A Legal Trap - Chapter 11

Author retains all rights to this original work of fiction.

March 12th, 8:36 PM
"Whoa, Whoa! Elizabeth, you OK? Hey, hey... Just sit still, don't try getting up. Wait... You're OK... Just relax, stay sitting..."

I could hear Paul speaking, feel a hand on my shoulder another trying to get my hair out of my face. I felt woozy and cold, like sweat cooling my body after a run, "I'm... good...," I mumbled. I didn't totally blackout, but this panic attack was one of the worst I'd ever had. I could feel my heart racing still, then an urge to throw up again. I got my head over the toilet in time to dry-heave and cough into the bowl, but nothing came up. I spit a coating of nasty from my mouth into the bowl.

Paul flushed the toilet to get rid of the vomit, "Guess the Buffalo wing sauce didn't sit well?"

Wing sauce... OK, that explains the fiery burning and red liquid I'd spewed into the toilet. Guess I'm not bleeding internally. Well, probably not bleeding internally... I took a few slow breaths, then tilted my head toward Paul, "I'm so sorry..."

He chuckled, "You're kidding right? Don't worry about it... You cool just sitting there?"

"Yeah..."

He pulled my hair back and let it fall over my shoulders, then tentatively removed his hand from my shoulder keeping me steady. When I didn't fall over he moved to the sink. I heard water running and a moment later he was placing a wet, cool washcloth on my neck - then he handed me a damp hand towel, "Here, wanna maybe wipe your face? I can take you to a hospital..."

NO! Please no! No hospital! I shook my head, 'No' slowly and took the hand towel so I could wipe my face. I spit a few times to get the acrid aftertaste out of my mouth, "Can you grab my bottle of water?"

"I'll get you a new one... Don't go anywhere."

"Yeah, sure..." I felt a little disoriented, but things were in focus and I could hear Paul trot off to get me a new bottle of water. OK, I'm aware of my surroundings... RELAX! I thought about that - how many times does telling yourself to relax really do a damn thing? Pretty much never... Breath... I needed to straighten my shit out quick or Paul was going to insist on a trip to the emergency room. God - NO hospital! That would make this panic attack even more uncomfortable adding another thing to stress over. Breath...

"Here... I wouldn't guzzle that or anything. Give your system a chance to reset... Small sips."

He sounded pretty motherly right now, but I really did appreciate him being here. Wanna get over this? Think about him... If he wasn't here where would you be? Wedged between the toilet and bathtub... I cracked the slightest of smiles.

"What's funny?"

I didn't realize Paul could see me in the mirror in front of the vanity - even though he was behind me, "Nothing... I just feel stupid right now."

"Yeah, well been a pretty packed couple days for you - be nice to get the hell out of here and back to your real life..."

What did that mean? If I go back to Seattle that's it, I don't get to see you again? I felt a pang in my gut, an uncomfortable rolling in my stomach. Why did I have a headache? Augh...

"You know, you'll have to deal with me back there... I mean, I'm not Bryant caliper barista extraordinaire or anything..."

What? He's messing with me! Why do I go to the extreme worst case... Fuck... "Hey, I'd like up off the floor... Think you can help me to the bed?"

"Really? You're in the middle of a panic attack and all you can think about is getting me in bed?"

"Haha... Not funny. I mean, it is, just not right now..." I extended my hand, but he hugged me beneath my arms and got me standing. I felt good enough to walk, but let him keep an arm around me until I was sitting on the bed.

"You sure you wanna lay down?"

"Mmm... Yeah, I think I'm about over this. Maybe the Xanax kicked in a little before I threw it up..."

"Alright then..." He spun my feet around as I laid back, "You good?"

"You told me I was... You questioning that now." I tried smiling and pulled at the comforter.

Paul chuckled and helped pull it over me, "Yeah, guess I did... I'll stand by that. Let me refresh your wash cloth...," he was heading to the bathroom while pulling out his phone, "Hey Tim... Jacob said you want what we have got on the investigation tonight,"

That was the last I could hear before he went into the bathroom. I could hear the water running, then he was back, "Yeah, that's the last stuff, got some email stuff to turn over. Some VPN ideas," Paul put the cool wash cloth on my forehead, "Yeah, that was a bit of a surprise... Thirty minutes... No, just me, we can call Elizabeth after we're done... Sure, see you in a few." He put his phone away and was studying my face.

