August 24, 2020

“The Beholder,” A Short Story by Fiama Mastrangelo

“The Beholder,” A Short Story by Fiama Mastrangelo

You blink your eyes open and stretch your arms above your head.  You’re wearing an extra-large cotton t-shirt this morning—one that you got for free in your freshman year and never threw out.  Your dark brown hair is splayed out on the pillowcase and is exceptionally messy.  I wonder if you were feeling lazy or if you just didn’t care what I would think when you decided on this look last night.  We can work on that. 

I watch you get up and move into the bathroom.  I can hear you washing your face, brushing your teeth.  You turn on the shower and the noise of running water fills the room.  No steam, it’s cold water.  Hot water will age you, remember?  I wouldn’t like that at all.     

I told you that your legs felt prickly last night.  I wonder if you remember that this morning, while you are in the shower.  I like smooth legs, is what I told you.  Your legs are too beautiful to be hidden, I said.  You smiled so wide, so unaware.  When you walk out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel, I notice how smooth your legs are.  I don’t think you have any idea of what I am doing to you.  You see that I’m awake.  You jump into bed and kiss me.  I rest my hand on your thigh.     

When you get up, you grab your makeup bag and sit by the window.  The daylight streams in and your skin glistens.  You have a natural glow to your complexion, and your green eyes are framed by long natural eyelashes.  Honestly, I think you look beautiful without makeup.  But that would not set a good precedent for us, if you stopped worrying about what I think.  That was my mistake last time.  Wear your red lipstick today, I say.  You look beautiful in red.       

I get up eventually.  While I am in the shower, I hear you blow drying your hair and styling it just the way I like it.  I smile as the water runs down my face.  You’re learning so quickly. 

When I step out of the bathroom, you’re standing with your back to me, buttoning up a white, flowy shirt.  Your jeans are well fitted and show off the physique we’ve been working on together.  I get dressed and watch you as you slip on your red flats.  They match your lipstick.   

When you go into the kitchen, I reach into my bedside drawer and pull out the necklace I’ve been waiting to give you.  It’s going to drape over your collarbones, like an exquisite shackle.  You belong to me; this is the physical manifestation of my power over you.  This, and the red lipstick.  I follow the smell of French pressed coffee with the necklace coiled in my hand.   

You’re standing over the toaster and singing along to your morning playlist.  The toast pops up, and you delicately place the pieces on a plate.  You open a cabinet and strain to reach the top shelf, where I keep the peanut butter.  I come up behind you and kiss the back of your head, easily reaching the peanut butter and setting it down on the counter next to you.  I keep a lot of everyday things on the top shelf—a reminder of how much you need me.  You lean into me and sing more softly.  I reach around your neck and dangle the necklace in front of you.  You love it.  The gold chain is studded by crystals and frames your neck.  An expensive collar, more expensive than what I adorned the girls before you with.  I wonder if they’ll see this necklace on you and feel small and cheap.   

You prepare breakfast and I answer emails at the kitchen table.  I connect my phone to the kitchen speaker and play the playlist I made for you.  You smile because our song comes on.  I notice you quietly turn off the music playing from your phone.   

You made us peanut butter and banana toast with a sprinkle of chia seeds and homemade raspberry jam.  This isn’t nearly enough protein to get me through the morning.  No such thing as too much protein, I say, going into the kitchen to get the hard-boiled eggs we meal-prepped together.  I notice you looking out of the corner of your eye.  Something to remember for next time. 

When it’s time to leave, I get your coat for you.  We stand at the doorway and I grab your hand and pull you towards me.  I kiss your cheek and run my fingers through your hair.  You are so beautiful, I tell you.  You beam and lean your head into my hand.  This is what you will remember from this morning.  How gentle I am.  How much I love you.  This is what you’ll tell your friends about.  Your ever-vigilant friends, who know not to trust the men you love.  I tuck a strand of hair behind your ear.  My style is much more subtle than they’re used to.  I inflict my wounds onto your psyche, not your body.   

We go into our separate cars and I watch you pull out of the driveway, ahead of me.  You might be the one I keep, after all.  It would be a shame to have to start all over again, after all of this progress we’ve made.  But for today at least, I know that every moment that you spend apart from me, I will be in your every move, every thought, and every feeling.  You belong to me, and even if you leave me, I will never leave you.  Just look at all the others before you, with their less expensive chains that they still display on their necks.  You’re not as special as I’m making you out to feel, and in little ways I will remind you.  But for today, I will allow you to feel special; to feel that you are in control of you.  Tomorrow we can work on that messy brown hair, and I think you’ll find that you really always wanted to be blonde instead. 

***

Fiama Mastrangelo is an English and Psychology student at the University of West Florida and a real-life barista at a vegan brunch restaurant.  She loves all cafés—both the fictional and nonfictional varieties.  “The Beholder” is her first published story and she is thrilled to join the author roll at The Fictional Café!  You can find her full e-portfolio at  https://portfolium.com/fmm7.   

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