“But where am I supposed to go?” she asked. Giovanna hoped she didn’t sound as desperate as she felt when the words left her lips. She already knew the answer she would get, but she asked the question anyway. It was the only card she had left to play.
“That’s not my problem.” Paul’s words were exactly what she had expected, but it was the tone, the emotion, or rather lack thereof, that was so much colder than she ever imagined coming from him. It gave her chills.
Paul was glad it was over. It never should have been in the first place. For one night, he tried to be someone else – and succeeded. What followed was a sad attempt to deny his actions that night. He needed to convince himself that he would never have a one night stand. He let out a chuckle as he thought about that night now, realizing he could still make that claim. He and Giovanna had been living together for the past six months. Surely, that hardly qualified it now.
The chuckle made Giovanna shudder. His slight laugh seemed so eerily out of place from his suddenly cold demeanor. It scared her. She picked up a pile of her belongings that he had piled just inside the door to their…to his apartment and carried it to her car as he watched. This was all sudden and unexpected, but not unrepairable. Not in the short-term anyway. She knew she had to come up with a plan to turn this all around and put her back in control. She knew that in the end she would win; she knew how to play this game far too well not to.
About eight months earlier, Sgt. Paul Sinclair had been stationed for two weeks at Camp Grayling, a U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard training base just outside a small town in northern Michigan that bore the same name. Paul felt somewhat guilty only serving the two days a month, two weeks a year minimum for his stint in the National Guard. Then again, that was the only way he was going to enlist again. He had already spent three years in Afghanistan as part of an Army Reserve unit, and had no intention of returning there, or anywhere else he might have bullets whizzing past his head and friends dying around him.
The bullets didn’t bother him too much. He had actually been considering reenlisting in the Reserve knowing full well he would undoubtedly be shot at again. He knew one might even find him, maybe he’d be killed. That didn’t bother him. He felt he was doing the right thing being there; helping to make the world a better place. However, any notions he had of reenlisting were quickly abandoned after his three best friends were killed, all within a couple days of each other. Tom (who everyone on the base called Tom Tom, because he was so uncannily good with navigation) and Sean were killed in an RPG attack while on a routine patrol, and Darius was taken out by sniper fire. Paul was supposed to be on that patrol with Tom and Sean, but the First Sergeant made him stay at the base at the last minute to do some overdue maintenance on the helicopters. The sniper attack happened right in front of Paul while Darius was telling him how the first thing he was going to do when he got home was to make love with his fiancé all night long. Paul had heard him say it a hundred times before. Darius was always talking about his fiancé, who he had dated since his freshman year in high school, and whom he had proposed to just before leaving for Afghanistan. Paul was only half listening when he heard the shot and saw Darius drop. He was the only casualty in the attack, except for the sniper a short while later. To this day, Paul wondered why God chose him to leave that forsaken place and they all had to die there. Tom had a wife and newborn baby boy waiting for him when he returned. He hadn’t even seen him yet, except for some pictures his wife had sent. Sean was also married and had a three year old daughter. And Darius would never marry his high school sweetheart.
“What did I have?” Paul would often ask himself after he returned home “Lydia, a girlfriend who had hooked up with some asshole in my absence six months before I came home and didn’t let me know until she saw me again because, as she put it, ‘I didn’t want you to lose hope. I still care about you.’”
“You didn’t give a shit about me or my hope! You only cared about yourself!” he lashed back at her. “You just didn’t want my fucking death on your conscience! Go fuck yourself and your boyfriend!” He turned and walked away. It was the last time they ever spoke.
About a year after he was honorably discharged from the Army Reserve and left Afghanistan, Paul got a call from Major Grant, the commanding officer of a National Guard unit based out of Selfridge Air National Guard base in southeast Michigan, about forty minutes from Dearborn, where Paul now lived. The Major wanted to talk to Paul about enlisting in the military again, and being assigned to the National Guard unit he commanded. At first, Paul wanted no part of it. He didn’t want even a remote possibility of going back to Afghanistan. But the Major said he could pull some strings to ensure Paul would never be assigned overseas duty – at least not for the next two years, which was all he was asking Paul to commit to. With that assurance, Paul signed up again. Major Grant held true to his word. It was during his second and final year in the Guard that Paul met Giovanna.
