Ranger had called half an hour ago to see if I could come over. He'd hired me a while back, and I was pretty sure that I was doing a good job, though he never said anything one way or the other. So, I assumed that tonight was about a new job he wanted to do. Either that or he was going to fire me. No matter what, though, I knew that it was going to be quick. I'd heard the guys ribbing him about something he was doing tonight for some girl. Of course, I hadn't heard the entire story because the guys had cut it off as soon as I'd come in the room.
They'd been doing that a lot – talking about something and cutting it off abruptly when I walked in the room. I wasn't sure if they weren't comfortable with me or if they thought I'd be offended at what they were saying, but it was making me very self-conscious. More so than usual. It had been getting so bad lately that my nerves were almost completely frayed. No matter when I came within hearing distance, everyone would stop talking, and then start again, loudly, obviously changing the topic.
I felt paranoid, like I was under suspicion. Like they were having second thoughts about me, like they were wary of trusting me at all, but didn't want me to know. I started to stay away from them. I wouldn't seek them out anymore, never went looking for them. Tried not to look at them too much and wouldn't even speak to them unless spoken to. Nevertheless, I thought that I was doing well at what I was assigned. That didn't make me any less nervous about this.
When I got to the door, there was a note for me. Stephanie, it said. Please come in.
Odd, I thought. But then, nothing about Ranger is normal. I opened the door and saw beautiful rose petals on the floor. Petals in every shade of pink and red imaginable trailed the ground in a path from the door to the stairs and on. I walked around them, careful not to disturb any of the petals so that I wouldn't mess up whatever plan Ranger had for the lucky girl. I was jealous, I realized. Jealous of the person who was good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, whatever, to warrant someone like Ranger doing this for her. I quickly shoved those thoughts away. It didn't matter if I was jealous. I would never be enough to deserve this kind of treatment.
I found Ranger in his bedroom, looking like a dream. I was careful not to look at him too much. I'd learned over the past few months that the less you made eye-contact with a person the less they were likely to notice you.
"Did you like the roses?" he asked. Ranger was asking my opinion? Maybe that was what he'd needed me for tonight, another woman's opinion on the whole set-up.
"It's beautiful, Ranger. I made sure that I didn't step on any of it; I wouldn't want to mess anything up for you."
"That was considerate." There was a long, lingering silence, and I felt the need to fill it.
"Is she pretty? And smart?" I asked.
"Yeah, she is. Very," he answered. I swallowed back a wave of jealousy and grief. It didn't matter, I told myself. I would be fine. So maybe I wouldn't have a prince charming, or even a frog fall in love with me. So maybe I'd be alone for the rest of my life. So what. I had a hamster, right? My heart wasn't convinced.
"Good," I told him, looking right at him. He deserved somebody who was perfect for him. Somebody who was gorgeous, and intelligent, and well spoken, all things I would never, could never be.
"I should go," I said. "I should be out of here before she gets here."
"It's too late. She already is."
"What?" I panicked. "Is there a back way out of here?" I was frantic, but I was also looking for the monitor that had told Ranger she'd come.
"I'll ruin it for you, and you set everything up so nicely. How do I get out without her finding out?" I asked, beside myself with nerves. "Why aren't you doing anything? Aren't you upset?"
"You really don't get it, do you?" he asked.
"Get it? Get what? That I'm ruining things for you? Why didn't you tell me when she was coming over? I would have made sure I was out of here in time." He just shook his head. It was his surprise, his special night that I was wrecking. I was practically hysterical, and he just shook his head.
"Come with me," he said, taking my hand and leading me to the front door. What was going on? I was confused, and didn't understand. I was at the front door, standing just left of the rose trail.
"Now take a step to your right," he said. I took a small step, not wanting to walk on the petals.
"Another," he said, shaking his head. I took another tiny step. He just shook his head again.
"Another." I stepped over the path to the other side. Ranger sighed and reached for me.
"Ranger!" I squealed. "What are you doing?" He'd picked me up and set me down right on the roses. "I'll mess it all up!" I'd mar its beauty, take away from it without ever putting back, just like I always do.
Holding both of my hands in his, Ranger walked backwards, guiding me along the trail of roses back up to his bedroom.
