He sat in the darkened office, staring intently at the screen before him. The face grinning back at him mocked him, laughed at his failure. He barely noticed the flickering of the other faces as they flashed rapidly over the screen. For him there was only the one. That face haunted him.
He saw the face everywhere. Countless times he had almost started running after some innocent bystander because he thought he had seen it. When he closed his eyes to erase the images, it floated before him, haughty, confident, mocking. The face was with him wherever he went. He could not escape it. He didn't want to.
The face had become his obsession, his reason for existence. He must find it; he would find it. And then...then he would reclaim his dignity, his honor. He would not fail again. Failure was his deepest dread, his own bête noir.
He would never admit it, though he suspected a couple of people knew. It was such an intrinsic part of him, such a core element of his being, that it was difficult not to notice. He wondered vaguely if it had anything to do with his three failed marriages. They certainly had not helped.
He took a sip of now-cold coffee, grimacing, and continued his musing. He was not proud of having three ex-wives. He wished he were able to love and commit to another person, and not just his job. But his fear of failure tripped him up. He was so deathly afraid of, not rejection, exactly, but the idea of not being sufficient. For that reason, he simply would not allow himself to get too close to anyone. He had friends, sure, but no one who really knew him beyond the irritable bastard façade he put on. No one he could confide in with his deepest secrets. No one to love, or who loved him back.
He didn't know if he had really loved any of his wives. He suspected not. He had been attracted to them, certainly, at the beginning. He guessed that the attraction had never been allowed to deepen into love, partly because he was never there and partly because he didn't want it to. All three had finally realized that he would not change and all three had gone on with their lives. He had regretted their leaving, but was not really sad. He had never been that close to them, so he didn't feel much of a void when they were gone. That was how it was with most of the people in his life. There was only one person he truly missed.
Her name was Katherine. She was, in his eyes, perfect. Smart, funny, sweet, tough, and beautiful to boot. They had found each other in their junior year of high school and had immediately been attracted. She had loved his intensity and he, in turn, had found her love of life intoxicating. She was the only one who had ever called him Leroy; to everyone else he was Jethro or even L.J. His time with her had been the best of his life, and he had never wanted it to end. But it had.
They had gone to a party one night and he had been drinking. He hadn't had much, but his inexperienced and relatively slight body had reacted dreadfully. Against Katherine's wishes, he had gotten behind the wheel. He never saw the stop sign.
A pickup had come seemingly out of nowhere, barreling towards them. The other driver had tried to brake, but it had been too late. The truck had slammed into the passenger side of the smaller car. He had pulled her from the wreck, remarkably unscathed himself, and tried to save her. He failed. She died on the way to the hospital. He had never loved anyone again. Until now.
He started. He had not meant to think that, to admit that to himself. But, he realized, it was true. After all these years of trying so hard to stay above it all, his walls were crumbling. He was falling in love.
He heard the elevator doors hiss open and glanced up. His breath caught and his eyes, which had been so dark lately, brightened slightly. Attempting to remain casual, he turned back to the computer screen.
"Thought you and Tony were going for Chinese."
"Yeah. I, uh, forgot something." He nodded understandingly, continuing to stare at the screen. "You sure you don't want to come?"
He looked up. She seemed genuinely concerned. For a moment, he considered it, but his obsession called to him, taunting him, daring him to fail. Returning his gaze once more to the monitor, he replied. "No, thanks."
"Okay." She didn't appear to want to go. "Well, see you tomorrow." She turned and walked back to the elevators.
"'Night, Katherine," he called absently. She glanced back, confused.
"Caitlin," she corrected. He looked up again.
"Sorry?"
"Caitlin, not Katherine," she repeated.
"Oh, right. Sorry," he apologized. She left, mystified.
Alone again, he wondered why he had called her that. He supposed it was just an honest mistake; he had been thinking about Katherine and, after all, the names were quite similar. But part of him questioned if it wasn't more. She was so much like Katherine; she even looked somewhat the same. But she wasn't Katherine; she was her own person. That was a good bit of the reason why he felt the way he did about her.
The irony was not lost on him. The only two women in his life to ever steal his heart, both named Kate, both beautiful and brilliant. It was strange, to say the least.
He shook his head. He couldn't allow himself to go down that road again. He couldn't be hurt like that again. An unexpected thought crept into his head. Though he was concerned for his own emotional welfare, he found himself more frightened by the thought that he wouldn't be able to protect her. That she would get hurt, that he would fail her. He hadn't placed another's interests before his own since Katherine.
He determined to keep quiet. He was too afraid. Afraid of hurting her, afraid of being hurt, afraid of failure. It keeps coming back to that, he mused. His fear of failure. His bête noir. Wishing things were different, wishing he were different, he focused back on the computer screen.
He sat in the darkened office, staring intently at the screen before him. The face grinning back at him mocked him, laughed at his failure. He barely noticed the flickering of the other faces as they flashed rapidly over the screen. For him there was only the one. That face haunted him.