C.J. hadn't been in the office when the huge bouquet of flowers had arrived for her. She'd been driving Matt to the airport so he could catch a flight back to Houston Texas to give a sworn deposition in some civil litigation involving his daddy's business.
Now Bill Houston had just passed of a heart attack but one of his oil deals had left some loose ends when a cast of unscrupulous characters had tried to swindle Bill out of some hard earned money. Matt had been a key witness and had been called out to testify. He'd only be gone at most several days to give his account, answer a whole bunch of questions and to do some unwinding from his busy life in L.A. spent solving cases to help the clients who hired him. It'd be the first time he'd been in his daddy's house since after the funeral.
"You sure you going to be okay with that," she'd asked him more than once. He'd told her he'd be just fine. After all, he'd grown up there and had many fond memories of life on the ranch.
They'd left the office early and she drove him to LAX to drop him off at the private terminal where his Lear Jet was fueled up and waiting for him. In the car, she'd been reading the newspaper to catch the latest on the Congressional Hearings involving the promising drug protocol that Houston Pharmaceuticals had been testing for the past two years. As she closed the newspaper, she noticed a brief about a man who'd been found lying dead on the side of the highway outside Barstow, his skull crushed by what turned out to be a giant rock.
The Barstow Police Department representative had been quoted as saying that the motive for the attack appeared to be the theft of his car which hadn't been found at the scene. There was mention that another car that might have been stolen itself had been recovered instead. She looked for the name of the deceased man but it had been withheld pending notification of his next of kin.
God, life was crazy in Southern California these days, she thought as she then helped Matt brush up the files he'd be taking with him to help him on his testimony.
LAX loomed ahead as he exited the 405 and headed towards the major airport weaving through the late morning traffic. They parked in front of the private terminal building as a jetliner passed just over them. They walked to the entrance while he asked her if she could stay out of trouble while he'd be back in Texas. A standing joke between them when one of them took the other to catch a flight and she jumped in to reassure him that unlike last time, she believed it'd be much quieter at the office.
After all, the corporate president, Murray Chase was out of town on a trip to Singapore to nail down another business merger. But she caught the concern in his voice when he asked her if she'd do fine in his absence. So she felt like reassuring him.
"Well you're just going to give a deposition. You're not going to the moon. I think I can handle it for a couple of days."
He smiled at her in response.
"Well say you'll miss me anyway."
That went without saying but she humored him.
"I'll miss you anyway."
He kissed her softly on the mouth before leaving her to head into the terminal and she watched him go. Hoping he'd have a safe trip and that he'd be back soon. She missed him when he left town though she never told him that. But she'd keep herself busy with work and by spending time with her boyfriend, Carl who ran his own law firm in Century City. She'd known him when she'd been back at Harvard University Law School though at the time he'd been dating Carol Le Masters who'd been working towards her medical degree.
They'd been study partners and great friends and when he reappeared in her life years later, they'd gotten romantically involved after Carol set them up. Tonight they'd be attending an award ceremony for one of his good friends and since they always had a great time together, she looked forward to it. But she had to spend a full day at her desk first.
So she headed back to her car to get back to the office where a pile of paperwork awaited her.
And something else not expected.
She'd seen the gorgeous display of flowers and balloons as soon as she got off the elevator. She thought maybe one of the secretaries had a birthday. They sat on Chris' desk and maybe she held them for someone else. But Chris grinned and told her that the flowers were for her and C.J. plucked the card out of the baby's breath to read it. Her eyes widened when she read all the words scrawled on it.
"I have been following your life and career. I've been with you in spirit you might say. You have been the success we always knew you'd be. A person of consequence who stands apart from the rest. Someone like myself. If I may be so immodest.
Do you believe in fate?"
C.J. didn't know how to answer that. What an odd question she thought. She'd never thought of life that way being a pragmatist, not one prone to whimsy believing that life was what you made of it. But of course there were more words that had spilled onto the paper. None of them sounded familiar to her even in their entirety so she kept reading hoping to find some clues.
