To my precious Catherine,
From the moment I met you, I knew our hearts were meant to be intertwined. It was like fate – like the two missing cogs to help run our clock tower of love, and my heart is like the pendulum that sways back and forth, ticking and tocking for you.
Much like the very clock tower we visited where I got down on one knee to propose to you. Not to mention it was negative fifteen degrees and we were way underdressed to be taking a stroll by the spot where we first met, but I feel like our love helped to keep us warm as I took you into my arms and you said ‘yes’ to the rest of our lives.
I remember your golden brown curly locks; the wind was blowing them into your auburn eyes. You could barely keep your hair out of your face let alone wipe the tears from your rosy cheeks.
You’re just as beautiful then as you were the day I met you, and even more so on the day your eyes met mine from the other end of the church aisle as you stepped forward and took the oath to become my wife.
I love you, Catherine. Forever and always. I know I may not always say it, but this is how I’m able to show it and prove to you that my love remains as true as the ticking of our clock tower.
Love Always, Carlos. Xs and Os.
Thomas collected the finished love letter from his Underwood typewriter, blowing on the ink to ensure there were no damp letters. He had been having some issues with his typewriter over the past couple of weeks where the ink began to run down the pages he’d been writing on. He would have to take the typewriter in and get it looked at, or look up a YouTube tutorial on how to clean the keypress.
He took Catherine’s photograph off the desk, and clipped it to the front of his finished work, with two pages of written notes paper-clipped to the back of the letter.
Thomas was certain that Carlos was going to love the work, but what was more important was that Catherine would love the work, because that would be enough for her to believe that Carlos took the time to write it himself.
That was the nature of Thomas’ job. He was a ghostwriter of sorts, but not in terms of writing full-fledged novelizations or manuscripts, but writing letters of love for those who were unable to drum up the words to tell their significant others how they really felt.
Thomas saw and he knew – that busy men didn’t have enough time in the day to cater to their wives or their girlfriends’ or their fiancées’ every need and desire. Thomas interviewed a man who went a full six months without simply saying ‘I love you’ to his wife of 23 years, all because he had become so enveloped in a crazy project at work that had him flying coast-to-coast, being away from home for more than two-thirds of the year.
And who could blame the wife for eventually looking elsewhere for something she had been lacking in her life? Thomas had been brought on to that project to write the love letter of all love letters in an effort to re-kindle the once-strong marriage that was now grasping on straws to stay alive.
But he’d seen a lot of happiness come from his work, and that’s what really kept him going, helped pay the hydro, and helped put food on the table, aside from his real job as a barista at Starbucks.
Thomas pushed back from the table, pulled his green hoodie over his head, and filed away the letter, photo and notes in a red and white duo-tang folder. He was running late to meet up with his client and deliver his work.
He closed the door behind him and threw the key into his pocket. His upstairs neighbor, Charlie, had begun to descend the short staircase in a tank-top, sports bra and workout shorts. Her hair had been tied back in a tight pony-tail, and it looked as though she was either coming or getting ready for her morning run. Compared to me, she looked as though she had all her marbles in order, while mine were scattered across the basement floor.
“Morning, Thomas,” she said.
She carried a laundry hamper filled with workout clothes, worn bras, panties and other dressy shirts toward the end of the hall where the shared washer and dryer sat.
He nodded to her, and continued out the side door.
The sun was still trying to peak through the tall trees and flood the neighborhood in its warm light, but it was still too cool, and Thomas felt more comfortable stuffing his hands into his sweater pockets. He straightened his laptop bag onto the pointed bone on his left shoulder, cloaking his eyes from the sun with his right hand as a ray of light cast itself across his field of vision.
He still wasn’t ready to accept the morning sun, given he hadn’t slept much last night. Thomas wasn’t able to get much writing done during the day and would leave it till the middle of the night, which meant sacrificing a few good hours of sleep for some extra cash.
He remembered how much this habit drove Callie mad, as Thomas would spend the better part of four or five hours in the middle of the night writing a story to meet a morning deadline.
Thomas and his fiancée, Callie, lived in a relatively cozy condo in the junction neighbourhood of Toronto. He remembered the smell of chocolate chip pancakes every Sunday morning, as he would come out of the bedroom after a long session of meeting deadlines and be swept up in the heavenly aroma of cocoa and pancake batter that sizzled on the flat pan.
Callie would stand in her sweats and a t-shirt, her hair disheveled but her face blemish-free. Despite the fact that Thomas was plagued with oily skin and had to wash his face at least two or three times a day to avoid pimples, Callie maintained her somewhat flawless appearance. She was blessed with what he referred to as “God’s gift of natural beauty,” but Callie would always be quick to shut down Thomas’s compliments.
