It was a long walk to the taxi stand. Dean had just been through an emotional revolution which had ended in rejection. He finally understood what she meant about the emptiness and loneliness of unrequited feelings. Chewing his bottom lip as he waited for a cab, he devised a plan. When the battered Chevrolet pulled beside the curb, Dean was convinced what he would do next.
The ops room was a hive of activity. Stephen R. Paulston, Reaper to his friends and colleagues, stood viewing the technicians from the window of his office overlooking the ops floor. Coffee in hand, he began to pace before the window, deeply concentrating. The telephone startled him when it rang.
The speaker on the telephone crackled with static before the sargeant’s voice burst through. “Call for you on line two Reaper, somebody named Dean.”
Paulston’s grip on the coffee mug tightened. Furrows gouged his brow as a whispered stream of obscenities passed through clenched teeth. The ops center was momentarily hushed and appeared frozen in time as Reaper’s attention turned. Paulston strode quickly across the room, his heavy footsteps echoing in the sudden silence.
“Dean, where the hell are you,” he demanded. “It’s nearly nineteen-hundred, you were supposed to be here two damn hours ago!”
“It’s a long story, Reaper. I’ll fill you in once we get out of this traffic mess. Some kind of accident ahead of us. Looks like a bad one too.” Reaper skeptically eyed his terminal screen, but raised an eyebrow when he saw the red X on the traffic map signifying the place of the accident he knew was in Dean’s path.
“It had better be good!” Reaper pushed the button beside the blinking line button. As he leaned back in the chair, he decided against reconnaissance before Dean’s arrival. A decision he knew he would regret. The internal tension grew, and he changed his mind.
Paulston flicked the button on the telephone to get another outside line. At the other end, still no answer. “Dammit, Matthews, where are you?”
Dean Cranston, Tara Miller and Bevan Matthews were simply the best students Stephen Paulson had ever encountered at the Academy. Each on their own was stellar, but put the three of them together, and the chemistry was magical. They read each others thoughts, always on target, always one step ahead. They were loyal, a unit. Every exercise they attempted they aced. He felt privileged to be able to mentor them.
Dean took a deep breath knowing Reaper was unhappy about the situation, but what could he do? He couldn’t leave Tara. He had to see her one more time. Now, he was having second thoughts as the cabby turned and said, “You might not want to look at this.”
Dean was far away and did not instantly register the cabby’s words. He couldn’t help thinking about Tara, try as he might. A smirk of a grin lit his eyes. He knew it was not over because Tara was not always good at hiding her feelings. With renewed hope and anticipation, he glanced out the window as the paramedics pulled a lifeless, charred body out of the once beautiful Porsche. It looked strangely familiar. Without realizing the words were audible, Dean’s words trailed away. “Bevan has a black Porsche.”
The phone once again broke Paulston’s reverie. He glanced over as an agent answered, then gave a start in response to the message. The young officer’s eyes flicked to Paulston, and he murmured a short reply into the receiver before it slipped from his fingers back into the cradle.
Standing in the door to Reaper’s office, “Sir, I’m afraid I have some bad news,” the agent stammered, approaching slowly. “It’s Matthews, sir.”
Across town, another phone rang…in Tara Miller’s apartment.
Tara wandered in from the balcony. She was preoccupied with the thought of letting go of Dean, permanently. The telephone rang as she passed the ancient answering machine she should have discarded years ago. An uneasiness came over her. Dean’s cell phone number blinked on the face of the telephone.
“Which part of no did you not understand?” rasped through the mouthpiece into Dean’s ear.
“Tara, have you seen Bevan today?” Dean was still fumbling with how he was going to break this to her. He had turned the cabby back toward her apartment.
“And what business of that would be yours?” Her instinct was to hang up the telephone at the audacity in his assumption she would have to have another man to discard him.
“Tara, listen to me and forget how much you hate me for a few minutes!” He tried to pull himself together, so she wouldn’t pick up the urgency and trepidation in his voice. “This isn’t about us. It’s about Bevan. I’ll be back at your place in five minutes. It’s not good news.”
Tara was still wising up as she slowly sat on the couch, confused and perplexed. Why was he coming back? Is this really about Bevan or is Dean just making excuses so he can catch me at a weak moment? Jumping up from the couch she defiantly blurted out to her cat, Chloe, “I’ve got news for him. He needs to go back to his wife and precious assignment once and for all and leave me the hell alone!”
She was hoping Dean would arrive soon, while she still had the gumption and fortitude to throw him out. She prayed she would not weaken again just as the cab pulled up in the driveway.
When the gentle rap at the door came, all of her anger dissolved into a puddle of doubt. She heard no confidence in the knock, so uncharacteristic of the cavalier Dean so aptly embodied.
Tentatively, she turned the lock and opened the door in what seemed like slow motion. Dean had never had an expression like the one twisted on his face. He looked years older than when he had left moments before.
The uneasiness grew into the heaviness of fear in her chest. A single whisper escaped her lips. “How?”
Dean’s shoulders slumped. She knew. She had always been quick to figure things out, realize what was going on. Leaning heavily against the doorframe, Dean sighed and buried his face in his hands.
“I saw his car, Tara. On the side of the road, not far from here. It…” He met her gaze, a blank expression he did not expect. A heavy sigh came before he went on, “The car was totaled, wrapped around a light pole.” Dean’s voice hitched, and his hands balled into fists, as if he could fight away the grief.
Instinct kicked into overdrive as she gently lifted him away from the door frame and into the foyer, pushing the door closed with her foot. Fists became grasping hands. He held her as though she would slip through his arms.
The hurricane of questions in Tara’s head was ferocious. Dean was hoarsely speaking before she realized they had not stayed contained in her mind.
“Tara, I realized that I may not ever come back. How could I leave you the way that I did? You would have spent the rest of your life thinking that I was an uncaring, selfish jackass.” Gripping her arms, he pushed her to look directly into her startled eyes. “Tara, I love you. Don’t let me screw it up this time.”
Just as quickly, he let her go and retreated to the couch. He slumped, head returning to his hands.
Is this the same man? Tara realized her heart was aching both for the loss of Bevan and for Dean’s lost demeanor. He had changed, but it would not change her resolve.
She went to him. Resting her hand on his knee, she asked quietly, “Does Reaper know?”
“Probably. You know he’s always one step ahead of us. He knows our thoughts before we do. I suppose I should call him.” Chloe jumped up on Dean’s lap, happy her two favorite people were back together again. Chloe knew it, but Dean and Tara were still feeling their way, both unaware they were giving way to fate. Fate would have her way with them.
Does anyone have more questions than answers? Stars and likes get more story line. Conjecture at what comes next gets you guiding the story…maybe.
If you missed a portion of the story, visit Story Time to view the other installments. Feel free to suggest a title at any time, either on a post or on Story Time. Thank you for your continued support.