“I’m not ready for this.”
The words were said with nervous laughter. She wasn’t smiling, though there was a light in her eyes that said she was amused with herself. Maybe amused with the situation, too. He knew that she didn’t mean the words in the sense that she didn’t want to do this anymore, or that she was even having second thoughts. They were both ill prepared for what they were walking into, and she was merely expressing that. He understood.
“Of all the things in the world that you’ve done, this is the thing you’ve decided to be doubtful on?” He teased. The tongue she poked back out at him told him that he hadn’t missed the mark with the gentle ribbing. That was a good thing, this was not the day he wanted to be causing any kind of upset on. But there were truths to the words, his. Also something of an admission. He didn’t know what he was doing any more than she did. They were two blundering idiots grasping at straws and hurtling themselves headlong into the unknown with no kind of safety nets set in place. At least they were doing it together.
“Okay, come on, Jacob. You’re no better at this shit than I am.”
“No. You’re right. I’m not. I’m teasing.” Maybe she just needed to hear it all out loud. It did seem to soothe her, though it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to tell what was really going on inside of her head. He supposed, again, that the same thing could be said about him.
“Do you remember the night we met?” She glanced at him over hers shoulder, while she fumbled with items on the small vanity.
“Of course I do, Dawn.”
A year ago – today, actually, his mind reminded him. A year ago today. A movie film rolled in his head, and he watched it all in one second, though their actual meeting had been much longer. He could never have imagined that they would get to this point. Hell, he’d never imagined that they’d get past that night. It certainly hadn’t been in the plan. All he’d wanted was a fling of sorts. A brief liaison. What he’d gotten instead…well.
She’d not woken up screaming like the others had, which was confusing in and of itself. She was in a strange place with a strange man, no memory – he was sure of that, he’d made very very sure of that – of how she’d gotten there, and she was tied at the wrists and ankles to boot. Yet she didn’t scream. Actually, she hadn’t even looked scared. There had been a distinct lack of concern on her features, and it had thrown him completely off his game. He’d sat staring at her for so long that she’d finally made mention of it. Her voice calm and unbroken, not even a hint of pleading to be found.
“Are you just going to stare at me all night?” Those were the first words she’d said to him. Caught off guard, he’d only been able to reply “Maybe” when he knew he wanted more. She hadn’t been stalked, drugged, and brought to his rooms to be a museum piece. All that work, just to stare at her? No. There was a routine he had, a need he had to fulfill. She was a key part of that, but maybe was the idiot response he gave her.
“Well then.” She said, seeming to read his mind. Somehow knowing he wasn’t telling the truth. “Get on with it.”
“Aren’t you afraid?” He’d asked, bewildered. Fear wasn’t necessary for him to be satisfied, but it was typical. There weren’t even any tears in her eyes. Her words didn’t bob on the sea of uncertainty that the others had sailed.
“Of what? Of you? Or of dying?”
“I guess on a fundamental level, I’m afraid of both. I’ll likely be in a good amount of pain once you get to it, and I’m not a fan of that, so I’m a little apprehensive about it, and nobody except the dead know what happens after death, so I’m naturally worried there, too. But really, it’s all inevitable, right? So mostly I’m just curious. About this. About you.” She’d said it all calmly. Matter-of-fact. It threw him off more.
“Yes. What are your rituals? Are they the same always? Am I a type you like, or are you not picky? What will you use to… you know?”
“But what? Are you not going to tell me? I think it’s only fair.”
“But why would you want to know? Wouldn’t that make it worse?”
“Knowing what to expect?”
“I think it would be more like preparation. You don’t bungee jump without the safety check. Once it’s all squared away, you can enjoy the ride.”
“Enjoy the… ? What?” Her comparison wasn’t just odd, it was offputting. Even if he’d been completely on the ball, in this moment he would have fallen off of it onto his face.
“Why not? I never thought I’d be on this end of it, did I.”
“This end … of… what?”
“You’re like a parrot, you know that? Repeating everything. It’s getting a bit irritating.”
“Well, I’m sorry, okay? I’m just a little taken aback here. This is a new situation for me, and I’m afraid I don’t know the proper way to respond. This end of what?”
“This, all of this, of course.”
“Obviously.” She offered him a little eye roll with the solitary word. Like he was the stupidest thing on the planet, not knowing this already. In retrospect, sure, it read as evident, but in the moment? In the moment he’d not been able to piece it together quite so quickly.
“Obviously? For… I mean… how…”
“Ten years. Wow.” Just like that, he’d become more interested than flabbergasted and eased into the moment.
“They never really look for women.”
“No, I suppose they don’t.”
“And I don’t have one particular M.O., really. I have repeats, but it’s not truly overarching. I think that helps. How long for you?”
“Not like ten is.”
