The first time Ian met Astrid was less
than a week before at the Kathleen Wash n Dry. She called out to him twice
before he raised his head and looked around.
“Hey, hey you!” She giggled. “You’re
really into that book, aren’t you?
Ian was puzzled at first and looked down to the paperback in his hand before
looking back at her and nodding.
She giggled again. Ian thought her
laughter sounded musical. The reason Ian didn’t hear the girl’s voice at first
wasn’t because of the book. It was because girls didn’t talk to him, ever. He
was a chubby twenty-three-year-old with perpetually unkempt brown hair that was
flat and looked lifeless. He was born with a cleft palate that a doctor
repaired, but it left him with a nasty scar beneath his nose that pulled his
top lip up and made him sound like he was congested every time he spoke. To say
Ian Blais was unpopular with women was an understatement. In fact, the only
time he remembered females attempting to get his attention was the cool girls
at the popular table in high
school. The day he never forgot, when the girls who’d never give a guy like him
the time of day beckoned him over in the cafeteria. When he approached, they
squeezed their juice-boxes and sprayed Ian down with a variety of tropical
fruit juices and then burst out in cruel, mocking gales of laughter while
pointing at him.
“Bet that’s the first shower he’s had
all semester!” One of them said.
The whole lunchroom erupted in snickers and jeers as Ian hurried out the
double-doors and ran down the hallway with tears streaming down his cheeks.
After that day and for the rest of
time in school, Ian ate his lunch alone in a stall in the boys bathroom.
This girl was short and on the heavy
side, but Ian didn’t particularly notice
that. She had a heart-shaped face and delicate features. Her skin looked smooth
and unblemished and Ian was particularly drawn to her bright green eyes.
She didn’t so much as walk
but sort of bounce over to him from the
row of spinning industrial dryers, smiling and full of bubbly excitement. She
grabbed the book in his hand and tilted it up to see the cover.
“Stephen King!” She exclaimed, smiling
wider and showing a row of slightly crooked but perfectly white teeth. “Wizard
and Glass,” she said, “You’re a
She was referring to the larger story
the novel belonged to, King’s sprawling post-apocalyptic spaghetti-western
called The Dark Tower. “Tower-junkie” was how one of the main characters
described what he and his travelling friends had become, a ragtag band of
misfits pulled out of time in order to journey to this mysterious and mythic
tower that stood at the nexus of all dimensions and once there, stop the evil Crimson
King who threatened to unravel
all of reality itself.
Ian smiled up at her before he realized
he was doing it and quickly stopped because smiling accentuated the scar above
his lip and revealed the top of his gums.
“Yeah,” He said while pretending to be
suddenly interested in his shoes.
“Well then,” she said. “I’m Astrid
Comeau, what’s your name?
“Ian Blais,” he answered.
And then she did something that made Ian giggle.
Like the people in the book, she
curtsied and said “Hail, Ian Blais, Gunslinger! Would you happen to have some
fabric softener for a damsel in distress?”
Ian couldn’t help smiling this time as
he dug through his canvas green packsack and produced the bounce sheets she
requested, but he pulled his lips closed into a wide grin as not to reveal his
They talked for the next forty-five
minutes about King’s books and the various connections in his different novels
all tying into his larger tower epic. Ian discovered she was a horror film
enthusiast like him and a fan of comic books, not the super-hero variety but
the more intricate dark-fantasy Sandman
stories of Neil Gaimen, which he also enjoyed. She was twenty-one and had just
split with her boyfriend of four years after stumbling on some facebook
messages from other girls that revealed he was
“I told him to grab his stuff and get
the hell out!” She said as they were folding their laundry together.
“That’s dumb,” Ian
She put her hands on her hips and looked at him.
“Your boyfriend cheating on you is
dumb,” he said. “You’re the coolest girl I’ve ever met.”
Astrid put the white bath towel she
folding down and bounced over to him.
“You’re sweet,” she said, getting on her
tip-toes and kissing him on the cheek.
Ian felt the blood rush to his face and
he got dizzy. He grabbed the corner of the folding table and looked at his
Astrid giggled and grabbed his chin with
her soft fingers. She raised his head to look at her and he instinctively put a
hand over his mouth to hide the hare-lip.
“Oh,” she cooed. “You’re blushing! That
is so cute!”
And then she moved the hand away from
“You don’t have to hide your smile, you
know. Not from me.”
Ian went to look down at the floor again
but she stopped him.
“My daddy had a scar,” she said softly.
“Just like the one you have…and he was the sweetest man I’ve ever known.”
When they were done with
they exchanged numbers. As it turned out, they lived in the same neighborhood,
he had a small bachelor apartment on Bessie Avenue and Astrid rented a little
one-bedroom house just two streets over.
