Unmatched, by Diane D. Gillette
Rita awoke slowly, her face buried in an unfamiliar pillow. Her nostrils were flooded with the floral scent of laundry detergent. She tried to remember why she wasn’t in her own bed, why the pillow case felt soft to the touch, not the scratchy, threadbare ones she’d been sleeping on since college. There was a soft sigh behind her, and she felt a firm hand slide around her waist and tug at her gently.
Right. Phillip. She remembered and smiled into the pillow before rolling over to face him.
“Morning,” he mumbled, reaching out to tuck a stray curl behind her ear. The soft touch and sleepy smile spreading across his face sent a thrill down to the pit of her stomach. Maybe this one might be worth keeping. Maybe this perfect weekend would stay perfect. Maybe Phillip would be the match she’d been searching for.
He pulled her closer and began kissing her neck, moving upwards towards her ear. He playfully nipped at it, causing Rita to squirm against him and giggle. He ran his tongue under her earlobe and latched on to it. Rita closed her eyes and let a quiet sigh escape as she soaked up the sensations and her body continued to wake from her slumber.
Unfortunately, as all the pleasant feelings of arousal made themselves known, so did an urgent need to relieve herself. Even as Phillip hooked his long, lean leg over hers and attempted to draw her even closer, Rita began to extract herself from the tangle of limbs and sheets and make her apologies.
“Hurry back,” Phillip called after her, the grin still held firmly in place.
Despite his urging, Rita took her time in his bathroom. She admired how clean it was compared to all the other bathrooms of single men she had witnessed in recent years. She supposed this was perhaps the difference between dating a man with a real job, as opposed to a college boy. Nothing was out of place. The lines of lotions and massage oils were perfectly straight. She picked up one bottle and sniffed, amused and slightly curious that Phillip would have lilac scented body lotion in his bathroom.
She stood in front of his wide mirror and attempted to arrange the tangled mess her curls had become overnight. She rinsed the sleepy aftertaste from her mouth with tap water from the sink, and splashed some cool water over her face, dabbing away the smudged makeup with a tissue. Satisfied she had accomplished all she could with her limited resources, she gave herself one more glance before turning towards the door.
She did a double-take at her reflection. Something wasn’t right. Her left earlobe, where Phillip had been nibbling and sucking moments before, was bare. One of the red teardrop earrings, a gift from her sister, was missing. Panicked, Rita tried to remember if she had removed it for one reason or another the night before.
“You haven’t seen my earring anywhere, have you?” Rita asked as she came out of the bathroom.
Phillip shrugged. “Come join me. We’ll look for it later,” he patted the bed next to him.
“I’ve got to find it. My sister will kill me if she finds out I lost one of the earrings she bought me in Paris.”
Phillip shrugged again. He stood up and stretched. “I’m going to go take a long hot shower. You can look for your earring if you want. Or you can come join me.” He grabbed her hand and gently tugged her back toward the bathroom.
“Please help me look for it,” Rita begged. “Then we can take a long, hot, steamy shower. I promise.”
“It’s just an earring. I’m hitting the shower.” He dropped her hand and turned is back on her. He didn’t take notice of the way Rita narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips at him.
While the shower ran, Rita crawled around on her hands and knees, searching the bedroom floor unsuccessfully. She pulled back the bedding, searching every crack and crevice it could have slipped into, running her hands over the smooth, soft sheets, the kind found on the beds of luxury hotels. She’d never known a single man who cared so much about the quality of his bedding. It suddenly struck her as a little odd. Finally giving up, Rita got dressed in the clubbing clothes she’d been wearing the night before and made the bed. She sat and studied the room, trying to figure out where her earring might have gone.
She noticed the nightstand with its one drawer. It was impossible that her earring could have ended up in there. And rude of her to open it. But even as she fingered the earring still dangling from her right lobe, she knew she had to check. Just in case.
Rita edged closer to the nightstand and eased the drawer open. She stared down into the contents, trying to make sense of what she saw. As if on cue, she heard the shower turn off. She reached in the drawer and plucked out her earring, slamming the drawer shut.
