Streams of light broke through the surrounding evergreens, refracting through the delicately balanced morning dew on each branch. Each droplet illuminated the white apparition standing across the neatly adorned table from the man. As though rays of light were emanating from her body, being the source of light rather than its reflection, the form in front of him exuded brilliance, supernal beauty, and was such a heavenly creation as any he had ever personally witnessed or imagined. The man was overcome with such powerful emotions of joy and delight that they defied all his comprehension of such sensations. As light enables one to fully understand his natural surroundings, the visage in front of him had the opposite and equally tantalizing effect, obfuscating what should have been plain to his eyes. Such confusion added an air of mystique and yearning to comprehend more. As the being drew closer, he observed it definitely was a woman, having the outline so delicately described as feminine yet having an undeniable strength that exuded confidence and self-respect. Adorned in a modest dress of pure white, the man could not help but question who this superlative wonder could be. Unfortunately, and much to his displeasure and consternation, the woman's face was veiled and obscured from his sight, inciting more curiosity and desire to emotionally and optically perceive such a ravishing exemplar of womanhood.
While caught between the delight of consciousness over her illustrious beauty and the frustration of intellect over her indeterminate identity, the woman gently offered to him a neatly wrapped gift which further baffled the man’s already strained emotions and understanding. The wrapping around the shapeless offering matched that of the sheer drapes adorning the tent in which he resided, as though some union of the gift and their surroundings were obvious to even the trees around them but likewise perplexing to him. Though sheer in material, what lay underneath the covering was, like the veiled woman in front of him, as blind to his eyes as a black shape in a lightless room. He carefully reached out to receive the gift, noting the woman delicately bowing her head as if to acknowledge his receipt of such a treasure and her full acceptance of not a loss but a gain through the giving of the gift. He graciously accepted the proffered endowment, gently brushing the slightly pale and milky white fingers of the woman as he did so. The surge of energy as their fingers flirted and lingered together for a brief second rippled energy through his whole being, causing him to wonder just what sort of being could effect such a power over him. She withdrew her hand as he fully received the shapeless gift and backed up one pace as if taking in his reaction, his acceptance, and willingness to shoulder the burden of such a gift.
The gift seemed to change shape in the man's hands, making his ability to comprehend size, form, mass, and its inner contents impossible. Yet just as implausible as a morphing object in his hands seemed to his consciousness, the consistency of the matter was also apparent. As soon as he could comprehend the change, he observed just how uncompromising and perfect the gift truly was. He longingly asked the mysterious and incandescently radiant woman what was inside, hoping to gain additional insight as to the import of such a cherished treasure before deciding whether he should be accountable as its new caretaker. With just a slight movement around where her mouth should have been, his eyes detected the parting of such delicately full lips which began to form the words to her response. The merely subtle action to speak coupled with an intake of breath to answer his query sent electrifying shivers through his entire body, giving him hope that what he would now hear would have an eternal consequence. Just as the evergreens that surrounded the tent began to dance from the wind of an unforeseen coastal gail, the woman's words began to pour forth with an equal and opposite amount of calming force as she declared...
At that moment of discovery, of enlightenment, and personal revelation Jared always woke up. The light of his former surroundings were suddenly replaced by the mostly dark inner recesses of his flat overlooking the Puget Sound. The light of the now full moon glistening off of the Sound provided subtle illumination to his bedroom through the drawn curtains. Such dim light was a powerfully stark contrast to the overwhelming light which bathed the beauty from his dream. Where there was previously such a feeling of joy, utter happiness and inexplicable emotional bliss, he was now overcome with gloom, despair, and darkness in his current situation. He was 28, alone, and definitely lonely. Every time he dreamt of this beauty he was reminded of his own lowly state of being. It wasn't as though he hadn't tried or wasn't trying to obtain the object of his desire, true love and companionship. He was. Yet Jared had yet to find what he knew was reserved for him and he was beginning to doubt he ever would.
