And now, the grand conclusion of Tessa’s story. It will all come together here. For those who like to read previous sections, click HERE.
Remember we last left Tessa and Remi in his warehouse. They had sex, wine, and Chinese food, although not in that order. Remi is over the top about his science experiments and can’t stop rubbing Tessa with serums.
The story continues:
Remi disappeared behind the divider and returned with vials of liquid. “Oh, I’m not done with you yet.” He continued to rub an orange serum into her skin, vigorously, as if on a timed task.
“Ooh, it’s tingling a little. Stinging, really,” Tessa said.
“Really?” With a look of disappointment on his face, he lowered his voice to a whisper. “Relax. It should wear off,” he said, making mental notes.”Here, take a whiff,” he held it up to her nose. “It smells like citrus.”
“This kind of reminds of that guy in Sultrix, rubbing my hands.”
“You have an admirer I don’t know about?”
“I’d never seen him before. It was kind of strange. He was just trying to help me I guess, and he started to rub my hands with moisturizers and serums and…”
“Did he wear a hat?”
“A fedora, by chance?” he asked, his voice slightly higher.
“Right,” Tessa whispered. She heard Remi, but he seemed distant as if he had walked to the other side of the room.
“He’s my partner,” Remi said, seemingly ready to engage and tell her the whole story.
But Tessa had already drifted off to sleep.
Tessa woke the next morning fully clothed with make-up still applied in generous amounts to her face. Her eyelashes stuck together like haystacks. She blinked repeatedly, only worsening the dryness.
“What is this? On my eyes?” There was no mirror in sight, only shiny machines, all turned off now. “What about some coffee?”
“Don’t you have to go to work?”
“Uh, I guess I do. Do I? I don’t even know. Let me call…oh, I don’t have my phone,” Tessa said, as Remi scooted her out the door, into his car. “Can I borrow your phone,” she asked, with Remi already driving.
“Sorry, we need to get going. Look, I’d like you to give Yossi something for me. Just a favor, okay?”
“Who is Yossi?”
“My partner. You know, the one with the fedora.” He clutched his steering wheel tighter.
“He’s your partner now?” Sitting in her seat, Tessa felt her face tingling. She felt like she might glow. “Why don’t you just do it yourself? Since he’s your partner and everything.” Tessa wondered if Yossi knew about her, and for a second, felt like her body was covered in hands touching her all over. That, they had that in common; had they shared more? Was she their dirty little test subject?
“Oh, it will be a surprise. He’ll love it. Would you do that for me, please? Just this one thing? Besides, I want everyone to see how beautiful you are.”
Tessa dropped the visor to investigate her gunky eyes in the mirror. “Well, they’re long. I never wear lashes. Really, this looks ridiculous.”
“Radiant,” he kissed her hand at a red light. Where had she heard that before?
He parked in front of the store, and sighed. “I need you to find Yossi and give him this,” he said, holding a piece of metal between his fingers in black-gloved hands.
“What’s with the gloves?” Tessa said.
“Are you listening? This is really important, Tessa,” he said, shifting uncomfortably in his seat, his black gloves throwing her off.
“Just walk right in there, and hand this to Yossi,” he held the piece of metal between his fingers rotating it back and forth. “You need to hand it to him, and then blink your eyes twice. Got that? Only when he’s holding it. Blink your eyes twice. Count to five between each blink.”
“How do you even know he’s there?”
“This is important. Give him the coin and then blink twice.” He held on to her arm. “Repeat it for me please.”
“Give him the coin. Blink twice.”
“Slowly. Okay, whatever.” All Tessa could see were the black gloves.
Until just moments ago, Tessa knew the man with the fedora as that. Fedora Man. Having a name made him seem less theatrical and took away any urgency of delivering a senseless piece of metal. If she saw him, fine. She wasn’t going out of her way looking for him. Besides her skin felt like mud and she wanted a shower. Her repeated arrival at work feeling less than stellar was wearing on her.
Joelle’s singing voice could be heard long before Tessa located her across the store, in true form, dousing a guest with a product. She practically dropped the foundation in the guest’s lap, and ran to meet Tessa, an unsightly sore in the store, like something that should be covered up immediately. Now that she spotted Joelle, Tessa quickly surveyed the store for Fedora Man, not in the foreground or the sides; her eyes darted back and forth. She spotted him.There he was, in the back in his favorite spot, next to the moisturizers, rubbing lotion delicately onto a woman’s wrist. Tessa guessed correctly; she wasn’t on the schedule today, a promising reason why Joelle’s expression bordered on anger and shock. Or was it fear? Joelle looked at her as though she saw a lion ready to maul her.
