Authors: Ryan Parker
Sunday was a blur, both figuratively and literally. I can barely remember what I did all day, aside from a few minor bouts of crying, which I was able to minimize quickly. About all I remember is the dozens of times I checked my email, hoping to receive a message from Finn.
But nothing came.
I started several drafts of emails to him, but ended up deleting them all. I couldn’t stand the thought of him not responding. Having him walk out was enough; I didn’t need to be ignored on top of that.
After taking a shower and trying to get myself together, I had planned on going to the shelter to see Winnie. She would have lifted my spirits. I could have taken her for a walk, checked to make sure she’d had her bath that week, and spent some time thinking about something other than myself.
But it began to rain just as I was considering going to see her. She would have expected a walk, and we’re not allowed to take them out in the rain. So I spent my Sunday alone.
. . . . .
Monday morning. The start of a new work week. The perfect time to start anew, as I’d done so many times before. I would have thought it would have been easier by now, but this time it was different because Finn had become an important part of my life.
With still no email from him, it was beginning to become very clear that he was going to live up to his promise of never seeing me a second time, or even talking to me again.
I decided it was the price I was going to pay for wanting him to open up a little more to me. I wondered what price, if any,
was paying for walking away.
I put on my grown-up girl face and the attitude that goes with it, and went to work. If he didn’t want to be part of my life, then there was no way I was going to let him rule it from a distance.
Tara was getting out of her car just as I was pulling into the spot next to her.
“How was your weekend?” she asked, her usual bright, energetic smile in full effect. God, how I needed that kind of friendly greeting this morning.
I closed my car door and locked it, shrugging. “Just okay. Yours?”
“Best weekend ever.” She looked serious.
“Good, then you had enough fun for the two of us.”
Her bright smile turned to a frown. “What’s wrong?”
This is where I should have shrugged it off, as I always did, and let it be. For as long as I’d known her, I had avoided telling her anything about my past, or even my current life.
I didn’t want her asking too many questions, didn’t want her trying to peel back the layers of my existence. It was more than not wanting that to happen. It was actually that I couldn’t handle it emotionally. Tara was pretty sharp, and on many occasions she had regaled me with stories from her own love life. Maybe she’d see something I couldn’t.
Selfish as it may seem, maybe I had something to gain by telling her. Maybe she was exactly the right person to talk to about Finn. At least on a superficial level. I wasn’t going to talk to a shrink about him. I had no one to call, no one to email about him.
So much for moving on and not letting Finn dictate my thoughts. It wasn’t going to be easy ridding myself of him.
Before I could talk myself out of telling her, I blurted out: “There’s this guy…”
I stopped because her eyebrows shot up her forehead and her mouth dropped wide open. She flung herself at me and wrapped her arms around my waist. “Oh, my God!”
Her incredibly excited reaction was due to two things: one, she’s always like that, always full of zeal and happiness; two, she’d known me for a year and I’d barely shared anything about my personal life. This was the first time I was letting her have an inside look at my dating life.
Dating? Is that what Finn and I were doing? Not exactly. Not at all, actually.
She let me go and stepped back, putting a little space between us as we walked. “I knew it. I knew there was a guy. This is so exciting. Go on. Tell me all about him.”
I took a deep breath as we made our way toward the building. We were walking slowly so we’d have more time to talk before we got inside.
“Well,” I started, and then she interrupted me.
“Wait. Important question. Let’s get this out of the way.”
“Okay,” I said, almost laughing, relaxing a bit because I was about to share this with her. It would be an incredible weight lifted off my shoulders. Someone to talk to, someone who lived a normal social life.
“So?” she said. “How big is it?”
I stopped, shaking my head as I laughed.
“Sorry,” she said, “I’m a slut. But a proud slut. Go ahead, I won’t interrupt anymore.”
“No. Thank you. It’s the first time I’ve smiled in days.” As we walked, I told her the brief version of the story of Finn and me. I didn’t tell her his name, though.
As I talked, we went through the security checkpoint and into the building. I stopped the story as we were wanded by the guard, and kept my voice to a low whisper as we walked the halls of the building.
