Tessa's Secret Admirer (Chapter 2)
Chapter Two: Something Unexpected
Tessa’s twenties had been kinder to her than her teens. At least so far. She did well at community college and transferred to a regional state university at the beginning of her junior year. She found a good job a few months after graduation. She got a lot of satisfaction from her work. She loved driving by the office parks and apartment complexes she’d helped to landscape. She felt like she was making a contribution to her community, even if it was in ways most people didn’t notice. She had a small circle of friends now. She’d never gotten into the party scene in college, but she had a social life, and no longer felt jealous when she saw other people out having a good time.
She’d even had a boyfriend for three years. Karl. They’d met during her junior year in college and continued dating for a year after graduation. It ended when he was offered a job in Montana. He’d been waiting tables a lot longer than he intended after finishing college, and was happy to have the opportunity to use his geology degree. He’d asked her to go with him, but she declined. It might have been exciting to move to a different part of the country, but doing so just to be with him would have been a mistake. As much as she missed Karl, she had to admit she was only mildly attracted to him. He had been her best friend, and a faithful, companion. It would have been so nice to be able to fall in love with him, but the passion was never there.
He had gently introduced her to sex when she was twenty, well past the age when most girls lose their virginity. Her first time with Karl wasn’t exactly the earth-shaking, carnal deflowering she had envisioned in her diary-writing days, but it was a nice memory, and she had nothing but good feelings about him. He was married now with a baby on the way. He was completely settled into his new life in Montana. In her lonely, sleepless, middle-of-the-night moments of self-doubt, Tessa wondered if it had been a mistake to let such a sweet guy get away. But in the light of day, she knew the relationship had ended exactly the way it should have. Even so, it still stung a little to see the pictures he posted on social media. The wedding, the sonograms, the baby shower.
One thing she had always regretted was burning that note ten years ago. She’d kept it for a few days, folded between the pages of her diary. She’d come so close to sending a text, to asking her secret admirer to come and make love to her, to kiss away her tears, to bring her fantasy to life, even if it was only for an hour or two. But then she panicked and burned the note, just before she had the number memorized. Ten years had passed. She didn’t think about the mysterious note writer every day. She didn’t even think about him very often. But when she did, it was a grief that stung because she knew it was a mistake she couldn’t go back and fix. She’d been thinking about it more than usual lately because her ten-year high school reunion was coming up. Somewhere among the male members of the class of ‘07 was the man who sent her that note. Did he still think about her? Did he even remember the incident with the diary after all these years?
Tessa had sworn she would never go back to Woodside High School. But time had given her a more balanced perspective of her teenage years, and she had to admit that it wasn’t as bad as it had seemed at the time. She knew now that she was at least partly to blame for her lack of friends in high school. Sometime around the age of ten, she’d stopped inviting other kids to her house, never knowing what kind of embarrassing scene her mother would create. It hadn’t occurred to her to start having visitors again after her mother died. She’d missed quite a few opportunities to make friends in high school. With no authority figures in the house, she could have climbed pretty high on the Woodside social ladder if she had gotten the idea to host a weekend party once in a while, but the thought had never even crossed her mind. Even if it had, her aversion to alcohol probably would have undermined any attempts to be cool. Her brother was never much of a role model for interacting with peers. Caleb would never have been cool in any universe.
There were a few people from high school Tessa wanted to reconnect with. Corey for one. They’d sat next to each other in math class, and once in a while, he had even pulled up a chair beside her in the lunchroom. Jana Lawrence had invited her to church one time, and Tessa had gone. It was a fire and brimstone type of church, and Tessa had gotten upset thinking about her mom burning in hell for the deadly sin of drunkenness. She had never gone back, but she’d appreciated the invitation. Then there were Mandi and Winnie, who had been all-state softball players. Only Elena Farris had caused more erections than those two. Unlike Elena, Mandi and Winnie were too busy with each other to satisfy any of their male admirers. Tessa had spent most of junior year resenting them both for always asking her to share her homework answers for Advanced Placement US History. She’d done it every single time they asked because they were the only two people in that class who talked to her. To her surprise, on the day of the AP exam, they gave her a $25 Starbucks gift card and a thank you note covered in gel pen doodles and words of gratitude about how she had saved them from failing the course. It didn’t mean they were ever friends, but it was a sweet gesture and she’d always remembered it.
