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BOOK: To See You Again
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Chapter 11
Rachel

 

When I tell Tim I'm meeting Collin for lunch he
lights up like a Christmas tree and tells me to take as long as I like. Just
before noon I'm shrugging my coat on when he leans into my office. "I'm
serious, Rachel. Take your time. I've asked Donna to cover if anything needs
immediate attention this afternoon." He disappears faster than he appeared, and
I'm left standing dumbly at my desk with no one to voice opposition to.

Donna? Great.
I'm sure her hand shot up like a rocket when Tim asked for coverage.
She's the worst kind of brownnoser. She's up everyone's ass, but only so she
can gather enough dirt or information on them to commit workplace sabotage
later. She hasn't nabbed me for anything yet, but the closer I get to Tim, the
more of a target I am to her. I log back into the system and password lock a
few key folders on my computer. Then I'm off. This quick bit of pre-Donna
damage control sends me out the door five minutes later than I needed to leave
to get there on time. I pick up my pace and then I think to myself this is
Collin
I'm meeting, and I can't imagine him being early for anything, so I slow down a
bit and even take time to text Vanessa on my way there.

I haven't had a chance to call her yet to give her
the lowdown on all the madness that's taken place since she discovered Collin
on Facebook. She's gonna freak. Considering her love of the dramatics I send
her a cryptic text:
guess who I'm meeting for lunch today?
Vanessa
always gets back to me, but with two kids in tow, her response time can be
unpredictable. So I'm surprised when her reply is near immediate.

Vanessa: no idea. who?

Me: Collin Jackson!!!

Vanessa: no freaking way! calling you.

Vanessa knows better than anyone else in my life
what a big deal all of this is. My phone rings almost instantly.

Vanessa is already talking before I have the phone
to my ear. "OK, screaming kids or not we are having this conversation now. What
the h-e-l-l is going on?"

"I should've called you sooner, but I ran into
him, I mean
literally
ran into him at this charity thing. It was supremely
embarrassing. His drink was all over my face, and then his super chipper, hot
girlfriend was trying to make it all OK…and she hit it off with Beckett…And I
told him that he looked good, because Jesus, Vanessa, he
did
, he was
wearing this incredible suit…but still, I can't believe I actually said that!"

Vanessa interjects, practically screaming, "My
God, Rachel, slow the heck down. Do you realize you aren't making any sense at
all? You met his girlfriend? He threw a drink at you? What the hell is going
on?"

"I know. I'm sorry. This whole thing is nuts, but…listen,
I'm just about at the restaurant…so tell Ryan we need a girl's night ASAP. Beg
him to watch the kids so you and I can discuss all of this with alcohol in
hand, OK?"

"Are you serious? I'm going to call Ryan right
now. He owes me. The kids are driving me insane and these recent events warrant
a face to face. I'm sure he'll agree. Wait. Can I tell him what's going on?"

I stop outside the restaurant where I'm supposed
to meet Collin and check my watch. Eight minutes late. He probably isn't even
here yet. I exhale into the phone enough to let Vanessa know I'm not thrilled
at the idea of Ryan knowing what a panic cycle Collin is still able to induce
in my life; but I tell her it's fine for her to explain it to him. She will
anyway, no matter what I say. At least this way we don't all have to pretend he
doesn't know.

"Oh my gosh, girl. Good luck with lunch and text
me if anything crazy goes down, OK?"

"You got it. I'll call you later so we can make
plans, alright?" I pull the door open to the restaurant and take a few steps
in, standing off to the side of the hostess station where a few other patrons
are milling about.

"Dialing Ryan now. Love ya!" Vanessa cheers.

"Love you, too!" I say, as I hit end and glance
up. There, sitting just a few feet away, is Collin, who clearly has watched the
last two minutes of my life and probably thinks I was just telling
Beckett
that I love him. Suddenly I feel self-conscious. I do love Beckett and I don't
care if Collin knows that, but for some reason I don't want him thinking we're
one of those couples that have to call each other every ten minutes all day
long. Collin tips his head back slightly, motioning for me to join him. He's
behind a partition so I have to snake around to the other side to reach the
table, giving me a few precious seconds to compose myself.

