That was his entire instant message to me, after only an hour at work. I laughed when I read it and immediately messaged him back.
MJLocke: Check your Facebook.
It took nearly two minutes to receive his response.
RHarrison: I don’t have one.
“Oh what a liar you are,” I said to the screen with a laugh, before typing the same message.
RHarrison: No, really. I don’t have one.
MJLocke: How can you not have one? EVERYONE has one.
RHarrison: Not me. No need.
I shook my head in disbelief and logged onto the website. After a very thorough search of every combination of Richard Harrison I could think of, I gave up.
MJLocke: Okay, you don’t have a Facebook account.
RHarrison: You checked?
RHarrison: Too funny. I do have a blog, but I’m not going to tell you where it is. You have to find it. I stared at the screen. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said aloud, but I knew better.
Rick loved to be mysterious, and though I’d known him since high school ten years before, I still discovered new things about him daily.
MJLocke: Fine. I’ll get back to you once I find it.
RHarrison: Here’s a hint, think of my hobbies.
Hmm, what are his hobbies, I wondered. It immediately occurred to me I needed a plan of action and I turned away from my monitor. I pulled out a legal pad and pen and got to work making a list of his hobbies. After about ten minutes of serious thought and very little writing, I decided to get some actual work done. Rick might not have a daily agenda to adhere to but I certainly did, so I got to it.
It was lunchtime before I knew it and my phone began to ring. “This is Melissa,” I answered quite professionally.
“Have you found it yet?” Rick’s voice always sent shivers up my spine. The deep baritone came across the line like honey, weakening my knees and putting a smile on my face instantly.
“You know if I had I would've e-mailed you by now.”
“That’s what I thought,” he said with a laugh.
“Well perhaps after lunch I’ll search again, but I do actually have work to do today.”
“Where are we going for lunch?”
“Where are you taking me?”
He laughed. “I’m feeling generous today, I’ll take you anywhere you want to go.”
“Ooh, I know just the place! Meet me by the library in fifteen minutes.”
“What? Barbecue again,” he groaned.
“You know I love it. Besides, you said it was my choice.”
“All right, Mel, barbecue it is. Fifteen minutes?”
“Yeah, I’m on my way out the door.” I hung up, grabbed my purse and quickly hopped out of my seat. The great thing about being on the second floor was how close it was to the ground. I walked briskly past the line at the elevators and headed down the stairs.
Lunch was the same as usual, me bitching about how much paperwork my web-based company required of me, and Rick bitching about the lack of work he received on a daily basis.
“I wish I had your problems, there in your tenth floor corner office with an awesome view of the skyline. Poor baby, you’re so mistreated,” I teased.
“Hey, I would trade my office for a cubicle any day if the work was more interesting and gratifying. Whole days go by where I feel as if I've accomplished nothing.”
I laughed and shook my head. He was always so impatient, I still couldn't believe he worked in an office where he was forced to sit for any amount of time.
We finished eating and left the crowded restaurant. I wanted to get right back to my computer, but he talked me into a stroll through the park. Early afternoons in Houston are generally humid and miserable in September, but thanks to an odd cold front there was a nice breeze that day. We walked side by side, nearly touching at times, but not. He kept his hands in his pockets, I kept mine on my purse, and tried not to reach for him.
“Have you heard from Evelyn today?” I asked, eliciting a frown from his handsome face.
“I told her not to bother calling anymore now that the divorce is final. I’m sick of her whining apologies.” “And she listened?”
“Nope, I just haven’t been answering her calls. I’m sure she’ll give up eventually.”
“Sounds like me and James. That reminds me, I have a new home number to give you.”
“Yes I noticed that this morning.”
“You tried to call me this morning? What time?”
“Oh, about five-thirty. Were you awake? Your cell phone was off.”
“Nope, I don’t get up 'til six. Why in the hell were you calling me so early, anyway?”
He smiled and looked away from me, but I kept watching him until he looked back. He shrugged. “I couldn't remember your middle name.”
“What?” He sighed and looked away again. “Why would you even need to know that? And especially at five-thirty in the morning?” I asked with a laugh.
“I don’t know. It just popped into my head, I guess.”
I could tell he was lying, but was too surprised by the entire conversation to question him further. “Well it’s Jane, after my grandmother. I can’t believe you didn't know that, Richard Xavier Harrison.”
“I didn't say I didn't know it, I said I forgot. There’s a difference.”
