The Postmaster's Secret Passion

Submitted into Contest #212 in response to: Set your story in a post office.... view prompt


Romance Contemporary Fiction

The bulky manila envelope was heavy with the weight of rejection as Postmaster Alex Bentley placed it on the counter and began filling out the yellow pick-up slip. In the three years since his promotion to postmaster of the small rural office in upstate New York, Alex had delivered his share of good news and bad. Even if the tiny post office he ran was only a mailbox drop, he was there six days a week in rain, sleet, snow, and sometimes into the darkest of night.

He tolerated the postal jokes, ran an efficient operation, and received numerous awards, all displayed proudly on the office walls of the ruggedly handsome young man who, at age thirty-two, was the youngest level fifteen postmaster in the district. Years of walking a mail route had given his body a permanent tan and his daily routine of lifting mail sacks was all the exercise he needed to maintain his well-toned physique.

Promptly at eight a.m., Alex opened the front window and began his daily routine of sorting the mail. He deftly inserted the various bills, letters, magazines and other correspondence into the lock boxes of the 352 year-round residents and 175 New York City summer escapees that lived in Crystal Lake, a tiny speck of a town deep within the Catskill Mountains. Most of the time, he enjoyed his work. He never enjoyed delivering disappointment-especially to someone as persistently optimistic as Rachel Clark.

An ex-lawyer from New York City, who had traded in her disillusionment of the legal profession for the seductive illusion of a writing career, Rachel fled the stifling summer heat of New York City for the clean air and cool mountain breezes of the country. For the past two years, she rented a secluded cabin, camouflaged deep in the woods where, alone with her imagination, she created romantic, fictional characters whose relationships were full of passion and happy endings. A sharp contrast to the frustrations and bitter disappointments of the real ones she had known all her life.

When she brought in her first stack of manuscripts, over two years ago Alex thought she was a college student on summer vacation. In sandals, Alex was a full six inches taller, and with her lightly freckled face and shoulders Alex couldn’t think of any other word to describe her other than cute. It was hard for him to believe she had been a high powered New York City District Attorney.

When she told him she had quit her job to become a romance writer, Alex had been unimpressed. He enjoyed murder mysteries, especially ones with lots of steamy sex, and he’d written occasional columns for the two postmaster’s Association magazines, The Postal Advocate, and Postmasters Gazette. But a girly romance novel was the last thing Alex would ever be interested in reading, and after seeing the address label on the last package he pulled out of the sack, he knew no one else was going to be reading it either.

He heard the lobby door open and immediately recognized the floral scent of her perfume announcing to his senses that she was in the lobby. She walked up to the counter carrying four large envelopes, each containing a little piece of her soul and an inexhaustible amount of hope. After two years of hard work and a great deal of postage, Rachel was still an unpublished writer whose dreams died a little with each rejected manuscript.

“Any news, Alex?” Her voice was high in expectation.

“Sorry, Rachel. Another one came back.”

He tried not to see the disappointment in her bright green eyes. She tried to hide it from him, but her smile wasn’t convincing. She tore open the package, quickly read the form rejection letter, and put the new pile on the counter with the check already made out.

“This one’s going back to Prelude Press?” He read the address label.

“Yes. Prelude’s editor, Joan somebody, actually wrote a personal critique she sent along with the form rejection letter. She seemed genuinely reluctant to return it. I discussed it with my agent and she suggested I make the changes Joan suggested and re-submit the full manuscript in printed format and disk, which is why this one is so heavy.”

Rachel separated the envelopes into two stacks.

“This pile only contains three chapters and a synopsis, but with the return envelope, it’s still a lot of postage. You know the routine, Alex. By the time the summer is over, you’ll have enough money to send your kids through college.”

“My kids would thank you, if I had any kids,” He said.

“You’re one of the few people who still use us,” Alex said. “Not that I’m complaining.”

“For the amount of postage I’ve spent here, I wouldn’t think you would. There are still a few publishers who like the feel of paper and it’s hard to bring a computer into the bathroom, where I think most of them read!” She joked. “Cereals, Alex, I put a piece of my soul onto every word and that energy just doesn’t transmit well over the Internet. At least that’s my feeling anyway.”

“That’s an interesting philosophy,” he said. “Here’s hoping your vibes will transmit a more positive outcome this time.”

Alex put the stamps on the return envelopes, the meter stickers on the outside, and tossed the packages into the outgoing bin.

“All these years and you never told me what your story is about.”

“You never asked.”

“I’m asking.”

“It’s about a lawyer who goes on vacation in the country, falls in love, has her heart broken, takes the guy to court, sues his pants off, and they live happily ever after. Ya know, the usual. I’m sure it would bore you to death.”

Never say death to a postal employee!” He smiled and was pleased when she laughed. “You’re right, it doesn’t sound like anything I’d read, but I’m sure there are a lot of people who enjoy stuff like that.”