“Hi,” Tessa waved at her.
“Oh, Tessa,” Joelle embraced her like seasons had passed since she saw her last. “You know I was worried sick. And look at you? What on earth?” She held her close so as not to lose her again.
Pressing her hands on her shoulders, she escorted Tessa to the nearest chair, positioned in front of a mirror.
“What have you got here, Tessa?” She tried to pry the eyelashes off, saturated with a hard lining, resembling a tiny wire.
“Don’t! Don’t touch it.” Squirming in her seat, Tessa pushed Joelle’s hands from her eyes.
Joelle, nonplussed, pursued her game of questions and guesses, but not before sniffing her first. “And what is that smell?” Joelle faked a cough. “Ghastly. Good God, girl, where have you been? The jungle again? I thought it was the massive perfume display wafting over here, but no, hon, it’s you.” All dramatics, she fanned her hand at the air around them. “You know I have perfume at home you can borrow. If you ever want to use it…”
Tears erupted from Tessa in full scale, her body crumbling beneath her and shrinking into the chair. Gasping between each word, she revealed, “I slept with him.”
“Are you sure?” Tessa sobbed harder. “No, of course you are. “It’s okay, sweetie. Jo is here.” She stroked her hair and Tessa leaned into her, hiding in the folds of her skirt. Joelle could only assume it was the same guy from the Crush, although treading lightly.
“What did I do?” She sobbed, and then collected herself. “He’s not even a good kisser. He’s strange, and can’t stop rubbing all this goop all over me. He wears gloves, Joelle. Why is he wearing gloves? Am I toxic?” She wailed, collecting her tears in her hands.
“Look at me.” Joelle held her face in her hands. “You’re not toxic. He’s just a freak.”
“And you know, Remi has this strange scheme…,” Tessa scoped out the store. She scanned the store for Fedora Man.
“Remi? Who’s Remi?”
“The guy from the Crush. Who else?” Tessa seemed irritated that she had to take the time for any explanations, as if she could lean on Joelle at any time of any given day.
“The guy from the other night, from the Crush? No, no, Tessa. His name is Ronald. Ronald Lewis. James got the scoop on him. He’s a strange bird.” Joelle wiped Tessa’s face with a damp cloth.
“He told me his name was Remington Livingston.”
“And you believe that one? Remington Livingston. That one is straight from a Harlequin novel. Did you not read that one, Tessa?” Joelle was nose-to-nose with Tessa, either on the verge of laughter or tears, although Tessa would prefer tears. “Remington Livingston. That’s the worst made-up name ever.” That broke the tension, and they erupted in laughter.
“He doesn’t look like a Ronald.” Tessa wanted to contest it.
“Thanks to James, we just know your buddy Remi is a certified nut job.”
“He’s a scientist, that’s all. With a vision.”
“Yeah, sure,” Joelle said, staring hard at her thick eyelashes. “Are those things tinted blue? Apparently, he’s into explosives.”
“Really?” Tessa pondered it for a half a second. “He doesn’t seem like the type.”
“Hmm, they never do, Tessa,” Joelle scowled at her thick lashes.
It wouldn’t be the first time Tessa had fallen for the wrong guy, but explosives have never entered the picture. What was transparent to Joelle, was unknown territory for Tessa, the seeds of good decisions locked in a vault under layers of rock and blinding trust, or stupidity.
“It would make sense, all the popping and frying of equipment. I think Fedora Man is in trouble.”
“Let me take a look at these,” Joelle dropped the sad act. “What is Ronald up to?” She tugged at them ever so delicately without stabbing Tessa’s eyes. “Let’s get these ugly suckers off.”
“Don’t touch them,” a voice said. A man appeared before them in what looked to be a rubber wetsuit with an aluminum canister attached to his back and lab goggles covering most of his face. Had he wandered on a beach, he would be right at home; in Sultrix, amid the delicate perfume bottles, he appeared a clumsy giant costumed for a nonexistent party.
“Remi?” Tessa froze.
“Ronald,” Joelle nudged Tessa with her hip.
