Step by Step pt 5

Nick pulled the car to a stop, letting the breath leave his body in long sigh before moving to get out of the car.  This was the last place he wanted to be and it was certainly the last place she needed to be.  When he’d returned from taking Christian to playgroup, he’d thought it was odd that she wasn’t home, but he hadn’t gotten worried—at least not really worried—until it started to get dark.  That’s when he’d started to call her phone.  Again and again it went to voicemail.  He’d sent her texts with no response.  He’d called Jack, Billy, Michael, Lauren, and everyone else he could think of that might have any reason to know where she was.  Then it hit him.  He knew where she was.

He stood at the doorway.  Part of him would be relieved to see her here, to know that she was safe, but part of him was terrified to see how he would find her.  He slowly slid his hand into his pocket to retrieve the key.

“Phyllis,” he said softly, his eyes surveying the room.  He rushed over to her, afraid from his immediate impression that she might be hurt.  “Phyllis,” he repeated, the urgency in his voice eliciting a slight response from her.

“Just go, Nick.”  It was desperation, almost pleading.  She had crawled into the dark hole he knew so very well and now she just wanted to stay there.  She wasn’t interested in being pulled out.  He knew that feeling too, that instinct.

He looked down around her.  “What is all this?” He asked the question even though he didn’t need to.  He knew exactly what it was.  Summer’s face stared up at him from every age.  Phyllis had always been diligent about taking pictures, believing that capturing the memories of her childhood would give them happy things to look back on in years to come.  No one could have guessed they would become memories so soon.

“Pictures,” she breathed, her voice slurred and shaky.  “It’s all I have left now…is pictures.”  She reached down, her hand clutching one.

Nick closed his eyes, his heart paining as he saw the image.  He remembered that day.  It wasn’t anything extraordinary—just a random day in their life.  Summer was sitting on the floor, playing with blocks and Phyllis was working on the computer.  For whatever reason, Summer suddenly crawled up on the sofa and snuggled in beside her mother.  It was at that moment, Nick sat down beside them and snapped an impromptu family photograph.

“You remember this?” she asked, tears streaming down her face.

He nodded.  “Yeah.  Those were good days.  Really good days.”

“We didn’t have enough.”

“I know.”  He reached out to try and comfort her.  “I know…it’s never long enough.”

“No,” she yelped, jerking away from his touch.  “We didn’t have enough good days.  We didn’t give her the life she deserved.  We were so damn selfish.  We couldn’t even stay a family…we couldn’t even give her that.”

“Don’t do that.”  Nick looked over, the sight of two bottles beside her.  “Phyllis,” he began.  “How much have you had to drink?”

“What does it matter?” she huffed.

“It matters because it isn’t going to help anything.  It won’t make anything better.  Trust me.  I’ve tried it all and it doesn’t make the pain go away.”

“Something has to.”

“Nothing will.  I promise you.  The only way you get through it is to go through it.  You can’t drink your way through it.  You can’t blame your way through it.  You just have to deal with it. It sucks, but it’s the way it is.”

“I’m not strong enough.”  The words came out in broken sobs now.  “I can’t.”  Her eyes rose to meet his, the anger that he saw present mere moments ago now turning to fear and desperation.  “I can’t go through it.  I won’t be able to stand it.  I feel like someone is literally ripping my heart out.”  She raised her body up to her knees, moving towards him, reaching out to him.  “Please tell me how to make it stop.”

He shook his head, pulling her close to him, feeling her body shake with sobs as he finally relented and let his own tears fall.  “I can’t make it stop,” he whispered.  “I’m sorry.”

~

It could have been minutes or even hours, he honestly had no idea.  Time no longer had any meaning in grief like this.  She had been the one to pull away.

Phyllis sat back down, her hand reaching for the bottle closest to her.  She took off the cap with shaky hands, not bothering with a glass, simply taking a long drink straight from the bottle.

Nick shook his head.  “You feel better?”

“Not yet,” she sighed.

“You won’t.  That’s not going to help.”

“I just need to not think about it.  Just for a little while.  I need this aching to stop.  I can’t go through every moment of every day missing her.  I can’t play this over and over and over in my mind because if I do…if that’s what I have to do, it’s going to make me crazy.”

“Hey,” he touched her arm softly, his eyes still burning with the possibility of tears.  “I’m here.  I’ll help you.”

“You’re not in here,” she sobbed, pointing to her head.  “I hear her voice all the time.  I dream about her.  I think of all the things I should have done…all the things I should have said…all the things I did wrong..all the horrible things…and now I’ll never have the chance to fix anything.  I’ll never have the chance to say anything else to her.”

“Don’t do that to yourself, Phyllis.  Summer knew you loved her.  Everyone knew that.”

She was quiet for a moment.  “I know,” she sighed.  “I know she knew I loved her…I just…it doesn’t make the pain stop.”  Her eyes met his again.  “What does, Nick?”

His hand touched her face softly, wiping away the tears that seemed to be in unending supply.  She leaned against him, her body trembling.  He didn’t answer.  He had no answers.

“You’re shaking,” he said quietly.  “Have you eaten anything?”

“I’m not hungry.”

“That doesn’t matter. You’ve got to eat something.  I’m gonna..”  He stopped as he felt her hand tighten around his.  He looked down, surprised to see her eyes staring directly into his.

“Please don’t go,” she said softly.

Nick nodded, swallowing hard as he sat down on the couch and gently pulled her up to sit beside him.  “Alright,” he said quietly.  “I’ll stay….but no more drinking.”

“Ok.”  Phyllis stared at him intently, her eyes barely blinking as they weighed heavy on his.  “I think you’re right,” she whispered.  “I don’t think that’s going to help.  I don’t think that’s going to make me feel better, but I think you can help me.”  She didn’t wait for him to ask, she simply leaned forward, her lips pressing against his.

“Phyllis, Phyllis stop.”  His hands gripped her shoulders, firm but gentle—“This isn’t going to help.  This isn’t even what you want.”

“I want to feel something—anything other than the pain I’m feeling right now.”  Her eyes stared into his again.

The pain he saw there was so familiar.  She knew him so well.  They could talk.  They could cry.  They could scream, but it wouldn’t change anything.  They’d still feel the pain—but for a moment, they could forget—they could be what used to exist—even if only for a moment.  He let his hands fall, his body relaxing, his eyes closing as he felt her lips fall on his again.

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Love Lost pt 13

The sound of the fork hitting the plate was confirmation that she’d heard him clearly.

“I’m sorry,” he said quickly, his hand instinctively rushing to his mouth to cover it, as if somehow he might be able to push the words back in.  “I shouldn’t have said that.  I’m so sorry.”

Phyllis blinked back at him, her eyes wide.  “I…”  She took a breath, her trembling hands now clutching the sides of the table.  “Excuse me, please.”

Ronan stood, unable to do or say anything, simply watching as she rushed from the room.

~

“Aright mister.”  Ashley took a seat beside the bed, clutching her phone in her hand.  “Let’s find you a name.”  She grinned up at him, with clear determination in her eyes.  “I have a list of the most popular male names for the year.  Let’s pick one.”