"I believe we have much to talk about. I hope my directness and candor doesn't embarrass you. It shouldn't. People like us shouldn't be afraid to day the obvious or express our feelings. I'm so anxious to finally meet you and see you again…"
She frowned as she neared the end of the message.
C.J. looked over at Chris in confusion still holding the card.
"Dean, who's Dean?"
Chris just looked at her in surprise.
"You don't know him?"
C.J. couldn't think of anyone by that name, certainly no one who'd send her such a display of flowers.
"No! I haven't a clue."
She seriously didn't…the name didn't ring any bells at all. She searched back in her memory back to childhood and came up with nothing. It frustrated her but maybe there was some kind of mistake. Then Chris said something else.
Chris gestured with her fingers for emphasis. Obviously this guy impressed her but C.J. just felt uneasy. She handed the card back to Chris. The writing had come off as just sounding so odd, because it reminded her of no one.
"Well this letter sounds like a cross between Shakespeare and Mein Kemp."
"Well I think it sounds pretty romantic."
C.J. smiled at her knowingly. Chris was the queen of romantics even though most women in her shoes would have been jaded by men. Dating in L.A. was just so difficult, and Chris a bit too trusting. She'd been working on her but she didn't want to dampen her friend's enthusiasm for hitting the single's scene. So she softened her whole approach for her.
"Well you would."
The phone interrupted them and Chris answered it with a polite greeting. She soon smiled and handed it to C.J. who greeted the caller.
"This is Dean."
Damn he still didn't sound familiar to her at all. So she just said, yes? She hoped something would jog her memory so she'd have some kind of clue about the man who had popped into her life out of nowhere. Because he had to come from somewhere right? He did sound like he knew her. His voice sounded a bit impatient, yet controlled.
"Did you get my flowers…and my letter?"
"Yes I did."
Damn she still had some questions that irked her.
"Who are you?"
He seemed almost amazed at the question and she didn't get that at all. It just puzzled her all the more.
"You don't remember me?"
He sounded as if she'd forgotten something very important. So she thought she'd try to put it more delicately.
"Where should I remember you from?"
She heard him pause for a while.
"Of course…it was a long time ago," he said, "Look I'd really like to see you."
C.J. felt odd just saying that much leery of why this guy she didn't remember seemed so interested in her. She still had no idea where she'd crossed paths with a guy named Dean. She supposed she had, there had been so many guys even back when she'd been younger but Dean? Was he a high school jock, a guy in her history class or a lab partner, was it college?
"See you…yeah you know have a date."
As if he was saying the obvious. That he wanted to see her socially.
But she just wasn't interested and so she tried to tell him that. In a tactful manner saying that she didn't date people she didn't know hoping he'd get the hint. He seemed a bit taken aback and then asked her again if she didn't remember him.
The name again, the one she still didn't know from well…Adam.
He was starting to irritate her because he wouldn't listen to what she said and kept trying to insinuate his way instead. But after a moment, his words became fewer, his pauses greater and he seemed to get her message.
"Have a nice day and I am sorry."
Then she hung up the phone and headed to her office to tackle her workload leaving the flowers and card behind.
She got off work early and said goodbye to Chris who still stared at the flowers as if mesmerized by them. Speaking of which she needed to head off to the nursery to get some starter kits to transplant some annuals to border her gardens in her back yard. When she went to play at the register, she searched in her purse for her checkbook but couldn't find it. She thought she'd put it down on the counter but…it wasn't there. She probably left it in her car or at home. She'd been so busy that she often didn't pay attention these days to where she left things.
So a bit embarrassed, she told the cashier she'd pay with cash instead and then toted the plants to her car.