She was an interior decorator, working full-time at this mid-sized firm that specialized in Japanese décor, which Callie had become absolutely obsessed with. Her firm had planned this huge showcase in Japan, and Callie was going to be one of the members on the floor promoting the work she had been doing here in Toronto, and helping build the company’s brand overseas. Thomas didn’t know much about the business but he knew that building overseas connections and putting one’s name on the market would help better establish her company and garner followers.
He remembered the morning of her flight to Japan; he had snapped at Callie for nagging him on about working in the middle of the night, and how he should work out in the living room where the bright computer screen wouldn’t keep her awake. She was running on less than an hour of sleep, and was getting ready to leave for a 12-hour flight.
She left without saying ‘I love you’, which angered Thomas, because she was always telling him about how she was never one to leave without saying those three words. She also didn’t want to think about how the last moments of her life or of Thomas’ would’ve been summed up in one fight, but upon watching the news of a plane crashing over the Indian Ocean, and the big red scrolling banner on Channel 9’s news station that read “NO SURVIVORS”, Thomas would never get the chance to say ‘I love you’ to her one last time.
That lack of closure would remain burrowed in Thomas’s sub-conscious for the rest of his life, as the woman he was due to marry in six months’ time was gone forever. He felt guilty for not taking his computer and working in the living room like she asked. Thomas didn’t believe in parallel universes or timelines before, but he always wondered ‘what if’ on several occasions.
He thought daydreams were classified as parallel timelines in which things would work themselves out the way he imagined they would if he had only said something at a particular time instead of biting his tongue.
In this instance, he imagined what it would’ve been like if he had just agreed to Callie’s request, eventually finding a way to work out a solution, and watching Callie leave, batting her eyes at him as she blows him a kiss out the door, her magenta Kate Spade purse would bounce off her shoulder as she closed the door behind her.
In about a week’s time, she might return, dropping her bags and jumping into Thomas’s arms. They may have made love, the best love they had made in years.
He felt horrible that he couldn’t remember the touch of her skin or the taste of her lips. He could only replay the last few moments as she stormed out of the apartment one last time. Her magenta-coloured Kate Spade purse banged against the wall as she turned furiously away from Thomas, and the crashing sound of the front door followed by a China glass plate on the side table collapsing and shattering into a thousand tiny pieces on the hardwood floor.
Millions of tiny shards of glass lay broken on the floor, and all Thomas could do was sit and watch. He didn’t clean up the plate right away. He didn’t want to just leave it in pieces; he wanted Callie to come home so they could find a way to put the pieces back together. Much like the pieces of their relationship which shattered with the plate.
There was a strange haze that hung over the memories and the weeks that followed Callie’s funeral. The next major incident he could remember was the collection of his items off his desk at work, tossing them one by one without a care into a cardboard box before walking out the door of his reporting job he had been doing for five years. His place of employment had been hit with the worst layoffs in years, and he was dragged along out the door with the fourteen other unlucky employees, confused and scared, who never thought the storm would sweep them out to sea.
Thomas often wondered what some of the older, more seasoned employees would be telling their significant others. What kind of Christmases did they celebrate that year now that Daddy or Papa couldn’t provide for them any longer? That was a worry Thomas didn’t have to concern himself with, other than the fact that he could barely provide for himself let alone a wife or children. Thomas had lost his chance at that. He knew so as he stared somberly at the barren Christmas tree Callie had placed out about a week before she left.
The tree sat naked. Callie was going to get around to putting the lights and the ornaments up, and had even left the box next to the tree. She told Thomas she wanted to put it together with him; even now he was still waiting, he hadn’t purchased or put up another Christmas tree in over four years since Callie. He left the tree in the corner of the room; naked, cold, lonely, for four years. Untouched.
Thomas arrived at Starbucks, watching the window as he passed to see if Carlos was seated inside awaiting his arrival. Carlos was sitting near the back of the café in front of a fireplace, with an adjacent chair left empty for Thomas.
Thomas opened the door, as a bell chimed overhead, signaling the attention of the baristas behind the counter, who already recognized Thomas.
“Isn’t it your off day? What are you doing here?” one of his co-workers asked as Thomas approached the counter.
“Meeting a client, I’ll take a tall hot chocolate, please.”
As his co-worker got to work on the hot chocolate, Thomas made his way across the café toward Carlos. Carlos caught wind of Thomas’ approach and stood to give a proper greeting.
“Good to see you,” Carlos said, shaking Thomas’ hand with nervous energy.
“Likewise, how have you been?”
“Been better, been worse, I guess.”
“I’ve got your letter here,” Thomas lifted the duo-tang out of his jacket pocket.
“Okay,” Carlos said, as he began to fish into his pocket for his wallet. Carlos carried 10s, 20s, and 50s wrapped in elastic bands. He began to count out $200 dollars from his collection, pulling bills out individually and slapping them into Thomas’ hands.
