Authors: Ryan Parker
The entire week went by with no contact from Finn. I was beginning to resent him for it, but every time that feeling started to creep into my mind I pulled myself back. I had to remember that this is what he had promised.
One meeting. No seconds. Possibly cutting off all communications.
I had feared those things and now I was living them.
Every day I woke up thinking about him, and all day every day I could feel his hands and mouth on me. He hadn’t left any bruises or scratches or anything like that, but he might as well have. It was as though the nerve endings in my skin were still responding to his touch and it wasn’t diminishing as each day passed.
I went about my routine as best I could. I had no choice. To let thoughts, regrets, and longing for his return linger in my mind would only mean more damage to the life I had worked so hard to build.
Finn had been a regular part of my life for six months. Now there was an enormous void there. Like a canyon. I just had to stop myself from standing on the edge of that canyon, shouting his name, and only getting unanswered echoes of my own voice in return.
I’d been to that empty place so many times as a child and throughout my teen years. I had talked about abandonment too many times with therapists, exploring my feelings, identifying triggers, learning to cope…
I’ll admit it—I was rude to most of them. I was a bitch, actually. I made no effort to hide my disdain for the whole process of sitting in a quiet room and telling all my problems to a perfect stranger who, for some reason, felt the need to display their four or five diplomas on the wall.
I didn’t buy into the idea when I was nine or ten. I didn’t buy into it when I was in my early teens. And by the time I was eighteen, there was nothing anyone could have said to me that would have convinced me that these people held the key to my happiness. They hadn’t lived my life.
Like I said, at the time I was a total bitch to them.
I was also old enough by then to know that I didn’t have to accept being abandoned. Yes, it was a fact of my life. But, emotionally, did I have to accept it? Hell no, I didn’t.
I had just entered legal adulthood when I had the epiphany. I knew if I was going to forge a path in life, I would have to do it myself.
I could choose to live differently.
That’s when I decided that I would be my own person. Define my own rules. Let in who I wanted to let in, and lock out those who I didn’t want anywhere near me. No social worker, judge, or anyone else had the power to tell me how to live.
I did. Just me. No one else.
And I gradually, over the course of maybe two or three years, learned that being a bitter, angry bitch to everyone got me exactly nowhere, and earned me exactly zero respect.
So I shaped up my attitude and started the life I wanted, the life I felt I deserved, and the life I knew I could give myself.
. . . . .
While I was away from Finn, Tara helped fill the void in terms of time, but no one would fill it in terms of space.
Well, except for Winnie, who I managed to visit two evenings in a row. When I got there the second night, the manager of the shelter, Meg, said she was surprised to see me again and asked if I was back to see Winnie.
“The one and only,” I said.
Meg took off her reading glasses. “Why don’t you think about adopting her?”
The subject had never come up before. As far as Meg was concerned, I was just a volunteer and she probably thought if I had any interest in adoption, I would have brought it up myself.
“I wish I could,” I said, “but I live in a small apartment. It wouldn’t be fair to her.”
Meg nodded and said, “If only everyone put the animals first.”
I agreed and went to get Winnie.
. . . . .
Tara and I had lunch together twice during the week. I took her to my usual spot on the Mall, where she seemed to enjoy the scenery. She said she had always eaten in the basement break room, no windows, no view, no connection to the outside world.
That sounded more like something I would have done, but instead I chose to get outside as much as possible.
She brought up Finn the first day we had lunch. I didn’t feel like talking about it, and explained why: that I needed to begin pushing the memory of him out of my mind.
She was reaching out. I was touched, and for the second time in six months I was making a personal connection with someone. Much different than the Finn situation, but still.
I was making a friend. Something I had never allowed myself to do. While it hadn’t been easy, it was at least a small bright star on the otherwise pitch-black emotional horizon that I’d been staring at since Finn walked out of that hotel room.
She liked reality shows but I didn’t watch them. She liked country music, and I wasn’t a fan. She came from a big family, and I came from no family.
So we had our differences, but there was still a connection. Best of all, she didn’t try to pry information out of me about my past.
She tried to talk me into going out that upcoming weekend. I declined at first, telling her I had a lot to take care of at home.
I shrugged. “Just, you know, things around the house. I really have to clean this weekend.”
Tara eyed me skeptically. “Didn’t you say you had, like, a nine-hundred square-foot apartment?”
“How long could that possibly take to clean? And you’re always impeccable looking. I bet your apartment is the cleanest in your complex.”
I laughed lightly. She had no idea how right she was. It wasn’t that I was a neat freak or had some kind of compulsion to clean; it was more along the lines of cleaning was something to do when I was bored.
Hey, there are worse things I could have been doing. Like browsing that dating site, which I had no intention of doing again.
“There’s a band I want to see,” Tara was saying. “I saw them on Conan O’Brien’s show one night and they’re playing in Alexandria on Friday night. Shit, that’s tomorrow. This week has flown by.” She went on to tell me more about the band, and about how hot the lead singer was. “I’m going with my friend Callista, and I really think you should go with us.”
