To my parents who believe I can do anything
To my English teacher, Ms. Vanek who inspired me to write
To my friend Mars who designed the cover
To Kylee Lightner who edited the book
and to all my friends and family who support me daily
Alias—Forrest Ray Maler
Place of business or where employed—Bank Of America.
Shape of nose—greek.
Shape of face—oval.
Peculiarities or marks—freckles, occasional moles
Profession or occupation—accountant.
It was a slow night at the bar, I saw the usual. People so drunk that they were laughing at the sight of almost anything, men with tattoos, cigarettes and blackened teeth gambling over pool. Then of course, there were the ones who sipped on whiskey and did their studies. I don’t know how they can handle it, the volume of the bar is outrageous and the pure smell of smoke could make anyone drop dead with lung cancer. Sometimes, I wish my job was in an office rather than such a loud, small space, with barely any room to breathe. Especially when men came into the picture. Drunk, flirty men. I wish I could make them drop to the floor and give out with ease; unfortunately, things don’t always work the way you want them to.
Working at a place where criminals gather is a sketchy job. It’s not exactly fun or easy, but it pays the bills. They expect me to look top-notch to mix drinks and I always reek of alcohol when I get home, even though I’m not an avid drinker.
“Hey, pretty lady.” The man with light brown hair and evergreen eyes scanned the name tag pinned to my black tank top. I wouldn’t lie, I felt a little invaded but could I really complain? I am putting myself out there with the black tank top and my name tag was in the “prize area.” As long as he doesn’t touch me, all is well.
“Elsie. Pretty name.” This reminded me of how bad I wanted to go by my undercover name, instead of Trista. I felt like Trista didn’t fit me all that well.
“Are you gonna keep flirting with me or order a drink?”
“Jack n’ coke.” His tone screamed how unimpressed he was. I chuckled as I made the drink and set it on the counter in front of him, walking to the opposite side to “check on the others.” Really, I could care less. The lives of these criminals didn’t matter to me, not one bit. Murderers, rapists, I could care less about all of them. The only ones I do care about are the really bad ones, and Forrest Maler is one of them. I don’t love him, but I’ll have to. What a shame.
It took me a minute to cool down from the idiotic flirting. It was ridiculous. Could a man really think he’s so sly by staring, winking and calling me “pretty lady”? A man of charm was something he was not, but maybe I could teach him. Making a criminal an avid part of your life is more difficult than you may think. Well, unless you think it’s difficult. It’s worse when they’re personality is flat and they’re just… dumb.
I decided to strut back to the other end of the bar and a conversation sparked within seconds.
“Do you like working here?” He asked, his lip trembled as he took a sip from his glass and his eyes gleamed. A kind question, but small talk was involved. Small talk is not my thing and it never will be. Does anyone actually enjoy small talk?
“I guess, but people here are pretty sleezy and the cigarette smoke burns holes through my lungs. I’m surprised I don’t have some sort of lung cancer or disease.” An uproar of laughter burst from Forrest, like I just told the world’s funniest joke. I guess my sarcasm was funny to him, another horrible quality. I wiped my towel along the bar awkwardly until he asked, “Will you be working tomorrow?”
“I’m here all week,” I said with a sigh, “Seven to one.” Quickly, my mind yelled at itself. Why would I tell him the hours I work?
“No, in the morning, because bars are hoppin’ at seven AM.”
“Jeez, guess it was a stupid question.” I replied with a look that wasn’t the nicest look. The death glare, possibly? It was clear I thought he was an idiot, or maybe even a disgrace to society. Who am I kidding? All criminals are disgraces to society, I don’t know why I choose to date them. I just want to help people and this is the best way. I don’t have the mental strength to be in the military or be a policeman or fireman. So, that’s completely out of the question. Soon, a common question I ask in this bar came up, “So, what’s your crime?”
“What?” I loved it when they cocked their brows like they were innocent.
“Your crime? What are the bad things you do?”
“What do you mean? I’m merely an accountant.” Like that seemed so innocent.
“Ah, so you must rob banks or stores. Or maybe you hack into computers and do something with big numbers.”
“Hell? I’m smart. Nobody in this bar is innocent of crime. Some are less major and some are more major.” He sat in silence and just stared at me, rolling the alcohol around in his glass, eventually I got bored.