As Giovanna came back to grab another armful of her belongings, Paul refused to say anything to her, or even look at her face. She was very pretty – she had taken second place in a Crawford County beauty contest a couple years before they met. Or so she claimed. “Who knows”, Paul thought, “she probably lied about that too.” He knew he would miss her face, and her body…and the sex. She was certainly talented in that area, and would do it anytime and anywhere he wanted her to. There were times they’d almost gotten caught doing it in some fairly public places. She seemed to really get off on that, and Paul had to admit, it did add a bit to the excitement and intensity. He told her once that nobody could give a better blowjob than she could, and he believed it. She seemed to glow in that revelation, like he had presented her with a badge of honor. Yes, he would really miss that too.
When he arrived at Camp Grayling, Paul had no intention of leaving the base during his two weeks there, let alone hook up with someone. Every evening, he would stay in the barracks, reading one of the many books he had brought with him, until the other soldiers returned from their romp into town. Paul never developed the closeness to the other soldiers in Major Grant’s unit the way he did in Afghanistan. Being under fire did that to you. The guys in this unit were just spoiled, over privileged brats whose families had connections that could pull some strings, just like the Major did for him, so they never see any action but they’d still have the honor of saying they served. The difference was, he had paid his dues. They hadn’t.
Every night, when the other soldiers in his unit returned to the barracks, they would all be drunk and too loud and obnoxious for him to read, so he would just lie in bed pretending to sleep, laughing silently at the stories of their evening’s exploits. They would be half joking, half complaining about how they almost scored with one of the locals. Paul knew they probably thought he was odd, keeping to himself; never going out carousing with them. He even heard them one night joking about how he was probably gay. He didn’t give a shit what they thought. He knew who, and what he was, and he didn’t need to get laid to prove it. He was raised to respect women, not try to take advantage of them – even if they offered sex up freely. It was something you just didn’t do. You had sex with someone when you loved them, plain and simple; and you couldn’t love someone by knowing them one night, or even two weeks away from home.
Paul watched Giovanna drive off with her first carload of her belongs. Had she really moved that much stuff into his small apartment. Was there really more than she could fit into one carload? He figured she probably had the room but wanted an excuse to come back in a few days, after Paul had cooled off, and be able to lie and manipulate her way into getting him to let her move back into the apartment with him. “She probably would have a good shot at it too, if I hadn’t found that letter and her divorce papers.” He said to himself silently.
In the past 24 hours, Paul had learned just how good Giovanna was at lying and manipulation. She was better at it than she was with sex, and that’s saying something. The thought made him laugh. She was an expert at preying on the weaknesses of others. She knew that Paul always gave people the benefit of the doubt. He trusted them; at least until they betrayed him. And even then, he could be easily lied to in order to get into his good graces again. That was his weakness – he was gullible and naïve. Giovanna had no problem exploiting that. She was usually good at covering her tracks, but she screwed up this time. She didn’t cover them as good as she should have. Definitely not as good as she thought she had.
Paul’s last full day at Camp Grayling happened to fall on his 25th birthday. It didn’t bother him spending his birthday there. It wasn’t a day that was anything special to him. What did bother him was that he was bored. He had finished reading all the books he had brought, and he found himself sitting alone at night in an empty barracks with absolutely nothing to do. All the other soldiers in his unit had left about an hour earlier for the last of their nightly exploits. He was beyond bored. He began to think about the other guys trying to pick up some local girl for the night and thought to himself “How difficult can that really be?” He knew he was a decent looking guy. He had met girls in the past that he knew he could have easily had for just the night, if he had wanted to. But that wasn’t who he was. “Well, maybe tonight, I’ll be someone else and give it a try as a birthday present to myself.” He had heard there was some kind of festival going on in town, and figured that would be a good place to start.