It'd been strange but as she walked the rows of plants in the nursery, she felt her body tense and her mind feel uneasy while she searched for just the right flowers. Almost as if she weren't alone but looking around, she saw that the nursery was pretty much deserted but that feeling persisted. Once, she'd turned around suddenly almost expecting to find someone behind her.
Later that night Chris had come over because they were going out to that awards ceremony so she'd showered and gotten dressed up in her favorite white gown and he'd worn his tux. Looking too damn handsome she thought as she saw him standing at the door.
He'd come in while she'd still been getting ready, teasing her about it taking her so long. She chuckled as she talked with him. He kissed her on the mouth so thoroughly yet careful not to mess up her hair or makeup. She'd been seeing him for over a year and she had reached the point where she realized he just might be a keeper. He'd been so open about how much he cared about her; she could relax around him like few people in her life. She'd spent most of it being scared of getting too attached to the men she dated, something she traced back to losing her father at such a young age.
The only constant in her life had been Matt but she'd just started to believe that Carl wasn't going anyplace. When she woke up in the morning, she'd see him asleep, feeling the warmth of his body and the strength of his embrace. Or he'd be cooking her his special omelets in the kitchen.
She thought about that as she finished getting ready for their date while he told jokes about the office that day, making her laugh too hard. She loved men with a healthy sense of humor and Carl had that in spades. Wait a minute, was she thinking of the world love here?
Was it still too soon to feel that way?
At some point, he'd gone to answer the door so she could finish getting ready as they were running late already and still had to navigate the heavy downtown traffic.
"Carl who is it?"
She didn't hear him from where she fixed her hair up. But she walked on over while putting her earrings on to see him standing alone by the open door. She looked at him in question.
"Well frankly my dear he didn't give a name."
C.J. just looked past Carl towards the door but no one else stood there. She didn't have much time to think about it because they really had to get going. They didn't want to have to slip in to their seats after the ceremony had started and attract attention. After a few minutes, they did get going and they made it in time…barely.
She spent the rest of the evening focused on the gaiety of the event and the man sitting next to her. Everything had fallen into place for them and life had become just about perfect.
C.J. exited the elevator the following morning and the first thing she saw was the floral display on Chris' desk. She'd overslept this morning but Carl was to be blamed for that. He'd spent the night at her place and then insisted on making her an omelet shaped like the state of California with the fixings and some hash browns.
It took a while to kiss him goodbye while they both headed to work. Still, she smiled all the way looking forward to going out with him to dinner later tonight. But her smile dimmed as she saw yet another floral display even larger than the previous one sitting on Chris' desk.
Chris saw her and said to someone on the phone.
"Wait she's just walking in…
C.J. rolled her eyes as she checked out the flowers.
"Tell me these are for you…"
"I wish the card says they're for you."
C.J. picked up the phone figuring it must be Matt of course, checking in to make sure they were all working hard. She already missed him as the office and L.A. just wasn't the same without him.
"Well, hello back at you. What's this keeping banker's hours while the boss is away?"
She chuckled at that.
"Well why not? Life's too full when you're around pal. How's it going?"
She thought she heard someone typing on the other end of the line.
"Well, it's going alright. It's been a long night."
She could imagine that and how he spent it. Matt was what was called in some circles a playboy and others just a player when it came to the ladies. He was one of L.A.'s most eligible bachelors and kept a Rolodex just to keep his dates all straightened out. She joked with him about it many a time and the rumored black book of his that everyone else thought he owned.
Including a social columnist or two.
"Are you still giving your deposition?"
"Yeah somebody hear from the D.A.'s office typing it up now."
That explained the background noise.
"Okay what's your ETA?"
Matt paused and she could hear his brain working all the way here.
"I…it'll be a few days I think. I…I've got to go over the trial testimony and clear up some loose ends. So I…anything back there I should know about?"
C.J. just looked at the flower display as he asked that and something inside her almost let her speak but…she really didn't want to bother him with something so trivial. It sounded like he was distracted himself. Blonde, brunette or redhead she asked herself. As for the mysterious Dean, she could handle that interruption in her life by herself.
