Rachel got out of her car and adjusted her new jacket. The fine wool pantsuits had been one of her purchases on her trip to Chicago with Shannon. It was a snappy black jacket that turned sapphire in the right light. Shannon wouldn’t let her leave the store until Rachel bought it.
“Hot date?” Shannon said when Rachel walked in the office.
“No, I hate the idea of wasting money on an outfit that sits in the back of my closet.”
“What time are you meeting him?” Shannon said seeming to have not heard a word Rachel has just said.
“Yes, I heard what you said and I don’t believe a word of it. I’m looking right at you and the hair and make-up scream date.” Shannon folded her arms and cocked her head to the side as she spoke.
“I’m meeting Drew after dinner to talk.”
Shannon took Rachel by the arm and led her back to the conference room.
“What are you doing?” Shannon said as soon as she closed the door.
“Don’t start. I’m not doing anything wrong.”
“Does Curtis know?”
Rachel glared at her. “What do you think?”
“I thought you had something with Curtis.”
“I don’t know if I do or not.”
“So what? You’re having a last fling?”
“Don’t you get judgmental with me Miss On-the-first-date-Shannon.”
Shannon’s eyes narrowed. “I was trying to be a friend. You’re the one who called me torn up because Curtis was mad at you.”
“When did you join the Curtis fan club?”
“I don’t know, I guess he grew on me.” Shannon paused only momentarily. Typical. Do what Shannon says no matter how irrational.
“Then you date him.”
“He loves you. Although at the moment I’m at a loss for why.”
“I am not going to commit to something until I’m sure.” Rachel focused on adjusting her outfit again to avoid eye contact.
“What more do you need to be sure?”
“I’ll just know.” Rachel took her purse off her shoulder and set it on the conference table behind her.
“Fine. Whatever Rachel.” Shannon threw her hands up in the air. “You have messages in your door. I have an appointment with a potential new client at two but I’ll be back by end of the day.” She turned and opened the door.
Rachel sat alone in the room for a long moment. Shannon of all people should understand not wanting to settle. Rachel picked her purse up off the table and dug out her cell phone. She scrolled through her contact list but there was no one to call? Shannon was the person she always talked to when she had a problem.
She jammed the phone back in her purse and jerked the strap over her shoulder.
“Shannon.” Rachel yelled down the hall as she turned in her own office. “Can you come in here for a minute?”
Shannon stopped in the doorway, arms folded. “What?” She said and folded her arms.
She wasn’t quite sure how to start. She couldn’t stand to have one more thing wrong in her life. Why had she been so defensive? Shannon was trying to protect her friend.
“Do you have the expense reports from last week?” She tried to make her voice normal. It came out stiff.
“Folder on your desk.” Shannon said pointing then folding her arms again. “Is that the only reason you summonsed me to your office?”
“What Rachel? Do you think this office stops when you have a problem?”
“The expense reports are on your desk.”
“Have you looked them over yet or am I the first one?”
“Looked at them already. That’s why they’re on your desk.”
Rachel unlocked her desk and turned on her computer.
“I don’t want to fight, Shannon.”
“Fine. We’re not fighting.” She turned and walked out the door.
Rachel had not handled that well at all. She lifted the expense reports and flipped through them. Some of this was going to have to go home to get it done in time for monthly budget work ups. She ripped open the bottom drawer of her desk to toss her purse in. She froze. Another rose.
“Shannon, who has been in my office.”
“Why?” Shannon came around the corner into Rachel’s office. “I put everything-.” Shannon’s stopped the moment she made eye contact with Rachel.
“Don’t touch another thing in this office.” Shannon waved Rachel to her. “I’m going to call 9-1-1 from the front desk.”
Rachel stood up and picked up her purse and walked out of her office. Shannon was on the receptionist’s phone confirming the office’s address.
“Get them out of the office.” Shannon said pulling her chin away from the phone to say it quietly to Rachel.
“C’mon guys. Let’s get out.” Rachel walked to the door and opened it.
“What’s going on?” People started turning to each other.
“Go on out, please.” Rachel held the door for everyone to go in the parking lot then closed the door and stepped back in with Shannon.
“Thank you, goodbye.” Shannon said in the phone. “They’re on their way.”
“Check your keys.”
They both pulled out their keys and went through them. The only person who had keys to the office were the two of them and the building owner.
“What about Walt?”
“Yeah, but he doesn’t have keys to your desk.”
So much for the building owner.
“Rachel, have you been here with anyone?”
Shannon shook her head no. “Let’s go outside.” Shannon put her arm over Rachel’s shoulder as they walked out the door. “Are you okay?”
“Not really.” She smiled through tears.
Shannon hugged her tight.
“We’ll get all this straightened out. Don’t worry about a thing.” She pushed the hair back from Rachel’s face. “The police will get this handled.”
Rachel shook her head as her breakfast roiled in her stomach and threatened to come back up.
