Jane sat across from Richard, a candlelit dinner between them.
“I’m sorry I’ve been taking things so slow,” Jane said. “I just haven’t been around a nice guy like you in such a long time, Richard. It’s taken me back a little.” She swirled her wine around without picking the glass up off the table.
“Please, call me Dick. We’re on our what? Fifth date already?” Dick flashed a toothy, charming smile at Jane. He did feel their relationship was a snail’s pace, but he hadn’t met anyone quite like her before. She was timid, but he found himself pulled completely into her orbit.
“Well, alright, Dick.” Jane couldn’t keep her eyes from his. He mesmerized her.
Dick reached across the table and grabbed Jane by her hand.
“I want to be with you, Jane. I really do. This feels right.”
She squeezed his hand in agreement and raised her glass of wine. With a delicate sip, Jane just knew Dick was the one.
It was a less-than organic gathering of overworked thirty-somethings that brought Dick and Jane together. Modern dating found itself stifled by the need to make end’s meet in the city; it was easier, more feasible, and fiscally responsible to make a profile online and wait. Jane was a self-proclaimed bookworm – and proud of the fact (If you don’t like slow mornings and getting lost in novels on a Sunday, this might not work out). Dick was an avid book collector and seller, specializing in antiquarian pieces. He reached out to Jane and asked her what was the oldest book she ever read. He then asked her out for coffee.
“I prefer tea. I hope that’s alright.”
“As long as we can talk about books,” he replied.
Their first encounter was awkward, as expected. Both admitted they hadn’t been on a date in quite some time. Dick was dreamy – tall, strong jaw, the opposite of what Jane imagined an antiquarian book collector to resemble. He found her elegant, soft, mysterious – like a book he was yet to read. They seemed to feed off of each other and after almost three hours of talking books they planned a second date. Then a third, fourth, fifth. It was seamless. Their tale perfectly bound, each page turn more exciting than the last.
After their fifth date Jane took Dick home to her apartment. It was small, although the layout was just as he expected – large windows where multiple houseplants had a front row view to the busy street below. She had several small bookshelves scattered about her living room and he busied himself with the titles while he waited for Jane to put the tea kettle on. Mostly romance novels, some horror, a handful of memoirs – Jane had a decent assortment of reading material and that pleased him.
“See anything you like?” She entered without him noticing. She sipped her tea.
“I only see one thing I really like,” he said, eyes on her.
They made love in her apartment regularly after that night. Dick loved the smell of Jane’s hair, her pillows, everything. He drove to clients and auctions with her moved into the front of his mind, next to the 1607 copy of Aristophanes’ Divine Comedies he was about to sell. He wanted to move her into his home, he decided. He couldn’t be without Jane.
At first she was hesitant, “Well, it’s a great idea and I’m flattered but,” she paused. “I guess you would find out anyway.”
“What is it? Tell me,” Dick pleaded with her.
“I haven’t dated in so long because – well, because my last relationship ended with a lot of… bruises.” She looked looked down at her feet, embarrassed.
Dick took her hand, “I am so sorry. I understand. But I’d never hurt you. I just want to be with you. If you don’t want to live with me then I won’t make you.” Jane knew he was sincere.
“Let me think on it?”
They spent the night at Jane’s apartment again, the smell of her steaming tea kettle warmed the rooms. Jane felt at ease – and while Dick slept beside her – made her decision to move into his home. She closed her eyes and let out a deep exhale. Her story was finally getting its happy ending.
It only took a short time to pack the contents of Jane’s apartment. Her books and plants took up the majority of the moving truck. When it came to her bed, “Throw it away,” she said. “We’ll just use yours.” She smiled wide at Dick. He nodded and smiled back. Dick noted how few things Jane had to begin with, and as he helped her pack he realized he didn’t even need to rent a truck for the move.
“Did you move around a lot?”
“My last relationship caused me to get out as fast as possible. I only took the essentials, really. And the tea kettle.” She laughed. Dick was pleased. It wouldn’t take too much effort to have Jane with him always.
The couple settled into a natural coexistence. Jane’s romance and horror novels blended in with Dick’s extensive antiquarian collection. Jane took note of how large his library was in comparison to her little shelves strewn about her old apartment. He had an entire room dedicated to beautiful, rare, expensive works.
“Be careful in here,” he warned, “these are my prized possessions. No food. No tea. Sorry.”
“Oh, well alright.” Dick had several rules for Jane to follow: she was to remove her shoes when she entered the house; Squeeze the toothpaste from the bottom of the tube; Place the toilet seat cover down when finished; Turn the lights off when leaving a room. He had a lot of little rules that she wasn’t aware of when they first began their romance, but she didn’t mind. He was nicer than any man she dated, and he was so willing to have her live with him. His beautiful house was better than any apartment she hurriedly inhabited years prior.
She grew accustomed to all of Dick’s little rules and one Spring afternoon in their backyard, after only a year of dating, Dick proposed.
“I am enchanted by you. My life is better because of you. I want you, all of you, to be with me. Forever.”
Jane accepted without hesitation. The couple planned for a small gathering, family and only a couple of close friends. She wanted to get married in their large backyard, “Right where you proposed. A perfect ending to our love story.”
Dick was not persuaded, though. He insisted on a ceremony away from their house, although still small. “I mean, we’ve never been married before. I want it to be classic. Romantic. Special.”
“It’ll be special as long as it’s us, right?” Jane couldn’t sway her new fiance. He planned to pay for the ceremony, regardless. Eventually she relented. She wouldn’t get her backyard wedding.
