Ferris Wheel Love
Rachel sat on the park bench, continuing to sort through multiple
scenarios for when Conrad would join her. A paper bag with
two cups of coffee rested beside her. Despite what she’d
repeated countless times, she felt the tug of desire she hoped
would disappear before he touched her. She would rise and
offer her cheek for a platonic kiss, not able to trust herself if
she let his lips press against her mouth. It was hopeless to
pretend the temptation didn’t exist, but she possessed an
emotional buffer she hadn’t at twenty-seven.
At two o’clock in the afternoon they were past lunchtime
crowds that escaped office buildings for welcomed autumn air, yet
before schools adjourned to release swarms of children and watchful
guardians. The park boasted a sparse population of joggers
and strollers, most benches empty as scattered lengths of white
clouds broke a deep blue sky. Sunlight enhanced the spectrum
of gold through russet leaves, especially those reflected in a
large pond where ducks and other water fowl lingered, knowing bread
crust wielding visitors would arrive before long.
Rachel loved pre-Halloween autumn before the season’s cycle
stripped vibrantly colored leaves away, when chimney smoke curled
in early morning and evening; sweater weather when overcoats
weren’t yet required, but summer heat and humidity had
dissipated. Was it ironic that she’d met Conrad in
another October, in another city, in another life? And now
here she was, they were, an unplanned coming together
unintentionally set into motion by her husband.
“I know we weren’t expecting to move this soon, but
Rachel, it’s a great chance for me and your company has an
office there. It will be a bigger raise than we were counting
on and we could go ahead and buy a house if you’d
like.” Matt had tried to balance his eagerness with his
news with sensitivity to the suddenness of his announcement.
“I don’t know if we have anything open,”
she’d responded faintly. That sounded better than
saying, “It would be practically impossible to not run into
my former lover on a regular basis and I don’t know how well
I’m going to handle that.”
Knoxville! My God, what a crazy coincidence!
Matt’s boss wasn’t supposed to be in the running for
Knoxville, but once the promotion was announced, it was hardly a
surprise that he wanted Matt to come along. Knoxville, where
Conrad Shelton’s SYNTEN company was headquartered; Systems
and Networking of Tennessee, Affordable Information
Technology Solutions You Can’t Afford to Miss. That
had been part of her team’s pitch when he wanted to expand
his regional roots west of the Mississippi. Her company, in
turn, had opened a Knoxville office eighteen months prior in the
same building as SYNTEN.
Oh sure, when she’d heard about the Knoxville office,
she’d briefly envisioned going for a visit, meeting Conrad
for old times sake; the fantasy alternating between them whirled
into familiar passion – a hotel room, his office? – and
a low key drink, dinner, maybe where she would politely, firmly
resist his declaration of having made a mistake in not leaving his
wife. The unacceptable ugly scene of throwing herself into
his arms pleading for his love had been mentally shoved back deeply
into her memory; doing that once in her life was more than
Had she, somehow, in even imagining the scenes tempted Fate too
much so that the drama became inevitable? A moment for
potential amusement to gods who one would think would be tired of
such clichés? Older, successful, married businessman
on travel, high energy younger woman with instant attraction
– my God, what an often-repeated story!
A woman in her late twenties whizzed past on roller blades, her
body clad in a dark green, shiny bodysuit.
Rachel took a coffee from the bag, leaving the lid on, and sipped
gingerly from the opening. Dark green, not quite the shade of
Conrad’s eyes, his were more a Mexican jade color, but with
sprinkles of amber that you didn’t register at first.
You only knew there was something different, but you’d
already felt that with the introduction. At six foot even, he
had the look, the bearing, the modulated voice of a man to whom the
word indecisiveness would be unknown.
“My being here has nothing to do with getting your account,
you know,” she said that evening when they’d met for a
drink that had been hastily downed in their hurry to adjourn to his
room. It had been the presence of a couple with a small child
in the elevator that restrained them from heated embrace on the way
to his fifteenth floor suite. Rachel didn’t even try to
explain she’d never been affected in such a way; she
couldn’t catch her breath enough to form long sentences.
He’d gently brushed hair from her glistening forehead.
“I know. Will you believe me if I tell you I usually
treat a lady to dinner first? I can’t get over how much
I wanted you from the minute I shook your hand and smelled your
perfume. I normally have more willpower, but it was all I
could do to listen to your presentation. Thank God I would
have given you the account based on quality. I would have
hated to make a bad business decision because you’re so hot
all I could think about was trying to get you alone.”
She’d shifted in the king size bed, crisp sheets crumpled
with their mingled sweat. “I suppose this is what they
mean by sexual chemistry.”