The police arrived twenty minutes later and ran down a list of questions. Who had keys? Anything else strange? What did you touch? Rachel answered all their questions in a fog. Who was doing this? They finished checking things out then allowed a limited staff back in the building to work. Around lunchtime Drew called.
“Rachel, would it be all right if we move things up earlier in the day?”
“That shouldn’t be a problem. Why?” Someone had been through her desk and looked at everything there that was private to her. Nothing was private and things would be much less private soon.
“I have to go out of town tomorrow morning so I need to meet earlier in the day.”
“What time were you thinking?”
“Is three too early?”
“No three is fine.”
They finished talking. Down in her office the police were still talking amongst themselves and photographing everything they could fine. Rachel tried to focus on her expense report. She filled in the expense sheets and balanced the books with one eye to her office. He had been in here. He may have gone through her things or sat in her chair. He knew her intimately. He had seen her home and her office and her car. She wrapped her arms around her waist and pressed her back to the wall. There was no place he hadn’t been.
At 2:15 she left the office and drove to the restaurant to meet Drew. This whole thing at the office likely ruled out Drew. He knew where she lived but someone from the office would have noticed him walking in her office.
Maybe the stalker was gone. There were no more reports on things happening and while the police were diligent in helping her they no longer seemed overly concerned with the roses. It had to be a copycat or someone’s misguided notion of romance. The ideas did little to sooth the fear that lingered on the edge of her every conscious thought.
She arrived at Sofo’s a bit early so she fixed her hair and makeup before walking in to the restaurant. The smell of tomato sauce and garlic greeted her. The bar to her right looked like a European outdoor café. Straight ahead was a wooden podium and a park bench.
“Will there be anyone else joining you this afternoon?” The host asked when she put in her name.
“Yes. He should be here any time. Could I look at a menu while I wait?”
“Of course.” He gave her the menu then returned to rolling silverware in white linen napkins.
She sat down on a bench near the hostess station and read over the menu. The food smelled good but she wasn’t sure if her stomach could hold anything.
“Rachel, glad to see you.” Drew walked in with his arms outstretched. She put down the menu and stood up. He gave her a quick peck on the cheek. It was a once kiss greeting she’d seen on European movies. “You been waiting long?”
“Only about five minutes. I got here early.”
The host led them to a corner table near the back of the room then read them the special off a white card before leaving them.
“Thank you again for meeting me.” Drew said over the top of his menu.
“You’re welcome. I rarely turn down free food.”
“I thought you were buying.” He winked at her and returned to his menu.
After they placed their orders Drew folded his arms and rested them on the table.
“You look absolutely beautiful.”
“Thank you.” She smiled.
“I’ve been thinking about you quite a bit.”
“You have?” She tucked a bit of hair behind her ear. “Why?”
“Because I really care about you Rachel.” He reached over and touched her cheek with his fingers.
Drew knew what to say to her and how to look at her. A few moments with him and all was now forgiven. Why had she doubted his sincerity? Any person had a right to be upset when they got led on. She was mad at the way Curtis had-.
She once again saw his face in her mind’s eye. His sincerity and his charm. She looked up at Drew. His hazel eyes were intense.
Drew cocked his head to one side. “Do you have any feelings at all for me?”
The server set down her tray on a stand and placed a salad in front of each of them. Rachel was relieved. It only bought her a few moments though. She got a few lettuce leaves on her fork and took a bite. Drew picked at his salad across the table from her.
“I’m not sure how I feel right now, Drew.”
“Do you feel anything?” His voice didn’t betray much emotion. He was trying to save face.
“I find you attractive.”
“But?” His voice sounded amused as if physical attraction should be enough.
She picked at her salad and took another bite.
“But I don’t know. What are you looking for in a relationship right now?”
“Depends on the woman.”
“What are you looking for in a relationship with me?” She set her fork down and looked straight at him. He pushed tomatoes around his plate.
“I want to take this relationship as far as it will go.” She didn’t reply so after a long pause he continued. “I am done with purely physical relationships with women who are only looking for fun.” He lifted his head and stared straight at her. When she didn’t say anything he continued. “I’m starting to think long term. Maybe live together; see what happens. Hopefully, eventually, I want to settle down.”
How many nights over these last couple of months had she longed to have someone beside her for protection and comfort. And how many of those nights had she needed protection from images of Drew? “What makes you think that I’m that woman?”
“I don’t know.” He wiped his mouth with the linen napkin and placed it back in his lap. “I guess I can only say there is something in your eyes when you look at me. You have an inner strength I don’t often see in women.”
She smiled. Not for the compliment he paid her but for the irony. Her life was crashing in on top of her and she couldn’t figure out which man held her heart. Now Drew was looking her in the eye telling her it was her strength that attracted him to her.
“I’m really not that strong.”
