Authors: Carol Lawson
An Erotic Suspense Story With A Dark Hidden Secret
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Shane blinked against the sun leveling through the window of the office, hovering above the lip of his cubicle. Outside the Seattle skyline was silhouetted against the blue summer sky, and he could almost imagine the sound of cicadas drumming outside. These were called dog days, weren’t they? He scratched it down on a small notepad on his desk to look up later, and turned back to his computer. He’d been put in charge of the McPherson accounts, the third person to take up the mantle in as many days – it had become the proverbial seagull around the neck in the office, an impossible job and an impossible client that had been shifting around the finance division like a bad cold. You never knew when you’d catch it, or for how long.
He scrolled down over a list of payments and tax refunds and international protocols. It was all gibberish, even to someone like himself who’d been in accounting for ten years now.
Christ, ten years already
, he realized. He’d been hired right out of college, and at the time had considered it a perfect opportunity to get his foot in the door of a stable career path. It had been stable, and he’d moved to Seattle and settled in nicely. Seattle was different from his hometown back in New Jersey. The West Coast had a charm to it, something that was still wild and inspired the imagination.
The job, on the other hand, had been less than he expected. Stable, yes. But now as he bore down on his thirtieth birthday he suddenly felt an impending mid-life crisis. He’d spent ten years in the same office, doing the same thing day in and day out. The promise of adventure and something new on the West Coast had faded away, and he had become just another suit in the crowd. Something was missing, and yet he was afraid to admit to what it might be. It’s not that the job was particularly difficult, and he had a way with numbers. They just came to him, like a reflex. It’s why his supervisor, Mr. Davidson, had relegated the McPherson account to him.
“Try and figure this out, alright Shane? We have to come up with a profile and management strategy by the weekend. You’re our last hope with this one,” Davidson had said, a big balding man that always had a terminal case of of sweat.
“I’ll do my best, sir. This one has been thrown around a lot.”
“That’s why I’m counting on you,” Davidson reiterated and went back to his work.
Shane let out a long sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose and spread his arms. Muscles popped as he stretched back. He loosened the tie around his neck, a delicate Trinity knot he’d learned on the internet. It was his way of standing out, an attempt at individuality in a workplace that homogenized everything.
“That’s the best I can do,” he said, clicking on the computer screen. Davidson would be disappointed that he hadn’t come up with a solid plan for the account, but at least there was something there.
, Shane said to himself.
When he stood up again he realized the majority of the office was already gone. It was Friday, and everyone wanted to get home to their loved ones or head out on the town. Shane frowned and resented the fact he didn’t really fit into any of those plans. He didn’t have a family or a girlfriend. Sure, he’d dated a few times when he’d arrived in Seattle, but somehow women never seemed to click with him.
He resented himself for it. There was no reason why women
like him. He went to the gym three times a day, four since he’d been upgraded to the finance division and taken up kickboxing. He was skinny, but it was an athletic type of skinny, one that could easily be underestimated under the stiff crisp business suit he had to wear on a daily basis. Underneath he was wiry, hardened. He had hoped that kickboxing would help to alleviate the unease he had started to feel – he had become too domestic. What had happened to the eager college kid that had dreams of traveling and exploring and learning new languages?
“I’m stifled,” he said out loud, hitting the power button on his laptop.
It was more than that. He had fooled himself into defining who he was by what he did. A bloody accountant. It seemed so pathetic to think aloud. At the same time, another part of him grappled with the notion that at least he was an adult – he had a good job, and good pay. He felt equally stupid for hating his lifestyle, one which others would have died to have.
“What’s wrong with me,” he murmured again, pulling on his coat and heading for the reception area and the elevator.
The secretary behind the desk, a petite girl named Lucy, smiled at him with too much makeup as he passed by. She was always the last to leave. She had been working here before him, and yet she was always happy.
Why can’t I be like that
, he wondered.
In the elevator he caught his reflection in the mirrored wall. He was tall, around 6’2 if he stood up straight, and a healthy sheaf of black hair combed elegantly and naturally over the top of his head. The sides he’d shaved close, trying to emulate a picture of a model he’d seen in a business magazine in the accounting firm’s lobby. It made him look suave, neo-corporate.
Another way of trying to stand out in this cookie-cutter factory of numbers,
His dark brown eyes trailed over his reflection and he rubbed the side of his hawkish jaw, felt the day old bristles of new growth coming in on his cheeks. His eyes seemed harder than he was used to, denser. As if the weight of his job and his life had been spent tightening him, compressing him into something sharp and unforgiving. That was accounting, for you.
There has to be something more,
he wanted to say.
Shane slackened his tie again as he turned on the ignition in his Toyota SUV and pulled out of the office’s parking lot. He hit the GPS map on the dashboard and typed in “Cabin”, and a pre-programmed route blipped onto the screen.
He didn’t have anyone special, no family within a thousand miles, and now, he realized, not really any friends either. He had colleagues, but nothing beyond that stiff association. Work had taken up too much of his life. He checked the map again and took a right onto the freeway that headed west out across the bay.