“Well, if I keep getting these,” she held up the returned manuscript, “we’ll never know, will we? Toss this into your very dead letter pile, please,” she threw the crumpled rejection notice at him. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Alex took aim toward the corner wall behind him and pitched the impersonal letter into the trash can. He re-directed his gaze onto the small of Rachel’s back as she left the lobby and waited until the door safely closed before leaving the area behind the counter. Alex walked quickly to the front window where he pretended to adjust the display posters, all the while his eyes were focused on an entirely different picture.

Outside, the rays of the afternoon sun radiated delicate streaks of firelight through Rachel’s red hair creating an enchanting crown above her head. Her delicate fingers opened the door of her rented white Chevy Malibu and she slid behind the wheel. Before closing the door, Rachel glanced over her shoulder toward the front entrance of the post office where she caught Alex gazing at her through the large picture window. She smiled back at him flirtatiously. As she slowly drove the car away, Rachel put her hand out the window and gave him a playful wave good-bye. Her gesture sent a shiver throughout Alex’s body. If anyone could write about romance, he thought, no doubt Rachel Clark could.

It was almost six when Alex finished carrying the mail sacks out to the loading area. Lighting a cigarette, he rested his back against the wall and waited for the driver. The afternoon sun was warm on his face, and he closed his eyes against the brightness. His photographic memory immediately brought Rachel’s face into view. He remembered how she had unsuccessfully tried to hide her disappointment when he handed her the returned manuscript and how he wished like hell he was handing her a publisher’s contract instead.

Alex took a final drag and dropped the butt on the landing. It rolled dangerously close to the pile of mail bags and he rushed to put it out. As he was crushing the life out of the threatening ember, his foot knocked over one of the sacks, causing the latch to pop open. Packages and letters tumbled everywhere.

Alex cursed aloud as he scrambled to recapture the escaping mail. He reached for the last package and noticed it was one of Rachel’s manuscripts. Instead of returning it, he closed the sack, secured the lock, and without thinking about how many postal regulations he was violating, took the package back into his office.

Alex slid his fingernail under the clasp of the envelope, making certain not to damage the paper. Inside was a cover letter, a synopsis and over four hundred pages of a double-spaced, laser-jet printed manuscript. Alex sat down at his desk, turned on the light, and began reading.

After years of visually scanning addresses, Alex had developed a talent for fast reading. Eight hours later, he turned the page on the final chapter of Rachel’s manuscript. Alex was no expert on romance novels, but Rachel’s writing could convince him to become an avid fan. She was good. Damn good, he thought, but an important element seemed to be lacking. Rachel’s descriptions and dialogue were colorful and dramatic, but, in Alex’s opinion, the leading male character lacked any real emotional depth for a romantic hero.  He could understand why the publishers kept returning the book.

He remembered the pain in Rachel’s eyes when she tossed him the rejection letter, and how he’d wished he could have done something to change the message she’d received. Alex stared at the computer screen, lightly tapping the edge of the keyboard, and started to think. His fellow postmasters told him they enjoyed reading his articles, and he had taken a creative writing course in college. Maybe her manuscript falling out of the sack wasn’t just a coincidence.

Alex took the lash drive out of the envelope and put it into his computer. With a click of the mouse, Legal Briefs by Rachel Clark flashed onto the screen. And, as he ignored his body pleading for sleep and his brain telling him all the reasons why he shouldn’t be doing it, Alex began typing.

All through the night, Alex wrote and re-wrote parts of Rachel’s manuscript. He edited sentences, changed some of the dialogue, and added just a little lust to the romantic scenes. It was seven the next morning when he finished printing the revised manuscript. He slid the entire package back into the envelope and sealed it tightly, just as the delivery truck was pulling up to the loading platform. Alex met the driver at the back door.

“Here, Walter. You missed this yesterday,” he handed the driver the manuscript. “It’s going out priority express and needs to be delivered today.”

“Sure thing, Alex.” Walter took the envelope, gave Alex the sacks of mail and drove off.

Alex tried to make himself look as if he hadn’t been awake all night, and barely succeeded when he opened the front window at exactly eight o’clock . He phoned a nearby restaurant, and ordered a large cup of black coffee, which he barely managed to finish just as the first customer walked into the lobby.

On the other side of town, Rachel was trying without success to come up with an excuse to make another trip to the post office. As she drove home the previous night, she could still feel Alex’s  eyes burning the back of her neck like the intense rays of the afternoon sun. She didn’t know if she felt uncomfortable because he was watching her, or because the fire she was feeling was beginning to inflame other, more intimate, parts of her body.

Choosing instead to take a long walk in the beautiful country woods, Rachel lost track of time thinking about her postmaster. She’d been coming to Crystal Lake every summer for more than two years. Alex was always there, so sweet, so supportive. She knew her feelings were much too strong not to have them shared, even if Alex never said a thing.