“Did you want to come to my house later
tonight and watch a movie?” She asked.
Ian said he would and they agreed to
meet at the Donovan Fresh Mart after dinner, one of the few convenience stores
in town that still rented DVDs. Astrid told him she never seen John Carpenter’s
science-fiction horror classic The Thing,
and Ian remembered passing it on the shelf many times while picking up
snacks for work.
“Tell you what,” she said as they walked
through the doors of the fresh mart a few hours later. “You get the movie, I’ll
buy the munchies. You know what I want? Peanuts. My ex was deathly allergic to
them. Do you know how hard it is to find good junk-food that doesn’t have that
little may have come into contact with
Ian grinned as he watched her bounce
down the confection isle, grabbing Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups and corn chips
and giggling all the way.
When they got to her place Ian noticed
many of her ex-boyfriend’s belongings strewn around. A black motorcycle helmet
sat on a chair by the entrance with a pair of steel-toe work boots beside it.
His razor and cologne were still on the counter in the bathroom. Ian deduced
that the break-up must have been fairly recent.
Astrid turned the lights low and sat
very close to him on the big blue sofa when the movie started. She buried her
head in his chest during the particularly scary scenes featuring the
shapeshifting alien doppelganger. This was the closest Ian had ever been to a
female who wasn’t his mother. She must
have heard his heart hammering, but she didn’t mention it and that was good.
When she took his hand in hers, she
didn’t comment on how clammy it was. She kissed him. Her lips were soft and her
breath was warm and she tasted sweet. For the first time of many that night,
Ian wondered if he might be dreaming.
After the movie was over she led him to
her bedroom. There were unicorns everywhere. Pictures of them adorned the
walls, little ceramic unicorns were on her nightstand, two heavy brass unicorn
head sculptures bookended her collection of Stephen King and Dean Koontz novels
on her dresser in front of the mirror.
When they were naked on the bed and she
guided him into her, that’s when he felt it. That’s when he knew.
Their meeting wasn’t just
happenstance. It was no chance encounter. She was meant for him and he for her.
He knew she felt it too because after they had made
love she held him and stroked the side of his head and they fell asleep in each
Now, Ian crossed
Elm Street and walked
beneath the underpass that would lead him back to her little house on Eva,
because the bail restrictions listed on the paper in his back pocket were
meaningless. Ian was sure the connection they had transcended any man-made
That’s how he knew that when she stopped
returning his phone calls and ignoring his text messages, something was wrong.
Ian replayed the days that followed
meeting Astrid in his mind, how he began taking walks to her house, sometimes eight
or nine times a day. When he saw the
motorcycle parked in the driveway, it confirmed his suspicions. Her
ex-boyfriend had somehow wormed his way back into her life and was manipulating
her. Of course.
When the boyfriend came running out of
the house one night and confronted Ian, he came off affable and sounded
reasonable. That’s how he was fooling Astrid, sounding reasonable and using his
charm. It had to be.
“Listen bro,” he said as he approached.
The guy was dressed in a white designer track suit, his yellow hair was slicked
back against his skull and a gold chain hung over his top. Teenage acne had
left pock-marks on his cheeks and his breath smelled of cigarettes. He was tall
and very thin.
“I understand you and my girl got to
know each other over the time the two of us were fighting. I ain’t mad at you.
She’s a good girl and I fucked up.”
He paused then, maybe expecting Ian to
say something, but Ian had nothing to say.
“You gotta stop this walking by the
house shit, okay?” He put a hand on Ian’s shoulder. Ian looked at it, and then
back into the guy’s dark brown eyes. Although Ian heard Astrid mention her ex’s
name many times on that perfect day they spent together, he couldn’t actually
remember what it was. He wasn’t a man to Ian. He wasn’t even a human being. He
was just an obstacle, something that stood in the way of their perfect union.
It’s funny how you can go through your life and not even know that something is
missing until you actually found it.
“You need to stop this stalking shit,
you understand me? It’s not cool.”
“Is there a reason she can’t
tell me that?” Ian asked.
“If that’s what it takes bro, I’ll have
her call you. She’s at work right now but I’ll have her call you when she’s
home. Then this stops.”
Without saying another word, Ian slid
the hand off his shoulder and walked around Astrid’s ex-boyfriend. He continued
on his way.
Astrid did make contact that night, but
it was by text message, not a phone call like Ian had hoped.
I am sorry but I can’t walk away from a relationship after four years without
doing everything in my power to make it work. I am so, so sorry. You’re a sweet
guy Ian and I did not mean to lead you on. You deserve better than me.