Chapter 1: Spencer’s Thursday Night Proposition
Spencer could tell by the feet dragging, the distant look in the eyes, the harrowed look of frustration and despair so common these recent months, that Jared had another “illumination dream.” Before Jared could even reach the door to his exterior office so nicely nestled in between the two senior vice-presidents, Spencer was at his side offering him the latest in morning pick-me-ups. While Spencer knew Jared didn’t drink coffee, finding the taste a bit disgusting to his picky palate, and also in direct opposition to his religious upbringing, Spencer relentlessly worked on Jared to bring him into the new millennium. Believing it would help his mind accelerate more quickly, provide him a more socially acceptable persona, and generally help detach him from an old way of life that he didn’t care to understand, Spencer vigorously pursued their daily caffeinated struggle hoping he would soon yield dividends.
“I’ve just the thing to take your mind off of that silly dream,” Spencer declared as he began to hand Jared the insulated cup he knew would not be accepted. “You did have it again, didn’t you?” It was more of a statement than a question ,but he felt obligated as Jared’s best friend to at least let him reflect on the latest incident.
Shrugging from a sense of hopelessness and redundancy, Jared simply nodded his irrefutable accession. Spencer had seen this look, Jared’s fumbling gait, time and time again through the last five years of their friendship and the frequency of each episode seemed to be increasing. Spencer was to the point of not really wanting to ask just what occurred in the dream, as he pretty much had it burned into his memory though he had never experienced it first hand himself. The trees, the light, the woman in the white dress across the table from Jared, and the gift. What it all meant was really none of his business, and quite frankly, he didn’t care to think about what it meant. All he knew was it kept Jared, his wingman, his best friend, from doing what Spencer loved most: having a good time and losing himself in the moment, free from the cares of the world. But as Jared’s best friend, he had a soft spot in his cold and carefree heart that seemed to always allow Jared that little moment to work through his thoughts.
“So do you want to tell me about it?” Spencer prodded, finally handing Jared the cup of Seattle’s finest brew. He knew the routine: Jared would take the cup, sniff it just to appease Spencer, say something about how the cost of the coffee wasn’t worth spending his hard-earned income, that Spencer needed it more than he did ,and hand it back.
“Smells delightful,” Jared stated after having sniffed the coffee now firmly in his hands. “But you really shouldn’t have spent so much on me. Why don’t you keep it; looks like you may need it more than me with our heavy schedule and deadlines to keep,” he declared, passing the cup back to Spencer and thereby completing the “dance of the coffee ritual” the two participated in each morning.
“I think I’ll pass on the details of the dream today,” Jared started, knowing Spencer only asked because he valued their friendship but wasn’t really interested in hearing about the “light dream” anymore.
“Well if you insist,” Spencer quickly countered, giving Jared a sly grin from the corner of his mouth to indicate that Spencer had just won this round of overly polite morning banter and gestures of insincere sincerity. “I do have a proposition to make and you’ve got to promise you won’t say no,” he began as Jared was just turning his back on him to enter his less-than-modest office.
Spencer and Jared worked together since both graduating from college and being picked up by GlowTEK, the largest west coast firm in energy technology. Spencer was a successful sales rep, having just enough technical know-how to overcommit on product and projects in order to close the sale. Jared was the architect of the technology now being sold modestly in every continental state’s energy department and to private businesses at a not-so-modest rate. The two were an unstoppable team of sales and delivery, and while one pushed the other to deliver what was previously unthinkable, they were able to innovate together and bring to life new creations. Together they catapulted a technology firm beyond its limited success and dropped it squarely at the feet of wealth and prosperity.
Just as their professional relationship was built on Spencer’s ability to over-promise, their personal lives differed little when it came to finding fun. Spencer knew full well that Jared’s eyes were rolling at the thought of another scheme to get him out and about with the ladies of the office. Spencer was relentless and always had some plan that was foolproof, a surefire way to help Jared have a little more untethered excitement in his otherwise stagnant and obviously boring life. Spencer had been dreaming up avenues of adventure and excitement as long as Jared had known him. And for the most part Spencer delivered on his adventurous promises, even if it meant having someone bail him out of a jail in Bali (a simple misunderstanding that was eventually cleared up through an interpreter and a goat). The hope of something more than promised was what always left Jared regretting his participation in the schemes: there was never any lasting happiness but only fleeting pleasure, and Spencer knew this all too well.
