Ben couldn’t believe this kept happening. He had done such a good job at avoiding her, or so he thought. He was sure it would be what was best for her, but maybe there really is such a thing as fate. If they are destined to be, no force could ever break it, it might delay it or prolong the inevitable, but it can’t change anything. He wondered if maybe instead of trying to push her away, he should just enjoy the remainder of the time he has with her, no matter how long or short it may be. He knew he had a lot of work to do if he was going to win her heart, but fortunately, he had done his research. Social media can be very helpful, especially when a pretty lady has Instagram and is passionate about sharing the things she loves most in the world.
He showered and got ready for his date. Spiking his hair. He recalled a picture of John Mayer where his hair was spiked and the collar on his jacket was popped. She had commented, “That look drives me crazy.” It was August, so Ben didn’t have a coat with a collar he could pop, but he could at the very least spike his hair and put on his cologne with hints of sandalwood, once again recalling a post where she mentioned she loved the masculine scent.
She opened the door wearing a long, flowy, multi-colored skirt and a little white tank top with a sunflower on the front. It was a very bold fashion choice, but it suited her.
“You look lovely.” He greeted, holding a long-stemmed, yellow rose out to her. “I read somewhere that yellow roses are a symbol of friendship. I expect you to be cautious around me given our former encounters, but I wanted to thank you for allowing me to prove to you that the Ben you are used to is not who I truly am, and I will spend the rest of whatever time I have with you trying to make up for that horrible first impression. I know I can never get that moment back, but I promise this time you’ll see me in a new light.”
She invited him in while she put the flower in a vase. “Well, that’s a good sign,” he thought. She could have thrown it away.
“Okay. So where are we going?” She asked.
“Do you like Tim Horton’s coffee?”
“I love Tim Horton’s,” she replied.
“Are you up for a road trip?”
She looked at him sideways for a minute before he could see the lightbulb come on above her head. “You looked me up on Instagram didn’t you?” She asked.
“Oh come on, the spiked hair, the hint of sandalwood, you made sure I’d smell as you walked passed me, you knew I liked Tim Horton’s, I just posted a picture of my coffee from there last week.”
“She’s smart and very alert.” He thought. “You caught me, but doesn’t that show I just wanted to impress you?”
“You put in the effort, and I appreciate that, Ben. I’m an old fashioned gal though. By all means, use social media to your advantage, I love a man who pays attention to detail. All I ask is that you still use conversation to really get to know me, and you are creative with the information I allow you to find on Instagram. You can’t just play one of my favorite songs because you saw I was listening to it and expect me to be impressed.”
“Oh, that’s good, because I made you an entire playlist. I also included songs I like too because it isn’t only you on this road trip after all.”
She scoffed, “I don’t expect everything to revolve around me. I have never been that kind of person. The world owes me nothing. You owe me nothing.”
“Just testing you.”
“You are incredibly frustrating.”
“Still want to go on that road trip?”
She sighed, “I have nothing better to do.”
“Good. Go grab your camera.”
She smiled widely and ran back to retrieve one of her most prized possessions. The truth was he was dying to watch the photographer behind the camera. She had a way of capturing the art in the mundane, and he was excited to see what she sees.
“So what would it take if I wanted to woo you?” He asked while sipping his coffee and driving down the road.
She shifted in her seat so that she could look at him. “I can’t tell you everything, that would make things way too easy on you.”
“That’s fair,” he replied.
“I will give you some hints though. You’re on the right track with doing your research. I like a man who puts forth an effort and doesn’t mind the challenge, because I do not cave easily, especially after I’ve been scorned. You know fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.”
“I think that way too.”
“Good, so we should get along just fine then.”
“Is that all your going to tell me?”
“For right now, let’s see what you have planned for the day, maybe you’ll be rewarded with more hints.”
He smiled, “This is going to be fun.”
Lauren was still curious as to why he was so mean to her, but she thought maybe he would tell her when he was ready, maybe he truly wanted to be sure she wasn’t going to judge him first. Whatever it was, she figured it couldn’t hurt to at least give him a chance.
