He hadn’t had much experience with dating, let alone an actual girlfriend, but she was here, finally. He’d known that they were destined from the first moment he’d seen her floating across campus in that brilliant yellow sundress. There had been a group of girls, all in brightly colored dresses that always inhabited late summer in the city. And even though she wasn’t the prettiest or most voluptuous of the group, she was the one that caught his attention.
It was the smile, he supposed. The bright slightly buck toothed grin that made her face light up. Or the curls. Her face was encircled by a halo of brilliant auburn curls that bounced and bobbed with each step she took on that warm summer afternoon. Thick curls that bounced against smooth tawny shoulders that glistened with some lotion that smelled of strawberries as she passed him. She’d brushed against him, whispering an apology as she turned to face him without seeing him and his breath caught.
She had eyes that were an unfathomable, coffee brown and dimples that made her look even more angelic to him. They were deep, like divots in smooth skin that would have looked strange on anyone else, but on her they were enchanting. She’d turned back to her friends then, laughing at something one of the other girls said, moving away from him.
He’d found himself following the gaggle of giggling girls as they made their way across campus from the dining hall , past the lake to their sorority house. He remembered thinking that he should have realized that these were sorority girls; they always seemed to travel in packs. Well, to him anyway, a pack of exotic creatures that lived in big houses on the edge of campus like gilded cages. He paused when they mounted the steps to the front porch that wrapped around the mansion. Yes, mansion was the only term that would fit this palace. As she followed the others into the house, she’d turned to look at him, her brow furrowing curiously at him, before she seemed to shrug and close the door.
He had been infatuated with her from that point on, wanting to know everything about this daffodil of a girl.
He discovered, after much inquiry, that her name was Daisy Pendergast from Savannah, Georgia. That she was sophomore biology major, a member of Greek Council and Student body treasurer. He learned that she was a cheerleader and that she sometimes sang with a Jazz quartet, when she had time. She was also president of the Gamma Delta Alpha sorority and dated Wilson ‘Beau’ Grayson off and on. Wilson Grayson, son of Senator Paul Grayson of Virginia, and at that moment, they were off. No one knew why, since by all account Beau was completely enamored with Daisy. To the point of reenacting scene from her favorite movie “Say Anything’ one rainy Sunday afternoon.
Beau had found an old trench coat and stood beneath the balcony of the Gamma house, playing her favorite song, as she and her sisters watched and swooned. Daisy had simply stared, her pretty face blank as the handsome, and yes he was movie star handsome, Beau poured his heart out to her.
He begged her to come down and talk to him, his good looks and sweet disposition doing nothing to ebb her sour mood. Nor did the encouragement of her sisters persuade her to go down and ‘talk to him, Daisy.” Instead, she turned away, disappearing into the darkness of the house, leaving sweet handsome Beau standing in the rain, boom box in hand.
He’d watched her for three weeks after that before finally getting the nerve to speak to her. It was in the Library one Friday night. She was alone, trying to get some program to open on her laptop. She continued to get an error, locking her out of the University WI-FI and adding to her growing frustration. Knowing what to do, he’d eased over to her and nervously tapped her shoulder. She looked at him, her eyes narrowed suspiciously, her face tense as if she were waiting for a come on or lame pick up line. He assumed someone like Daisy received unprovoked come-ons daily. He’d bore witness to more than one. There was something in her face that gave him pause, a hardness he’d never noticed before, a calculating menace that all pretty girls seemed to have.
“I can help with that.” He’d said in a soft, low voice. Her face immediately softened once she took him in, that adorable bucktoothed smile lighting her coffee brown eyes. He knew that he was as non-threatening as one man could be, standing all of five foot nine, only a few inches taller than Daisy. He was slight, not skinny, just slight with decent muscle tone, he supposed. He wasn’t the strapping Beau Grayson, but he wasn’t a ninety pound weakling either. He was by all accounts, and by his own admission, very average. His eyes were brown, not coffee or honey or amber, just brown. His hair was dark blond just a shade or two shy of brown, but not light enough to be anything spectacular, and was brushed away from a face that was barely memorable. He was, as one girl he’d had a crush on in high school had once told him, utterly passable. That’s it. Not handsome, not ugly or striking, just passable.
“Can you really?” She asked in a honey dipped Southern drawl that was warm and inviting.
“Yes. I’m a TA in the computer sciences- I can help with that.” She smiled wider and a light filled her eyes.
“Please,” She motioned for him to take the seat beside her and turned the offending laptop to him. “I have a project that needs to be posted in-“She checked her delicate gold watch.” Twenty minutes.” She groaned.