When he arrived at the site of the Crawford County Fair, it was crowded, which wasn’t surprising, given the beautiful night it was. Clear starry skies, warm dry air, maybe even a little on the hot side for some people. There was music in the distance. Paul figured it was probably coming from a tent with a DJ or cover band. Undoubtedly, there would beer and dancing there … and single girls. He set off in that direction.
The beer tent was crowded, more so than Paul had anticipated. He had originally approached the tent from the side, near the front, where the band was playing on a small, metal frame, raised stage. He decided to make his way around the outside and enter instead from the back of the tent, opposite the band, where the crowd was probably much thinner. It would be a much better position to survey the landscape under the canvas roof – a better location to find his victim. He felt odd thinking of it that way. He knew she would need to be more of a willing participant, but victim made him feel more devious. It had more of villainous undercurrent to it, and that’s how Paul wanted to feel tonight. This was his night to be what he wasn’t. It was his chance to be what he would never let himself be. But he would be that person tonight; just this one night. Never again.
It didn’t take long for him to spot her. She was tall, thin, and very attractive, with long dark hair. She was too far away to tell the color of her eyes. Not that it mattered. He watched her dancing for about three or four songs. She danced only with a couple of her girlfriends, never another guy. A good sign; it didn’t look like there was a boyfriend or husband around. But there was only one way to find out for sure. He made his way towards her just as the band started into a slow set and she and her friends started off the dance floor. Her friends headed in his direction, towards the back of the tent. She headed towards the booth where they sold the beer. He continued in her direction and timed his approach perfectly to place himself right behind her in the beer line. He was trying to think of what to say to strike up a conversation with her while at the same time mentally kicking himself for not giving that any thought before now. Suddenly, she turned toward the back of the tent, in the direction her friends had gone, evidently looking for them. She was almost, but not quite looking at him. He could see now that she had brown eyes. “You dance really well.” It was the only thing he could think of on the spot.
“Oh, you were watching me?”
“Yeah, for the last few songs. I was thinking of going up to you out there, but was afraid you might be here with someone.”
“And now here you are in the beer line with me.”
From her tone, he couldn’t tell if she was being condescending or friendly. He was usually good at picking things like that up, but the way she said it seemed to hit right in between the two. There was an awkward silence. Even the band had momentarily stopped playing between two songs adding to the sudden tension in the air.
She seemed to sense it too. She smiled and said “Hi. I’m Giovanna, and I’m only with a couple friends; no boyfriend or husband” She had an odd smile. It had a hint of mischief it; or maybe it was wickedness. Maybe this could be fun, he thought
“Hi. I’m Paul.”
Giovanna figured she would only be moving out temporarily. She was confident once Paul cooled down, he’d let her move back in with him. For that reason, she wasn’t even going to try to find a permanent place to live. She talked to Lynn, who she worked with at the dental office in Dearborn Heights. Lynn’s cousin had an upper flat he was remodeling in his house in Dearborn Heights. He was planning on renting it out in a couple months and was still fixing it up, but she was sure he would let her stay there for a while, maybe even rent free, since he wasn’t finished with the remodeling yet. Lynn really liked Giovanna; felt sorry for her really, having to live with Paul and all that. Although Lynn had never met him, from what Giovanna had told her, the guy was a real prick.
A few months earlier, Lynn had set Giovanna up with her brother, Mike. They hit it off right from the start and as far as he was concerned were a serious couple ever since their first date. He took her out to dinner, they went back to his place, and spent their first night together. He knew all about Paul from the stories his sister had told him and really felt sorry for Giovanna. He knew it was a matter of time before she couldn’t take it anymore and decided to move out from the guy. She just needed to save up a little money first which was hard for her to do with what he had her paying in rent. When he heard she finally couldn’t take it anymore and moved out, he felt relieved for her.