“Take a picture, it’ll last longer.”
“Sorry, most bartenders aren’t as bright as you.” I scoffed, “No, you just assume bartenders are stupid and you stereotype them.” That shut him up. It was a good thing too, because I knew some damn smart bartenders and it was flat out rude to call them dumb.
He ordered a few more drinks and to be kind, I offered one on the house which he gladly accepted. He stayed late after most of the people left the bar. The smoke smell was getting a little less, but there was always a lingering stench, even after the smokers left. Forrest and I had left and we finally escaped the small talk portion. He introduced himself, but I already knew who he was and what he did. Sneaky bastard was a secret criminal, but I can assure you putting people into jeopardy for hacking their credit and debit cards is a crime. Hacking into government databases is also highly illegal.
I learned he lost both of his grandparents in a car crash at the age of thirteen. Rough age to lose a relative, especially after he explained how close he was to them. Emotions are ten times worse as a teenager. I had to admit, I felt bad for the guy. That is a lot of weight on his shoulders as a kid and I’m sure it affected him now. Maybe that’s why he got into the life of crime. I was still going to kill him. I also learned he likes to be up early, but I love to sleep in. Maybe this was a good thing… if he could cook.
He left with a number in his hand and a smile on his face. I wasn’t mad about it, I was happy to make a man’s night. He did prove himself to me. He proved he had some knowledge up in that brain, and he was somewhat mentally stable. I appreciate good second impressions, and even third. Nobody is perfect on their first try, I know that better than anyone else.
“Tori, I’m home!” Tori has been my best friend since our late high school years and we decided to share an apartment together. I don’t regret it and she appreciates it. I can afford a nice flat, and living with her has it’s many perks. I kicked my cherry-red heels off as she walked out with a book in her hands, like always. “Chinese for dinner?” She asked, not looking up from her book.
“Sounds good. Orange chicken and noodles with broccoli, please.” Finally, Tori looked up from her book, but only to make a sarcastic comment, “You act like I don’t know you.” I laughed and rolled my eyes, walking to my bedroom. Off came the black tanktop and jeans and on went my usual night attire, sweats and a sports bra. Walking against the gray hardwood was like a blessing, those heels never do justice to my feet and neither does the spongy makeup that clings to my face. I sat in the mirror and ripped the fake lashes off and washed away the paint. It made me feel fake. It hid my imperfect skin that I came to like (after many years of hating my appearance), but when you work at a bar and are trying to attract men, you can’t exactly have imperfections.
I looked at myself and smiled, knowing I was happy with myself, maybe just not the situations I was always in, due to my job. The only makeup I really enjoyed was the bright red lipstick. It was like part of my personality, it was a classic and I looked odd without it, at least I thought so. Tori had a different opinion, she thought I looked beautiful regardless of what I did. If I dyed my hair bright blue, she’d still think I’m pretty. I pulled my hair into a ponytail and walked out to see Tori on the phone, talking while reading. I swear, that girl could plow through a book the size of the Bible in two hours and could do just about anything while reading. Talking? Yep. Eating? Most definitely. Exercising? Duh. Work? Well, she did have a part time job at the library. She was either buried in a book, surfing the web for ways to make her room more visibly appealing (because that was very important) or exploring the world of music.
When I walked out, Tori was wrapped in a blanket like a burrito. Her round glasses stuck out like bug eyes and all you could see was her face. She had just finished taking the order. She must have known I was there when she began talking about her book. She had incredible senses, “You know, there are cliches that are good and then some really bad cliches. I actually like this one, I hate how people criticize all cliches. Some are really good and I feel like every book is cliche to an extent.” She babbled on an on but, I wished I could read like her. She learns so much from reading, but I don’t know how she can sit still and read words on a page. I mean, they are just words. Really, all a book is, is a categorized list of words that is educational or entertaining.
“That’s true, I guess.”
“You wouldn't know because all the cliches you see are in movies and they’re all terrible. It wouldn't hurt if you picked up a book every once and awhile. It’s not that hard.”
“Easy for you to say, I get bored and impatient. I can’t read very quickly.”
“You can read at any pace you want.”
“Not if you want to comprehend it.”
