Always Something There To Remind Me
Nathan swallowed. “Wow,” he said eventually. “You made this yourself? For me?”
“Yeah, in my sculpture class.” Holly beamed. “It’s a declaration of my love.”
Nathan tried to study the thing without actually looking into its eyes. She’d certainly captured an accurate likeness of herself -- if the self she’d intended to capture was her maniacally-grinning, decapitated head, shrink-wrapped on a polystyrene tray. Were all art students strange, or was this another Holly thing? Nathan found her uninhibited infatuation with him cute when they first started dating three months ago, but now it was starting to creep him out.
“You should hang it there,” said Holly, pointing at the opposite wall, “above the telly. Then whenever you’re missing me, you can see me looking back at you.”
Nathan suppressed an involuntary shudder. “I dunno Holly – I share this flat with James, remember…”
“Oh, he won’t mind – he’ll think it’s sweet that you love me so much.” Holly looked up at him through her lashes. “You do love me, don’t you Nathan?”
Her bottom lip drooped into a pout, and there was a whiny note to her voice -- getting this question wrong was not an option and Nathan knew it. He forced a smile. “Of course I do, Babe.”
“Good. You can help me put it up.” She grabbed a chair and dragged it across the floor. “Get your tools. I’ll mark a spot for the nail.”
“That,” said James “is nightmare food for the eyes.”
I know,” replied Nathan as they stared up at Holly’s masterpiece. “But I can’t get rid of it. She’d take it as a rejection – of her.”
“Mmm… with any luck,” James muttered.
“What do you mean?”
James sighed. “Okay then, I’ll say it. She’s weird. She was talking about moving in with you less than a month after you started dating, and if she’s not showing up here unannounced all the time, she’s constantly calling or texting you.” He shook his head. “It’s too full-on, too soon.”
Nathan chewed his lip. He’d had similar thoughts himself – but trying to get Holly to cool it was easier said than done. Making her feel rejected was not a smart move – apart from the resulting histrionics, she also had an army of college friends who would rip into him for any perceived mistreatment.
“I’m worried for you, mate,” said James, disappearing into the kitchen. “You need to get out before you’re in too deep.”
As Nathan watched him go his cellphone buzzed. It was another text, from Holly. ‘i no james is ur flatm8, but hes not a good friend 4u,” it read.
Where did that come from? Nathan put his phone away with a frown.
“Sorry about the mess.” Nathan gathered up the pizza boxes discarded on the sofa. “James’ sister came round last night and stayed pretty late.”
Holly’s expression, already cold, dropped another few degrees. “And you just had stay up too?”
Nathan frowned. “She came to see her brother. I was just there, that’s all.”
“Until after midnight. Enjoy her company, did you?”
“What?” Maybe that was just a lucky guess on Holly’s part, but Nathan still flushed. “No, we watched a video. All three of us. Together.”
Holly sniffed. “You’ve never been into romcoms before. You won’t watch them with me.”
“Well that’s because –” Nathan frowned. “How’d you know we watched a romcom?”
“I… just assumed. Most girls like romcoms. And I know for a fact you like redheads.”
A chill rippled down Nathan’s spine. Holly had never seen James’ sister. And James was blond.
Holly suddenly brightened and patted his arm. “I think James is causing trouble between us because he doesn’t like my sculpture,” she said. She stared up at it, tapping her chin. “Why don’t we hang it in your bedroom instead?”
Nathan lay on his bed, staring at the opposite wall. There was no way he’d sleep tonight, not with that thing staring down at him.
The face was just too lifelike. The more he looked at it, the more it seemed almost… alive. He wished he hadn’t promised he’d never take it down now. But Holly was insistent – it seemed so important to her. With a sigh he rolled sideways and sat up…
…And saw a movement in the face.
Perhaps he’d imagined it. He watched the eyes as he moved towards the door. At first nothing happened – but then, just for a second, they followed him, glinting with a paranoia that hadn’t been there before. Nathan tore the sculpture off the wall and scrutinised the back. No circuitry or electronics – but he knew it was spying on him somehow. How could he prove it though? Holly would deny everything. And anyone else would think he was crazy. It sounded crazy, even to him.
His mind raced. He couldn’t get rid of it -- he’d promised he’d keep it somewhere prominent. Somewhere he would see it regularly …
“I’m sorry Nathan,” said Holly, staring at the floor, “but I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”
Nathan made his face look surprised. “Okay,” he said. “I mean – I’m gutted, obviously – but, why?”
She pulled her arms tight around herself. “I just –” she screwed up her eyes and shuddered. “I don’t think we’re right for each other.”
“Well, if that’s how you feel…” He added a sigh for effect.
“It is. And Nathan –” She shuffled her feet. “I know this sounds mean, but… could I have my sculpture back?”
“You don’t want me to keep it?”
“No.” There was panic in her voice. “It’s best we don’t have any reminders of each other. At all.”
“I’ll go and get it then.”
Nathan tried to hide his smile as he went into the bathroom – the sculpture’s new home. The paranoid look had gone from its eyes, replaced by a blend of horror and revulsion. He patted its cheek before taking it down from the wall facing the toilet.