The next morning Peter got to the conference and didn’t see Victor – or for that matter, the dark-haired woman whose name he later learned was Caroline. It wasn’t till mid-afternoon that he spotted the two of them talking avidly outside one of the panel rooms. He took the opportunity to observe them from afar. They were seated on a couch, leaning toward one another in a way that connoted intimacy. Victor’s eyes were rapt on her face and every once in a while he’d touch her on the hand or arm, allowing his fingers to linger in the suggestion of a caress. The woman seemed to welcome his behavior, throwing her head back in laughter at whatever Victor was saying, blushing and biting on her lip, watching him as if she were spellbound.
Peter noticed that she wore a pretty pearl bracelet but no rings. “So not married,” he thought to himself. An instinct told him to leave them alone, and he didn’t see Victor again till the end of the day when they ran into one another in the men’s room. “Well, you’ve been busy,” he ventured.
Victor heaved a deep sigh. “I honestly think I could spend the rest of my life with her. She’s fantastic – intelligent, beautiful, talented.” He shook his head mournfully. “I don’t want this conference to end.”
By now Peter knew about Victor’s propensities with women, that he’d develop feelings fast and lose them just as quickly, so he didn’t say anything. When he saw them the next – and last – day of the conference, it was clear they’d spent the night together. They had that look of honeymooners, staring at one another rapturously, holding their bodies close, interlacing fingers.
Peter didn’t get to talk to Victor or even say goodbye. The next time he heard from him was a week later on the phone. “You know that woman at the conference, Caroline?”
“Yes,” Peter said uneasily.
“She gave me a false last name. In fact, I think she lied about everything.”
His voice sounded as if the world were about to end, as if he would willingly climb into a tub of hot water and slit his wrists.
“You’re a big boy,” Peter said soothingly. “You know these kind of encounters don’t necessarily go anywhere.”
“This was different,” Victor said through clenched teeth. “We made agreements. Something really happened between us. I have to see her again. I have to find her.”
“Well, where does she live?” Peter asked. “What exactly do you know about her?”
To be continued…
Cover photo by Christopher Sardegna