"Uh…no…you just do what you have to do and get back as soon as you can."
"All right you take care."
She said bye to him then and hung up the phone. She looked at the latest display of flours from the mystery man named Dean. That name still didn't ring a bell with her at all. Damn, who was he and where did he know her from? High school, college…law school, nothing made sense and he didn't seem in a hurry to clue her in, just to quiz her on it for some reason. She picked up the card that rested on top of the flowers.
Short and sweet this time, she noticed.
"For someone special…love Dean."
Chris sighed at her desk almost as if she were swooning.
"You can't fault his persistence."
C.J. didn't really like the fact that quality in someone she didn't know enough to remember.
"I don't know…do me a favor and have this out of here by the time I come back."
"Back from where?"
"I'm going to have lunch with an old girlfriend Elaine Ellis. So if I get any calls I'm out."
She left feeling the irritation start to slip away. She'd been looking forward to meeting up with Elaine for months since she found out she'd moved to L.A. to work in the real estate industry. Their schedules just always conflicted with each other until both realized they could squeeze in lunch today.
She met Elaine at one of her favorite restaurants by the old marina. Elaine had dark brown hair stylishly back off of her face and had been one of her best friends back from high school. She didn't look like she'd aged at all in a little over 10 years.
Elaine beamed at her.
"And now look at you…woman of the year…vice president of Houston Industries. Most likely to succeed. We were right…"
C.J. smiled in response and Elaine raised her wine glass.
"You've aged very well Ms. Parsons."
C.J. clinked her glass with her friends to make a toast to both of them. They'd both done good in the decade since graduation.
Then Paul the waiter brought her the telephone telling her she had received a call. Must be from the office.
But it wasn't the receptionist.
"I tried to call you at the office but I guess I missed you."
C.J. paused looking all around the restaurant but she didn't see anything out of place. Dean had called her here, how had he known where he'd find her? Damn this was getting too weird for her. But then she figured Chris must have told him her location.
Elaine looked at her.
"What is it C.J.?"
She gripped the phone more tightly. Fear was too strong a word to use but her body had tense in readiness for what, she didn't understand. But the guy put her on edge. The questions raced through her head and she fought to rein them in so she could get more information from him.
"How did you find out that I was here? Have you been following me? Where are you?"
He didn't answer a single one of them.
"I just wanted to see how you liked my flowers."
"Let's forget about the flowers shall we?"
"Look I arranged them myself. I just wouldn't let a shop do something like that. "
Irritation began to fill her at his attitude. Something about it just rankled at her. The way she felt rattled and yet he didn't seem to notice.
"The flowers are very nice and you are probably very nice but the fact is I would prefer that you not call me."
She paused slightly.
"Let's just say there's no point to this. Now you go your way and I'll go ..."
He didn't let her finish.
"Oh about that other guy. It's all right. Don't get embarrassed about him."
His audacity shocked her.
She touched her forehead like he was crazy and Elaine looked worried.
"Well I got to admit but I was a bit put off at first…even a bit angry at first. But then I considered it you know. You're entitled to a personal life I think."
C.J. just sighed in disbelief, not believing what she heard but it pissed her off.
"Now hold on just a minute…"
But he just continued with his script as if this were part of asking a woman out, not paying any attention to her reaction.
"When can we meet? We've got so much to talk about. It's been so many years."
She sighed, knowing she had to be firm with him and direct in telling him she didn't want to see or talk to him. A part of her wanted to soften her rejection of him but she wanted to make herself clear.
"We aren't going to meet. I want you to stop calling me and stop sending notes and flowers. I want you to leave me alone."
"Nothing of value is easily won I guess."
What the…. She slammed the phone down and Elaine looked at her.
"Who was it….C.J.?"
She had her answer now finally. Beyond a shadow of a doubt.
"I know who it is."
