The Devastating Mr. Wilder
- Genre: Romance
- Age: 18+
- Status: Completed
- Language: English
- Author: Mathieu Forest
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
—Pablo Neruda, Love Sonnet 17
I’d always thought of New York as something straight out of the movies – the Manhattan skyline at night and digital billboards which flashed intermittently across Fifth Avenue at all hours; couples walking hand-in-hand during winter as a lone saxophonist played with his instrument case open so passersby would drop whatever change they managed to scrounge up to show that they appreciated him.
Barely maintaining my balance in the sky-high heels I had on as I held back Paula’s hair while she puked her guts into a toilet, however, was proving to be an effective reminder that Hollywood had been built on nothing but lies.
“Are you finished?” I asked my best friend after a long moment passed, and she leaned back onto her haunches, giving me an almost pitiful thumbs-up as she used the back of her hand to wipe at her mouth.
Unsurprisingly, I found my eyes trailing down to the spot where her knees met the bathroom floors and swallowed down bile as my mind conjured up an image of tiny bacteria crawling up her legs from the ground to form homes in her skin pores. Quickly I looked away, focusing on the task at hand: Making sure my best friend got nothing unsavory in her hair.
“Yeah,” Paula said hoarsely, most likely a side effect of the fact that she’d spent the past ten minutes vomiting. “Yeah, I think I’m good.”
Still, she remained motionless, and as a result, I did too.
The fluorescent bulbs of the bathroom were tinged a dark shade of neon pink that made my dress appear so crimson it looked black, and through the soles of my heels, I could feel the bass of the speakers as they thumped, reverberating up my legs and leaving me with a headache.
A club was the last place on earth that I wanted to be in, but Paula had insisted, using the guise of my move as an occasion that warranted a celebratory girl’s night out. Completely ignoring all of my protests, she’d rummaged through my wardrobe for clothes, discarding everything until she came upon a red dress so short it could’ve been a top in its own right, which I’d impulse bought at a Nordstrom store but never had the nerve to wear out in public. Triumphantly holding it up, she’d declared that I was about to have a night I would never forget.
In some ways she’d told the truth, though I guess the both of us cramped into a tight bathroom stall barely forty-eight hours after I’d touched down in Manhattan hadn’t been how she’d predicted the evening would go.
As if she could read my thoughts, Paula said, “I did not see this night going the way it has so far.
She made to stand up and would’ve fallen headfirst into the toilet if I hadn’t caught her at just the last second, planting my legs wide apart to support her weight and mine.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” she protested, “just dizzy. But it’s worn off; stupid stomach bug.”
Ignoring her words, I relinquished my support only after I was sure she could stand upright and not a minute before.
“You know it’s not too early to head back home,” I said in reply to her earlier statement. A quick glance at the gold link wristwatch I never took off told me it was only a quarter to twelve, considerably early for a weekend night, especially when you took into account the fact that tomorrow was a Sunday.
“We’ll salvage the rest of the evening,” I rushed on hopefully, noticing the firm expression as it began to settle on her face. “Put on our PJs; stuff ourselves full of microwaved popcorn and binge-watch Gossip Girl?”
We’d met at a student’s orientation in our freshman year off college, and I recognized that look for what it was. Paula had never been the type to let go of an idea easily, and as soon as she got one into her head she’d see it through to the very bitter end. Stomach bug be damned.
“No,” she said, vehemently shaking her head. “This place had a weeks-long waitlist, and I had to pull a lot of strings to see that we’d have the night of our lives. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
Her tone brokered no room for arguments, and as if to underscore her point she glided past me with the grace of an empress, heading straight to the lavatory, where she rinsed her mouth before holding out a hand for her little clutch, which I passed onto her obediently.
Out of it she pulled out a bottle of pills that she uncapped, retrieving a single tablet that she dry-swallowed; and then a tube of lipstick, which she applied generously. Our eyes met in the mirror briefly before she looked away, leaving me to stare into my reflection in the mirror: Lips a perfect red bow, with hair pulled up into a sophisticated bun which left stray tendrils falling over my collarbone.
The effect was stunning, rendering me in ways that were at once innocent, but dangerous too, and it crossed my mind that if I looked like this all the time then maybe David wouldn’t have cheated, effectively throwing out five years’ worth of a love I’d anchored myself to build my identity around out the window. And if that hadn’t happened, maybe I’d be comfortably tucked away in our apartment right now, not in a new city or this bathroom, shackled with a best friend who believed in alcohol as the one true remedy – however temporary – to cure a broken heart.
“Hey, Rory,” Paula called, snapping me out of my reverie. It took me a moment to realize that she had been calling my name, and I blinked, pasting on a bright smile to ease the worry I could see etched on her face.
“You good, babe?” she asked, and I realized that she was offering me a get-out-of-jail free card. One word out of me and we would be headed out of here just as swiftly as we’d arrived. What I’d wished for with every fiber of my being since Paula suggested this outing.