“But you are.” He reached out and took her hand. “You have taken life and squeezed every bit of opportunity out of it possible. You are successful. You know what you want. And you are going to be a wealthy woman one day. You mark my words.”
She moved her fingers and Drew released her hand. “Can we stop talking about me for a bit?”
“If that’s what you’d like.”
“Tell me about you Drew. When you aren’t selling houses what do you do? What do you want to be?”
He picked his fork back up and took a bite of his salad. After he chewed it he started. “You know I’m not sure. I’m a man who loves to live in the moment. The moment is all we’ve really got.”
“And the future?”
“The future is going to happen whether or not I do anything about it. I try to live and be the best person I can be today and trust that tomorrow will reward me for it.” He shrugged his shoulders and took another bite.
Hadn’t this lunch been all about the future? “What do you plan to do with your real estate career?” Rachel asked.
“Well, the market is really slowing down but these things go in cycles. I am going to ride it now and when the market goes back up I’ll be doing quite well for myself.”
“Sounds like a plan.” She thought he was a professional like her.
“Hey, Rachel. You still awake.”
She blinked her eyes and looked at him. “Sorry. So are you a real estate investor?”
“No.” He crinkled his nose. Not a good look for him. “I sell houses. I don’t mess with all that other.”
“How was it you came in to Real Estate?”
He smiled. “Interesting story.” He put his fork down and moved his hands as he spoke. “My brother who is a few years older had read about people making big money in selling houses. At the time we were working various minimum wage jobs and I’d just had to move back with my parents.” He smiled. “Quite embarrassing.”
“I can imagine.”
“Well that was during the big real estate boom and they were almost begging for agents. People couldn’t keep up with the demand. I took the classes to get licensed and started selling houses. Within two months of selling I moved out of my parents’ house and got my place. I got a great deal on it because I knew the listing agent. I never thought I’d be in to selling houses but here I am. It’s a paycheck.”
“Wow, you did well right off the bat.”
“Yep, I had to. I have expensive taste.” He tapped to a gold watch on his left wrist.
The server brought out their main courses. Rachel pushed noodles around on her plate occasionally scooping up a small pile and eating them. As if a light switch flipped the attraction that had bubbled inside her was gone.
Drew bored her. Curtis had ideas that challenged her. He had business sense she respected.
“Rachel, you’re awfully quiet today.” Drew smiled but there was no ache or pull. Simple acknowledgement.
“Sorry. My mind is on a marketing client I’ve been working with.” She wanted to be with that marketing client right now instead of running back to the same kind of man she’d wasted all these years chasing.
The server brought out the check and set it next to Drew. Rachel reached across for it. “Let me pay.”
He pushed his plate to one side. “Why would you want to do that?”
“You’ve paid the other times.”
He straightened his back. “I invited you to lunch. I will pay.” His tapped one finger on the table as he spoke through tight lips.
“I would feel better if I paid for this.”
“What has gotten in to you today? I am a perfect gentleman, I invite you out and talk about the future with you. What exactly are you looking for?”
“It’s not you. It’s-.”
“Oh I know it’s not me.” He pushed the plastic folder holding the check over to her side. “It’s you. Do you really think you can buy me off by paying one lousy twenty dollar lunch tab?”
Rachel put her credit card on the tray and set it on the edge of the table. “What do you mean buy you off?”
“Come now. We both know you are fairly wise to the ways of men and women.” He scanned her up and down. Rachel pulled her sweater across the front of her. “When a man goes out with a lady for a bit it comes with certain…expectations.”
“Drew, I appreciate the meal but I don’t think right now is a good time for me to be in a relationship.”
“Fine. If you don’t want to make some kind of long term commitment but I’ve invested quite a bit of my time in you.” His tone was steady as if he were explaining to her why a charge was so high. “And you’ve been leading on pretty strong.”
“I’ve been confused.”
“Oh, you’ve been confused.” The server walked out and handed Rachel the receipt. Rachel signed it and handed it back. “Then let me clear things up for you a bit. I don’t have time for women who want to play games.”
“I have a lot going on in my life right now. I thought this was what I wanted.” She motioned between them with her hand indicating the relationship.
“I’m fairly accustomed to getting what I want Rachel.”
“Whatever.” He stood up and bumped the corner of the table with his thigh. Drinks sloshed and coffee splattered on Rachel’s outfit. He didn’t say a word of apology but stood up and snatched his jacket off the back of the chair and walked out of the restaurant.
She looked down at her watch. It was almost 4:15. She should try to beat rush hour home.
You are reading A Face in the Shadow by Tiffany Colter.
Tiffany is a writer, speaker and writing career coach. She is a frequent contributor to print and online publications in addition to her regular marketing blog at http://www.writingcareercoach.com/
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This story is copyright Tiffany Colter. 2007. It may not be copied, distributed, sold or included in any larger work without the expressed written permission of Tiffany Colter.
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