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Authors: marian gard

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BOOK: To See You Again
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I get back to the office in time to make a quick
trip to the ladies room where I take some cleansing yoga class breaths and then
splash my face with water. I have a meeting with Tim in just a minute and I
need to be firing on all cylinders.

I stop by my office, dump off my purse and scarf, grab
my meeting stuff and waltz down the hall to Tim's office. He isn't there yet,
so I plop down in the chair across from his desk and begin fiddling with my iPad.
Almost immediately an alert pops up from my Facebook app. Facebook is already
taunting me. I stare at it and then in the hallway I hear the whirlwind that is
Tim approaching. I stick my finger on the app icon until it wiggles and then
hit delete. The iPad objects, "Are you sure?"
Yes, I'm sure.
I have
exceeded my limit for distractions today.

Tim starts talking to me before he's fully in the
office. He takes a seat and our weekly meeting goes as it usually does. I run
through accounts and give him updates, while he makes comments and suggestions.
I take copious notes and update my calendar as I go. Then, Tim pauses and taps
his chin with his finely manicured finger. I'm silent, letting the quiet
stretch out between us. This is unusual, and I feel unsettled, waiting for him
to speak. I glance at Tim's suit; it's dark gray with a faint pinstripe, and it
fits him perfectly. He's by far the sharpest dressed man at the office, though
nothing is all that shocking about that. Of course he's fastidious about his
looks, he's that way about
everything.
For as fast as he moves, there's
nothing sloppy or impulsive about him, at all.

"Tim?" I'm not able to withstand what feels like
incredibly awkward silence, which in all reality is more like an elongated
pause for a normal person.

He peers at me from over his black-rimmed glasses.
"Rachel, you know how impressed I've been by your work and contributions to the
company over the years, and we've talked about you increasing your role here,
branching out." This must be a really off day for Tim, because this is
bordering on babbling. I nod my head, encouraging him to go on, and feeling
anxiety bubble up in my stomach. "We have the possibility of landing a very big
account. I'm assembling a sales team to go with me, and I want you to be a part
of it." With only his tone to go on, you'd never know this was good news, but
it definitely is.

I'm simultaneously relieved and thrilled.
"Absolutely, Tim. Thank you. Give me the particulars of what you need from me,
and I'm on it." I can't keep from smiling. Today has been a rollercoaster, but
this is definitely a turn of events I can get on board with. Tim gives me
rapid-fire details and fifteen minutes later I'm bouncing back to my office,
Collin
nearly
forgotten. 

I wrap up my last client meeting of the day and
exit onto the busy sidewalk. I glance at my watch—it's five-thirty. I could
head back to the office or just go straight to Beckett's place for dinner. The
rumble in my stomach decides it. I send a text to him, alerting him of my
pending arrival. I'm sure he won't mind; if he had it his way, I would already
be living with him by now. I board the El and am lucky enough to score a seat
at the end of a row. I ease into it and scan my to-do list for work. A text
from Beckett buzzes in, a happy emoticon representing his affirmative reply. I
can't wait to tell Beckett my news. I've been complaining for months that I've
felt like things have stagnated for me at work. I feel like I know Tim well
enough to anticipate his expectations and represent his wishes when it comes to
handling difficult account situations, but when it comes to his appraisal of
me, I'm never that certain. Beckhas encouraged me to sit down with Tim and
outline my concerns, a reasonable workplace recommendation for most people, but
most people aren't dealing with my boss. Tim is obviously considering promoting
me in some way, but true to his character, he will want to see some action from
me first to demonstrate my worthiness of whatever he may have in mind. I'm both
excited and terrified by the challenge.

The El screeches to a halt and more people pile
in, few seem to exit, and I shut my eyes. Being in close proximity with this
many people always unnerves me, and locking the world out is one of my coping
mechanisms. I take a deep breath and try to relax, telling my brain to shift to
pleasant thoughts. Suddenly an image of Collin's face pops into my mind.

This used to happen to me all the time years ago,
right after everything ended between us. Often during restless nights, when I
had trouble sleeping, my brain would sift through a collage of moments in time
with Collin. Typically it would alternate between his pained expression when I
had lied to him and told him I didn't have feelings for him, and the hateful
look he'd given me shortly thereafter. I would turn it over and over in my mind's
eye, wishing and hoping for the magical moment when I became desensitized, and
the memory of our friendship's demise was no longer painful. Sometimes, but not
nearly as often, I would recall snapshots of him when we were intimate. One in
particular had haunted me: Collin rising above me and looking directly in my
eyes. It was seconds before we both crossed over a threshold from which we
could not return, and the look he had given me had been simultaneously heated
and tender.  Inexplicably, this is what my brain has conjured up while I attempt
to seek mental escape from the onslaught of pushy commuters.
What the hell?
Damn you, Facebook.