He wobbled over to them, clumsy with his unexpected girth of heavy equipment. A quick burst from his canister, and he sprayed a gaseous substance in their general direction, enabling them to slide to the floor. The few Sultrix guests in the store met the same demise as he pumped the canister as he turned in circles as if he was at discotech, the air thick with dry ice fog, sans the flashy ball. People dropped like dead bugs. Bystanders who got in his way got a puff in their face, all in line with his grand scheme.
It would be a command performance with enlisted players and props. Heading to the back of the store, he picked up two chairs and walked them to an open space in the center of the room. Next he dragged his star performers Tessa and Fedora Man to their places, sitting them in the two chairs, across from each other, with a couple of feet between them, tying their hands behind their backs with rope he brought along with him. He carried with him a medallion chip, the last important detail. He bubbled over with excitement. The show was about to begin; Tessa and Fedora Man sat motionless like marionettes waiting for their orchestrated instructions. The noticeable background music, poppy with feel-good pulse, made him feel anxious and annoyed.
“C’mon, dear Tessa,” he stood behind her chair, touching her hair in an effort to sooth and revive here. She stirred and moaned, and opened her eyes, her lashes thick as bat wings.
“What? What are you doing?” Her speech, breathy and slurred.
“That’s it,” he massaged her shoulders with his thick gloves. “It’s almost time for our performance, dear Tessa.” He kicked Fedora Man’s shoe. We just need one more willing participant. He kicked his shoe again, this time rousing him to lift his head. He walked over and tapped him on the shoulder, anxious to get the show on the road. “There, there.” Propping his head in hands, he forced Fedora Man to stare at Tessa. As soon as he let go of his stance, Fedora Man’s head collapsed. He did the same thing with Tessa with the same outcome. A few more failed attempts and furious clapping ensued.
Tessa gained consciousness swimming in a fog and thought she might be underwater with a deep-sea diver at her feet. She realized then her feet and hands were tied to her chair. She rocked to and fro, trying to bust out, gasping between each push. Looking around, it appeared that Sultrix had been flipped, besieged by the voodoo mist, its normal, eager guests lined the aisles like doughy lumps.
Through the fog, she heard, “Tessa, I need you. Don’t let me down, Tessa.” When she moved suddenly, she felt a pinch at her wrists and couldn’t rise from her chair. “Listen carefully, Tessa. Remember what we talked about this earlier in the car.” He slowed his speech, whispering in her ear.
Across from her was Fedora Man, also strapped to a chair, with his head lilting to the side. He was waking as she was, blinking his eyes to help define his newly found dimensions. Watching him blink his eyes made Tessa’s eyes water and sting.
“All you need to do, dear Tessa, is look at him,” he said, pointing to Fedora Man, “and blink your eyes twice, real slow. Remember?”
“Huh? My eyes hurt. I’m not blinking them at anyone. You do it, if you want to blink at your friend so bad.” The run of words exhausted Tessa, and she slumped over in her chair, staring at the grey carpet. Her eyes watered more as she tried to keep her eyes open.
He held her face in a lockjaw position and forced her to stare at Fedora Man. “Do it now. Do it.”
“This doesn’t seem very scientific of you, Remi, Ronald,” her head dropped on the last syllable. “They sting, my eyes. I can’t even hold them open.”
“Tessa, sit up straight,” he said, holding smelling salts under her nose. Whipping her head like a tail, she coughed, and spat out a stream of saliva. “Oh, Tessa. That shouldn’t be so bad. I mixed a little eucalyptus oil in it. Just for you, my Tessa.”
“I’m not your Tessa,” she said, trying to stand, the rope tied to the legs of the chair pressing her down, and the synthetic serum, infused with the noxious gas, burning a line of fire around her ankles. It must have been the gunk that coated her body.
While Ronald rotated the coin through his fingers, he skirted around Tessa’s chair, blowing into her ear, which Tessa found revolting. He stood behind her, holding her head up to look at Fedora Man. “All you have to do is blink. Two times will do it, and we can be done with this whole thing.”
She turned her head to stare down at the floor to see Joelle sliding toward them in the aisle behind them. A customer banged on the door at the head of the store, and then walked away.
“Why would I do that? What’s going to happen?” Tessa only feared the worst.
“Blink, Tessa, blink, and you’ll find out.” He pressed his forehead to hers and locked into her eyes. Who knew that his greatest experiment would come down to a staring contest? Tessa’s eyes watered with each passing second, clouding her vision and forcing her to concentrate on Ronald’s stale breath. She dropped her stare to the carpet so as not to gag, and saw Joelle inching closer in their direction, slithering like a snake. “We’re running out of time. Stare at him and blink. Do it.” His voice had a hard edge she hadn’t heard before, his patience had run out.