When I finished, she said, “Wow. Holy shit. Six months of just emails? I couldn’t have done that. But I can totally see you doing it.” She put a hand on my shoulder. “Wait, I don’t mean that in a bad way.”
I shook my head. “I didn’t take it that way. It’s exactly the kind of thing I was looking for. It was perfect. Until…you know.” I left it at that. I’d already told her how the hotel encounter ended.
“Yeah, shit. That was rough. I’m sorry that happened to you. Why do you think he’s so sketchy about his name, though? I mean, what’s the difference?”
Those were questions I’d been asking myself over and over, and I had no answer. Other than the “privacy code,” which I then told Tara.
“Oooh, mystery man. They’re usually a good thing.”
“Really? I thought that was only true in books.”
“Well,” she said, “good thing in the sense of a good time. Not usually a good long-term mate, you know? We love to fix guys but the really broken ones can’t be fixed.”
We were silent for a moment as we approached our work station.
“So you think it’s better that all of this stopped before I got too wrapped up in it,” I said, matter-of-factly.
Tara nodded. “Oh, yeah. I mean, maybe he would have been amazing in bed. Guys with problems usually are. At least in my experience. But—”
“Hold on. You think he has a problem? Like what?”
I lifted the first bin full of envelopes.
Tara turned on the scanning machine and conveyer belt.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe…he’s married?”
My stomach sank. It was the first time I’d even considered that. In all of the emails, Finn had never even once given me a reason to think he was married. But there was the no phone call rule, the no sharing of work details rule, the not knowing each other’s addresses rule...
“And,” Tara continued, “that would kind of explain why he was only looking for one-night stands, right?”
It just didn’t seem to fit. Sure, all the major clues were there, but Finn married? No, not the Finn I had come to know. “I really don’t think so.”
“Okay.” Tara seemed to have no trouble dismissing her own suggestion out of hand. “You said he’s in sales, right?”
“And he won’t tell you what he sells?”
I dumped the first batch of mail on the belt. “Right.” I was beginning to think she was heading in the right direction this time and I didn’t like it at all.
“Drugs,” she said. “He’s a drug dealer.”
I felt the blood rush from my face. Great. Working for the world’s largest and most powerful law enforcement agency, all the while getting mixed up with a drug dealer.
“And,” Tara went on, “I don’t mean small-time, either. I was friends with this girl in high school whose father went to prison because he was part of some huge cocaine ring on the east coast. Like major dealer, not the guy selling it at a club or something.”
Jesus Christ. Could that be it?
Maybe I was being more than a little naïve, but Finn seemed too refined to be a drug dealer. The way he talked about food, literature, movies… I’d never personally known anyone who was deeply involved in drugs—either using or selling or both—but this just didn’t seem to fit him, either.
“I don’t know,” I said, leaving it at that.
“It’s just a theory. It could be, um, it could be anything, right? You don’t know that much about him at all.”
I didn’t respond. It was true. Everything he told me could have been a lie, so even what I thought I knew could all be false anyway. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to know who I’d been talking to for the last six months. I wanted to know who I’d taken a huge risk to meet the other night. I wanted to know who it was that had gotten so deep into my head that I was now even more curious—maybe obsessed?—to know about.
“So?” Tara said, lowering her voice and leaning over the belt toward me. “How big was it?”
I shook my head, the hint of a smile creeping into the corner of my mouth. If she could make me smile under these circumstances, I’d definitely picked the right confidant.
I was consumed by frustration. It was difficult not to let my mind drift and wonder what Rachel was feeling after the other night.
Maybe nothing, as I hadn’t received an email from her. She’d never been one to wait for me to email first. But this time, I was starting to think that maybe she was.
While I ate lunch at the counter in my bookshop, I checked my email, finding two new ones. Neither was from Rachel.
One email was SPAM, the other was from the dating site, alerting me to the fact that I had received two new messages. I clicked the link, which took me directly to the site’s inbox.
The first message contained only a smiley face icon and the words: “I think you and I could be a match!”
I had received that one before. It was a pre-written “icebreaker,” one of about a dozen or so, made available for those who were really lazy or tragically uncreative enough to come up with their own brief message.
