I didn’t know anything about the man other than his last name. That, and what his last name meant.
As a noun, storm was defined as a violent disturbance of the atmosphere. As a verb, it meant to move forcefully in a specified direction.
He came into my life just like that.
Maybe I should have anticipated that, given our situation. Maybe I was naïve to assume anything less than a storm could ensue between two people as different as he and I were. I should have known, and maybe if I had, I would have done things differently.
Maybe I would have done everything differently.
Maybe I would have done nothing differently.
This story wasn’t about the maybes and the what-ifs. This story was about the details and the destruction that came.
This wasn’t a love story. Nothing close to a romance. A happily-ever-after knocked on its ass. True love bashed on its fragile head. A fairy tale no one tells their children.
This was the other kind of story. The kind not punctuated with contented sighs and skipping hearts.
This was a story of a storm—the storm that eviscerated everything in my whole entire world.
This wasn’t the story of how I grew to love him—it’s the account of how I came to hate him.
That was where this story leads. The path I found myself on which wound down many trails until it came to an abrupt end.
This is our hate story.
Second thoughts. I was having them.
Experiencing these any time before stepping into the lobby of the swanky hotel I was meeting him at would have been helpful.
“Sure you’re ready for this?” my best friend, Kate, asked, surveying the lobby like he was going to be lurking there with a sign hanging above his head.
It was a lie. I wasn’t sure I was ready, but I didn’t have a choice. The bills had gone from a pile to a pillar, and if I didn’t do something soon, I would lose the house. I couldn’t lose the house. Not ever. It was the only home I’d ever known.
“You don’t have to do this, you know? There are other options. When I mentioned this a few months ago, it was just a far-off suggestion, not one I thought you’d actually run with.” Kate slowed down as we got closer to the hotel lounge where he was supposed to be waiting.
“There are no other options that include me keeping the house. At least not ones that are any less illicit than this one.” I licked my lips out of nervousness. With the way things had been lately, it was a miracle they hadn’t turned into sandpaper.
“You know you could go to jail, right?”
My tongue touched my lips again. “Only if I get caught.”
Kate shook her head, and her light hair whipped across her shoulders. She was everything I wasn’t. Tall, rail-thin, straight blond hair that cooperated, skin that looked like she’d been gilded in something ethereal, and dressed like life was one endless party. Our personalities were a stark contrast as well. She was effervescent, where I fell somewhere closer to the jaded end of the scale. She wrung the life out of each day, loved like she’d never been hurt, and laughed like she’d never known sorrow.
What she saw in me that kept our friendship enduring, I didn’t know. I just hoped she hadn’t hung around when others bailed because she felt obligated. I didn’t want to be anyone’s pity penance.
She snagged my arm when I walked in front of her, braking me to a stop when I was a few steps from the lounge’s entrance. “Do you know what he looks like?”
I tempered my irritation before glancing at her. She was coming from a place of concern, but I was committed. I just needed to get this over with already. “No.”
“About how old he is?”
My armpits were starting to sweat. I hadn’t even seen him yet and I was already pitting out. “No,” I answered, lifting my arms a little for ventilation.
“Do you know what he’s going to be wearing tonight?” Kate glanced over my shoulder, almost glaring into the lounge.
“No.” I twisted from side to side to create as much of a breeze as I could. I so should have splurged for the clinical strength deodorant instead of this cheap dollar-store junk that was probably going to give me cancer one day. If my budget hadn’t been worked out to the last quarter, I would have.
“Do you know anything about him?” Kate sighed, motioning at me like I was the lamb who’d just brayed as the first volunteer for the slaughter. “Other than, you know . . .” She swallowed. “What he wants?”
My stomach rolled. I definitely knew what he wanted. “I know his name.”
Kate waited a moment. “And his name is . . .?”
Her nose wrinkled. “What kind of a name is that?”
“Sturm’s his last name. I don’t know what his first is.”
Kate’s nose went back to normal, but a high eyebrow took over its job of disapproving. She was especially expressive. That was another way we were different. Kate seemed to have no desire or inclination to hide what she felt, whereas I had every desire and inclination to hide.
“So what is he expecting you to call him? Mister Sturm? Because this twenty-first-century feminist is so not okay with one of her best friends addressing this guy like that.”
“Yeah, neither is this twenty-first-century feminist.” I flapped air in the direction of my armpits because they were only getting worse.
“The same feminist agreeing to marry a man for money?” Kate drew her hand up to her hip and stretched into every inch of her nearly-six-foot frame.
The word still sucked the air out of my lungs, but it had lost some of its potency. “Exactly—agreeing to marry him for money instead of lame reasons like love or feelings or to grow old together. How much more feminist does it get?”
Kate looked down at me. “Eh, how about instead of marrying him for money, you could turn him into the authorities for trying to commit green card fraud?” She peeked over my shoulder and craned her neck to look into the lounge. “Besides, what is a million dollars really? That chick in that Indecent Proposal movie got a million and she only had to spend one night with him. Plus if you factor in inflation, since that movie’s almost as old as I am, you are getting the proverbial and literal shaft. In the ass.”
I gave up the armpit sweat battle and hung my arms at my sides. Why did I care if this guy’s first impression of me was as a profuse sweater? I wasn’t asking for his approval or even expecting it. He was a business transaction to me. I was a means to an end to him.