When I'm nearly to there, Collin stands. He's
wearing dress pants and a long-sleeved, buttoned-down dress shirt. It's form
fitted, accentuating his trim but firm features. His hair is cropped short and
styled, not the haphazard coiffure I recall from college. He reaches for me and
we give each other a brief and awkward embrace, the sort you'd imagine two
siblings would give one another after a reprimand from their mother to
apologize and make up.

He pulls out my chair for me and I sit, and then I
just can't take it anymore—I burst out laughing. Collin looks startled at first
and then a cautious smile emerges on his face as he props his face under a
single palm with his elbow balanced on the table, watching me.

"I'm sorry," I gasp between bursts of laughter,
"it's just…" I inhale sharply, struggling to breathe, in my hysteria. "Who the
hell are you?"

He regards me for a moment like my face is a
riddle. "Glad I can amuse you, Rachel."

I slam my hand down on the table causing a couple
in an adjacent booth to stare. "There you go again. Rachel? I don't think you
have
ever
called me Rachel."

"What do you want me to call you?" he deadpans.

My mouth drops open in an exaggerated expression
of disbelief. "Really, Collin? Really you're going to play games?"

"I'm not playing games." He leans closer and
lowers his voice, clearly not thrilled by all the attention I have drawn
between the hyena laughter and the hand slamming. "I don't know if I have the
right
to call you anything else anymore."

I lean back into my chair and consider this,
looking away from him for a minute. Then, as though I had evoked him, our
waiter appears to take our order and to save me.

When the waiter asks me what I would like, I don't
even bother to look at the menu. "I'll have the turkey club sandwich, no mayo,
side of fruit and an iced tea, please." I return the menu to him.

"I'll have the same." Collin doesn't take his eyes
off of me, even to hand his menu over.

"Look, I'm sorry for laughing, Collin. It's just
you seem so different. Judging from the charity event and today, it looks like
you quit smoking. You own a business? You're dressed up? You have a girlfriend?
You're
the one that is on time today!" He continues to stare at me with
that blank unemotional look he has down to a science.

He doesn't respond to my comments and then he
leans in toward me. "And you? What happened to your
perfect
five-year
plan? What about Spencer?" His tone is sarcastic, bordering on mocking.

Perfect
five-year plan? What the hell? Just when I think he's all cool and indifferent
he brings up Spencer. I may have laughed at him, but I wasn't going for the
jugular. He's evaded everything I've said, and has wasted no time letting me
know how trivial he must think I am.

Two can play at this game. "Spencer? I have no
idea where he is or how he's doing. My guess is he's living in Michigan; with a
wife and two kids. I have no clue, I haven't talked to him in a decade." My
tone is sarcastic and cutting. I don't think I've ever talked to him this way,
even in jest.

Collin rolls his eyes and replies, "maybe this
lunch was a mistake."

"Maybe it was, Collin.  I mean I'm glad you
clearly got your shit together and life is great for you now and everything,
but you don't need to mock me for having had a plan." He starts to speak, but I
continue talking right over him. "Clearly my plan didn't work out, and Spencer
didn't work out, but at least I
had
a plan. At least I was trying, you
know, trying hard to make things happen in my life."

I can feel I'm seconds away from crying, and even
though I've already made a spectacle of myself once in this restaurant I don't
think I'm up to giving an encore performance. I stand up.

"Rachel, wait. Don't go," Collin's tone is
pleading, and my anger almost wanes.

"No, I should go. I only came today because my
boss wanted me to." Here I go again, lying to Collin. A look of total confusion
sweeps across his face. I shrug my coat on and grab my purse. "We're up against
you for the Marshmen account and he wanted me to pump you for information," I
say flatly.