I decided not to even click on the profile of the woman who had sent it. All I could think about was the first message Rachel had sent to me on that site, the one about Raymond Chandler and William Faulkner. Not some meaningless, generic “icebreaker” at all. Far from it. How fitting it was, as Rachel was far from any woman I’d ever discussed anything with. No other woman was going to impress me like she had.
I deleted the ice-breaker message and clicked on the next. It was from Heather. I had met her a few months ago, when my email relationship with Rachel was quite new. At the time, Heather fulfilled everything I was looking for. Attractive, available, and willing to live by the “one time” rule I demanded.
I knew very little about her, but luckily she’d told me her last name so I was able to check her out beforehand. She was all over social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
She was a flight attendant, stationed in Baltimore, and she was on her way to being reassigned to Portland, Oregon, in the next two weeks. I knew she was safe to meet, and it went well.
Which is why I was surprised that she was emailing me all these months later.
“Hey, Andrew,” she wrote, using the fake named I’d given her. “Remember me? I bet you do, but in case you don’t, maybe this will refresh your memory. You were the first guy I had ever tried reverse cowgirl with. Remember me telling you that? Anyway, I am back in town for the next six days and—”
I hit delete. I didn’t even finish reading her email. It was obvious where it was going, and I just didn’t care.
She wasn’t Rachel.
of them were Rachel.
While still logged into the dating site, I went to the account settings and deleted my membership.
Done. Finished. I wouldn’t go back there because I couldn’t go back even if I wanted to.
I turned my attention to other matters, pulling up my contacts list and finding the email address of a book collector I’d sold some titles to the previous month. He bought only signed copies of books, any edition, so I knew he would buy the copy of
and he’d buy it fast.
I wrote to him, quoting $9,000. Within an hour he wrote back and said if I let it go for $8,200 we had a deal.
I placed it in a book mailing box. It would go out the next day, I’d have the money by then, and it would all go in my “Go To Hell” fund.
. . . . .
Drifting off to sleep that night, I gave some more thought to what I was beginning to refer to as The Rachel Dilemma.
I had no idea whether she’d even talk to me, so all of the effort I put into it could be a lost cause from the beginning. Still, I had to work it out for myself.
My physical attraction to her was undeniable, and I had to be honest with myself in admitting that it was a strong driving factor in what I was about to decide. And no matter the other thoughts and feelings I had for her, yes, I still wanted to have her.
If I saw her again, I’d be breaking my own rule, which was in place for a damn good reason. I had already put her in the potential line of danger by seeing her once. Was it worth the risk to see her twice?
I was getting to the point where the question was all about the risk and danger it presented for her, and no longer what kind of danger I was putting myself in.
She had often mentioned her reclusive lifestyle, never talking about friends or dates. If I had hurt her as badly as I feared, I hoped she had someone to fall back on. Like family, maybe. Or supportive co-workers.
She had never said anything about those, either. I had never given it much thought but now I wondered what type of job she had and what she did all day.
I had seen pain on her face that had come from somewhere deep inside, very likely from an old emotional wound.
I could relate to that very well. That’s why I saw it in her expression. I’d seen it so many times on my own face as I shaved, brushed my teeth, any time I was in front of a mirror, actually.
We had the obvious connection built during our months of emailing, but now I knew we had something else in common—something like what they call a “trauma bond” only I had no idea if we’d gone through similar types of anguish in our lives.
Did she see it on my face that night? Was I even showing it?
And what was at stake if we did make that connection?
I decided to sleep on it.
. . . . .
I woke the next morning, went downstairs and started the coffee machine while I cooked breakfast—two scrambled eggs, one slice of bacon, one slice of toast, and an orange. I pulled up the local paper on my iPad and read the story as I ate.
It was much the same as the report on the local TV news when the story first broke, but the paper’s website said the cops had made tentative positive identifications on the victims.
That was never a good thing in my business. Even though my work was done there, I would have to keep a close eye on any further developments. It wouldn’t be easy, though, which I would find out the hard way in the coming days, as I became increasingly focused on what to do about Rachel.