"A secret admirer how gothic," Elaine said as they both got off the elevator.
C.J. shot her a look and Elaine said, sorry not funny I guess. C.J. said that some line that they'd been talking about earlier had struck in her mind when Dean had made a similar remark. She walked straight to the bookshelf and pulled out an old yearbook.
"Today when I talked to him, he said it's been years."
Some guy from high school, Elaine asked and then C.J. pointed out a photo of a male student from the yearbook.
An old boyfriend? No, she'd never had anything to do with him and if it was him, he was sort of a strange duck.
"Well that fits. With all those phone call and flowers it's weird."
C.J. couldn't argue with that as she turned the pages in the old yearbook and looked to find him. She found a headshot in the section showing off the city council officers their senior year.
Elaine studied the photo of the grim looking young man, thinking he looked vaguely familiar too. Christian Dean had been his name.
"Maybe he uses his last name."
C.J. studied the photo intently.
"Maybe…I sure wish I knew his whereabouts."
Chris chimed in from her desk.
"Can Baby help?"
The phone rang and C.J.'s head rose sharply. No, not again, don't let it be him. She braced herself for another unwanted call from the man who wouldn't go away.
Anger more than anything else filled her as she picked up the phone. She really had to make him understand so he'd knock it off with trying to get her to go out with him.
"That's enough…leave me alone…"
But what she got in response hadn't been what she'd expected.
She breathed a sigh of relief and a little embarrassment.
"Oh Houston…it's you…"
"Yeah, yours truly from sunny Texas. I expected a nice polite Houston Enterprises. What's the matter?"
Now this was really embarrassing. She chuckled to make light of it, noting some concern in his drawl.
"I'm sorry it's nothing."
"You mean you're telling me a 'leave me alone that's enough' is nothing?"
She almost felt embarrassed at this point. After all, it was just some guy from her past who probably came to town and decided to look her up.
"Well it's this fellow from my high school days. He is hounding me."
"Oh I see. He's one of the many broke hearts from your checkered past?"
"Something like that. He just won't take no for an answer. It's annoying. "
Enough of that, time to change the subject quickly.
"Anyway how are you doing?"
"Well, the deposition is…is over with. I do have to hang around and witness it before the court session tomorrow and I…"
A huge pause and some noise followed. She knew a woman had just walked into the room probably wearing next to nothing. Matt hadn't lost any time.
She looked at her phone a moment in amusement knowing full well what Matt was doing on the other end. He certainly filled in whatever spare time he had on his trip quite well.
"I should be able to fly back after that…but what I do need from you is the Tanner litigation file from two years ago."
"I'll have it on the plane tomorrow."
"Thanks…anything I can bring you from here?"
She sighed, thinking that she only wanted one thing from him right now. But it'd have to wait until he did his business.
"No just yourself. I do miss you. So hurry back soon okay?"
"I'll see you then."
They both hung up
C.J. got home and checked her mail before going into her house. The moment she stepped inside her familiar living room, she felt unease hit the back of her neck. While leafing through her mail, she spotted her missing checkbook sitting on the desk. How on earth had it gotten there? Had she dropped it there and just forgot about it? Must be, she thought as she looked around her living room for anything out of place. She couldn't drop the feeling that something seemed off as she opened the door into her spacious bedroom.
She opened her bathroom door almost as if she thought something might pop out of it. But instead it appeared quiet, just like she always left it. She felt foolish for thinking otherwise as she went to run herself a shower and then started to unbutton her blouse after removing her jacket.
She'd almost felt like someone had been watching her, someone from the shadows but no one had been there.
A draft hit her as she walked back into her bedroom and she looked up to see a window open. She frowned trying to remember if she'd opened it to get some fresh air and had forgotten to shut it. After seeing the curtains blowing, she went to shut the window and looked out into her backyard patio. Of course that looked normal too. Damn, what was going on inside her head, she just felt as if she were on edge.
