The next weekend, I convince Luke to go out to Boston Commons and the frog pond when he says he’s never been there. It’s hard to believe that there’s anywhere in the greater Boston area that he’s never visited, but he says he’s been too busy with work. “You never went in college?” I ask him incredulously.
He shrugs. “Never got around to it, I guess.”
Early fall is the prettiest time of year to go to the frog pond. Summer is too hot, although summers are quite short around here. The leaves are just starting to fall and there are tons of joggers around, but more commonly, couples holding hands. “You bring guys here a lot?” Luke asks me jokingly.
“Never,” I answer honestly.
“Good,” he says.
We stroll through the park and eventually come to the frog pond, which is a large pond in the middle of the park. In the fall, they have swan boats with rows of seats that sail passengers in a circle around the pond. “Do you want to go on the boat?” I ask.
“I guess,” Luke says, although he looks dubious. “I’m not sure if… how easy it will be to get on.”
“I’m sure they’ll help you,” I insist.
Luke squints through the sun at the boats. “We can give it a shot, I guess.”
Luke and I get on line for the boat. Admittedly, he’s the only person on line who’s sitting in a wheelchair. But they must get disabled passengers from time to time. We ask about it when we buy the tickets and the older woman behind the counter assures us that someone will help us.
Sure enough, when we get to the front of the line, two guys immediately approach us. They’re both teenagers, probably working here as a part time job during weekends. “Can we help you to board, sir?” one of the boys asks.
“Uh, yes,” Luke says, eying the boat. It doesn’t seem like it’s close enough for him to board comfortably on his own.
All the people on line are watching us as Luke lines his wheelchair up with the edge of the pier. “How would you like us to lift you?” one of the boys asks.
Luke gives the boy instructions for one to lift him under his legs and the other under his arms. There’s a precarious moment when I’m a little worried they might drop him, but they manage to get him into the boat. He adjusts his legs and I can tell that he’s having some trouble supporting his trunk in the seat, but he holds the armrest and seems somewhat stable.
“Thanks,” Luke says to the boys. Then he fishes in his pocket for his wallet and pulls out a twenty dollar bill. “Can you make sure to stay with my chair while I’m in the boat?”
The way the boys look at the money, he may as well have given them a thousand dollars. They’re practically tripping over themselves, promising to watch his chair.
I climb into the seat next to Luke and they keep the boat only half full. Initially he seems a little nervous and keeps glancing back to make sure his wheelchair is visible, but then he relaxes and even puts his free arm around me. “This is kind of nice,” he says.
“Occasionally, I’m right,” I say.
“Very occasionally,” Luke concedes.
In the swan boat, we’re just like any other couple. Anybody who saw us, who didn’t watch Luke board, would never know he was disabled, at least if they didn’t look too closely. Probably most people would wonder what a great looking guy like Luke was doing with someone like me.
The dismount from the boat goes a little more smoothly, but despite having a good time during the ride, Luke seems incredibly relieved to be back in his chair. I guess I can’t entirely blame him.
The sun drops in the sky and it’s getting chilly, so we decide to go to the movies. We decide to see The Town, because it’s about Boston and it’s playing right now. “I never see movies anymore,” Luke admits.
The movie holds my attention. When they show scenes from Harvard Square, I nudge Luke and say, “Look, it’s where we met.” Although in general, I don’t love the movie. I tend to be picky about movies. If there are holes in the plot, I usually get irritated very quickly.
“Why does she even like Ben Affleck?” I rant to Luke when we’re having dinner (pizza) after the movie is over. “And furthermore, how come he’s so dumb that he keeps robbing banks even though the police are after him? Nobody is actually that dumb.”
“Haven’t you ever heard of suspension of disbelief?” Luke retorts.
“Suspension of disbelief?” I snort. “This wasn’t, like, some fantasy movie.”
“Actually,” Luke says, “while the term ‘suspension of disbelief’ was first coined to describe reading about the supernatural, the modern use of the term has been expanded to include somewhat unrealistic plot vehicles.”
“You mean plot holes,” I say. “That’s total bullshit. So a plot doesn’t make sense and you put the onus on me to suspend my disbelief? Come on.”
“Well, Ellie,” he says, “if you were familiar with any of the works of Shakespeare, you’d realize that suspension of disbelief is an essential component of theater. He says it himself in the prologue to Henry V.”
“You know,” I huff, “I actually have read…”
I’m about to tick off a list of the works of Shakespeare that I ended up reading in my Tragedies class in college, but then I see that Luke is grinning at me. “What?” I say.
“Nothing,” he says, still smiling. “I just… I love you.”
At first, I’m at a loss for what to say. “You love me because I hated that stupid movie?”
