Step by Step

Phyllis pulled her robe tight around her small waist. Her hands groped the wall for the light switch, the quick flood of light assaulting her eyes. She stood motionless for a moment, getting her bearings until the insistent knocking sounded again.

“Alright already! You’re going to wake the entire building!” She sighed as she hurried to the door. “This better be good,” she stammered, pulling the door open, her voice dropping off quickly as she saw Nick standing there.

“Nick..” His presence was entirely unexpected. Sure, they had been spending a bit more time together recently, but it had almost completely revolved around Summer and she hadn’t even considered the idea that he wouldn’t have thought anything other than that. Of course, as they say, perception is reality.

“Can I come in, Phyllis?”

It was his tone that struck her. Not friendly, but not unfriendly either—almost entirely devoid of emotion. Numb. She nodded, stepping aside for him to walk past her.

“Not to be rude, Nick, but do you have any idea what time it is?” She smiled at him, a feeble attempt to lighten the mood. She’d always been able to joke with him, but tonight seemed different, heavier..something she couldn’t quite pinpoint.

“I know…I’m sorry. It’s just…I had to talk to you. It’s important.” He looked at her, really looked at her. Something he hadn’t done in a long time.

She crossed her arms tighter across her chest, as if somehow she could feel the weight of his gaze. It made her feel exposed and vulnerable. Nick had a way of doing that to her.

He knew Phyllis was strong. He’d seen it. He’d experienced it. The things she’d been through in the past few years would have broken most people, but not her. She rose out of it, a little battered, but still here, still standing. Looking at her now, he hated the thought of crushing her again—of saying the words that had to be said.

“Why don’t you sit down?”

It was as if all the air suddenly left the room. She felt her skin grow cold, the heavy feeling of dread now weighing heavy in her chest. Her feet seemed unbearably heavy as she forced herself to move, to step closer to him. “Why?” Her eyes now fixed on his, trying to discern the meaning behind his request. “What’s wrong, Nick?”

The tremor in her voice told him she already understood. She knew, just as he did. It was instinct—when something horrible happened to your child. When someone was about to tell you the worst thing you could ever hear, before it happens, you somehow know….

Her hand flew up to her face, her fingers trembling as they clasp tight against her lips. His arms wrapped around her just before her legs gave out beneath her and he stepped backwards slowly, easing her onto the couch.

“What…Where…” There were questions that needed answers, but she couldn’t get her brain to process the words. She looked up at him, her eyes screaming. “Oh, God…”

“It’s okay.” Nick took her hand. It wasn’t okay. Nothing about this was okay, but lying to her to keep them both sane seemed like a small sin in comparison to the wrongs that had happened tonight. “I don’t know all the details,” he admitted. “Paul called me. It was a car accident, just outside of town. He was at the scene, but…” He paused to take a breath. “They need us to come identify the body.”

“She’s not a body, Nick!” Rage welled up inside her and she jerked her hand away from his. She jumped to her feet, walking quickly across the room. She jerked when she felt his hands on her shoulders. “She’s not a…” She turned towards him, noticing the tears in his eyes for the first time.

“I know,” he whispered, wrapping his arms around her as she nearly collapsed into him. His eyes closed as he lay his head down against her shoulder. It seemed wrong to find comfort in someone else’s pain, but there was a kinship there, a shared experience that no one else could ever understand.

“I should get dressed.” Phyllis pulled away. “I’ll be quick.”

“Take your time.” Nick walked towards the kitchen. “It’ll take some time for them to get everything arranged. They’ll have to take her to the hospital first and then to the….” He hated saying the word, but avoiding it didn’t make it any less true. “to the morgue,” he finished.

“Did they tell you that?”

“No. I just know from when…” His voice trailed off.

Phyllis stopped, her hand falling from the banister of the stairs. “Nick,” she whispered, walking back over to him. “I’m sorry…I wasn’t thinking.”

“You’ve got enough to think about. You don’t need to worry about me. I’ll be fine.” He shook his head. “It was a long time ago. Go get dressed. I’ll make us some tea.”

Phyllis watched him for a moment, before turning and heading up the stairs.

Nick stood in the kitchen, his eyes roaming the room. Summer’s things surrounded him and it seemed unbelievable to know she would never again be present here. So many moments he would miss. Much like the moments he would miss with Cassie. Even now, even years later, he still didn’t believe he was fully recovered from that loss…because it wasn’t just the loss of a child. He lost a marriage, a family, a dream…and now it was all happening again.

He knew firsthand what it was like to grieve alone and he couldn’t do it again. It was the most painful, lonely feeling in the world. The ache could eat you up and, if given the chance, it would. He had too much to live for now. He had Faith and Christian. He had reasons to carry on.

Reaching out to grab the kettle, he filled it with water and placed it on the stovetop. There was something else too…he had Phyllis. She’d seen what he’d been through with Cassie. She knew the pain of suffering alone and now she too was suffering a pain he’d never wish on his worst enemy. He had to be there for her, just as he knew she’d be there for him. It was what Summer would have wanted.

As the gentle whistle of the kettle began to sound, Phyllis’ soft footsteps began to descend the stairs. She walked slowly towards the counter, her eyes welling up a bit as she saw the mugs sitting on the counter.

“What?” Nick looked at her, unsure of what he’d done wrong.

“I can’t..” she stammered. “That’s her favorite…”

“Oh…” He reached up, grabbing another mug and placing the other back in the cabinet. “Sorry..I didn’t know.”

Phyllis stared down into the steaming cup, her hands still flat on the counter.

Nick slid his hand across, barely touching her fingertips. She jumped, the sudden contact startling her.

Her eyes met his, tears now streaming down her face. “I don’t know how to do this, Nick. You’ve got to tell me how to do this.”

This wasn’t the Phyllis he knew. The strong, stubborn woman he’d spent many nights fighting with was now standing in front of him falling to pieces. In most circumstances, he’d hold her together, but tonight he simply wanted to curl up with her. He shook his head, his own eyes filling with tears, his hands now covering hers. “I don’t know how,” he admitted. “But we will get through it. I promise. We start with tonight and then tomorrow and then the next day and we go on like that for as long as it takes. We do it together. Okay?”

She nodded, breathing in a shaky breath as she brought the warm mug to her lips. Tonight was step one.

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Private Paradise pt 13 (The End)

She was drifting, her consciousness floating in that wonderful place somewhere between being asleep and awake.  The feel of the cool sheets beneath her bare skin gave her a more tangible grasp on reality and she smiled as she realized this was no dream.  Last night hadn’t been something she’d imagined, even if she had dreamed of it many times before.  Last night had been real.  The smile grew wider as she drew in a deep breath and stretched out her arm, searching for the warmth of his body.

Her arm found nothing and her eyes opened slowly, almost afraid to confirm her suspicions.  She was alone.  No one lay beside her in the bed.  She sat up quickly, pulling the covers up close to her.

“Billy?”

“Yeah,” he called out immediately, alarmed by the tense tone of her voice.  He stepped into the room, pushing the room service cart.  “What’s the matter?”

Relief flooded her body and the air left her lungs in a deep sigh as she reached out to him.  His warm hands took hers just before he pulled her into his arms, his lips immediately pressing against her forehead.

“You ok?” he asked gently, looking down at her after they sat still for a moment.

“Yeah,” she whispered, feeling a little silly at her overreaction.  “It’s just I woke up and you weren’t here.  I thought maybe I’d imagined the whole thing.”  She looked away, feeling even more embarrassed to hear the words out loud.  She sounded needy and desperate—two things she’d made a point to never be.  Her entire life she’d prided herself on being strong and independent and here she was—admitting how much she needed someone in her life.

She felt his hands on her face, his fingers gently turning her chin back toward him.  “Don’t look away from me,” he commanded softly.  “You know you don’t always have to be brave and strong and stoic, right?  You’re allowed to need me sometimes?  You’re allowed to have feelings, to have weaknesses, to be vulnerable?”

Phyllis smiled, the thought of it making her a bit uncomfortable.  “You sure about that?  I’ve never heard that part of the speech.”

“Well you’re hearing it now.”  He pulled her tighter against him.  “I formed my opinion of you a long time ago.  No one could have gone though everything you’ve been through in the last few years unless they were tough as nails.”  His eyes stared into hers.  “I know how strong you are.  You don’t have to keep proving it to me.  I don’t want you to feel like you have to be some version of yourself…you can be whoever you want to be.  You can feel whatever you feel.”  He paused for a moment, allowing her to consider the words.