She deliberately hooked the wayward earring into her left lobe as she contemplated what she’d seen. She wasn’t sure if it was worth confronting Phillip about it. She heard the bathroom door open and instinctively, she tried to smooth the wrinkles from her skirt. She waited with her hands folded in her lap for Phillip to emerge.
Just like that, her perfect weekend was suddenly flawed in a huge way. She tried to think back on any signs she may have missed prior to the earring incident. But it was all a blur. The instant chemistry over a cup of coffee. The impromptu dinner invitation, which led to the grand plan of a stolen weekend, just the two of them, no responsibilities. No regrets. The club for drinks and dancing. Back to his place. They were afraid to let each other out of their sight. Afraid that the instant connection would dissolve the minute they let go of one another.
Phillip came out of the bathroom in a cloud of steam. He wore only a towel precariously wrapped around his bony hips.
“Hey sexy,” he smiled and leaned over to put his hands on the bed on either side of Rita so his mouth was just a fraction of an inch from hers. His overwhelmingly minty breath made her empty stomach turn just a bit. She leaned back, which he took as an invitation. He gently pushed her all the way back on the bed and began kissing her neck.
“Sure you don’t want a shower?” he murmured between kisses. He reached up and rubbed her earlobe between his thumb and forefinger. He loosened his grip and slowly slid it down the length of her earring, tugging it ever so slightly before letting it go. Rita tensed every muscle in her body and waited for him to ask where she had found the earring, knowing full well she’d been in his nightstand. But instead he remained silent, waiting for her response. She wiggled out from under him and tried to force a natural smile.
“I’m sure. I should probably be getting home.” She stared at him expectantly, waiting for him to remember he had promised to drive her.
“Oh, com’on,” he smiled. “You promised our perfect weekend would end with pancakes.” He reached for her hand and pulled her close. He pressed his face into her stomach and slid his hands down her back to cup her butt. A move that the night before had melted her. Now she tried to figure out how to politely remove herself without jeopardizing her ride home. She tried to calculate how much cab fare would be should she fail in her attempt to not offend him. She now wished she had taken her mother’s advice and always carried a $20 bill in her shoe for emergencies. Her change purse now held three crumpled singles and approximately two dollars in dimes, nickels and pennies. Quarters were always removed for laundry.
“Oh, I really don’t want to go out in last night’s clothes. I smell like smoke from the club.” She silently pleaded that he did not have something she’d be able to wear even as she made the argument. She worried she was going to have to give in and shower and have brunch (was it still brunch at 3 p.m.?) with him in order to escape their perfect weekend together.
“Oh, didn’t Amy tell you?”
Rita raised her eyebrows and waited. She was beginning to think there was a lot her best friend Amy hadn’t told her about her “cute, smart, and fun too!” cousin Phillip.
“I have an awesome pancake recipe.”
Of course he did.
She weighed her choices. She could just leave and hope to find a nearby bus stop. Or she could walk down the corner and call someone to pick her up. But the only person she could think of to come get her was Amy. Amy idolized her cousin Phillip. She’d want to know what happened. She couldn’t know his secret. It was just too creepy. She’d be crushed. Or she wouldn’t believe Rita.
Rita chewed on her bottom lip and decided she’d stay for pancakes. She’d just ask him about the drawer. There was probably a reasonable explanation. After all, right up until half an hour ago, Phillip had seemed like a really great, normal guy.
Rita made a failed attempt at small talk while Phillip mixed pancake batter, deciding to wait until he was sitting at the table with her before she asked him about the drawer and her earring. When he commented on her unusual lack of conversation, the first time the conversation had lagged in 24 hours, or at least the portions of that 24 hours that were focused on talking, she shrugged. “Just a bit hungover, I guess.”
Phillip didn’t question her, even though she’d in fact had very little to drink the night before. Soon there was a short stack of pancakes sitting on the plate before her and Rita was grateful for something to occupy her mouth while she tried to figure out how’d she’d bring up the earring.
