Love by Messenger
by Kelly F. Barr
When Tracy stopped walking and looked around, she was in the middle of a wheat field. All she could see were golden stalks of wheat being blown into waves by the wind all around her. The sun was warm on her head and face. Her knees buckled and she collapsed in a heap and sobbed.
What was she supposed to do now? How was she supposed to live without the love of her life? How had this happened? Questions tormented her thoughts as the sobs wracked her body.
When the sobs subsided and Tracy had no tears left to shed, she closed her red, swollen eyes and covered them with her arm. Sheer exhaustion soon plunged her into sleep, but when Austin stepped into her dream, she gasped and sat up. The sun hung low in the sky. How long had she been asleep?
She scrambled to her feet and started back through the wheat in the direction she had come. Austin went with her—in her thoughts. Austin, tall and tan with sun-kissed golden brown hair and a dazzling white smile. At least that’s what he looked like in the photos he sent, but were the photos real?
She met Austin online. He sent her a private message on Messenger. He seemed so kind, caring, and interested in her. She knew the dangers of talking to strangers online, but Austin had a way of drawing her in. Online, people could portray themselves any way they wanted. They could use fake or photo-shopped photos.
Austin told her he loved her just a month after they started speaking to one another. She was thrilled and doubtful at the same time. She hadn’t had any luck finding a good man in person. She knew people who had found their boyfriend or girlfriend, fiancé, or spouse online. Of course, they used online dating services. Were those services any safer or more reliable?
Two days ago, Austin suggested they meet in person, but he lived in Arkansas and she was in Pennsylvania. He said he’d come to Pennsylvania but needed help to pay for the airline ticket.
He’d asked her to send $200 via Western Union.
She wasn’t sure why that bothered her so much. She knew airline tickets weren’t cheap. So, why was she so leery of sending the money? Was it her old-fashioned ideals that the man should be the breadwinner and take care of the woman?
That’s when the doubts, fears, and questions started pounding in her brain with a relentless rhythm: what do you really know about him; how do you know he’ll really use the money toward a plane ticket.
Yesterday Tracy had messaged him and said she couldn’t talk to him anymore, that she thought it would be best if they ended their relationship.
Austin’s response was immediate. Tracy, baby, what’s wrong? Did I say something to hurt you? Please, I’m in love with you. I don’t want to lose you. I thought if we could spend some time face-to-face, we could get to know each other better.
Tracy tried to make some sense of the situation. How could she consider a man she had never met, “the love of her life”?
After a night of tossing and turning, Tracy stumbled to the bathroom and splashed cool water on her face, relieving the grittiness from her eyes. She took a shower and dressed in her favorite shorts and t-shirt then rambled to the kitchen, poured herself a cup of coffee, grabbed her cell phone from the counter, and texted Austin.
Good morning. I’m sorry I ran like a scared rabbit. I will send the money today. When will you arrive?
I’m so happy you changed your mind. I will arrive on Wednesday and plan to stay until Sunday. I will make a reservation at the Country Inn and Suites on Route 30 in Lancaster. Will that be convenient?
Tracy smiled. He would be a half hour’s drive away. She texted, Perfect.
Wednesday afternoon Tracy’s cell phone rang. “Hello.”
“Hello baby. I just got into my hotel room.”
Austin’s smooth baritone voice made her heart skip a beat. “Okay. How about I pick you up in an hour and a half? That’ll give us both a chance to freshen up and give me driving time.”
“See you soon.” Austin hung up the phone.
Tracy showered and dressed in a pale yellow sundress and white sandals. She grabbed her purse, keys, and cell phone, slipped out the door and into her blue Honda Fit and was on her way.
When she arrived at the hotel, she checked her hair in the rearview mirror before stepping out of the car and making her way to the hotel lobby.
She stepped into the hotel and scanned the open room. She moved toward a green settee across from the elevators. Before she reached the settee, a tall man, who had been sitting on the gold chair next to the settee, stood and stepped toward her.
“Tracy, what a pleasure to finally meet you in person.”
