Natalie walked into the station locker room and locked her bag in her locker. She turned around and leaned against the lockers with a sigh. Her boss said the homicide case was going to be high profile and this was her big chance but after agreeing to be in a wedding that she didn’t even want to happen, she had to question the chief’s timing. She shook herself off and did a couple of quick stretches before walking to the meeting room down the hall. As she walked to the meeting room, she could see one person standing, pacing the floor, and another sitting—one being a man and the latter being the chief. As she walked up to the room the chief stood up to introduce her.
“Chief,” she replied with a short nod.
“Detective Allen, this is Jared Matthews, the brother and brother-in-law of the victims. Mr. Matthews, detective Allen will be the lead in handling your family’s case.”
Natalie turned her gaze to the man who had stopped pacing but stood facing the wall. “Mr. Matthews—“
“How could someone do this?” Jared turned around quickly on his heels, rage filling his voice and his eyes gleaming wildly, not focusing on anyone.
Natalie, slightly startled at the outburst, cleared her throat before speaking. “We have no motive yet but photo evidence collected from a nearby stoplight camera shows that the accident wasn’t a hit-and-run but was instead premeditated.”
“Can I see the photos?” His voice had turned hoarse.
Natalie glanced at the chief, getting the go-ahead, before producing a manila folder containing the evidence. She spread out each photo in order based on the time stamp in which the photos were taken. “In addition to photo evidence, we were able to obtain the black box from your brother’s car. Luckily it was not damaged.”
Jared scanned the photos before slamming his fist on the table and walking out quickly. The photos blew off the table as the door slammed behind him with a gust of wind. Natalie bent down to pick up the photos before the chief shook his head, “Go after him.”
Outside the station, Jared stood with his hands gripped on the guardrail, looking into the darkness of the night and silently cursing to himself. Natalie stepped outside and quietly shut the station door behind her. She stood behind Jared for a minute or two before finally speaking.
“Mr. Matthews, I’m really sor—I promise I will do my best on this. We have the best team in place to handle—”
Jared put his hands on both sides of his hands before whirling around to face Natalie.
“What’s the point when he’s already dead?!” The seam that held Jared together finally broke. Natalie put a protective hand on her arm and looked away. Jared’s face softened after seeing her reaction. “Detective, I…I apologize for my rude outburst. It’s just…” He balled his fists and trailed off, losing the steam he had quickly gained.
Natalie finally took a long look at the man before her. He was dressed in a white dress shirt and black slacks, thick black hair slicked back, and green eyes that once held a fiery spark. She realized that this man was the one on the cover of all the major national magazines: Business Savvy, Gentleman Magazine, and even Tech Insider, but there was more. He felt like someone she had seen or at least once knew; this whole time, she felt a nagging feeling that she knew him beyond the man in all the magazines. It would be random in a situation like this but she had to ask.
“Did you live in the large mansion outside of town, in the hills, next to a farm house style two-story?”
He looked up at her, a questioning gaze in the eyes that scanned her face. “Butthead?”
There was a small silence before Natalie smiled, “Snot-face?”
They both chuckled.
“I didn’t know you were him—the guy I saw in all the magazine articles and stuff.” Natalie crossed her arms over her chest and relaxed her stance.
Jared shook his head, “When you and your family moved away, we were bummed. You and Drew were the only kids who would hang out with us.”
They both smiled at each other before silence broke the conversation.
“I…know this is a bad time, but do you want to grab a cup of coffee,” Natalie asked.
Jared glanced at the watch on his wrist. It was already thirty-past ten but he really didn’t want to go home feeling the crappy way he did. “That would be great.”
At the diner, the two of them sat on both sides of a booth by a large floor-to-ceiling window looking out into the parking lot. They faced each other with a piping cup of hot coffee, steam tendrils filling the space between them.
Jared chuckled slightly before looking up at her, “Let’s catch up first, I suppose, to make this less awkward.”