Instead of pushing the thoughts to the side, I
linger a bit, thinking back to that day after our infamous night together. When
I came home from work around four in the afternoon, he had, as promised,
cleared out all of his belongings from my apartment without so much as a note
or a number where I could reach him.  Few of us had cell phones back then, and
Collin had told me he hated the things. I think of present day Collin and
envision him texting away, like the rest of America. I can feel the once-familiar
hunger to know more about him rising up within me, cranky and as insatiable as
ever.  

My mind wanders back to that afternoon, all those
years ago, on the day after everything went to hell. I headed up the stairs to
my apartment feeling light-headed and woozy from lack of sleep and an
unbearable sensation of impending doom. Doom with Spencer, doom with Collin. Doom,
doom, doom. I caught the edge of our welcome mat with my sandal and slowly
lifted it up. My heart sunk when I saw Collin's key shining atop a thick layer
of dust and dirt. I bent down and picked it up, using it to unlock the door as
a final confirmation that it was, in fact, his key. I pushed the door to our
apartment open with my hip and saw Tabby standing in the kitchen.

She glanced over at me. "What's up, Rave? You look
tired," she mumbled into the refrigerator door.

Ignoring her statement of the obvious, I mustered
up my most casual tone of voice. "Have you seen Collin at all today?"

Tabby shut the fridge and leaned back against it
with her diet Pepsi in hand. "Define ‘see'," she answered, rolling her eyes.

I was not in the mood for Tabby's thinly veiled
hatred of Collin. "Was he here or not?" I demanded, failing miserably at any
attempt to be cool. That was all it took to wipe the sarcasm from Tabby's face.
She left the kitchen to come stand by me in the living room.

Her voice serious, she replied, "Um, yeah, he was
here a little over an hour ago. He was throwing stuff into a duffle bag. I
didn't think much about it. Just assumed he was finally going to do some laundry.
Why? Is something wrong?" A crease formed between her brows, I'd filled her
with worry, but I didn't bother to address it.

"Did he say anything to you?" I asked curtly.

She shook her head ‘no' and sat slowly on the
couch. "What's wrong, Raven?"

"Nothing," I whispered and trudged back to my room,
away from her questioning gaze. I'd been desperately hoping that he had said
something to her, anything at all, so I could've had clues into his state of
mind that day. It was foolish of me, though; Collin was a master at appearing
contrary to whatever he was experiencing on the inside, and Tabby couldn't have
been less concerned about his wellbeing had he been a stray cat she had shooed out
of an alleyway.

I searched for him each day in the remaining time
I had on campus. I drove to all his favorite spots, checked all the places I
knew he frequented—nothing. His boss at the convenience store said he'd quit
just an hour before his last scheduled shift and had done so over the phone—no
one had seen him since I last did. I even sent a few emails to the only address
I had for him. I never heard from or saw him again.

I open my eyes and check the El stop—three more to
go. I glance down at my phone knowing that within reach is a present-day photo
of him just begging to be clicked. Shit.

Chapter 5
Collin - (Ten Years Later/Present Day)

 

Leighton straddles me. "Don't be mad, OK?" she
whispers, tickling my earlobe with her lips.

Leighton always uses her sexual prowess when she
wants something from me or is trying to appease me in some way. It often works,
I'm not gonna lie. I push her back slightly and she tilts her head employing
her cutest smile. I tuck her curtain of blonde hair to the side and kiss her
neck. "What did you do now?" I ask. It comes out a seductive whisper.

She scoots off of me and stands. "OK, remember how
you said you wished you were in better contact with some of your old friends?" I
watch her traipse across the kitchen and into the office where she locates my
laptop and comes skipping back toward me. I lean back on the couch and give her
a what-the-hell-look.

"That doesn't sound like me at all," I say. She's
undeterred, already turning the laptop on and smiling to herself. She's a lady
on a mission. "Out with it Leighton, what the hell did you do?"