A few more potential customers came by the store; pounded and pressed their faces into the glass. Meanwhile Fedora Man rustled in his seat, his hat no longer on his head. “What are you doing? You psycho.” Unknowingly, Ronald knocked the coin to the floor.
“Aren’t you his partner?” Tessa addressed Fedora Man.
“Ha, he’s an intern, who begged me to take him on.” He rocked harder in his chair. “Is that what he told you?”
Falling to his knees, Ronald searched for the coin, his all important mission on stand-by. His focus now elsewhere, Joelle got up off the floor, grabbed the nearest perfume bottle and sprayed it in all over his face, his goggles blocking most of the mist.
“Do you like that, Ronald? Isn’t that your name?” With Ronald writhing on the floor, Tessa grabbed another bottle of the fragrant liquid, unscrewed the top, and doused his whole body with it.
Tessa, so desperate to finally relax her eyes, closed her eyelids, once to relax her nerves, and a second time to ease the sting. The final blink set in motion the series of events that Ronald counted on, with the coin in his hand and his perfumed body, substituting as an active ingredient. His rubber suit popped and burst, erupting like a blown tire, his hair in flames.
The fire alarm pounded in their ears, and a surge of water poured from the ceiling. Within minutes, an army of cops and a swat team ran from all directions to the center of the action.
Joelle freed Tessa from the chair, and they held each other in an embrace, ignoring the bustle around them.
“You saved the day, Tessa.”
“No, you did it. You did it all, Joelle. The perfume was genius.”
Among them, Layne, jumped to the front of the uniformed officers, and in a last ditch heroic gesture, flung a jacket on top of Ronald, who still smoked and sizzled. Calling to mind their first encounter, Layne interrupted them. “These jackets come in handy, yes?”
“Of course,” Joelle said, “That’s a good trick.”
“I’ll need a statement from both of you,” Layne seemed unperturbed by the smoke and the perfumed gas mix.
“Wait, you’re a cop?” Tessa said. Joelle nodded at her in agreement.
“Homeland security. It appears your makeup has the potential to be weaponized,” And he was moot after that, as if any further explanation would jeopardize his whole existence.
“Wow,” Tessa smiled at him. “We’re in the big leagues now.” She eyed Joelle, nudging her to join the conversation with her dream man. Joelle looked away, the mystery of him long gone.
Ronald was escorted off in cuffs, his rubbery suit hanging off his body, and his hair singed to a crusted mat on his head. His status of prominent scientist blemished and shrinking with each slouched step, he focused on the floor, looking up to nod at Tessa as he passed her and bumped into her shoulder, or perhaps intentionally clumsy. They locked eyes, but no words left their lips.
It was his awkward mannerisms that lingered with Tessa long after he disappeared from her life. Had she known this would be the last time they would be in such close proximity, she doubted she would have had anything to say to him to change anything. The sex was forgettable, and his quest for scientific glory, nothing but a sham. But for a spell she relished in his playful, childlike quest to create something bigger than himself, something fresh and novel. It’s what scientists do, Tessa thought to herself; discover the unknown, dare to cross the boundaries. Or, was it simply how she could let herself off the hook for playing with the wrong side.
Her head fell on Joelle’s shoulder. “Remi, you asshole,” Tessa said.
“Remi? You mean Ronald.” Joelle shook her head at her. “I hate to tell you this, but either way, he is an asshole. He may be your Romeo, but he’s still an asshole.”
They laughed, and from that point forward referred to him as “Romeo Asshole.” He still had the best credentials for that spot.
“What about Sir Layne?” Tessa asked, thinking someone deserved happiness.
“James thinks he’s too old,” she seemed to be sulking.
“Oh, and since when did we care what James thought?”
“Since James will now be vetting all our romantic interests,” Joelle was serious. “Admit it. It’s not a bad idea.”
How could Tessa argue at a time like this, besides she was sure James could be easily distracted from this assigned task he gave to himself.
Joelle continued, “Layne would fall in love with me and want to get married.”
“We wouldn’t want that,” Tessa said. Arm in arm, they sauntered out of the store laughing.
It’s a wrap, as they say. Thanks to all who have stopped by, liked, and/or commented. It means a lot to me to know someone will read this. I’m forever grateful! I will have some additional notes about this story in a follow up post.
photo credit: ashley rose, via photopin cc