"Ranger," I said. "I – I don't understand. I just, I just messed it all up." I just looked up at him, still holding my hands, and let the confusion show on my face.
"Babe, it was all for you," he said. "I did it for you." For one glorious moment, I let myself believe it. Then reality hit. I yanked my hands away.
"You shouldn't say things like that," I said, feeling the pain roll over me. "You shouldn't do that. I understand, Ranger. I really do. I'm not good enough for you. I get it. It's over. No, it never was. It was just sex. It was nothing to you. You didn't have to do this to prove it. Did one of the guys put you up to this? Is it all supposed to be one big joke? Are you taping this somewhere so you can show everybody just how big a loser I am? I don't get it, why are you doing this?" I was trying to wrap my head around the situation, but it wasn't working. All the pain and frustration and hurt of the past few months had just found its release, and I couldn't think over it. It was all I could do to keep standing, and I didn't have a chance against the tears.
"Don't cry, babe," Ranger said softly as he pulled me to him. I was to… to everything to do anything about it. "Don't cry, babe. Where did you ever get the idea that you aren't good enough for me?
"I'm not. You deserve someone so much better. I'm just a – a middle aged screw-up who can't do anything right and that nobody likes or wants around. None of you do, I know that. But if you'd wanted me gone, you could have just said so. You didn't have to be cruel," I cried. "I wouldn't have made it a big deal. I just would have left. You didn't have to do this. Why, Ranger? You could have just told me."
"God, Steph. No," he whispered to me. "I don't – This was supposed to be fun and happy. I've been trying to get your attention for months now, but you don't call me anymore. You won't even look at me half the time at the office and you talk to me even less. I thought this would get the point across."
Some part of me heard what he was saying, but the rest of me was just a knot of pain.
"No," I said. "Don't do this. Don't say things like this when you don't mean it. I know you guys don't like having me around. I should have realized you wanted me out of your hair. I'm sorry. Just let me go. Don't say that, Ranger. Don't tell me things like that. I know I'm not enough of anything for you. Don't say things like that."
"Stephanie," he said in a brusque tone. "Snap out of it and listen to me. I don't want you to go. I don't want you to think things like that. I love having you work for me. The past few months you've been acting strangely, and I've been worried about you. If I'd known you were thinking this, that it had gotten this bad, I would have done something about it. But I didn't, and that's my fault. I like having you around. I like you being here. I like holding you and talking to you and being with you."
"Stop it," I shrieked. "Just stop it! Don't do this. Don't say that, Ranger. Don't do this to me. Don't, don't, don't. Please, just don't. Just stop, Ranger. Please, just stop."
I was sobbing and collapsed, unable to support myself. Ranger was still holding onto me, though. He sat down, cradling me to him, and I knew I should be leaving. That I should get out of there or I was going to hurt even more. But I couldn't. I couldn't get up, and I couldn't tear myself away from Ranger, even when I knew he was just going to cause me more pain.
Eventually my tears subsided, but Ranger just continued to sit there with me enfolded in his arms, unable to get up. When he did let go enough for me to get free, I quickly ran from the room, to leave this place and let Ranger get on with his life.
"Where are you going, Steph?" came his voice from right behind me.
"Just leave me alone," I begged. "Just let me go." He trapped me against the door and pulled out his phone.
"Total lockdown, Tank. Lockdown until further notice. No interruptions. I'll call when I want it lifted," Ranger said.
"It's going that good with Steph, huh?" I heard Tank chuckle.
"Just do it," Ranger practically growled.
"Sure, boss." Ranger cut off the phone. Then he lifted me over his shoulder and, still holding me there, went to a computer. I heard him typing before I caught the sound of various mechanical THINGS going all through the house. Then he put me down.
"The house is on lockdown, babe. You're not going anywhere. We're going to sit down, and we're going to make this better. And we're going to be here until you believe me."
I blinked at him, unsure whether he was telling the truth or not. Then I saw the look on his face; a look of concern and sorrow and love and protectiveness all mixed into one.
So I laid myself bare to him, and he picked up the pieces and made me whole again. It was days later, but I finally believed him and what he was saying.
"You're perfect, Steph," he said. "Perfect just the way you are."