“Just hear me out, J!” Spencer responded to the doubt Jared never audibly expressed. “The plan is simple. It’s Thursday night, the M’s are playing and I’ve got the company suite reserved for us and 10 of our closest lady friends, including the redhead from accounting that has been eyeing you since the company Christmas party.”
“You mean Stacey?” Jared retorted, still not turning to face Spencer but continuing on into his office through his normal morning path towards the west -facing window. “She’s not eyeing me, Spence. She’s staring at my left eye because you told her it was fake, a childhood dart accident during a junior international dart competition in Vegas. I’m not sure which she believed more, the contest or the fake eye,but either way she’s not stopped looking deeply into my eye since.”
Spencer gave a chuckle and replied, “You can thank me later when she gets even closer in the suite to take another look.”
“Sounds, uh, great, Spence, except for one thing. I already have plans for tonight.” Jared let the declaration hang in the air as he continued to peer out through the glass, taking in the sight of the morning commuters making their way into the city across the Sound from Bainbridge Island, the charter boats moored to the piers getting ready for a slow business day and the distant Olympic Mountains now bathed in a soft pink and orange glow as the sunrise kissed their still snow-topped jagged peaks. He could feel Spencer seething behind him, and in a sick way he kind of relished the thought of foiling yet another scheme.
“So what am I supposed to tell Stacey and the other girls? Who am I supposed to take? You know there isn’t another wingman half as capable as you, especially at an M’s game. The others don’t know the romance of the game like you; they’re all stats and figures and it just bores the ladies.” Jared once shared the story of how the M’s former star pitcher Randy Johnson spent half his monthly earnings during the summer supporting a family who lost their little league slugger to leukemia; the effect on the girls melted them so quickly they were putty in Spencer’s greedy hands. Spencer paused his whining long enough to realize Jared had now turned to face him, a grin appearing slightly from the side of his mouth as if to tell Spencer that he’d just have to suffer on without him. “Besides, what plans do you have that you can’t break for your old pal, your best friend . . . and all those lovely girls who are expecting you to be there?”
“Expecting me?” Jared inquired. “You already told them I’d be there?” he asked incredulously.
“Well, I didn’t exactly name you as the other guy that’s coming, but . . . ”
“Great,” Jared interrupted. “What they don’t know won’t hurt them. Just ask Roger in audit to fill in. He’s great with the ladies, or so he says.”
“Are you kidding me?” Spencer asked rhetorically. “Roger can’t tie his own shoes without his mother’s help, who by the way he still lives with. Are you trying to sabotage my plans?”
They’d been through this song and dance a hundred times, especially after Jared had one of his “light dreams.” Spencer knew not to push Jared too hard as he’d seen him tumble into a depression over his inability to “find the one,” and he’d just rather not see that happen again.
“And don’t think I didn’t notice that you didn’t answer the question about your plans,” Spencer reminded Jared. “Lemme guess. Lisa called this morning?”
With a smile now fully plastered to Jared’s face, almost in a gloating attitude that Spencer found oddly amusing, Jared nodded in the affirmative. Spencer knew he had lost the battle of the plans and was quickly calculating his escape route before his pride received any further concussive damages.
“Well, it would have been an epic date. I’m sure Mark the finance guy or even Jose the morning janitor would appreciate an opportunity with these fine ladies tonight. Good luck with Lisa and let me know how that works out for you. Don’t spare any details!” Spencer begged as he walked out of the office, depositing the cooling coffee in the waste receptacle near the office entrance.
Chapter 2: Lisa’s Date with Jared
To count how many times Jared had met Lisa for dinner at Giovanni’s would be about as useful as counting the number of grains of rice in a jar, to say it was a lot would be an understatement. While they both attended the University of Washington, they found the normal social scenes on and directly off campus to be far too overwhelming, providing little chance of intimate encounters as someone they knew always seemed to spoil a perfect evening. But nestled just outside the radius of the college experience was their favorite and fairly inexpensive Italian grill,Giovanni's, on the north side of Lake Union. It was a typical Italian joint, memorabilia of Italian immigrants plastered along the walls, pictures of vineyards from Tuscany hanging randomly through the dining areas, flat panel display broadcasting the latest sporting event that coincided with the current season. And like many other Italian grills, the patrons were loud and the place was packed. But Giovanni's provided a unique draw for Jared and Lisa. Inscribed on the bench at the back of the bistro was a key-etched promise of their undying love for one another, a “J” and an “L” placed back to back inside an encompassing heart. It sounded cheesy to anyone Jared explained it to, but the sentiment kept them coming back to this place, and the staff, knowing them by face, would always seat them at this booth.