Her breath caught in her throat. Austin stood gazing at her through bright azure eyes. He looked exactly like his pictures, only more strikingly handsome in person.
Austin took another step toward her, and she could feel the warmth from his body. She inhaled the woody scent of him. She wondered what it would be like to be held in his arms, then he lowered his head and placed his lips on hers.
The kiss was soft, gentle and brief. Tracy found herself wanting more.
“I hope you don’t mind my greeting you with a kiss. I’ve been dreaming of kissing you for several weeks now.” He took her hand in his.
“No. I don’t mind. It was nice.” She smiled at him. “So, are you ready for dinner?”
“Lead the way.” He swung his arm in an arc and bowed slightly.
Tracy took Austin to her favorite restaurant, P. F. Chang’s. They shared Mongolian beef, Oolong Chilean Sea Bass, and Singapore Street Noodles. The waiter boxed the leftovers for Tracy to take home.
“That was delicious. I can see why it’s your favorite restaurant.” Austin patted his flat stomach.
“Tomorrow I’ll take you to a restaurant where you can try traditional Lancaster County fare.”
Tracy drove to Long’s Park, parked the car, and they got out to walk. They ended their walk by the large pond in the center of the park. The sun was low in the sky and the breeze chilled Tracy. She had forgotten to bring a sweater. She crossed her arms over her chest and put her hands on her upper arms.
Austin stepped behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. “Better?”
“Mm-mm. Much better.” She leaned back into him. After a few minutes, she turned to face him. “This is the largest park in the area. They have summer concerts on Sunday evenings. It’s a great way to come and spend a relaxing evening enjoying some great music. Too bad you leave Sunday afternoon.”
“I’m sure I’ll be back again before the summer is over.”
“Really? How will you afford the airfare?”
“Tracy, I don’t ordinarily have money issues, but my parents are getting older and starting to have health issues. My mom was in the hospital recently, and Dad isn’t very good at housekeeping. Therefore, I hired a housekeeping company to clean my parents home once a week. I paid a couple months in advance before I decided to come for a visit. I could’ve waited until I saved the money again, but I didn’t want to wait. As soon as I have the money, I’ll pay you back.”
“Don’t worry about it, Austin. I’m sorry. What you do with your money is really none of my business.”
He placed a finger under her chin and lifted so that she looked in his eyes once again. “It is your business if we’re going to have a serious relationship. We need to be completely open and honest about everything.” He ran a thumb down the side of her face and over her lips. “You’re beautiful.”
His lips descended to hers and he kissed her, a longer, more passionate kiss than earlier, and she slipped her arms up and around his neck. He pulled her closer.
When the kiss ended, they were both breathing hard. “I guess we should get back,” Tracy whispered.
The next three days passed quickly. Tracy was quiet over breakfast in the hotel restaurant Sunday morning.
“Dollar for your thoughts.” Austin broke the silence.
She grinned. “I thought it was supposed to be a penny.”
“Pennies don’t buy anything these days.”
“I was just thinking about how I almost threw all of this away out of fear, and now I don’t want you to go.”
“I don’t want to go either, but I promise I’ll be back.”
“Can we really make this work? I mean, there are so many miles between us, and you have your parents. You can’t leave them.”
Austin reached across the table and took her hand. “What keeps you here?”
“It’s all I’ve ever known. I have friends and a job here.”
“What about family?”
“I’ve always been the family outcast. I never really fit in, so once my grandparents and parents were gone … well, I have no family ties.”
“We’ll have to give it some thought. All I know is that now that I’ve found you, I don’t ever want to lose you.” He squeezed her hand.
That night, Austin called her when he arrived home. That was the beginning of nightly phone conversations that went on for a month. Then, Tracy asked, “Austin, what are your thoughts about me moving to Arkansas?”
Tracy heard an intake of breath on the other end of the phone line, then an exhale. “Are you sure?”
“I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life. I can take care of everything here and arrive in Arkansas in three weeks.”
“I will be waiting.”