“Thank you for your business, Carlos. I hope it all works out.”
“Thank you, Thomas. I hope she loves the work.”
“She will, I promise you that.”
Carlos departed quietly out the side door of the café, as Thomas slipped the bills into his jacket pocket.
“Tall hot chocolate!” the barista called out from behind the counter. Thomas picked up his drink and left.
Thomas’s business of crafting love letters was primarily done under-the-table. Not a lot of people knew about his ghostwriting business, but in order to market himself and start build his client base, he crafted business cards anonymously and began placing them on bulletin boards anywhere he went.
The cards had nothing more than a phone number, an e-mail and a brief two-sentence description that summed up exactly what his customers would be getting if they did business with him.
‘Having trouble finding the words to tell your significant other how you feel? Let me help.’
It wasn’t catchy, or clever, but it got Thomas calls. He’d been invited into people’s homes, to their place of work, and sometimes he conducted his business in the dingy back alleys of Toronto. His farthest client lived about two hours east of Toronto in Belleville. He had to take a 3 hour train ride in to the city, and stay in a hotel for the weekend while he worked on the client’s letter for their significant other.
Thomas knew full well the business was his only means of remembering Callie. Through every girl, every married woman or wife-to-be, he saw Callie. He wrote to her in every letter he’d written. The faces of the women he was writing to were different, but he was always able to find the best parts of when he was with Callie or of how he felt about Callie and translate it into his writing in ways neither the reader nor the client requesting the letter would ever be able to trace.
Thomas conducted detailed interviews with his clients, all of whom were male, asking about them and their relationships with the women. Thomas acted like a security blanket for these men, where they were willing and free to speak whatever was on their mind without fear that the outside world would shun or make fun of them for speaking their true feelings.
Thomas didn’t understand why there were so many men in the world who were incapable of simply opening up and telling their women how they felt. With Callie, it was easy. There were no keeping secrets, everything was on the table. In a way, Callie was Thomas’s security blanket. Thomas reflected on this as an interesting case of irony that he now too had become a security blanket for other people.
Thomas’s clients always had a choice in how much they were disclosed with him, but he was clear enough with them that the less the disclosed, the weaker the work would ultimately turn out to be.
It was one thing to write a love letter for a fictitious individual, but when you’re writing a letter for somebody and supposed to be a vicarious voice for the client in question, it’s kind of hard to imagine and really live and breathe the memories and the moments of those two individuals when you don’t even know who you’re writing for.
Thomas arrived home around 2 o’clock that afternoon, where he was greeted by the sound of a ringing telephone. His telephone, it had been ringing for so long that it had practically fallen off the hook.
Thomas picked up the phone, and pressed the talk button.
“Hi there, I was wondering if this is the number to call for your services in letter-writing?”
The voice on the other end of the line was female, to Thomas’s surprise. He should’ve expected that through bulletin board advertising he would attract at least one or two female clients, but because the sentence on the card was aimed strictly toward men who could not open up to their ladies, the call still came as quite a shock.
“Yeah, that’s me. Did you have someone that you wanted a letter written to?”
“Y-Yeah, it’s for my boyfriend. We…well let’s just say we got into a fight, and he’s not talking to me.”
“I’m sorry to hear about that,” Thomas wasn’t too surprised. He had heard this reason time and time again from many men he’d sat down with and interviewed for these letters. It was jarring to this time here it from the female perspective.
“I was wondering if we could schedule a time to meet. I’m available Monday through Wednesday evening next week. I could come to you.”
“It’s perfectly alright. If it isn’t too much trouble, I can come out to you. Frankly, I prefer to keep my business practices strictly confidential. The less clients know about where I live, the better.”
“Where do you live?”
Thomas sighed. Orangeville was about a 40-minute drive north of where he lived.
“Is that going to be okay?” she asked.
“That should be fine. Why don’t we pencil in Tuesday night around 7pm? Send me an e-mail with the location of a coffee shop and I’ll meet with you there.”
“That works for me. My name’s Alyssa, by the way.”
“Pleasure doing business, Alyssa. Cheers.” Thomas put down the phone.
Thomas was already regretting the decision. He was scheduled to work the next three evenings at Starbucks. His manager had already given him flack for cancelling his shift two weeks ago for his Belleville client. Thomas bit his nail, wondering if the next phone call he was about to make would end in Thomas being out of a job.
Orangeville was a relatively small town just north of the Halton Hills region, population approximately 30-thousand bodies. The last time Thomas had driven through Orangeville was for a hockey tournament when he was nine years old. He remembered the ups and downs his car took, going up and down hills to get to places. He remembered there not being a whole lot of entertainment when driving through the small town.