“I guess I’m kind of scared.”  Her voice was barely above a whisper.

“Of what?”

She lay back on the bed, smiling as he lay back beside her and wrapped his arms around her.  There was something about being next to him—something that always made her feel more at peace.  “You know today is it, right?”

Billy nodded.  “So that’s what this is about?”

“Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about it?” At first it had been utter perfection, but as each day passed, they were one day closer to this moment.

“What exactly do you think is gonna happen, huh?  You think this is going to change something?”

“Come on, Billy.”  She pulled herself up and out of his arms, swinging her legs off the bed and reaching for a robe.  Wrapping it around her, she stood, walking over to the balcony doors and opening it slightly.  The sea air was warm as it wafted into the room.

Billy sighed, pulling himself off the bed as well and following her over to the door.  He felt her body lean back against his as he walked behind her and they stood for a moment just admiring the view.  “Things only change if we let it,” he whispered.  “We just won’t let it.”

~

“Honestly, Billy.  Aren’t you tired?  I really think it would be better to do this another night?  Maybe next week?” She shot him a look with hopeful eyes as she watched him bring in the last of the luggage.

“You aren’t tired,” he smiled, pausing to give her a quick kiss on the lips, “And you’re not getting out of this.  Remember what we promised.”

Phyllis sighed.  “Yes.  I do remember what we promised.  We promised not to let coming back to Genoa City change anything.  We promised to put our happiness and our relationship first and, in the interest of that promise, I would like to suggest that walking into the Athletic Club together tonight is a sure fire way to disrupt the peace and happiness bubble we’ve been living in.”

Billy nodded slowly, his face a little more serious.

“What?” Phyllis said, slowly, watching his expression.  “Billy? What is it?  I know that face.  That face is not a good face.”

He took her hand and slowly led her to the sofa.  “Why don’t you come sit down over here with me for a second?”

“Billy—What have you done?”

“Don’t get all worked up.”  He smiled sweetly at her, recognizing how worked up she already was.  “It’s just…it’s about dinner.”

“What about it?”

“Well, I know I told you I wanted us to go to the Club tonight…kind of a rip off the band-aid kind of thing.  Get the first public appearance over with…”

Phyllis nodded, her mind still reeling over the absurd suggestion, “Right and I tried to talk you out of the insane idea, but you are hell bent on being the stubborn one in this relationship.”

“Right, and I just thought since we’re doing, we might as well do it right.”

“I don’t follow.  I probably don’t want to follow, but seriously I’m lost here.”

“My mother has been after me for weeks to have dinner with her, so I kind of called her and told her I’d meet her and Colin for dinner and that I was bringing a woman I’d been seeing.”

“You aren’t serious.  You cannot be serious.”  She stood, immediately beginning to pace the floor.

“Hey, wait…just think about it for a minute.  The plan actually has merit.”  He followed her step for step, trying to stay in front of her to check her expression.  “We’ll have her in public so she can’t have a complete meltdown.  You know how worried she is about bad publicity and keeping up appearances.”

“That won’t matter, Billy because she’s going to have a stroke or a heart attack or worse.  She may die…right on the spot.  We’re going to be having dinner with a corpse.”

“Don’t you think you’re being a bit dramatic?” He grabbed her shoulders gently, looking into her eyes.  “Look, I’m doing this for us.  I want to get everything out in the open.  I want to show my mother, my brother, the entire town how much I love you.  I want them to know that nothing they say and nothing they think is going to impact the way we live our lives.  I want them to see that we’re not going to be ashamed of our feelings, that we’re not going to hide.  Isn’t that what you want too?”

She sighed.  He was right.  She wasn’t hiding, not from anyone—certainly not from Jill.  Not anymore.  “What time are we meeting them?” she said with a smile.  “I’ve got to find a dress.”

~

Billy watched her as she walked through the doors, the skin tight black dress certainly not meant for fading into the background.

She turned around to face him and smiled.  “What?” she cooed, knowing all too well that he’d been staring at her.

“Just looking at you,” he smiled, “I’m gonna guess by your choice of dress that you’re no longer worried about what everyone is going to say when they see us together.”  He dropped his head, his lips meeting hers for a moment.

“Well, I figured if they’re gonna get a show, it might as well be one worth watching.”  She took his hand in hers, squeezing it lightly.

Billy glanced down, feeling the ring press into his hand.  “I was afraid you might take it off,” he whispered, bringing her hand to his lips.

“Not a chance,” she smiled.  “I want everyone to know how happy we are…especially your mother.”

“Well, here she comes,” he hissed through a fake smile.

The smile on Jill’s face faded immediately as her eyes fell on Phyllis.

“What’s she doing here?” Jill turned to Billy, completely ignoring Phyllis’ presence.

“Her name is Phyllis and she’s here as my date.  I told you I was bringing the woman I’m seeing and I did.  Phyllis and I are together.”  He held her hand out towards her.  “We’re going to get married.”

“The hell you are,” Jill spat.  She whirled towards Phyllis.  “I will not allow you to ruin my son’s life this way.”

Phyllis started to speak, but Billy interrupted.  “Actually Mother, you don’t have a say in it.  Phyllis is going to be a part of my life and you can accept that and continue to be a part of our life or you can choose to continue to be bitter and angry.”

Jill stared at him, her eyes shining with tears.  “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that if you can’t accept my relationship with Phyllis and treat her and us with respect, you don’t need to insinuate yourself in my life or our lives anymore.”

“I am your Mother, Billy.  I love you.  I want what’s best for you.”

“If that’s true, Mom…then you’ll be happy, because this..”  He held up their clasped hands, “this is what’s best for me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, we have dinner plans.  You’re welcome to join us, if you’d like.”

Phyllis walked slowly beside Billy over to the table.  Colin nodded politely as he stood up and joined Jill over by the door.

“Billy,” Phyllis began.  “Are you sure this is the way you want to leave things with your Mom?”

He smiled at her across the table.  “I’ve never been more sure of anything,” he said quietly.  “My entire life I’ve been looking for approval, from my mother, from my brother.  I wanted acceptance from my family and I’ve worked like hell to try and felt like I was worth it.  I’ve done what I thought was right and ended up right back where I’ve started.  I’ve screwed up more than a couple times and vowed to do it better the next time.  I’ve jumped through all the different hoops before finally realizing that I don’t need all that.”

He took her hand in his, a genuine smile spreading across his face.  It was as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.  “I don’t need my mother to approve.  I don’t need my brother to tell me my choices are ok.  I don’t need some business to be profitable to prove that I’m successful.  That’s not the kind of success I want.  You’re what I want.  This is what I want.  I want a home and a family and a life.  I want someone that knows me and accepts me with all my crap.  I want to know that at the end of the day, whatever happens will be okay because I have someone that understands, someone that will live this life with me.”

“I sure hope you’re talking about me,” she giggled.

“It’s always you,” he smiled.  “I know you were worried about coming back to town and about facing everybody, but sitting here with you right here….I don’t see anyone else.  Anywhere we’re together, we’ll always create our own private paradise.”

The End

Jagged Little Pill (1/2)

She stared at them again, the different colors and shapes forming an intriguing pile in front of her. Someone really should do something about this, she thought to herself, pondering how similar many looked to the candy she’d given her daughter not so long ago. Though it had been long ago…even if it didn’t feel that way all the time.

Her daughter was now a grown woman. She had her own life, her own job, and her own apartment. She also had her mother living with her. How pathetic was that. Phyllis leaned forward, her fingers slowly gripping each one of the pills and lining them up again. She’d done this many times before. It had become her own version of roulette. If she could come up with one good reason not to take them, they all went back in the bottle, but she couldn’t use the same reason twice.

Tonight she was out of reasons.

~

It took a moment to identify the sound, his brain still clouded by sleep and leftover scotch. He groaned, sitting up and groping for his phone. The bright light of the screen sent a sharp pain through his eyes and he grimaced as he pressed the phone to his ear.

“Yeah, hello?”

He waited, at first hearing silence before hearing breathing. He glanced back down at the screen, it’s brightness having faded now. “It’s the middle of the damn night…if this is some kind of prank….”

“Billy…”

It was her voice. He’d know it anywhere, but he also knew her well enough to know Theresa’s something wrong—something very wrong.

“Phyllis?” He was completely alert now, every cell within him firing off. “Phyllis, what’s wrong?”

