Part 4: Who’s Lovin’ You?
I warned Brielle about getting tangled up again. It never works out for the jump-off. Never. I don’t care if the man in question loves your dirty, period-encrusted drawers…it will never work out if you are the other woman. One way or another, the bill comes due and sometimes it is way more than expected. I will say this: Brielle loved that man and that man loved her. I saw it with my own eyes and I can say that I’ve never seen her love or be loved like that by any of her former suitors.
It wasn’t at first sight; no one believes in that garbage anymore…but it was a mutual nerdgasm from the moment she realized who he was. Brielle was a popular fanfic author and Patrick was one of her biggest fans and followed her work closely. I don’t know exactly how he figured out who she was, but once he approached her in that vein, I knew trouble was on the horizon. I do know they argued a lot, and all I have to say is that for her, verbal combat was the ultimate turn-on. Brielle was very passionate about her writing, and Patrick was very passionate about her writing as well.
And sometimes, that is all it takes. She fell ass over tit in love with him, then grabbed him by the balls and took him with her into the vortex. There was no talking to her after that. She did do me the courtesy of not bringing up her illicit affair whenever we spoke, but I knew enough by her demeanor and spirit that their relationship changed for the worse (as far as I’m concerned) after she published her latest Lecterphile fanfic. “Vows,” I think it was called…but shortly after that hit the communities she was a member of, she and Patrick became intimate. I had to ask that question because I had to know how it was. It couldn’t be helped; he was 22 years older than her! When she answered my question, her lips broke into a slow smile and her countenance lit up like she’d been graced with God’s favor. She told me that Patrick was the most passionate, considerate lover she’d ever had. She did acknowledge some misgivings at first, but then said that what he lacked in stamina, he made up for in attention and tenderness…and he was fearless. There was nothing he wouldn’t try if it meant pleasing her, and she loved him for it.
I admit…that bit made me jealous. I tried to reconcile that information with the man I knew and found it hard to believe. Patrick Fitzgerald was as milquetoast as they come; the man that Brielle described ran counter to the person I was familiar with. But Brielle never lied to me and I had no choice but to believe her. She told me about Justine Fitzgerald’s visit to her office and countered it with, “He’s got my nose wide open. It’s going to be a long wait.”
So she thought.
I’m a very good hostess. It is one of the things southern women are taught from the time we’re knee-high to a junebug; how to throw a function even on the most somber of occasions. Brielle died a week ago and her funeral was this morning. I decided to have the repast at her house, which she’d just purchased. I say she was murdered, but the coroner’s office couldn’t determine a cause of death. They found her in a hotel room in Virginia Beach.
I believe Patrick murdered my friend. I can’t prove it, but I believe he killed her and I do not know why. He was the last one to see Brielle alive: that hotel room was their regular suite. They spent whole weekends boo’ed up in there, and that last weekend was no different. She met him, sparred with him the way writer geeks do, did other things, and made love to him. Rinse and repeat, all weekend long. But for some reason, the cycle ended abruptly. He killed her. I don’t know why.
And then that fucker had the balls to show up at Brielle’s funeral with his wife. We made eye contact and in spite of my barely concealed rage, there was no mistaking the agony in his expression. His face was ashen and his cheeks were sunken and lined. It looked like he hadn’t slept, and his clothes hung loosely, as if he’d lost weight. He was grieving. They sat all the way in the back. When I got up to speak, I saw that Patrick’s eyes were wet and tears streamed down his face. Justine Fitzgerald sat next to her husband and her face betrayed absolutely nothing. She turned to look at him and handed him a handkerchief so he could wipe his face.
I could have gotten past that; he was her boss, in a manner of speaking. But then to show up at the repast was too much. I stayed away from Patrick for fear that I would put him on blast and scatter all his business in the proverbial street. But to do that meant that I would do the same to my best friend and I couldn’t smear her like that, ever. He stood in the room with Justine holding his hand, and it seemed that his attention was completely diverted. He was looking in the direction of Brielle’s bedroom; I’d left the door open.
Then, suddenly, he pulled away from her and left the room. Justine, in the middle of a conversation, was stunned to see her man break away from her. She watched him go and then turned back to the woman she was speaking to. Curious, I followed Patrick. I hung back in the doorway. He was standing by Brielle’s big picture window, the one that faced her mimosas, and he was talking in a low voice. Brielle’s bedroom door was a pocket; she hated swinging doors. I gently pulled the door closed and Patrick was so caught up in his grief that he didn’t hear me. I was stunned to hear his words.
“I love you, Brielle. I want to marry you. I went to my attorney and had papers drawn up. I’m giving Justine everything and I hope that’s okay with you. I won’t have a dime to speak of, but she deserves it and I deserve you. I love you. Come back to me.”
“Patrick? What are you doing?”
Startled, he turned to me. He blinked, as if coming out of a trance. “Natalie?”
I was calm. I don’t know why; I should have been beating the shit out of him, but I wasn’t. Something was off. “What are you doing?”
He looked like he was in another world. “I’m talking to Brielle.”
“She’s sitting right here.” He waved a hand over her window seat.
“Patrick, Brielle is dead.”
“No; no she’s not. She’s sitting here, wrapped in her favorite blue shawl and she’s wearing my favorite green dress. Natalie, I love her and I want her to marry me. Tell her it’s okay; I’m leaving my wife.”
Patrick hadn’t taken his eyes off the window seat. He was clearly out of his mind. I started to speak when the pocket door slid back.
“Patrick, what are you doing in here? You’re being rude. Come on back out. You shouldn’t be in here. Hello, Natalie.”
“Hello, Mrs. Fitzgerald.”
“Please, call me Justine. Patrick, please come out of here. You should not be in this room.” Justine’s face was pinched and she looked irritated.
“She’s right. You need to leave, Patrick. It’s inappropriate for you to be in here, especially after…” I said, unable to complete the sentence. What should I have said? Everyone in that room knew what went on between Justine’s husband and my best friend, even if it wasn’t in Brielle’s bedroom.
Justine looked at me. Patrick turned to face us and his face was red and his eyes tear-glazed. He focused on his wife and a look came over him; one that was hard with an angry edge. It was then that I caught a glimpse of something…an emotion that was anything but restrained. Like he could have strangled Justine in that moment.
“Come on,” Justine said, holding out her hand. “We’re going home. You need to rest.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said, turning his back on her. “I’m where I want to be; where I should be. You can have it all. I’m staying here with her. I love her.”
Justine walked across the room; her heels clattered across the hardwood floor. She grabbed Patrick’s hand and there was an equally hard edge in her eyes. “Come now, Patrick James Fitzgerald. Now! You will not embarrass me, not anymore.” With a strong yank, she led him away from the window and he followed, seemingly broken. Before leaving, he looked me in the eyes.
“Natalie, I swear on all that is holy, on my grandchildren…I didn’t do what you think I did. I never laid a hand on her in malice. She was everything to me. I loved her; I still love her. My heart is broken.”
“Come on!” Justine angrily pulled him out of the room. I watched, startled, as she led him through the oblivious crowd and out the door. A few minutes later, I heard a car start. I went to the window and looked out. The Fitzgeralds’ white BMW whipped out into the street, fishtailing, furiously driven by Justine.
A chill came over me as I sat in the window seat. I cried when I first found out Brielle was dead, and since then I hadn’t shed any more tears. But now, my eyes filled and soon my hands were covered with drops of water. So much had just happened in the span of those moments in Brielle’s bedroom. Ten minutes ago, I was convinced that Patrick Fitzgerald murdered my best friend. Now I wasn’t so sure. Was it the man she used to love, or the woman he used to love? And who’s going to love her now?