“Well, but still. Five is amazing.”
“Are you an occasional?”
“Oh, no. About two a month.”
“Two a … that’s one hundred and twenty at least… good for you! State lines?” Somehow she’d managed to not sound horribly condescending with her exclamation. Somehow, even with her ten years, she’d come off as congratulatory. Impressed, even. Which she told him, later, that she really had been. Five years was quite a long time to operate in the current age of computers and national databases.
“I cross them sometimes. You?”
“Oh, yes. Constantly on the move. I travel for work and it makes all of this…” She rolled her eyes to indicate their surroundings. “very very easy for me.”
“So…” He’d cleared his throat. “How many for you?”
“Hm? Oh. Not too much more than you. I’m only at two.”
“But, you see, I’m not as steady as you. I have to take breaks. Sometimes it’s just not feasible. I don’t always travel alone. I don’t always get time alone while I travel. I think that irregularity also helps. I have a lot going for me. You’ve been constant for five years, and it looks like your M.O. is pretty regular. So your numbers are more impressive than mine.”
He’d waited a moment, trying to judge if she was just placating him. Humoring him. But her answer didn’t sound like she was trying to boost his ego. What cause would she have had to do it, anyway? He decided to continue the flow of the conversation instead of acknowledging it. “Are you traveling?”
“Now? Yes. Funny, isn’t it? I was going to find someone tonight. But here we are.”
“We could…” He’d offered. Trying to make it sound offhand, like it wasn’t a big deal. In case she said no.
“You mean?” Her brow had raised and her head had lifted off of the ground, cocked. She’d not believed him. Of course, he’d not been able to really believe it himself, even after the words were hanging in the air between them.
“Well, why not? We’re both… and, I don’t know, it feels kind of wrong to… so maybe if we…”
“Yes, yes! I would like that!” her smile had been genuine. Or, at least, the practiced look of genuine that they’d both perfected. He’d released her from the bonds and they’d stood around awkwardly for a long moment. She’d introduced herself by name, he’d responded. They’d looked at the walls, and the floor, and the ceiling, and stared at each other. As soon as the planning kicked in, though, everything changed. Once they’d started planning, everything moved like water through a colander.
That night was their first. They’d thought last, as well, willing to part ways and continue on with their lives. But she’d called a week later to tell him her work was sending her back. He’d jumped at the chance to see her again. From there they’d started to make actual arrangements instead of relying on life and fate and the world around them. He’d visit her when she wasn’t travelling sometimes. She’d visit him when she didn’t have to work at all sometimes. They’d meet up if she was anywhere in his state for her job. They texted with absurd codes and sent each other strange souvenirs in the mail. Their courtship was atypical, to say the least, but it was the most fantastic thing he’d ever experienced, and that included their shared hobby.
At six months, he’d moved to where she lived.
At seven months, they’d begun to travel together.
At nine months, he’d proposed.
Now, at a year, here they were.
“I’m so nervous.” She said, pulling on her shoe, straightening her dress.
“Me, too, honestly.”
“But happy, right? I mean, you know.”
“Yes, Dawn. Yes, I think we are making the right decision.”
“Good.” She smiled, then. Finally. She looked beautiful. The smile made her radiant.
Dawn wrapped her hand in his, and Jacob led the way from the small preparation room into the hallway beyond. Neither of them bought into the superstitions, or much of the traditions, for that matter. They’d shed a lot of the unneeded fat from the ordeal. The ceremony itself was small, in a mono-religious chapel – chosen for the aesthetic, consisting of the justice, a few people they brought in from their respective work – to create an illusion, and their parents. Dawn had wanted a nice dress, so Jacob bought a nice suit to match it. The whole affair was simple, uncomplicated, and had been arranged within a week of their decision on the date. Even today, the big day, had been easy. They’d shown up, helped each other get ready, and now they were on their way.
The pair walked toward the podium together, their guests turned around to watch their approach, and Jacob thought about how many other things they’d done together. Most of which would horrify everybody else within this building. He smiled, liking that secret. Jacob turned to steal a glance at his bride, his future-in-a-few-short-minutes wife. He imagined that those onlookers would see his smile as joy at the moment, but when Dawn looked at him, he could tell she was reading the truth. Her smile mirrored his.
This was a thing that neither of them had dreamed of happening. Yet here they were. She didn’t love him any more than he loved her. They were both incapable of it. But the act was logical, and had the added bonus of keeping up appearances. And Jacob did enjoy her company. Especially when they ended a life. Their whole joined life had begun with the ending of another, and every once since then had thrilled him. They’d learned new tricks from one another, they’d studied new techniques together, discovered ways that were easier with two. He hoped they’d continue to grow and learn for years to come.
That was what a marriage was supposed to be, right?