He flashed me his heartbreaking smile and my face burned. It didn't matter that we’d been friends for so long or that we’d never been more, his smile still weakened my knees. We’d been through a lot together, a marriage and divorce each, a failed adoption for him and miscarriage for me, but still we were friends. So much drama, that sometimes we would just look at each other and laugh in disbelief. We had the type of relationship that angered our significant others and confused strangers. Our relatives and close friends kept placing bets on our wedding date, which amused us both.
He walked me back to my building while our lunch hour dwindled down. I hated parting from him, when being in his company was always the highlight of my day.
“Give me another hint,” I said as we stood beside the revolving glass door.
“Nah, I think you have enough to go on for now,” he teased.
I frowned and wrinkled my nose unknowingly, causing him to laugh and run a finger down it. Which it turn made me shiver.
“You can do it, Mel. You know me better than anyone.” I smirked and rolled my eyes. “Are you working late today? I have a meeting at five that should last at least an hour.”
“Nothing all day, but you have to work late,” I teased.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said as he pulled me into his arms. He kissed my cheek, a habit I learned to adore, and released me quickly. “I’ll see you later, beautiful.”
He turned and walked away briskly. I watched him disappear around the corner of my building with a sigh, before walking through the revolving door. I was soon too busy to spend any time searching for his blog, and I remained so all day. I left work even later than him and didn't get home until eight. A quick microwave dinner was all I could muster before falling into my bed, leaving my computer untouched until the following morning.
It was Tuesday, and I had meetings all day long. I didn't even have time for lunch with Rick, which was a very rare occurrence. He understood, of course, and had a bouquet of carnations sent to my office. I saw them sitting on my desk as I ran by from one meeting room to the next. I stopped and read the card.
Missed you at lunch. Call me tonight with your new number, Rick.
It put a smile on my face for the rest of the day.
I started dialing his number the moment I stepped from my office building. It was still ringing when I arrived at the bus stop and annoyance crept up my spine. His heartbreaking voice began instructing me to leave a message, when a car pulled up before me.
“Hey, gorgeous, need a ride?” I looked up and he winked at me through the open window. I smiled as I hung up the phone and opened the door. “Crazy day, huh?” he asked as we pulled onto the highway.
“You have no idea. My feet are killing me,” I replied. He laughed. “Thanks for the flowers. They brightened up my dismal day.”
“Good , that’s what I was going for.”
“So, how was your day?”
He shrugged. “Same as usual. I ate lunch in my office though, it was rather boring.”
“I’m sorry. Now I feel bad.”
“You can make it up to me. Where should we go for dinner?”
My face flushed. Dinner out with Rick was a rare pleasure as we’d both been in serious relationships until recently.
“Hmm, I think you should spend a lot of money on me tonight. Let’s go to a steakhouse.”
“That strip club on the west side has a free steak buffet on Tuesdays,” he said in complete seriousness.
I gasped and slapped him on the arm. He burst into laughter and shook his head. “You know I’m joking.”
I grinned. “I know. What would you have said if I agreed to go?”
“I don’t know, I probably would've been too shocked to say anything. But I still would've driven us there.” We both laughed.
We pulled into the restaurant a few minutes later, and he grabbed my hand as we walked inside. He placed his fingers at the small of my back and gently nudged me to our table. Warmth filled me at his touch, and could barely order my drink. His eyes were on me as I scanned the menu, but he said nothing.
We spoke of work as we ate our appetizer, and our exes during dinner. He ordered dessert but I refrained, and he made me share his anyway. I could tell his attitude toward Evelyn had changed. Though had spoken of her rarely over the past few months, it had usually depressed him. Tonight he seemed almost happy to discuss her and her daily calls begging for his forgiveness.
She was the reason their adoption attempt had failed. Though she had been able to hide her addictions from him, they had grown worse and had become a part of her daily routine. One day she had been high at work and immediately fired, a huge blow to their perfect-couple image. His divorce had been finalized two weeks before mine and he had helped me through the process. Now that over four months had passed I rarely thought of James, but we discussed both of them at length that night.
“I told Evelyn last night I don’t want to speak to her anymore. She took it well, so I think she and David are getting back together,” he said.
“How do you feel about that?” I asked quietly, searching his face for emotions.
He shrugged. “At first I felt a small hint of jealousy and of course anger. But if he’ll keep her out of my hair, then maybe I should thank him.”
I smiled. David had apparently been her supplier and Rick had a special hatred for him.
“Now that I've changed my number, James should get the hint. Angie saw him at a club with some girl on Saturday. She actually called me from the club to tell me, like I was going to run over there or even care. I just laughed and said more power to him.”
He smiled. “So, we finally got these crazy people out of our lives.”
