Kiss a Stranger

Page 1

Prologue

Once upon a time, he picked me up and put me back together again.

Piece by piece until I was whole again.

But now I know he did it to watch me fall.

And fall I did, crashing to the ground into little shards again.

But this time, no one came to put me back together again.

And I know he’d do it again; he’d put me back together

Just to watch me fall.

I loved him.

I loathed him.

I wanted to bring him close, and I wanted to push him away.

The warring of emotions inside of me made me feel like I was caught up in a whirlwind of hate and love. But which was overpowering the other?

Only time would tell.

He pressed my face down against the mattress as he swiftly undid his belt. I shook with need and cried with desperation. If I could only just look at him again… I’d choose ignorance over truth, if only I could look at him the way I used to.

He threw my skirt up over my hips and took me hard and fast. My mouth opened and my eyes glazed over as the feeling of pleasure swept me away into a place I’d reserved deep inside of me. A place where, once upon a time, he made me feel cherished and loved.

Tears burned down my face.

The truth.

That disgusting bitch of a thing called truth.

I’d do anything to hide from it. Because its grip was cold as death around my neck, and it was choking the life right out of me.

He was going to be the death of me.

Chapter One

A Dare

The sky didn’t look promising. Dark clouds rolled in and the smell of incoming rain was heavy in the air.

Well, this sucked.

We hurried into the Transperth train and I practically had to shove a middle-aged woman out of my way to get to a few empty seats. Emily just managed to secure one and, to my dismay, someone had settled down into what was supposed to be my seat right next to her.

I glared at the sinister old lady settling into my seat comfortably. Using her old, withered age to get her way and then smiling sweetly at me. The audacity! I smiled back, knowing my downcast spirit was irrational. I didn’t walk five blocks in the cold so I could be standing uncomfortably among a sea of people.

It wasn’t usually this busy, but that was because the Royal Show was only on for one week a year, attracting over four hundred thousand people from all across Australia. Not many people drove to the Showgrounds due to lack of parking. In fact, the neighbourhoods surrounding the grounds had multiple cars parked in driveways and front yards. Residents had auctioned off their space for a sum of money to goers who wanted to use it as a parking spot. Meanwhile, the rest of us unfortunate souls resorted to public transportation and all the smells that accompanied it.

I closed my eyes and gripped the bar in front of me as a large person pressed against my back and pushed me forward to get through. I looked down at my purse and made sure it was closed. I put my phone in my jacket pocket and zipped it up, leaving a tiny hole for the cord of my earphones to slip through. It was blasting ACDC’s “Highway to Hell” in my right ear, half drowning out the sounds of crying babies and obnoxious teens making jokes that weren’t funny.

“Oh, my fucking God,” Emily yelped, pulling her earphones out of her ears. The decrepit old lady next to her snarled at her language. “I totally forgot, Claire!”

“Forgot what?” I asked, leaning forward to hear her better.

“The dare cards! I got them in my purse. We’re like four days overdue.”

I suppressed an annoyed grunt. I had hoped she would forget about those stupid cards we made a year ago.

“It’s your turn, too!” she cackled loudly. Her mouth was wide open, revealing the white glob of gum in the corner of her mouth.

I gave her a playful slap on the face. “Fuck off.”

“You want to do it now?”

“Hell no!”

“You will pick one now, skank.”

The glare from the elderly lady intensified as she watched the both of us swear at each other. Thankfully, we didn’t have to withstand her biblical scowls any longer. She got up and hobbled out of the door at the next stop. Two of the seats were available. I slid in beside Emily as more people stepped in. The empty seat beside me was occupied just as quickly.  Facing Emily, I could feel the warmth of someone’s presence against my back.

The air was thick and swarming with all kinds of scents: colognes and hairspray, and an unpleasant musky smell that only sweaty men could expel. I shuddered and leaned into Emily, inhaling her jacket. She smelled like lavender.