Thomas’s bus crept up Highway 10 at a snail’s pace, eventually pulling off to the right hand side of the road, where the intersection could take you either right to Buena Vista Boulevard, which was about a 5-minute walk from the Best Western hotel he’d be staying at over the next three days, and left to Broadway, which would take Thomas directly into town, where all the little shops resided.
Thomas was thoroughly impressed that his hotel was directly across from a Boston Pizza. He had a few hundred dollars in his bank account to last him for the month, and after that, he would have to work twice as hard at locating another job.
His conversation with his boss at Starbucks went exactly as he’d predicted. He knew it was the last straw, and he was all out of straws. Thomas had worked for a couple of days after the call to try and beef up his resume. His trip to Orangeville was his last big spending splurge before shutting himself off of spending for a while.
He had a couple thousand dollars saved up over the three years since he’d been laid off. He and a number of his fellow employees that were laid off from the paper were all given a pretty sweet severance package. Thomas hadn’t touched a dime of it.
He didn’t own a line of credit, so he made his severance package the line of credit he was hoping he’d never have to touch.
He wasn’t planning on making a living out on the streets anytime soon. As long as he was still able to receive clients through ghostwriting, Thomas figured he’d be okay.
He came to realize his barista job was his last real connection with the outside world. He didn’t consider anything about his writing job ‘normal.’ He thought it secretive, much like a covert operation that only a select few had the intel on.
He was calling the shots on this operation; he only allowed a lucky few in on the secret. His parents didn’t even know; he hadn’t spoken to them in six months, despite their persistence in getting Thomas to open up.
Callie’s parents had tried for a little while, but they had lost touch and moved on. Thomas hadn’t officially been sworn in to the family so there was no sense to keep pushing. Thomas wanted to be alone and so that’s what he got.
Thomas could still keep up appearances with the best of them. He wasn’t a total social outcast, that’s why a lot of his clients really liked him and his work. He never bothered taking the extra time to grab coffees with them on a regular basis, but anyone who had success following a meet with Thomas wouldn’t hesitate to send an e-mail following up and thanking Thomas for helping them through those rough moments.
No matter which way he spun it, Thomas was still helping people. However, his ghostwriting was not helping him move past Callie.
Thomas was helping people but at the same time he was continuing to punish himself.
He pushed his way through the revolving doors of the hotel to the check-in counter. A few minutes later, he was setting up his laptop on the desk of his hotel room.
It was getting late, and Thomas was doing everything in his power just to keep his eyelids open. He had a long day ahead of him tomorrow. He would be meeting with Alyssa tomorrow evening, and would spend the rest of the night drafting a letter to her boyfriend.
The very thought of writing a love letter to a guy made Thomas very uncomfortable. He wasn’t attracted to guys, and he could not picture how he was going to see Callie in this man after all.
Thomas fell back onto the bed, his head sinking into the hotel pillow. He watched as the ceiling fan above his bed spun slowly overhead, as his body lulled into a deep sleep.
Thomas spent the next day cruising around Orangeville, popping in and out of the little shops along Broadway, not buying anything but merely window-shopping. He was passing the time until his meeting with Alyssa.
Thomas didn’t know how to play a tourist; he excelled at being a drifter and a loner.
He often wanted to just ride into the sunset, see where the longest bus route could take him, and just keep grabbing transfers that took him farther and farther out, as if he were a lure casting himself out into an open body of water from which he could be guided in any number of directions.
However his lure found its way to the local coffee shop just in time to meet with his client, Alyssa.
She was a fierce-looking brunette, maybe Italian, or Greek. She definitely had a collection of Gucci designer bracelets in her closet somewhere to match her hoop earrings and Gucci handbag.
Her eyes were a deep hazel, and she had voluptuous lips. Thomas felt rude to stare, but it was better to be staring at her lips than any other part of her body, which also was in tip top form.
She looked about 5-foot-10, probably 125 pounds, definitely a rugby player, but her firm, strong legs that protruded out of her knee-high skirt suggested a potential soccer player instead. Either way, Thomas liked what he saw.
“Very lovely to meet you, Alyssa.”
“Thank you so much for coming all this way to meet with me,” she said, tapping her fingernails on the table. She obviously got them done that afternoon; they were crystal blue with a tiny silver diamond on the fourth finger, and the nails matched parallel with the other hand.
Thomas was distracted by her beauty, but it wasn’t just that; there was something in her mannerisms, even the tapping on the table, that reminded her of Callie. When Callie tapped on a table, it was her sign of anxiousness. In this situation, Alyssa could also be anxious to learn more about the process.
“So let’s get right to it. How it works-“
“I know how it works, I brought everything you’ll need,” Alyssa interrupted, halting the conversation while simultaneously producing a brown 8 and a half by 11 envelope.
