Banes of Fate
Part one: Just another love story
“One more drink bitches!” Mollie, one of Leah’s best friends, raised her almost-empty glass in the air, sloshing some out of her cup as she leaned slightly forward, wafting the strong smell of liquor towards the other three girls.
“I’ll get this round.” Leah stood and adjusted her skirt, happy that none of the drink ended up on her, and happy to be stepping away for a moment. She loved her friends, but they were a hassle. Leah had gotten a good job at a bank making more than she was worth, so they made Leah front most of the drinks for the night. They were lucky, she thought as she made her way through the throngs of people, that she hardly ever saw her old college friends. Katri, Leah’s new roommate, had tagged along too, just hoping to make some new friends. “Four shots of whatever your favorite whiskey is.” Leah smiled, leaning forward over the counter to show off some cleavage and catch Kenna’s attention. Leah pulled the money from her bra and bit her lip, eyeing the raven haired bartender up and down. Kenna always wore black leggings and boots with a tight tshirt, paired with her long black hair and dark makeup. Her and Leah talked extensively about their workout regime, to which neither girl could help but flirt a little.
“Here ya go honey, give me a call next time you’re free.” Kenna winked at Leah, giving her a small tray and some napkins, one of which had her number and a dark lipstick stain. Black Cat pub was right down the street from her office, and had been her preferred place to unwind after long days. It was dimly lit, played good music that was just noisy enough that you had to talk loudly to hear, and smelled like spilled beer and bad decisions. It was the perfect place for an I-just-want-the-free-food type of date. And maybe seeing Kenna had been a little bit of an incentive as well.
“… that’s why we don’t take cabs anymore.” There were now two men sitting at the table; one between Mollie and Anna, and the other with his hand on Katri’s leg while she playfully twirled her blonde locks around her finger.
“What did I walk in on?” Leah raised her eyebrow at Mollie, who had her phone close to her face with only one eye open and was typing with one finger.
“Danny said he almost got murdered in a cab.”
“Yeah, they drove right past my house and didn’t listen to me for shit. So I jumped out of the cab. See-”
“I don’t care.”
Leah shook her head and put the shots on the table, ignoring Danny as he started to pull at his sleeve. She had no time for pervy men who took it upon themselves to get comfortable with random girls. She slipped the napkin with Kenna’s phone number in her pocket and hid her blush behind a cascade of her brown hair. Danny, seated next to Katri, snatched two shots, feeding one to Katri and downing one himself.
“I’ll pay you for the shots, but first I have to do this.” Danny winked.
Leah was about to ask what he was talking about, when he lustfully pulled Katri’s lips to his own, the bar suddenly seemed too small to hide in.
“Looks like you’re not getting repaid.” Nick, the other boy leaned in to whisper, quite loudly, at Leah. One of his eyes was starting to float some and his head was wavering from side to side.
“Ugh.” Leah groaned, rolling her eyes. She grabbed Danny’s wallet from out of his pocket, thankfully he was still preoccupied, and took out a $10. Nick laughed loudly, calling attention to others in the bar. Leah bought herself two more shots, waving off Kenna’s questioning glance, and went back to sit with her friends and the two intruders.
To being perpetually single, she thought as she clinked the shots together and downed them one after the other.
They waited until after last call, with Danny’s tongue still jammed down Katris throat but now mixed with the most uncomfortable grunts, and Nick trying to finesse both women before Leah dragged them from the smelly bar. She got into a cab with the two spit-swappers, taking the front seat to avoid them, while Nick went with Mollie and Anna in their own cab, much to Leah’s dismay. Her driver had a thick accent and an even more thick aroma, with beads dangling from his mirror and a beard that would make any man jealous. He tried taking the long way around, taking streets that would loop them around the other side of Manhattan. He and Leah got into an argument, ending in her tipping a penny and him cursing her in a language she did not understand.
To make matters more annoying, Katri was a screamer, apparently, as Leah learned shortly after the blonde girl trapped herself and Danny behind her door.
Leah tossed her jacket over her shoulder and tucked her grandfathers flask- refilled after taking several large swigs- into the interior pocket, placed her favorite red beanie over her bouncing tight brown curls, and added a plain white scarf and headed out into the cold with a sigh. She hated winter, but could never get away from it.
