Arlyn stared at her phone the next morning as she drank her coffee. She had expected Molly to call upset because Arlyn had treated Cordel so rudely. The truth was he really got under her skin, so much so that she had slept more than sixteen hours. Usually, her schedule kept her from doing that, but when her body was taxed it slept.
Sighing she picked up her phone and dialed Molly.
“Arlyn!” Molly’s voice was cheerful and way too peppy for just after eight in the morning. “I expected to hear from you last night, but I’m glad you called. How did yesterday go with Cordel Foster? Was it amazing?”
“It was something,” mumbled Arlyn. She bit her lip. “So he hasn’t called or spoken to anyone at the office?”
“No,” said Molly and Arlyn could hear the hesitation in her voice. “Why? What happened?”
“We didn’t exactly hit it off,” said Arlyn.
“Oh no,” sighed Molly, “is he a complete jerk. You know they say you should never meet your heroes. They’re never what you expect.”
“It wasn’t just him,” confessed Arlyn. “He was late and I wasn’t very nice about it. We kind of started the whole thing off …” she thought of his words. “… well off on the wrong foot. I kind of expected him to call and complain about me and I was afraid I had gotten you in trouble. I’m sorry, I know how much this means to you Molly. I’ll do better, if he comes back today.”
“You mean, when he comes back,” said Molly.
“You’re being optimistic,” said Arlyn.
Arlyn could almost hear Molly shaking her head. “No, I’m being realistic. First, he asked for you and fought for you to write this book. He’s not just going to give that up because you two clashed on the first day. I can tell this means a lot to him and he only wants the best and you are the best. Egos aside, both of yours, I just have a feeling that you two are going to make an amazing team.”
“I really do hope you’re right,” said Arlyn. There was a knock at the door. “Gotta go, that’s either Cordel or my pink slip.”
Molly laughed. “Call me later.”
Arlyn hurried to the door. She opened it and bit back a laugh. Cordel was standing in front of her on one foot and holding the biggest back of baby carrots she had ever seen.
He smiled and gestured to his foot. “Starting on the right foot today.”
Arlyn let herself smile. “Thank you for being on time. Please come in.”
He crossed the threshold, bowed his head, and held out the carrots in a dramatic gesture. “I acted like a complete jerk yesterday. Truth is I’m used to people waiting on me when I’m late, even though I know how rude it is. I set the tone all wrong for our meeting. Please accept this bounty of carrots and my most humble apology.”
“I will accept your carrots, but I do have a condition,” said Arlyn.
Cordel held up his fingers in the Boy Scout salute. “I promise, on my honor as a Boy Scout, I will be on time and respect your schedule.”
Arlyn laughed and shook her head. “No, that you also accept my apology. I acted like a jerk yesterday …”
“We both did,” countered Cordel. “So we start over?”
Arlyn took the carrots. “Let’s do.” She gestured to the table. “Please have a seat.”
As he walked to the table, she closed the door and put the carrots in the fridge. “So were you really a Boy Scout?”
Cordel smiled, showing off his dimple. “I was.”
Arlyn made her way to the table and opened her folder. “Did the Boy Scouts spark your love of myths and legends with all those campfire stories?”
Cordel shook his head. “I was the kid telling the scary stories around the campfire. My dad was a big believer in Big Foot. My mother said he was telling me stories while I was still in her belly.” He laughed. “After hearing all those stories, she still won’t go camping. She claims it’s the mosquitoes, but I think she’s afraid of the dark.”
“Did you and your dad search for Big Foot?” asked Arlyn.
“Oh yeah,” said Cordel, “we went camping almost every weekend. My dad also taught me how to track during those trips.”
“You must’ve been the most popular Boy Scout, then,” said Arlyn.
“Actually.” Cordel rubbed my jaw. “I wasn’t, besides my campfire stories, I was pretty much a loner. The other scouts thought I was cocky.”
Arlyn gave him a smirk. “Not you.”
“I’ve always been the type of person that wants to share my knowledge with the world. I can do that now with my show, but as a kid I just vomited everything I knew to anyone who would listen, whether they cared or not.”
“Vomited?” Arlyn raised her eyebrows.
