Dawneva was halfway out the door. She had hoped to slip out without waking Bill but he bellowed in her direction from the living room sofa, “hey! Where are you going?!” It was Sunday evening and just about suppertime. Bill didn’t necessarily expect her to serve up a pot roast dinner, but he did expect her to be at home with him. She’d spent the first half of the day away at church, after all. Bill was watching the tail end of a vampire movie on Netflix and his leg brace was on the coffee table. He hadn’t noticed that Dawneva had changed her clothes and refreshed her makeup. She straightened her spine, clenched her teeth and firmed her grip on the door handle. “I’ve told you twice already.” She had.”I’m going to Jeanette’s for a cosmetic party. I won’t be home late.” She was brief, unapologetic, cold, and annoyed. She slammed the door.
The home that disappeared behind her was an adorable Victorian cottage, practically a dollhouse, enveloped by an English-style garden of fragrant roses and tasty apple trees. Dawneva’s dogs waved their tails goodbye from behind the picket fence with riverstone pillars.
Jeanette, one of Dawneva’s coworkers, lived in a converted warehouse east of downtown. Dawneva headed west towards Breezy Point, her hand changing gears on the Mazda not quite as steadily as usual. Yet she was purposeful.
Dawneva downshifted as she turned onto the gravel road that took her down the steep river valley hill. She parked, her car one of only a handful in the lot. Tourist season had come to an end, but it was a beautiful September evening and a few locals were enjoying one of the last weekends that summer had to offer by spending some time at park. She didn’t recognize any of the vehicles or people, though. That gave her momentary relief.
She checked her hair and makeup in the sunshade mirror, looked at the clock again, then grabbed her phone to see Locke’s most recent message one last time. He confirmed he was on time and that he’d arrive at 6pm. She checked her hair again. Long, brown, thick. Some were envious of her natural waves, but Dawneva struggled with hair that had a mind of its own most days, more so when the heat and humidity coming off the back of her neck caused the time she spent straightening to become a waste. Damn, she thought, noticing the hair around her shoulders starting to frizz. That said, knew she was blessed not to have to worry about greys at her age. Then, as she debated sweater, or no sweater, his car pulled up. This isn’t a date she reminded herself.
She knew it was his car from the description he’d provided. Locke removed his sunglasses and left them on his dash before stepping out of his vehicle. His smile was bright as the sports car’s white paint. My goodness, he was stunning! Cowboy boots. Damn. They were shiny, too. So was the diamond on his left ear and the ring on his left hand. He was tall, trim and everything about him was clean and new: shaved head, impeccably groomed black beard, crisp black shirt with matching jeans. Dawneva decided he belonged in a downtown night club, not this out-of-the way picnic site. I’ve under dressed, she thought, smoothing wrinkles from the blue cotton peasant blouse with her sweaty palms.
Locke was the fourth person she’d asked to meet, but the first who’d followed through.
He reached for a hug as he approached her.
Hi, she said, with an awkward and uncharacteristic giggle, it’s so good to finally meet you.
He smelled amazing. As she pulled away she realized Locke was still smiling. And he was looking right at her eyes. His were green. She had to look away, as if by doing so it would make her less visible. Then she pulled her hair into a ponytail with her hands and let it and her arms fall back down again. She was smiling, too, and still giggling. Like a teenager. A stupid teenager. This is ridiculous, why am I reacting this way? We’ll get this over with, talk things out, both be superficially pleasant, go our separate ways, and never talk, let alone see each other again, she decided, which would really be too bad because he’s gorgeous. But this is all wrong.
She was the first to speak again, suggesting they walk toward the shore and look for a place to sit down, a picnic table, perhaps. They ended up along the shore, passing dog walkers and rock skippers and coming to a small assembly of university students with a campfire and cases of cheap beer. They walked in silence except their nods and hellos to other strangers along the way.
Then Locke tripped on uneven ground and Dawneva gasped as he recovered his step.
Are you ok?
I’m fine, but I would have been really embarrassed if I hit the rocks.
Not to worry, it’s an old injury, he explained. I always have a bit of a limp.
Does it hurt?
They’d said so much in their emails over the past three weeks, but they were still strangers in many ways. They’d come to an agreement earlier in the week. Discretion was assured. Today they met to see if the deal was worth signing.
He told her that it was his usual night to go to the casino. He came to meet her, instead. It was important to him that he meet her. And he was still smiling. Unbelievable. Her cheeks hurt, perhaps from trying to restrain her own grin.
They’d met online. Her inquiry was bold. She told him what she wanted and invited a reply if Locke thought they could come to an understanding. His first letter was unlike the others she’d received. There had been at least four others, all disappearing when a meeting seemed imminent. Except Rory, the prison guard. He cut their dialogue off with the assessment that their needs were not mutually agreeable.
Locke seemed to want to know Dawneva beyond the practical details of how they’d meet and what they were agreeing to. Why? She knew she put herself and her family life at risk by opening up. They shared weeks of questions and answers, a private window on each others’ devices. His everpresence felt both reassuring and unsettling. She knew what it was like for a man to want her close all the time, but not the warm inquiries that went along with Locke’s gentle insistence. Her alarm was ready to ring, but it hadn’t gone off…yet.
A week prior she asked for a meeting. It was time. This day was set. Sunday evening. Six. At Breezy Point. Yes, he knew how to get there.
Then, on Friday, an unusually quiet day in her office, Dawneva had too much time to think. She hung her head over her laptop and pounded out an email for Locke.
I’m sorry for wasting your time. As you know, I’ve been through a lot recently and, to be honest, I’m not myself. I never should have written to you. This isn’t a good idea right now. I can’t meet you.
The email she received in reply was not at all what she expected. He wanted her to know what had brought him to this place, why he was offering what he had, and how he justified it to himself and to God.
This isn’t wrong, he explained. Not to me, it isn’t. I’d still really like to meet you. Please. Soon. Forget what we’ve discussed before. I offer you friendship, an escape, a soft place to land. I think you can provide the same. Nothing more. I promise. Yes, let’s meet soon.
Already this has gone too far, Dawneva thought. This could get really complicated. Her heart was pounding in her ears and her face was hot. She needed a walk. Outside her downtown office, she crossed the street to a green space that overlooked the valley and Breezy Point. There was a picnic table under a grove of trees and she sat there with her head in her hands, her hair falling over her shoulders, when her phone rang.
It was Locke. He had a kind but deep voice. It was made for radio, she thought. Every instance of this man was becoming more and more like she’d invented him from her fantasies.
How are you?
I’m confused. I’m messed up. What have I done?
What have we done? I really want to see you. Meet me on Sunday?
She heard herself saying yes, against her better judgement. And here they were.
They walked from the shore back towards their vehicles in the parking lot, their obligatory meeting was over. They could both be home by dark.
Would you like to go somewhere and get a drink?
Again Dawneva heard herself going against her conscience and saying yes.
The pub next to the university campus was quiet and dark. The beer was cold. The chalkboard sign over the bar advertised the drink special, a cocktail named for the park they’d left in separate vehicles,
Breezy Point: strawberry daiquiri with a shot of blackberry schnapps
As the sun set their conversation became a continuation of the words they’d shared online. Talk was easy between them. Locke’s next question hit her in the throat, but she didn’t hesitate. He asked her to repeat a story she’d shared before. Few people asked her about Abby. Why did he want to hear it again?