A week before the reunion, Tessa still hadn’t decided whether she would go. The only person from Woodside she ever saw was Mason Hicks, and that was only when she went into his comics store to indulge her Hello Kitty fetish or pick up a birthday or Christmas gift for Caleb. When she thought about the reunion, she imagined how humiliating it would be to go from one person to another, saying things like ‘Tessa Williams--We had math together four years in a row’ or ‘Don’t you know who I am, Corey? You were the closest thing I had to a friend’. Heck, even the teachers hadn’t known who she was. She’d had a substitute English teacher for most of senior year while Mrs. Hellerstein was pregnant with triplets and ordered to stay in bed. The sub was some starry-eyed dope, fresh out of college, who thought he was going to change the world by sharing his Shakespeare obsession with a bunch of high school kids. He’d called her Terri all year. She wasn’t sure why, but it still bothered her when she thought about it.
Tessa knew her looks had changed a lot since high school. She had lightened her mousy hair and learned how to apply makeup and dress like a girl rather than a bag lady. It would make sense if no one recognized her. But if no one remembered her, that would sting like hell. She had just decided not to attend the reunion when something unexpected happened. A dozen red roses were delivered to her house with a note in a bright red envelope that read:
I promised not to contact you again, but I had to try one more time. I’ve never forgotten you. Do you still think about the things you used to write about? I do. I’ll stay away from the reunion and never bother you again if I don’t hear from you. Your mysterious stranger fantasy draws a fine line between secret admirer andcreepy stalker, and I want to be on the right side of it. You’re so much more than a crush to me. I really care about you and I have for a very long time.
This time Tessa didn’t hesitate. She added the number at the bottom of the note to her contacts, identifying it only with the initials ‘SA’ for Secret Admirer. She was getting a second chance. Life didn’t give many of those. She typed out a simple message.
It’s Tessa. Thank you for the flowers. When do you want to meet?
The answer came seconds later. Reunion?
She tapped out her response and hit send. I’ll be there.
Another response came almost immediately. Do you want to go as my date or do you want to do your fantasy?
Her heart beat faster. There was only one way she was going to answer that question.
You can back out of this at any time. If you change your mind. If you get scared. I promise to be safe.
Tessa stared at the screen, unable to believe this was actually happening. While she was still processing that thought, another message popped up.
Bring an overnight bag.
Tessa had a million thoughts racing through her brain. No reasonable person would ever agree to this. It would make so much more sense to find out his name and meet him for coffee if a Google search didn’t turn up anything disturbing. But she knew this was her one chance to live out the fantasy that had been with her for as long as she could remember. It was crazy to agree to an anonymous sexual encounter with a stranger. But then she remembered. Although she didn’t have a clue who he was, she was no stranger to him. He knew her better than anyone else in the world--at least the person she was ten years ago. He knew her hopes and fears and secret turn-ons. And she trusted him. As reckless as it was, she trusted him enough to let this fantasy play out exactly as she had written it all those years ago.
She tapped out one more message.
I can’t wait.
His response was so sweet it brought tears to her eyes.
I can. A few more days is nothing after more than ten years of longing for you.
Tessa spent the next few days fretting over what to wear. She went to half a dozen different stores and tried on scores of dresses, finally choosing a shimmery blue satin dress that showed off her curves without being too flashy. She agonized over her undergarments even more. Karl had always been so easy to please. Boy-cut panties and a cotton camisole were all it took to get his sweet, but unimaginative libido going. She wanted something a little more sophisticated for this lover. She settled on a white panty and bra set with a see-through lace pattern that made her hips look slim and her chest look like sculpted marble. For the price she paid, it had better make her look good. But whatever it cost, it was worth it. She felt self- conscious enough about this. She needed to feel confident about her appearance. The day before the reunion, she went to the hair salon to get her roots touched up. The day of the reunion, she went to the nail salon for a French manicure. She knew it wouldn’t last long since she always had her hands in the dirt, but it would last long enough for him to see it.