She slid the envelope across to Thomas, as he carefully broke the seal, turning the envelope toward the table, allowing the contents to spill out.
Photos of her boyfriend, as well as a detailed biography written in purple pen scattered the table. This girl was prepared.
“I’m impressed. Usually I can’t get this much off my male clients.”
“I’m not a male client.”
“I can see that. So what can you t-“
Alyssa cut in again, “Denis is a cross-country runner, got a full scholarship out in Wyoming but decided to turn it down when he met me. Now three years later, Denis thinks he’s made the wrong decision. He’s taking it out on me by talking with other girls behind my back, deleting the conversations from his phone before I can read them, and I found a weekend pass to Wyoming dated two months ago. He went out to Wyoming without telling me, instead telling me he was visiting his family back in Iowa, which is also a lie because I remember him telling me his mom lives in Minnesota and his dad is backpacking across China.”
“Okay, let’s slow it down,” Thomas wasn’t even speaking and he felt like he was out of breath. Alyssa was a lot like Callie in that once she got started, you couldn’t stop her. She was like a runaway train that needed its emergency brakes pulled. “So why do you want me to write this letter to him?”
“I need him to know that I still love him and that I’m willing to stand by him, and that he doesn’t need to hide from me.”
Thomas began jotting notes down, flipping through some of Alyssa’s sample photos of Denis. He was a handsome man, about 27 years old, definitely older than Alyssa, with a jaw built to crack a man’s bones with. Denis looked like a man who could walk out of a knife fight with the knife lodged in his temple and say it was only a flesh wound. He looked mean, as though he meant serious business.
Thomas turned over a number of the photos in his hands. Denis never appeared to smile in any of them. This could be a family thing. Thomas had an Italian uncle who never smiled in a photo – not even in his own wedding photos, probably because it took a lot of strength to flex those cheek muscles into a believable enough grin.
For a pretty enough girl like Alyssa to not be getting any attention from a man as emotionless as he appears in these photos, and who sounds as though he’s being unfaithful, Thomas didn’t know how he felt this letter was going to turn out. If Denis couldn’t even be bothered to fake a smile for a happy photo, what makes you think he’s going to weep tears of joy and run headlong into the arms of his true love of three years just by the words written on the page?
Thomas always did enjoy a challenge.
“So Alyssa…tell me more about yourself. You obviously love Denis enough to have come to me, but do you think he loves you enough to stop messaging other woman and be truly loyal to you?”
“What are you saying? Do you think he’s cheating on me?”
“I’m only saying what you said he’s been doing.”
“He shouldn’t even have to think about talking with other women. I’m perfect for him and we’re meant for each other, okay?”
“Okay, I see your point,” Thomas said, easing off on his tone. Thomas enjoyed this part of his job enough. He felt it was the only chance of maintaining his social presence on the earth. Asking the tough questions was something he did for years as a reporter.
He remembered running, microphone in hand, straight into the former mayor of Toronto’s office and asking him, “How do your kids feel knowing dead old dad smokes stones?”
Thomas received a swift boot from city hall that day, and was kicked off the city hall beat. Mind you, writing for sports was just as fun. It at least provided him a chance to ask the players about their doping habits.
Alyssa watched eagerly as I prepared my next round of questions.
“So how do you want to frame this letter? I’m working on a hunch that he may be acting unfaithfully. I don’t have solid proof that he’s doing this; it’s merely your word against his. What I want to know is…do you have anything to hide that I should be putting in this letter?”
Alyssa took her hands off the table, dipping her head down toward her necklace. She looked as though she had been possessed by a demon. Her eyes seemed to disappear behind her curly brown hair. A single tear ran parallel down both her cheeks.
“Hey, what’s wrong?”
Alyssa remained silent. She only sat, with a dark storm cloud hanging above her head, and single droplets of water dripping from her face. She hadn’t allowed herself a chance to wipe the tears away, otherwise she’d smudge her make-up.
“We got into a fight two days ago.”
“I called him out on how he’d been hiding text messages, and he called me a jealous bitch.”
“What? Why? If you had a reason to believe he’s cheating, you have as much of a right to know.”
“That’s what I said,” Alyssa lifted her head, her glossy eyes met Thomas’s in a moment of mutual understanding.
“Where is he now?”
“I-I don’t know. I suspect he’s gone back to Wyoming, but I haven’t even received a text from him.”
“He’s probably still mad and embarrassed and hiding.”
“I’m worried something terrible has happened. He just took the car and sped off. What if he’s crashed into a ditch or worse?”
“You shouldn’t get yourself worried. He’s probably got poor cell reception wherever he is.”
“I pushed him away. He doesn’t think I trust him. He needs to know how much I love him and how much he means to me. I don’t want to lose him, he’s my everything.”
