Adam lived in Beverly Hills and dressed like it was forever 1999: puka shell necklace, khaki cargos and Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirts or button-fronts. Freshly moved back in with his parents. He said he had been away for a while and that he had come back from Lyon, where he was trying to make the study abroad thing work, but only ever seemed to be getting drunk near the Saône or the Rhône. It took him a mere two weeks to confess to Lydia that it was having his heart broken by a girl there that sent him into this state of perpetual inebriated madness. Her name was Jeanne, and she was studying law at Lyon 3–maybe that’s why she was too practical for Adam’s shtick of amorousness. Didn’t let his Pepé Le Pew antics get the better of her, breaking it off after a month of what Adam thought was pure bliss, but what she seemed to think was just another blip in her relationship history. He poured all of this out during their cigarette break in late 2007 in Santa Monica. They were both temping at a job that neither of them had any aptitude for, something involving Adobe AfterEffects, and because they were both the worst in the pool, had formed a natural bond. That, and they were among the scant number of smokers this side of the 10. Lydia was twenty-two to Adam’s twenty-eight, and therefore slightly more tolerant of the natural gulag environment that comes with any office setting. Plus, for the most part, she would just pore over TMZ articles about Britney, Paris and Lindsay, using her feminine wiles to get out of being reprimanded for not having finished her tasks on time. She was fine with being “fired,” for it’s not like temp work was real, or that it amounted to anything. She was just doing this to placate her parents so that she could stay in L.A. for the summer, instead of surrendering to going home after finishing school.
Adam quickly became eager to hang out with her outside of work, which made Lydia uneasy. She had prided herself on her perfect life of Angeleno solitude; coming home each night to a $1,500 “efficiency apartment” with a balcony on the border of Venice would be the zenith of her success in that city. She had, unfortunately, made the mistake of touting that she lived alone to Adam, who kept not so subtly hinting that he could cook, and that he’d love to come over and make something for her. She would just titter in response and change the subject, hoping he got the message. He didn’t, and started calling her in the evenings to “talk about work.” At first, she answered. After the first couple of weeks it was almost nice to have someone to talk to on speaker phone while she made her signature dinner of pesto pasta with a side of arugula salad topped with tomatoes. But soon, it became tedious, with his conversation always more than bordering on flirtatious, prophesying such plans as, “When we go to Milan together…” She didn’t understand where this notion of Milan came from, as it certainly wasn’t known to be a romantic Italian city in the same vein as Venice or Verona. But she nodded along, sensing that if she negated him in any way that he might snap–plus, she didn’t want to fuck up all the rides he had been giving her of late in his black Mercedes. Presumably, it belonged to one of his parents, but she never asked, not wanting to know the answer. The less she truly knew about Adam, the better. The fact that she already knew his last name–Shellman (well-tailored, yes)–was bad enough. Too intimate. At the very least, he never mentioned his middle name–that would have been way too personal.
Around the second month into the temp job, when she started ignoring his calls, things began to feel especially tense. She even quit smoking to avoid seeing him in the fire escape-like outdoor space. Adam didn’t like this, and started to get strangely aggressive, slamming his mouse down on the desk, pounding the computer screen and generally acting belligerent. It led to his “completion of assignment,” as the head of the department told him. “We’re wrapping things up and we need to start eliminating non-essential excess staff,” was another way he phrased it. So Adam was, once again, “non-essential” and “excess,” relegated to the curbs of L.A. this time instead of the rivers of Lyon. But before he left, he walked past Lydia’s desk and muttered, clichely, “Bitch.”
She rolled her eyes and continued to read the latest news about Britney’s unraveling mental state. It was going to be a long day, but at least Adam’s absence would make it feel less uncomfortable. She even felt so liberated as to go back out onto the faux fire escape (everything in L.A. is faux) and smoke the reserve cigarette she had kept in her clutch bag.
The supervisor who had just fired Adam came out to join her. She had to admit, she had been harboring a crush on him. Probably because he had a girlfriend and was a failed screenwriter. That was always too attractive to resist in L.A. But resist she must–the last thing she needed to do was make a fool of herself à la Adam. No, no risk was worth that. And just as she was about to stub out her cigarette and leave him (after having engaged in a conversation about Bottle Rocket), the metal ground beneath them shook–a small garden variety earthquake leading her straight into Chris’ arms. The moment miraculously caught and he, out of nowhere, actually kissed her. She found herself recoiling as a natural reflex, though if she could go back and do it all over again, she would have reciprocated. It was the instant she backed away that, out of the corner of her eye, she saw Adam scurrying away in the alley. Unnerved she glanced at Chris with the disgust intended for Adam. Chris immediately apologized, saying, “I’m so sorry Lydia. I don’t know where that came from, I–”
“It’s no big deal. I, uh, have to get back inside.” So she left him there in the abyss of emotional vulnerability, losing her chance of ever fulfilling her dream of actually meeting a guy in Los Angeles, even though he likely never would have left his girlfriend. But still, it might have been a chance to experience a bona fide human connection. When she got back to her apartment that night, she had no doubt in her mind that it was going to feel like Nightmare on Elm Street vibes, rustling in bushes, that sort of thing. Adam had been offended, and he was acting out in the only way he knew how: the passive aggressive, time-honored method of stalking.