I thought about it for a moment, looking straight ahead, and when I looked at her and saw her big smile and her eyebrows wiggling on her forehead, I relented.
“Okay,” I said. “Sounds good.” It didn’t really sound good, but I said that anyway, and I guess somewhat convincingly because she didn’t challenge it.
“And, who knows?” she added. “Maybe you’ll meet a guy there, too. Fuck that Internet dating shit.”
No way was that going to happen, I thought. It was the last thing I wanted or needed right now. But I didn’t tell her that.
I went straight home after work the next day. I wanted to shower and change into something more appropriate for a concert.
On the drive home, I fought with myself over whether to go with the plans or back out at the last minute. I didn’t know anything about this band. I was not big on concerts and clubs, anyway. I didn’t know who Callista was or if she was bringing someone else, and whether guys would be involved…
It was sounding more and more like something I didn’t want to do.
But I had promised my new friend I would go. What kind of friend would that make me if I backed out?
All of that was moot when I was getting undressed for my shower. While waiting for the water to warm up, I checked my email on my phone. I wasn’t expecting anything, especially what I found in my inbox.
I need to see you.
I’m not going to ask you to respond to this email. Just read it and decide.
There’s a bar called Off The Record. It’s in the Hay-Adams at the corner of 16
St. NW and H St. NW. You may already be familiar with the location.
I will be there at 7 p.m. sharp. Meet me outside the front door. Or don’t.
Again, please don’t write back. If your answer is “no” it will be clear, and I’ll leave you alone forever.
I froze, standing there naked in the bathroom with the mirror steaming up.
Part of me was strongly against going. The whole thing seemed like a mess to me now, and going back for more meant possibly subjecting myself to further pain and disappointment.
My brain was sending out strong warning signals, triggering my heart to beat faster, my mouth to go dry, and sending a tingle up my spine. Not the good kind. Not even close.
What won out, though, was the nagging truth that if I stood him up I would always wonder what this one meeting could have meant.
Was he going to buy me a drink and possibly dinner, just to apologize to my face rather than in an email?
Was he going to explain himself? Tell me why he felt so strongly about me staying away from him that he left me on the bed in that hotel room?
And why, after telling me that I was better off staying away, was he asking me to meet him again?
Finn once represented a great mystery to me, in a good way. But that was all in black and white, words on a page. Now that I knew him—sort of—in person, he was an entirely different kind of mystery. The kind that I probably should stay away from, exactly as he had warned me to do a mere six days ago.
I knew how I was, though. I would always wonder…
It was 5:45 and it would take me about twenty minutes to get to the Hay-Adams from my apartment.
I texted Tara and told her I wouldn’t be able to make it after all, that I was sorry and would explain at work on Monday.
I didn’t want any back and forth conversation via email, with Rachel asking me why I wanted to meet again, or asking me to explain myself in writing. And I didn’t want to go through all of that just to have her say “no.”
If I had scared her off, and she in turn had sworn me off, I wanted to experience it in a way that stung. Having her not show would more than suffice.
I wrote the email immediately upon waking up that morning after having a dream that sealed my decision.
It stemmed from an early childhood memory. A fairy tale, actually, one that I used to hear my mother reading to my little sister.
It was about a man and woman who didn’t have any kids, but wanted one, so one winter they made a girl out of snow. She came to life, fulfilling her parents’ wishes to have a child, and eventually finding happiness in her own life when she falls in love with a handsome prince.
I must have heard it a hundred times as a child. It wasn’t a story for boys, of course, but it was perfectly sweet for a little girl.
When I was sixteen and my love for reading was becoming a huge part of my life, I ran across a reference to that fairy tale. I decided to look it up again. I’m still not sure what made me do it. Nostalgia, perhaps. In any case, I found it and read it.
There was much more to the story. Things that were left out of the version my mother was reading to my sister, or things she chose to leave out because they were so dark.
In the version I found, the snow princess finds herself longing for love, but because she doesn’t have a heart, she is unable to.
She wishes for a heart, just to feel alive, to feel human, to feel emotion for someone.
She meets a prince who is able to grant her this wish.
The love she feels for him is so strong, so intense, with such a burning passion, that it warms her heart, causing her to slowly melt.
She has found love, but now that she is basically mortal, there will be an end to her ability to feel.
The price of love.
The prince, having never loved so intensely himself, and realizing that their time is limited, vows to fulfill her every wish until she has melted to the last droplet of water.
That’s exactly what I dreamed about Rachel.
The dream began with the vision of her on the bed in the hotel room, the look on her face telling me she didn’t
me to stay, she
me to stay.
The look that I only later recognized as coming from that long since buried pain, somewhere in her past. Much like mine.
The dream switched to a blur of visuals—Rachel smiling, Rachel running toward me, Rachel’s heart beating, Rachel crying tears of happiness as I slip a ring on her finger, Rachel…melting, slowly before me, our time running out.