“Yeah, well, you probably wouldn’t want to comprehend it.” She replied, staring at me through the huge glass globes protecting her brown eyes that were opened a little wider than usual. I smiled innocently at her, knowing what she said was incredibly true. A movie or making a photo collage sounded better than a book. “At least you like poetry, I can forgive you halfway.” I laughed and looked at her, “Poetry that makes me cry and making Pinterest boards sounds like a good night to me. Chinese food and wine included. Speaking of which...” I stood up and walked to the kitchen, Chinese and wine was fine dining for me.
There was a wide variety of expensive wines in our kitchen. The perks of working at a bar, if there was extra, or it was close to expiration date, I could take it. Several of the wines I had were ninety dollars a bottle. I popped the cork on a bottle of Lewis and poured two glasses, handing Tori one as I took my seat back on the white couch.
“Spill it on my couch, I kill you,” I warned.
“It’s our couch. And I think you’re forgetting, I’m not a clutz like you.” Her caramel colored hand held the wine glass like a beer bottle, because that’s how classy Tori is.
“Gee, thanks. At least I can walk in heels.”
“You torture yourself in those things, I could easily give you a pair of red converse to replace those God-awful things.”
“Not only no, but hell no. I love my heels.” And it was true, I did. They get less painful as time goes on. After about a week, you get used to them and it’s basically like wearing sneakers… with three, maybe five inches added to the heel. It depended on how brave I was, or who I was going on a date with or whatever mood I was feeling.
“Hey, we ran out of Smarties, can you pick some up tomorrow?” Tori asked randomly, batting her eyelashes at me. I swear smarties were like crack to her.
“Maybe we should get you off those things, I’ve never seen someone so addicted to a candy. Plus, work is very important right now.” And then Tori dropped her book. She knew what important meant, it meant there was a new guy. She sat up more. “Who is it? What’s he like? How much ice cream are we gonna need?” I sighed, despite the fact I don’t exactly like these men, their deaths were difficult to deal with. I can’t act like I fall in love with these men. I have to actually fall in love with them. That’s what made it hard, actually loving them.
“Forrest Ray Maler, twenty-five and horrible at flirting. His grandparents died in a car crash when he was thirteen. He doesn’t know how to listen to music but, he wakes up early. I’m just hoping he’s a good cook. He’s pretty decent-looking too. I’m gonna say we’ll need about two pints of ice cream and eight sappy movies.” I laughed sadly as I ended my sentence.
“Damn, I wish you didn’t have to deal with this. It’s so bizarre that those you fall in love with die. Do you ever want to settle down, even if it doesn’t mean a permanent boyfriend? Maybe give yourself a break from criminals, just so you don’t have to be with these horrible guys.” Tori’s lips parted and her eyes shifted from mine to the ground. Her eyes always shifted when a touchy subject came to the surface.
“No, never. There’s no way I’m going to fall madly in love with a man and watch him die weeks or months later. I can’t do that again, Jared was too much and I can never do that again.” My voice shook through the sentence. I brought the cold of the glass up to my lip and took a sip, no, a gulp of wine and I could already feel tears welling up along with sweat on the temples of my forehead.
“Sorry for asking, I was just curious. Maybe you could get a cat.”
“And become a crazy cat lady? No, get me a snake or something instead. Maybe a dog.”
“Well, you need someone or something to hold onto.”
“I have you.” I smiled sadly, not because I was sad that Tori was my friend, but she was the only person or thing I could really hold onto. Tori was someone I could always rely on. Even if we were in the worst fight of our lives and I needed something, she’d drop everything and come help me. I’d do the same for her and we’re going to hold onto each other until the end. We can’t function without one another. We even want to live in the same nursing home together. We would race wheelchairs around and light things on fire because we would be the coolest old ladies out there.
Obviously, friendships change, but this one won’t. I know it won’t. There’s always a point where you just know. This is a person I want to be with forever, because how could I do anything without them by my side? We both butt heads and have our differences, but what friendship doesn’t?
Tori smiled, “Yes you do, and you’ll have me for as long as I can manage to stay on this Earth. I don’t know though, this world is filled with some pretty crazy and idiotic people.”
“Amen to that, sister. I know, I see it all the time. I wish my coworkers at the agency could see the crazy kind of stupid that rolls into the bar. If I wasn’t packin’, I’d be scared for my life. Honestly.”
“The FBI is dangerous work and you just so happen to have the drive for it. What did you want to be when you were little? It couldn’t have been an FBI agent.”