"I can go... I'm fine..."

"It's going to be tech shit and I know how that crap thrills you. Stay here, Tim can call you for your statement about where you were - which, might involve telling him about... Well, this morning."

At first I wasn't following, then I got it, 'this morning...' - he left my room at 2 AM - that technically is this morning. I would have just said last night we were together, "Think that will raise any eyebrows," I asked. I was studying his face for a sign telling someone we were together was going to be a problem. It didn't seem to faze him.

"Not gonna bother me... You?"

I just smiled. Are you reading my mind Mr. Kline?

March 12th, 9:25 PM
I answered my phone on the first ring, "This is Elizabeth..."

"Elizabeth Gallagher, I'm Special Agent Timothy Warren of the FBI, I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions?"

"Yes, I, I can answer questions...," and as soon as I said that I felt foolish, but I was very much awake and focused. I can do this...

"Thank you... Miss, there really isn't an easy way to ask this, but... Well, first I want to inform you that this call is being recorded. You are not obligated to answer my questions without the presence of an attorney. I am not reading you your Miranda Rights, this call is an informal whereabouts check - do you understand that you do have a right to refuse to answer my questions at any time."

I knew he had to state some specifics, but it was no less daunting to hear his little preamble, "Yes Agent Warren, I understand."

"Alright, as I stated, there is no easy way to ask this and I want you to know I respect your privacy, but I have to ask your legal name for the record. After you answer, you can request that I refer to you going forward however best makes you comfortable. Understood?"

"Yes, Agent Warren. My legal name is Edward Anson Gallagher, I would prefer to be addresses as Elizabeth..." I didn't fault Tim - since this was an official inquiry - he had hoops to jump through. Why hadn't I at least gotten my name changed officially before this? Yeah, that would be lack of money... I wondered if he would allow me to call him Tim...

"Thank you Elizabeth. Can you tell me if you have a cell phone?"

Alright, that's an interesting start, "Yes Agent Warren, you are speaking to me on my cell phone currently. I assume you got my number from my employer?" I wonder if...

"Actually Mr. Kline made your number available to me, I hope that's alright..."

"It is..." They can track the phone, that's why he asked.

"Did you leave the Phoenix area at any time during the last twenty-four hours? "

"No, I did not..."

Tim went on to ask for people I came into contact with since noon yesterday and I rattled that off quickly, including being with Paul until 2 AM this morning and a good part of today. I told him I could produce a receipt from my breakfast this morning and likely a statement from the server. He actually chuckled at that offer and we wrapped up our official "alibi" conversation - which is what the purpose of this call was. Tim did mention that the Phoenix Police would be repeating this call with me tomorrow and he apologized in advance for that. I told him it wasn't a problem.

"OK, that ends this interview. Elizabeth do you have any questions?"

"No, I'm good..."

There was a chuckle in the background, "Hold on..." There was a clicking sound, then, "You likely recognize the chuckle Elizabeth... I've got you on speakerphone. Say hello Paul..."

"Hello Paul...," Paul said in a funny sounding voice.

"You're an idiot... You know that, right," Tim said.

"Hi Liz...," Paul chimed in.

"Hello Mr. Kline...," was my reply.

"Elizabeth, Paul handed over the email chain and detailed your intentions - I like it. Too bad we didn't get anything from the email. Excellent try though. Paul mentioned you spoke to Amber Carson and she said the person from the chat room may not have been David Lafleur?"

"Agent Warren, may I call you Tim?"

"Oh God, yes please..."

"Thanks Tim... Yes, I think that's what she was going to tell me, that it was someone else..."

"Do you recall what you asked her and her answer?"

"Think I asked something like 'Was that David or someone else?' and she started to reply 'It was someone...' and that's when her father grabbed the phone. He wasn't too happy with either of us."

"So she didn't say specifically that it was someone 'else'?" He annunciated the 'else'.

"No, but given how our conversation was going I think I backed her into having no other option but to tell me..."

Tim interrupted me, "You backed her into a corner? Can you explain that?"