By the time she returned to the cabin, the sun was starting to set, so the flashing light on her answering machine lit up the cabin.

“Rachel? It’s Sandra. I just got off the phone with Peter Williams, the main man from Prelude Press. He loved your edits and wants to publish your book!”

 “Oh my God, Sandra. Are you serious?”

“As serious as an advance royalty check, and yours my dear is very, very serious!

“I’ll fax the contracts right now to that post office you seem to love so much.  Congratulations. I’ll see you in in the office first thing in the morning.”

Rachel jumped into her car, nearly hitting a squirrel on her way out the driveway. When she got to the post office, she nearly tripped on the stairs. Rachel was out of breath by the time she reached to counter where Alex was standing. A huge grin on his face and a large stack of papers in his hand.

“Is this what you were coming in here for?” Alex said, holding out the faxes. “Or are you breathing heavy because of me?”

He flashed her a wide grin and she grabbed the pages from his hand.

Both, she wanted to say as she nervously read the pages.

“Good news?” Alex already knew the answer.

“The best news, Alex! My novel is going to be published! After all this time. Peter wrote that he really loved the edits and the book was going to get his company’s full number one treatment. Funny though, I don’t recall making any edits when I sent it out.”

Should I tell her? I should tell her. I’m not going to tell her.

Rachel looked up  expecting to see Alex behind the counter, and was startled for an instant when she realized he was standing right behind her. She turned around and without thinking, put her arms around him and kissed him hard on the mouth. When she realized what she’d done, she was suddenly embarrassed.

“I’m sorry...I didn’t mean...” she tried to pull away, but he didn’t release her.

“Hey, that’s ok. You want to try that again, only a little slower?”

Before she had a chance to answer, Alex started kissing her, slowly moving his hands down her back, gently pulling her closer. It had been so long since she had felt this kind of passion from a man. Passion that had been building up for weeks, or maybe it was a lifetime.

She pulled away from him and tried to breathe.

 “Alex, I have to be honest. Sandra wants me back in the office first thing in the morning to meet the staff at Prelude Press.” Rachel’s voice cracked. “I won’t be coming back and we can’t start something we both know we won’t be able to finish.”

Dammit, Alex thought. If I hadn’t’ made those edits, her book wouldn’t have been published and she wouldn’t be leaving.

But then again her happiness meant more to him then his own and who knows, sometime in the future she might return.

“I understand, Rachel. We both know you could never be happy living in a small town, away from the excitement of the city - and take out.”

His smile eased the pain in his voice slightly. “Limousines, champagne, trips to Europe - that’s your world, Rachel, but it isn’t mine.”

She wanted to argue with him, wanted to convince him he was wrong. That it was possible for them to live happily ever after. He could live in Crystal Lake, she could commute. It wasn’t an insurmountable obstacle.

 “Alex, I think I’m falling in love with you,”

“I love you too, Rachel - but it’s not enough. This isn’t one of your romance novels. In real life sometimes the boy doesn’t get the girl,”

Rachel stood and walked within a scant breath of him.

“I have to go,” she forced the words from her throat.

“I know,” he brushed a strand of hair from her face.

“I can’t imagine my life without you, Alex, but I can’t imagine sharing my life with you, either. Does that make sense?”

“It makes perfect sense. Stupid, logical, rational sense,”

They heard a customer in the outer lobby,  but Alex didn’t move.

“Let them arrest me,” he joked, “I have a good lawyer,”

“You have the best lawyer and don’t you ever forget it,”

Rachel playfully poked him in the chest. Alex’s hand encompassed her forefinger and he held her hand affectionately in his.

“I could never forget, Rachel,” He brought both her hands to his lips and gently kissed the back of each.

“You are one classy Postmaster, Alex Bentley,” There was admiration and respect in her voice, even though there were tears in her eyes.

Alex opened his arms invitingly and Rachel melted into them. They held each other for what would be an eternity. More angry noise in the lobby compelled him to release her.

“They sent a car for me. I’ll go out the back,” Rachel breathed and headed for the door as Alex went into the outer area to open the front door window.

“Can I help you?” He politely asked the impatient woman who had waited to purchase two stamps. She began complaining about the post office closing early, but Alex wasn’t listening.

His attention was focused on the street outside where a lovely red-headed woman was entering the back of a long white limousine. As the car slowly drove away, Rachel put her hand out the window and gave him a wistful wave goodbye.

Alex rubbed the dampness from his eyes and tried to ignore the searing pain tearing across his abdomen. Noticing his apparent discomfort, the woman asked if he was going to be all right. He took a deep breath, let it out slowly and replied;


August 23, 2023 23:38

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David Marshall
02:01 Sep 01, 2023

Thank you very much!! Great story!!


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Hannah Lynn
18:36 Aug 28, 2023

Bittersweet love story. I enjoyed reading it!


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