U is for Unrequited
List is sorting through case files when he comes across one he thought he’d forgotten. He opens it slowly – despite that, a photo falls out, fluttering to land at his feet. He stretches until he’s half-out of his chair, fingers grasping for it until – with a small gasp of victory and exertion both – it’s in his hand. A light on top of the filing cabinet illuminates the details in the picture: a smiling, dark-haired girl, curls that he thinks would be brown tumbling to frame a pale face. Equally dark, laughing eyes look out of the photograph; you can’t help but look into them and wonder what’s so funny. List wants to see what she’s seeing. She smiles, teeth white beneath immaculately applied lipstick. She reminds him of his mother – old pictures he’s seen – and as she stands there on some kind of promenade, night falling and the good humour never leaving her smile, his chest aches a little. Someone like this shouldn’t have been a case. She shouldn’t have been forgotten at the back of some drawer, in an office that sometimes makes him cough because it’s so shrouded in dust. (Yeah, it’s one of many reasons he’s so damn fastidious about cleaning this place.)
Tentatively – he knows not to look forward to what he’ll find, these days – he puts the photo on the cabinet, next to the lamp, before opening the file. Laurie Hess. Twenty-two. (Oh yeah, bits of it are coming back now: she’d been rejected by a colleague she’d been crazy about for… What did her friend say? Two years, something like that? It’d taken her that long to pluck up her courage and ask him. List winces, A demon had snared her with an offer of pretending to be the guy, pretending that none of it had happened. It hadn’t possessed her right away; she was strong, it’d taken a while to get into her head.)
He tenses as he skips to the bottom of the page. No matter how clinically phrased it is, he knows how these pieced-together, half-told stories all too often end. He raises his eyebrows in surprise as he reads, Exorcism: Successful, Casualties: 0. (Of course. She survived, he should’ve known that: she cried when they took her out of the illusion.)
She’s out there, somewhere. He wonders what kind of a loser would turn her down. (Maybe a married kind of loser, or a loser who just couldn’t make himself feel the same way. He thinks guiltily of the times Mary has mentioned dinner, all the while giving him significant looks.)
He closes the file, and he sighs.