Billy chuckled softly.  It seemed like a crazy concept, picking a name from a list, but why the hell not.  When you can’t remember who you are, things like this become your luxury.  “Alright,” he sighed, “Let’s hear them.”

“Okay…We’ve got Bennett, Aiden, Sage, Liam, Michael…”  She paused to look at him.  “None of those suit you.  There’s Mason, Jacob, Matthew, Noah, William, Cameron, John..”

“We could just go with that you know.”

Ashley looked up from her phone.  “Go with what?”

“John..I mean, they were calling me John Doe anyway, right?  I kind of like John—it’s simple, basic..kind of what I need right now.”

“John huh?”  Ashley smiled at him before standing, “Alright then, John.  Let’s see what we can do about getting you started on your brand new life.”

~

“Phyllis?” Ronan stepped slowly into the kitchen, stopping as he saw her standing against the counter.  “If you want me to go, just say so.” He stood still for a moment, waiting for a response.  Hearing nothing he turned.

“Wait, Ronan.  Don’t go.”  She watched him as he turned back towards her slowly.  “I didn’t mean to run out like that.”

“No.  No.  I’m the one that should be apologizing.  I had no right to say something like that to you.  I should have never pushed like that.  You’ve got nothing to be sorry for.  This was all on me.”

She sighed.  “Let’s go in the living room and talk,” she said softly, leading him out the kitchen and taking a seat on the edge of the bed when she reached the other room.  Her hand raked through her hair as she struggled to find the right words.  “What you said earlier…I…”

“I know,” Ronan interrupted.  “I shouldn’t have…”

“You gonna let me finish?”  She flashed a small smile at him, the hint of fire in her eyes sending a wave of heat through him.  He loved the banter they used to share and it warmed him to know that she still had that spark and life in her.

“Sorry,” he whispered, gesturing towards her with his hand.  “The floor’s all yours.”

“And stop apologizing,” she said quickly.  “There’s nothing for you apologize for.  It’s not like you said something horrible.  You told me you loved me.  People like hearing that.  It’s a nice thing.  It just took me by surprise.  That’s all.”

He opened his mouth to speak, then stopped.  He smiled, his eyes asking the question.

“Go ahead,” she smiled.

“I totally understand.  I didn’t mean for it to come out like that.  I never meant to just blurt it out, but I do mean it.  I’m not asking you for anything, Phyllis.”

She softly placed her hand on the empty space beside her, her head tilting, urging him over.  Her body turning to his when he sat down.  “Do you remember when you left town years ago…do you remember what you said to me?”

Ronan nodded.  There was very little about his interactions with her that had left his mind.  He remembered everything..the way she looked, the way she felt, the way she smelled.  He remembered ever conversation, every argument, every look of amusement, consternation, and annoyance and everything he’d done to cause each and every one.

“You said I wasn’t allowing myself to fall for you…and you were right.”  She looked at him, her eyes sincere.  “I was afraid of getting hurt.  I was afraid of investing more than I could afford to lose.  And now—knowing what I know, I’m probably more afraid that I ever was back then. “

“I get that,” he said softly.  “I know you’ve been through hell.”

“Every night since the night Billy died, I’ve fallen asleep thinking about him, and every morning, my first thought when I open my eyes is whether or not this horrible reality has just been a nightmare.”

She brought her hand to his lips, covering his mouth as she saw him poised to speak.

“Last night, I didn’t think about him…last night, I fell asleep thinking about you.  This morning, when I woke up, I wasn’t thinking about him..I was thinking about you. And there’s a part of me that wants this…that wants you…but there’s another part..a huge part that feels guilty.”

He closed his eyes, the weight of the secret he carried becoming more and more difficult to bear.  It was the sincerity in her eyes, the pain in her voice that made it all the more difficult to keep quiet, but those very same elements were promises of what could be a future with her.  “I want you to know that I would never ask you to forget about him,” he said softly.  “You love him.  I respect that.”

“But..”  She felt the tear slide down her face just before she felt his hand brush it away.  Her hand covered his as she pulled it away from her face, holding it now tightly in her grasp.  “He’s gone,” she managed, “And as much as I wish it weren’t true, it is. I have to accept that.  I have to move on because that’s what he would want.  He wouldn’t want me to be alone.  He would want me to find someone that loves me and cares about me. He’d want me to have someone that will protect me and Grace..someone good and honest..someone I feel safe and comfortable with.”  She stared at him, her eyes still shimmering with tears.  “Someone like you.”

 

Step by Step pt 4

“Mom!  Mom!  Help me!  Where are you?”

“I’m here Summer!  I’m right here, but I can’t see you.  I don’t know where you are.  I need you to help me.  I need you to help me find you.” 

She bolted upright, her chest rising and falling in rapid succession.  “Summer?”  Her eyes searched the room for only a moment before she felt his hands on her back.  “Oh,” she whispered, the sinking feeling quickly returning.  Somehow the panic had been better.

Nick shifted forward, moving so as to sit beside her on the sofa.  “Dream?” he asked softly, already knowing the answer.  He’d initially been grateful, albeit a bit jealous, when she’d finally found some reprieve in sleep in his arms, but it hadn’t taken long for the nightmares to start.  She’d flail her arms frantically, her face contorting into tortured expressions, her mouth sometimes whispering—other times nearly screaming their daughter’s name.

“Yeah,” she said softly, looking over at him.  Her hand reached up to touch his face.  “I’m sorry if I woke you.”

“I wasn’t sleeping.”

“I can tell. You’ve got those lines near your eyes. Those always show when you haven’t been sleeping.”

“Yeah,” he sighed flashing a sad sort of smile.  “Sometimes I forget how well you know me.”

Phyllis nodded.  In any other circumstance, they could have joked about something, they would have ribbed each other about some relationship disaster, or given one another grief about a way in which they’d screwed up in years past, but now it all seemed so trivial.  The one thing they’d always agreed on, the one thing they’d both never doubted was that Summer had been the thing they’d done right.  She had been the only good and perfect thing to come out of their relationship.  No matter how many people said it was wrong and that it shouldn’t have happened, they could always know that Summer was the reason they never had to regret anything.  If they didn’t happen, there wouldn’t be Summer and now….

“You want some breakfast or something?”  She looked up now and saw Nick standing in the kitchen, already pouring what appeared to be pancake mix into a skillet.  She stood up, quickly joining him.

“You don’t need to do that.  Please don’t go to any trouble.  I’m gonna be going soon anyway.”  The reaction was immediate.

“What?” He stared at her for a moment, his expression a mix of confusion and pain.  She knew she was part of his coping strategy.  As long as she was here, as long as he had something else to occupy him, something else to keep himself busy, he didn’t have to think about Summer being gone.  He didn’t have to accept it.  Maybe, in a way, she was playing the same game, but that game had to end—and it was better that it end now.

“Nick…I don’t want you to think that I don’t appreciate what you’re doing.  I do.  It means a lot to me, but we can’t hide behind each other.”