“Yes, partially,” he says. “I also love you because I can’t shut you up when you have an opinion about something. I love you because you’re the most intelligent woman I’ve ever met. I love you because of how cute you look when you’re arguing with me… and when you’re not. And… I just love you.” He pauses. “You don’t have to say it back. No pressure.”
“I don’t feel pressured,” I say. “I… I love you too.”
Luke nods at our half-eaten pizza. “You want to get out of here?”
I was once again amazed and pleased by Luke’s ability to know exactly what I was thinking.
On Thursday night, Luke has a late meeting, so Jenna and I go out for drinks just like old times. We go to the bar near work and I get a beer, and I don’t even lament the fact that nobody is trying to hit on me. I’m content to sit back and let Jenna whine about her love life.
“Boy,” Jenna says as we’re finishing off our first set of drinks. “You must really be in love with Luke. Usually you tell me to quit whining after about five minutes.”
“No, I don’t,” I say, even though I guess I probably do.
“Nevertheless,” Jenna says, “you’re really into him, aren’t you?”
I blush. “Well, maybe. Kind of.”
Jenna beams. “That’s wonderful, Ellie. It just goes to show that you never know. I mean, Luke doesn’t seem like your type at all.”
She shrugs. “Well, you know, he’s so rich and high class. You usually seem to prefer poor and smart.”
“Luke’s smart,” I say. “He’s really smart.”
“Maybe that’s how he eked by,” Jenna winks.
We’re ordering our second round of beers when I see a familiar face walk into the bar. It’s Rita Barnes, who used to be a programmer at our company before moving on to a different job. Way back when, Rita and I used to be good friends. We drifted apart after she left the firm, but I’m thrilled to see her.
“Rita!” I call out, standing up and waving my hand around to get her attention. “Rita! Over here!”
Rita lifts her beer and catches sight of me. When she turns, I realize that she looks kind of tired and old. She has bags under her eyes that weren’t present years ago. “Ellie…” she says. “My god, is that you?”
I nod and gesture for Rita to join us. She obliges somewhat hesitantly, and she and Jenna exchange introductions. “What are you doing around here, Rita?” I ask.
Rita takes a long swig of her beer. “Job interview,” she says. She sighs. “It didn’t go that well.”
“The other job didn’t work out?” I ask, trying to sound sympathetic.
“It worked out fine at first,” Rita says. “Until the company got bought out last year. We all ended up losing our jobs. I’ve been out of work for the last six months.”
Jenna’s eyes widen. “Bought out? By who?”
I grip my beer glass and pray to god that she’s going say the name of some company I never heard of. Or any other company besides…
“Thayer Industries,” Rita says. She takes another swig of beer. “They’re the worst company in the country. That’s what they do, you know. They buy out companies, strip down the waste, and fire everyone.”
“Fire everyone?” Jenna’s face is white as a sheet. I can’t even imagine how I must look.
Rita nods. “They hire new college grads who will work for a quarter of the salary. They kept a few people around, but they had to take huge pay cuts. Basically, the company takes advantage of the fact that the economy sucks right now.”
“That’s… horrible,” I manage.
“I don’t know if you’ve heard of the guy who runs the company, Lucas Thayer,” Rita says. Yeah, may have heard the name a few times. “He’s a monster. He’s got a reputation in the business circles for being a heartless, ruthless bastard, and let me tell you, it’s totally true.”
“Oh?” I say.
“He has zero compassion,” Rita says. “There was a woman at our company who was a single mom with two kids and he figured out a way to say she was breaking her contract so that she didn’t get any severance pay. He’ll turn up the demands and the hours so that everyone quits. He provides health insurance because he has to, but he uses horrible policies with practically no coverage and gigantic deductibles.”
I want to cry out, Luke wouldn’t do that! But suddenly I’m not so sure. Maybe he would. You don’t get so rich by being nice. You get rich by being a heartless, ruthless bastard.
“I met Thayer once,” Rita says. “He has fantastic PR that keeps his name from getting run through the mud in papers and even on the internet. He pays off Google, I heard. Anyway, the guy’s actually in a wheelchair, he’s a quadriplegic or something. Apparently he’s miserable and no woman will touch him without getting paid because he’s so disgusting and deformed, so he’s bitter and wants to destroy everyone else’s lives too.”
Jenna and I exchange looks. Finally, she says, “How do you know all this?”
“Well, it’s all rumors,” Rita says. “It’s hard to find on the internet because like I said, he pays off the search engines. But when you search for the name of his assistant, you can find a lot related to him.” She frowns at us. “Why so interested?”
Jenna’s at a loss, so I quickly say, “A friend of ours is in a company that was bought by Thayer Industries.”
