The Hunting by Kerry Peresta
Snarky, suspense-filled, and real, The Hunting is an exquisite entwining of the crippling emotional fallout of divorce with the quest for a healthy, fulfilling relationship. This inspirational story rivets!
There is just one man at the bar, sitting in the darkest, most lonely corner of it, nursing a drink. I gaze around the room, looking for the mystery man I’d arranged to meet. I order a glass of wine as I wait and move toward the empty stools. The bartender works his way over, stops in front of me and smiles.
“What’ll it be tonight, Izzy?”
“A pinot, I think. Do you have Bearboat?”
“Yep.” He plucks a bottle from the shelves behind the bar, deftly uncorks, and pours. “Give it a sec, Izzy.” I nod, wait impatiently for the wine to breathe. Turning the stool around, I scan the bar in case the man appears. After a few minutes, I swirl and sniff, then sip. Heaven in a glass. The man who had been sitting alone at the far end of the bar pushes off his stool and walks toward me. My eyes lock on his face as he emerges from the dark. The scene unfolds eerily, like something from an old Hitchcock movie. I clutch the stem of the wine glass like a security blanket and lift it to my mouth. The disgust I feel spikes as he pulls out a stool and sits beside me. The stench of cheap cologne curls up my nose. He must have freshened it since our meeting at the office. I still feel the sting of his words.
“Understandable that you are upset, Izzy. We need to clear the air, I think.” I turn my head toward him, my lips a firm line.
“I agree,” I spit out. “But this is not the time. I’m meeting someone in a few minutes. So can we talk about this at the office tomorrow?” Twin rows of perfectly straight, white teeth blaze through the dim lighting.
“Nope. We’re gonna talk about it right now. Who you waiting for, by the way?”
“My business. We’ve had this discussion.” His grin does not diminish by a single kilowatt.
“Yeah. We have. However, the discussion is ongoing.” A beat of silence. “Dreamsicle.”
The dread starts at my toes and slithers the entire vertical length of my body. My brain, a hiccup or two behind the dread, snags the realization I’ve been had. An impromptu prayer pops into my head before I can argue with myself that it never works.
I turn to him, my tongue finally loosed, mad as hell. “You? You! What are you thinking? This breaks every privacy law ever legislated, for Pete’s sake! This is . . . this is . . . unspeakable!”
The smile falters, then disappears. His eyes, in the murky light, are unblinking. Reptilian.
“Izzy, you and I have some business to process together.” His lips press close to my ear and he whispers, “For Chrissakes, you treat me like a leper. It’s going to stop. Now.”
My hand reaches instinctively to cover my ear and he backs away. The moistness of the whispered words lingers. I rub my ear and put my hand back in my lap. My hand still clenches the stem of the wine glass. I am afraid I will break it, so I unwrap my fingers, nestle the globe instead, and drink. The glass makes a soft clink when I set it down. I focus my eyes behind the bar. My mind spins furiously. Doesn’t this fall under the realm of predatory? How does one go about proving it?
I tell myself the late night had been worth it. The date had turned out to be a disaster, I’d missed my alarm this morning and my kids had been upset and snarky before they’d left for school, but let’s look at the bright side. I can cross one more guy off the list. Dabbing concealer on the dark half-moons under my eyes in morning rush hour traffic, I strive, but fail, to keep my Honda in the lane. I ignore the angry honks of startled motorists, and correct my course with one knee. I screech into the Sentinel’s parking lot a few minutes late, swipe on tinted lip gloss as a final nod to looking presentable, grab my purse and speed-walk into the building, hoping my hair is not sticking out in all directions.
The ancient elevator in the lobby, a dubious attempt at historic preservation in the heart of downtown Chatbrook Springs, creaks from the third floor to the first when I push the button. The doors take a full four seconds to open. I wonder, as I step in, why I don’t just run up the stairs to save time. Leaping out of the elevator before the doors fully open, I toss my purse on my desk conveniently located exactly two steps away, and thread my way through the maze of cubicles to the corner conference room.
“Hey, Iz!” My assistant yells at me across twenty thousand square feet of industrial carpeting divided into two workspaces by a wide strip of ugly linoleum. I spin around on one foot. He lifts a fresh ad proof he has retrieved from the production department, unfurls, and points to it. I squint at it, and him, nod vigorously, then lift my hand in the classic thumb-and-forefinger circle, which translates as Go ahead and clear it.
The other assistants sprinkled throughout the room smile at the exchange, glancing at each other and the moon-faced clock on the wall. I huff an exasperated sigh. Single parents have a little more to do in the mornings than some people. A recently hired young assistant with a shocking splash of orange in her hair approaches, her hand motioning me closer.