“An artist, like Van Gogh. Well, maybe at the time I wanted to be like the manga artists I admired.”
“So you did like to read! Manga is technically a book.”
“A comic book with weird, Japanese plots that don’t make sense most times.”
“You are a disgrace, manga is a blessing.” I rolled my eyes. How nerdy could one person be? I simply enjoyed doodling in my free time or while filling out case files, sometimes when listening to boring, call-in meetings.
A chime at the door alerted me that my Chinese food was here and my mouth started overflowing with saliva. The only food I needed in my life was Chinese food. I could get extremely obese and die early, but it would be one-hundred percent worth it. I stood up and walked to the door; when I opened the door I was expecting the normal delivery girl, but my eyes met with a teenage boy’s. Great, I answered the door in a sports bra, in front of a teenage boy. His name tag read “Jack” which lead me to say, “Hi, Jack. How much do I owe you?”
“Uh, t-ten o’ five.”
“Cheaper than usual.” I replied with a soft grunt, giving him three five dollar bills, “Hope the tip’s okay, have a good night.” That was when I quickly took the food and shut the door, feeling like I should not have just got checked out by a sixteen-year-old. I sighed and handed Tori her food.
“I hate teenagers.”
“You were a teenager four years ago.” She said, opening her box and chopsticks. Her dainty hands used the chopsticks so elegantly, meanwhile I ate like a slob.
“Yeah, so? I still don’t like them, especially boys. They’re pervs.”
“To be fair, you aren’t exactly being modest right now.” I nodded, she was right. I stopped talking as I shoved my mouth full of chicken, noodles and broccoli.
Having the mornings to myself wasn’t so bad. I got to sleep in, make avocado toast for breakfast—or maybe a smoothie—and get ready. I don’t have to put makeup on until six o'clock if I don’t want to. I can have some downtime, take some pictures of the city, draw or paint, do some exercise. Mornings we’re rather calm and I was grateful I didn’t have to work most mornings. However, this morning was a little different.
I got up, had some eggs and slipped a pair of leggings and a red tank top on to compliment my red flats. I decided to throw a black cardigan over the tank top since it was the beginning of fall. It would be warm in the afternoon for a while, but before I knew it the temperature would drop and it would start snowing. I grabbed my black, leather bag that happened to fit case files, a tube of lipstick and a few other necessities. Off into the city I went.
I was happy with my decision of red flats and not heels, I didn’t realize how much walking I’d be doing. I stopped at the first Starbucks I saw, caffeine was never a bad idea. The line was long, but a woman asked me to come to the front. Her hair was dyed an artificial white color and she was exceptionally tall for a woman. She seemed to have recognized me from somewhere.
“Hi, uh,” I glanced at the nametag on her apron, “Cascade, pretty name.”
“My friends call me Cade but, you’re Trista Collins, one of the top FBI agents in New York.” All of a sudden I didn’t know what to do, or what to say. How did she know?
“Just because you know who I am, does not make you my friend. How do you know that, anyways?”
“I hacked into some records…” She said meekly, her blue eyes looking doe-like. How idiotic could someone be?
“You can get arrested for that. What are you thinking?”
“I know, I’m sorry! I just like to know what’s really going on in the world.”
“How many people have you told?”
“Nobody! I swear.”
“Keep it to yourself and I’ll keep everything that happened in the past twenty minutes to myself, including the free coffee you’re giving me.” She looked happier than a kid on Christmas. “Okay! What would you like?”
“A dark mocha latte. I’ll come in occasionally and make sure you haven’t told anyone. The minute it slips from your mouth, cuffs go on your wrists and before you know it, you’ll be pretty in orange.”
“Yes ma'am.” She got to work on my coffee and I had to take a minute to comprehend what just happened. Those files cannot be hacked into, not unless you’re some sort of super-genius. This girl must be smart but lack social logic. You don’t just point someone out and get excited because you know they’re an FBI agent. Once she brought me my coffee, I turned around and left. I felt a little invaded and unsafe. People could hack into those databases and that was a problem, but I swore I’d keep my mouth shut. I tried to shake away the uneasy feeling and focused on my walk instead.
