THE LOVE THIEF • by K. A. Mielke

Tessa Graham: 5’7″, brunette, wears pale blue contact lenses to conceal her boring brown irises, currently asking the host for a table under the name of Amor. She twirls her brown locks around her index finger as the man scans the list.

He grabs a menu and she follows him to the table.

Tessa Graham: favourite food, colour, song, and movie are chicken nuggets, teal, “Your Song” by Elton John, and Sophie’s Choice, respectively. Except Sophie’s Choice is a lie fabricated to make her seem like an intellectual; her real favourite movie is Batman and Robin. She has two tattoos: one of a dying flower on her lower back — a tramp stamp, she laughs, although this is one of those serious jokes and a genuine source of shame — and one of the Chinese character for intercourse on her shaved upper pubis.

This is supposed to make her seem clever.

She likes to run, but has no lung capacity. She wants to get married before she’s thirty-five, and if not, she’ll pop a cyanide pill and fall lifeless on the water bed in her messy bachelor pad, blue as the reflection of light in an aquarium. She regrets not becoming a journalist.

Sometimes when she dreams, she dreams of her dead grandfather. He softly closes her bedroom door, shutting out the light, and he comes in close with coffee and nicotine on his breath, and he tells her that he loves her more than anything in the world. The world becomes a dark place.

Am I scaring you? I’m so sorry, I just want you to understand. Please, please, sit down. This’ll be over quickly.

Trust me.

When she sits, she flattens the creases in her sun dress. She orders a beer, something foreign and unfiltered, and she crosses her arms. She smirks as she looks me in the eye.

“Try all you like,” I flirt with the skill of the thief of a thousand hearts, the scourge of the bar scene, the man your mother warned you about. “You won’t be able to read me.”

“You’re that confident, are you?” she says. “I have a talent for picking out cheats and liars.”

Age eight: Parker Olsen, the class bully who used to call her fat; second base. Age fifteen: Robert Padalecki, drug dealer and philanderer ten years her senior; myriad counts of intercourse, one bout of crabs. Age twenty-four: Jordan Adams, who used to hit her for overcooking the spaghetti; engaged for three years.

Age thirty-one: me. She stumbled into the cafe, the weather striking out in rage behind her, a thick layer of snow threatening to snuff out all life in the city. Ovulating, she could hardly resist approaching me as I awaited my beverage, me with my average, symmetrical face and hair swept from left to right in a projection of subconsciously perceived masculinity. I gently touched her arm and leaned into her right ear, and I asked her on a date.

February fourteenth, I said.

Tessa Graham: renown across the state for making bad romantic decisions.

Tessa Graham. My prey.

The red of the shirt under my blazer catches her eye. She doesn’t notice it, but she grows more comfortable, more convinced of my character. The big, strong, aggressive man with a secure future; nothing more than the colour of a shirt.

Most people choose between science and the supernatural. I’ve never understood why we can’t work together. I know all the tricks to your feeble human brains. So easy to play.

Oh, no, I didn’t mean you, Baby! I’d never play you.

So I’m sitting there, and I’m thinking, she is not a human being. She is a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces. She is a shattered glass kept in a box out of sentimentality. She is a meal dropped on the unswept kitchen floor and eaten anyway.

Tessa Graham: damaged.

So I play her a bit more. She’s so easy.

We go see a horror movie.

She jumps and screams, nestles into the arm draped over her shoulder, hormones working overtime. The murderer on-screen stabs a girl to death, and Tessa Graham is more mine with every incision. She associates the racing of her heart with her blossoming feelings toward me, and she directs us to her house when the social construct is over and the real ritual is about to begin.

On top of her, I confess everything. Always been plagued by a bit of an honest streak, when all is said and done. All the lies and deceit detoxing out of my system when it’s too late for the pathetic creatures I choose.

I tell her they call me Eros, Cupid, and, as she knows me, Amor. She learns that every February for as long as anyone can remember, I’ve crawled out of the woodwork to steal the affection of fools like her.

She asks in her bliss, in the middle of the best sex of her life, why I don’t just harvest a steady supply of love. Why not farm the emotion of a devoted wife indefinitely?

“I couldn’t,” I say, mid-thrust. “Marriage takes time and commitment.” Thrust. “Divorce rates are at an all-time high.” Thrust. Thrust. “I’m just too good at this.”

She screams in joy, and I feel her essence, her very being, flee her body and enter mine. My stomach fills with warmth. I’m more satisfied than an expired star.

I sleep next to her cold, blue, stiff body and leave in the morning.

That was a year ago today.

I’m telling you this because I think, maybe, Tessa was right. I could settle down, with the right person. Saying it to someone else makes it feel more real, you know? I always thought it was impossible, but sitting here with you, it just feels so right.

You’re special.

I guess, what I’m getting at is —

Oh, jeez, this is hard.

What I wanted to ask you was:

Will you marry me?

K. A. Mielke is a freelance writer from the mystical land of Guelph, Ontario, a fearsome place overrun with shadow monsters and environmentalists. His two biggest weaknesses are action figures and pad thai. His latest project is a web-comic about a talking cactus detective.

This story is sponsored by
Clarion West Writers Workshop — Apply now through March 1 for 2014’s six-week workshop with Paul Park, Kij Johnson, Ian McDonald, Hiromi Goto, Charlie Jane Anders, and John Crowley, June 22 – August 1 in Seattle.

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