Alyssa’s words struck a chord with Thomas. These were things he’d wished he could’ve said to Callie before her plane crashed. The difference is that Thomas had no thought in his mind to worry about Callie because it was a one-in-a-million chance that something could go wrong mid-flight. I mean you hear about it all the time in the news; terrorists causing planes to crash, a malfunction with the equipment or perhaps she had flown through the Bermuda Triangle and was sucked into the ocean by a sweeping whirlpool that shot out of the water and consumed the plane.
These were all scenarios that Thomas had never accounted for, especially since he’d never been on a flight himself.
“I don’t know if I can live with myself if something happened to him,” Alyssa began to weep into the palms of her hands. This meeting had gone off the rails rather quickly, and Thomas was left to deal with the wreckage. Like a deep sea diver looking for a sunken ship, he known had the opportunity to scavenge and try to piece together the mystery of this relationship that, according to Alyssa, was lost.
“I’ll tell you what. I’ll stay an extra day, and we can stay up and work together on this letter if you’d like. I’ve never written a letter to a guy before but I can help you put thoughts onto paper,” Thomas cracked a smile, something he wasn’t sure his facial muscles were even strong enough to achieve himself.
Alyssa sniffled, wiping away droplets of wet snot from her nostrils. Thomas cringed a little bit, but not enough that he felt ill to his stomach.
“You’d do that for me? Thank you,” she said.
Frankly, she didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. She didn’t give him a whole lot to go on tonight, so with the limited funds he was willing to work with on this mini getaway, he needed to work fast to make his deadline.
“I’m staying at the Best Western just up the road on Buena Vista. Room 201. Bring snacks, bring drinks, we’ll camp out, we’ll make a regular girls’ night of it,” Thomas said, trying his best to make a rather somber moment light-hearted again.
To his surprise, it seemed to work, as Alyssa cracked a smile and even a little chuckle.
“Sounds good, let’s say 10 o’clock? I’ll see you tonight.”
“See you then.”
Thomas’ palms were clammy, his heart beat was elevated, and the room – not just the ceiling fan, but the entire room – felt like it was spinning.
He wasn’t on drugs, he was just nervous. He was about to spend the night with a beautiful girl, not doing anything of a sexual nature, but actually being in the presence of a female for the first time since Callie’s death. It felt like a betrayal of the heart and mind, even though she was with somebody else.
But his mind wondered: why would she agree to meet him back at his hotel room to spend the night if they weren’t going to do anything more than write an apology letter to her man?
Thomas had to scoop his mind piece by piece out of the gutter. He felt himself sinking into deep, dark thoughts. His noticed his pants start to stiffen up below the waist, and he did his best to cool himself down.
He started drinking water, he distracted himself for a couple of minutes by playing phone Tetris, even tried his hand juggling three pairs of socks before wondering why he even needed three pairs of socks for a two-day trip.
His heart beat faster out of his chest when he heard the hotel room door knock.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
Through the peephole, he could smell her fragrance. Apple cinnamon? Lavender? He recognized the smell but he couldn’t match the smell to a physical object that pleasurable.
Thomas removed the deadbolt on the door and greeted Alyssa. She dropped her spaghetti string purse and sunglasses at the door, slipping off her beige sandals.
She plopped herself down on the end onto the bed, bouncing a couple of times just for fun, before getting serious.
“Okay, how much time do we got?”
“Oh um…” Thomas hesitated, as his mind quickly wandered to an illustrious daydream that involved Alyssa dropping her skirt and removing her top, before climbing Thomas and spending the next eight hours of the night in ecstasy.
“Thomas?” Alyssa motioned to Thomas with a wave, snapping him out of his sex-filled daydream.
Thomas crossed his legs in order to conceal the quickdraw boner that seemed to return with a vengeance.
“I’ve got all night, it really depends on you.”
“I’ve got nowhere to go,” Alyssa said, leaning back on her palms. “Where do we start?”
Thomas cleared his throat, before turning back to his laptop. He had pasted the photos of Denis onto a small whiteboard that was on the hotel room desk. Thomas was struggling with so many conflicting emotions tonight.
Maybe it was the mixed messages he’d been receiving from Alyssa, including accepting his invitation to work all night under the same roof, maybe it was because it was his first real face-to-face interaction with a female that wasn’t on the other end of a wooden counter ordering a vente frappuccino. Or perhaps it was because something deep down wanted Alyssa to be his replacement Callie.
The latter thought disturbed him. The more he dwelled on it, and the more he looked at Alyssa, the more he pinpointed little elements of Callie. She didn’t look like Callie, but to Thomas, Alyssa reminded him of the types of things he loved about Callie.
Thomas wanted to spend this night uncovering more secrets about this girl, which was bound to happen, but at the same time he remained torn. He felt as though by getting closer with this girl, he was driving a wedge between her and Denis without him (or her, in the current situation) realizing this was happening.