She shook her head, her body beginning to feel impossibly heavy, too heavy too hold up. She slumped down into the couch, her arms curling around the throw pillows. “Nothing,” she whispered. “Nothings wrong. Everything’s the way it should be.”

“Have you been drinking?” He stood at the end of the bed, pacing back and forth, the deep creases in his forehead becoming more pronounced with every word she spoke.

“Just a little…not too much…” It was getting harder to speak now, her body desperately wanting to give in to the warm, inviting promise of sleep.

“How much?” Billy nearly yelled into the phone.
“A glass or two…maybe….I don’t know. I didn’t count. It owes the matter though.” She drew in a breath, stopping for a moment to collect herself as the sudden burst of oxygen flooded her body. “That’s is not the reason why I called you.” She could hear the words, but her brain wasn’t editing…not that it mattered…not that anything did.

“Why did you call me?” He could feel his heart begin to pound as he asked the question. For the first time he felt as if he might truly understand the expression, don’t ask a question if you don’t want to know the answer.

In this case though, he wanted to know, he just wasn’t sure it was an answer he could handle.

“I needed to tell you….” She could feel herself drifting and she was unsure how to pull back, and even more unsure if she wanted to.

“Needed to tell me what, Phyllis? What?”

“Goodbye,” she breathed. She opened her mouth to speak again but watched helplessly as the phone slipped from her hand. His voice could still be heard, screaming her name as the phone lay laying on the floor.

“Damn it,” he screamed, slamming his hand into the wall. He grabbed the closest clothes he could find and threw them on as he barreled down the stairs. Feverishly he dialed 911 on his cell, giving them Summer’s address, hoping against hope that’s where she was. His hands gripped the steering wheel tight as he jerked the car into the road.

~

Everything slowed. She could hear the slow, methodical ticking of the clock. She could feel her heart, the slow rhythmic thudding pounding in her chest. Even her own breathing seemed slow and relaxed. Her body felt boneless and for once, she didn’t feel weighed down with burdens and worries. She was free. She would simply go to sleep and never wake up…forever lost in a dream. Who wouldn’t want that?

~
“How is she?” Billy jumped out of the chair as soon as he saw Stitch enter the room.

Stitch frowned. “Billy, I’m sorry…I really can’t say anything.”

Rage welled inside him. His every instinct wanted to scream, to throw a chair, to punch a wall, but acting out wouldn’t help anything or anyone…least of all Phyllis.

He swallowed hard. “I get it,” he managed as calmly as he could, “you’ve got your rules. I’m not asking for specifics…I just want to know if she’s ok?” He saw the hesitation on his face. “Please, man.”

“They pumped her stomach, gave her some charcoal…physically, we think she’s alright.”

Billy nodded, beginning to ask a question, but stopping as he saw Summer rushing up.

“Oh my God…what happened?” Her eyes darted between Stitch and Billy. “Is my Mom okay?”

“We think so,” Stitch said quietly. “We’re going to be monitoring her closely for the next few hours, but..” He stopped, reaching into his pocket and pulling out his pager. “I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “I’ve got an emergency. I’ll be back to speak with you as soon as I can.”

Summer waited for Stitch to leave before turning to Billy. She glared at him. “Pills? My mom took pills?”

“I don’t really know for sure what happened, Summer. All I know is she called me. I could tell by the way she sounded that something wasn’t right, so I called an ambulance. By the time I got there, they were already loading her up. They found several empty bottles near the couch.”

“Jesus,” she hissed. “Well you can just go now. I called a Jack from the car. He’ll be here soon and I think you’ve done quite enough.”

Billy stared at her in disbelief. “What do you mean by that?”

Fire flashed in her eyes as she looked at him. “Isn’t it obvious? The reason my mother is in this mood..in this state…it’s all your fault.”

“My fault? You think this is my fault?”

“You want to lower your voice?” Jack stepped into the room, immediately putting his arm around Summer, and pulling her into a comforting embrace before turning his attention back to Billy. “I know you think the entire world revolves around you, but tonight it might be nice if you thought about someone other than yourself.”

“You’ve got some nerve,” Billy muttered, not directing his words at anyone specific, happy to allow both of them to believe they were the intended targets, when in truth, they both were.

“Honestly, Billy, control yourself,” Jack said, condescension dripping from his words. “We’ve all heard it from you time and time again. This isn’t the time or the place.” Jack turned, his arm still around Summer.

Billy’s hand gripped his arm suddenly and he turned to face him, his eyes staring st his brother’s hand. “What the hell do you think…”

“Shut up.” His voice was calm, the unmitigated rage now giving way to justifiable indignation. “This may not be the time or the place to have this conversation, but it is what it is. This has been coming for a long time. I’ve sat back and kept my mouth shut because I didn’t want to cause any more pain. Turns out I was wrong. Turns out she got hurt anyway, but it wasn’t just about me.”

“How many nights have you spent with your mother since she moved in Summer?”

Summer stared back at him. “I don’t have to answer to you,” she spat.

Billy nodded. “No, you don’t and thanks to that answer, you don’t need to. Your mother needed you. She was hurting. She was alone. And where were you?” He could see her mouth pursing, her eyes flashing, her brain churning up excuses. “Don’t answer that,” he said quietly, “because I’ve got another question….Where was your Mom…when Austin died? When Luca left?”

He let the words hang for a moment, not needing to say anything else. Her face showed the impact. Turning to Jack, “And you, you’re so damn self righteous. You have this selective memory that automatically removes all your own transgressions, like when you neglected to tell your fiancé you were sleeping with and living with another woman while she was in a coma, how you continued to tell that woman you loved her even after Phyllis came back, how you kept the truth about Marco from her for weeks, how you didn’t support her desire to make the man responsible pay.”

“Not enough…don’t worry, I’m just getting started..lets journey back to the time you slept with my mother who, just happened to be your father’s wife. Any of this ringing a bell, Jack?”

Jack fumed as he stood in front of him. “I never said I was perfect, but none of that has anything to do with this.”

“Oh that’s where you’re wrong. You spend all your time thinking up ways to make Phyllis pay. You constantly throw the fact that you don’t want to be with her in her face. You shove her in a shoebox of an office just to be cruel, you..”

“She wouldn’t be in that office if she hadn’t been hellbent on staying at Jabot which she’s only doing to torture me.”

“Is that honestly what you think?! She’s staying at Jabot and putting up with your shit because she loves you. She still loves you. It’s always been you. And you know what? That’s what makes me so damn furious about this whole thing. I loved her. I risked everything for her and I’d do it again..even now…even knowing everything I know. I’d do it because I love her, but she never felt that way about me. She never loved me. I was never even in the game.”
“Don’t give me that bullshit. You can’t rewrite history. I know how she felt about you. I heard it from her own lips. She told me she was in love with you. You standing here trying to pretend it was some one sided relationship isn’t going to make me forgive her.”

Jack sighed. “I didn’t come here to get into all this tonight. I don’t want to be married to her. I don’t want to be with her, but I do care about what happens to her. I just want to make sure she’s ok.” He glanced over at Summer who was still silent considering Billy’s words. “Come on,” he said softly, “why don’t you and I go grab some coffee?”

Billy watched as they both left the room, his head still spinning as he considered Jack’s words. There would be no reason for him to lie, no possible upside in this for him. If Phyllis had told Jack the truth that had to mean what she told him had been a lie. He walked slowly over to the chair, lowering his body into it.

Rubbing his face with his hands, he exhaled, his voice echoing through the nearly empty waiting area, “Now what?”

Tonight

Based on lyrics to “Tonight” by Sara Evans

She’d been sitting there, in the same place, for hours. The same drink sat in front of her, untouched. Nothing could numb her pain tonight. In truth, she’d known it was over. It had been over for a while now. In fact, she wasn’t sure it had ever truly been right since she’d come back from Georgia. It was as if she was trying to step back into a life that had moved on without her. The feelings were there, but the passion wasn’t.

There had always been something to blame—the coma. She’d been out of commission for a year. That would take its toll on anyone. Certainly that would explain her difficulty connecting to Jack, wouldn’t it? Then there was Kelly. It took time to rebuild trust once it was broken. Relationships weren’t simple. They were complicated. They evolved. This was a phase—something all couples went through. Then there was the whole mess with Marco. For a while, she believed her own psychological scars were keeping her letting anyone in, from trusting again, from being loved…until…

Billy.