I sighed. “Yeah, it only took, what…five years?”
“Something like that.”
“That’s too long to be miserable.”
He simply nodded.
Since he was driving I decided to indulge myself, so I was already on my third martini. Thinking back on that night, I realize the alcohol must have kept me from considering his watchful gaze, and lingering touches across the table. He put one arm around my waist and held my elbow in his free hand, holding me close to his chest, as we made our way to his car. I thought nothing of him holding my hand on the drive home, or following me into my apartment. It also seemed completely natural for him to remove his jacket, tie and shoes before joining me on the sofa.
We started watching a movie, some old black and white I barely recall, and I leaned against his chest. He started running his fingers through my hair and kissed the top of my head, longer than I would have expected. I wanted to lift my face to his and beg him to kiss me, and for a moment I thought I had. Then I heard the distinct beeping of my alarm and realized I was dreaming.
When I woke, I was lying in my bed alone, still dressed in my slacks and blouse from work. My head was pounding and the screaming of the alarm was piercing my skull like a jackhammer. I rose slowly, gripping my head, the events of the night before creeping in as I walked into the living room. Rick was asleep on my sofa, in nothing but his boxer shorts. I watched him sleep for a minute or two before remembering that time was slipping by. I woke him with a touch, my hand on his chest. He looked up at me and smiled, taking my hand in his and kissing it.
“Good morning, I’ll make coffee,” was all I could think to say.
He released my hand and sat up, still grinning at me. I busied myself in the kitchen while he dressed, trying not to think of him undressed.
“I’m going to have to go in late. I’m sure someone will notice if I show up in the same clothes as yesterday,” he said as he entered the kitchen.
I handed him a cup of coffee. “I’m going to jump in the shower. You can make yourself something to eat if you want.”
“No, I’ll drive you in and we can stop somewhere for breakfast on the way.”
“Rick, you don’t have to drive me all the way to work. That would be a waste of gas.”
He shrugged. “No biggie. You’re worth it.”
I smiled and finished my coffee.
My shower was quicker than usual, as I was conscious of Rick waiting on me in the living room. We made small talk as we drove, and I suddenly felt a bit awkward. I knew we hadn't slept together, but the feeling remained and I hated it. He dropped me off with his usual kiss on the cheek, and I was still blushing as I walked up the stairs.
It was another busy day and I missed lunch once again. When I finally returned to my desk, around two o’clock, there was a bouquet of yellow roses waiting for me.
You’re too busy for lunch, and I’m too busy for dinner. Meet me for breakfast tomorrow.
I smiled after scanning the card quickly, and picked up the phone.
“This is Richard.”
“What could possibly be more important than dinner with me?” I joked.
“Absolutely nothing, sweetheart, but I have a client that thinks he is,” he said with a laugh.
“Ah, so you are going out on a date, and with another man. I’m so jealous.”
“Well, I thought about taking you along with us, but he’s single too. If he started flirting with you I might lose my cool composure.”
I laughed. “Fine. Pick me up tomorrow about six-thirty.” “All right, love, see you then.” The line went dead before I realized what he'd called me.
That night I went over my list of his hobbies. Hiking, surfing, football. Does he fish, I wondered? I laughed at myself as I suddenly realized how little I knew of him. His spare time over the past year had been spent in legal bookstores and the library. We had spent many evenings together discussing the monetary repercussions of divorce. I suddenly started to wonder what he really did for fun, but could think of nothing.
The next morning, Thursday, he was right on time. We stopped at a deli for a quick breakfast before heading into town. He was vague about the dinner with his client, which made me curious. After endless prying on my part, he relented and confessed to everything.
“I was wrong about the free steak buffet. It’s on Wednesdays,” he said.
It took a moment for me to make the connection in my mind to our previous conversation.
“Aha, so you had yourself a grand old time last night?” I asked with a grin.
I have to admit I was jealous. I didn't like the idea of him looking at other women, especially half or all-naked ones, but I did my best to hide it from my voice.
“It was okay. The steaks were tough and the drinks were overpriced, but Brian seemed to enjoy himself.”
“That’s your client?”
“Yeah, he’s a good guy. Super smart, but not very sociable. I was shocked when he asked to go there.”
“Hmm, so it was his idea, huh?”
“Yes, I swear it. Apparently he heard about it from some guy on his flight in. Hell, I had to Mapquest the damn place. I’d never been there.”
I smiled and shook my head. I was happy to know he wasn't a regular, even if it really wasn't any of my business.