That’s why he’d decided to get out of the city this weekend. One of his uncles, a former accountant in the same firm at a different branch, had a cabin somewhere west of Port Angeles that faced out on the strait. It seemed like a perfect place to get away, just by himself. A chance to be alone and let all the things that had been churning in his head for the past month sublimate –
I need some objective distance
, he agreed.
It wasn’t just about the hum-drum domesticity of life and work, or the fact his thirtieth birthday was less than a week away. He need a change, even if it was just the scenery. Some time and solitude to make sense of his own life up to this point.
He hit the stereo and the CD started to play a static version of
Somewhere Over The Rainbow
as he maneuvered onto a turnpike and started to follow the sun. It was almost four-thirty, but the light had already dimmed behind the clouds above the Pacific as he followed the rush-hour traffic.
Eventually the number of cars started to lessen and he saw big patches of old-growth forest cloistered against the road. He checked the GPS, and saw he still had twenty kilometers to Port Angeles, and then another forty to reach his uncle’s cabin.
I hope the coordinates he gave me are correct,
he mused, and realized he didn’t really have any contingent plans if the cabin didn’t work out. He hadn’t even questioned or planned it, he’d just gone along with the idea of heading to an isolated cabin without a second thought.
And yet, as the lights of Seattle pulled away and a thin sheet of rain started to drizzle down from an incoming cloud-front, braining droplets on the windshield, he felt a bit of relief. Like the further he got from his “normal life” the better he felt, the more his heart was opening to a latent freedom, and he caught himself grinning like an idiot in the rearview mirror.
He was just about to laugh when he noticed a small figure on the road-side up ahead and instinctively slowed down. She was dressed in an oversized green raincoat and had a big backpack at her feet. Her thumb extended into the traffic and he saw the two cars in front of him speed past her, splashing a big puddle in a pothole and drenching her from head to toe. He kept his foot on the gas, but tried to get a good glimpse of her.
She looked young, probably the same as him or younger, and a hand-knitted wool hat under the hood of her rain jacket was pulled down over her eyes. She had a tortured look on her face as she wiped at the mud the cars had splashed on her and didn’t even look up as he drove past.
, he thought. As a rule he never picked up hitchhikers, but in reality he didn’t really have that many opportunities to in the first place. Living in the city, he rarely saw them. He kept his eyes on the rearview mirror and watched as she became a green blip in the distance. None of the other cars that had passed had stopped, and the rain was starting to pick up now.
That was the one thing about the west coast he didn’t really like. No matter where you went, no matter the season, the weather was unpredictable. The only
thing about it was that it would probably dump rain on you at its earliest convenience. Shane bit his lip, trying to make up his mind – surely someone would pick her up sooner or later. It was unusual for a woman to go that long without getting picked up, at least that’s what he’d heard. At the same time it didn’t seem like anyone today was particularly interested in being compassionate. It was Friday and everyone wanted to get home and inside.
He let out a low grumble and pulled over on the side of the road and waited for several cars and a logging truck to pass by and pinched the bridge of his nose again.
, he thought. It wasn’t like he had anywhere to be, he was just heading to a cabin somewhere. And besides, he felt too good right now, the first time he’d felt this good in a long time. He was on the road, he was out of the city, and he still couldn’t stop grinning like an idiot.
He did a U-turn and zoomed past the girl who was still holding out her naked white thumb and looked even more desperate now. He pulled another U-turn further down the road and this time as he pulled up close to the girl she seemed to recognize his car because her eyes squinted in some queer familiarity as he pulled over beside her.
It took her several seconds to pick up her pack and open the passenger door, and she was breathing hard.
“Thanks, mister!” she said enthusiastically.
“You can put your pack in the back,” he said, thumbing the back seat.
She did and sat in beside him as he pulled back onto the road. She was soaked to the bone he saw now, and wiped self-consciously at streaks of mud on her sleeve, trying not to get it on the leather of his seats, and he could only smile at her futile efforts.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, “it’s a lost cause.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t expect to get this wet.”
Shane cast a glance at her and saw she was actually quite cute. Her round face dipped into an elfin chin that seemed to hold her broad lips constantly apart, as if she was always on the verge of saying something. She pulled down her food and took off the wool hat, revealing bleached white hair that tumbled onto her shoulders. The back part of her head had small neat dreadlocks braided into them, and they seemed to swim down over her ears like snakes. The front part was straight and fell squarely over her forehead in exaggerated bangs, and underneath a pair of stunning blue eyes blinked back at him.
She had a girlish figure, thin but robust. He could smell the warm scent of her as she peeled off the raincoat and stuffed it at her feet, and saw she was wearing several wool sweaters one on top of the other. Over her legs a forest green skirt slunk against her thighs, and dark tights underneath ran all the way to the top of her hiking boots.
“A couple of assholes went out of their way to mess me up. Ugh, I’m soaked,” she said.
He turned on the heat and she smiled. “I know. I was behind them,” he said, “everyone’s in a big hurry tonight it looks like.”
“Well, thanks for coming back for me. That’s really decent of you. I was out there for almost two hours, and no one had stopped at all,” she said, holding her hands up to the heater vent. She had on wool arm warmers that went up to her thumb, and Shane saw her fingers were paper-white and shaking, but she was still trying to smile even though her jaw was shivering.