“Then your friend is on a time clock,” Rita says. “They should start looking for a new job right now.”
“Anyway…” Rita rises to her feet. “I really just stopped in for a quick drink. Didn’t mean to burden you with my troubles.”
“It was nice meeting you, Rita,” Jenna says, who looks very pale by now.
After Rita is out of sight, Jenna turns to me in panic. “Oh my god,” she says. “I’m going to get fired. I’m going to have to move back in with my parents.”
“I wouldn’t worry,” I say, trying to be reassuring. “Luke won’t fire you.”
“Well, obviously he won’t fire you,” Jenna says.
“He won’t fire you either,” I say firmly. “Trust me.”
Jenna and I finish our beers, but we’re both too nervous to talk much. I need to get home and figure out exactly what people are saying about Luke.
Luke’s assistant is named Michelle Yancy. When I type her name into the Google search engine, I’m led on a trail that finally reveals to me the rumors that Luke has been trying to hide from me all this time.
It’s hard to say what’s true and what’s not, but damn, there are some people out there who despise Luke Thayer. I mean, really, really hate him. “Heartless” is probably the kindest word that’s used to describe him.
There are a couple of stories I see that really stick with me:
My company was purchased by Thayer Industries last year. I was one of the company’s best employees, but that wasn’t enough to save my job. When I was laid off, I was six months pregnant and had just purchased a house. I tried to make an appointment with Lucas Thayer to see if I could keep my job, but he refused to see me. I finally got in to see him and he wouldn’t even listen to my case. He called security and had them violently drag me out, even though I was eight months pregnant at that point. I went into early labor as a result. I also lost my house.
I picture Luke throwing a pregnant woman out of his office and I feel sick. And it gets worse:
When Thayer Industries purchased my company two years ago, everything changed. We used to be a laid back firm where employees enjoyed coming to work. Everything changed after Thayer took over. At age 58, I was forced to put in huge amounts of overtime and was working nearly every weekend. I was told that if I was too old to keep up, I would lose my job. The result was that I ended up separated from my wife and had a heart attack. When I returned to work after my heart attack, I was told that since I was no longer able to do the work that was expected of me, I was being fired. I was replaced with a 22 year old graduate from MIT who worked for a third of my salary. They finally got what they wanted. Lucas Thayer is a miserable, bitter man who is out to destroy anyone who keeps him from making an extra dollar.
Every webpage I found had dozens of similar stories. I know what Luke said about rumors not being true, but it’s hard to believe that none of this is true. Especially after what Rita told me.
It’s very hard to read these things. I love Luke. Or at least, I thought I loved the person who I thought he was. These stories don’t seem consistent with the person I’ve gotten to know over the last few months. Yet they do somehow seem consistent with the boy I met all those years ago in college.
As I dig deeper into the stories about Luke, I find a few more that really make me feel ill:
I work for a female escort company in Boston and I can attest that Luke Thayer is a frequent client of ours. I have personally serviced him one time. His body is very crippled and deformed and as a result he must rely on professionals for sex. Having sex with him was a very unpleasant experience. He was very rude to me and when he was unable to achieve an erection, he blamed it on me and told me that it was my fault. I’ve talked to other girls and they say he is often impotent during their sessions. No wonder he needs a professional! After that one session, I refused to service him ever again.
After that post, another prostitute chimed in that she slept with Luke too and said somewhat similar things. Once again, I didn’t want to believe it, especially since my sexual experiences with Luke were all so fantastic, but how can I just ignore so many posts from different people who all are saying the same thing? This isn’t an elaborate hoax. This is real.
I don’t know what to do. I’ve been out with a lot of guys in the past (well, not that many, but enough), but I’ve never felt quite this way about anyway. I’m not even sure why I like Luke as much as I do. There’s something about him that just draws me in. I spend my days thinking about him. I’ve never been the kind of woman to be into a guy enough to get turned on randomly during the day, but that’s how I feel about Luke. It’s kind of embarrassing, to be honest.
But if the things on the web are true, that means that the Luke I’ve fallen for isn’t real. It’s just an act that he’s put on to get me to fall in love with him. He realized that the guy he was back in college wasn’t what I wanted, so he’s decided to pretend to be someone different.
What frightens me most of all is that even though the Luke I knew in college was an arrogant jerk, he wasn’t evil. The man described on these websites is evil. He’s a heartless, bitter, money and power obsessed man, who’s universally hated by just about everyone. He’s so despicable and disgusting that even all his money and power isn’t enough to attract women without having to outright pay for them.
Could that possibly describe Luke?
Well, either way, I know that I’m going to have to confront him about all this.
To be continued....