The streets of New York were never quiet. The dark was for love and pain, as she had learned most harshly when she moved to the city. Tonight there was a dusting of snow, nothing more than an annoyance, but enough to send a chill through Leah’s spine. She crossed the street and took one last look behind her, seeing the black silhouette of Katri and Danny combined as one in the living room window.
“Were they just waiting for me to leave?” Leah grunted. She could still feel some of the buzz leftover from the bar, thankfully, with the new bought of liquor adding to it slowly to warm her from the inside out.
Leah turned the corner from 1st avenue onto east 81st street and headed towards central park. It was her favorite place to go, with its long paths and the contagious view of the reservoir. The walk to the park was cold, but luckily the buildings blocked most of the wind. She had grown up in a small town in Indiana and was used to the open fields that her parents owned. Indiana cold was much different than New York City cold. The city had been a huge adjustment, but well worth the efforts.
She could get to the park, stare at the water for a few minutes, and than taxi back to her place. That should be plenty of time, Leah thought, for Katri to drunkenly finish her business and go to bed. Unless the whiskey had affected Danny differently… She dismissed the thought with a turn from her stomach. Leah had never been a jealous person, but moving to new york had ensued a newfound loneliness.
“Stop it.” She said out loud, scolding herself.
“Pretty girls are always crazy.” A drunken man taunted from his sleeping bag on the sidewalk with a toothless cackle. She held back the spiteful response that tricked her tongue. Her head hurt and her stomach felt strange, so she took out the flask and tipped it back, feeling the warmth in her stomach. The scotch was dry, but it would help her.
The Met came into view, its stone steps coated lightly with white and one trail of footprints cutting through it. Leah walked through the path of trees on the sidewalk before continuing on towards the park entrance. She got splashed with a cool burst of air as a handful of cars sped down the street to interrupt her peace, the rumble of the bass rattling her insides.
Leah leaned against the metal fence that separated the reservoir from the sidewalk, looking out as far as her eyes would allow her. One thing she had missed from her home was the night sky. Here, there was too much light to see more than a handful of the brightest stars, and planes weaving around them like a middle school nerd through the hallways. A couple walked behind her, whispering to themselves. Leah didn’t bother to turn around. Since moving to New York she had come to despise happy couples. Maybe she was spiteful, or messed up, or something more.
She jammed her arm down the front of her jacket and turned her head to the side, making direct eye contact with a woman who was jogging down the sidewalk behind her. Go ahead, stare, she thought, I know how weird this looks. Leah slid the flask free and pulled down a few more swallows. Her headache was replaced with the lightweight feel of the alcohol coursing through her blood.
“For you gramps.” She tipped the flask just enough to splash some of the scotch into the reservoir. “And for the little fishy who filters that. Cheers.” Leah raised the flask in the air and took another long swallow to empty her stash.
She stood alone in central park, on the verge of drunkness, staring out at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis reservoir, the ripe old age of 27, and as depressingly single as one could possibly be. She let her mind wander back to Mollie and Anna and Nick, wondering which one of her two friends he was going to end up sleeping with and hoping it wasn’t both. Leah had met the girls in college, quite a few years ago, and they had never changed, including their lackluster mentality to stay funded off of their parents generosity.
With a sigh, Leah turned to leave. Too quickly, apparently, seeing as how the pavement almost met her face.
“Having a little fun tonight?”
She closed her eyes long enough to let the spinning subside before opening them to see her savior. He was a few inches taller than she, with dark blonde hair and a thin nose and frame, like a swimmer. His eyes were brown and he had I-need-a-vacation bags under his eyes matching her own.
“Thanks.” She brushed snow off of her grey jacket. Her heart fluttered in her chest, just slightly. Odd, she thought, she was more into women these days.
“You know, a pretty girl like yourself shouldn’t be out here all alone.” He smiled, showing off two crooked teeth that somehow added to his misplaced beauty.
“What does being attractive have to do with being murdered? If someone really wanted to kill someone, they wouldn’t just pick out a good looking victim.” She heard her own words slurring. What was she saying? Leah Whitmore wasn’t the kind of girl to blurt things out like that.
“I only meant that you should be home in the warmth.” He smiled. You’re making me pretty warm, Leah thought, hoping that she didn’t say it out loud and blushing immediately.