As a successful Human Resource director for a biotech firm on the East side tech corridor, Lisa spent little time downtown or near its surrounding boroughs. She had a little place just off of Lake Washington near Kirkland that afforded her a getaway from the stress of work, leaving complaints of inequality, career abuse, and misconduct behind for the serenity of lapping waters along the shoreline on her favorite daily walk. She rose up from the ranks of HR interns quickly to a director position by being in the right departments and having a few timely retirements from her senior managers. It didn’t hurt that she was beautiful, stunningly so, with confidence that matched her beauty which she strategically used to her advantage. How ironic it was, she often thought, that physical attributes helped position her above her peers, contrary to the policies she advocated in the workplace, yet her current income and lifestyle dared not complain. There definitely was a gap in her life, despite the career success she was experiencing and the home she was building.
When she wasn’t consumed with work, Lisa was obsessing over Jared and how to finally get him to pop the big question she’d been dying to hear since their college days. They met her junior year while she was taking a science elective and Jared was the TA. He was a natural in the science discipline and had often thought of changing his career to teaching but instead followed the money. Besides, being a TA afforded him the luxury of meeting and working with helpless and needy college girls while getting a few bucks to do so. Not a bad gig. Lisa saw right through his ploy and at first deflected his charming attempts to win her over. But by the semester’s end, she was trapped by his wit, his rugged good looks and the potential she saw in him. That was seven years ago and the potential she saw back then was now questionable.
Career-wise Jared had met his full potential and was exceeding her expectations, amassing more wealth in the five years since graduation than she’d possibly dreamed he could. But their relationship seemed strained, progressing slowly and certainly not yet reaching the state of matrimonial bliss she had dreamed they’d share. Would Jared finally commit to her, taking the next step forward in their relationship? Could tonight be the night? She’d pressed him on the matter several times over the last three years, helping him to understand that they either needed to move forward or break it off. He obliged and they’d broken things off a couple of times, but only for short periods as neither could suffer too long without the other. And so it was, an on-again off-again relationship that spanned a better part of their 20’s, putting such an emotional strain upon Lisa that she was near her breaking point.
Walking through the front door of what could be the greatest night of her life, Lisa scanned the restaurant looking for her beau and any sign of his planning and prep work. No balloons, no family members, no one looking too suspicious as though they’d be participating in an engagement flashmob or lip dub. A dip in her inner turmoil over reality versus desire coincided with the closing of the door behind her. Jared was a black box, an enigma which couldn’t be read without some sort of key to decrypting his tone, words, and emotions. Yet his cryptic personality left her longing to fathom him on a deeper level with every particle of energy left to her disposal.
The hostess recognized Lisa as she walked up to the front, led her back to their table without a word. Just as Lisa had anticipated, a bouquet of mixed colored roses were carefully set on the window side of their back corner booth. Jared always made sure a fresh set graced the table. It was usually a 50/50 chance Jared would show up early enough to be seated together which was odd considering the location was closer to his place than hers. But Lisa didn't mind the solitude on half of the occasions as it gave her a few peaceful yet anxious moments to consider the meaning of the bouquet, their journey to this moment together, and how much longer it would take for Jared to finally pop the question. Tonight her level of excitement seemed to be building, and she just couldn't put her finger on what was generating her quickened pulse. Nothing was tipping his hand as to why on their five-year anniversary he would invite her back to their favorite restaurant where everyone knew them and where they had shared more personal details about their separate lives, talked more about where their lives were heading and how they were merging. The anticipation of what was to come was so unmistakable it caused goose bumps from her toes, through her entire body, to the top of her head.