After Paul had left I got up and took another .25 mg Xanax because I knew this call was going to stress me out. I had no idea how much of the drug was in my system keeping my 'fight or flight' adrenaline shot from tipping me over after barfing earlier, but I wasn't going to take any chances. I was really scared of going down the crazy barfing route again. Even fortified I could feel the flutter in my chest, the slight tightening feeling in my stomach. FBI agents were smart - Tim was no exception, even as a tech junkie like Paul.

Just answer the question, don't over-think it... "Tim, Amber and I have had two conversations - I wouldn't say we're buds, but in this last one I pretty much called bullshit on some of the crap she was saying about David Lafleur. Not sure it was the right tact, but in the end I told her we knew about her chat room conversation with 'FlowerGirl', we knew about a planned meeting next week, and I asked her if it was David... I'm pretty sure she was going to tell me it wasn't and now with his murder in Vancouver - well, that might make sense it wasn't him talking to her." That was the first time I'd spoken the word 'murder' aloud. Paul and I hadn't even discussed it before he left to meet Tim...

"You might be right... We checked her email for a reply on your last sent message - nice job on that one by-the-way - no reply yet. I have everything Paul was working on, so I'll be moving forward with that, including trying to trace the VPN activity. Paul told me that Jacob wants you to assist with an agent interview of Amber tomorrow. That's awesome, your rapport with her should make that go easier..."

"I'll be assisting an FBI agent in her interview? No one told me that..."

Paul chimed in, "Jacob and Landon worked that out Elizabeth, you won't be running it or anything - mostly just there to be an advocate for Amber in case she needs someone to confide in or advice. It will only be the three of you, so shouldn't be too bad."

Are you kidding? Are you serious? I'm going to be with some agent grilling this teen who is full of herself? Fuck! How do I get out of this? "When is this happening?"

"Tomorrow morning, 11 AM," Tim replied.

Great... I answered a few other questions for Tim and then it was obvious we were done. Paul mentioned he would stop by after he got back to the hotel. I told him I was going to take a shower and going to bed, that I still wasn't feeling great. He sounded disappointed, but I just wasn't in the mood. Too much had happened over the last couple hours and I needed to shut down. I did hope I didn't embarrass him in front of Tim...

After the call ended I got a text from Paul a couple minutes later, "U OK?"

I replied, "Yes, just wasted"

"OK. Breakfast? 9 AM?"

I replied, "CU then"

"Good night, hope you feel better. Call me if you need anything."

"I will. I feel a lot better, just tired. Good night - XO"

And the conversation ended. Now the room seemed very quiet. There was no way I was getting up to take a shower, though I'm sure I needed one. I shimmied out of my jeans, worked the gaff off, then my blouse and bra - I left my socks on. The AC was droning and I rolled over - hit the light on the nightstand after plugging my phone in. Time to check out...

March 13th, 10:47 AM
I could only get myself to eat toast and a banana at breakfast. Paul seemed like he was full of energy - I felt like I was eating my last meal before being taken to the electric chair - in reality - entering an interview room at the FBI building. Paul talked a lot, I tried to smile and keep my emotions in check. I wished I was back at breakfast right now...

We had arrived early to the FBI offices - why couldn't we have been late? I did get a few moments with Jacob prior to meeting the agent who was going to interview Amber. He reassured me I had the full support of the Carsons and that this interview was exploratory in nature, but it did have an urgency factor given what had happened to David Lafleur. I wanted to tell him I wasn't up to this, but before I had a chance an agent interrupted us and took me to the interview room.

When I entered the room there were four chairs and an attractive woman looking over notes on a legal pad. She stood, extended her hand, "Hi, I'm Special Agent Carr. You must be Elizabeth Gallagher..." She was all smiles - one of those that showed way too many teeth, polite, dressed impeccably - as expected, and she certainly had the look of someone not to be underestimated.

"Yes... Nice to meet you..." I shook her hand.

She pointed to a chair across from her and I sat, "I like your skirt, Calvin Klein... I have one just like it," I nodded and thought - there's no way you shop at second hand stores. "So, I've talked to Agent Warren and he's detailed some of the specifics we're looking for today. He mentioned you might have had a breakthrough with Amber Carson last night regarding the chat room, is that right?"