She also stepped outside her comfort zone and got a bikini wax. She vowed as she walked out of the salon that she would never get another one. From now on, lover would have to be content with the grooming and trimming she could do at home. She realized she was making a lot of assumptions about having an ongoing relationship with him. But he had said that she was more than a crush, and that he really cared about her. It crossed her mind that her secret admirer might be ugly as sin. But she would be wearing a blindfold at least during their first encounter, and if he delivered on fulfilling her fantasy, she knew she would fall in love with him, and that any face she saw when the blindfold came off would look handsome to her.
Saturday evening finally arrived. As she parked outside the building she had sworn never to return to, she took a deep breath and checked her hair and makeup one last time before going in. She left the overnight bag in the car, but she carried the red envelope with the note her lover had sent her inside her handbag. She wasn’t sure why she had brought it. Perhaps she needed the reassurance that he was there. Walking into the reunion would have been scary enough without the private encounter she had scheduled afterward.
She walked in and looked around the crowded gym for a friendly face, someone safe to talk to. Chris Waterman and Jana Lawrence were standing by the bleachers. They were always nice, even though all the Jesus talk got a little tiresome. They both recognized her immediately. “Tessa, you look gorgeous!” Jana said, giving her a warm hug.
“I would say hot,” Chris said.
“That doesn’t sound like something you would say,” Tessa said with a nervous little laugh.
“People change,” he told her with a wink. “How have you been?”
She gave them a brief summary of her college years and told them about her current job. “So you two are married now?”
“Yep,” Jana said, waving her diamond wedding band. “Since right after college.” “Are you still into the church scene?” Tessa asked.
“We’ve been going to a new place,” Jana told her. “A little more laid back. We’ve changed our minds about a few things.”
“I see,” Tessa said. Actually she didn’t see. Something had gotten into these two and she wasn’t quite sure what it was. Although she definitely liked the new Chris and Jana better. Jana was even showing off a little cleavage.
“So Tessa,” Chris said. “Jana and I were thinking about inviting a few people over after the reunion. The kids are with their grandparents all night so we won’t be disturbed. Are you interested in maybe hanging out later?”
“You really look amazing,” Jana added.
Tessa looked from one to the other trying to figure out what their agenda was. Were they inviting her to a three-way? Or an orgy? They’d said ‘a few people’.
“I actually have a...thing later. Unless--” Her hand brushed against the red envelope in her purse. Surely not. No. It wasn’t Chris. That was ridiculous. “I can’t make it,” she told them. “But I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
She gave an awkward little wave and almost backed into the refreshment table. She took a cup of punch, coaxing her hands to stop shaking so she wouldn’t spill it on her dress. She found a quiet corner where she could sip her drink and take in her surroundings. Corey Bergstrom came in with Elena Farris. Mason had told her those two were married. Corey looked different. He was bigger, broad-shouldered, more confident than he had been in high school. Elena looked pretty much the same. She was wearing pigtails like she always had in school. The rumor had been that she wore them so the football players would have something to hold onto while she was sucking their cocks. Elena had deflected any efforts to slut-shame her by proudly owning the title of ‘pigtailed cocksucker’.
Tessa smiled, seeing how happy Corey looked. He deserved it. She was so engrossed in watching Corey and Elena that she didn’t see the young man who appeared at her side until he spoke. “Hey, Terri! Nice to see you again.”
Great! The Shakespeare enthusiast, and he still didn’t know her name. “Hi, Mr. Boredom,” she muttered through clenched teeth.
“It’s Fordham,” he told her. “But that’s very clever. I remember you calling me that on my very first day of teaching. But you might as well call me Jared now.”
“Why the hell would I do that when I have the option of not talking to you at all?” He was the only teacher she’d ever been disrespectful to. She’d even been polite to the biology teacher who tried to make her dissect a pig fetus. It was out of character for her to be rude to anyone, but for some reason, the mere memory of this douchebag pissed her off.
He seemed unperturbed. “Hey, guess what? I teach here full-time now.”
“Good for you.” She tossed her empty cup into a nearby trash bin and walked away.