He dropped me off and we made plans for lunch, meeting at a nearby Chinese restaurant. He was pressed for time, so it was short and sweet, and I missed him the moment we parted. He worked late so I took the bus home and spent my evening searching the internet. I checked dozens of sites on everything from football to hunting, but never found his blog. I even checked sites dedicated to blogging, but he was nowhere to be found. I finally called it quits around midnight and went to bed.
The next morning I drove into work because I didn't want to stand at the bus stop in the rain. I tried calling Rick when I got to my desk but was immediately redirected to his voicemail. I emailed him three different times but he never responded. By lunchtime I was worried, so I tried calling his house.
“Hey! What are you doing home?” I asked.
“Oh, I took a vacation day. I didn't tell you?”
“No. I was getting worried.”
“I’m sorry, honey, I guess I forgot. What time will you be home today?”
My anger and fear immediately melted away. “Mmm, by six for sure.”
“Okay, dinner will be ready by seven. I went to Whole Foods and got two huge steaks.”
I laughed. “Okay, I’ll be there.”
We hung up and I got back to work. The day couldn't go fast enough, as I anticipated seeing Rick for dinner. I whizzed through traffic and got home in record time, nearly an hour early. After a quick shower I rummaged through my closet, indecisive.
What am I doing? This isn’t a date!
But I couldn't shake my nervousness. At exactly seven ’clock I was knocking on his door, in a pair of tight jeans and a low cut blouse. It was blue, his favorite color, and no less than the tenth one I’d tried on. He ushered me in quickly and handed me a glass of wine as he hurried back to the stove. The aroma was intoxicating, making my mouth water.
“I thought you said dinner would be ready by seven,” I teased.
“Yeah well, just be happy it isn't burnt…yet.”
“Have you found my blog yet?” he asked.
“No,” I said into my glass.
He shook his head with a grin on his face. “Tsk, tsk. And I thought you knew me so well.”
“So did I.”
I drained my glass and walked over to the refrigerator. I was pulling it open, when he suddenly slammed the door shut.
“The wine’s on the table,” he said, giving me a strange look.
I walked over to the table a little puzzled, and curious about the deep red blur I glimpsed before he shut the refrigerator door.
“Do you want a refill?” I asked as I poured my wine.
“No, I’m good. But would you mind finding my cell phone? It’s probably in my room.”
“Sure.” He didn't look up from the stove as I turned and walked into his bedroom.
I stood in the doorway and looked at his neatly ordered possessions before spotting his phone on his computer desk. As I reached for it, my hand brushed against the mouse and the screensaver disappeared. My name on the screen immediately caught my eye, and I sat down to read.
“What’s this?” I asked the empty room as I looked at the unfamiliar website.
It was a writer’s site I’d never heard of, but it suddenly dawned on me that writing was the hobby I’d forgotten about. We’d taken a creative writing course together both in high school and in college, but I never knew he was still writing. The poem on the screen was called Melissa Jane, and I read it quickly.
Friends for so long Lovers never though I have loved her always. She is my world, my heaven my muse, my vice. Her smile uplifting, her laughter intoxicating. Will she ever truly be mine?
I read it three times, my heart pounding in my chest, and immediately drained my glass of wine. I looked around the site some more, and was about to close it, when I saw the word “blog” in the corner. I clicked on it and pulled up a few entries, clicking on one titled My Muse.
It’s funny, but she doesn't even know the effect she has on me, my Melissa. She is just so perfect, so wonderful. I do my best writing in the afternoons, after having lunch with her and staring at her perfection for an hour. I still haven’t the nerve to show her any but that will change in time I’m sure. Of course, it’s already been ten years, but I can only hope, right? We shall see. Now that we’re both free again perhaps she will give me a chance. Perhaps she will finally realize that all I ever think about, all I have ever wanted, is her.
The screen began to blur, and I realized I was crying. I wiped away my tears and stood, picking up my wine glass and his phone. I walked out of his room slowly and looked around. The living room, kitchen and dining room all occupied one wide open space, and he was in none of it. There was something different on the table though, a bouquet of red roses. I saw that the patio door stood open as I emptied my hands onto the table. I could see him standing outside by the pool with his back to me.
Walking out, I took a deep breath before wrapping my arms around his waist. I felt the tension leave his body as he sighed and grabbed my hands. I planted a kiss on the back of his neck, and he shivered against me.
“I’m in love with you too,” I whispered.
“You finally found my blog,” he replied quietly.
“We wasted a lot of time.”
I laughed and remained silent for a moment, relishing in the feel of him in my arms.
Then I finally replied, “I would've known sooner if you’d posted it on Facebook.”