“This seat taken?”

“Billy,” she breathed, staring at him with wide eyes, silently wondering if her thoughts had someone beckoned him over.

“Yeah,” he said quietly, a small smile playing on his lips. “Is it okay if I sit?” He looked at her, the expression on her face confusing him. “Phyllis, Is everything okay?”

“I don’t…I don’t think this is such a good idea.” She reached for her purse, her hand trembling as she reached for cash to pay for her drink.

“Hey.” His hand was warm as it covered hers. Her eyes involuntarily closed as she remembered the warmth of his touch on her skin.

She shook her head quickly, snapping herself out of her thoughts—the same thoughts that had landed her here in the first place. “I should go.”

“So that’s it? That’s what we do now? You see me and you go flying in the other direction? We can’t even stay in the same room together?”

If I had a weakness
You sure found it tonight
Some hidden desperation
You saw floatin’ in my eyes
Moments just like these baby
Wrong can feel so right

Damn him. Of all the people in the world to run into tonight…why did it have to be him? Why did it have to be the one person that had the best chance of actually making it better? Why did it have to be the one person that could hold her in his arms and make her believe that life wasn’t quite so bad? Why him?

“I don’t want it to be like that. I just…Tonight isn’t good…” She could feel her eyes filling with tears. This was the last thing she needed to be doing. Billy didn’t want to hear about her problems with Jack and she didn’t want to tell him.

“Why? What happened?”

“Billy, please. I need to go.”

“Phyllis,” he took her hand again.

The same rush of emotion flooded her body. One touch making her feel more than she’d felt in nearly a year with Jack.

He looked directly into her eyes—she’d swear almost into her soul. “I know things are different now, okay? I get that, but I’ll always care about you and I want to help…no matter what it is. I’ll listen.”

“I can’t. I can’t talk about this here.”

“That’s okay. We can go upstairs. I’ve got a suite here.” He saw her eyes narrow. “Yeah,” he nodded. “I just couldn’t stay in that house with Mom and Colin. It was like being in high school.”

She smiled slightly—the first sign of life he’d seen all evening.

“So what do you say? We’ll go up and talk?”

“I..”

“Just talk, Phyllis.”

She sighed. He did know her better than anyone else and it was a far better offer than sitting here and staring at a glass of wine. One thing was certain, she didn’t want to go home to her daughter’s apartment and answer a million questions.

“Alright,” she said quietly. “Lead the way.”

I’ve held it all together
As long as I can
There’s pieces of me fallin’
Right into your hands

“I’m sorry.” Billy handed her a glass of red wine as he took a seat on the couch next to her.

Phyllis cut her eyes over to him, smiling slightly. “No you’re not.”

“I am. I never wanted you to get hurt and I can see that you’re hurting. No matter what I wanted or how I wish things had turned out…if Jack had made you happy and if he was good to you, I would have wanted that for you.”

“Yeah well, that’s all in the past now. Jack and I are over.” She took a long drink from the glass of wine.

“I’ve heard you say that before,” he said quietly. “You and my brother love each other. Maybe you can make it work.” It killed him to even say the words, but he did want her to be happy. Seeing her so sad, so dejected—it broke him. He’d give her up to see her happy.

“No. Not this time.” Phyllis stared out in front of her, trying to make sense of the thoughts that jumbled around in her mind. “This may sound crazy, but I’m not really even sure I’m upset about losing Jack….I think I’m upset about losing.” She looked over at Billy. “My God…what kind of a person says something like that.”

“An honest one…one that knows they aren’t gonna be judged for saying what they feel…one that knows that the person on the other end of this couch has probably thought and said far worse.”

“Touche.” She raised her glass, before draining the last bit. “This is good,” she said softly.

“Yeah. I remembered you liked it. It’s the same…” He stopped himself, closing his eyes and silently cursing his big mouth. He brought her up here to talk, to show her that they could be friends, that they could still have a relationship outside of all the complications and here he was throwing the memories right back in her face.

“the same what?”

“It’s the same wine from the night of the benefit—the night of the storm. I just remembered you said you liked it, so…” He saw the look on her face, the way her eyes instantly filled with tears. “I’m sorry, Phyllis. I am. I know I told you that we could come up here and talk like friends and everything would be normal and I ruined it…”

I might be just a sinner
Who wants to be a saint
One justifies the reason
Oh, one understands the pain

“Stop.”

It startled him to hear her speak. He’d expected her to, at the very least, shut down. At worst, he’d envisioned her grabbing her things and storming out, all the whole shouting how she’d known this had been a bad idea.

“You didn’t ruin it,” she said softly. “You remember the wine?”

“Yeah,” he said quietly. “I mean, I think that’s the right one, isn’t it?” He was suddenly worried he’d been wrong.

“No..no..” The breath came out as a soft laugh as her eyes looked into his. “It’s the right one. I just…I can’t believe you remember that.” She knew she could recall ever detail of their time together with alarming, sometimes torturous clarity, but the fact that he could as well made her wonder if she had somehow underestimated him—if he too spent his nights dreaming about the prospects of their life could have been of the future they could have had.

“Yeah—of course I remember. I remember everything. Every single moment…including the moment you walked away.”

“I never wanted to hurt you, Billy. Whatever you believe about me, please believe that.”

He nodded. “I do believe that, but you did.”

“I know. That’s why this can’t happen. I don’t want to take that chance again…not when I’m just not in that place. Everything is so mixed up in my head and I just don’t know where I’m going with my life. It’s not that I don’t love you, Billy. It’s not even that I don’t want to be with you. It’s just that I don’t know who I am anymore and I need to find that out before I try to make something work with anyone…especially someone that means so much to me.” She scooted closer to him, her hands holding his. “Can you understand that?”

And don’t the lies come easy baby
When the truth just ain’t worth the fight
No I, I don’t wanna go home tonight
Tell me I’m the only one you see tonight
Lonely woman, lonely man
There’s just some things only lonely understands

He looked at her, her emerald eyes now shining up at him, full of tears and questions. More than anything in the world he wanted to hold her, to reassure her that he would always be there for her, that he would always love her, that he’d wait as long as it took for her to realize that the only place she’d find real happiness was with him.

“I understand,” he said quietly, brushing his lips lightly against her forehead.

She smiled at him thankfully and slid forward on the couch. “I guess I should go,” she said, the reluctance evident in her voice.

“Will you be okay to get home?”

“Yeah,” she sighed. “I’ll be fine. I’m just really not looking forward to the questions tonight. Summer can always tell when something’s wrong and she won’t rest until we’ve talked it out. I just wish I didn’t have to go there tonight.” She felt her throat thicken again. “This is never how I envisioned my life, you know?” Another tear ran down her cheek.

He cupped her face, gently brushing the tears away with his thumb. Leaning in closer he swallowed hard, reminding himself of his earlier agreement. “Why don’t you stay here? I can sleep out on the couch. It’s no big deal.”

“No…I couldn’t do that.” In truth, she honestly doubted her ability. To sleep in a bed without him knowing he was within walking distance could prove a physical impossibility.

“You’re staying here,” he said, standing and walking over to the bureau. “It’s late. You don’t need to be trying to get a car at this hour anyway.” He turned around, handing her a shirt. “Here, I’m assuming you don’t want to sleep in that.”

Phyllis looked down at her dress and nodded before disappearing from the room.

~

Billy stood, his back to the wall as he forced air into his lungs. “This is a bad idea,” he whispered, softly allowing his head to hit the wall. “A very, very bad idea.”

Phyllis stepped into the room, his shirt hanging loosely on her small frame. “Did you say something?”

“Me? Uh, no..I didn’t. I was just waiting until you got settled before I turned off the lights.” He tried not to stare as she climbed into the bed, somehow managing to still look impossibly sexy in an old t-shirt.

Walking over the small bench, he grabbed a blanket and unfolded it, laying it across the bed and pulling it up over here. “I know you get cold,” he said softly, unable to resist the urge to brush her hair away from her face.

She smiled at him. “Thank you…Thanks for letting me stay here, for listening, for everything.”

“Not a problem.” He leaned down, kissing her forehead gently lingering closer to her for a moment, longer than he needed, relishing the feeling of her warm breath on his skin. He moved to pull away, but felt her hand grip his shirt, her eyes now staring at him much more intently.

“Do you have to go?”
Billy stared at her, wide eyed. She’d asked a question, but there was another—a far more weighted one, that was implied. “Not if you don’t want me to,” he said quietly.