“No problem. I can have you in ….” He tapped a few keys and then smiled. “Now.” She looked at the screen and saw that she was connected to the Internet. She squealed excitedly, that smile radiating and those dimples shining up at him.
“Thanks so much,” She said embracing him.
“Michael Smith.” He said. “My name is Mike.” Mike Smith, an ordinary, unremarkable name for an unremarkable young man. It was as the rest of him, passable. She nodded and held him tighter.
“You are a life saver Mike.” She released him, her smile still in place as her tiny fingers moved over the keyboard. She hit the enter button with a flourish and a message popped up on the screen letting her know that her project had been accepted. She turned that smile on him again.
“Just in time. Thanks Mike. I’m Daisy by the way.” She said.
“I know.” He cursed himself for that. It was never a good idea to let a girl like Daisy have the upper hand, especially for a guy like him. But she didn’t seem to notice or didn’t care. Of course, pretty girls were always well known, from middle school until the end of time.
“Well, Mike Smith. I would offer you a coffee, but I have got to get going. I have a study group and I am tots late.” Then she was gone half running, half skipping that adorable smile on an angelic face.
Over the next few weeks, he’d made a point, then of being wherever she was, conveniently running into her on a campus as one did with friends. It was as strange thing that happened in small towns and on college campuses when you met someone, even just a casual acquaintance, you see them everywhere. It’s never suspicious because there aren’t that many places one can go. Not really. Not in a college town like this one, not when everyone went to the same restaurants and clubs, one of the two ice cream parlors and the one movie theater, it was inevitable. The key, he knew, to following someone is to not follow them.
The key was to be where ever they were going to be before they arrived. That way they could never accuse you of following them. In all actuality, it made it seem as if they were following you. Especially when you were someone as passable and un-extraordinary like good old, forgettable Mike Smith.
But she hadn’t forgotten him.
As a matter of fact, she made a point of greeting him warmly whenever she saw him. She would smile that genuine smile and flip those auburn curls and talk to him. When she spotted him in the dining hall, she would sit beside him and chat him up. She introduced him to her friends one night as they passed him at a local pub, referring to him as her friend Mikey. She never realized that he knew her plans well in advance, because he was smart about it.
He didn’t always show up. Sometimes he watched her from afar and other times he just stayed at home, biding his time. On the nights he didn’t go out, he would watch her. He’d managed to hack into her laptop, all he’d needed was an IP address, which he’d found that night in the library. He’d lay with the lights out and watch her sleep, his finger tracing the outline of her face as she rested. She wore black shorts and a cami to bed, nothing overtly sexy, but on her it was. She had a birthmark, a small thing that looked like an hourglass, just above the cutest bellybutton he’d ever seen. It intrigued him and made her even more attractive to him, and he didn’t know why. Those thick curls were natural, she would take her time brushing them until they shone in thick waves, but they would always spring back into corkscrew curls by the morning.
She didn’t spend as much time with the other girls as he would have thought, since she always seemed to be with at least two of them while walking across campus. She would go into her room and study, alone. On the rare occasion she wasn’t alone was when she reconciled with good old Beau. Beau who come over and cuddle with her beneath the covers and watch movies, his big hands sinking into those thick curls. When they were together, it was the hardest time for him to watch, but he would, looking for something to remove the other man from her life. But Beau, he had to admit, was nothing but a loving gentleman.
Mike thought Beau would be an oaf, a clumsy boorish troll like his fraternity brethren. He, unlike Mike, was not at all passable. Beau with the thick dark hair and deep hunter green eyes could have easily been a dick. He had the looks, he had the money and he had the girl. In high school he had known dozens of Beau’s but none were as genuinely nice as this young man. He wished that he was a complete muscle headed douche; it would have made him so much easier to hate, easier to insinuate things to poison her against him. But, Beau was none of the things, at least not with her.
He treated her as if she were the most precious thing on this earth and that he would do anything for her. He’d bring her soup when she was sick, and rubbed her feet after one of her five mile jogs. He would spend hours with her, cuddled up on her bed watching movies. He would sink those big hands of his into her thick curls and kiss her until her cheeks were flush. He would cup her perfect breasts and brush his lips along her neck, while whispering words of love into her ear.
How Mike hated him in those moments. Hated that she allowed him that intimacy, that closeness. She would revel in his love, smiling up at him with those deep dimples and kiss his cheek. She rested her hand on his muscled chest, curl up on his lap and run her fingers through his hair. She looked at him as if he hung the moon and the stars and Mike despised him for that.