“That’s why I’m leaving the writing to you,” he said with a wink. “I’m sure you can find a better way to express I was a know-it-all kid.”
“Have any of those Boy Scouts had second thoughts since your success?” asked Arlyn.
Cordel shook his head. “I’m pretty sure they all still think of me as that know-it-all kid, but now I’m a rich know-it-all, traveling the world, doing amazing things, and what they think doesn’t keep me up at night.”
“I imagine it doesn’t,” said Arlyn. “What I can imagine is that your dad must be pretty proud of all you’ve accomplished. Does he ever get the chance to go out on location with you?”
Cordel’s smile faded.
Arlyn’s face softened. “Are you okay?”
Cordel nodded. “I knew we’d talk about my family. They are an essential part of who I am today. My mother still sends me care packages with all my favorite snacks, even though she knows I have a staff room filled with them. She just wants to make sure that I’m happy and that is her little way of showing me that I’m loved.” He chuckled softly and smiled. “You know those snacks taste better than any in my staff room, even the store bought ones.”
“I would imagine they do,” said Arlyn. “Your mom sounds like a wonderful woman.”
“She is,” confirmed Cordel. “Which is why it is confusing to me on why my dad would cheat on her and why she would stay with him.”
“Oh,” said Arlyn, understanding Cordel’s change in attitude when she mentioned camping with his father. She cleared her throat, knowing she was entering dangerous territory. “Could it be that since family obviously means the world to her, she’d rather forgive and fight for what she loves rather than let it fall apart? Maybe that’s part of her care package to you?”
Cordel rubbed his hand over his jaw and leaned forward placing both elbows on the table. “You know, I’ve thought about that and I know you’re right, but it seems I can’t forgive like my mother. The hang up for me is that he put the thing she loves the most, as you put it, our family, in jeopardy, all because he couldn’t keep it in his pants. It seems more than disrespectful, it seems hateful.”
“Have you talked to your father about how you feel?” asked Arlyn. “Nothing can condone what he did, but a little insight might help you to forgive.”
Cordel’s smile returned as he sat back in his chair. “Well, look at you. See, now I know how you do it.”
“Do what?” Arlyn shook her head.
“How you write amazing books for people,” explained Cordel. “You have a savvy way of getting into their heads. You’re not just a writer, you are a therapist.”
“You know what it is,” said Arlyn, a bit surprised with what she was about to share with him. “I love these conversations. I can’t stand small talk. I’d rather talk about something deep and meaningful than about the weather or traffic. Yes, it’s nice outside and the traffic sucks, now let’s talk about something worth having a conversation about.”
“Yes!” said Cordel. “I totally get that. I think that’s why I love talking about the paranormal. Everybody has a story, whether they want to admit it or not. That’s what does it for me, talking about unexplainable things in the universe and my quest to explain them and get others interested.”
“So is they why you picked cryptozoology as a focus in college?” asked Arlyn.
“I went in thinking I was going to get my wildlife biology degree. I had watched the shows on television about searching for the paranormal, but it seemed like such a far off dream for a little nobody from Kansas.” answered Cordel. “So, I went with the sure thing. Get a degree in wildlife biology, then either become a game warden or find a research project.”
“How did that turn into cryptozoology?” asked Arlyn.
“So I finished my degree in wildlife biology and decided I’d rather do field research than be a game warden. I’d much rather face big foot than a poacher with a gun.”
“Understandable,” said Arlyn.
“To be in field research, you really need a masters,” continued Cordel, “so I pursued my masters in wildlife biology with an emphasis in mammalogy. That is where I met Professor Duncan. He was my advisor and we spent hours talking about cryptozoology. I started going on research trips with him to south Texas. We were looking for black panthers, but caught something else on one of the game cameras.”
“What was it?” Arlyn felt herself leaning forward on her seat.
“To this day, I don’t know,” admitted Cordel. “It could’ve been a mangy coyote or raccoon. You can’t imagine how ugly and unidentifiable a coyote is without hair, especially a sick one.”
Arlyn nodded. “Yes, I believe a creature washed up on the beach not too many years back and everyone thought it was some kind of monster, it turned out to be …” She tilted her head, trying to remember what kind of animal it was.
“It was a nutria,” said Cordel.