She closed the curtains and walked away.
Carl and she went out to dinner that night in a posh hotel. They'd almost decided to get a room there and stay the night but he had to get up early in the morning to go on a business trip so they left.
She got in his car while he tipped the valet and they soon drove back to her place. She focused on him during the ride back, thoroughly enjoying anther evening out with him. God, had she ever felt so happy or relaxed with anyone else? Well, yeah with Matt of course but they were best friends, never lovers. Carl seemed almost nervous and a bit quiet while he drove down the darkened city streets. He finally turned onto a quieter road near her neighborhood. In a few moments, they'd be at her house and head inside to enjoy a nightcap and maybe…
But then he cleared his throat.
"You know there's been something I've want to been asking you for a long time but you don't have to answer tonight if you don't want to."
She smiled at him feeling almost giddy right now but she'd heard the earnestness in his voice so she listened for what she sensed was not only an important question but one he'd carried around for a while. Then the car started making funny clunking noises and Carl glanced at her, his expression different.
"You wouldn't happen to know where there's a gas station…"
"Is that the question," she said chuckling.
He laughed too.
"No I'm overheating…"
Oh, yeah it did sound like something had gone wrong with his car. Odd, since it'd been working just fine on the drive to the hotel. But it didn't disrupt the festivity of the night in her mind.
"Oh well we're not far from my house."
"Somehow I don't think we're going to make it."
She smiled at him, biting her lip holding back a chuckle.
"Somehow I think you're right."
The car's noise and movement worsened as it started lurching, forcing Carl to stop it on a darkened street, lit up only by a couple of streetlights. C.J. thought she saw some headlights behind them but they passed by. Carl got out of the car while she remained inside it. He lifted up the hood to take a look while she poked her head out the window to watch.
"I don't suppose a hairpin would help…not funny?"
He'd just given her a rueful look then returned his attention to the car.
Another car pulled up alongside them and parked in front. A hulk of a man got out and C.J. recognized Too Mean Malone a former NFL football star who had become a close friend after they solved a case involving his teammate.
"Trouble," Too Mean asked.
C.J. got out of the car to join them. She smiled widely when she saw her friend.
Too Mean smiled back.
Carl gestured to him.
"Can you believe this?"
"Two Mean what are you doing here?"
His answer surprised her.
"I got a call from Houston late this afternoon. He thought you might be hassled so he told me to keep an eye on you. So I followed you."
"What," Carl said.
C.J. flipped her hair a bit irate.
"I don't want to be followed."
Carl echoed her.
"And I don't want to be followed either."
"So you'd rather see me at the unemployment line…I mean Houston's paying the freight for this. Two Hundred bucks a day plus expenses."
Carl flashed a look of bemusement as Too Mean pled his case.
"So let me follow you "
Carl didn't look moved.
"You're breaking my heart."
"Ah come on."
But then Carl looked on the bright side.
"It so happens you're what the doctor ordered. Can you give the lady a lift home?"
C.J. felt surprised.
"Oh you're not going to come with me?"
Carl gestured to his wounded vehicle.
"And leave this car here…surely you jest. You call the automobile club and I'll be along later and maybe you can make some coffee?"
She smiled and winked at him.
"Well if you play your cards right, they'll be a brandy waiting with it."
Carl loved the sound of that and he walked over and kissed her goodbye. It was a long, slow leisurely kiss filled with all the emotions that layered all their kisses. Carl had a wit about him when it came to words but he expressed himself truly well when he said nothing at all. They broke the kiss and C.J. felt his taste on her mouth eager to pick things up when he reached her house after dealing with the car. He could stay the night and she'd drive him to the airport first thing tomorrow so he'd make his plane.
"So you see what a good idea it was me following you," Too Mean said.
C.J. just shook her head and followed him towards his car. They settled inside.
"I never did trust those foreign cars," he said as they drove off.
C.J. didn't know it but she'd never see Carl alive again.