Almost immediately after the couple exchanged vows, Jane learned she was pregnant with their first child. As her belly grew, her temper shortened. She lashed out at Dick for little things, and he grew impatient with her forgetting to shut off lights, or when he found her reading one of her horror novels in his library with a cup of tea.
“You know there’s no food in my library,” he scolded.
“It’s our library, Dick. And I’m pregnant.”
He felt his anger swirl in his chest and left the room. He couldn’t do anything to a pregnant woman.
When little Nell was born the problems between Dick and Jane subsided. There was a perfect, cherub-like little girl before them who needed constant attention and love, and there was no space for arguing over toilet seat covers and shoes worn inside. Dick had the woman he wanted and now, a child. He got everything he wished for.
Nell could do no wrong in her parents’ eyes. She was precocious and curious about everything. Dick thought about the day when he would teach her all about antique books, but for now – he decided – the library was off limits to the toddler.
“No no, that’s Mommy and Daddy’s room. Someday we’ll let you in there. But it isn’t for play, sweetie.” Dick took Nell by the arm and guided her out of the room. She let out a whine.
“Why can’t you let her play in the library, Dick? It’s her house too.”
“I’m not allowing a baby to play in a room full of paper, Jane. Especially paper worth as much as that collection.”
“They’re fucking books, Dick. I swear you love your collection more than this family.”
Dick was taken aback by Jane’s words. He never heard her curse before; She said shit when she stubbed her toe maybe three or four years earlier.
“How could you say something like that? What’s your problem?”
Nell began to whine more.
“Oh great, and now you’ve upset the baby. Give her to me.” Jane put her hands out and Nell flopped into her mother’s arms. “There, it’s alright now. Daddy is just being mean, baby.” She looked at her husband with disdain, a look Dick never saw on his wife before. He didn’t recognize her eyes.
Nell grew, and so did the couple’s tensions. The little nitpicking fights turned to cursing and fists slamming the kitchen countertop. Dick felt as if he was losing his mind in his own home. Jane became overprotective of Nell. She insisted he install nanny cams around the house to keep an eye on her. She told Dick she didn’t feel safe.
“I don’t understand,” Dick said, “how can you not feel safe?”
“I just don’t. What if Nell falls, or if someone tries to break in? Would you install the cameras?” Jane mentioned to Dick that she told her mother about her concerns, and her mother agreed. Dick relented and installed cameras in the library, the front living room, and the kitchen to satisfy his wife.
A month passed. Dick grew angry. His house no longer felt like it belonged to him. He sat in the front living room, reading, when he heard a thud from the library. And then another. And another. Dick jumped up. Someone must be stealing my books, he thought. He heard Jane walk out the back door into the yard, but not return, so he picked up the bat he kept by the front door and slowly made his way upstairs. The door was shut. His muscles tightened along with the grip on his bat. Dick slowly turned the knob and threw the door open, weapon overhead, to see Nell – alone – ripping pages out of a novel from 1843.
“What the fuck!” The baby began to cry. Dick dropped the bat and scooped her up in his hands. He heard Jane walk in through the back door, panicked.
“You left the baby in the fucking library alone? What is wrong with you?” Dick was screaming at Jane, the baby in between them, crying.
“Stop yelling! You’re scaring her!” Jane reached to take the baby from his arms.
“I’m losing my goddamn mind!” Dick turned around and picked up the bat.
“What are you doing?” Jane took a step back.
“I feel like I don’t live in this house anymore. You don’t respect my rules.” Dick held the bat at his side.
“Dick,” Jane started, “put the bat away.”
He exhaled. Dick walked past Jane and crying Nell back to the front room and put the bat back where it belonged. He grabbed his coat and left. He needed some fresh air.
Later that evening, from the library, Dick heard pounding on the front door. Muffled yells were overpowered by Jane, hysterical.
“He’s upstairs! In his library! He was so mad!”
Heavy footsteps climbed the staircase to the closed door. Dick stood frozen and confused when two police officers came in and ordered his hands behind his back.
“You are under arrest for assault,” one officer began.
“What? What are you talking about? I’ve been upstairs this whole time!” Dick’s heart began to race. He didn’t struggle. They had to be wrong.
As the officers led Dick down the stairs, he saw Jane, bruised and bloodied, baby asleep in her arms.
“What the… what the fuck?” He stared at her eyes, wet with tears. “What happened?”
“I can’t even look at you!” Jane turned away as Dick was taken outside, through the front living room, past the empty space where the baseball bat belong, and into the squad car.
“Don’t worry, ma’am, he’ll be locked up for a long time. Is there anything else we can do for you?”
“No, that’s alright. Thank you for responding so quickly. I’ll just wait for the restraining order – and divorce papers – to come through.” Jane shut the door behind the officers and put Nell in her crib. The house was finally quiet for once.
She sat down in her office and opened the family computer. Jane clicked through the nanny cam files and found the kitchen camera. She opened it. There, Jane cringed through footage of her, hitting her own face with Dick’s baseball bat. It fucking hurt, but it was all she could do to get him to leave. His stupid rules weren’t going to get him put away. His squeaky clean record wasn’t going to get her his expensive book collection, or his beautiful house. She deleted the history on the camera – Dick must have shut off the camera before he beat me. I knew I didn’t feel safe for a reason – she decided on her alibi. When she was finished, Jane closed the computer, picked up her cup of tea, and went into her library.