“Two hours? In this weather?”
“Ah, it’s nothing. I sat for a whole day in a snow-storm once, up north of Vancouver, before anyone picked me up. This is nothing,” she said. “By the way, I’m Lily. You know, like the flower?”
Shane took her hand and found it as cold as he imagined it would be. “I’m Shane. Nice to meet you. So, where you heading exactly?”
She shrugged. “Wherever. I got no destination. The wind goes west, I go westerly,” she said laughing, “but honestly, I don’t really have any place to be. You can just take me as far as you want. Where are you heading, Port Angeles?”
“No,” he said pointing to the GPS, “I’m heading to a cabin. My uncle’s, for the weekend.”
“Nice!” she exclaimed, “I love cabins. Just by yourself?”
“Yeah,” he said, suddenly embarrassed by the fact. The sound of the windshield wipers became a pacing rhythm inside the car as the rain started to worsen. “Rain’s getting worse, it looks like.”
“Yeah, figures,” she said. “That’s cool, man. Going into the woods by yourself. Very Walden-esque. I can dig it.”
He smiled at the comparison. He had never considered himself much of an outdoors sort of person. Beside him Lily pulled up her knees and stared out the window at the passing trees and houses, seemingly content to be in the moment. Her hand dangled above the heater and she smiled, a distant look forming on her face.
I can’t believe I picked up a hitchhiker
, he thought to himself.
“So uh, where you from?” he asked, trying to break the silence.
“Oh, here and there. I grew up in San Francisco, actually… but… well let’s just say I can’t really go back there,” she said, her brow suddenly contorting. She seemed to notice Shane looking at her and tried to smile again. “I’m kind of all over the place. I never stick around for too long, y’know?”
“So you’re a nomad?” he asked.
“I guess that’s a good way to put it. I just like to
, y’know. I think if you stay in one place for too long you die.
, you know that phrase? It means ‘it is solved by walking’.”
Shane tried out the phrase for himself. “I like it,” he said.
“Not many people get it,” she shrugged, “but all the oldest cultures, they walked in order to understand their place in things. There’s something… I dunno, innately human about walking. You learn a place, become connected to it. That’s why I keep moving.”
“What are you looking for?” he suddenly asked.
She seemed surprised by the question and he followed her gaze out the window again. She didn’t answer for several long moments. “I guess… I don’t really know, yet. But when I find it, I’ll know.”
He nodded, a bit surprised by her answer as well.
, he thought, that he should meet someone like this. He hit the GPS to refresh. A sign for Port Angeles came up, informing him they were about seven miles from the city. Already he could see a faint orange aura in the sky, city-lights bleeding into the rain and atmosphere.
“What about you?” she responded, “what are you looking for?”
He laughed and shrugged and loosened his tie even more, pulling it off and stuffing it in the side pocket of his door. “I couldn’t say,” he said.
“You look like you’ve got your act pretty well together,” she said, grinning with pursed lips and motioning to his suit. He blushed.
“I’m an accountant. Not very glamorous,” he said. “To be honest, it’s really not all it’s cracked out to be. I’ve got a house, I’ve got this car, hell, I even have a pension, if you can believe that. But it’s funny.”
“What’s funny?” she asked.
“That I’m a bit jealous of you. I mean… you can just go anywhere. That’s pretty liberating.”
“Have you never just dropped everything and done something stupid and spontaneous?” she asked again quickly, turning around in her seat. She had an excited look on her face, like she was finally getting somewhere with him and didn’t want to lose its trail.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, like, I dunno. Like, me for instance. When I was eighteen, I just packed up this backpack and started hitching. I’ve been, oh man, I’ve been everywhere, you have no idea.”
“Yeah! From the top of Alaska to the Baja, from California to New York. I’ve been there, man. It’s just a matter of
it, instead of just saying it.”
“How old are you anyway? Doesn’t your family miss you?”
That seemed to stop Lily and her face fell and she sat back down in her seat and scratched her forehead. “I’m twenty eight, if you must know. As for family,” she just made a waving motion with her hand as if to dismiss the question.
“So you’ve just been on the road for ten years?” he said, feeling more jealous, but also stupefied that she could have endured such a lifestyle. That it was even possible to live that kind of life in this day and age.
“I stop in places, get odd-jobs. But I don’t like to stay in one place, I told you. I start to get antsy, I want to see what’s around the next corner. Haven’t you ever felt that way? Like just quitting your job, taking off somewhere?”
“I couldn’t do that,” he said laughing and shaking his head, “too many responsibilities.”
Lily kept looking at him and he could feel the piercing gaze of her blue eyes trying to figure him out. Almost as if she could sense that he wasn’t being completely honest, that there was more to him that met the eye, and more than he was admitting to.
He couldn’t deny that Lily evoked in him a sense of jealousy, but there was also hope. She was a living embodiment of everything he had imagined but been unable to achieve or grasp himself. It required courage, to live the way she did, from moment to moment, day to day. It was like the future didn’t exist to her, but because there was only the
she was immeasurably happier.