He shook his head.  “That’s not what I’m doing.  Helping each other, leaning on each other, that’s not hiding behind someone…that’s just being a decent person.  That’s helping a friend that you care about.”

“I just think…”

Christian’s sharp cry pierced the awkward moment.  Nick glanced towards the stove.  “Can you watch..”  He paused, smiling as he considered the absurdity of the statement.  “Ummm..”

Phyllis grinned.  “Why don’t I go get Christian?  I think that’s the safer bet.”

“Yeah.  I mean, if we burn the house down, none of us have anywhere to live.”  He laughed softly as he watched her head up the stairs.

“Uh huh,” she muttered.  “Funny.”

~

Nick grabbed the plates with the pancakes and the carafe of coffee before heading into the living room.  “Breakfast is served,” he announced as he stepped towards the table.

“Smells good,” Phyllis said softly, smiling at Christian who sat contentedly on her lap.  “Since when did you become a short order cook?”

“Yeah..go ahead, get your digs in.  it might not be gourmet, but I guarantee you, It smells a lot better than it would have it you’d cooked it.”

“Touche.  You ready to eat?” she grinned, looking down at Christian who smiled happily at her. She stood, hefting him onto her hip and walking over towards the table.  She watched as Nick situated him in his high chair and handed pieces of pancake.

“What’s the matter?” he said softly, catching her staring intently at them.  “You ok?”

“Yeah,” she whispered.  “It’s just…I was just thinking how nice it must be to be like that.”  She pointed at Christian.  “You know?  To be that little and to have no idea of how bad things can get…the only thing you know is family and being loved and safe. It’s a whole different world when you grow up and realize that life isn’t really like that.”

Nick sighed.  “Yeah, they just know the good things..but that’s the way it should be right now.  They should only know the good stuff.  That’s my job.  That’s all of our jobs.”

Phyllis nodded slowly reaching out and slowly stroking Christian’s soft hair.  “Right,” she whispered.  She smiled as Christian turned to her, holding out a mashed piece of pancake towards her.

“I think you’ve got yourself an admirer,” Nick grinned.  “This kid really likes you.”

“I gave him cheerios.  He’s easily bought.”

“Nope.  He’s tough.  We’ve gone through three nannies already.  He’s weird about strangers and he hardly ever lets anyone outside our immediate family hold him, but he went right to you.  It’s like he could tell that you’re good people.”

“You might not want to let your father hear you say that,” Phyllis said with a slight huff.

“Phyllis.”  Nick looked at her, his face a little more serious now.  “I’m not joking around here.  I know you said you were going to leave, but maybe you think about staying…just for a while.  It would be really nice to have some help with Christian and there’s gonna be a lot to take care of.  We’re gonna have arrangements and packing.”

She sat quiet for a moment.  “I just think it might be too much, Nick.  I can’t just run away from everything and hide out here.”

“You’re not running away.  You’re here.  You’re helping me and who better to spend time with than the one person who really understands.  Look.”  He slid his chair closer to her.  “I know your instinct is to shut the entire world out, but  there are people that really need you to lean in right now.  And, to be honest, I think this will be good for us—for both of us.  You can’t deny that we used to have a really great time together, right?”

“We did have some pretty great times together.”  She smiled at him.  “I always had fun with you.”

“And I know fun seems like an insane idea right now,” he whispered, “but it won’t forever.  We’re gonna need that.  We’ll need that to help us get through this.”  He could see the real hesitation that still sat in her eyes.  He took a deep breath before touching her arm, her eyes snapping back to attention and looking straight into his.  “I need you, Phyllis,” he said quietly.

In her life she’d been hated, wanted, envied, and a host of other things, but rarely had she ever been needed.  It was nice.  “Then I’m here,” she said softly.  “I’m here.”

Love Lost pt 12

“I’m guessing by that look on your face it wasn’t good news?”  Ashley walked slowly into the room.  After Ronan left, she’d stood outside the door and waited for the light to flash, but it never had.  She’d been hoping he would page her, that he would reach out to her, that he would be the one to ask for her help, but he didn’t.  Finally, she couldn’t wait any longer.  She had to make sure he was okay.

“No, it wasn’t,” he said sadly, barely even raising his eyes to meet her gaze.  “They’ve got nothing.  No ideas.  No matches.”

She sighed.  “I’m so sorry.”

He nodded.  Everyone was sorry.  “Yeah, me too. But you know, I guess the guy’s right…”

“Ronan? What’s he right about?”

“Well he said this was a chance for me to start over.  I can be whoever I want, do whatever I want, go wherever I want.  In a way it’s a clean slate and I guess I might as well make the most of it.”

Ashley smiled.  “That’s a good way to look at it. I certainly know the first thing we need to do.”

“What’s that?” he laughed softly.

“We need to come up with a decent name for you.  I can’t keep calling referring to you as ‘that guy’”  She grinned at him.  “And since you get to choose everything about this new life of yours, it’s only fitting that you should pick your new name, so what’ll it be, stranger?”

~

“Hey,” he said softly, the phone pressed to his ear as he stood just aside her door.  “I saw the sign.”

“Yeah, sorry about that.”  She pulled the door open, smiling at him.  “She was tough to get down tonight.  Didn’t want the knocking to wake her up.  Trust me…no one wants that. Come on in.”

Ronan stepped inside, his hands wrapped tight around the handles of the bags.  “Where should I put this?”

“Right in here.”  Phyllis gestured towards the living room and Ronan followed her.  His eyes widened a bit when he saw a table complete with wine and glasses set up in the middle of the room .  “I hope this is okay,” she said softly.

“Yeah, Yes.  It’s fine.  I hope you didn’t go through any trouble on my account.”

“Oh, no…I just had room service bring a table up that’s all.  That’s one of her perks of living here I guess.”  She took a stilted breath, running her hands down her dress to smooth the imaginary wrinkles.  “So…what are we having?”

Ronan sat the bags on the table.  “Chinese.  I got lots of different stuff…wasn’t quite sure what you might have a taste for.”

“Right now…everything.  I’m starving.  You’d be surprised how little time you have to eat with a little one around.”  Phyllis stepped into the kitchen, disappearing only for a moment and returning with plates and utensils.

“Yeah I bet. That’s uh…That’s got to be hard…doing all this on your own.”  He watched as she sat down across from him, his statement bringing a touch of sadness to her eyes.  “I’m sorry,” he said quickly, “I didn’t mean to…”

“No. It’s okay.  I just…It’s hard sometimes to think about it.”

“We don’t have to talk about it…really.”  It was as if the guilt was rising higher and higher within him—as if somehow it could spill over at any moment and the truth of what he’d done would be obvious.

She considered for a moment.  “No, you know..it might be good to talk about it.  For so long I haven’t, not really because I haven’t wanted to but because there really wasn’t anyone to talk to.  Of course there’s Michael but he’s different…he’s a great friend  but he’s got a busy life and he’s got his own family and his own stuff.  He doesn’t need me dumping on him all the time.”

Ronan nodded.  “Right.  Well, I told you.  I’m here for whatever you need.”  He slowly began to dish some food on his plate, reaching out to serve her as well.  She looked up at him, her eyes shining.