“Last night you mentioned how I moved to Pittsburgh for my grandma, I’m assuming she told you that?”
“It’s partly true, I do want to be closer to her to keep an eye on her, my parents are no longer around.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Thanks. But I am a sports journalist, mostly for Pittsburgh teams, so it helps to live here. I just wanted to be honest with you.”
“I appreciate your honesty.”
“I didn’t want you to find out later and think I lied to you.”
“That’s very considerate, Ben.” she gently touched his arm to let him know she wasn’t upset with him.
She could feel him relax beneath her hand.
“What if I decide I want to win your heart? What do I have to do?”
“Don’t change anything.”
He looked panicked for a moment, but quickly composed himself. “I just mean, be you, if you want to win my heart, let me fall for the real you.”There was a moment of small, yet comfortable silence. “I want you to know I’m not expecting that from you.”
She smiled at him. “I meant it when I said I’m an old soul.”
“I’m giving you another hint.”
“I think I was born in the wrong era, I love forgotten arts. Handwritten notes, nights under the stars, all technology left in the house except for whatever device is used to play the music, and even then I prefer a turntable over anything. I like out of the ordinary dates, I like dates where we share intimate conversations, and take in art, or make art together. I like things that make me feel, if you want to win my heart, I have to be able to feel you.”
She could tell by the expression on his face that he was shocked by her openness, so she thought she should make herself clear. “I can feel if it’s genuine or not though. I’ll be able to tell if your heart is really in it or if you’re trying to force something that isn’t there. Tread carefully, I’m rather protective of my heart.”
“You should be, you absolutely should. You’re a six-page love letter in a world full of false social media statuses. You should know your worth and not settle for anyone who doesn’t fall in love with that side of you, who doesn’t fall in love with every side of you. How many men have praised your cover but never actually opened the book? Sweetheart, I don’t just want to admire your cover, I want to open you up and read between your lines.”
“What is happening?” She thought. She sat face forward, watching the buildings as they flew past.
“Cat got your tongue?” He asked.
“I, um. Well…” She sighed. “I don’t have a response to that.”
“Is that bad?”
“No, it’s very good.”
She watched him smile and couldn’t help her own.
She gasped as they turned onto I-68 East. “Are you taking me home?”
“You posted a picture of Deep Creek Lake last night and wrote” homesick,” so yes, I thought we could spend the day around your hometown. You can show me where you grew up and where some of your favorites spots are, and then we’ll head back to Pittsburgh, and my last stop planned is Mount Washington, where you can take pictures of the city lights at night.”
She turned, looking out the passenger window, extremely confused, but somehow excited, “I think I’m going to fall in love with you.”
He grabbed her hand, bringing it to his mouth, kissing her knuckles. “I thought you didn’t cave easily.”
“I’m not caving, thank you very much, I’m just listening to my heart.”
“Please continue to do that because I think I’m already falling.”
They stopped at Castleman bridge, just on the outskirts of Grantsville and she told him about how it was built in 1813, and he watched as she snapped pictures, lost in nostalgia.
“I’m hungry. What’s your favorite restaurant?”
“Do you like wood brick oven pizzas?”
“Is the sky blue?”
She looked up, well it’s a little gray and overcast today.”
She laughed, “Mountain State Brewery is my favorite restaurant.”
“Well let’s go there for lunch, just tell me the way, navigator.”
Lauren took him all around, she took him to Swallow Falls, and the property she still owns that used to belong to her grandma. She took him to her favorite cafe in downtown Oakland, along with the vinyl record shop and bookstore. She pointed out all of the historic places, like the B&O railroad station, the courthouse, and the marked civil war trail.
“There’s one more place I’d like to show you before we head back to Pittsburgh.”
She walked him along a soccer field in a town called Loch Lynn. As they turned onto the wooden path, something magical happened, it was like stepping into another world, full of marshland with cattails, wildflowers, and exotic looking trees.