"Yes, but we were interrupted by her father..." I wondered what else Tim had told her.

"Agent Warren said he was a little angry?"

"Understandably so, he's trying to keep his daughter in check..." I replied, feeling a little confidence building. I knew I could hold my own with Agent Carr, but I had skills. She hadn't given me her first name, so this was likely the extent of our buddy / buddy rapport. I didn't feel like she was judging me yet, so we were off to a good start. Don't over-think this...

"Why do you think she got involved with David Lafleur?"

"That's something you should ask her. You might have to read between the lines to pick up the reasoning though. Could be validation, could be the thrill factor... May I ask you a question?"

"Of course."

"Do you know much about Transgenderism? Sexual dysphoria?"

"To be honest, I'm not in my element regarding Transgender studies. I'm a USC graduate with a Masters in Psychology. I understand the dimensions, the breadth of sexual dysphoria, but to say I know everything related to something so complex would be foolhardy. I've performed many psychological examinations / evaluation for the bureau, so it was felt by Director Keith I might be a less scary, non-adversarial interviewer. I can assure you we just want to find out what we can, as delicately as we can..."

I think I was beginning to warm up this woman. She put on no airs, no falsehoods... "Thank you for that, I will assist as best I..."

There was a knock at the door, both Agent Carr and I stood as Amber was brought into the interview room. She looked nervous. Agent Carr handled the introductions, set some basic ground rules, and assured Amber that nothing she said would lead to any legal problems for her. She sounded to be reading the same introductory script I had been given last night by Tim. Agent Carr asked if Amber had any questions, she nodded 'No'.

"Amber, do you recall when you first meet David Lafleur," Agent Carr asked.

"No, it was last year though, maybe around summer? It was before I went back to school..."

"You are a senior this year, congratulations. Do you have problems in school, like bullying? We noticed your Facebook account is pretty sparce for a teenage girl."

"No more than anyone else. My mom kept my Facebook account free of the couple idiots who initially tried to start crap. She shut those people down pretty quick. There were plenty of times she went to the school district to get people off my case. I just didn't post there because it was more of a pain than it was worth and she was monitoring it pretty much daily. I don't care what people think of me," she replied.

"How did you meet David Lafleur?"

"He subscribed to my webcam sessions," she said with more confidence than I would have been able to muster, "I'd like to know if you have arrested David..."

Here we go I thought... Agent Carr looked at something on her note pad, scribbled a '+' sign next to something she'd written, then looked at Amber for a moment, "The Royal Canadian Mounted Police were dispatched to arrest Mr. Lafleur in Vancouver, British Columbia last night. They really haven't told us much about it Amber. They know we want him extradited back to the States so he can face charges here, but that's not going to happen quickly. That's really all I know at this point."

"What charges? He didn't do anything...," she protested.

"Amber, I think we know that's not entirely true. You just told me he subscribed to your webcam sessions sometime last summer. That would mean you were still a minor and at a minimum he could be charged with Sexual Exploitation of a Minor. But, let's not get wrapped up in those things because Canada will need to figure out the laws he broke there before we..."

Amber interrupted Agent Carr, "That's not how it happened..."

"We have your statement Amber and we have more than enough interaction between you and Mr. Lafleur over the past six months from your Tumblr account and Patreon subscription service."

I thought, please don't add that Paul and I helped get you that information...

"I want to talk to him... I'm not telling you anything until I talk to him," she said with a little less confidence.

"Amber, if you really want to help David, you'll help us by answering our questions. Something you tell us could help him and I promise you this, we will supply his lawyers every bit of information they request - you have my word on that..."

Oh my God... I was believing this woman! She was slick and she just personalized Lafleur in their conversation by referring to him as David. She eased into that so effortlessly...

"Fine..."

Legally, Lafleur's lawyers would have to be presented with a listing of evidence intended to be use against him so his defense could prepare, that included witnesses. Amber was being played, but not necessarily being lied too - well maybe a little... Agent Carr continued, but it was like a reset, a couple non-threatening questions, then one about her subscription income. Amber was talking, less like the bitchy teen I'd run into and more like, like maybe her parents told her to knock this shit off and come clean? I hadn't said a word since the interview started and we were nearly ten minutes into it.