“Maybe you could stay,” she said softly, before adding, “just until I fall asleep.”

“I can do that.” He took a seat on the foot of the bed, the awkward silence filling the room.

She shivered, pulling the covers up tighter around her.

“You cold?”

“A little,” she whispered.

“I can get you another blanket…” He allowed his voice to trail off, watching her every move.

“Or maybe you could just…” She smiled as his eyes met hers. Within seconds his arms were around here and his lips were on her forehead, her eyes, her nose, before stopping on her lips. His kiss could always make her forget everything else—that certainly hadn’t changed.

“I thought you said you needed to find yourself,” he breathed, his lips still covering close to hers.

She ran her hands across his back, “I did say that, but I forgot a very important thing…I’ve already done that. I found myself when I was with you.”

Billy shook his head, in complete awe of the woman in front of him, smiling at her before, his lips came crashing down on hers once more.

There would be struggles and changes and many things left to face, but they certainly didn’t have to deal with them tonight.

Private Paradise pt 12

Billy sat on the edge of the bed, his eyes fixated on the ring in the box. It wasn’t perfect, nothing like the ring he wanted for her, but it was the best he could do under the circumstances. He’d find the perfect ring later, right now he would settle for the perfect moment with the perfect woman.

The ring might not be perfect, but his words should be. What could he say that hadn’t been said already? He wanted this to be something she’d remember—something special, something that let her know that this was about her—and only her. His mind raced through thoughts, moments, memories. He thought of things he’d said to her, of the times he’d felt they connected. The words needed to mean something because this did. She did.

~
Phyllis leaned up in the tub, the steam that built in the room beginning to become uncomfortable. She craned her neck, trying to see his reflection in the mirror, to hear his movement, to see a shadow, but instead she saw nothing—just the light from the interior room as it filtered into the bathroom. Sighing softly, she carefully stood up, grabbing a towel as she climbed from the tub. She wrapped the towel around her and crept towards the vanity where she’d laid out her things.

Smiling to herself, she dried  off before slipping into the nightgown. She took a look in the mirror before adding the robe. Lingerie certainly hadn’t been something she’d packed for this trip. Frankly, she hadn’t expected to need anything of the sort, but she’d managed to sneak away for a few moments earlier in the day to peruse one of the ship’s boutiques. From the moment she saw the white, silk nightgown, she knew Billy would approve.

It wasn’t sexy in an obvious way, but the sheer black lace embellishments on the side and slit across the thigh were definitely details he’d appreciate. She’d quickly made the purchase along with the matching robe in hopes of having an opportunity just like this—a chance to surprise him and show him a life with her would never be boring.

In total stealth mode, she crept into the living area where she spotted him sitting on the edge of the bed. “What are you doing?” she said, her voice shattering the silence in the room.

Her own body jumped as he bolted upright, one hand immediately shoving something into the pocket of his robe.

“I uh,” he stammered. He took a few steps toward her before stopping and smiling as he took a long look. “I thought I told you to stay in the tub.”

“Well you did,” she cooed, stepping closer to him and smiling as she felt his arms wrap around her, “but you know I don’t follow instructions very well.” She leaned back slightly, her eyes finding his, “Besides I thought I might be able to make up for my disobedience somehow.”

The mischievous glimmer in her eyes made his heart beat faster. There was a reason he was having so much trouble coming up with the words to explain how he felt—there simply weren’t any that could adequately express it. No words could explain to her how much she meant to him. There were no phrases that could encompass the way she made him feel, what a simple look from her did to him, how the simple thought of her could make anything and everything okay.

“Come sit down,” he said softly, taking her hand in his and leading her over to bed.

“This sounds kind of serious.” Phyllis hesitated for a moment before sitting down. She looked at him, her eyes betraying her own insecurity. “Is something wrong?”

He shook his head. It was hard to even know where to begin. His eyes lifted up to meet hers. In the emerald pools where he’d just moments ago seen mischief and playfulness, he now saw confusion and concern. Maybe the words weren’t so important. He reached into his pocket, pulling out the box and holding it out in front of him.

Swallowing hard, he licked his lips nervously before beginning. “I’ve been sitting in here trying to figure out what to say to you.”

There was a tremble in his voice as he spoke and she now recognized the look—it wasn’t the seriousness associated with bad news—he was as insecure and as afraid as she was. Their own individual scars ran so deep that they had forgotten what it meant to hope, to believe, to trust. This was new and different and excruciatingly terrifying for both of them.

“You can say anything to me,” she said softly.

He’d never been afraid to say things to her, but this particular thing—this particular question—it came with definite risks. Somehow in the heat of the moment, in the romance of it all, he’d managed to forget the fact that it was, in fact, a question. That, by the very nature of the process, there was a chance she could say no. Was it too fast? Would he scare her away?

“Billy,” she said softly. “what’s in the box?” Her heart raced as she stared at his hand. She was almost certain she knew, but she couldn’t let herself completely commit to the thought of it because if she did, and she was wrong—if she believed the question was coming and she opened that box to find earrings, she wasn’t sure she would recover.

This wasn’t in her plans. It wasn’t even on her radar. Nothing about their relationship seemed to be leading to this—especially not this soon, but somehow, seeing the box in his hand hadn’t frightened her. Somehow, as she stared at his hands, her mind began to imagine the possibility of a future, of a life, of a family—of all of that with a man that she loved, that she trusted, that she respected, and most of all that she knew loved, respected, and trusted her—the real her..not the her he wanted her to be.

As she turned her attention back to the box, she realized it was open. His eyes were wide now, staring at her. “You like it?”

It wasn’t at all what she’d expect from an engagement ring.
“It’s beautiful,” she breathed, smiling up at him.

“I know it’s not a diamond,” he said quickly, “but I didn’t want to buy something here and not know what I was getting. I’ll get you something better as soon as we…”

“Don’t you dare.” She felt the tears as they began to streak down her cheeks. “This is perfect. I love it.”

He smiled. “It’s jade and black coral,” he said quietly. “I thought it was different and unique. It just…it seemed like something you’d like.”

“It is,” she said, leaning in and kissing him quickly. “It’s perfect. I love it.” She paused. “I love you.”

He sighed as she sat down on the bed beside her. “This isn’t the way I envisioned this going,” he said dejectedly. “I wanted to do this right…better…something.” He looked down at the ring, shaking his head. “You deserve better than this.”
He shrugged. “I just…I couldn’t figure out the right words to say to you. I couldn’t figure out how to tell you how much you mean to me and how happy you make me. There are all these grand gestures I could have done. I could have written things in the sky or hired bands or planned some elaborate dinner, but nothing would have been big enough. I wasn’t looking for this. I thought my life was set. I thought I had found what I wanted and I was ready to settle down and then you blew into to my life and everything changed. You turned everything upside down in the absolute best way.”

“You challenge me, Phyllis. You don’t let me get away with anything. You know me better than I know myself and you’re not afraid to call me out on my bullshit. I can be exactly who I am with you and, even though I know I can drive you crazy, I also know you’ll never judge me for my faults or my imperfections because you understand. You know what it’s like to be knocked down by life and how you have to keep getting back up, but you also know what it’s like to need someone in your corner. There’s no one else in the world I’d rather have in my corner than you and I promise you—if you’ll have me, I’ll always be in yours. I know this won’t be easy. There are gonna be people who don’t understand it, people that don’t like it, people that are gonna have plenty to say about it and about us, but I don’t give a damn about any of that. As long as you’re beside me, I can face anything and as long as I’m beside you,” He paused for a moment to smile at her, “well, they better watch their mouths.”

“I guess what I’m trying to say is…” He reached down, pulling the ring from the box and holding it out to her in his trembling hand. “I want a life with you and I hope you want that too. I know we have to wait and that’s fine because I’m in this with you forever. Will you marry me?”

For a moment, her mind couldn’t even register the question. She was too overwhelmed with love for the amazing man in front of her. Then, as she felt the weight of his gaze on hers, she realized he was waiting for an answer. “Of course I will,” she managed, the tears nearly choking her words. “Yes..I’ll marry you.”

It amazed her that she could see the tension leave his body and he still trembled as he slipped the ring on her finger, bringing her hand to his lips for a gentle kiss before looking into her eyes again.

“Did you honestly think I’d say no to you?” she asked softly.