I woke with a jolt, head up off the pillow, staring into the darkness of my bedroom.
I was no prince. I’d done some horrendous things in my life, things that I would have had to tell Rachel if things had progressed beyond that one night. I couldn’t shake the feeling of responsibility for hurting her when I walked out.
I had known all along that things would be complicated. I just hadn’t prepared myself for that particular obstacle. So why had I hurt her?
Why had I denied myself?
That’s when I wrote the email, hours before heading off to work, knowing that I would have my answer that evening.
. . . . .
Later that afternoon before closing up the store, I received a package from a courier. I opened it and found a sheaf of papers. The top ones were copies of U.S. government issued visas. Five of them this time.
The most I had worked with in the past was three. As was common, these were all alleged students. All from the same general area they’re always from.
I had about thirty minutes to waste before I needed to head over to the hotel, so I spent it flipping through the rest of the documents. Copies of school transcripts. All fake. Copies of birth certificates. All fake. Copies of previous travel documents. All fake.
All done pretty well, but all fake. I’d become so accustomed to seeing them that it took me just a quick glance to determine.
Before going to the hotel, I swung by my house to drop off the documents.
Mrs. Woodall was on her front porch with a newspaper.
“Hello there,” she called out.
I had been trying to make a beeline for my front door. I hated being rude to her, but I also didn’t want to stop and chat. I needed to make this stop quick, and I also didn’t want her to ask what I was holding.
I stopped on the sidewalk, just feet from my porch. “Hi, Mrs. Woodall.”
“Sure is,” I said, looking up and down the street. A few kids were tossing a football. Two neighbors were mowing their front lawns. The smell of meat on a grill wafted throughout the neighborhood.
“Did you read about this awful story in Laurel? The murders?”
I almost said I didn’t, but that would have dragged out this exchange. “I did. Sounds awful.”
She shook her head. “I don’t know what’s becoming of this country. The gun violence is just out of control.”
I nodded, thinking,
If only she knew.
“Big plans on this Friday night?”
“No,” I said, “just meeting some friends for dinner.”
“That sounds lovely,” she said, affecting her best grandmotherly tone. “Have a great evening.”
“You too.” I dropped the folder inside, locked the front door, and went back to my car.
. . . . .
At 6:45, I was parked outside the Hay-Adams. I had no idea what kind of car Rachel drove, so each time one pulled into a spot, I perked up a little and fixed my eyes on it until I could see who was getting out.
If she lived close by she could have also walked here, so I kept a good lookout on the sidewalk as well.
Something told me she wasn’t the type to take a bus.
At 6:54, a blue Ford Escape pulled into a spot directly across from me but facing the other direction toward the hotel, and I had no doubt it was Rachel. I caught her profile and recognized that blonde hair, this time pulled into a ponytail.
My cock twitched as flash memories of the other night flickered through my mind. This wasn’t going to be easy.
I watched the Escape’s door open and Rachel’s left leg slide out, reaching for the ground. She wore heels, and her leg was bare up to her thigh. She probably had a skirt on, I was thinking, when she swung her other leg out and stood. A skirt, indeed, a black one, the hem above her knees. A white button-down shirt completed the outfit.
She looked so professional. So conservative.
Fuck. This woman was going to drive me insane.
I adjusted in my seat to accommodate my erection, which had started to strain against my pants.
My plan all along had been to greet her outside and ask if she’d like to go inside for a drink and maybe some appetizers, if she was hungry. We could talk. Fix things. See if she was willing to stick to the plan this time.
The problem was, she would no doubt ask why I had told her it would be a good idea for her to stay away from me. And I would owe her an answer.
I had decided that I would offer her a partial explanation while making it clear that it was just that. Not the whole story. What she didn’t know couldn’t hurt her.
Sort of. There would still be danger. But I had a plan for that, too.
I had thought this through very carefully.
I scrapped the plans to go inside when I saw her and when my body reacted, demanding me to pursue more than just a conversation.
She stepped onto the sidewalk and made her way to the front entrance, where she found a place out of the oncoming foot traffic and stood with her back near the wall.
I got out of my car and walked toward the entrance, my eyes trained on her. She was looking around nervously and did a double-take when she saw me walking toward her.
She swallowed hard and pursed her lips, but at the same time forcing a smile.
I stepped closer to her, looking her straight in the eyes and said, “My name is Malcolm.”
Rachel’s forced smile turned into a real one and I saw her eyes start to well up. Her mouth opened a little, but she didn’t say anything. She looked shocked. Before this turned into a conversation or even a hug, I reached for her hand and said, “Come with me,” and I led her back to the parking lot, to her car.
“What’s going on?” she said.
“Please, open the door and get in.”
She used her keyless remote to unlock the door. I opened it for her and she got in, swinging those perfect legs inside. Goddamn.
“We’re going to your place,” I said. “Drive home and I’ll follow you.”