There was something about her he didn’t like. Paul couldn’t quite place his finger on it, but it was there. Then again, who cared? This was just for one night. They seemed to be hitting it off great. Dancing and talking, telling each other about themselves. After a while, when her friends said they were leaving, she said she wanted to stay, but they were her ride. Paul told her he could drive her home, feeling stupid when he added “you can trust me.” It made her laugh and she replied without giving it a thought “I trust you.” She told him he seemed like a really nice guy and added that she needed a nice guy. She then confessed to him that she had gone through a divorce a couple months earlier; no kids involved, so it went pretty quickly. She was glad it was over. From what she told Paul about her ex, he was a real prick. He wondered if he could follow through with what he had planned for the evening with someone who had been so emotionally abused by her husband like that. Maybe when the festival ended, he should just drive her home and go back to the barracks.
Even though she was pretty, he wasn’t really that attracted to her. It was more because of her personality than anything else. She seemed to be too much the victim; too vulnerable. Sometimes it just seemed like her story was too much; like maybe she was making some of it up. But then, maybe he just had a hard time imagining someone in that dire of a situation. He felt guilty for not fully believing her. What he did know was she wanted to be with someone tonight – at least for a while. And so did he.
After the band had finished their last song, Paul decided he couldn’t go through with it. He couldn’t use her for the night after all she had told him she had already been through. They joined the crowd as it began to exit and disperse from under the tent heading to the parking areas. As they were walking, she grabbed his hand tight and said earnestly “I don’t want this to end yet. Let’s go somewhere.”
Paul didn’t know the Grayling area at all, plus, it was late at night in a small town. “Is there any place even still open?” It was a reactionary response. He thought it sounded rude, but it was too late to take it back.
Giovanna didn’t seem to notice, or just blew it off “No. Not really I guess. We could go down by the water and talk some more. I’d like to get to know you better.”
For that moment, it seemed to Paul, like the sad victim was gone. She had eagerness, an exhilaration about her all of a sudden. Did he have that effect on her or was there something else? He wondered if there was something he was missing.
They drove to a beach on Lake Margrethe, a small inland lake less than five miles from the festival. They talked all the way there, mostly about how busy he was with his job working nights on the assembly line at Ford and his engineering classes during the day. She talked more about the woes in her life. It wasn’t that he didn’t feel pity for her, but he was wishing she would talk about something else. Once he parked the car, overlooking the water, there was a lapse in their conversation. As they sat looking at each other, Paul moved in slowly toward her. He could tell she was moving towards him as well. He placed his hand gently on the right side of her face, slightly behind her ear easing her towards him and kissed her gently. And she reciprocated. It quickly became more passionate.
As Paul sat in his apartment, sipping on a coffee, waiting for Giovanna to arrive and pick up the last of her belongings. He stared for a long while at her divorce papers and the letter he had found while gathering up her stuff. He tried to weigh which one was worse. It was bad enough finding out a couple days ago that she had been having sex with the brother of her coworker – how long had that been going on, he wondered. If that was the nail in the coffin to their relationship, he thought, then the letter and divorce papers were the rotting corpse inside it.
The note was from some guy named Nick that she apparently knew up in Saginaw. It said how he was slipping it in her purse to let her know how great their sex was that night and how she could really teach his girlfriend a few things. For whatever reason, the guy had the courtesy of dating the upper right corner of the note. The date was the same as the afternoon Giovanna moved in with Paul. Paul had to say it out loud to himself in order to fully grasp what he was just then realizing. “She fucked this asshole the night before she moved in with me.” He had felt sorry for her. He never made her pay towards the rent or the food, even after she got that part-time job at the dentist office. He wondered now about what she did with all her free time while he was at work and school, but then decided he didn’t want to know. He already knew too much.
As he saw Giovanna’s car pull up, Paul stood up to let her in. His thoughts slipped from the two documents of lies and betrayal he held in his hands to how she would soon be out of his life for good; but not before deciding that as bad as the letter was, what he discovered in the divorce papers was worse.