"The other night you were in a chat room with," Agent Carr paused to look at her notes, "Someone named 'Flowergirl'. Do you remember that?"

"Yes, that wasn't David, I told her that...," she nodded her head toward me.

"Who is this person?"

"I don't know. She's someone David said was cool and could help me with stuff. She had different names when we would chat online. She sent me things sometimes. That's all I know...," Amber said with a huff.

"And this person was going to get you connected with David next week in Vancouver," Agent Carr asked.

"Yes. I was supposed to already be with David, but that didn't happen. I was supposed to email her to get directions on how I was going to get there, but I couldn't remember her email address..."

"What kind of stuff was she going to help you with?"

"Stuff...," she looked embarrassed to say but finally spoke after Agent Carr looked to be waiting and not about to speak until she got an answer. "Like getting into making videos and commercials, that kind of thing."

"Did she work for a specific company, a talent agency or something of that nature?"

"David said she knew people...," Amber replied.

"And was there a cost for this service she was going to provide," Agent Carr asked.

"Yes, ten-thousand dollars, which I have but you people," Amber was looking at me, "Locked me out of..."

"Besides money," Agent Carr interrupted, "Were there other things this person asked for? Like demo videos or pictures?"

"Of course, I posted things online, I sent her stuff..."

"Was it all sexual in nature?"

"Some of it was, yeah... It's how they get things done in the business she told me. David was going to be my manager. It was going to happen until you people got involved."

Agent Carr asked a few other questions and when she ran into resistance from Amber, she would change her approach, reeling Amber in by appearing to be on her side. Masterful... I was in awe for most of the questioning she was doing. I couldn't get hardly anything from Amber without fighting her every step and Carr was playing her like a piano.

"OK, well, I think I've got everything I need Amber. Elizabeth is there something I might have missed," Agent Carr asked.

I wasn't prepared to be put on the spot, but judging by the questions asked she had asked about everything they needed to move forward. "I think that covers it..."

March 13th, 12:46 PM
Agent Carr asked me to stay behind, while she returned Amber to her parents. She was only gone a couple minutes, “The Bureau appreciates your assistance with this investigation Elizabeth; I want you to know that. This could have gone very badly for Amber given her activities online. Statistically we have a three-hour window after the report of a child abduction. After that, it generally turns into a recovery operation. There are over two-thousand reports of missing children daily, not all are abductions – some are runaways, some are kids being forgetful about where they are supposed to be. Around here though, being so close to the border, more often immigrant children are abducted and not reported for fear of reprisals by gangs or being deported.”

“I had no idea…”

“We will investigate this fully, but it’s likely to end up being filed as a recovery of the victim with no after action. The actors, one deceased, unknown others - will be out there operating until they slip up I’m afraid. With the international implications and Canada needing to investigate the murder of Mr. Lafleur – well there’s a lot going against us to actually make an arrest. Nothing Amber told me during this interview is significant enough to put us on the right trail.”

I agreed with her last statement. It was certainly eye opening to witness Agent Carr handle Amber with such ease during the interview. Amber certainly opened up more than she had with me – could have been Agent Carr’s approach or maybe I just sucked at getting close to her. I still couldn’t understand how Amber thought stardom, fame, and boat loads of money were going to come her way making a show of her new found sexuality. Sure, short term she could maybe make some money, but long term - I couldn't see it. She was being used, bottom line. “Oh… It, well… I mean it sounds like a trafficking case, right. I was hoping the emailing we’d done might have given us a lead.”

“Yes, likely a sex trafficking case. It was a very good tact, trying to lure whomever was in the chat room into talking via email, but as of this morning, there still has not been a reply. Either that actor has moved on or is leery of the exchange. Could be any number of things has spooked them into going dark. I understand Director Keith has made it clear to everyone they are to stop all attempts to investigate further. You or Mr. Kline continuing to be involved may jeopardize our efforts going forward. Is that understood?”