Collin looks like I've slapped him, and I
instantly regret everything. A fresh wave of emotions sweeps over me, and this
time I
do
start crying. Talk about emotional whiplash. I think I have
covered the spectrum in the past five minutes
.
Collin is stunned into
silence, and I have no idea what more I can say, so I do the only thing I can
think to do: I turn and run.

Chapter 12
Collin

 

I watch, frozen in place, as Rachel tears out of
the restaurant. What the hell just happened? I lost it and acted like a
jackass, but seriously, what the hell was all that about? I could kick myself
for that "perfect" comment. I know that's what really set her off, and the thing
of it is—I didn't mean it. It just sort of came out, and when it did, I
realized all the hurt and confusion I felt over her rejection of me so long ago
has been residing much closer to the surface than I've ever realized. What is it
that everyone says about time healing wounds? I guess that may be true in some
cases, but other hurts, like the ones that come from loss, seem to just scab
over. All you have to do is trip and fall and suddenly you're bleeding all over
again.

What about her, though? She can't decide whether
to laugh or slap me for "getting my shit together".  For some reason those two
reactions are not at all the responses I expected to get from her. She
begged
me to quit smoking, and when I finally do, she finds it funny? I guess it's
logical they would be up for the Marshmen account too; I hadn't really thought
much about our competition. That explains her attendance at the charity event,
but she just came today because her boss wanted her to? Could that be true? What
did they think they were going to gain? Spoiler alert: I'm going to get the
damn account. That whole issue I can deal with later, but what I cannot handle
is to have found her—only to lose her all over again.

Our bewildered waiter approaches the table
carefully as though he's worried I might also burst into tears. "Um, sir?" He
clears his throat and I look up at him. "Will the lady be returning?"

"That is the question, isn't it?" He gives me an
exasperated look that's laced with pity. I decide to let him off the hook. "No,
she will not be returning. I'll take our food in some carryout containers and
the bill, please."

"Right away, sir."

By the time I get our food and pay, twenty minutes
have gone by. I can only assume she returned to work, not sure what else she
might've done.

Every rational fiber of my being is screaming for
me to just let this go, let
her
go, to just go back to my own goddamn
office, but when I hit the pavement outside of the restaurant I quickly pass my
building and find myself propelled in the direction of hers, without a plan
beyond finding her. When I arrive I'm surprised to discover her office building
is a total wreck, clearly in the throes of some complete construction overhaul.
There are workmen everywhere engaged in various deafening tasks, and I have to
follow a narrow yellow-taped obstacle course just to get to the building
directory. I find her office suite number, take a deep breath, and board the
elevator up to the fifteenth floor. The elevator makes a ridiculous racket,
shaking and jiggling, as though moving up and down isn't its singular purpose
in this world. The doors open directly into her company's office and I'm faced
with a young receptionist who immediately greets me with a boisterous, "Can I
help you?" She gives me a bright grin and I smile back, my mind racing in
circles trying to come up with my next move. After an extra beat of staring, in
which she uncomfortably twirls her hair and bites her lower lip, I tell her I'm
looking for Rachel Byrne.

"Is she expecting you?" she squeaks out. I suspect
this girl has been issued some rather strict office protocol regarding
unexpected visitors.

I flash her my most imposing smile and I can
almost feel her melt behind the desk. I raise my eyebrows as I lift up the
carryout bag to the desk level. "I hope not."

"Oooh," she practically gasps. "I understand." She
gives me a conspiratorial wink and picks up the phone.

"Rachel, you have a delivery up here and they're
requesting your signature. Yes, I know. I think it's weird too, but they're
insisting that it's you that signs. OK, thanks!" She hangs up looking quite
proud of herself.

"Nice." I praise her. I have to admit, I'm surprisingly
impressed with little mouse girl.

A moment later, Rachel breezes through the door,
storming around the reception desk and then stops short when she registers my
presence.