Although he had accomplished what he had set out to do with his evening’s quest, Paul felt no level of satisfaction. Raw sexual gratification, sure; but not satisfaction. He had taken advantage of a poor girl when she was most vulnerable. Sure, he could rationalize that when things started to get passionate in the car he had told her he didn’t want to get involved in any long distance relationship – that she was four or five hours away, and that was just too far. Sure, she said she understood, and more importantly to Paul, that she didn’t care. But after leaving Lake Margrethe, going to her friend’s house, and having sex again, she was now talking about calling him after he got back to Dearborn and coming down to see him, maybe next weekend. That was not in the plan. He wanted to tell her that he didn’t want to see her after tonight, but couldn’t bring himself to do it. He couldn’t let her know that he had just used her.
She did call him. And she did come down to see him. He wondered why the hell he didn’t give her a fake phone number. “They probably teach you that in ‘One Night Stand 101’ if someone taught such a course” he thought silently to himself. “A course I obviously would have failed.” She came down the following weekend as well – and the next one. He prevented her from making the trip the next couple weeks by making up plans he didn’t really have but couldn’t think of anything new after that and she started spending the weekends with him again. The more he got to know her, the more he realized he felt nothing romantically for her. There was a part of him that didn’t even really like her. She was way too clingy. He wanted to end it, but he didn’t want to hurt her too badly. He felt she had been hurt enough. Then, he came up with a plan. The next time Giovanna called to let him know she was starting her drive down to see him, Paul told her they needed to talk when she got there.
Shortly after she arrived, Paul explained to her that he just couldn’t take any more of the long distance relationship. He tried to say with sincerity, that he had tried but it just wasn’t working; they needed to stop seeing each other. It wasn’t too much of a stretch to sound like he meant it. There was a small part of him that did try. But in his heart he knew he didn’t love her and never would. He knew he didn’t want to be with her. Never did – except for that one night. “Don’t get me wrong, I really like you,” okay so that was a lie “but I just need to have someone who is here more often. Somebody I can spend more time with. Giovanna seemed to take it a lot harder than he thought she would. She seemed crushed. It made Paul feel like he was a total shithead.
“I’m really, really sorry. The only way I can ever see this working out is if you moved in with me down here” That wasn’t part of what he had planned to say to her, but he figured it would hurt her less if it looked like he cared a little more. Besides, what could it hurt? They’d only known each other about two months and seen each other only six or seven times. There was no way she would want to move in with him only knowing him for that short of time.
“You would let me move in with you? Oh my God! I’d love to! Thank you.” She threw her arms around him. “I love you!”
“Wait! I was only kidding. I didn’t expect you to say ‘yes.’ I didn’t mean it. NO! You can’t move in with me. I don’t want to see you anymore.” That was what Paul wanted to say, but he couldn’t let himself do that to her. What came out of his mouth instead was “I love you too.”
Giovanna parked her car in the spot nearest the door to Paul’s apartment. The spot was reserved for his apartment only, and was nearest to the door. She had watched Paul when he came home. He had originally parked in that spot, but then pulled out and parked further down, leaving her the closer spot. She knew he wouldn’t have done that if he were as mad as he was the other day. It was a good plan to pretend she didn’t have enough room in her car a couple days ago so she could come back after he cooled off a bit. She knew she could make him come around to letting her move back in with him eventually, but she was thinking now that maybe she could get him to come around to that today. She just had to take control of the situation right away, as soon as she walked in the door. Play the victim that made just this one mistake. Act devastated and hurt. He would give her another chance. She was sure of it. Paul was a nice guy, very empathetic and forgiving – the easiest qualities to manipulate. It was all about keeping control and playing on emotions, and she knew she was a master at that. Nobody ever broke up with her. She always decided when it was over – when she was done playing with them. She loved playing this game; even more than she loved sex. “And that’s saying something,” she snickered aloud to herself just before getting out of the car.
Paul opened the door for her before she had a chance to ring the doorbell. “Back to being the gentleman” Giovanna thought to herself. “Good.”
“Thank you for the close parking space.” She said it softly, like an innocent child who was ashamed of her action, half begging forgiveness. Play on the emotions.