Beau, nice as he was, was not who she needed. Beau couldn’t make her as happy as he could. But he would bide his time and wait, his time would come. It always came because as nice as he was, extraordinary men like Beau always screwed up.
His chance came just as the weather turned cold in late November, just as the campus was coated in white for the first time that semester. By then, Mike had become her friend, welcomed at parties and nights at the pub. He was accepted and it was understood that old passable Mikey was one of the group. He had no affiliation to any fraternity or sorority, he didn’t play sports or was part of any campus organization, his only connection to any of them, the beautiful ones, was Daisy. Daisy liked him, so everyone liked him because everyone loved Daisy.
Even Mr. Perfect, Beau liked him because a un- extraordinary young man like Mike Smith was no threat to the amazing Beau Grayson. There was no competition, no jealousy when he spent hours with Daisy in dark libraries or on the quad. Beau didn’t worry when Daisy took care of him when he had the flu or even when she canceled a date so she could support Mike during a play he’d foolishly auditioned for at her behest. He’d dreaded being on stage and hated the fact that he’d even accepted a role, albeit a tiny one, in the university’s production of Our Town. All he had to do was be around, and wait.
And he hadn’t even had to wait very long. The tension began when Beau asked Daisy to come home with him over Thanksgiving break.
“I just don’t know what to do about it, Mikey.” She confided in him one blustery fall after noon as they walked to the dining hall together.
“Do you want to go?” Mike asked, trying to side as nonchalant as possible.
“I do, but going home with him is a big step. Don’t you understand what it would mean?” Of course he knew. This was Beau’s big play; she was going to meet his family. The entire Grayson clan would converge at the family compound so they could size her up. Taking her home would be Beau declaring to his family that Daisy was the one, the future Mrs. Wilson Grayson. But he couldn’t let her know that. He had to play cool, it wouldn’t work otherwise.
“That he wants to show off his family chalet?” He joked and she managed a little laugh.
“That he’s serious.” She said.
“And you aren’t?” He asked.” I thought you loved him, that he was the greatest guy ever.”
She paused then, standing under the arching limbs of the snow covered cherry blossoms. She looked up at him, her curls covered by a knit cap in soft white, matching her cashmere coat and gloves. Looking at her, with her cheeks a deep rosy pink from the cold, those curls peeking from beneath that hat, he thought this must have been what she looked like as a child. This is what her children would look like.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love Beau. I really do, but I’m not sure if I’m ready for marriage.”
Mike put and arm around her shoulders and smiled down at her with his unremarkable smile and nodded.
“Then take your time and think about it. Who said you had to say yes?” They began walking again, trudging through as the snow began to fall again. Mike looked up at the arch of the trees and pictured it in full bloom walking like this with Daisy in that brilliant yellow dress. Or better yet, a white dress, a wedding dress as they strolled arm and arm. Yes, spring was always best for new love, he thought.
She didn’t go with Beau when he left the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Mike knew this because he’d sat in the freezing bushes across the street from the frat house, watching. He couldn’t hear them, but he could see them, see them and worry that maybe she would change her mind. Beau could profess his love and propose to her right there, and then what could he do? What could he say? He couldn’t rush over to stop it; he’d look like a lunatic. Not to mention he’d give away his secret, that he’d been watching them. It wouldn’t take long for either of them to figure out that he’d been following them. There was a misconception that sorority girls and frat boys were dumb, and that was far from the truth. Sure, there were some idiots, but that is just because in any group there is at least one idiot of two. It was a given. But perfect Beau had gotten early acceptance into Harvard Law. And Daisy, well Daisy was far from stupid or gullible. He’d known that the first time he’d looked into her eyes. She was shrewd and thoughtful and very cunning in some ways. No they weren’t stupid and he had to be very careful not to let his emotions take over. Not when he was so close.
But that didn’t happen. Beau didn’t propose. Instead, Beau lifted her in his arms and kissed her on the tip of her nose, spinning her until she started to giggle and wrapped her arms around him. He kissed her then, a full on movie magic kiss made even more motion picture perfect when slow gently fell on them.
Mike wanted a moment like that with her. He wanted a perfect kiss. He assumed that any kiss he shared with Daisy would be perfect.
It had to be.
He hadn’t called her right away.
No. Couldn’t seem too eager, too needy. Daisy didn’t like needy.