“I can’t tell you what that means to me,” she whispered.  “It’s been a long time since I’ve had someone that I really felt like I could talk to…someone that I think really knows me and gets me.  I haven’t felt that way about anyone since…well since Billy.”  She pushed some food around on her plate for a moment.

Her silence was telling and the look in her eyes was one he’d seen many times before.  She was contemplating.  There was something she wanted to say, but she wasn’t sure if she was ready, or maybe she wasn’t sure if he was ready to hear it…

“Hey…you can tell me anything,” he said quietly.

She looked up at him again, this time her eyes brimming with tears.  “You’re going to think I’m crazy,” she managed, her voice cracking a bit.

“Try me.”

She had to trust someone and it might as well be him.  She’d carried this burden, this secret obsession for far too long on her own.  Maybe admitting it would allow her to finally let it go.  Maybe if someone else heard the absurdity of it, they could help her see the insanity of her own despair.  “Sometimes I…”  She stopped, afraid that saying it would send him running.

His hand was warm against hers and she drew a deep breath before continuing to speak.  “Sometimes I think maybe it was all a mistake…that he’s not gone.  That’s he’s not dead.”

“Why would you think that?”  His heart beat louder in his chest, so loud that he’d swear you could see his shirt rise and fall in the same rhythm.

“I know,” she sputtered, her voice breaking again, “I know how it sounds, but it’s like I thought I’d feel it when he was gone.  I thought there would be something in me that just felt different…like I’d feel him go, but I never felt that.  Instead it’s like a drifting…like I’m just waiting for him to walk through that door and tell me this has all been some kind of terrible dream.”  She stopped talking as she saw the look on his face.  It was a mix of disbelief and fear.  “See,” she said quietly, letting her head chin drop to her chest.  “I told you you’d think I was crazy.  You’re probably ready to call Fairview aren’t you?”

Ronan shook his head, as he reached out to touch her hand.  “The last thing you are is crazy.”

The breath left her lips as her eyes closed.  “You say that now…”

“I say that because it’s true.  You’ve had a hell of a year and you’ve come through it stronger.  You’re a great Mom and you’re still standing.  Lots of people I know would have cracked.”

“Maybe I did…Maybe that’s what all this is about.”

“You did not crack.  You’re still you.  You’re still the same strong, amazing, beautiful woman that I…”

She blinked as she looked at him, her wide, green eyes searching his for something, anything to make her feel less pain.  He had the ability to do that with just a few words.  He could tell her the one thing that would make her happier than anything else.  He could tell her she wasn’t crazy—that the love of her life really wasn’t gone, but that, in a sense, would still be a lie.

He was gone.  The man she knew and loved was, for all intents and purposes, dead.  He didn’t know her.  He didn’t know their life.  She would be a stranger to him.  What kind of healing was that?

“You’re still the woman I feel in love with,” he said softly as he stared into her eyes.  “You’re the woman I’m still in love with.”

Love Lost pt 11

“Detective Malloy?” Ashley quickly walked from behind the desk towards him as he approached the bay of hospital rooms.  “We’ve been expecting you.”

“Ronan…you can call me Ronan.”  He nodded pleasantly at the young woman.  It was unnerving how much guilt he already felt and he hadn’t even begun.  “I guess Officer Brickman called you.  Did he give you any details?”

“No..nothing really…just that you were coming down to speak to us and that there was a possible match.”  Her eyes lit up with excitement.  “Is there a match?  Were you able to find out anything?” She glanced over towards the still closed door.

“Is that his room?” he asked, following her gaze.

She nodded.  “It is.  I haven’t told him anything yet—didn’t want to get his hopes up.”

“Let’s step inside,” he said quietly.

~

He  glanced up for the thick paperback book he’d been reading for nearly an hour.  He found himself reading and rereading the same pages over and over and still he had no idea what he’d read.  His head wasn’t in it today.  Ever since Ashley had mentioned a detective was coming to speak to him, all he’d been able to think about was the possibility of finally having some answers.  Today might be the day he would find out who he was, where he came from, if he had anyone to go home to…

“This is Detective Malloy,” Ashley said, gesturing towards him.  She grimaced, remembering his request.  “Ronan,” she sighed before flashing him a quick smile.  “He’s here to speak with you about a few things.  I’ll just leave the two of you to it.”

Ronan nodded.  “Thank you.”  He waited for the door to close before turning back and looking at him.  There was nothing in his face to indicate his name meant anything to him.  He clearly had no memory of his life…no memory of Genoa City..nothing.  He reached out to pull the small chair closer to the bed before he began to speak.  “I wanted to come to meet with you myself,” he said quietly.  “I got a call from an officer—there was a match in our system and they thought it might turn out to be an identity match for you.”

“Was there?”  Billy sat up, his eyes brightening.  “Did you find something…anything?  Something that might tell you who I was?”

Ronan felt the familiar pang in his chest.  “I’m afraid not.”  He watched as his face fell, the clear disappointment seemed to reverberate through his entire body.  “I’m sorry,” he whispered, that statement actually being honest.  He didn’t relish causing him pain.  There was no reason for him to intentionally bring Billy pain, but there was a reason he needed to stay here.  There was a reason he couldn’t come back to Genoa City.

“I didn’t want to just call you on the phone and tell you,” Ronan continued.  “I wanted to tell you in person.  I wish I had better news.  I really do, but I did want to say something to you—something that I hope might help in some way.”

Billy took a breath.  He’d had a string of well wishers come through during his stay here.  Everyone had their version of the “feel better” speech.  Some told stories of those that had it much worse, some handed you the Bible and told you to  pray, still others took the tough love approach.  The one thing they all had in common was that none of them seemed to do a damn thing to help him feel a bit better.  Still, he never turned them away, somehow hoping that one day there would be the one person that had the silver bullet—the one that said just the right thing to turn his life around.  “Shoot,” he said quietly.

“I’ve been around a lot of people in my line of work…lots of people who have done bad things, who have made lots of mistakes and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard someone say how much they wish they could start over…how much they wished they had the chance to do everything all over again.  I know this probably isn’t what you would have chosen, or the way you would have wanted it, but in a way, you have the chance to build a whole new life.  You have what a lot of people dream of..a second chance to go anywhere, do anything, be anyone. “

Billy nodded slowly.  “Yeah—I guess.”

“Anyway,” Ronan stood, pushing the chair back against the wall.  “I just wanted to come by and tell you that and I wanted to give you my personal number…just in case you need anything.  When you get out of here if you have any trouble with anything…you know getting id or anything like that, you just give me a call.  I can set you up with some people that help us out with the witness protection stuff we do.  They can cut through all the red tape and everything..make things a lot easier for you.”

He reached out, taking the small piece of paper and eyeing the handwritten name and number.  “Thanks,” he said solemnly.  “I appreciate it.”

~

Ronan slowly backed towards his car.  He grabbed his phone, slowly punching in the numbers.  His eyes closed as he heard her voice.