“Thanks again for not letting me fall.” She brushed past him, feeling the end of his long brown coat rub against her ankles.
“Can I walk you home?” He yelled from a few feet behind her. “Please?”
“Are you the murderer I should worry about?” Leah chuckled, holding her stomach as a wave of nausea overtook her.
“If you want me to be.” The man walked up to her, holding his hand out kindly with a crooked smirk on his lips. “I’m Chris, by the way.”
“Leah.” She kept her hand on her stomach and offered him a warm smile.
“See? Killers don’t introduce themselves to their victims, it’s too personal.”
“Spoken like a true villain. Uh oh.” Leah quickly jumped to the side and leaned over a railing to vomit over into a bush. Chris was at her side in seconds, pulling her hair back behind her neck. She turned to face him, wiping at her mouth nervously.
“I’ll walk you back.”
“I would feel better knowing that you are home than walking aimlessly around new york, come on.” He wiped tears that she didn’t know she had shed and placed his hands on her shoulders, offering Leah a sad smile. She cursed herself, Leah would meet a good guy with vomit on her lips. She hoped she didn’t look as pathetic as she felt.
Leah hardly remembered the walk home, but judging by the pain in her throat and a newfound tie in her hair, she could assume that she had vomited many more times. Chris was warm next to her, his hand placed gently on her back. He didn’t talk, but he hummed under his breath with a slight skip in his step.
“I can walk from here.” She stopped him at 84th and 1st, turning to shamefully meet his gaze. Her head was pounding now, each beat of her heart pulsing just behind her face. “I’m only a couple blocks down the street.” She hitched her thumb out.
“I told you I was going to walk you home and I fully intend on following through with my promise.”
“Really, you don’t need to,” Leah’s heart protested her words. “You’ve already gone out of your way.” She had no idea where he lived. Or maybe she just didn’t remember him mentioning it.
“I insist. Come on.” Chris laced his fingers through hers and pulled her ahead. Leah rolled her eyes trying to contain the smile that threatened to come out to play.
“Can I get you a drink? Coffee, water, wine…” They stood at her front door, the chill keeping her stomach at bay.
“I’ll take coffee, if you don’t mind.” He smiled. If her parents could see her right now, they would be angry and proud. Proud that she was charming and respectful to strangers, but mad by the word strangers. Her parents were entertainers and always had their door open. But to people they knew. Before she left they had told her not to trust people, that beauty was a facade to hide the ugly.
Danny and Katri were naked on the floor. Thankfully they had a blanket tossed over their midsections. Katri’s chest was hanging out, but it was nothing Leah hadn’t seen before, the girl was notorious for being shirtless. The elderly couple across the street knocked on her door the first week Katri lived here and asked to keep the blinds closed.
Chris raised his eyebrow, to which Leah dismissed with a wave and lead him into the kitchen.
The fresh smell of coffee was enticing, adding to the ambiance of the cold outside and the raging emptiness in Leah’s stomach. What a strange night.
“Do you live around here?” Leah made herself a cup and joined Chris at the table, sipping on a much-needed glass of water.
“I live on 79th street by Madison avenue. How about you let me borrow this mug and give me your number. I want to take you out, but the sun will be out soon, and I’m afraid I’m a bit of a vampire.” He smiled away a twinkle in his eyes.
“Really?” Leah was shocked at her own outburst, her cheeks glowing red. She put her number in his phone and waited at the door until the uber showed up to whisk him away. Her eyes closed as soon as her head hit the pillow, not even needing the background noise from the TV this time, until her phone buzzed, jarring her awake.
It’s Chris, your savior ; )
Just got home, so I’ll text you tomorrow.
It was great meeting you.
Leah smiled at her phone for a minute, going through a million responses before settling on:
You saved me from cuddling up next to a street beggar.
I’ll buy you coffee and a new opinion of me
Thanks again, honestly.
“Is that bacon I smell?” Katri walked into the kitchen with a big, comfy, grey sweater covering her top half, some pink underwear, and long fuzzy white socks. She had removed her makeup and her hair was falling flat against her head. She still had hints of her accent, despite having been out of sweden for almost ten years. Leah had been increasingly jealous of her naturally beautiful friend.