Thomas chalked it up to being all in his head. His daydreams were really vivid tonight, he kept replaying several fragments of disconnected points in (daydream future) time, some that involve Thomas’s first kiss with this beautiful woman, to the first time they would have sex, to walking on the beach, to bringing Alyssa to meet the family, and watching his family fall in love with Alyssa the way they fell in love with Callie.
Thomas could see it now: his mother and father would pull him aside, as Alyssa continued to laugh in the other room with several of his extended cousins, aunts and uncles.
Thomas’s mom would say, “She’s a keeper, Thomas. I think she’s the one.”
Dad would say, “Do you love her?”
“Yeah, I really do.”
“Well if you think she’s the one and you’re ready, you’ve got to run and grab it.”
Thomas turned to look at Alyssa, as Alyssa locks eyes with Thomas from across the room. As the two souls exchange glances, they cross the room to close the gap between each other. As they stand mere inches away from each other’s faces, Thomas looks down and grabs her hand.
“Hey!” Alyssa yells in surprise.
Thomas is transported back to the hotel room. He doesn’t even realize that he’s pulled his chair closer to where Alyssa is seated on the bed, and pulls his hand away in shock.
“I-I’m so sorry, I-I was somewhere else.”
“What the hell’s the matter with you? I thought we were here to fix my relationship, not to cop a feel?”
“That wasn’t my intention, please forgive me.”
“I should kick your ass,” she jumped out of the bed, as her feet stuck to the ground, and she towered over Thomas, casting a long, dark shadow as he cowered in fear in his computer chair.
“Jeez, you’re feisty. Please don’t hurt me.”
“I’m not going to hit you. I’m leaving,” she said, darting across the room to claim her purse.
“No, no wait please don’t go,” Thomas stumbled out of his chair, cutting in front of Alyssa to block her exit.
“What are you doing? Let me out!”
“Not until we’ve finished our work here. You want to write this letter to Denis, don’t you? And I want to help you do it.”
“At this rate, I’d rather do it myself,” she tried to push her way past Thomas, but Thomas wouldn’t budge.
“Just let me explain, please. I’ll explain why I did that, and then you can choose to stay or go. Please.”
Alyssa’s eyes burned like hot coal shards, as she turned and stormed back toward the other end of the room, planting herself back on the bed, crossing her arms and her legs. Her body language suggested she stay on guard, to which Thomas reluctantly took the hint, and moved away from the door, before proceeding to lean against the corner wall between where the desk sat and the bathroom door was, a little further up the hall closer to the front door.
“You’ve got five minutes.”
“I made a mistake. You’re my first female client, and the first female I’ve hung out with since…my last girlfriend.”
“What are you, some kind of pervy hermit?”
“What? No, I’m not a pervy hermit. I have another job, I’m a barista, but most of the time, I’m pretty much alone.”
“So you are a hermit?”
“Okay, what’s a hermit again?”
“Do you hold yourself up in your home day in and day out, never letting yourself out to socialize and see with the world?”
“Well I…uh,” Thomas scratched his chin. “I don’t have a lot of friends.”
“You sound like a hermit.”
“Okay, well maybe I am…a little,” Thomas said, casting a long, lifeless gaze across the room toward the window.
The sound of raindrops pelting against the glass was comforting as his ears were still ringing from the sudden shock of adrenaline to his system.
Alyssa leaned in to his field of view. She continued to have her arms crossed in front of her, but at the same time, she broke down the first shred of her social wall.
She’d been struck with a random bout of curiosity following Thomas’s sudden moves on her. She didn’t think she was giving him any hints to come on to her, but at the same time, the biggest hint she could’ve given this guy was accepting the invitation to come to his hotel room at 10 o’clock at night.
Still, she couldn’t blame herself for his reckless actions. In a way, she still needed him. She hadn’t needed any man since Denis. She felt dirty, she felt as though she had betrayed her one true love. She wasn’t sure a love letter was even worth the effort anymore. Quickly, she began to push those thoughts from her mind.
It was Thomas who had some explaining to do, not her.
“Well, go on, I’m still waiting,” Alyssa said. She’ll keep on playing it smart, playing calm, playing defensive, she thought. She had Thomas cowering before her; he wouldn’t dare pull another fast one on her.
“My last girlfriend, Callie, died in a plane crash about two years ago. We were six months away from walking down the aisle together, and the last thing I remember is we got into a fight just before she was her flight to Japan for work; it was a conference, or something, I don’t remember. Anyway, I just remember less than 24 hours had passed after our fight, and I learned about her death from the big red ticker signs that flashed across my television screen. ‘PLANE CRASH OVER INDIAN OCEAN LEFT NO SURVIVORS.’ They did a full 10-minute segment where they began reading off the 207 names of the passengers who were aboard that flight. Callie was name number 56. After I heard her name get called out, my whole world just fell dull.”