“These are my old stomping grounds. Before they marked this off, building the wooden paths and marking the dirt trails, there was nothing but nature and the train tracks, we would stand still and feel the wind from the train. It was majestic. And there used to be a creek, you can still see where it used to flow and after really heavy rain it fools you into thinking it might flow again. I had my first kiss in these wetlands. I used to ride my bike down here at night with my friends, we would sneak out late at night and have bonfires, and sometimes camp out, playing music and smoking weed.”
“That sounds fantastic.”
He grabbed her hand. “I think hand-holding is a lost art. You rarely see couples walking down sidewalks, holding hands. I have always wondered why that is. I mean, it’s such a simple thing, but here we are, your fingers interlaced with mine, we’re walking in step and talking about life and we’re taking in nature. I can think of no better way to spend my day. Why don’t people do that anymore?”
“I don’t know,” she replied, looking into his eyes, sensing his sincerity.
They ended their time in Garrett County by stopping for ice cream and watching the sunset.
The trip back to Pittsburgh was full of lively conversation, sing-alongs to the playlist Ben made, and Lauren dancing in her seat. Ben instantly knew today would remain one of his favorite memories.
They stopped at Mount Washington and Lauren captured photos of the city lights and Ben’s heart right along with them.
He walked her to her door. “I had a fabulous time with you, Ben.”
“Today was the best time I’ve had in a long time, Lauren.”
She gave him a hug and kissed his cheek. “I’d like to see you again.”
“Is tomorrow too soon?”
She laughed. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I’ll knock on your door.”
Lauren hoped her high from the day’s events would be enough to keep the nightmares at bay, but to no avail, she woke up in the middle of the night, sweating and petrified.
He waited about an hour after Lauren came home from work before knocking on her door, giving her time to relax a little.
He greeted her with a container of yakisoba. “During lunch yesterday you told me how much you love Japanese cuisine, so I thought I’d surprise you.”
He was surprised when she threw her arms around his neck, but he happily embraced her, sensing she needed it. She was fresh from the shower, hair still wet, and she smelled so lovely.
When she pulled back she had tears in her eyes, “It’s only yakisoba.”
She chuckled “It’s not that. I had a really hard day today, and I need this more than you realize.”
“What’s wrong?” he followed her into her apartment, closing and locking the door behind him.
She sniffed, shaking her head, “Maybe after dinner,” she replied as she grabbed some bowls and wine glasses. Mind if we sit on the balcony?”
“I would enjoy that.”
“So how was your day?” She asked him.
“Fine. I’m working on a piece for ESPN about the Steelers. I think they’re going to kick ass this year.”
“One can only hope.”
“I saw you at a pre-season game about 10 years ago.”
“The night we met at Lucky’s.”
“Yeah, you were with someone.”
“Oh, that would have been Nate. I broke his heart. I didn’t want to hurt him, but I just didn’t feel that spark, you know? He was more like a brother to me.”
“Ouch! Poor Nate.”
They finished eating and Lauren brought Ben back to her home office, where she had all of her investigative work spread out. She covered up the photographs before turning around. I’m investigating some cold case murders.” She paused, inhaling sharply. “In doing so, I have stumbled upon the deaths of three couples, all of which occur in August, only a few years after their weddings.”
“Yes, listen to this, John and Kelly were married on February 14th, 1960. They died on August 14th, 1962.”
“Does it explain how they die?”
“Yes. After having just made love John gets up out of bed and slips on a pair of nylon pantyhose they had left on the wooden stairs leading up to their bedroom. He didn’t realize that Kelly had already gone downstairs and was making her way back upstairs, he fell into her, both of them falling backward down the stairs. They didn’t survive the fall.
“Oh my god, that’s terrible.”
“Yes, and then the second couple, Dean and Lorraine, they were murdered while making love.”
“Yes. They were married on October 4th, 1982. They died on August 4th, 1984. Someone robbed their house, not realizing they were home, they walked into their bedroom, caught them in the act, shot and killed them both, with one bullet.”