She wandered around the gym for a few minutes, and talked to a couple of other teachers, neither of whom seemed to have even a vague memory of her. She talked with Cedric Jackson, who obviously had no idea who she was, but was nice as could be. Then there was Derrick Hall, who had ridden a motorcycle to school every day and had always been in trouble with the principal. She’d actually liked Derrick because he’d been suspended for beating the fuck out of a couple of jocks who were picking on Mason. He’d also come into the florist shop one day to buy flowers for Mrs. Hellerstein while she was in the hospital. Tessa had helped him wrap them up so they wouldn’t get too crushed while he was on his motorcycle. Derrick was tattooed filthy and bulging muscles all over the place. He was accompanied by a woman who looked like a stripper, who hadn’t bothered to change out of her work clothes before coming to the reunion.
“Fuck yeah, I remember you!” Derrick said. “Weren’t you that chick who went all ape-shit in biology class when we had to do the dissections? That was hardcore! We had detention together.”
Tessa smiled. Of all the people here, it was this fellow misfit who remembered her the best. He was good-looking, if you liked them rough. If he hadn’t had the skank on his arm, she might have wondered if he had sent her the note. That would have been a bit scary. She nodded sympathetically while Derrick ranted about the brutality and corruption of the local police department and then excused herself and went back for more punch. She didn’t want it, but it gave her something to do with her hands.
Corey and Elena were also getting punch. Elena said hi and gave her a hug. At least she recognized her. This really wasn’t as bad as she was expecting. Maybe she hadn’t been as invisible as she thought. She felt a little shy with Corey, and he suddenly seemed awkward too. He gave her a hug that went on a little longer than she was expecting. Did he have a boner? She pulled back a little. No, of course not. She was imagining things. She extricated herself from him, and smoothed down her dress, feeling self-conscious, perhaps because he was looking at her so intently.
“How have you been?” he asked.
“Good. Really good,” she told him. She repeated the general script she had given Chris and Jana about the last ten years of her life and got similar updates from them.
Elena appeared to be scanning the crowd, looking for someone. “Hey Tessa, have you seen Brad Calicutt?” she asked. “We were supposed to meet him.”
Tessa remembered Brad. He used to hang out with Corey a lot.
“He has a beard now,” Elena said, grabbing Tessa’s arm and pulling her closer to show her a picture on her phone. “Doesn’t he look great?” She fanned herself with her hand, as Corey watched her with an amused expression.
Tessa politely agreed that Brad was nice-looking. “I hope you find him.”
Corey laughed. “I think he’ll turn up pretty soon. He was very much looking forward to being here.” His expression turned serious again. “I’m really happy to see you again, Tessa.”
“Likewise,” she said.
He buttoned up his blazer as he and Elena turned to go, and gave her another look over his shoulder before they disappeared into the crowd. Something about that encounter made her feel sad, longing for a missed opportunity. She wished she had spent time with Corey outside of school, rather than just talking in class and pretending she had a real friend. Corey probably would have ended up with Elena regardless. But Tessa treasured the memories of her relationship with Karl, and she understood that a relationship doesn’t have to last forever to be good and meaningful. It would have been nice if Karl had been her second boyfriend instead of her first. It would have been nice to be able to go to prom. If she could have gone with anyone, it would have been Corey.
Tessa’s feet hurt. She wasn’t used to wearing high heels. She found an empty table and sat down. She checked her phone. No message from SA. A sudden fear gripped her. What if it was a joke? What if someone here was watching her, laughing at her as she looked around nervously, wondering who the secret admirer was, and how and when he would make his move? Instinctively she reached for the red envelope in her bag. No. Whoever he was, he wasn’t like that. He hadn’t been creepy or gross or sent her a dick pic or asked her to send pictures of herself. He had offered to reveal his identity and come with her tonight as her date. She’d only been here for a few minutes. It was his reunion too, and he probably wanted to mingle and catch up with old friends before starting their date or whatever this was. She glanced up and locked eyes with Corey, who was standing a few feet away, talking with Mason and a couple of other guys. He looked away quickly, as if embarrassed that she had caught him looking at her.
A sudden realization dawned on her. It must have been him who found her diary all those years ago, him who sent her the flowers and the note last week. Who else could it possibly be? But Corey was married to Elena. Elena, who had systematically worked her way through the entire varsity football team. Elena, who at this very moment, was standing under the basketball goal embracing Corey’s bearded friend. It seemed perfectly logical that the two of them would have some kind of open marriage arrangement. Elena would have a hard settling down, and Corey was easy-going enough. He probably wouldn’t mind as long as things were fair, and he could get a little side action as well. Tessa felt buried under an avalanche of conflicting emotions. She wasn’t disappointed that it was Corey. But with him, all she could have would be a fling. A quick fuck, maybe the occasional hook-up, then back to his wife, who no doubt knew how to please him better than she ever could. It’s all right, Tessa, she told herself. Just lower your expectations. This can still be nice. It was a bit naive to expect this to turn into an actual relationship.