“It is, eat.” Leah pointed to a plate on the table with a steaming hot combination of eggs, bacon, wheat toast, and a cup of hot coffee and a glass of water, with two red pills sitting next to the glass. Katri thanked Leah with a hug and a familiar platonic peck on the cheek. “Where is Prince Sex Charming?” She winked at her blonde friend, cocking one eyebrow. Katri blushed and gave her an apologetic smile.
“You heard that?”
“I wish I didn’t.” Leah took a sip of her coffee, poured the rest of the eggs onto her own plate and turned off the stove to join her friend at the table. They gossiped through breakfast, taking a quick break so Katri could run to the toilet.
Afterwards, Leah went back to her room to change, getting ready for her morning run, and saw the light blinking on her phone
I have extra tickets to see a show tonight, you interested? Chris had typed out with a slew of happy faces. Leah rolled her eyes trying to push down the gushing happiness in the pit of her stomach.
What show? She sent, throwing the phone on her bed and waiting nervously. One minute felt like an eternity, but her phone finally buzzed.
Does it matter? He replied with a winky face.
When and where?
I’ll pick you up at 18:30, the show is at 20:00. Wear something red.
She blushed, biting her bottom lip. Military time? How classy!
She tried prying for more information with no luck, he wouldn’t budge. But Leah was giddy anyways. And anxious, and ready, and happy. She stood and took a few deep breaths, trying to calm the fairies that were bouncing around in her chest.
Unfortunately, Leah had to get through the work day first. She stared at her phone, rereading the messages from this morning and letting the excitement grow. She paced around her office, walking back and forth in front of the window, too amped up to stay seated in front of her computer.
Finally the clock struck four and she darted. She had already sent her desk phone to voicemail and put her monitor to sleep, then put a couple ounces of water into her plant and blew out the candle that she had lit after lunch. It was her daily routine before she locked up her office. Leah had told herself that it was her blatant OCD that got her the better position available at the bank she applied to. She was not charming, or social, nor did she have any of the good qualities that would have won the interviewer over with just a smile. She had relied solely on her impressive resume and her ability to reach the top of her other jobs.
Leah opened the front door to the apartment and put her keys on the tray in their normal spot and hung her jacket, feeling her phone buzz in her pocket.
Don’t forget about me! Chris had sent.
Who is this again? She replied with a slew of bubbly faces and locked the phone.
Step one: shower/shave. Leah didn’t want to assume anything, but she wanted to be ready if the moment arose.
Step two: makeup. She had followed countless internet videos on how to properly put on enough makeup without looking like a drag queen, but she had never put it into practice. The end result was better than she expected, but questionable to the professional eye.
Step three: Wear something red? She had a gorgeous navy dress in her closet, along with a red belt that would fit well and red heels that she almost threw out when she moved to the city. Perfect. She paired that with a ruby necklace that had been passed down through the Whitmore women for several generations.
Step four: Take a shit. Leah had nervous bowels, and didn’t want to have to deal with that tonight.
She spritzed a layer of her favorite perfume, tucked the jacket over her arm, and sat on the couch nervously bouncing her leg.
Her phone buzzed just as the door did. Leah leapt up, knocking her phone off of her lap and ignoring it. Her hands shook as she pulled the handle, the brass slipping under her hands just slightly. A rush of cold air greeted her as she pulled the door open, her smile too bright.
“Oh, it’s just you.” Leah’s shoulders drooped as she sidestepped to allow Anna inside, fresh snow coating her hat and the ends of her brown hair, but made her blue eyes steely.
“Well hello to you too.” Anna rolled her eyes and walked in, pulling the scarf off of her neck and hanging it up on one of the hooks. “I am so hungover Lee,” She yanked her jacket off and tossed it into the corner and headed into the kitchen. Leah was not sure how the girl managed to eat non-stop and still be able to hide behind a telephone pole.
Stuck in traffic. New York is great right? She read the text, biting her bottom lip and responded with a nonchalant No rush!
“Who’s that?” Anna poked her head out of the kitchen spoon-in-hand.
“Who slept with Nick?” Leah raised her eyebrow and crossed her arms over her chest, changing the subject. Anna blushed and dipped back in the kitchen.
“Does it matter?” Anna yelled around something in her mouth.
“I know you did.” Leah joined her in the kitchen, taking a sip of the coffee she had just brewed.