“What are you doing, you weirdo?” She nudged me back the second I settled my nose into her bleached blonde hair.

“It stinks in here, and you smell delectable,” I said, mustering the creepiest voice I could while wiggling my eyebrows suggestively at her.

“Fucking psycho,” she muttered.

I watched her open her mammoth purse and stir the contents around in search of something. I already knew what she was looking for. I darted evil eyes at her as she took out a stack of white cards that were securely bound together by a thick blue elastic band. She had a giddy smile on her face, blowing giant bubbles of her gum. She shuffled the cards looking clearly proud for remembering.

I dreaded to think what my card was going to be. This was ironic, considering I was the idiot to come up with the dare game in the first place a year ago while we were bored one night watching reality shows. I didn’t remember the show in particular, but it was toting the message of living each day as if it were the last. Like usual, the sappiness found its way into my heart, and I wanted to prove myself by doing something exhilarating.

“We should dare each other to do something once every month,” I’d told Emily. “Like something crazy!” What a fool I was. Emily, being the creative one between us, thought up the cards. We bought blank flash cards from a dollar store and conjured up dares without each other’s knowledge of what was written on them. We’d take turns every month pulling out a card from the stack. Last month she was ordered to put up a video on Facebook dressed in hobo attire, pretending to snort a line of coke (it was really sugar, and it never made it to her nose) while dancing the Macarena.

Nobody appreciated the joke.

And her parents were especially unimpressed. Bunch of holier than thou snobs…

The month before that, I had to run two laps around the park beside our apartment complex in the dead of night with a Scream mask on. Naked.  I was unaware of the homeless man sleeping beneath a tree until he wolf whistled at me.

“I like you! I like you!” he belched drunkenly.

At least one of us was happy about it…

“Go on, pick one,” smiled Emily. It was her turn to wiggle her eyebrows at me.

I rested my fingers over each card that was spread out between both her hands. I lingered over one for a few moments before moving on to another.

It scared me sometimes when I thought about how the path of my life had rested solely on the card I chose. If I’d picked any other one – and, shit, I was inclined to in that moment – I wondered what path I’d have wound up in. It was fascinating that every choice, though inconsequential and minimal it might seem, could have such a drastic effect on your life. It was unfair actually. One minute you thought you were in control of your destiny and the next you were going in a different direction without stopping to take notice.

Control was an illusion. None of us had it. We pretended we did, but the choices that were made were based on the circumstances we were put in. A circumstance like a stupid dare card that gave you an act to follow – an act that had its own domino effect.

Hands shaking in adrenaline, I stopped thinking and pulled out a card. I turned it over and read it.

There were three words. Simple. Easy to understand. Yet I read the line with the three simple words over and over again. The irony… The goddamn, motherfucking irony! For some bizarre reason I wrote this damn card thinking that Emily would be the one to pick it.

Did I mention we were drunk when we wrote them?

“Well?” Emily’s impatience seeped out of her.

Damn you, Emily Jones, for deciding that right here and now was the time to pick a card! I held it out to her and she took it. Reading it, she burst into laughter.

“Glad you find it funny,” I snarled, snatching the card back.

Kiss a stranger, it said in my girly atrocious writing.

Kiss a stranger.

Kiss.

A.

Mother.

Fucking.

Stranger.

Rules were clear when it came to this game. I had to do it right after the card was picked. I looked around at the faces swarming in front of me. This was going to be so awkward. Every face I landed on was a middle-aged man, a pretentious teen, or a guy with an arm wrapped around a girl. There were some solo guys, too. Around my age. But none of them grabbed my attention. Not like it mattered. The kiss would be impersonal and quick.

Still.

These were my damn lips! I didn’t want to plaster them on a sweaty, smelly, unattractive man. I was a shallow girl when it came to hook-ups. I liked good looking guys, so sue me if I was especially particular about this.

I did notice some… potential choices, and was getting closer to picking one when Emily leaned into my ear and whispered, “What about the guy next to you?”