Phillip didn’t seem to mind dominating the breakfast conversation, and Rita was grateful. She tuned him out, no longer interested in his job or his hobbies or his friends. Unlike the night before, she no longer considered it a possibility that these were things she may want to keep track of. Just in case things should work out. Just in case he could be worth keeping. There was no more “just in case” to worry about. Even if there was a perfectly reasonable explanation, it all was just a little too odd.
She studied Phillip as he talked. She still found him physically attractive, she couldn’t deny that, but she now saw his eyes were a bit small and beady. She noticed one of his bottom teeth overlapped the others. And really, 6’4” was just a bit extreme in the height department, especially for someone with his thin frame. She had almost ended her study of his appearance when her gaze locked onto his right earlobe. There was a tiny little hole. Evidence of a piercing he apparently no longer wore.
Rita realized Phillip was staring her expectantly.
“Hmmm? Sorry, I must have zoned out.”
Phillip’s smile had faded and he was studying her as well. She wondered if the perfect weekend’s flaws were becoming apparent to him as well.
“I just asked if you had slept okay.”
“Oh, right,” Rita answered as she began diligently cutting her pancakes into bite sized pieces. “Yeah, I slept fine. Maybe could have used another hour or two.” She tried to laugh off her earlier distraction, but gave up when Phillip didn’t smile.
“Sure,” he nodded. He returned to his own pancakes and let the conversation fall to silence.
Rita again looked at his right earlobe. She thought of the contents of his nightstand drawer.
“Um, while you were in the shower, I looked all over for my earring. . .” She trailed off, wondering if she should go on, or if he knew where she was heading.
Phillip’s neutral expression remained the same as he reached across the table for more syrup. “Looks like you must have found it.”
He didn’t ask where.
“Yeah, funny, I couldn’t find it anywhere. I looked under the bed, all over bedroom floor. I mean, normally I wouldn’t care so much, but they were a gift from my sister.”
Phillip was not meeting her gaze. He shoved another bite in his mouth.
“I literally check every reasonable place it could be. I was getting desperate. I thought maybe it somehow could have ended up in your nightstand draw. I didn’t mean to snoop. . .” Rita started defending herself before he had a chance to accuse her of anything.
“And had it?” Phillip asked this as if he didn’t know the drawer was full of unmatched earrings. She didn’t bother to tell him she had found it lying on top of the pile. Not yet tangled in with the hoops and dangles. The pearls, the studs, and even one feather earring. She wanted to ask how it had ended up there. But it didn’t take much to imagine the only possibility. Had he waited until she had fallen asleep next to him? Breathing deeply in a dreamless slumber while he gently eased the earring from her lobe and dropped in it in the draw for safekeeping?
She hadn’t had time to count the earrings, but there were possibly hundreds. She wondered about the women who had worn them. She wondered how many, like hers, had been found and escaped the life sentence in his nightstand drawer. No longer adorning a woman on a night out for dinner and drinks, but suddenly relegated to . . . what exactly? A strange single earring fetish? A metaphorical notch on Phillip’s belt? Did he take them out and adorn his own ear after each woman had left? Did he frequently spread them on his comforter? Line them up and recall each woman who had worn them? Show them off to his buddies when they were swapping stories of sexual exploits?
Rita couldn’t force herself to take another bite of her pancakes. Phillip’s eyes had grown cold.
“Yes, it had,” she whispered.
Diane D. Gillette has an MFA from Emerson College, a day job teaching some really great students, and two demanding cats. Her short fiction has appeared in such journals as Hobart, Sniplits, Inch, flashquake, and The Molotov Cocktail. She is also an Assistant Managing Editor at Chicago Quarterly Review. When she is not busy enjoying Chicago with the love of her life, she is hard at work on her first novel. For more of her work or to contact her, please visit DiGillette.com.
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Tags: creepy, diane d gillette, relationships, secrets, sex