“Not just me.” She avoided Leah’s glare. “Are we going out again tonight?” She broke two eggs into a mixing bowl and started whisking.
“Not tonight, I have plans.” Anna and Mollie would be going back home to Indiana in three more days. Leah had given them a list of things to do to occupy themselves during the time that she worked, because the last thing she needed was two country girls walking aimlessly through new york.
“With who?” Anna froze, partially insulted, partially interested.
Leah felt her phone buzz in her pocket, and the bell at the door chimed. This time, hopefully, it was Chris. She bounded to the door, standing to fix her hair and adjust her dress in the hall mirror before pulling the locks free.
His smile was genuine. Today he wore a long black coat, black shoes, black pants, a crisp red shirt, and a black tie. Leah’s jaw dropped to the floor wordlessly.
“You look great.” She swallowed hard, the words barely coming out. One side of his lips lifted into a smile, fire burning in his eyes.
“You are absolutely stunning.” Leah felt the heat rising to her cheeks, Chris’s eyes moving up and down her body.
“Hello strange man who Leah hasn’t told me about yet.” Anna came out of the kitchen, swaying her hips more than usual, and extended her hand out. Leah knew this look, and she was surprised Anna hadn’t stuck her chest out more or purposefully pulled down the front of her shirt. She was a predator, as Leah had always thought.
“Chris, this is an old friend Anna, and Anna, this is my savior. Happy? Come on.” Leah tugged Chris’s arm and lead him out the front door before Anna could work in any more of her magic, yelling for her to lock up before she left. Chris opened the door to a rather flashy car and closed it once she was in, then dodged traffic to get into the driver side and roar away. “What show are we seeing?” her heart pounded in her chest. The car was quiet, blocking out the sounds of the city outside.
“Phantom of the Opera.” She could hear the smile in his voice. Leah was looking at the road ahead of her, her hands gripped tightly together as he smoothly ripped through traffic with expert grace.
“My favorite.” She had seen the play for the first time when she was in the 8th grade, and had loved it ever since.
“Mine too.” He chuckled. She could hear his voice directly in her left ear- he had turned to look at her- but she didn’t meet his gaze. “Are you scared?”
“I get anxiety when I’m not the one driving.” She had vietnam flashbacks to when she was in three separate car accidents before she was 17, all while someone else was driving. When she finally got a car she was the one who drove. Period. Moving to New York changed that, as she decided that having a car was more hassle than it was worth, especially when most things were within walking distance. But that didn’t stop the anxiety that spread.
“Would you like to drive then?” She looked at him this time, a wild smile lighting up his face.
“What?” Was all she could come up with, punching herself mentally.
Chris pulled off to the side of the road and into a convenient parking spot. “Here, switch.” he was actually letting her drive. Leah slid across the center console and made herself comfy in the chair while Chris plugged himself into the passenger seat. “Have you ever driven a manual before?”
Leah looked at him sideways. Please, she lived on a farm. She had been driving since she was ten, and several of the machines were manual. She pulled out into traffic and melted into the car, becoming one with it. He directed her where to go and she was a master of the road. She had never felt so comfortable driving on the reckless streets of New York as she did right at that moment.
They pulled onto broadway and parked a couple blocks from the theater to walk the rest of the way.
“Sir,” The gentleman collecting tickets outside the theater bowed at Chris and Leah, much to her horror and surprise. Chris produced two large tickets printed on thick paper and happily pulled Leah inside. He waved at every staff member as they went in, even stopped and grabbed a bag of popcorn, which she noticed he didn’t pay for.
Turns out they had seats in the balcony. Leah didn’t quite know how to react as he lead her to their seats. But the place was gorgeous, covered in paintings and murals and sculptures. People were filling into their seats slowly but surely as time ticked closer and closer to eight.
“How did you manage to get these seats?” Leah finally asked, after stewing over the question for a long time.
“Well you see, I own the place.” His cheeks turned red and he cleared his throat, waving at a man in the 3rd row.
“You own it.” She blinked slowly, really looking at him now.
“Does that scare you?” His smile was dangerous, but the twinkle in his eye even more so.
“At the very least, it is quite intimidating.” She cleared her throat and fixed her dress. “Why something red?” She asked randomly, trying to focus her mind on something else.
“Because I like it, and I imagined you would look good in it. Which, I must add, I underestimated just how good.”