By reflex I immediately looked at the seat next to me, and then away.

Then again.

Then away.

With every quick glance I took in his appearance. It was a damn nice appearance too: an obviously tall man, maybe mid-twenties, wearing a tasteful black wool coat and dress pants. The first thing I noticed was his hand holding a thick hardcover book. His fingers were long and slim, and his skin was pale and smooth. This made his dark features pop right out of him: black thick hair a couple inches passed his scalp, thick eyebrows, long eyelashes, light stubble on a striking heart shaped face. I wondered if his eyes were just as dark too.

Fuck. Yes.

This was going to be my victim, hands down.

I turned back to Emily and smiled in agreement. Then I pulled out a pack of peanut M&Ms from my purse. This had to be timed right, I decided. I knew what to do. After all, it wasn’t the first time I made “accidental” meetings happen.

As the train slowed down at the next stop, grinding its wheels to a rough halt, I exaggeratedly flung to the side. Into this stranger I went, and my bag of M&Ms fell gloriously into his lap.

He looked up, startled.

“Oh, my God!” I said, feigning surprise. Someone needed to give me a fucking Oscar. “I am so, so sorry.”

I turned to him completely and began picking up the M&Ms that were over his coat and in his lap.

“That’s alright,” he responded.

I looked up for a second, taken aback by his unexpectedly deep, baritone voice. Then I resumed picking them up and settling them into my bag. My adrenaline was through the roof as I wondered just how I was going to plant my mouth against those plump lips of his.

His hand grabbed mine suddenly. When I peered down, I realized I’d been a little too close to his nether regions. Oh, God.

“I’m sorry,” I said, grimacing as he let go. I was sure I was ten shades redder.

He smirked and picked up the remaining M&Ms from his crotch and legs and settled them into my bag. “You don’t need to apologize. It happens.”

God, that voice.

He looked at me for the first time and our eyes met as I sheepishly nodded.

No, his eyes weren’t dark, I noted. They were incredibly bright; a shade of grey that screamed out of his face demanding attention. He looked at me just as interestedly. I’d put an effort into my appearance that day: faded skinny jeans, light blue cashmere sweater, new button up grey checker wool jacket. I left my chestnut brown hair down in waves and had perfected my make-up so that my green eyes popped out more than usual.

Oh yeah, I was hot. The kind of hot that could make men feast out of the palm of my hand. They loved me, and I loved them on back as long as I got what I wanted in the end. Hook-ups made me feel cherished. Made me feel like a queen in the warmth of a man. And at this moment, I suddenly wanted this man’s warmth.

I settled back into my seat, smiling confidently when his eyes followed.

“Are you headed to the Showgrounds?” he asked casually. Oh, yes, he was definitely interested.

I nodded. “Yes. It’ll be my first time.” Liar. I was just looking for something to talk about.

“I hope you have enough cash on you. It’ll be your typical tourist trap.”

“I’m ready to tackle on those showbags with every coin in my pocket if that’s what you’re referring to.”

He smiled, white straight teeth and all. “Yes, those are the ultimate gimmicks. You can’t walk out of the Royal Show without one.”

“Are you going, too?”

He shook his head. “Not this year.”

I felt a pinch of disappointment in my chest. I was used to small talk with strangers, especially guys who were trying to get a name and number out of me, but I’d never been as interested as this well-clothed, dark haired man with an English accent. There was something hard about him despite his fine clothes. A kind of hardness that you kept away from if you were smart and all that rubbish.

I wasn’t smart, by the way.

“North American?” he suddenly asked.

I paused before I answered. I’d never been asked that before. It was usually, “American?” or, “What part of America are you from?”

“American,” I told him with a smile.

“What part?”

“Detroit.”

“Really? I wouldn’t have picked that up. You don’t have the Michigan accent.”

I pretended not to be impressed by his worldly knowledge of the Michigan accent, something not many people knew about unless they’d been there. Had he?

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