“It’s more like the explosion my lab partner and I once
caused,” he said and grinned that captivating smile that
created flutters in her stomach. “But if you’ll
pardon the reversed sequence, could I take you to dinner
She’s smiled back and nipped his shoulder. “Only
if you make it room service.”
Fourteen months later, their parting had been equally passionate
and infinitely messier. Of course she knew he wouldn’t
divorce his wife; it had been for the sex, the fun, the excitement
she’d avoided with other offers from married men. She
knew better, had watched friends make the mistake, was smarter than
to be caught in that torrid trap. But no, he’d been the
exception, the rule she should never have broken, the inexorable
slide from carefree understanding to bourbon-induced
She hadn’t given him an ultimatum precisely, merely come to
the recognition that she couldn’t continue, couldn’t
celebrate her thirtieth birthday as the mistress of a man who,
despite affection for her, was not about to upend his life.
She’d stepped momentarily onto the, “but if
you’re not happy in your marriage…” path and
it had frightened her into action. Their final night together
was more controlled, a bittersweet agreement that it had been fun
while it lasted.
Conrad delegated future trips to Dallas to one of his assistants
and Rachel reluctantly attended a party her friend insisted she
The party had been unremarkable and when her friend dragged Matt
over, it hadn’t occurred to Rachel that his quiet hello would
transform into soothing relief from the intensity of her affair
with Conrad. His average height, slender frame and
Mediterranean lineage dark coloring couldn’t have been less
like Conrad and his slightly shy suggestion that she accompany him
to an art exhibit she expressed interest in was sweet, if not
enthralling. A part of her was drawn to his calm
compatibility and she allowed that part a larger vote when their
friendship progressed to marriage. She’d wrapped
herself in his undemanding affection and regained her emotional
strength. And now? Now what?
Rachel almost dropped the cup when a pigeon landed on the back of
the bench, no doubt hoping for something other than coffee in the
bag. She shooed him with a flap of her hand and saw
Conrad’s unmistakable saunter as he came into view.
He’d sounded truly glad to hear from her and offered lunch as
a welcome, but expressed no surprise at her preference for
conversation in the nearby park.
She breathed deeply, watching him approach. No office casual
for him; a double breasted dark taupe suit fitted perfectly across
his shoulders, a butter cream shirt with the hint of yellow and a
tie of muted golds and browns.
“You look terrific,” he said when she stood, her cheek
proffered according to plan.
“Thanks, I brought you a coffee. Black, one packet of
sweetner.” Damn, how easily the words popped out!
“You remembered.” He sat comfortably, not
crowding her, his sandy hair still worn short, silver hair blended
too well to show. The fine lines of his face had not deepened
and admiration in his eyes was not faked.
Rachel had changed her clothes four times that morning, grateful
Matt left for the office early so she didn’t have to explain
her consternation. She’d finally decided on a burgundy
mid-calf length knitted dress with a navy blue lightweight flannel
blazer, a navy and burgundy paisley accent scarf, navy belt and low
pumps to pull the ensemble together. Her black hair was cut
shorter than when they’d been together, a slightly sculpted
look that framed her face.
“I’m glad you could break away.” She took
another sip of coffee, not sure who should begin.
Conrad asked innocuous questions about the move and spoke of his
latest business venture, whether to give her time, or him, she
couldn’t tell. Their harmless dialogue lasted through
the coffee. He tossed a tiny amount of liquid to the faint
breeze and crushed the empty cup in his broad hand. His left
hand with a wide wedding band.
“Do you want me to start?” His eyes smiled,
although not in a mocking way.
Rachel took his cup, twisted and pushed everything through the
swinging flap of the metal trashcan to her right. She nodded,
aware that she had nothing to occupy her hands. She
interlaced her fingers, held them in her lap and set her face in
what she hoped was a composed expression.
“I admit you took me by surprise, although I had sometimes
wondered if you might not come to town on a trip.”
“I thought it would be best not to.” Her voice
was steadier than she expected. God, he looked
delicious! She tightened her fingers.
“I’m sorry things ended the way they did if I never
told you that. Matt sounds like a nice guy.” He
propped one arm along the back of the bench, his fingers resting
“He is, and like I said on the telephone, this move was
because of him, not me.”
Conrad cleared his throat. “Yes. Well, if you
remember, I told you a long time ago that traveling is one thing;
how I behave in my home town is something else.”
Rachel tilted her head to the right, but he held his hand up before
she could speak. “The truth of the matter though is
that you were always different, more than just an out-of-town
pleasure. I understood why you did what you did, but now that
you’re married and here, well, it’s a large enough city
where two discrete people could be together.”
Shit! The proposition she’d dreamed of and dreaded, an
easy lob dropped into her court. He waited, his body angled
to where she could snuggle against him, lift her mouth….