“I hoped not,” he said, his hands clasped loosely around the back of her neck. “I just knew this wasn’t something you were expecting…I mean I wasn’t expecting to ask so I wasn’t sure what you’d think…if you’d think it was too fast or if you’d think we hadn’t thought it through…”

She sighed, sliding closer to him as she felt his hands slip from her neck down to her shoulders, his fingers slowly beginning to knead at the muscles there. “Maybe it’s something about this place…I just don’t want to over think anything. I love you. I want to be with you. I want a future with you. Nothing could be more simple than that.”

She closed her eyes as she leaned her head back, “And, if you keep doing that, you’re going to find yourself with a much more compliant version of me.” She opened her eyes to flash him a smile. “You’ve been holding out on me with those magic hands. You could have been talking me into all kinds of things in exchange for massages like these.”

Billy’s eyebrows shot up as he stood and moved behind her. “Really?” He laughed as he felt her shoulders shake a bit with the giggles that he loved. “So there’s more—that’s what you’re telling me?”

“You have no idea,” she smirked, an evil smile slowly playing on her lips. “But you know…” She leaned back, her back against his chest, her head turned so she could see the look on his face. “Since we’re engaged now, maybe we should talk about something.”

“Okay…sure…What do you want to talk about?”

Phyllis sat up, taking a breath and doing her best to keep a straight face. “Well, you know since this is kind of a fresh start for both of us, I just think maybe we should try and do things a little differently than we’ve done them in the past. I’m sure we both can see things that we’ve done wrong, little mistakes we’ve made…that kind of thing.”

Billy nodded. There were certainly choices he’d made in relationships that he didn’t plan to make again—mistakes that weren’t going to be repeated. He had no plans of losing Phyllis, certainly not as a result of his own stupidity.

“Right,” he said, a bit confused as to where she was going.

“I just thought maybe since we’re planning on getting married and this is something we want to look at as a forever commitment, we might want to think about not sleeping together until the wedding…”

She fought the urge to laugh as she felt his intake of breath.

He studied her face, looking for any trace of a smile, a glimmer of suspicion in her eye—anything. She seemed completely serious, but surely….She couldn’t seriously think….

“I um…well…yeah..that’s um…that would uh definitely be different. Have you uh…done anything like that before?”

“I can’t,” she managed, collapsing onto her side as her body shook with fits of laughter. “I thought I could do it…I really did, but I just can’t. I wish you could see your face right now.”

Billy shook his head, a knowing smile on his face. “Okay…okay…you got me. Enjoy it. You had your fun. I’ll have you know that was a traumatic moment for me. I thought I was engaged to some kind of sadistic sociopath, coming in here dressed like this to tell me she wants to be celibate until the wedding night. I thought you had some kind of deep rooted desire to make me crazy or worse.”

He pulled her back up, her body now facing his. “That wasn’t very nice,” he whispered.

“I bet I can think of a few ways to make it up to you.”

~

They were nothing like the conventional couples, those that had the luxury of dating, sharing a first kiss, cuddling on a crisp night and easing into an intimate moment. Their moments together had always been shrouded in secrecy. They had always been rushed, both of them too fearful of being discovered to be able to enjoy simple things about being together. The luxury of time, of privacy, of normalcy was something that seemed foreign and almost incomprehensible to them. Yet here, they were just like everyone else. There were no stares, no judgmental whispers, no one to scold them. They were free to live their lives on their terms.

She hadn’t realized how accustomed she’d become to their frenzied pace until he’d covered her hands with his and looked into her eyes. “There’s nobody here but us,” he whispered, as he pulled her close to him.

Immediately, she relaxed as she felt his arms wrap around her, the warmth of his body soothing her and she couldn’t remember any other moment she’d felt so totally and completely content. He held her for a moment, simply enjoying the feel of her in his arms. It was the simple things—things like this—that you never realized you missed, until you had the luxury of the experience.

His hands gently stroked her back, then her shoulders before they finally moved to her neck stopping there to cradle her face as he stared into her eyes. He was quiet for a moment, simply looking at her and, just as she was about to open her mouth to inquire, he covered her lips with his.

There was something different in his kiss, in the way he kissed her. It wasn’t as it had been before, the frantic pashing that had left her with swollen lips and breathless. This was gentle, but still as passionate—as if now things were different—they were different—so this would be different too. She felt his lips move from hers, down her cheek, his face now planting soft, quick kisses down her neck. One hand fumbled with the clip in her hair, the fingertips quickly rustling through the now free tresses as the clip hit the floor.

She wrapped her arms tighter around him, using her face to nudge his robe off his shoulder, the tan skin a perfect spot for tender kisses of her own. Neither wanted to rush things tonight. There was plenty of time. After a moment, she felt him pull back, his hands now reaching for the tie of her robe. His fingers made quick work of the loose knot and she felt the cool, silk slide down her legs and pool at her feet.

“You certainly came prepared,” he whispered, the warmth of breath on her ear making her squirm and she yelped as he nipped her earlobe.

“Actually, I bought that especially for you…from the boutique just the other day. I thought you might like it.” She leaned back a bit, smiling slyly at him. “Was I wrong?”

“You were definitely not wrong.” He ran his hands down the sides of the gown, pausing to take a long look before moving his gaze back to her eyes. “You’re beautiful. You know that, don’t you?”

“You always make me feel that way..always,” she whispered.

He smiled, his arms wrapping around her again as he pulled her to him and kissed her softly. She felt his body gently nudging her backwards and her feet easily moved back towards the bed. She didn’t look or feel the need to—She simply knew she was safe in his arms. His strong embrace held her still as he gently lowered her to the bed, her hair fanning out onto the pillow.

Softly, his lips brushed hers again. He loomed over her as she pulled at his robe, smiling as she threw it to the floor. Her hands moved across his back, loving the feel of his warm, bare skin beneath her fingertips. His hands were on her now, exploring her body in quick succession, her face, her shoulders, her back, her thighs. Things were fast approaching the inevitable conclusion and as good as that was, this—the feel of his skin on hers, the way his fingers ran through her hair, the softness in his touch—this was wonderful too.

This was different she realized, as he loomed over her, his lips falling onto hers once more but he still made her breathless.

Desperate Times pt 7

“Here,” Curtis held out the cup of tea to her.  “Phyllis, please..take it.”

“Thanks,” she said softly.

“You know it’s funny,” he said quietly.

She looked up.  “Funny? Yes, please tell me what you find remotely humorous about all this.”

“I don’t mean ha ha funny, I just mean it’s strange…it’s odd how you never really know what’s going on in other people’s lives.  We walk around and we watch other people and we think about how lucky they are to have that job, or to the married to that man or that woman, or to live in that house, or to be a member of that family, but we really have no idea of what’s really going on.  You never know until you’re in it…until you’re behind the doors.”

Phyllis sat silent for a moment, considering his words.  “I guess you’re right.  I would have never thought you were going to hold me at gunpoint for ransom.  Guess you never really know someone.”

She stood, walking across the room quickly.  She couldn’t sit still for long.  That gave her the chance to think and thinking gave her the opportunity to reflect on the sheer insanity of this situation.  The craziest part of all of it was that she almost understood why it was happening.  When she looked at Curtis, she didn’t see someone who was vengeful or trying to hurt someone, she saw a man who felt as if he had run out of options. She saw a man who was doing everything he could to save the life of his son.  She saw someone that, in another time, in another circumstance, she would have defended, a man she might have even liked.

Even as she thought through it all in her head, she realized how crazy it sounded.  This was a man that was threatening her with a loaded gun and yet she was justifying his actions.  She’d heard about this…some kind of weird kind of Stockholm Syndrome.  Jesus—maybe she really was going crazy.

Of course thinking about her own potential insanity was still far better and easier than thinking about how no one had called the number—how her entire family had decided she was unworthy of their time and money.

“Hey.”

She jumped, surprised by the contact.

Curtis quickly withdrew his hand.  “Sorry,” he muttered, stepping back a bit.  “I didn’t mean to startle you.  I just…I know you’re upset and I was thinking maybe it was about what you said earlier.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”  Phyllis turned away from him, pacing across the room again.

“You sure?” he said hesitantly.  “You got me to tell you my sob story and it looks like we might be here a while—it could at least pass the time?”

She whirled around, her hair whipping across her face.  “Is this some kind of game to you?” she snipped.  “Because it kind of seems like you think I should be looking at this like some kind of crazy ass retreat…like we should be playing truth or dare and card games.  This isn’t some slumber party, Curtis.  You’re keeping me here.  What you’re doing is a crime.  I don’t want to be here.”

