesterday. Ashton wanted me to tell you that she’d like to come up to visit sometime in the next week, so she wants you to call her and let her know when would be the best time.”

It’s just not like my little sister to travel without the rest of the family, so I start wondering what is going on. “Where did you see Ashton?”

“It’s not what you think, man. I’m not putting any moves on your sister, I promise. She called me because she is worried about you. We both decided that we should come up here and distract you before you blow your top.”

“It’s good that you’re here, and I hope you plan to stay as long as you like. I would be lying if I said that things have been going smoothly. Just last night, she locked me out of the yard and out of the house.”

He chuckles raucously. “What has been going on since you got here?”

I fill him in on the events of the last week as he listens intently. He seems to be getting an enormous amount of joy out of hearing about my mishaps with Jacqueline. I leave out all of the details about Laura; I know he would read more into it than what is actually there. Once I finish telling my story, he tells me all about the break-up with Sara.

We finally make it back to the house, and just before I pull into the drive, Will punches me and starts pointing up the drive. “Who the hell is that fine-looking woman?”

“What the . . .”  I see that Laura had pulled into the drive just before I did and is getting out of her car.

Judging by the look on Will’s face, it appears that I‘m not going to be able to leave out the details about her much longer. 

 

 

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