I’m sure she was being polite, she sounded that way, but the undertone of her message was clear – don’t stick your noses where they don't belong. “I totally understand Agent Carr. I’m actually headed back to Seattle tomorrow and I’m looking forward to resuming my dull and boring life as a paralegal investigator for Mr. Wentz. I’m very much ready for some normalcy…”

“Excellent, well I won’t keep you any longer Elizabeth. You’ve done the Carsons a great service and have given the Bureau excellent leads to investigate. Thank you…”

Agent Carr extended her hand, which I shook. She was polished, a real ‘no shit’ – straight shooter. I thanked her for her time and was escorted out to a conference room where Jacob, Paul, and Landon were talking about something, baseball I think.

“Director Keith, we’re all wrapped up here…”

“Good… OK, anyone have any last questions?” When no one spoke, Landon continued, “I want to thank everyone for your assistance. Jacob, you’ve got some good eggs here with these two,” he said looking at Paul and me, “If we need anything from either of you we’ll be in touch.”

There were the customary handshakes all around, then Paul and I were escorted out by Agent Carr. In the outer lobby she thanked us again and shook our hands. Paul and I walked out into eighty-five degree sunshine – free of any more Amber responsibilities. I had mixed feelings about that – I do not like things left unfinished, but I got the sense from Agent Carr that the odds of getting to the bottom of this were slim no matter the resources thrown at it.

“So, what do you wanna do now,” Paul asked.

“Eat… I’m starving!”

March 13th, 1:01 PM
At the car it was decided we’d return to ‘our’ Mexican restaurant. We laughed about thinking that and virtually saying it at the same time to one another. Paul said he was happy I was feeling better. I explained it was the drugs, but now that we were officially off the case, I did feel a whole lot more relaxed.

I asked about the Carsons and he clued me into the conversation the Carsons had with Landon while they were waiting for Amber to be finished with the interview. Sounded like until she was out of school there were going to be some real restrictions put on her. One of the things he needed to do tomorrow was to set up a permanent monitoring system of the internet traffic at the Carsons. It would include notifications when that traffic involved particular sites or the presence of international VPN traffic or abnormalities in packet trafficking or the sending of certain file types, webcam usage. Sounded like they weren't going to take any chances with her.

She was eighteen, so technically an adult, but Paul said that Gary had told Jacob, “As long as she is living under our roof, that’s just the way it’s going to be.” – referring to the new restrictions being put on her. Paul mentioned Stephanie didn’t have much to say during the exchange. I commented she needed to be the parent, not the kids friend. I also added, “Of course I’m not a mom, so I can only imagine how this is tearing her apart…” I wasn’t heartless and a good portion of the blame for this altered path Amber went down belonged at her feet - even though she was just a kid. I mentioned all that, but in less combative tone than I was thinking it.

When we got to the restaurant we were seated right away, it was only about three-quarters seated. We ordered food, Paul ordered a beer – I stuck with a sugar-laden bottle of Mexican Coke. Chips and salsa arrived with our drinks – we ‘clinked’ bottles together and began plowing through the chips. This salsa was amazing!

“You looking forward to getting back,” Paul asked.

I finished the chip in my mouth, took a sip of my overly sweetened Coke, “Yeah, wish I felt this was more of a success…” I put the bottle down and took a couple sips of water.

“Would have been nice to wrap it up in a pretty bow, but guess it’s the nature of this kind of thing. Landon was saying they have over one-hundred unresolved missing children cases so far this year, and those are just the ones that have been reported. All of those are girls, except for two boys. That’s some scary shit…”

“Carr told me something about that also… Makes me sick,” I said shaking my head in disgust.

We were silent for nearly a minute, internally processing our own feelings on this mess with Amber – maybe we were just annoyed we didn’t get the ultimate result from our efforts. “What are ya going to when you get back," Paul asked after taking a pull from his beer.

That’s an interesting question. Do you mean like - do my laundry, go out for a run, and just generally hanging out until I go to bed – or – are you talking about work? “I’m not sure…” Two can play the beat around the bush game.

“Any chance you… You want to continue this back home,” he asked shyly.

“Do you think our food will last until I see you again in Seattle?”

He looked really confused, but I began smiling and he caught up, "Yeah, seriously... No more food problems with you Miss...”

“Oh God... Yeah, no more hugging the toilet for me! I'm so sorry about all that, really sorry..."

"Don't worry about it," he paused like he was going to ask something, instead taking another pull from his beer.