Curtis closed his eyes.  Her words were harsh but true.  The choices he’d made had been serious.  This wasn’t something he was going to walk away from unscathed.  He’d known that the moment he’d made the decision, but he’d felt it was the only option.  “I know,” he said quietly.

And there it was again.  She crossed the room, sitting down on the couch.  “I don’t get you,” she said quietly.  “I mean I should be afraid of you.  For God’s sakes you’re holding a gun, but for some reason I know you’re not that guy.”

“You’re right.  I’m not.  I don’t want to hurt you.”

Phyllis nodded.  “If that’s true, Curtis.  I need you to put the gun down.”  She saw his head begin to shake.  “Please,” she said, placing her hand on his.  “I promise you I won’t go anywhere.  I’ll stay right here with you, but I can’t talk to you—we can’t have a conversation with you holding that.”

His mind raced as he felt the warmth of her touch.  There was something in her eyes that made him want to trust her—something real, something honest.  He knew, just from reading articles, that she was far from a perfect person. Surely she’d done some things in her past that she wasn’t proud of.  She had made mistakes and she knew what it was like to need forgiveness from those you cared about.  Maybe he could trust her.  Maybe she would help him.  He sighed, looking into her eyes—the emerald green orbs flickering at him intently.

Leaning forward slowly, he laid the gun on the coffee table.  “That’s the best I can do,” he whispered.

She smiled.  “Thank you.”

His hand felt strangely empty without the gun, having held it for nearly forty eight hours straight. He stared down at it, unsure of what to do or say.  Phyllis slowly reached out, placing her hand in his, squeezing lightly.

It was a simple show of solidarity, a shared bond of two imperfect souls.

“Why are you being so nice to me…after everything I’ve done to you?” he asked.

“I guess you could say I understand.  I’m pretty well acquainted with doing bad things for good reasons and I’ve gotten myself in trouble a time or two with the best of intentions.”  She smiled at him.  “I really believe you have a good heart…I just think you’ve got a little off course.  We’ll figure this out and if you’ll let me help you, maybe we can figure it out together.”

“You want to help me?”

“I think it’s preferable to being your hostage, don’t you?”

Curtis opened his mouth to speak but stopped as the phone began to ring.  For a moment, neither spoke.  He leaned forward, picking up the phone.  “Who is this?”

Billy stood beside Nick as they listened to the voice ring out over the speaker phone.  Paul waved to several guys at the back who worked feverishly to trace the call.

“Why don’t you tell me who you are first?” Nick said, looking back at Paul for confirmation.

Paul nodded.

“I’m not telling you anything until you tell me what I want to hear.”

“And what’s that?” Nick asked.

“When I’ll get the money,” Curtis replied.  “That’s all I’m after.  I don’t want to hurt anybody.  I just want the money.”

“How do we know you haven’t already hurt her,” Billy added.

“There’s more than one of you there,” Curtis said, glancing around the room.  “Did you go to the cops?  I told you no cops.”

Nick glanced over at Billy, his face lined with worry.  Paul shook head, motioning for them to keep him talking.  They needed more time for the trace.

“We didn’t go to the police,” Nick said quickly.  “That’s Billy Abbott, Jack’s brother and I’m Nick Newman.  You sent me the fax.”

Curtis paused.  “Right.  I sent you the fax, but who the hell is this Billy.  How does he know about any of this?”  Curtis looked back at Phyllis.

“Jack told him.  Jack got the fax and called him,” Nick said quickly.

Silence filled the police station for a moment.

“You still there?” Nick said, his voice a bit panicked.

“Yeah…Yeah, I’m here…listen, I really don’t care who I’m dealing with…as long as it’s not the cops and as long as you can pay up.  Like I said, it’s all about the money.  All I need is the money.”

“Before we talk about the money, we need to know Phyllis is ok.  We need to talk to her.  Is she with you?  Can we talk to her?”

Curtis turned back towards Phyllis.  His hand covered the mouthpiece.  “They want to talk to you,” he said, his voice hushed and stressed.  “Don’t tell them where you are.  Don’t tell them my name or anything about me.  Just tell them to do what I say and to get the money. Do you understand?”

Phyllis nodded, taking the phone in her hands.  “I’m here,” she said.

“Phyllis,” Nick said with a sigh.  “Are you okay?”

“I’m okay.  I’m fine…honestly.  I just need you to get the money, please Nick…just get the money.”

“Phyllis.”

“Billy.”  The word came out almost in a whisper and almost immediately her eyes filled with tears.

“We’re gonna get you out of there, ok?  You just hang in there.  I promise…you’re gonna be ok.”

“Billy, I…”

Curtis grabbed the phone.  “That’s enough.  You heard her talk.  She said she’s fine.  Now you know what you need to do.  Get the money.  I’ll be in touch regarding the time of the drop.”

~

His legs went weak as he heard the call drop.

“You ok?” Paul said, his eyes glancing up at him for a moment as he stared at the images on the computer screen.

Billy nodded.

“Did you get the trace?” Nick asked.  “Can you tell where they’re holding her?”

Paul’s brow furrowed.  “Yeah,” he said as he looked at him.  “It just doesn’t make any sense.”

“What doesn’t?” Billy asked, standing up again and walking over to the desk.

“Well, the trace showed the call came from Summer’s apartment.  He’s holding Phyllis hostage at her own house.”

 

Private Paradise pt 11

She leaned back against him, his arms wrapped tight around her waist, a warm breeze rustling through the trees in the distance.  “Everything seems so simple here,” she whispered.

Billy turned his head a little, catching the relaxed look on her face.  He smiled.  “I know.  It’s like time just moves slower.”

Phyllis nodded, smiling as she felt his lips brush her temple.  “I wish we could stay like this forever, you know?  I wish we could just forget everything and just be like this…”

Before he could answer he heard the bell sound.  “That’s the boat,” he said quietly, taking her hand in his as they stepped back towards the landing.

The small boat pulled up towards the landing where about four other couples waited.

Phyllis stared at the boat suspiciously before looking up at Billy.  “That’s a really small boat,” she whispered.  “You sure this is a good idea?”

“You don’t want to go?” Billy tried to discern the expression—it wasn’t exactly fear—more like hesitation.

“No,” she said quickly, “I do want to go…I just…it’s a really small boat and…”

Billy pulled her closer to him.  “Don’t you worry…if we capsize, you’ll be the first thing I grab.”

~

The clear bottom of the boat made it easy to see the fish that swam in the clear water beneath her, though she quickly determined that wasn’t the best way to spend her time.  She tried to find a spot on the horizon on which to focus but the gentle rocking of the boat made it difficult to focus on anything.

Billy leaned in close to her.  “It’s beautiful isn’t it?” he whispered, extending his arm out towards the sky?  “Just look at the colors.”

She nodded, swallowing harder. Another deep breath would hold her for another few seconds before another wave of nausea would take over.  She remembered the trip to Italy, specifically the look on the face of the poor gondolier, as he watched her heave over the side of the gondola into the Grand Canal.

Despite the looks, she’d have gladly leaned over the side of the boat now, but she wasn’t sitting beside the boat, she was on the inside row, seated beside a man who hadn’t so much as smiled since he boarded.

“Billy,” she whispered, grabbing his hand.

He turned to her, “yeah?”

“I don’t feel…I’m going to…”

“What the hell?!” The man jumped up, his hands flailing in the air.  “What’s the matter with you?”

Her cheeks burned hot.  “I’m sorry,” she said quietly.  “I’m so sorry.  I’ll pay for the damages.”  Apologies weren’t her thing, especially public ones, but she didn’t exactly make a habit of vomiting on other individuals either.

She stood, reaching into her purse for tissues.  “Here,” she said, reaching out her hand.

He slapped her hand away, pushing her back towards the seat,  “Just sit back down would you?  If you weren’t such a damn lush you wouldn’t be puking on everybody!”

~

“And what happened after that?”

Phyllis sighed, rubbing her temples before taking another slow slip of water.  “I already told you.  Everything happened so fast.  All I know is they were fighting.”

The man eyed her suspiciously.  “And you don’t know if Mr. Abbott struck first?”

“I know that asshole put his hands on me before Mr. Abbott so much as looked at him.  I know that,” she snapped, pausing to breathe before continuing.  “When can I talk to him?”