She fumbled with the gate entry code, pressing the buttons multiple different times before finally getting in. All the while, she could feel his presence, knew that he was somewhere on the premises. To distract herself from this, she decided to go out that night with a friend from school who had already gotten a real job at Raytheon. She didn’t know what real meant, but she imagined it paid well.
Lydia was, in Ursula’s eyes, a pity friend, someone she still kept in touch with because she felt it was her social responsibility to do so. She had been in a sorority, and valued the concept of keeping in touch with alumni. But she wasn’t about to meet Lydia without backup, insisting that the latter meet her and a few of her fags at The Abbey. “I don’t feel like being hit on tonight,” she reasoned. Lydia, grateful for any interaction that would get her out of her apartment and hopefully away from Adam’s vision, readily consented to the rendezvous.
After putting on a purple sequined halter top, gold choker, above-the-knee skirt and Fluevog Munster platforms she had bought from Wasteland on Melrose, Lydia was ready, whatever the consequences of the night might bring. For the moment, however, it all seemed to be rather tame as she sipped her lemon drop and let the vacuous conversation wash over her. “I’ve been fucking this agent’s assistant for about a month now, and I think it’s really going to help me get my foot in the door,” remarked one of Ursula’s gays, who Lydia had labeled Gay #1. Gay #2 was most interested in talking about how he worked at a G-Star Raw nearby store because it facilitated prime trolling opportunities. At the very least, Gay #3 engaged her in a conversation about Helena Bonham Carter’s brilliance in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. That got her through roughly ten minutes of the night. And then, somehow, the topic of creeps came up, people who had been too interested in each of them in the past, with Ursula proceeding to rehash, “This guy from Beverly Hills used to be in love with me. He unironically wore a puka shell necklace even though we were not existing in the years between 1998 and 2000. He drove a black Mercedes and was seeing a therapist twice a week to help him with his depression and general lack of motivation. I was trying to be polite at first because it seemed like he could be good husband material, you know–the money. But he was totally fucking psycho and started turning on me the second I didn’t swoon over his romantic gestures. He followed me everywhere for about three months until my dad had to get a restraining order.”
Gay #2 gasped, “Ursula that is the most fucking real shit I’ve ever heard. I don’t know how you got through that.”
Ursula shrugged. “It goes with the territory of being hot and rich.”
Lydia could think of nothing to say as everyone expectantly waited for her to chime in in her role as the other woman of the group. But she was frozen with the epiphany that not only did she have to be saddled with a stalker, but that he didn’t even find her that special. He just needed to stalk someone–anyone–who rejected him. Which, apparently, wasn’t difficult to come by when you were someone as “earnest” and “effusive” as Adam. She shuddered unwittingly, inciting Gay #3, the most empathetic and attentive, clearly, to ask, “Is everything all right?”
Lydia wanted to go home, but she was also afraid to. So she shrugged off her emotional fraughtness, took a swig of her drink and assured, “Yes, sorry. I’m fine. It’s just such a crazy story.”
In her state of paranoia, Lydia returned to her apartment at 2 a.m. and started researching “puka shell necklace stalker” in the hope of finding some evidence of Adam’s past behavior. Lo and behold, it didn’t take long to unearth an L.A. Weekly article detailing the stalking of three separate women in Culver City, Beverly Hills and Redondo Beach–all claiming to have found puka shell necklaces in or around their homes in 2003. Lydia heard a strange sound outside her window just as she finished absorbing the information. She knew it wasn’t just “a strange sound” though. It was Adam, scratching at the window with his puka shells. Lydia was also aware that only she alone could eliminate the pattern of behavior that Adam had fortified. The police wouldn’t help, her absentee parents weren’t going to care and Ursula would only say that she should just ignore it until Adam found someone else. No, she had to take matters into her own hands, and without thinking, she reached for one of the knives protruding from the block, approached the sliding glass door and cautiously opened it. In the first half second, there was a calm serenity. That was before Adam sneered at her and said, “Are you ready to come away with me? I got two tickets to paradise. We have to go to the airport now.” She brandished her knife in warning and said, “Adam you need to get help.” He laughed. “You’re my help. You’re all I need Lydia. You’re the only one who can understand me. You’re my salvation, my solution.”
She was growing wary. How had he even gotten up here, was he a fucking vampire? “You need to leave.”
He grinned. “Or what? You’re gonna kill me. They say you always hurt the ones you love. So you must feel something for me to be willing to commit such an act of passion.”
“Can you shut the fuck up and get out of my life?”
He reached his hand out to her and she grimaced, setting him off. “You know what? Maybe you don’t deserve my love. Maybe you’re just another fucking little cunt slut like them all. You know what I know do to cunt sluts?” He started to remove his puka shell necklace, slowly and then with remarkable velocity. Before she could process what was happening, the shells, with their sharp teeth, were being wrapped around her neck. He spit in her face as he exhausted the life out of her, and whispered, “I love you.” So perhaps Lydia was more special than the rest. For he had never killed any of his objects of affection before. And it was like he said, you only hurt/kill the ones you love. Sometimes that’s literal, oftentimes metaphorical. Either way, he was catching that flight to Milan, where he would inevitably set his sights on some Italian girl, who would likely not be impressed by his jewelry choice in all of her fashion wisdom.