“No problem.” Paul couldn’t help but be impressed with how good she could be at playing this game. But he knew he could play it just as well. Better even. It just took a hell of a lot for him to even want to. He didn’t get the enjoyment out of playing someone’s emotions the way she did, but this time he would make an exception. What he didn’t tell her was he figured she would probably be waiting for him to come home. He purposely pulled into ‘her’ spot and then moved the car so it would look like he was doing something nice for her – giving her the closer spot like he always did. He wanted her to believe she would be able to manipulate him into giving her a second chance. But Paul knew there was no way in hell that was ever going to happen. Over the past few months, and especially the last couple days, he had figured out this game she was playing. There was no way he was going to let her win. But he wanted her to build up her confidence before he smashed it to the ground right in front of her.
Paul pointed to the two boxes sitting on the floor just inside the door. “There you are.”
Giovanna couldn’t help but notice that on top of the box furthest from her was a manila folder with her name written on it, along with the words “For Your Eyes Only.” It was in Paul’s handwriting.
This was unexpected, and she didn’t like the way it felt. She stared at the folder for what she suddenly realized was too long. She felt the situation slipping from her control just a little bit. It made her feel uneasy. The uneasiness itself wasn’t that bad. What bothered her more is that she was caught off guard and let it show. She quickly grabbed the first box and carried it out to her car without saying a word, all the while wondering what was in the folder on top of the other box. Obviously, Paul had put it there intentionally. She couldn’t think of why, or fathom what was in it. She hadn’t come up with any answers by the time she had returned to retrieve the last box, so she decided to play it off as if she hadn’t even noticed it earlier.
“Oh, is this for me? Should I read it here?” she tried to ask innocently.
Paul’s reply seemed almost too curt. She was worried. She hoped it didn’t show.
Paul noticed her slight apprehension as she picked up the folder. She covered it up well, but it was still noticeable if you were looking for it. He waited until she was just starting to flip it open when he interrupted her.
“Oh, by the way”
”You know the other night when I came home early from work and found out you weren’t hanging out with your girlfriend, like you said, because you came waltzing in the apartment with your arms around her brother? Did you ever wonder why I just told him to leave and never questioned you about what was going on between the two of you? Did you ever wonder why I didn’t seem worried about whether or not you were fucking his brains out somewhere, maybe even here, every night while I was at work? The fact is I didn’t care.”
Giovanna was more confused than ever.
“Go ahead, open it.”
She stood frozen with the folder held open, staring at the short letter Nick had left her in her purse, her eyes gazing up toward the date he had written in the upper right corner, like he was drafting one of his stupid business letters. He probably did it out of habit. She could have lied her way out of this if it weren’t for that date. She forgot about it being on there when she hid the letter in the file with her credit card statements. She should have just thrown it out. But the damage was done. She noticed there were more papers in the folder, underneath the letter. Her mind raced to recall what else she might have hidden in with the credit card statements. As soon as she remembered, her thoughts came out of her mouth before she could stop them. “Oh shit.”
Realizing she knew what was there without even looking at it, Paul continued explaining. “When I got home that night, I was bored, so I decided to straighten up a little bit. Your credit card statement was sitting on the table and I noticed you had written the payment confirmation number on it, so I thought I’d be a nice guy and file it away for you. When I went in the file, I saw your divorce papers in with your statements. I had never seen divorce filings before so I decided I’d take a look at them. Imagine my surprise when I noticed that it was your husband who actually filed for divorce and that he did it after you and I had been living together for two months. So yeah, ‘Oh shit.’”
Giovanna tried to come up with something. Anything. “But I… … …”
Paul waited until she realized she had nothing. “Now you see why I didn’t care. It didn’t matter if there was anything going on between you and what’s-his-name. It was already over between us before you even came back here with him. You know, I almost threw all your shit in the dumpster that night, until you came home with him. I’m glad you did. This was so much more fun.” Giovanna stood there in silence, not knowing what to do next. She felt small and weak. She had no control here. It was all Paul’s. “Now get this last box the fuck out of my apartment. I never want to see you again.
Giovanna picked up the box and carried it out the door. For the first time she could remember, she had lost. As Paul shut the door behind her, he said dryly, as much to himself as to her, “Game over.”
Copyright © 2014 Mr. Flying Pig