"What are you…what the?!" She shoots me a shocked
look and then turns and gives mouse girl a glare that wipes the cheerful grin
right off of her face.

All the moisture leaves my mouth, and the confidence
I had a moment ago vanishes. When there are problems at work I am quick as hell
on my feet. Put me within ten yards of this one woman and I'm useless. Rachel
turns her gaze back to me and then marches forward and grabs my elbow.

"We cannot do this here," she seethes. She glances
over her shoulder at the bewildered receptionist who is currently trying her
damndest to look at anything except us. Rachel hits the down button on the
elevator with so much force that the light flickers in response before
illuminating fully. "There's a room just off of the cafeteria downstairs that's
usually empty. We can go there," she whispers. Each word comes out like it's
intended to be a lashing. I can't think of a response. I can't manage speech.
Every single nerve in my body has gone numb except for where her fingers are
pressed deeply into arm. My heart pounds and I feel like it's all I can hear.

The elevator doors mercifully open a minute later
and she releases her grip on me, crams herself into the corner of the enclosed
space and folds her arms across her chest. I take in a long, deep breath and
pinch the bridge of my nose—a weird nervous habit that used to belong
exclusively to my mother, but over the years I've adopted as my own.  It's my
move. I need to de-escalate this or end it. There is no in-between.  I glance
at her. I would think she's all rage and anger if it wasn't for the fact her
eyes are puffy and red, a clear giveaway she's been crying. I exhale slowly and
try to get my shit together. When the doors close I turn toward her.

"I come in peace, Rachel. I feel horrible." I keep
my voice even and calm, the opposite of everything I'm feeling inside.

Her arms loosen slightly and I see her exhale a
shaky breath. She turns to look at me, her eyes wide, her lips trembling
slightly, and then before she can speak, the whole elevator rocks, knocking us
both off balance. The lights flicker, and then go out.

"Shit," we both say.

The darkness envelopes us and I feel my eyes
struggle to focus on anything and nothing all at once. I right myself, gripping
the brass panel behind me with one hand and begin to focus on Rachel's
breathing. It sounds ragged and shallow like she's just completed a sprint. I
close my eyes and let it fill my ears. A memory comes rushing back—the last
time we were alone together in the dark. Her breath to me then was a guide,
telling me where to touch her next, how long, how much. This sudden intimacy
feels intoxicating, confusing and completely terrifying all at once.  

"The construction," she mutters. "They've been
doing all this work for months. I bet that's it."

I clear my throat, attempting to find my voice
again. "Yeah, I noticed that when I came in," I manage to say.

"Our receptionist, Marissa, knows we went in here
so I'm sure she'll inform whoever needs to be informed."

"That's good," I reply, though the way she said it
I wasn't sure if she was talking to me or just trying to reassure herself. For
a second I think of Marissa's baffled face when Rachel stormed into the
elevator, and I want to laugh, but think better of it.

"I don't have my cell phone. Do you have yours?"
Her voice is thick and demanding, all the earlier trembling is gone.

"Um. I think it's just about dead." I reach into
my pocket, pulling out my phone and see that I have no service. Not all that
surprising I guess, since we are basically trapped in a metal vault contained
within an ancient building. I power it down, watching it dim and then fade
entirely into darkness. The brief illumination has left me feeling even blinder
than before. "Sorry Rachel," I mutter, "no bars."

"Shit," she repeats, sounding increasingly pissed off.
I don't want her unhappy, but I'm guessing she'd just want to call Beckett
again like she did earlier today, right before we met for lunch. I'm not really
up for a front row seat of that again. Once was enough.

Another wave of silence ensues and all of my pent
up fear takes hold. This may be the one and only time I have with her to say
what needs to be said; yet
nothing
comes, just throat-choking paralysis.
I press my thumb and index finger to the bridge of my nose and wince.
Talk
to her!

Then she speaks. "Why
did
you come, anyway?
I acted so horribly. God, I'm so sorry, Collin. I just…I just don't know how to
do this." This is an unexpected wane in her hostility. I'll take it.