The curtain dropped just in time to hide the flush that had certainly covered her cheeks. She owed him more than just a kiss now.
“Knock it off back there.” The cab driver banged on the plexiglass that separated him from us. He swore under his breath in hindi and threatened to charge extra. Leah couldn’t blame him, though, Chris did have his hands between her legs and the back windows were starting to fog quite a bit.
Tonight he took her out on his boat, pulling out over the ocean and then letting the water take us where we wanted it. At first I marveled in the beauty of it all as the sun slowly melted over the water, Indiana didn’t have anything that matched this sight, but then a curtain of dark dropped and the two of them got busy below deck. Why not, she thought, it was the third date after all.
They had gone to dinner afterwards, Leah hoping that her post-sex glow wasn’t too obvious, but also too pleased to care. Now they were headed back to her apartment to go a couple more rounds and then get some sleep.
Chris pulled her face towards her, holding her chin while he examined her, his bottom lip tucked just slightly between his teeth. “Have I told you how pretty you are?” He said again, searching her eyes.
“Once or twice.” His smile drooped, barely noticeable. “But I like it.” She kissed his nose sweetly, holding his hand against her cheek. Leah’s heart fluttered a million beats a minute, her breathing getting quicker. This was the third official date they had been on, not including various movies at their respective places and a couple late-night walks, and Leah felt quite strongly for the man that sat next to her. She tried to fight it, to tell herself that something was going to happen and not to get attached, but she let herself get comfortable for once.
The cab stopped and the driver turned to look at us with greedy eyes.
“This isn’t our stop.” Leah had opened the door and frantically shut it before too much of the warmth got out.
“This was the address I got. Get out of my cab.” The driver stared daggers at the two in his car.
“I’ll pay for another drive, just take us to the right place.” Chris was pulling his wallet out of his back pocket.
“Get out!” the driver yelled once more before cursing us in his native tongue some more. Leah passed money to him and got out of the cab with Chris.
They were at a cemetary.
Of course, because where else would this story have gone?
There was snow on the ground, but none of it touched the cemetery at all. In fact, there was a foot-wide grass mote around the fence, where all footfalls disappeared from. Here, the wind played with the trees and grass and shrubs to create a welcome tune that pulled Leah towards it, like a siren of death wailing her perfect tune.
“Leah, wait. Let me call another cab. Just stay here.” Chris was nervous, his fingers tracing quickly over his phone as if he was looking for something that wasn’t really there.
“Go for it, but I’m looking around.” She had always had a morbid fascination with cemeteries and all things surrounding death. She didn’t get a chance to visit many of them since she had moved to the big city, but what better time than the present?
“Wait, Leah.” Chris ran after her and tried to pull her back, but she was strong. “This place is giving me the creeps.” He called after her, Leah pulled open the creaking iron gate and slid inside, watching as the ground glowed as she stepped upon it. In hindsight, that fact alone should have scared her away, but Leah felt right, and she had always followed her passions.
She walked aimlessly through the cemetery, using the light from her phone to illuminate the names on the headstones. The dates fascinated her the most. Her mother always told her that her obsessions would “either plant you a permanent spot in hell, or at most a trial-run basis at the pearly gates.”
One headstone, very ordinary in looks save for the single red rose that sat atop it, tugged at her. It was towards the back of the cemetery, winding her through several rows and past a mausoleum. She ran her fingers across the letters, something she did often. This was not the first grave marker to draw her in, there was always one at each cemetery she visited that seemed to sing to her. Leah only ever told her mother this fact, to which was told her to keep it a secret, that people would think she was weird.
May death serve you better.
“May death serve you better.” Leah said aloud. It had a ring to it, she thought, her voice making the words sound like velvet. “Hm,” She repeated it a few more times as she sat in the grass, her eyes fully adjusted to the dark now.
Did you get a cab? Or did you try Uber? She sent the text to Chris, watching the circle next to the message try to send, but she was down to no bars.
Of course, what kind of love story-turned suspense wouldn’t play that card?
Leah stood, placing her hand on the grave marker. “May death serve you better, Jossette.” She kissed her fingers and placed it on the stone.
“Leah,” She turned, startled, to see a dark shadow of a man. “we’ve been waiting for you.”
Stay tuned for the next installment of Banes of Fate!
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