“Hi.”  Phyllis glanced down at Grace, her eyes fluttering closed for a brief second before flying back open.  She fought sleep with everything in her as if she was afraid she might miss a moment of life.  Phyllis marveled at how aware she was of everything around her at such a young age.  “Sorry,” she whispered, “I’m trying to get Grace down for the night.”

“Oh,” Ronan said quickly.  “Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“No!” Grace’s eyes flew open again in reaction to her mother’s voice.  Phyllis sighed as she ran her fingers down her cheek, smiling as her eyes grew heavy once more.  “It’s fine.  I’m glad you called.  I was going to call you a little later to see how your first day went and to see if you were still coming over tonight like we planned.”

“The day was fine.”  He drew in a breath, his eyes closing tight.  He didn’t want to lie to her, but he certainly couldn’t tell her the truth.  Did she deserve to know that Billy was alive?  Logically?  Of course she did, but what would the truth bring her at this point?  Nothing but pain.  Billy didn’t know her.  He didn’t remember her. He wouldn’t remember their life, their love.  He wouldn’t remember any of the memories they shared.

Ronan remembered everything.  He remembered the way it felt to hold her.  He remembered the way it felt to touch her soft skin.  He remembered the way it felt to kiss her.  Perhaps more vividly than anything though, he remembered how it felt to be without her.  That, he vowed silently to himself, was something he never planned to feel again.

Love Lost p 10

It had been one of those nights, one of the nights that seemed never ending, one of the nights where he’d spent more time staring up at the ceiling than he actually spent sleeping, one of the nights where he was actually happy to see the streaks of sunlight begin to peek through the window from behind his bed.  It had definitely been one of those nights.  He wasn’t a stranger to nights like this.  In his line of work, cases sometimes kept his mind spinning long after he clocked out and left the precinct.  They tell you not to bring the work home, but he always had—maybe that was because there was no one at home to distract him.  Tonight though, it had been an entirely different reason.

Each time he’d closed his eyes, he could still feel her body pressed against his.  He replayed the moment, becoming more and more certain with each recollection that it had indeed been Phyllis that initiated the kiss.  Granted, he hadn’t stopped her, but she couldn’t have expected that he would.  Could she?  And then there was the way she smiled at him…almost as if she wasn’t sorry it happened.  Almost as if she wanted him as much as he wanted her.

“Jesus,” Ronan hissed, throwing the covers off his body and forcing himself to stand.  He’d been back in town only a few days and she’d already managed to throw him completely off kilter.  She was the only one that could.  He sighed, trudging to the small bathroom and leaning over the sink to splash water on his face.  Today was his first day back at the Genoa City Police Department.  He needed to be ready.

~

“Oh, it’s so good to see you,” Phyllis smiled, pulling away from the hug.  “It’s not easy having a best friend that’s a hot shot lawyer with a crazy, busy schedule.”

Michael sighed, taking a seat across the table from her and taking a sip from the coffee cup in front of him.  “I know.  I’m sorry.  I’ve barely had time to sleep, much less plan lunch dates, but I’ve been thinking about you a lot.  You look good.”

“Thanks,” she sighed.  “So do you.”

He leaned back in his seat, making a show of straightening his tie.  “I mean it,” he said softly.  “You look like you’re doing better.”  His eyes met hers, studying her intently.  “Are you?  How are things?”

She could already feel the prickle of tears threatening to form behind her eyes and she took a proactive breath to steady herself.  “See,” she smiled, “this is why I wanted to do this in public.  To try and shame myself into maintaining my composure.”

“Hey.  No one expects you to get over everything you’ve been through so quickly.  Everyone understands how difficult this has been for you.”

“Not everyone.”

“Jack?” He was one of the few people that knew the entire, sordid story.  Everyone knew the press’ version, but he knew the one his friend told him, the one she’d managed to get out in between sobs.  He’d been there for all of it, for the affair, for the explosion that followed, for the brief glimpse of happiness she had.  Then he’d been there to watch her fall apart.  He’d watched her cry and blame herself.  He’d watched her fear that God was punishing her for everything she’d done wrong.  The last thing in the world he wanted was to see her hurt anymore.  She’d stopped him from going to Jack before, but if he was doing or saying anything to make things worse for her…

“I told you before—all you have to do is say the word and I’ll go talk to him.”

“It’s not Jack,” she said softly.

“No? Not Traci or Ashley?  I thought they’d backed down after everything that happened?”

Phyllis nodded sadly.  “Yeah, they did.  I mean we’re never going to be close, but they don’t shoot daggers at me every time they see me anymore and they have stopped by to see Grace once or twice. There’s a lot of guilt there,” she whispered.  “They both thought they’d have time to make it right…we all thought we had more time.”

Michael reached across the table, taking her hand.  “I know you did.”

“Okay.” She shook her head and blinked repeatedly.  “That’s not what I came here to talk to you about though.  It’s about something else…about someone else.”

His eyes shot up in surprise.  “Someone?”

“Yeah..Ronan came by to see me the other night.” She watched as Michael’s eyes widened with a mix of surprise and interest.

“He just showed up?  Totally out of the blue?”

“Completely random.  I had no idea he was even in town.  I literally opened the door and he was standing there, staring at me.”

Michael stared at her silently for a moment.  It made sense now, the change he’d detected when he arrived.  Though it had taken him some time to accept it, Phyllis and Billy had been something very real. Their relationship was solid and, in a  way, they were a natural fit.  He’d worried about her—after Billy’s death—fearing she’d never find anyone that made her feel that complete again.

But then there was Ronan.  That was a different type of relationship to be sure, but the ease was there, the comfort was there and, as he watched her recount the events of the previous night, he saw a sparkle in her eyes he hadn’t seen in nearly a year.

~

“So, when you said desk work you literally meant desk work?”  Ronan stood behind the desk, his eyes roving over the pile of papers that appeared to have been waiting on him for weeks.

Paul laughed softly.  “Look, I know this isn’t exactly the excitement you’ve been missing, but I really need someone to take care of this mess.  It’s mainly just some cases that need to marked and closed, some evidence that needs to be logged, a few requests from other precincts for case files, database alerts, stuff like that….”

Ronan sighed heavily.  “How long has it been since you’ve had someone do ‘stuff like that’?”

“It’s been a while,” Paul said with a shrug, “But I have complete faith in you.  I’m sure you’ll have this up and running in no time flat.  So, what do you say?  Can I count on you?”  He stared at him with hopeful eyes.

“Sure, why not.”  Ronan smiled as Paul slapped him on the back before hurrying back into his office.  He let a large puff of air leave his mouth before sliding some of the files over on the desk to make room for the coffee cup.  The computer screen flashed with alerts, the red number 11 in the upper right corner indicating the number of database matches that had occurred in the last few days.

Shaking his head, he took a seat and began to scroll.  The monotony of the work would actually be a welcome distraction from some of the other thoughts that had been rambling through his brain this morning.  His eyes fell on a message, an alert to a match in their fingerprint database.  The officer’s name wasn’t one he recognized but, as he pulled up the match, he felt his mouth grow dry.