But giving in at that moment felt like an admission of surrender to David, proof that even with over two hundred miles between us he could still affect me in a thousand little ways.
The anger came as a welcome gift, rising up from somewhere deep inside and I embraced it wholeheartedly.
Making a show of rolling my shoulders like I was about to get into a fighting ring, I shot Paula a wicked smile.
“Not really, but having the best night of my life could change that,” I said, watching a similar smirk creep up her face.
“That’s my girl,” Paula murmured, blowing me a wink and kiss before interlacing her arm through mine. “Tonight, we’re raising hell and showing the devils how it’s done.”
Together, we exited the restroom.
Unsurprisingly my bravado escaped me as soon as we arrived on the dance floor, a landscape of bodies pressed together, awash in strobes of red and green from the rotating lights in the ceiling.
It wasn’t until Paula tugged at my arm that I realized I’d stopped moving, and my anxiety must’ve come rolling off in waves as her gaze softened and she offered an encouraging smile.
“Just one dance,” she said, having to lean over and shout so I could hear her over the music. “One dance, and if you aren’t feeling it, we’ll go home and watch Gossip Girl, deal?”
I said nothing, and Paula must’ve taken that as all the answer she needed as she made to pull me to the dance floor, but I remained rooted. She turned to me, a puzzling and somewhat annoyed look flashing across her face.
“Rory, I know this isn’t your type of place,” she began – no shit, I thought – “but this is New York, and sooner or later you’re going to need to come out of that shell, or this city will eat you alive. Live a little!”
A beat passed between us, and then I let out a defeated sigh.
“One dance,” I shouted, holding up a finger, “and after that, we’ll head home.”
“Yes!” Paula said, the corner of her eyes crinkling in delight as she grabbed my palm and pulled me into the crush, pausing for a moment to get her bearing before deftly skillfully weaving through the masses until we got to a shaded area of the floor that wasn’t as cramped, then she turned, flashing me a mischievous grin which I found myself returning.
With both of my hands clasped in hers, she began to dance, slowly at first, for my benefit, as I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t crash to the floor at any second in the shoes I had on. I rarely ever wore heels, and so when I did there was a moment of acclimatization, after which I got the hang of things.
But walking was one thing and dancing another, still, I was a fast learner, and pretty soon, we’d dominated our own little corner – the darkness allowing me a level of confidence I usually wouldn’t have had in public as I began to sway my hips from side to side.
I’ll admit it; I was a pretty good dancer.
Even without the years of ballet lessons I could boast of, I’d always loved the act of it giving into your body’s impulses, letting it take over. Paula knew this, as she was one of the only people I felt comfortable enough to dance in front of, and she had used it to her advantage. I realized after what must’ve been fifteen minutes of nonstop dancing how much fun I was actually having.
We paused to catch our breaths, and I marveled at Paula’s hairstyling prowess as somehow my up-do had remained intact through the whole exercise.
“One dance and we’re out, right?” Paula teased, to which I replied by turning around and giving a small shake of my ass.
She bent over and laughed at the novelty of my antics. As Paula straightened, a Top 40 song that even I recognized as being the country’s unofficial summer jam started up to shouts of approval from the crowd, and it was like an electric current ran through everyone. Even I found myself dancing with renewed vigor, fingers playing at the hem of my already sinfully short slip of a dress.
I closed my eyes and let the music take over, allowing my body to do the talking as I gave into the luxury of completely forgetting where I was.
All too soon, I was jolted out of this state when I felt a prickling sensation start up on my skin. My eyes flew open, and I whirled around to find there was no one behind me. I stilled, letting my eyes scan the dance floor for anything out of the ordinary. A task that left me feeling sorely disappointed, as my search revealed nothing to me except people intent on having a good time.
And so I broadened my horizons.
As Paula mentioned the club was a pretty high-end one with two floors, each supported by Romanesque columns. We were on the ground floor, and so I looked up, and within seconds, I’d zoned in on a man on the second floor who stood with his hands splayed across the railings, legs planted firmly as he took in everything in the same way a king would a kingdom he’d built from the ground up.
He wore a button-up, but that was all I could tell as he remained writhed in darkness in his secluded corner, which is why I found it surprising how I knew without a shadow of a doubt that his eyes were on me. I felt rooted to the spot, unable to move past the force of the invisible gaze of a man who could’ve been anyone. A stranger whose features I couldn’t even make out.
He didn’t budge, and neither did I, as slowly a sliver of self-consciousness began to make its way through me, and I felt my face flare up. Swallowing, I realized that I was thirstier than I could ever remember being, and with that came a sudden return to reality.
I looked to my side to find Paula still dancing, and when I called her name, she was startled but composed herself in record time enough to let her know that I was going to get something to drink.
She informed me that the bar was located on the second floor before asking me to get her something on my way back, to which I nodded.
A cursory glance was thrown over my shoulder as I made a beeline for the nearest staircase, proving my suspicions that the man in the shadows had disappeared.