In the moment of anticipatory exultation, Jared popped his head around the corner, coming out from the kitchen where he would sometimes visit with the cooks, requesting special menu items reserved only for these two. In true Jared fashion, his face left little to discern his plot other than the upward angled tips of his lips at the corner of his mouth. For all his supernatural abilities to hide the most elaborate or simplest of concepts and plans, he had a tell that Lisa knew just as assuredly as she knew the few freckles on her own face. The fact that he was displaying his tell to her meant he only wished to further tease her, goad her on and build the excitement and preconception of a wonderful evening. Though she understood his devious plan to play with her heartstrings and for all her restraint and good intentions to not fall prey to his villainous ploy, her heart leapt within her, causing a stirring motion to swell in her heart and permeate her entire being.
Unlike Jared's ability to hide his inner emotions and reveal only what he wanted her to see, Lisa was as opaque as the cleanest Nordstrom's window during their peak holiday season, beckoning little children to get lost in a wintery fantasy of toys and goodies. She had no super powers capable of eluding her captors, no mask wherewith to conceal the true identity of her fragile emotions, and certainly no strength to quell the exuberance now flowing through her entire soul. She was a model of transparency and she almost felt ashamed by it. She fought with all her strength to sit still at the table, willing her feet to stay glued to the floor they'd nervously tapped for five long years. Did he know how utterly frail she felt during these moments, and was he so sick as to delight in her discomfort?
Just as the pressure welling up inside her 5'5" slender frame was about to burst, Jared broke down first, wiping his tell from the corners of his mouth and pulling from his back pocket a neatly wrapped present about the size of a ring box. Lisa nearly fainted at what she knew was inside the box. A sudden hush descended upon the back of the restaurant, and from her peripheral vision she could see the heads of chatty patrons turn in their direction to spy on the proceedings, which added all the more to her moment of pleasure. At the mental and emotional prospect of what would be coming next her face beamed with sheer delight. Her lips, normally thin by nature, were now becoming more full in anticipation of such simple but everlasting words she would proclaim the rest of her life: “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Now was to be the best moment of her life to that point, the pinnacle of five years of waiting, prodding, expecting.
No sooner had the present come into plain view as it slipped back out of view underneath his manly hands. Had she just imagined the whole thing? Was the package really the size she estimated it to be? Had the restaurant truly paused, sucking all of the air from the room in anticipation of an engagement proposal to come? Was she just imagining the grin of delight she longed to see upon his face just moments before he proposed to his one true love, the one that would forever make him happy? Or was she just imagining what she desired most from him at this moment?
Jared began his walk over to her, and as he neared the table the object concealed by his hands began to take its true form in her mind. What looked previously like a wrapped ring box was nothing more than an ornate napkin, folded into a box with a ribbon tied around it. The restaurant staff had formed the napkin in such a way as to create a box -like shape. They tied some birthday balloon ribbon around it to make it look pretty, and it was now obvious to Lisa that Jared had just received it from the back room. Her heart sank as the elusive and passionate hope of a better life and relationship gave way to reality. As though someone had pulled thick curtains across full-length windows which normally illuminate an otherwise dark room, the sorrow of the moment snuffed out any excitement and pleasure which previously enraptured Lisa’s being.
With a stiff upper lip and an attempt to keep her emotions in check, she embraced the love of her life as he offered her such a trite gift here on their anniversary. “For you, my love,” he gently greeted her and returned her embrace with a simple kiss on her still slightly swollen, trembling lips.
The ability to perceive change and environment was a specialty of Jared’s,and Lisa feared that he would immediately detect the coldness sweeping over her body and especially her thinning lips. But to her astonishment he continued on, not indicating the barometric change around her, as though his supernatural abilities had been stymied by her now growing fury like kryptonite's effect on Superman. “If Jared thinks a napkin is going to suffice on a night like tonight, he’d better be as impervious and just as fast as the Man of Steel in his retreat,” she mused silently to herself as Jared extended his hand to help her sit at the bench.
Just as easily as the excitement and passion had descended upon her as her eyes and subconscious played a cruel, laughless joke, Lisa’s temper flared so quickly and burned so intensely that had it been ordnance in a pyrotechnical arena, a charred area the size of Rhode Island may have been an understatement. Her stiff posture should have been a clear indication of the coming explosion that was building behind her reddening eyes. How Jared could have possibly missed the cues, the signs, her absolute transparency of emotion was even more infuriating to her. But through the whole five seconds it took for Jared to likewise sit down, he missed the entire assault on his superhuman senses, which infuriated Lisa all the more.