“Yes, ugly looking thing,” said Arlyn, with a shiver.
“But, not quite as ugly when it has all its hair,” said Cordel. “One might even call it cute.”
“Right,” said Arlyn. “So back to the mangy coyote.”
“Or chupacabra,” said Cordel.
“Oh yes, I’ve heard of that creature,” said Arlyn.
“Good, I half expected you to say ‘chupa what?’. That’s the response I usually get when I say chupacabra,” said Cordel.
Arlyn blushed knowing she had said the exact same thing to Molly when she had mentioned the chupacabra.
“So you saw this picture on the game camera and it was love at first sight?” asked Arlyn.
“Something like that,” said Cordel. “Professor Duncan and I went back to south Texas as much as we could. We still studied the black panther, which we found none, but I don’t doubt the sightings, and we never got another picture of the mysterious creature.”
“Seems like a far leap from one picture to international adventure star,” said Arlyn.
“Oh it was, but this is where a little bit of luck game into play,” explained Cordel. “Professor Duncan was asked to assistant with some reptile research at the Welder Wildlife Foundation. We both had experience, so we said yes. They were tagging Texas indigo snakes, which are just massive in size and were short a couple of hands. Just so happens, the Voyage Channel was shooting footage of part of the capture, tagging, and release of the snakes. I got along great with the producer and he even asked me to do give some information on camera about the snakes and habitat, which I did. Later that night, we were sitting around a fire, talking about weird things we had witnessed in the wild and our picture was passed around. The producer got my contact info and the rest his history.”
“Oh you know you’re going to have to go into detail, right,” teased Arlyn.
Cordel laughed and looked at his watch. “I do, but I’m afraid I have to leave. I know it’s early, and I hope that doesn’t interfere with your schedule too much.”
“No, it’s fine,” said Arlyn. “You’ve given me a great starting point.”
“One other thing,” said Cordel. “I really need us to meet at my house tomorrow.”
“Absolutely not,” stated Arlyn.
Cordel stared at her, mouth slightly agape. “Um… what?”
Arlyn squared her shoulders. Going to Cordel’s house was not an option. Being in a practical stranger’s environment would make her too nervous and possibly cause her to go into cataplexy. Her mind begged her to tell him, but her pride won out.
“I need to conduct the interviews here, that was part of the deal,” said Arlyn.
“I know,” said Cordel, “Just this once. I have a breakfast thing near my house and I won’t be able to make it to this side of town on time and even if you allowed me to be late, I have a photoshoot tomorrow evening at my house, so it would just be easier to do the interview there.”
“I understand, but that’s not possible,” said Arlyn.
“Okay, then we need to skip tomorrow,” said Cordel.
“Also not possible,” said Arlyn. “I’m on a deadline and we are already a day behind.”
Cordel rubbed his jaw. “I understand about the deadline, that’s why I’m asking you to work with me, by coming to my house …”
“And I’ve already told you that’s not going to happen,” interrupted Arlyn.
“What are you some kind of hermit?” frustration dripping off of every word. “I’m trying to meet you halfway here and you’re not budging an inch.”
Arlyn’s head started to buzz at the word hermit. It wasn’t the first time she had been called that, but it never felt any better. “I am not a hermit. I just have a certain schedule that has to abide by and going all the way across the city will throw that schedule into chaos. I don’t expect you to understand, but I do expect you to adhere to the terms you agreed upon.”
Cordel laughed and shook his head. “You are a piece of work, lady. No one can live life scheduled like that. You might leave the house, but you are a hermit to your schedule and expect everyone else to live your world, which is basically a prison.”
“And you are a narcissistic jerk who thinks the whole world should turn upside down when you snap your fingers,” said Arlyn, her voice raised. “Now, I expect you here tomorrow at nine in the morning to continue our interview. Good day.”
She slammed the door and locked it. She could feel her muscles tensing up. She had let her emotions get the better of her. She was thankful her arms were the first to seize up that gave her time to get to the couch before her legs gave out. Usually it was the other way around, but she hadn’t been under this kind of stress in a long time. Because, she mused, she kept to her schedule.
She fell onto her couch as her full body tensed leaving her paralyzed. Arlyn closed her eyes and focused on taking deep breaths as sleep took over.
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