"Do what?" I ask, wishing more than anything that
we weren't in complete darkness. I want to see her face.

"Talk with you!" she exclaims, exasperated with
me, herself, the situation—I'm not sure which, maybe all of it. "The last time
I saw you. I mean, you know…before the whole gala thing…you were so…so
angry
with me. And then, I couldn't find you. I looked for you
everywhere
.
Where were you, Collin? Where the hell did you go?"

I set the bag of food I've been clutching down,
and sink to the floor beside it, putting my feet out in front of me. How can
this woman both petrify and disarm me so easily? "Europe."

"Europe?" She sounds incredulous. "Um, OK?" I hear
her slide down and sit too. "Guess I didn't think to look there."

All of sudden the elevator is filled with a
deafening ringing noise. It's practically the third ring before I register that
it's the emergency phone, and the fourth before I realize that Rachel has
crawled over to my side and is clambering to get the phone.

"Hello?" She sounds breathless. I can hear the
muffled sounds of a deep male voice talking to her on the other end. "Yes, it's
me and one other person, a gentlemen, Collin Jackson." The same voice continues
barking away into the receiver. "Yeah, I know. I'm sorry. I guess we just
didn't think about using the emergency phone. We knew about the construction,
so we just assumed it wouldn't be too long before it started up again…Yes, we're
fine…OK, then…Thank you. Bye."

"What's going on?" I can hear her trying to hang
up the phone and repeatedly missing the base. Finally it clicks and she lets
out a little sigh.

 

Rachel

 

"Well, it isn't good. They think we're stuck
between the twelfth and thirteenth floor. The power is out for blocks and they're
not sure how long it's going to be before they get it back on. They obviously
have much bigger problems than the two of us stuck in here." Collin gives sort
of a guttural reply, that I'm not sure how to interpret. I'm thankful, that at
least for now, we're being peaceful with each other.

Still kneeling from answering the phone, I slink
back down, shifting both my legs to one side, acutely aware of my increased
proximity to Collin. My knee is burning. I reach down to touch it and realize
in my haste to get to the phone I managed to rip my pantyhose. "Damn it!"

"What is it?" Collin's voice is low and deep and
now that I'm sitting on his side of the elevator, I feel it reverberate off the
brass panels behind us, giving me chills.

"I gave myself rug burn and tore my stockings."

"Sorry, Rachel. I should've gotten the phone. It
took me a second to register what the hell was going on."

"It's fine. I'm fine." I take stock of the
irritation in my voice, realizing how angry I must sound, and exhale. I need to
calm down.

"This is like your worst nightmare, isn't? Being
stuck in a dark elevator with me." Collin sounds like he's joking, but without
being able to see his face, I can't really tell.

"I don't hate you, Collin."

"No?" He lets out a small humorless laugh.

"You were my best friend," I whisper, like it's a
confession.

"You were mine, too." He answers me quickly. His
tone has shifted and sounds closer to the one I recognize from afternoons spent
by the river, or nights we stayed up late talking.

"OK, what were you starting to tell me about
before the ringer on the phone took ten years off my life?" I needlessly close
my eyes at my prompt for him to continue talking. His low, deep voice used to
be such a comfort to me. A haven.

"You'd asked me where I'd gone...after, um you
know, uh, during graduation," he stutters.

There's no easy way to reference the night you
slept with someone when you're no longer sleeping with them. "Did you go to
graduation?"

"No," he whispers.

"I figured as much." I knew he didn't walk, but I
always wondered if he was there somewhere. I wouldn't have put it past him to
show up for part of it. The silence drags out and I remember this is the way he
is. Beck and my boss, Tim, are the two men I spend the majority of my time
talking to. One will never shut up and the other talks to you as though he's an
auctioneer. Collin can be comfortable in silence. I don't remember the last
time I was.

BOOK: To See You Again
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