For a moment he stared at the screen, willing the name to change, blinking repeatedly—hoping this was all a crazy illusion, a consequence of too little sleep and far too much coffee, but the bold typeface wouldn’t fade.  He placed his hands flat against the desk, pushing himself up until he was standing.

“Chief,” he managed, pausing for a moment to clear his throat before continuing, “I uh…I just realized that I have something I have to take care of today.  Would it be okay if I…”  His brain was so full of questions, of scenarios, of things he should do, of potential outcomes.  He shook his head harder, trying to clear his mind in the same manner one might clear an Etch-A-Sketch, “Would it be okay if I started tomorrow?”

Paul looked up, eying him quizzically.  “Everything okay?”

“Yeah..Yeah…Everything’s fine.  It’s just..when I noticed the date on the calendar.  I realized I had an appointment.  It just hit me…you know how it is…”  He forced a smile, his insides churning, his heart still racing, his legs shaking beneath him.

“Uh, sure.  Yeah, that’s fine.  Whatever you need to do.  I’ll see…”  Paul watched in confusion as Ronan nearly bolted from the room.  “tomorrow,” he whispered.

~

The cool air was a relief from the pressure that seemed to be building inside his body.  Ronan grabbed his phone, immediately pressing the series of numbers that were now burned into his brain.  His beat training was finally good for something.  The drills of memorizing license plates had made phone numbers simple feats.

“Yeah, uh…this is Detective Ronan Malloy with the Genoa City Police Department.  I need to speak with Office David Brickman.  It’s about the fingerprint match that pinged in our system.  He sent a message.”  He paused waiting for a response.  “Yeah..Yeah…that’s right.  Billy Abbott.  The name was Billy Abbott.”

 

Love Lost pt 9

“I can go get the car and pull it up to the front,” Ronan offered as they stared outside at the rain that now steadily fell from the sky.  It had started as they were finishing dessert and, though they’d tried to wait it out, the once misty drizzle had now turned to a more persistent downpour.

“What do you think I’ll melt?”  She smiled at him, the twinkle in her eyes reminding him of the woman he’d known years ago.

“You?”  Ronan laughed incredulously, “Not hardly, but the offer was my attempt at chivalry.  You gotta give me points.”

“Noted.”  Phyllis stared out through the glass door.  “I think we might as well make a run for it,” she grinned.

“In those shoes?”

She glanced down, nodding her head in agreement.  “Fair point.”  Within seconds, she’d slipped her shoes off her feet and tucked them under her arm.  Ronan felt his face flush as her hand grabbed his, her small fingers lacing through his and holding on for dear life.  This was the Phyllis he remembered—the woman always ready to take his hand and jump off the cliff—damn the consequences.  Her life had changed, but she was still there.  She was still her.

~

“Here.”  She handed him a towel, giggling slightly as he stared at him.

“Yeah, laugh it up.  I look like a drowned rat and somehow you..”  He could feel it—the shift in the mood, the instant change in the atmosphere.  It was as if she could sense when they were drifting towards a far more serious territory.  It was a place he wasn’t sure she was ready for and, by the look on her face, a place she wasn’t sure she was ready for either.  “Well, the rained on look suits you,” he sighed, running the towel over his wet hair once more before handing it back to her.  “Not that I’m surprised.”

He felt slightly better when she offered him a smile in return.  They both stared at each other for a moment, both seemingly waiting for the other to speak, to make a move, to give an indication of where if anywhere this should go or stop or…

“You want some coffee?”

The sigh was far more audible than he intended and his face blushed red with embarrassment.  “Yeah,” he sighed.  “That would be nice.”  She hurried from the room, no doubt feeling the same pressure he was.

The air in the room felt thick as he took in the surroundings.  Everything here seemed temporary, impersonal, decidedly not Phyllis.  Maybe that was the way she wanted it, maybe even the way she needed it now.  He couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to lose someone the way she’d lost Billy.  He remembered the pain he’d felt to have to walk away from her—this had to be so much worse.

“You still drink it black?”

He heard her voice call out to him from the kitchen.

“Yeah,” he managed, his own voice a bit shaky.  His eyes fell on two framed photos on the bedside table.  He walked closer to take a look.  One was a photo of Grace presumably a few days after her birth.  The other was a picture of Summer and Daniel.  He wanted to open the drawer, fully expecting to find a picture of Billy inside, but he knew that was crossing a line, a line he had no right to cross.

“Here you go.”  She stepped up behind him, handing him the mug and smiling softly as she looked at the pictures over his shoulder.  “That’s the only photo I have of the two of them all grown up,” she sighed.  “Even if it is from that disaster of an almost wedding.”

Ronan looked at her quizzically.  “Whose?”

Phyllis shook her head.  “You’ve missed a lot,” she sighed.  “The short version—Summer’s.  She got mixed up with this guy that turned out to be nothing but bad news.  Luckily she figured that out before she actually ended up married to him.  Unlike her first husband.”  She had to softly laugh as she watched Ronan’s eyes widen.  “She gets it honest I suppose.”

She took a seat on the bed with a sigh, glancing over at him as he sat down beside her.  “Hey,” he said softly, “Don’t say things like that.  You’ve just been dealt a really lousy hand.  From where I’m sitting, it’s pretty damn impressive you’re still standing.”

“You don’t know the half of it,” she sighed.  And the sad truth was, he didn’t.  She’d been honest with him about the affair with Billy, but he didn’t know why it happened, what brought it all on, why her marriage with Jack had been so irreparably broken in the beginning.  He knew nothing of Marco—of what Victor had done.

“I’d like to,” he said softly.  “Phyllis.”  He could see the hesitation in her eyes and he wished he knew the right words to say, the things that would put her at ease, that would make her understand that he only wanted what she had to give.  He wasn’t here with expectations or requirements.  He was here for her—for what she needed, whatever it was.  “I just want to help,” he said softly.  “Whatever that means to you.  If it means you talk for hours and I listen, that’s what I want to do.  If you want to scream at somebody, I’m good with that.  I just want to make this easier if I can.”

He wasn’t Billy.  He’d never be Billy.  Billy was dashing and romantic.  He knew exactly what to say to sweep her off her feet.  Billy spun dreams and fairytales, making her believe in miracles and fantasies.  With him she hoped of a future full of promise and joy, a future she now knew could only exist in her dreams.  Ronan was real.  He’d seen too many things to dream.  There was a part of him that was jaded, cynical, rational—all things that seemed very safe and right to her—especially now.

“Thank you,” she whispered.  “I’m really glad you’re here.”

A slow nod and gentle squeeze of her shoulder was his response and her gentle smile told him it was enough.  “I should probably go,” he said quietly.  “I’m supposed to start at the station tomorrow.”

“So soon?”

He nodded.  “Yeah, I’m sure I’ll be doing desk duty for a while, but it’ll be good to get back in the swing of things.”

Phyllis forced herself to smile, refusing to even consider the fact that desk duty to could lead to anything more dangerous.  “Maybe if you’re not too busy you could come by tomorrow afterwards…let me know how your first day went…”  She let the words hang for a moment before abruptly adding, “if you want…I mean you don’t have to..”

“I’d love to,” he smiled.