“Holy shit. That’s insane.” He replied, not sounding surprised at all, he hoped she wouldn’t notice, but her raised brow told him that she probably did.
She looked down at the next story, her eyes were watery. “You’re an open-minded person, right?”
“More than you know, my dear.”
She smiled at him. I’ve been having these nightmares. In the first two, I died the same way these women did. Only, I don’t know who the man is. I could never see his face.”
“Was the sex good?”
“What does that matter? I friggin’ die!”
He cleared his throat, “Right, sorry.” He wanted to slide into another dimension at that moment.
“Anyway, the last two dreams happened after I read about these incidents, so I figured it was just my brain’s way of working stuff out.” She started crying and he had to strain to understand her. “I dreamed the third one before I found out about it. I had the dream last night and then I found this story this morning.” She started sobbing, growing hysterical.
“Hey, hey,” He walks over and wraps his arms around her, trying to console her. “I know how scary they can be, but their only dreams.”
“I know, but they feel so real, and you don’t understand, this last couple….” She pauses again, taking long deep breaths, “Heath and Catherine, they were married on December 26th, 2015. They were killed on August 26th, 2018. She started sobbing again, “I saw it in my dream, they had a child, a newborn.”
“Oh, no.” He said as if he already knew, but fortunately, she didn’t catch it, or at least she didn’t let on that she caught it.
“Catherine, she left her hot curlers plugged in, and they caught fire, and they never replaced the batteries in their smoke alarms.” She was hyperventilating, and he was trying his hardest to calm her down. “I tried to yell, but she, I mean I wouldn’t listen, and I went into the kitchen and kissed whoever I was married to goodbye, and then I walked in and said goodbye to my son, and I left for work.” She stopped, needing to slow her breath. She sniffled, “And while my husband and son were taking a nap, the house caught fire, and they died. And when I got there and I saw the damage that had been done, I killed myself.”
He had to fight back tears as she told the story. “I walked in this morning and the article was on my desk, it was exactly the same as my dream. Exactly the same.”
“That must have been difficult for you, I can only imagine.” He looked into her eyes, hoping for some sort of sign, but all he saw was fear.
“Do you mind staying with me for a while?”
“No, of course, I don’t mind.”
“Quick, name a favorite comedy.”
He watched as she allowed herself to enjoy the movie, laughing at the most hilarious scenes and quoting some of the lines. He would be lying if he said he wasn’t scared to death and just when he was contemplating on if he should say something, she beat him to the punch.
“I don’t know what’s happened exactly, and I’m still extremely confused as to why you were so mean to me, but I also trust that you will disclose that information when you are ready, and I will be patient with you.”
“I’m also scared, because I’ve been hurt before, and you were such a jerk.”
“I was. I really was.”
“But you admit it, and you really don’t seem like that guy now.”
“I believe you. God help me, but I do. There’s something here, do you feel it?”
“Yes. I’ve felt it since that first day in Journalism 101.”
“So you were scared?”
“Something like that, I’m still petrified, but I’m tired of running. I don’t care what the outcome is anymore, as long as I have you.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“You will.” He kissed her forehead.
As he pulled away, she grabbed his forearms, pulling him towards her and crashed her lips into him, kissing him with hunger.
He was surprised but very receptive! He pulled her onto his lap, kissing her back with just as much fervor.
“I don’t want to be alone tonight.” She whispered, out of breath.
“I’ll stay and if you have nightmares, I will be here to hold you and protect you. I’m always going to be here to help keep the monsters at bay. I can’t keep them from coming, but I can keep them from biting.”
She kissed him again before jumping off his lap and leading him to her bedroom. He held her until she fell asleep, and he was there every time she reached out for him. He blamed himself for her pain. If only he would have just accepted his fate that day in journalism class, he could have spared her this pain. He knew the time was coming close, he was going to have to open up to her, he was going to have to let her in, but for tonight he was just going to get lost in the scent of her hair and the feel of her heartbeat against his chest.
Stay tuned for Part Seven!
Love & life lessons,