Part of him wanted to believe it was a
ruse, that Astrid’s ex had gotten a hold of her smartphone and composed the
text himself. After hours of staring at his cell, reading and re-reading the
short message over and over and thinking about the encounter earlier that day,
Ian decided the man didn’t look literate enough to spell every word correctly
or articulate enough to differentiate between words like your and you’re. No,
Astrid wrote the text, he was sure of that. Just as sure as he was that it was
all part of her ex-boyfriend’s design.
The next night was when Ian broke into
the house with the jar of peanut butter and the drawing in his coat. He wanted
to leave a note for Astrid telling her how much the night they spent together
meant to him and that he knew that in
her heart, she felt the same way as he did. It was that snake of an
ex-boyfriend. Somehow, he was confusing her. Only Ian couldn’t stand the
thought of him reading it, so instead
of writing a heartfelt plea for her to come back to him Ian drew a picture of a
unicorn like the ones in her bedroom. It was pure white, as pure as the love
they had for each other. The horn on the majestic beast’s head was piercing a
heart. The peanut butter on the doorknobs was meant as a warning to her ex. Ian
wanted the bastard to know he was aware of his weakness and there was nothing
he wouldn’t do to free Astrid from the spell he had her under.
Two detectives approached Ian when he
was leaving his apartment for work this morning and placed him under arrest for
break and enter and criminal harassment. They brought him to the police station
and placed him in a room with plush carpeting, a couch and a coffee table with
a bouquet of flowers on it. They sat across from him and asked him questions
about what happened. Why did he break into the girl’s place? What was with that
drawing of the unicorn and the peanut butter? They talked like the three of
them were old friends, but Ian recognized the detectives’ demeanor instantly.
They weren’t concerned friendly. They
were aggressively friendly. Like the
girls at the popular table back in high-school, this was just a trick.
“Do you remember when you guys were
arresting me,” Ian asked them.
The two detectives nodded.
“You said I had the right to speak to a
lawyer without delay, right? I think I want to talk to a lawyer, and I want to
do that right now.”
Ian was brought to a telephone and given
a list of lawyer’s numbers, but he had never been arrested before and every
secretary who answered the phone told him the lawyer had left for the
The officer in in charge of
fingerprinting must have taken pity on
“Look Mr. Blais,” the cop said. “After I’m done booking you, you’ll be brought
to the courthouse and placed in the bullpen. Tell the court security officer
you want to talk to duty counsel. Today it’ll probably be Mr. Baker. He’ll
explain your options to you.”
Just twenty-three minutes after he swore
to a judge that he would stay out of Astrid Comeau’s life and re-appear in
court some three weeks later to answer the criminal charges she laid against
him, Ian Blais was standing in front of the girl’s home once again.
Ian was hoping to find Astrid alone
the house. Without her ex around it would be easier to make her remember the
night they spent together and how special it was. How it felt so undeniably right.
Alone, just the two of them, she
would remember. She would see clearly.
As he approached the little white house
on Eva Street Ian was disappointed to see the green Kawasaki Ninja street bike
parked in the driveway. Summoning all his courage, he walked to the side door
and knocked. When no one answered, he put his hand to the glass and peered
inside. There was no movement. He knocked again. Nothing. Ian became nervous.
if she is in the house and she can’t come to the door, he thought. What if he’s stopping her? What if
he’s hurting her?
He tried the doorknob and found it
unlocked. Ian slipped inside and walked through the dark kitchen. The
television was on in the living room, but the volume was muted. Ian turned left
and entered the hallway and remembered how beautiful Astrid looked the night
she led him to her room by the hand. The door to the bathroom was open. No one
was in it. That’s when he heard the banging coming from behind the bedroom door
that was slightly ajar.
Ian burst in to find the two of them in
the bed where he and Astrid had become one just a few nights before. The
manipulative fucker had his pants around his ankles and was forcing himself on
Ian’s one and only true love, his narrow ass thrusting into her while his pale
and scrawny legs writhed against the mattress. Ian tackled him off the bed and
the two of them went tumbling onto the floor. Astrid screamed as her attacker’s
head slammed against the wall, stunning him.
Ian got up and went to console her but
when he approached she scrambled away and grabbed her phone off the nightstand.
