Doubt in Eden

Chapter 1
Lorna Scott’s computer pinged, announcing new email.
She reached foSONY DSCr her mouse. Perhaps Sandra sent more pictures. Four messages appeared in her inbox, all with unfamiliar addresses. One by one, she deleted them, pausing when the last one filled the reading pane. Big white letters popped off a bright blue background. Are you tired of being alone? We understand.
“Yeah, right.” Lorna moved her cursor to the delete icon, then hesitated when she noticed the website’s name. The Christian Meeting Spot. She scrolled down the message, her cursor coming to a stop on the website link.
Horror stories of online dating sites charged into her thoughts. She moved her curser to the close icon on the top of the message, then paused. The site did say Christian, it had to be safe. And being alone was a drag. Before she could change her mind, she clicked on the website link.
Pictures of smiling couples and their testimonies filled the home page. Lorna read them, identifying with their loneliness that led them to The Christian Meeting Spot. She stared at the couple who wrote the last testimony and her throat tightened. They looked so happy.
Her gut tightened. Or perhaps they knew how to use photo shop. She rolled her eyes. Cynicism had become her best friend.
A ‘join now’ link blinked from the bottom of the page. Lorna ran her fingers through her hair and flopped against the back of her chair. It all seemed so pat. So easy. Like it could sweep loneliness away as easy as dust off a floor. She brought up her search engine and typed ‘Christian meeting spot/scammers’ then waited. No scam warnings appeared. Just links to the site.
Perhaps it was legit. She took a deep breath and filled in the personal information. What did she have to lose? The next section required a picture and after skimming her holiday photos, she settled for one taken last year in Jasper. She was standing on the bank of the Athabasca River. Wind blew strands of her hair across her face, and her smile testified of her love for the outdoors. Once it uploaded she clicked join.
Perhaps this would lead to companions beside her daughter and her best friend forever, Sandra. She loved her daughter, Jennifer, but she had a husband and sometimes Lorna felt as if she was infringing on their lives. And Sandra. She smiled just thinking about her. Sandra had made life bearable after Randy passed away. Refusing to let her sit in her condo and morn, Sandra had pulled her out. Forced her to continue attending church, seeing movies, going shopping, and hiking through the mountains. But she wouldn’t jog. Instead, she’d sit on a park bench and munch on a granola bars while she waited for Lorna to jog the loop. That was until last year when she moved to Jasper.
Lorna’s throat throbbed. She shut down the computer and headed for the bedroom. Time to curl up with her book.

A piercing meow ripped through the silent condo. Then she remembered. She hadn’t shut her tablet down, and its notification sound was a cat’s meow. Strength ebbed and she dropped backwards onto her pillow. That notification would be changed. But first things first. She closed her eyes, searching for that peaceful territory, that blissful arbor tucked between sleep and awake. Unable to find it, she rolled onto her side and hugged her pillow. It couldn’t be morning already. Yet, the window behind the curtains appeared lighter than the semi dark bedroom. Typical of four a.m. in the summer.
Meeeeeeoooow.
Enough was enough. She slid out of bed and plodded down the short hallway to the living room. As she reached for the offending piece of technology, it lit up and another hair-raising cat call pierced the early morning silence. Before another message could arrive she changed the notification to soft music. But her desire for sleep had left.
She touched the email icon. After deleting the spam three messages remained. All from the Christian Meeting Spot. The first filled the reading pain. A picture of a man who appeared to be in his seventies filled the top left corner. She scanned his profile. He was looking for a wife and listed all the traits he wanted her to have. Lorna rolled her eyes. The man figured he could go to an availability super store and pick the most appropriate off a shelf. She shivered and touched delete.
The second filled her reading pane. A middle aged gentleman sat on a motorcycle alongside an empty one. Beneath the picture was written: if this interests you, here’s my contact info.
Lorna laughed and deleted the message. It would be hard to make your wishes any plainer. She opened the next and read slowly. The man’s wife died ten years ago and he was grieving like she’d died yesterday. Lorna touched the tiny trash can icon. She was having enough trouble trying to pick up her own pieces.

***
The early morning sun cast elongated shadows up the trail in front of Lorna. A soft breeze blew into her face, drying perspiration as it formed on her forehead. The two-mile post came into view. Excitement swept through her. She was going to make it. For the last six months she’d been aiming for the post, but hadn’t been able to do it. Sharp pains raked her lungs with each breath, but she pushed on. Only one light pole length away. She couldn’t quit now. Her sight blurred. The marker was only a few more steps―a shot of adrenalin surged through her, forcing her onward―and she made it!
Excitement still clung to her while she stood in the shower. Her thoughts returned to her interrupted sleep. The panther’s eyes remained as clear as they were when she first saw them. She shuddered and turned off the shower. Maybe she was spending too much time alone.
Half an hour later, dressed in comfy jeans and a loose T shirt, Lorna sat in her plush blue recliner, munching a bagel and watching the local news on television. A picture of the mission where she volunteered came on the screen. Beside it, a group of city police stood around an orange body bag. Another overdose in the downtown area, the reporter was saying as if he were reporting a rain storm in another province.
Lorna’s eyes burned. If only those in a position to do something knew homeless people like she did. Their circumstances were not a lifestyle out of choice. Everyone had a heartbreaking story.
Soft music came from the tablet beside her and she picked it up. Another email from the Christian Meeting Spot. She stared at the name. Rick Crominski. What were the chances of this one being interesting? Except for the guy with the empty motorcycle, the others felt borderline boring. After a brief hesitation she touched the message and the reading pane filled. He’d been a widower for six years. Liked to travel. He listed the countries he’d visited. Lorna nodded. Impressive. He was a retired accountant. Attended Grace Tabernacle Church downtown. Volunteered at a drug outreach centre on the south side.
Lorna studied his profile picture. His dark tan suggested he was truthful in his travel to the tropics. Although greying, his hair still boasted of its blonde beginnings. Her gaze shifted to his eyes. Deep brown. Unusual for blonde hair, but not impossible. And so expressive. Like they were already speaking to her. Laugh lines curved around his mouth and nestled at the corner of his eyes. Lorna nodded. Not bad. Maybe this one she’d reply to. But first, she had a kitchen to tidy and a shift at the mission to complete. She switched off her tablet and headed for the door.

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