She looks at me, attempting to measure my mood.
I'm wary, but not irritated. Leighton agitates me less than most women I have
been with, and less than most people in general. She's a good person and her
exuberance feels like a nice counterbalance to my generally subdued nature.  She's
been working at a bank downtown for the past six months or so, while she
attempts to "find her bliss", and in the meantime she's been reading stacks and
stacks of psychology and self-help books. She tried to tell me that it's so she
can find her "career self", but I would have to be a total moron not to realize
what's actually going on. She isn't the first girl to try and fix me. I feel
like with each book she reads, she identifies more things about me that require
her rescuing. It's all pretty harmless. I don't know what she's cooked up this
time, but I'm not all that worried. I smile at her and pat the couch next to me.

She plops down next to me. "I created a Facebook
account for you!" Before I can respond she's logging on showing me my username
and password and the thirty-four friends I've acquired in the week or so that
it's been active. Leighton is babbling. I know she's talking quickly in hopes
that she can chat me into submission. "I used this photo as your profile
picture." She points at a picture she took of me sometime last year. I'm
laughing in it and sitting on a quilted blanket. We were at a concert at Millennium
Park. Leighton clicks away and proceeds to point at a few more photos.  She
continues; "And of course I uploaded a few nice pics of us. Also, I've been
responding to your friend requests; you know, as long as they seemed legit. Right
there…" She points to a small heart next to her name on my page. "That means
we're in a relationship."

She smiles endearingly at me. I say nothing and pull
the laptop from her grasp. Leighton's voice trails off and she stares at me.
I'm worrying her, but I can't be bothered with that now. I feel my pulse
accelerate and my palms begin to sweat. I scroll through the list of names on
my friend list. They're nearly all work associates or people I've met in the
past four or five years or so. Only one name concerns me, the only name I'm
searching for. It's not there. But then I see Vanessa's name and everything
comes to a halt.

"Are you mad?" Leighton whispers. Her green eyes
are scanning my face as she nervously chews on her fingernail.

I don't look at her. "How do I view this person's
page?" I ask, answering my own question as I click on Vanessa's bolded name and
her page opens up.

"Who's Vanessa?" Leighton asks. She's hoping I
can't hear the undercurrent of paranoid jealousy woven into her tone.  No amount
of reassurance would ever be enough for her—that's who she is—but it's also
made worse by my refusal to show strong emotion. I don't really get angry, or
excited, or super happy. I aim for neutral all the time, and because of this,
Leighton has been driven mad at times, attempting to decipher my thoughts and
mood. If she could read my mind now she would know that I'm pretty irate with
her. Never mind the egregious infringement on my privacy—she's cracked open a
door that I very purposely nailed shut. I'm not going to yell at her, which
judging by her panic-stricken face might actually be a relief. Instead I'm
content to let her twist in the wind for a bit and refuse to entertain any of
her goddamn questions. That is a certainty.

I'm scrolling through albums and photos at a
frenzied pace. I can't help myself. Along the way I'm taking mental notes:
Vanessa married Ryan, no surprise there. They clearly have at least two kids,
who, judging by the insane amount of photos of them, must have every moment of
their lives photographed. They live in Chicago, not sure which neighborhood. It
looks like she got
her
five-year plan. My mind is centered on Rachel,
though, and I'm wondering if she got hers, too.  She never thought I knew about
that, but I'd heard her and Tabby talk about it more than once.

Rachel was the most focused person I'd ever met.
Her drive was pure, genuine, entirely based on her desire to become something
more, the culmination of all of her hard work, not at all like the artificial
greed-centered version that encapsulated my stepfather, Victor. Her hard work
was never about competition, pleasing someone, or meeting artificial standards.
Her relentless sense of hope and passion is what, more than anything, drew me
to her at the time. I was so vacant and empty back then; sometimes I felt like
she was the only thing anchoring me to the earth. If it hadn't been for her I
would've simply blown away like a discarded newspaper crumpling and tearing in
the wind.

Part of me wants her to have found everything she
desired and the other half wants her to still be missing something, that piece
of her I'd once hoped had belonged to me. Vanessa must have at least four
hundred pictures on here and I would be willing to bet Rachel is in at least
one of them. I become acutely aware of Leighton scrutinizing me and I click off
the Internet and shut the laptop—there will be time for this later, sans an
unwanted audience.

I turn and face her apprehensive eyes. "Don't do
anything like that again."

Her mouth falls slightly open and her eyes are
wide. "Do you want me to take it down?"

I shake my head ‘no' and rise off the couch.
"Let's go get some dinner."

BOOK: To See You Again
2.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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