OK Mr. Kline, what's on your mind... "And?"

"And... And what?"

"I don't know, I asked you...," I raised an eyebrow for effect.

"I'd like to see you after Phoenix Liz...," he finally put it out there.

"I think that's something I'd like to explore also Mr. Kline," I felt a warmth spreading all over my body.

"How do we do that? I mean, you have an end goal, a want to be you, like whole. I don't want you uncomfortable about getting there while around me... Know what I mean?"

Paul looked worried he'd crossed a line and I'm sure the blank look on my face probably wasn't helping. How do I answer this? "Well, I guess... I have some things to accomplish yet Paul. And, truth is I'm going to be uncomfortable with you on so many levels it... It's scary to me," I paused to think about where to go next.

"See, that's something I don't want to lay on you - stress or scary or uncomfortable..."

I had no idea where this conversation was going to go or end up... Maybe I should have had a drink? OK, here goes nothing, "You could be perfect, even flawless in everything you say or do with me and I'm going to be uncomfortable. This," I pointed a finger toward him, then back at myself, "Is new territory. I didn't date when I was younger - sure I've seen plenty of relationships and I have a pretty good idea what I want from one. I... Jesus, that doesn't... Not what I was trying to..." I tried to not sound frustrated, but I hadn't thought about this in any great depth - well I had, but not how to explain it to someone.

"No, I get it's new, but it's new for me also..."

"Yeah, but until I get 'whole'," I used his word to make the point, "Every day, everything you can imagine you do with your own body - like your male body - resets my, no puts my very core... Not puts," I needed to slow down, "It tips my very core belief in who I am upside down... God, why is this so difficult? Look, bottom line - I was born in the wrong body. I got the wrong chromosome combo, but the right brain. I'm working on fixing that, but being uncomfortable and suffering - that's just the price I have to pay."

He took a couple seconds to consider his response, "OK, I am not going to say I totally get it, but I get some of it. I can accept that you get to be uncomfortable and I'll try to not make that worse. But you have to let me in, trust that I'm your friend and want nothing but the best for you..."

I couldn't help but tear up and lowered my head... "Whoa... Hey, that's not," I heard him sliding his chair back, then felt him hugging me, "That's not the reaction I was expecting... Relax... Only a couple people looking at us right now," he was chuckling.

Not sure why, but I didn't care that people were staring. I tried to gain some composure by hugging him back. When I eased out of the hug he kissed my forehead and returned to his seat. "This is new for me...," I half croaked.

"I know, you said that," he replied smiling.

"Why? Why are you... would you want to be with...," I couldn't finish without breaking into a sob and just ended it there. I hoped he knew what I was asking.

"Do I need a reason to want to get to know you better Liz? Come on, I like the person I've gotten to know these past couple days. That's probably the biggest reason, I really don't...," he stammered just a little, "You have a quiet confidence I find really, I mean... It's attractive to me, I guess," he was smiling, "There's certainly a physical attraction. I don't know who blessed you with those legs, but I have a hard time not wanting to... Admire them, but not like a perv or anything... Come on, I'm a guy for God sakes - you're cute, beautiful..."

That was absolutely the nicest things anyone had ever said to me, but I wondered if he knew how debilitating the internal struggles could be - I told him I tried to end it all at my lowest point. That wasn't for effect or sympathy - it was the truth. Every day was a battle - some days not so much one, but most days there was a chipping away at everything I was trying to build. Did he get that? "I'm damaged Paul... I..."

He interrupted, "OK, let me help fix what I can, and what we can't we'll deal with..."

This wasn't exactly how I thought lunch was going to go... I wanted this, wanted the normalcy, wanted him and his happy ending. I wanted the help, to love and feel loved... I was worried that I would end up pushing him away. Did I deserve this? Did he...

::: --- :::

If you liked this chapter 'Thumps Up' me! Thank You for reading my story!! I very much appreciate your time!

I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Bronwen Welsh in proofreading and giving me insightful advice. She is an accomplished author in her own right and I appreciate her time more than I can say - check her work out... Also a special 'Thank You' to those who reached out to help me correct minor Oops! on my part regarding the flow / structure (check your Messages / emails). Thank You Everyone!



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