She inhaled deeply. “If I said I was incredibly
tempted, would you take it the right way?”
“The right way being thanks, but no thanks? Somehow I
was getting the impression that your marriage might not be as
thrilling as you might like.”
Rachel paused, chagrined that an immediate denial hadn’t
spurted out. She pulled herself straighter and let
Conrad’s sense of presence wash over her. Choices
hovered inside, little angel, little devil, whispering conflicting
instructions, neither comprehending what she felt.
“It isn’t that simple. Matt is a good man, a
decent man who loves me. I respect him.”
Conrad edged closer, his voice low. “That part I have
no problem with. I’m serious about you being the
exception for me and I’m not making the offer just for the
hell of it. You know we’re good together. You
can’t tell me you haven’t missed that.”
Rachel struggled not to close her eyes to relish the ghost
sensation of him, of them. She allowed visions of snatched
hours in hotel rooms instead, guarded arrangements and excuses she
would make. The first lie might be difficult or it might be
much too easy considering how trusting Matt was likely to be.
What was she more afraid of – engaging in constant deceit or
discovering she might adapt to it with little problem?
She shook her head slowly. “Of course I missed it, but
as they say, ‘that was then and this is now’.
Shit, Conrad it’s like a roller coaster and a Ferris
He pulled back imperceptibly, a crease between his eyes.
She unlaced her hands, moved them into a pyramid and tapped her
fingertips soundless. “Like at a theme park or a
fair. You’re the high tech roller coaster, speed along,
turn you upside down, make you scream and when it’s over,
you’re ready to go again.” She cut her eyes away
for an instant, took another deep breath and searched his
face. “Matt is the Ferris wheel, a nice tall one where
you get a great view and a slow ride with just that little bit of a
jolt when you come over the top and start down. You have time
to enjoy the scenery and there’s nothing out of control about
“If I were laying odds, I’d put you as the roller
Rachel smiled, her desire beginning to cool as she thought of her
analogy. Funny that it hadn’t come to her before.
She’d been too caught up in how things had been and
temporarily forgotten the price she’d paid; forgotten why
Matt had been a refuge for her.
“I was, and if I’m being truthful, that’s why
we’re having this conversation in a park with coffee.
I’m not sure I’d make the same choice with two or three
bourbons in me.”
Conrad laughed, his face relaxed. He reached out and traced
her jaw with his index finger before he withdrew his hand.
“Ah Rachel, it’s good to see you and if this is what
you want, I’m okay with it. I’ll leave the offer
open and maybe we’ll have lunch occasionally.”
“Sure.” The lie was a civilized out for them
both. It made seeing each other in the lobby or in an
elevator manageable, a How are you – great –
we’ll do lunch soon. An acknowledgement without
Conrad stood and held out his hand. “Walk with me back
to the building?”
Rachel rose and lifted her head up to meet his eyes.
“I’m going to wait a few minutes if you don’t
mind.” She went on tiptoes to kiss his cheek, a soft
peck closer to his chin than lips.
He turned with a half smile and walked away, no hesitation in his
step. Of course there wouldn’t be.
Rachel felt a wetness and groped a tissue from her purse to dab the
corner of her eyes and blow her nose. A pair of ducks
splashed gracefully into the pond, ripples spreading out and then
fading until the water was mirror-like calm again. She
focused on them and relaxed a breath she didn’t realize
she’d been holding.
Her cell phone rang and she drew it out of a special compartment in
her purse. It was one of the newer models, no larger than her
“Hi, they told me you were out for a late lunch,” Matt
“An errand to run actually. What’s
“Look, I’ve got to work a little later tonight and I
didn’t know what we had planned for dinner. I
don’t think I’ll be too long, but I wanted to let you
“No problem, I can always stop for carryout and we’ll
just have it when you get home.”
He said something she couldn’t hear as if someone else was in
the room. “Sorry about that. Hey, I have a better
idea. I don’t think I’ll be much after
seven. If you’ve got things to do, why don’t you
stay late, I’ll pick you up and we’ll have dinner at
the Sky View? They re-opened over the weekend and it
shouldn’t be crowded on a Wednesday. You can leave your
car and I’ll drop you at the office tomorrow.”
“I like the idea, give me a call when you’re
ready. Talk to you then.”
Rachel snapped the telephone shut and walked leisurely from the
park. A red leaf broke loose from a low hanging branch and
spiraled to her feet. The Sky View was a penthouse restaurant
that had been closed for major renovations and the newspaper food
columnist said the wait had been worthwhile.
What a great suggestion. She was in the mood for soft
lighting and being pampered a bit. If it wasn’t crowded
they could sit next to window to look out on the skyline and river
below. It was sort of like being on a Ferris wheel.