She nodded, managing an awkward smile in return as she walked him towards the door.  “Okay, well great.  I’ll see you tomorrow night.”

“Maybe I can pick up some takeout or something and bring it by.”

“That sounds great.”  They were stalling and they both knew it.  Phyllis shifted her weight from foot to foot and she eyed the door.  She saw his hand reach for the knob and she immediately felt her heart begin to race.  Silently she cursed herself, feeling more like a teenager after her first date than a grown woman.

Ronan watched her, trying to gauge her response as he leaned a little closer.  She stepped in closer as she felt his lips brush against her cheek, the coarse stubble she remembered brushing against her face.  He pulled away, still standing close enough for her to feel his breath.  “I’ll see you tomor…”

She wasn’t sure why or how it happened.  She knew she hadn’t thought about it—and maybe that was the only way it could have happened, but she’d took the step back towards him, pressing her lips against his and breathing in deeply as she felt his hand pressed gently against her back.  It took only moments for the rational side of them both to prevail and he pulled away, his eyes searching hers for a reason.

“I…”  He started to speak as he stepped out the door, his eyes still wide in surprise, his hand no longer on her back, but now loosely gripping her hand.

“Don’t,” she said quickly.  “Don’t say anything.”  She smiled sweetly at him as she felt his hand fall away from hers.  “See you tomorrow night,” she whispered, and then closed the door.

 

 

Love Lost pt 8

It seemed silly to be this nervous.  This was Phyllis—one of the few people with whom he could actually be himself.  There had always been an ease between them, an understanding of sorts and yet, even with that, he still felt as if he wanted to bolt in the opposite direction.  It may have been that very connection that provoked such a response in him.  The relationship meant so much to him.  She meant so much to him—the idea of screwing it up was too much to even consider.

His feet shifted anxiously as he stared at the door, his hand poised to knock but still remaining still. Flowers?  Should he have brought flowers?  No.  Too heavy handed.  Maybe wine?  No.  He didn’t want her to think he was trying to get her drunk already.  The thought made him smile.  His hands trembled slightly as he glanced down at the heather gray button down shirt Chloe selected.  It paired nicely with his favorite dark jeans and, while it wasn’t exactly dressed up, it was a far cry from his day-to-day wear.

He took a deep breath before finally knocking on the door.

~

Phyllis swallowed hard as the knock echoed through the room.  She glanced back at the sitter.  “Alright,” she whispered, a slight shake in her voice, “You have everything you need?”

“Of course,” she smiled.  She paused for a moment before adding, “It’s nice to see you getting out.  You deserve to have some fun.”

“Thanks.”  She stood still for a just a moment, gathering every ounce of her composure before walking to the door.  Slowly, she pulled open the door.  “Ronan,” she breathed, her eyes widening as she stared at him standing before her.

He took a step back, not sure what to make of her instantaneous reaction.  “I…”

“No.”  She reached out, grabbing his arm quickly.  “I’m sorry…I just.”  She shook her head, smiling gently at him as her eyes softened.  “You look nice.”

He felt his face flush with embarrassment.  “Oh,” he smiled.  “Thank you.”  It was only then he allowed himself to focus on her.  She wore an emerald green dress that fell just above the knee.  The halter neck showed just enough of her toned, tanned shoulders to make his mind drift to places it shouldn’t and the keyhole front did nothing to help him feel more wholesome.

“So do you,” he managed, moving quickly to assist her with her sweater as she moved to put it on.

“I hope this is okay.”  Phyllis looked back at him warily as she pulled her hair out from under the collar of the sweater.  “I wasn’t sure what kind of restaurant you had in mind.”

“It’s perfect.  There’s a little place right outside of town—nice family owned Italian place.  Its small, quiet—nothing fancy.  I thought it would be nice and it would give us a chance to talk without a bunch of people watching us.”

Phyllis smiled.  This is what she’d missed.  Someone that knew her..not just her…but knew what she needed.  She nodded happily as she followed him down the hallway.

~

“Somebody needs to take this away from me!”  Phyllis wailed melodramatically as she pushed the bread basket across the table.  “Go on…take it.”

“Don’t push it towards me,” he grinned.  “You want to get me all out of shape and then send me out on the police force?  What are you trying to do…get me killed?”

“The force?”  The joking tone vanished immediately from her voice.  “I didn’t know you were considering actually being on the force.  I thought you were talking about detective work…like you did before?”  She could feel it in the pit of her stomach—the gnawing fear that had lived there ever since that night.  The therapist had given her medication that she’d refused to take because somehow she felt she needed to remember the feeling, as if feeling it and experiencing it would keep her from every being surprised and shocked by it.  As if someone if she were prepared for it, it would have hurt less…even though she knew that would have made no difference.  Loss was loss—plain and simple.

She felt his hand on hers and she looked up, meeting his gaze.

“I was just joking,” he said quietly, his voice soft.  There were moments it was easy to forget—at least for him.  They would be sitting, having a conversation, laughing and joking as they always had and he could almost believe it was years ago and they were back in that moment.  It took something like this to remind him that he sat across from a different woman, a woman that, in a very real way, was forever changed by what she’d lost.

“I’m sorry.”  The words came out in a rush and she took a deep breath, trying to find the semblance of composure she worked so hard to hold onto.  “I mean…what you choose to do with your life is your business.  I certainly don’t have any right to tell you what you should and shouldn’t do.  I don’t even have a right to have an opinion..”

“Phyllis.”  He cut her off.  “I want to know what you think, what you feel, what you want.  Your opinion means a lot to me…it always has because you do..”

She looked away, the moment suddenly becoming too much.  It was so easy to fall back into the routine with him, to talk, to laugh, to just be with him.  He knew her and understood her.  There wasn’t that awkward phase where you had to decide if you were compatible.  She already knew.  Ronan was a good man and she felt something for him.  She just wasn’t entirely sure what that something was.

~

“You ready to try again?” She waited for the nod before spraying the mist into the air.

He lay still as he breathed in the scent.

She watched with interest as his brows furrowed.  “Anything?”

“Just the blurry face,” he sighed.  “It’s so damn frustrating.  I mean the scent is so familiar.  It’s the black currant with the sandalwood finish—some floral undertones.”  He let his head fall hard against the pillow.  “I just can’t figure out where…” He stopped as he saw the expression on Ashley’s face.  “What?”

“How did you know all that…about the perfume?  Did you research the fragrance?”

He shook his head.  “No..I haven’t looked up anything.  I knew the name of it because she told me, but I haven’t looked up anything more.  Why?”

Ashley looked back down at the box.  “What you said about the black currant, floral undertones, sandalwood finish…it’s exactly how the company describes it. No random person would know that kind of thing.  I don’t know that kind of stuff about the perfume I wear.”

“Maybe I bought it for someone a lot or something…I told you I keep seeing this blurry face.”

She shook her head.  “I think it’s more than that.  It’s the way you rattled it off…like it was second nature or something.  You know this stuff.  It’s a part of your daily life.  I think you may have worked somewhere in this industry.”