“I’m calling the police,”
“That’s a good idea,” Ian said. “I knew
he was dangerous. I knew you feel the same way I do and that he was holding you
hostage or some…”
The first of several punches landed on
Ian’s head. He staggered back toward the dresser as the ex-boyfriend kept
hitting him. Blows landed on his chin, his nose and under his jaw. Ian reached
his hands back against the surface of the wooden dresser to keep his balance
and he felt something large and heavy. Without thinking he grabbed the object
and swung it wild. He felt it connect and the punches stopped. When his vision
cleared Ian saw the ex’s face and realized the man’s right eye was crossed like
he was looking at his own nose while the left eye was still trained on
Ian. It was one of the unicorn bookends
that he grabbed off the dresser, the brass horn had punctured the man’s temple
and blood gushed down the side of his head in torrents. When Ian pulled the
bookend free, the wound made a wet sucking sound. Then the ex dropped to the
floor and began convulsing. Astrid screamed again.
just killed him! Yes he’s still in the fucking house he just killed my
boyfriend oh my god please come yes 221 Eva Street oh my god help me!”
Ian didn’t understand.
what are you doing? What are
She looked up at him while holding the
phone to her face with a trembling hand. There was a stark terror in her eyes, but
something else as well. Something
familiar to Ian. He had seen it his whole life when people looked at his
disfigured lip. It was revulsion.
She was in shock. That’s what
The poor girl was just attacked by her ex-boyfriend and then witness to an act
of brutal violence. Necessary violence,
Ian thought, but brutal nonetheless.
“Listen Astrid,” he began, trying to
speak calmly. She jumped out of her bed clutching the white comforter against
her naked body with one hand and the cell phone in the other.
“Stay away from me! Get away!” Her voice
“We’re supposed to be together, don’t
you see?” Ian pointed to the body still shaking on the bedroom floor in front
of the dresser. He was only vaguely aware that he still held the brass bookend
in his right hand, blood and gore dripped from it and soaked into the carpet.
“He wasn’t going to let
that happen. He
was manipulating you, making you forget what we have together.”
Astrid looked at her ex-boyfriend and
then at Ian. Her face a mask of horror and sorrow. She screamed again and ran
out of the room.
“Wait,” Ian called out to her. He
followed her, jogging down the hallway. He reached the kitchen just in time to
see Astrid trip over the comforter she was covering herself with and collide
with the side of her refrigerator. Abandoning the bedding, she flung open the
side door and ran outside screaming. Ian followed out behind her.
Ian saw the police cruiser in the
driveway and the two officers with their guns drawn. They were barking at him
to drop the weapon, but Ian didn’t have a weapon. Just the stupid brass
bookend. Dropping it didn’t even occur to him. All that mattered was Astrid. He
had to stop her. He had to make her see.
He saw her sprinting naked
cement path from the door to the driveway and he ran after her. He heard the
loud popping sound and felt the first explosion of pain in his left shoulder
blade, but that didn’t stop him, he staggered but continued running after her.
felt it too, Ian knew it. That night they made love, the feeling of completion. That feeling of utter bliss.
He had to stop her and he knew if he could just talk to her, she’d remember
what her ex-boyfriend made her forget.
The second loud pop and burst of
excruciating pain in his left thigh dropped him to the pavement. The last thing
he thought of was that cute bouncy way she walked over to him at the laundromat,
full of bubbly energy.
Then the world went dark.
For a while,
Ian didn’t know how long,
there were periods of near-lucidity, bright lights and hospital smells, pain
and memories of pain and persistent aches. Ian finally awoke lying on a concrete
slab. A plump and stern looking woman was changing the bandages on his
shoulder. The walls were white tile like a hospital, but they were dirty. Grimy.
The room smelled like old urine.
“Where am I?” Ian asked.
“You’re in the Sudbury
District Jail,” she
answered. She didn’t look at him. Her eyes never left the gauze she was
applying. “Medical segregation.”
Ian closed his eyes and slept again. The
next time he woke, his left leg was aching badly. How much time had passed he
couldn’t say. He looked down to see that the leg was bandaged from his thigh to
his knee. There was a light bulb in a square in the ceiling that was covered with
a wire mesh and the light had been dimmed since the last time he was conscious. Ian
yelled for the lady who tended to him earlier.
A shadow fell over him then,
looked up to see two beady little eyes peering down from between the lightbulb
and the wire mesh. It was a mouse.
“Hey there little guy,” Ian croaked.
“I don’t understand
what happened,” he
confessed to the little rodent.
“What we had together was special. You don’t walk away from love like that, ya
The mouse didn’t respond.
“Why would she call the police on me?
Why did she call him her boyfriend
to the 911 operator when he was her ex-boyfriend?
The mouse let out a little
then scurried across the mesh and out of view.
Ian didn’t hear a squeak though, he
heard two words. Two words that made him understand why Astrid behaved the way
Ian smiled. It was just a matter of time
before Astrid realized the feelings she had for her captor were false. In time
she’d realize what they truly had together, and that was okay.
Ian would have plenty of time.