She was startled out of her musings by Mandi and Winnie, who saw her from a few feet away and came straight to her table to sit down. They were both gorgeous, like negative images of each other. Mandi had beautiful jet black hair that hung to her waist, and flawless dark skin and eyes she had inherited from her Pakistani father. Winnie’s platinum hair and pale skin revealed her Scandinavian background. The two had been best friends and rumored lovers in high school, and it looked like they were still as close as ever. They each gave Tessa a hug, and seemed genuinely glad to see her. They shared a loft apartment downtown. Mandi was a hairstylist and had a chair at the most exclusive salon in town. Winnie was a bartender, limping her way through college at the rate of one course per semester. “No debt, but I won’t graduate until I’m thirty,” she said. Tessa repeated the condensed narrative of her own life.
After a few minutes of chit-chat, Mandi and Winnie exchanged a look, and Winnie said, “Hey Tessa, we were planning a late night on the town. Would you like to join us? You can crash at our place if you get too wasted to drive. And if you’re not too wasted to drive, you can still crash at our place.”
Tessa looked from one to the other of them. Jeez. Was everybody just here to hook up? The thought that so many other people in this gym had their own secret dramas going on made
her smile. Maybe she was finally getting in sync with the class of ‘07. “I’m actually meeting someone after this. A blind date so to speak. But I hope you guys have fun.”
The two women exchanged a look of disappointment, but quickly sought to modify their plans. “The Watermans seemed to be looking for a good time,” Mandi murmured to Winnie. “Let’s keep them on the back burner,” Winnie mused. “How about Cedric Jackson?”
“Maybe,” Mandi said, eyeing him from across the room. He was extraordinarily handsome with his dark skin, perfect teeth and quick smile. He’d been a linebacker on the football team and appeared to be in as good of shape now as he was back then. His biceps were bulging out of the sleeves of his polo shirt. “Elena said he’s huge.”
“She would know,” Winnie said.
Tessa shifted in her seat, uncomfortable about being excluded from the conversation. She wondered what was up. She’d never heard of Mandi or Winnie showing any interest in a guy. Maybe the rumors weren’t true.
The other women seemed to realize that they were being rude. “Well, we should probably go network some more,” Mandi said, taking Winnie’s hand as they got up to leave. “It was awesome seeing you again, Tessa.”
“Yeah. Same here,” Tessa said.
Mandi and Winnie nearly slammed right into Corey as they got up to leave. He seemed oblivious to the looks of annoyance they gave him before they strode away. He was looking at Tessa like he wanted to say something. Well, there was no point in pretending anymore. Now that she knew the secret admirer was him, it would be stupid to do the blindfold thing. They might as well get it out in the open. “Is it you?” she asked, looking him straight in the eye.
He looked baffled. Legitimately baffled. “Is what me?”
She pulled the red envelope out of her purse and held it up. “Did you send me this?” She barely had time to note the look of confusion on his face before her phone chirped.
She snatched it up and read the message. Go out to your car. There’s a blindfold in the driver’s seat. Put it on. I’ll be there to get you in ten minutes.
“I have to go,” she told Corey, scrambling out of her seat and clutching her purse. She’d already taken several steps away before she realized how utterly awful it was of her to run away like that. She stopped in her tracks, thoughts racing through her head. Less than five minutes ago, she’d been convinced that Corey was the one who’d read her diary all those years ago. The one she would be with tonight. Because she would have taken what she could get. It wouldn’t have meant as much to him, but it would have meant something. She looked back at him and saw the longing in his eyes. It would have been so nice. Then. “It was nice seeing you again, Corey.”
She didn’t give him a chance to respond. Heart pounding, she raced to the parking lot as fast as she could move in her high heels. She got into her car and put on the blindfold, careful to adjust it so she couldn’t see a thing. She folded her hands in her lap, trying to steady her breathing. And she waited.