Alyssa had dropped her arms down to her sides, as she sat and leaned in to listen to Thomas’s story. Being a former journalist and exceptional writer, Thomas still had the ability to tell an engaging story for somebody who didn’t get out and experience the world in the last two years.
“Nothing made sense, everything around me felt foreign. Everything I had b-built up with Callie, our home, our relationship, all the clothes, all the trinkets, all the items that held meaning for the two of us meant nothing to me anymore. My whole world was shattered and all the pieces were too sharp to pick up and try to repair. So I just found myself sitting cross-legged among the broken shards of glass. Every so often when I tried moving an inch in the right direction, I’d end up cutting myself and invoking the same pain all over again.”
Thomas had stopped looking at Alyssa while he told his story. When he was lost in his own thoughts, or in this case gathering and rekindling those broken shards of glass to try and piece together a picture for this woman he did not know, it drew more blood and more and more pain along with it. But Thomas grew numb to all of it. He’d lost enough blood and shed enough tears that his body was just an empty vessel, programmed for mindless work and to provide a carefully calculated level of emotion to be able to do this writing gig. Any more emotion than the bare minimum he crafted for his clients and something as stupid as tonight would happen, and he’d find himself drawing up old wounds all over again. However, this was the first time in a long time that he’d worked up the courage to tell Callie’s story to somebody other than his own mother and father.
“I lost my job as a reporter, but after a while I didn’t care because the job felt meaningless to me then. I disconnected myself from Callie’s family because without her, I was just the lone bird in the nest left behind by the rest of the pack. But I chose to put myself there. Dulling the pain, cutting myself off from all the reminders helped me maintain my sanity little by little. After a while, I wasn’t thinking about Callie every day. But I decided to take this job because I wanted to give people a chance to express how they felt about their significant other. They may not get a chance to say it every day, or they may not have all their eggs in one basket to be able to express how they are feeling, but the written word is just as powerful as a voice. It’s permanent. It’s a physical manifestation of human thought and emotion. The words ‘I love you’ carry so much weight when they are uttered, but what about in my case? Callie said I love you every morning and every night for the five years we were together. But do you think I can remember the sound of her voice now?”
Thomas slid down the wall and rested his behind against his heels, which held him up on the wall. Thomas covered his mouth and his nose as his hands clasped in front of him in the shape of a prayer sign. Thomas held back tears as he tried to remember what her voice sounded like.
“She…she wasn’t exactly soft-spoken, but she articulated every word. When she got angry, she would call you out by your full name and her voice would rise up so fast it could knock you off your feet,” Thomas said, laughing as he wiped away tears from his reddened eyes.
Alyssa joined Thomas on the floor just across from him by the bed. She let her guard down just enough to hear Thomas’ story.
The rain droplets continued to patter against the window as the wind picked up and began howling in the night.
“She was my everything. She gave me my strength, she gave me confidence, and she gave me reason to go on. But I feel like that plane crash not only took her, but she took every gift she’d given me with her to the bottom of that ocean. I’ve been able to scrape by on shitty pay, TV dinners and cheap hydro bills, but I can only go on for so long. And now…now I feel like I betrayed her.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Because for the first time in two years, I wasn’t thinking about her. Alyssa, you were in my thoughts when I went off in a daze. Honestly, I did not mean to drive a wedge into your relationship, but I couldn’t help the thoughts that arose. I felt for the first time, I could move past Callie. And maybe it’s not with you, but if I could feel this way about anyone, I may still have a chance to reclaim my life.”
Alyssa looked up from where she’d been playing with the carpet, twirling a loose thread between her index and middle fingers. She was not expecting to have gone to a specialist in love letter writing and been the one to help them before helping her.
“I think…I think I’ve got something to go on now…with your letter, if you’ll let me try again,” Thomas said, looking into Alyssa’s eyes. She was very, very attractive. Maybe not enough to sway her away from Denis, but just enough to appreciate that there was still beauty in the world and maybe Thomas could still find a love like the one he’d had with Callie.
Alyssa was the first girl Thomas had been around that made him feel anything other than emptiness and coldness. Thomas felt he owed her an opportunity to fix her relationship just as he was already dreaming of ways to get out and begin his life anew.
“Okay, we can do this,” she said. She rose to her feet, joining Thomas by the desk, where he sat down and proceeded to prep a new document.
“Where should we start?” Thomas asked, winding the page through the typewriter.
“Dear Denis…,” she began, as she rested her palm on the back of Thomas’ chair. The air in the room felt lively, felt calm. The raindrops that pattered against the windowsill ceased as a new aura of silence would help guide Thomas’ thoughts toward the work.