“He should be back shortly.  They had to take him down to the offices for an official statement.”

“They aren’t going to arrest him, are they?”

The guard smiled.  “I don’t anticipate any charges being filed.”

“I’ve seen this kind of thing on tv you know….people on vacation and they end up in these island prisons.”

“This isn’t Dateline, Mrs. Abbott.”

She shook her head, her eyes darting to the open window as she saw the ferry near the dock.  “That’s them,” she said with relief.  She ran to the doorway, throwing her arms around him when he walked inside.  “Are you okay?” she asked, stepping back and looking at him.

“Yeah…I’m fine…the ferry’s waiting outside to take us back to the ship.  You can get your things.”  Billy waited as she gathered her purse and hurried out behind him.  He paused for a moment to take one last look at the setting sun.  Today could have been an absolute disaster, but he was about to make it one of the best days of their entire lives.

~

“I have to give you credit.  This is the best way to end a day like today. I swear it’s like I don’t have any bones,” she whispered, giggling as he blew a clump of bubbles off her shoulders.

“That’s the point,” Billy smiled.  “Total relaxation—that’s what you deserve.  I don’t want you to worry about a thing, I don’t want you thinking about anything else except being right here, right now, with me.”

“Mission accomplished,” she smiled, taking a sip from the crystal champagne flute.  “After a day like today…”

“Hey,” he scolded playfully, “What did I just say?”

“What?”

“I don’t want to talk about today?”

“Oh come on…it’s kind of our thing isn’t it?  Every fairy tale needs a white knight and you certainly were one for me today.” She grinned as she nuzzled closer to him.

“I think most white knights ride off into the sunset—not to the island police station on an police escorted ferry,” he grinned.

“Details, Details,” she whispered. “The point is you stuck up for me and that means something to me…it means a lot.”

He could hear it in her voice now…she was serious and he knew what she meant even without her saying it.  He was here for her in a way his brother hadn’t been.

“You were here for me today..just like you always have been and I don’t think I’ve thanked you enough for that.  I don’t think I’ve told you enough how much I’ve come to count on you for that….how much I need that.”

“You don’t have to thank me for that,” he whispered.  There were a million ways to do this and he’d thought through all of them.  There were the grand gestures, the romantic set ups, the elaborate hunts, but none of them seemed right.  He wanted it to be real, authentic, honest—everything they were to each other.  No bullshit, no facades.  “Stay here.”

“oooohhh-kay,” Phyllis said with a slight laugh.  She watched as he climbed from the hot tub and grabbed a robe.  She could hear him rustling around in the other room.  “What are you doing in there?”

“Just stay in the tub,” he called back.

He clenched the box tight in his hand.  The guard had been hesitant when he’d asked him to stop but, once he’d told him why, he’d relented and let him off the ferry for exactly half an hour.  Afterwards he’d told him he’d been married for only six years before his wife died in a car accident.  Billy’s eyes had filled with tears when he said “Cherish it…every second…time is the most precious gift you have.”  And that’s when he knew for sure—he wasn’t buying the ring to go back to Genoa City and wait for the right time.  He wasn’t waiting any longer.  Time was precious and he’d wasted enough.

 

 

 

 

Love Lost pt 2

Phyllis sat at the bar, her hand clenched tight around the glass.  Scotch.  At some point, wine seemed pointless and the scotch, as silly as it might sound, reminded her of him.  She closed her eyes as she took a drink, relishing the burn at the back of the back of her throat—the physical pain a welcome distraction from the gut wrenching sorrow that threatened to swallow her whole.

This had become the pattern.  She’d go to the grave site, and talk to him as if he’d somehow hear her.  She’d swear that this time it would bring her some closure—that this visit would make it seem real, that she’d feel him leave her in her soul, but it never happened.  She still waited to see his name on her phone when it rang, still expected to see his face when she opened a door, still reached out her arm to his empty side of the bed.

The crying jags were fewer and farther between now—the tears never brought her any real relief—only puffy eyes.  She sighed, finishing her drink.  One was her limit—a rule she’d set for herself months ago.  She had responsibilities.  Pulling a bill from her purse, she laid it flat on the bar, smiling sadly at the bartender as she headed towards the elevator.

~

“Sorry I’m late.”  Phyllis stepped into the room, hanging her jacket on the hook by the door as she stepped into the room.  She smiled at the young woman who sat across the room lazily thumbing through a magazine.

“It’s no problem,” she smiled.  “She went down about an hour ago.  A dream as always.”

Phyllis smiled, taking a step closer to stare down over the edge of the bassinet.  “She really is.”  She paused for a moment, marveling at the sheer perfection of her sleeping daughter.  “Thanks again for coming by on such short notice.”  She pressed the money into her hand.  “I wouldn’t trust just anyone with her, so I really appreciate you being available.”

“It’s no problem.  I wish all my nights were this easy. Call me anytime.”

The room was quiet save the sound of the door closing as she sat down in the chair beside her sleeping little girl.  There was a time she wasn’t sure how any of this would end, a time she was terrified at the concept of having a child—especially one with a man no longer here.  She’d found out she was pregnant two weeks almost to the day after Billy’s accident.  To say it was a surprise would be an understatement.  She’d long since given up the idea of having a child, especially after all the difficult she’d had trying to conceive with Jack and the issues she’d experienced with Nick.

To some, it was a miracle.  To her, it was a cosmic slap in the face.  How could she be happy about this?  How could she be happy about anything in the face of the most overwhelming, all consuming pain she’d ever experienced.  Her own life was still in shambles.  She still woke up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, screaming in anguished terror.  It still seemed as real as it had the night it happened.

She could still smell the smoke, feel the heat of the flames, hear the sounds of glass shattering.  She could hear the shouts of the emergency workers as they warned everyone to get back.  She could feel the arms on her, holding her back, keeping her from running towards the car like she wanted to.  “He’s in there!” she’d screamed—over and over—louder and louder, but they still refused to let her go.  And then it didn’t matter.  Her ears rang for hours after the explosion.  They’d taken her away, to a small diner near the scene.

Time was no longer a concept she recognized and it could have been minutes or hours or even days –but she sat there, staring at the cup of coffee in front of her—and waited.  The officer that came to speak to her was short, she remembered that, and he had a scar above his right eye—she wondered how, but she didn’t ask.  It was strange—the things you remembered.

He’d placed a clear bag on the table before turning to her and opening his mouth to ask her the question, but he didn’t need to ask.  One look at her face was the only answer he needed.

Michael had been the one to take her to the doctor, though she’d resisted.  Finally, after he promised he wouldn’t leave her to be drugged into oblivion, she relented and agreed to go in conceding she hadn’t been feeling well and could use something to help her sleep.

It had also been Michael to drive her home and sit with her in her apartment as she cried for hours.  “How, Michael?  How am I supposed to do this?”

“I can’t answer that,” he said softly, “but if you think about it, you did want another baby, right?  God works in mysterious ways…maybe this is what you need right now.  Something good to focus on.”

“I wanted another baby to raise with the baby’s father.  Jack and I were going to have a baby.  Nick and I were going to have a baby.  I never planned to have a baby on my own and I certainly never planned to have a baby that would remind me every single day of a man I….”  Her voice broke, tears streaming down her cheek.  It was her worst fear realized.  The thought of looking into a child’s face and seeing Billy every day.  “God-Michael—What if I resent this baby?  What if looking at this child never brings me anything but pain?”

Phyllis took a deep breath, the warmth of the hotel room relaxing her body.  She stood slowly, taking another quick peek at her daughter.  “Goodnight, sweet Grace,” she whispered, stroking her arm gently.

~

“Could I get a cup of coffee please?”

“Sure, regular or decaf?” Esther called out, back to the counter, as she feverishly worked to fill orders at the back counter.

“Regular,” he said gruffly..”Don’t get the point of decaf,” he mumbled.

Esther smiled, giggling a little as she filled the cup and turned around. “Well, caffeine really does a number on…”  The glass slipped from her hand and crashed to the floor.

“Esther?” he said, his eyes widening as he looked at her.  “What are you doing here?”

She stammered.  “I…I…I could ask you the same question, but I’ve got to get this cleaned up first.”  She looked back up at him, pointing her finger at him accusingly.  “Don’t you go anywhere until I get back.”

He nodded, leaning back a bit on the bar stool.  Though he might have been a way for a while, it was comforting to know that some things never change.