To say he was handsome was an understatement.
Of course, I’d seen him on campus. The infamous son of a disgraced Senator. The golden boy banned from the Ivy League and thrown to the almost-but-not-quite community college wolves. A walking myth surrounded in stories.
Torture. Rape. Walk-in freezers that became prisons for unsuspecting girls dazzled by the name. Suicides and heartbreak. Immense cash payouts that silenced tongues, stole words and suffocated any threat of prison time. And at the center of it all stood this gorgeous, notorious, dangerous enigma.
Now this enigma stood in front of me.
My iced coffee sat in front of me, my book to the side, oversized purse on the floor tucked between my feet. The cafe wasn’t full. There was no crowd jostling. Nor was there a need to partner up with a stranger just to find a place to sit. There were tables free. Pockets of privacy to claim, a canopy of ominous clouds and the threat of sudden heavy rain keeping most safely at home.
Yet this “Colton the Cruel” – as one paper had blared in a garish headline during the height of his scandal – stood, coffee in hand, seeking sanctuary and, it appeared, my company.
“May I?” he said before flashing an impossibly white smile, the blue of his eyes damn near mesmerizing.
Intrigued by the Why of this What – him choosing me – I nodded. Besides, if I could get him to sit for an interview, actually get him on-record, not only would a second-year journalism student do what dozens of “real” reporters couldn’t, I’d also prove my dismissive, arrogant, idiot professors wrong.
Hell yes, he can sit with me!
Small talk ensued. An interesting dance that flirted with flirtation, edged back to the predictable safety of the weather, classes, school, life before creeping again toward the hopeful light of imagined kisses and secret fantasies, white teeth flashing, his blue-eyed gaze intense and hungry.
Yeah, this guy was good.
“So, you transferred from-”
He waved my question away. “Eh, no biggie.” A shrug, a sip of coffee, his gaze steady and sure. “Wanted something a bit more intimate. More real.” He returned the coffee cup to its place in front of him, his hands resting on the table, his long fingers pausing within reach of mine.
“You’ve heard about me,” he said. His deep voice was low, the words almost a whisper. “None of it’s true.”
I sipped my own coffee, the ice having long ago melted into a watery, sugary disappointing memory of what coulda-shoulda-woulda been. I avoided his eyes knowing there would be the hint of tears. Convenient vulnerability designed to elicit sympathy.
“What isn’t true?” I said. “I’ve heard a lot, some of it good, some of it a bit more unbelievable.” I slurped from my straw. “So, be more specific. What exactly isn’t true?”
He grinned. “The bad stuff?” Propping his elbows on the table, he leaned forward, rounded shoulders and firm biceps bulging through the short sleeves of his designer shirt. “I like you.” The fingers, once more claiming the middle of the small table and edging closer. “I’d like to see you again.” He ducked his chin to his chest, the eyes lifting to catch and hold mine, a small grin on his lips, the glimmer of an Arctic white smile barely, just barely, peeking through. “If that’s okay.”
I almost laughed. And I was tempted, truly tempted, to allow myself the dangerous dream of being with him. Of tasting those lips, feeling those strong arms around me. The weight of him on top of me, his breath on my cheek. Despite the stories and my friends’ inevitable warnings, part of me found itself thinking ‘Why the hell not?’
“You know, I live nearby,” I heard him saying. “Right around the corner.” His fingers finally touched mine.
That’s when I saw it. The cruelty in the blue. The psychotic savagery in the Arctic white. The threat of harm, perhaps death, in the grip of those long fingers and strong arms. The dark malevolence of the casual charm and carnal need.
All those stories, the myth, the uncatchable enigma, it all suddenly carried the weight of truth.
I quietly pulled my fingers from his. He reached, reconnected. Insisted I receive his unwanted gesture. Here in a public cafe, fellow students scattered among neighboring tables, books out, phones in hand. Baristas lingering at the register. Here in public, he forced me to accept his advances knowing he was immune from consequence. Knowing he, even as an infamous son of a disgraced Senator, was still inoculated from the rules that governed everyone else.
Despite all he’d endured, all the consequences, the very real price he and his family had paid, the ruin and disrepute, he couldn’t stop himself.
He was sick.
I stood. Gathered my bag from the floor and slung it over my shoulder. Spotted the nearby garbage can for the watery latte. Fished the small umbrella from the outer pocket of my purse, my eyes avoiding him.
He’d stood, misinterpreting my actions. Was slugging back the last of his coffee.
“I gotta go,” I said, my hand out for his to shake. “Class.”
Ignoring the gesture, he put his hand on the small of my back as he tried to guide me from the table toward the door.
I resisted. Gave a small smile. “No, no, no, I gotta go.”
“I’ll walk you.” The hand pressed, insisting we leave.
I moved away from it. “No, thank you.” My eyes caught his. Stopped. Held his gaze. Showed me to be defiant and strong. Not to be led or cajoled or controlled. “I’m fine.” A pause. “Some other time, perhaps,” I said, both of us knowing it was a lie.
Outside, a sudden storm pelted the sidewalk.
He laughed, the sound feeling small and unsure despite his small smile. “But I don’t have an umbrella.” Moving close, he tried to press against me.
My hand rose to his chest, stopping him mid-step. “Then you’ll get wet,” I said, my lips not smiling, my tone unapologetic and clear. “You’ll survive.”
And I turned and left, the door closing behind me as, umbrella up, I walked, quickly, truly afraid for the next girl he met, and charmed, and destroyed with his steely blue gaze and perfect smile.
But I was afraid. Haunted by the thought that, between here and his place around the corner, there’d be some innocent, unsuspecting girl with an umbrella eager to save this Prince Charming from the rain.
And, alone in the rain, each calm step moving me further from the nightmare that could’ve been, I wept for her.
Learn more about Colton Carryage from “Click” in Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast
“Jonathan Winn’s writing is solid and assured, and EIDOLON AVENUE: THE FIRST FEAST is a big, sweeping, fantastical and exotic work that is as engrossing and thrilling as it is disturbing and horrifying. Winn is definitely an author to watch.” – Greg F. Gifune, author THE BLEEDING SEASON
“The strength of Winn’s writing is the excellent characterization – the unusual inhabitants of those five apartments are the stories. Put a magnet on a note with Jonathan Winn’s name underlined on the fridge, then watch for his byline. Recommended.” — Gene O’Neill, THE CAL WILD CHRONICLES, THE HITCHHIKING EFFECT, AT THE LAZY K