As I walked, I noticed a new shop being put in. A donut shop, Tori would like that. You can live in New York City for years and still not discover all the nooks and crannies. The only unpleasant thing about NYC was the ambiance. People yelling, cars beeping. It wasn’t exactly the greatest thing in the world. I’ve been used to the sounds of country up until I was eighteen and moved away from my parent’s farmhouse. The thing I miss the most is the stars. Of course, there were stars in the city, movie stars. The ones I actually enjoyed were in the sky, but always covered up by the mug of the city.
An antique shop soon hit my eye. Antiquing wasn’t typically my thing. Since I lived in a very modern place, it was hard to ever find anything. However, I was glad I headed inside. As I walked around, I saw some pretty odd things. A lamp with golden frogs on it, something Tori would like. Used-old-lady makeup. Some sort of spear that could seriously hurt someone. And then a necklace with an amethyst. But I liked the necklace.
I took the necklace off the mannequin head it hung from. The necklace had a silver cut-out of a girl on a swing. The amethyst was placed where her heart would be on her chest. The tag that hung from the necklace told me it was fifteen dollars. It was a little expensive for my liking but the necklace was unique to me, so I bought it.
Just as I slipped the old woman an even fifteen, my phone went off. I waved at her with a smile and took the necklace, answering my phone.
“Hi, it’s Forrest. From last night.” Oh joy, this would be pleasant.
“Oh, hi. How are you?”
“I’m good, I’ve gotta question for you. Do you wanna come to dinner with me tonight?”
“Can’t. I work all week, remember?” Maybe this was good, I didn’t exactly want to go on a date with him. Not yet. It was a little too soon, I just met him last night.
“Okay. Why don’t we go now?”
“I already got a cup of coffee.”
“Well, what do you like?”
“What do you mean? I mean, I like art and astronomy.”
“Why don’t we go to a museum?” I paused, that actually sounded wonderful. Who would have thought this guy would do something like this? He did seem a little arrogant at the bar.
“...yeah, that sounds really nice. How about Whitney? I’ve never been, I’ve heard it’s modern and there’s lots of nice art pieces.”
“Sure, I’ll meet you there soon.” I haven't been this excited about a date in a long time. I’m surprised Forrest would do something so thoughtful, or actually care about my likes and dislikes. He must’ve realized I don’t play around, but I still don’t trust him or his actions. Who steals from their own clients and work place? I flagged down a cab and I was on my way.
After paying the driver and stepping out of the cab, I saw Forrest sitting on a bench and couldn’t help but smile. He looked a lot less business-y than last time. A leather jacket and button up with blue jeans. I guess he had a casual side, too. I appreciated that in a man.
I put on a smile and walked up to Forrest, “How long have you been here?” I asked. He looked at me and smiled back, standing up. “Not long.”
“Good, wouldn’t want to keep you waiting.” We walked into the museum together and I instantly noticed how modern it was, which got me excited. I was ready to explore and my patience began to thin while waiting in line to pay for admission. This museum was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.
I looked at Forrest whose hands were in his pockets as he watched the line slowly get smaller. I smiled slightly, he looked so calm and collected; meanwhile, I was jumping around on the inside. Either he knew how to handle the excitement, or he didn’t want to be here. I hoped it was the first option. When we got up to the booth to pay, Forrest went ahead and paid for the both of us (with his stolen money, but the gesture was sweet). I paid close attention to his shifting eyes and the loose caramel curls that fell onto his forehead as he talked to the woman, who gave us both hand guides. My attention reverted to the guide in my hand.
I immediately noticed paintings I knew of, and raced off to find The Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old Theme. I knew so much about the painting, this was one of the six views Joseph Stella painted of the Brooklyn Bridge. Forrest caught up to me once I found the painting, “Oh, isn’t it wonderful?” I looked at him and he grinned, although it was an unsure grin. At least he was trying.
“Yeah, it’s nice.”
“Joseph Stella is an amazing artist, this is one of the six paintings he’s done of the Brooklyn Bridge. This one is a personal favorite.”
“I like it.” He said uneasily, rubbing the nape of his neck. By the end of this trip, I’d make him learn to love art.
“Why don’t we go find an art piece you actually like?” We looked around for awhile and finally we approached Puzzle Bottle by Charles Ray. It wasn’t a painting, it was a man in a bottle but, I liked the piece nonetheless.
