Dear Reader: Previous installments of this continuing story are here.
Part 1: Tessa Takes a Walk in Her Party Boots
Part 2: The Man in the Fedora Hat
Part 3: Tessa is a Messa
Part 4: Joelle Meets the Guy from Last Night
Part 5: A Walk Down Memory Layne
Part 6: Hacking with James
Part 7: Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing
Part 8: Coffee, Tea or Lipstick
Thanks again for reading!
“Hey, I’m just looking out for your best interest.” He took her by the shoulder and nudged her towards him. “I’m a fucking scientist. All right?” He produced a wallet and gifted her his business card.
Tessa held the card he passed to her and dropped it at his feet, staring into his bloodshot eyes. She could turn around and lose this guy, be back at her apartment in minutes, but she needed answers to her questions. Questions, she couldn’t ask as her mind drew a blank. She felt stage fright, and all the many things she had rehearsed over and over in her head were a no show.
“Hey, hey,” he caught up to her. “Okay, I deserved that.” He held out his empty hand to her instead, “Rembrandt.”
She shook his hand. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Rembrandt.”
“No. It’s Rembrandt Livingston,” he wiped his sweaty hands on his pants.
“Okay. Rembrandt.” Tessa stared at him up and down. His dark, unruly hair hid unstable, flickering eyes prancing up down and down Tessa. “Oh, you must be an artist. Or, a soap opera star. Or, the asshole that drugged me and left me stranded in a deserted building in the middle of fucking nowhere,” she raised her voiced incrementally. “I’m sure that’s in your best interest, too. Thanks for the coffee.” She walked ahead of him, shaking.
“I owe you an apology,” he bowed his head. “I was kind of hoping you’d forget all that stuff.”
“Forget it? Oh, really? I might forget it all if I understood what it was I was forgetting.”
Rembrandt nodded. “I know, you’re right. I got it.”
“And you were honest with me,” she pulsed ahead in small steps.
He caught up to her, and they walked side by side in silence as questions gnawed inside of her. The air was cool and he seemed harmless like a moth fluttering toward the light, a scientist even. He only wanted what he could use and needed. She meditated on the thought and slid deeper into herself than she wanted. He slowed his steps to match hers. The asphalt met a dirt path, leading to a field full of weedy flowers disguised as the real thing.
“Please can we just start over? Call me Remi.”
“Let me guess. Your parents are artists and they’re terribly disappointed you turned out to be a scientist. To call you Rembrandt. I can’t even believe it’s your real name.”
He smiled at her. “Gee, I don’t think I’ve heard that one before. It’s okay, really. It gives me hope in a human race that can name a painter from the seventeenth century,” he clasped his fingers into his and kissed her hand. “Congratulations.” Tessa flinched, and then regretted it. To make matters even more awkward, he produced the crumpled card she had thrown on the ground. “Look for yourself. It says it right here.”
His name appeared above the title of “Formulation Chemist” for a company called Volotex. It passed as legitimate, although simplistic. The card looked low budget; an environmental company practicing cost-cutting measures, perhaps. No address, only a phone number, completed with a printed logo that read “VT” in scripted blue and green raised letters.
“A Formulation Chemist,” she said. “What do you want?”
“I can explain. I will explain. But first I really need you to give me that lipstick before anyone else gets hurt.” His lips quivered with the mention of the word lipstick.
“Who’s been hurt? I haven’t read about anything.”
“So, if you haven’t read about it, it must be perfectly safe and has your golden seal of approval,” he said, talking faster as their gait assumed an accelerated speed. “Just give it to me. The lipstick. Now.”
“Fine.” And she stopped to look in purse, recently cleaned out of trash. Her fingernails skimmed the brown and pink oily gunk of makeup on the lining of her purse. The lipstick revealed itself and she gave Remi, who was practically panting, one more glance. “I’ve never been so unhappy as when this lipstick came into my life.” She held it up to her face and rolled the plastic container in her fingers.
Remi relaxed enough to display a charming dimple on the side of his mouth, an innocence which encouraged her own playful game. She stretched her arms as if in a yawn, and held the lipstick high. “Give it to me,” he said.
She ran ahead through the weeds and tangled thorns. “Tell me, did we?”
“Did we what?” Remi was not in the mood for her diversions. The lipstick consumed him, and rage drove him to stumble and trip on a rock, falling to the dirt. Blood spilled out his nose, while Tessa twirled across the field.
“Did we sleep together?”
“Give me the lipstick and you’ll have your answer,” he said, calling out to her, wiping dripping blood with his sleeve.
“It’s me or the lipstick.” She crushed through brittle branches to be at his side.
“You want to start over, let’s get rid of this fucking lipstick. It has caused nothing but problems.”
A cool breeze blew past between them, fanning the weeds and a curl on the top of Remi’s head. Tessa chucked the lipstick into the field as far as she could throw. Her internal parachute opened mid-fall and she floated, mindless and free.
Remi’s face locked into a frozen scream.