She looked around before blurting out, “How are you…” that too dropping off into the silent air. That was a stupid question, she thought to herself.
He chuckled again before replying, “Not good, but I’m glad that you’re on the case. I…wish we were able to keep in touch. I know Greg would have loved to see you before—”Jared stopped right before saying the words that hung like an elephant in the room, suffocating the two of them.
She wanted to apologize, for not being there, for not keeping in touch, and even for having to be the one to bring all the bad news.
She began to fidget with a napkin on the table before clearing her throat again. “It is good that…” She didn’t know what to say or where she was going with that and how to make the whole interaction less awkward. It felt like everything was closing in on her.
Jared quickly changed the subject. “Do you remember when we used to play those games in the woods behind our houses?”
Natalie couldn’t help but crack a smile after remembering all those time, “I do.”
When Natalie was ten, her family lived in a beautiful house outside the city. The neighboring house included two boys that she and her brother would play with. One boy, the taller of the two, had blue eyes like the ocean; the other boy, much shorter than the first, had green eyes the color of a lush green jungle, always wild with excitement. They would go on adventures together in the woods that lied behind their houses. Games such as Tarzan and Jane, pirates and natives, and Indiana Jones were games that they often played and each of the three boys would alternate between the good guys and the bad guys leaving her to always be the unwilling love interest. Natalie always wanted to be a part of the guys—it was no fun playing the damsel in distress. Every night, she and her brother, Drew, would be scolded for getting their clothes dirty with mud and dirt; they would have to wash their hair every night to get all the leaves and twigs out. When Natalie’s mother divorced her father, they moved from that beautiful house in the country full of adventure and moved into the suburbs surrounding the city where Natalie would never see those boys again—at least she thought. As she looked at Jared, those green eyes looked almost the same after so many years.
She finally sat back in her seat with a genuine smile, glad that the tension in the air had lifted ever so slightly.
“Is there a Mrs. Jared Matthews? I’m sure I would’ve seen it in the magazines but I haven’t looked in one in a while”.”
“I’m…dating someone, I guess, but no, no Mrs.”
“I think I saw that. She’s an actress, right?”
He nodded his head. “What about you?”
Natalie sat quietly, before shaking her head. “Nope, none of that—unless you count work because then it’s a full-time relationship.”
They both couldn’t help but laugh at that, both understanding the life of a work-o-holic.
“Then you have no children?”
“I do now, my brother’s daughter, Emily.”
“Oh,” her voice trailed off. She didn’t mean to go back to that subject.
Jared quickly laughed. “I don’t know how great of a father I’ll be but I guess I can learn.”
“I don’t know. You were always the naïve one who got tricked the most.”
His eyes turned wide before they began to gleam again. “Hey! That was years ago!”
The two of them kept talking until the old clock above the central countertop in the diner read 12:02AM.
Natalie yawned before finally noticing the time. The two had barely touched the now cold coffee in front of them and the diner was almost empty except for a trucker on the other side taking a nap before getting on the road.
“Wow, look how late it is,” Natalie said as she motioned the waitress over for the check.
The waitress sat down the check in front of them and Jared quickly grabbed it.
“I’ll pay.” Jared paid cash and a generous tip before the two of them walked outside. The air had turned cold.
The two stood behind their cars, neither wanting to say goodbye.
Natalie turned to rummage in her back pocket before taking out a crinkled card. “Here. If you need anything, just call me.”
Jared took the card, giving it an once-over before tucking it into the pocket inside his coat.
Again, there was an awkward silence. Neither knew how to say goodbye, whether they should hug or shake hands, or do nothing.
“We’re going to stand here all night before we decide how to say goodbye.” She stuck her hand out for Jared to shake. “It was nice seeing you again.”
He grasped her hand tightly, shaking it once and lingering before the two both let go.
“I’ll call you,” Jared said before getting into his car. Natalie stood to the side as Jared backed out of the parking space and drove away, glancing at her with a smirk on his face before turning onto the road.