“I like this one,” he examined the bottle, “It’s abstract.”
“It was made in 1955. It’s a self portrait that many think was an abstract take on the “ship in the bottle” piece. You are right, it’s a form of abstract art.”
“You sure do know a lot about this stuff, you must like it.”
“I majored in art in college until I dropped out.” I didn’t actually drop out, nor did I take art.
“I love art. I have… a few sketch pads. Maybe I’ll show you a few of my drawings sometime.”
“I’d like that.”
“Okay, I’ll bring a sketchpad next time I see you.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
We walked through the whole museum twice before I was ready to leave; there were so many beautiful pieces of artwork I saw there. I hadn’t been this pleased with a date in a while. Forrest told me he had to head back to work so, we headed outside. Rain was coming down hard, which was bad news for everyone. Forrest handed me a pocket umbrella. “I’m assuming you won’t be indoors for awhile,” he took off his jacket and put it over my shoulders as well, “Stay warm, I’ll catch a cab. I have a coat at work.”
“Thank you,” I said and smiled, pulling my arms through the jacket sleeves. The inside was lined with fleece, I knew I’d stay warm for sure. He grinned at me before putting his arm over his eyes and flagging down a cab; he didn’t get super wet so I didn’t feel horrible. Maybe he wasn’t so bad after all, the things he did though, were unforgivable. I’ve seen worse, but it’s never okay to put people in jeopardy for no reason. I tried to shake away the good vibe I got from him because if I actually wanted to be with him that would not be good. At all. I couldn’t mentally handle it.
I opened the dark blue umbrella and put it over my head, I was rarely in this part of New York City, so I walked around for a while and did some shopping. The rain refused to calm down, but I didn’t mind. I actually liked the rain, I just didn’t want to get sopping wet because then I’d be cold. There was a nice food joint up ahead and I figured I’d stop and grab a small bite. Acai was always a treat and pretty filling. I got a berry base with blueberries, strawberries, kiwi and granola on top. While I sat inside the small shop and ate, I browsed Amazon for some poetry books. I knew Tori had some, but I wanted a few of my own. There was something about owning a book, I don’t know what it was. It was something sentimental and special.
Before I knew it my acai was gone and if I wanted to still have some time to myself at home, I needed to get home soon. I wanted to write in my journal for a little while and then I’d need to get ready for work. The cab ride was nice and quiet, which gave me some time to think as I watched the rain. I took in a lot of things in the cab. I realized how much I really did love the sounds of rain and the musk of this leather jacket. Worn leather had a certain smell that I seemed to enjoy, so I was dreading giving the jacket back. I’d have to get my own, but leather was never really my style.
When I got back to my apartment, I took the jacket off and set it down on the couch. I grabbed my journal and jotted down a few quick notes about my day and how Forrest has been acting. I like to note things about myself and people around me, especially people who are affecting my life. I’ll jot down things and see if I change at all while being around these other people. It’s important to know if people are changing you for the better or for the worse. I know Forrest makes me mad, but he’s getting better. I hope things will continue to improve.
Journaling was short lived as I realized I needed to get ready for work. But before I could do anything, Tori burst into the room with news from the library. I was happy to sit and listen.
“There’s a regular at the library and I finally got the courage to ask his name. His name is Keegan and he’s my age! He’s so nice!” I smiled, I was happy for her. I could already tell by her beaming face, she liked Keegan. She would be lucky to be able to have a worry-free relationship.
“Are you two gonna go on a date or something?” I asked with a cheeky grin.
“No! I’m too scared to ask him!”
“You can’t act like a middle schooler, you’re in college! Girls can ask boys out, that’s perfectly fine.”
“I’m not asking him out, no way.” She said as her cheeks began to redden. I shrugged and finally said, “I need to shower, I have work.” And into the shower I went. The hot water beat against my skin and helped my muscles relax. I rolled my neck while the water pounded against it. Hot water was one of the soothing things I enjoyed. I’m a thrill seeker, but I do like to relax. Sometimes, I don’t get much time to relax.
Curling my hair, doing my makeup and choosing my outfit proved to be harder than I thought. A sudden wave of stress came over me when I realized what I was getting myself into, it happens every time I find a person to date. Sixteen, eighteen, twenty-one, twenty three. This is the fourth time I’ve gone through with this and it’s slowly getting to me.