So he waited until Monday afternoon. Watching through her web cam as she bid goodbye to her sisters as they left the house one by one, inviting her to their homes. She declined watch as they came to her door to give her a hug and kiss on the cheek. They told her to be safe, some told her to go see Beau while others, those that knew her best, just said good bye. They all liked her; all of them genuinely liked her.
Perhaps that was why he liked her, loved her. She was a good person.
Only the house mother remained, by the time Mike had dialed Daisy’s number. But she had already retired to her little apartment, the guest house just across the back lawn, leaving Daisy alone in the house. He’d called to check on her, to see how she was feeling and to let her know that, if she wanted, they could have dinner together.
“If you feel like it.” He hastened to add. “I’m heading home tomorrow but I thought maybe if you like, we can hang out. Eat watch a movie. That house had got to be pretty creepy by now.” She was silent for a while, sitting on her bed in sweats that made her look tiny and delicate. She sighed, running her hands through her hair. She looked at her clock, and he in turned looked at his own, unable to see hers from the camera’s vantage point.
It was just after seven, still early but she seemed apprehensive. He held his breath and watched as she considered.
“Okay. I guess I can use some company. ” He wanted to shout and dance, but he maintained his cool even as his heart raced. “But I’ll come to you. Just let me change And I’ll pick up Chinese.” She added and his heart sang.
As soon as he disconnected the call, he sprang from the bed and looked around. The dorm room he occupied was a mess; his roommate had left his things all over the place. Clothing, books, everything scattered across his bed. There were jump drives and papers stacked along the shelves and his bed still bore a huge dark stain that had turned sticky and smelled since he’d last inhabited his bed.
Frowning, Mike rolled up his sleeves and got to work. He opened the closet door, expecting the smell to assault him as it had for weeks before, but it didn’t. Instead, Michael Smith, the other Mike Smith, stared at him with cloudy blue eyes. That Mike Smith hadn’t been the easiest to live with, with his video games and gear all over the place. His steady diet of pizza, nachos and soda had taken a toll on his already acne prone skin. Poor kid didn’t stand a chance. Mike had been a decent kid, he supposed, but he was clumsy and awkward and stayed in this room playing video games, only talking to people through his war games that no one really knew him. That made his transition into the new Mike Smith that much easier.
Of course, he’d avoided detection by attending just enough classes to keep Mike’s grades up, to avoid any suspicion. He’d made sure that whenever his parents called, he assures them that he was in the library or with friends or he simply let the calls go to voice mail. Occasional emails seemed to do in a pinch, but he had never been able to master Mike’s thick Brooklyn accent and speech patterns enough to fool his parents.
But no one here knew that. No one here knew Mike Smith. Not that Mike Smith. He hated to do it, but the kid was a means to an end. All he needed was an excuse to be on campus, to be close to her without being some creep who stared at her from across the quad. He didn’t want to be that guy and he looked young enough to pass for a college sophomore, though he was few years older than that. But Daisy had never seemed to notice. And now she was on her way over. Finally
She’d arrived just as he’d climbed from the shower. Perfect timing in his opinion, but she’d blushed when he’d come to the door in nothing but a towel. She averted her eyes, not looking at a chest that was more muscled than she’d expected. He was not as cut as Beau, but he could stand his on his own. He’d even been referred to as sexy in his former life.
“Sorry,” She stammered. “Sorry. I can wait out here.”
“No, no. Come in. I’ll just throw something on real quick. I didn’t expect you so soon.” He lied and right away, he knew she knew it was a lie. It was the way she was looking at him, with those sharp inquisitive eyes. She stepped into the room, pushing the door closed behind her.
“Of course.” She said, her entire face flushed. “Go get dressed. I’ll just set the food out. Do you mind if we eat on the floor? “
“No,” He called from the bathroom. “It will be like a picnic.”
“It was completely dead out there.” She was saying. “ I don’t think I saw anyone the entire ride over here. I mean ghost town. “
“Yea, it gets pretty dead around here during the holidays. But it’s cool. I get a lot of studying done. No distractions, well not as many.” He pushed the door, but not all the way, leaving just a crack so she could see. He knew that she could see him if she turned her head, just a little to the left. And she would look. She couldn’t help but to look. He could feel her eyes on him as he dropped the towel and slipped into a pair of jeans, taking his time to pull them up. He turned, catching her peek as he pulled on a t-shirt and masked his smile.
Yup, he thought. She was here and she would be his before the night was over.
