Strangelove - Part 21
Sunday night, a little after six, Peter sat on his front seat, scowling at his phone display. He and Jessica had just finished sharing pizza on her living room floor after she spent the morning toiling away on tax nonsense at her table. It should’ve been a nice afternoon with his girlfriend. Instead, every bite he’d forced down soured in his stomach. She’d been so normal, so unassuming, despite the lude messages so brazenly displayed in her emails. It’d taken every bit of willpower to not explode on her right then and there. He’d managed to sneak out after dusk without an aggressive word said.
She’d been detained just long enough for him to peruse her emails. And here he sat, in his car outside his condo building, stewing over what he saw.
That clearly wasn’t friendship. That was something else. His reply about not playing nice anymore made him shudder. What kind of psychopath was spending time with his sweet, docile girlfriend?
And didn’t he have a wife? And a kid! And he knew she was spoken for. What was this?
Frustration built into a gut-wrenching inferno. He’d had enough. He pressed the call button. It rang twice, the tone rumbling around the interior of his car, before a gruff voice answered.
Peter exhaled to calm himself. He knew that voice. He hated its owner. “Garrett?”
“Yeah. Who’s calling?”
“You absolute prick.”
Peter’s hands were clasped into tight fists as he waited outside the rural diner the next day.
The maps app in his SUV had trouble finding the place, leading him through backroads for a good fifteen miles before the old streetcar eatery came into view. His Audi was the nicest ride in the simple gravel lot. He’d backed into an adjacent space, awaiting a huge black truck’s arrival. Garrett would be here any minute.
How’d he convinced him to meet at this dingy shithole, he had no idea. When Garrett answered the phone, Peter unloaded, the call turning into a one-sided shouting match. But somehow, inexplicably, Garrett convinced Peter to meet him, to talk and clear the air, before Peter could make sense of it. He was curious, sure, maybe even impressed by Garrett’s confidence, but he also felt like denting his nose in. Envy and anger reddened his face as the minutes ticked by.
Eventually, a massive lifted truck pulled in and parked across the lot, closer to the diner’s door.
Peter considered running him over when he hopped down from the driver’s side seat. He had some nerve, showing up late, making him meet at this greasy spoon. The idea of sharing a table with this asshole made his neck hairs prickle. Trying for calm, he smoothed down his suede jacket as he stepped from his SUV, moving his aviator sunglasses to his pocket as he crossed the lot in quick strides. Fury bubbled right below the surface.
But when Garrett turned to him, he realized how tough a fight he’d face. He’d forgotten how imposing the black leather-clad man was, how wide his shoulders were and how a fist that large would easily shatter an eye socket. He released a deep breath, keeping his fists in his khaki pockets.
“All right, asshole…”
“Call me an asshole again and see what happens,” Garrett taunted quietly, squaring his shoulders. “Now, we can handle this like adults or like children, your call.”
“You’re fucking my girlfriend!”
“Like I said yesterday, I am not. And if you don’t control yourself,” he countered, gesturing to the diner’s windows where curious onlookers eyed them with mouths agape. “They will call the cops. So, I suggest you calm the hell down.”
“You want me to calm down?” Peter fumed, stepping in close. “You’re damn lucky I haven’t knocked you out yet.”
“Go ahead then.”
Peter’s gaze narrowed.
“Go ahead then,” Garrett repeated, stepping back and opening his arms. “Hit me. See how that goes.”
His gaze was like steel. There was no fear in him, no uncertainty. Unmoored, Peter focused on the diner’s windows again, watching the people inside chattering with eager grins and cell phones lifted into view. It was so pathetic. He’d created a spectacle of himself.
With inflated pride and dignity, he patted down his jacket again. “I won’t give you the satisfaction. You’re not worth it.”
“Splendid. Now, on to business. Shall we?”
Peter scowled and pushed past Garrett on his way to the diner’s entrance. The inside reeked of stale grease, aging coffee and pancake syrup. He was terribly overdressed and awkward, following behind a waitress in a red and white checkered dress. Garrett loomed large over his shoulder.
After seating them at the last booth in the corner, the waitress walked away but not before glancing back over her shoulder at the mismatched pair a half-dozen times on her walk to the kitchen. A weird silence settled over the tables around them as Peter exhaled a shaky breath. Everyone was staring and his emotional response was to run.
But he’d come too far. He was going to get what he wanted from this, even if he had to play by Garrett’s rules.
Across the table, massive forearms rested on the tabletop. “Go ahead. Ask.”
Peter glowered, sitting back and crossing his arms. “If you’re not fucking her, then why are you and Jessica spending so much time together?”
“Like I said on the phone, she asked for my help.”
“What could she possibly need your help with, you manipulative bastard?”
Garrett met Peter’s hot glare with a calm one, his lips curling up. “I can’t give details. And I won’t give details. And before you ask, I haven’t touched her. Not sexually, anyway.”
Peter’s eyes flared. “How dare you…”
Garrett sat back, smirking as the waitress brought over two steaming coffee mugs, a bowl of mini creamers and two spoons. She turned back and strode off as he pushed the white cups closer to Peter. “You take cream?”
“You piece of shit,” Peter steamed, trying desperately to keep his voice low. “You touched her?”
“I helped her across the street. Any other accusations to toss out?” Garrett sniped, stirring sugar into his mug before lifting it.
“Why did I meet you here, why did you insist I come all this way, if you’re not going to tell me what’s going on?”
“That’s a very good question.”
Peter’s brow lifted, tired of being played like a fiddle. “I’d like to think I know my girlfriend, and I thought I trusted her. Now I’m questioning it and you’re being coy, mocking me? Fuck you.”
“Peter, ask me that first question again, the one about Jessica. And this time, without the insults. Maybe I’ll answer you.”
His tablemate’s gaze was explosive. “What could Jessica possibly need your help with?”
Garrett nodded, encouraged by Peter’s resolve and obedience. “I merely answered her questions, shared some knowledge. And I’m happy to provide the same to you, if you want my help.”
He was dumbfounded, listening to this brute discuss knowledge like he had something valuable to teach. “It’s clearly sexual, even if you insist it’s not. I have no interest in your sexual knowledge or your help.”
“You have no desire to take control of your relationship? Actual, physical, primal control?”
Peter’s gaze narrowed, his fists tight under the table. “I have control of my relationship. How dare you insinuate otherwise.”
Garrett just chuckled, stirring his coffee.
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