They sat and ate in the dimly lit room, her curls bobbing around her face as she laughed. She was relaxed and at ease with him, something in her mood light. He hadn’t seen her like this since that first day in the quad as she crossed the campus in that bright yellow dress. She had never been more beautiful that day. He reached up and stroked her cheek, leaning in he took a chance and kissed her.
And she let him, parting her lips and welcoming his kiss. It was as if the world bloomed into living color and Mike felt his heart race. He had imagined this moment a hundred times over the past few months, but it was even better than he imagined. And when she let him undress her, let him make love to her, he felt as if his heart might burst from the sheer joy of it. As much as she’d cuddled with Beau, Daisy was still a virgin and she had given herself.
Not Beau. Him. She had saved herself for all this time and had given everything to him. She did love him. He’d known it all along but now, this, she’d just proven to him just how much. He found that spot, that cute little birthmark and brush his lips across it, reveling in the tiny ripple of giggles it sent through her. She sank her hands into his hair and sighed, contented. He was in love and she loved him back. She actually loved him back. This, he thought as he held her in his arms, this was what he’d been waiting for, this was what it would be like from now on. This was what it felt like to have Daisy as his girl.
“I hope you like red wine?” She removed a bottle from her backpack and held it out to him. He nodded, before searching for cups. She sat up with the blankets pulled up around her chin, her curls a tousled mess around her face.
He found two red plastic cups and held them out to her.
“So I guess you will have to tell Beau about this.” He said, staring at the burgundy wine in his cup. He was so happy, so full of joy that his body tingled. It was like a hum that thrummed through his bones making him feel weightless, like his limbs didn’t belong to him. He felt amazing and free.
“He knows. We talked about it before he left. He figured I would have to get it out of my system before I joined our families in Virginia. Everyone will be there when we tell them. We figured that it would be best if it were you. We agreed. I mean, I couldn’t risk hurting him because I love him. He is my soul mate. You see, Mikey, Beau knows everything there is to know about me. And he loves me even more because of that. How could I say no to unconditional love?” He stared at her, confused. His lips burned as he drank the wine, his throat tightening as he forced himself to swallow.
“We decided that the spring would be the best time for the wedding. You know, after he graduates. That way we can spend summer in Europe before he starts law school and I will finish my last two years at Harvard. I got in you know. How are you feeling Mikey?” She asked her eyes suddenly narrowed, sharp and cruel as she stared. She put her cup down and he could see that it was empty. Not only empty, but clean. He sat up and looked at the food still laid out on a blanket on the floor and realized that she hadn’t eaten anything either. He felt strange, his eyes heavy and his head swam. She’d drugged him.
“I know you’ve been watching me, Mike. If that’s your real name. It isn’t is it? You think I don’t know, but I know. You follow me, well not really since you just happen to be where I’m going to be. And you spy on my through my web cam. Is it thrilling for you? Watching me get undressed? Watching me with Beau? Watching me sleep? Did you get some sort of sick thrill from it, you sick fuck?”
This was wrong, he thought. No, this was wrong. She wouldn’t do this. Not his Daisy. She was going to be his tonight, tonight she was going to be his and his alone. He could feel his heart racing, but everything in his body went numb. He opened his mouth to say something but nothing came out.
“The problem is you don’t know me as well as you think you do, Mikey. Because while you were watching me. We were watching you. We knew that you were spying that’s why it was so easy, so easy to let you in, let you close. Because we needed you.” She said, her mouth spreading into a wide smile, too wide. ‘There is a curse on the women in my family, Mike that goes back as far as anyone can remember. Every Pendergast woman is cursed to kill the first man she has sex with, the one who takes her maidenhead as it were. Sometimes that’s not a problem. A random hook up and BAM, its all over. But if she loves the man truly loves him…like I love Beau, you do what ever you have to to make sure that doesn’t happen. So we decided, Beau and I , to find someone that no one would miss. Someone so insignificant that if he disappeared, no one would really notice. Some one completely unremarkable. Someone exactly like …you.” Her eyes changed them, from that beautiful soft coffee brown to obsidian, frightening, and insect-like eyes. “ I’m not what you think I am.”
He wanted to scream, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t do anything as the slightly bucked teeth he’d found so adorable, changed into large dark fangs, two right in front. She opened her mouth wider and the smooth skin on her face stretched as more eyes appeared on a face that was covered in shiny black skin, spider’s eyes. She hissed at him, those curls falling away and the dimples disintegrating until there was no semblance of his Daisy. There was only a glossy black creature climbing over him with spindly legs that pinched his skin. The last thing he saw before the darkness over took him was a blood red hourglass birthmark, just above where her belly button had once been.