 

Lock Up

The music was just loud enough or maybe she was just drunk enough, but somehow as she slowly swayed back and forth with the beat she could almost forget that she was here alone.  She brought the cool glass bottle to her lips, the last of the cold beer pouring down her throat.

“And that makes four.”  She lined them up straight down the bartop, surveying the progress she’d made in the last hour.  It hadn’t been the plan to come here and get drunk.  In fact she’d come here to talk to Nick—to see how things were going with Christian—to seek some solidarity in the despair that was her life, but instead she’d found Nick desperate to get Christian home before the roads got any worse.  He’d handed her the keys to the bar, telling her to ‘help herself to anything she wanted’ and to ‘drive safe’ when she headed home.

Phyllis sighed, reaching down under the counter and retrieving a bottle and a shot glass.  She could almost forget.  Almost didn’t count.

~

“I swear that’s why they call it mood music…”  She could hear her own words slur as she stumbled over to the booth.  The dulcet tones from the speaker seemed to lull her into a sort of sleepy peacefulness.  If she’d been a little less drunk and a little more sensible, she surely would have noticed the sound of the wind howling outside.  She would have known that soon the roads would be closing and that her decision to stay a little longer would soon become spending the night.

She might have even noticed the flash of lights that pranced across the wall of the bar as a lone set of headlights pulled into the nearly empty parking lots.  Instead, she pulled her legs up into the booth and, using her purse as a pillow, settled in for a nap.

~

“Phyllis”

“Phyllis, are you alright?”

She opened her eyes slowly, her vision a bit blurred.  The face in front of her was close and rather unsettling as just moments ago she was certain she’d been alone.  Quickly she moved to sit up only to find the room seemed to be moving much more slowly than she was.  Her head bobbed and she swallowed hard, a wave of nausea overtaking her.

His hand touched her face—warm hands.

“Billy?”

A puff of breath left his lips.  “Yeah.  It’s me.  Are you okay?”

She sat still a moment, not certain if she was ready to test the concept of movement again.  Somehow he seemed to know and she felt his strong arm wrap around her as he pulled her up against the cool leather of the booth.

“Better?” His voice was soft and kind.  She’d missed it.  She’d missed him.

“Yeah,” she said softly.  “Thanks.”

His eyes stayed on hers for a moment before he looked away.

Her mind was still fuzzy, but she was present enough to know she had one very important question.  “What are you doing here?”

“I was looking for Nick,” he said simply, flashing a quick smile.

Damn that smile.  She remembered that smile—the power it had over her. She wondered if he knew—if he had any idea the things one flash of that smile could make her think, could make her want, could make her do….

“He uh..”  She took a shaky breath.  “He left.  He wanted to get Christian home before the roads got too bad to drive.  He left me the keys to lock up which I should probably do.  I should be getting home.”  She stood, her hand almost immediately grabbing for the table as she realized her legs weren’t holding her.

“Oh no you don’t.”  He reached out, catching her in his arms and then..

It was just happening.

She stood, pressed up against him, her face buried in his chest, his hands pressed tight against the small of her back.  For as drunk as she was, she could have shifted, moved, leaned—done something to break the contact, but she didn’t want to.  She’d missed this closeness, the way it felt to be held by him.  As she stood there silently, she felt his hands softly stroke her back and she knew he was making the same choice—even if only for a moment.

His head turned, his face turning towards her cheek, his breath warm as he finally broke the silence.  “I can’t let you drive like this,” he whispered his lips brushing against her cheek as he spoke.

He felt her nod into his chest and closed his eyes as he felt her take a step back.  She looked up at him, her green eyes sparking.  “I can call a service.”

“No service is gonna come out here in this weather.  Everything is closing.”  His eyes looked into hers once more.  He reached out to touch her, then pulled back breathing in sharply as she felt her take his hand.

“I don’t want it to be like this.”  Her eyes began to shine, a sure sign tears were soon to follow.

Billy shook his head, reaching out to cup her face in his hand.  “Like what?” he whispered, hating the idea that anything he said or did would bring her to tears.

“Like you’re afraid to be alone with me..like you’re afraid to touch me.”

There was a silence for a moment as the thought  seemed to hang in the air.

“I guess in a way I am.”  The words poured out of him in a wave of honesty—a concept he only really experienced when he was in her presence.  She was someone he could truly be himself with.  She didn’t judge him or criticize him.  She was the one person he knew that would accept him with all his flaws.  “I don’t trust myself around you.”

“I know,” she whispered, “I don’t trust myself around you either.”  It was her turn now to return the honestly.  Cards were on the table.  Everything was out in the open now.  There was no point hiding their feelings.  The entire town knew about their affair.  What was the point of pretending it didn’t happen..of pretending like the feelings just disappeared?

He smiled at her again, the simple action sending a wave of heat through her.  “I guess I should take you home.”  His smile grew wider as he saw the familiar twinkle in her eye.

“Is that really where you’re gonna take me?” she grinned, “Home?”

She stepped in closer to him, their bodies almost as close as they’d been earlier.  She watched his lips curve into a mischievous smile just before his head dropped to allow his lips to hover over her.  One hand pressed into the small of her back as the other quickly found its way into her hair.  Her breathing grew faster as she felt his breath heavy on…

“I was wondering whose car that was…”

Billy took a quick step back, turning towards the voice.  “Yeah..Yeah, it’s me.  I was looking for you actually, but Phyllis told me that you’d already left for the night.  I was just trying to convince her that she’d had a little too much and that she should let me drive her home.”

Nick nodded.  “That’s a good idea.  Roads are pretty rough out there.  That’s actually why I came back..wanted to make sure you were alright getting home.  Wasn’t’ thinking about leaving you here in that cute little ride of yours…it’s not exactly made for driving in the snow.”

Phyllis nodded, barely able to get a “Thanks” out.

“So, you said you wanted to see me?”  Nick looked over at Billy.

“What?”  Billy sputtered, his mind on everything but Nick at the moment.

“Earlier when I came in, you said you came here looking for me.”  Nick glanced back and forth between the two of them.  It hadn’t been hard to see he’d interrupted a moment when he walked in, but it wasn’t his place to bring it up.

“Yeah..Victoria was looking for a place to throw a little welcome home party for Reed and she was looking at the Top of the Towers.  I don’t really think that’s his scene and I was thinking about this place..thought maybe I could see how you’d feel about it..maybe get someone on my team to help change her mind.”

Nick nodded.  “Yeah..I think that’s a great idea.”

Victoria.  And just like that, reality hits.  She looked at him, knowing she’d always want him and, in truth, knowing he’d always want her, but it wasn’t about that.  It was about having all of him and she wasn’t sure she ever would.

“Nick,” she said, forcing her voice to sound strong and confident even as her heart broke, “You think you could give me a ride…I mean it’s kind of out of Billy’s way…”

Billy turned quickly, his eyes searching hers for answers.

“Sure,” Nick said quickly.  “No problem.”

“Phyllis, I don’t mind..it’s no trouble, really,” Billy said, his confusion evident.

She reached out, her hand warm as she gently touched his.  “I know,” she said softly.  “But it’s better this way….it just makes more sense.”  Her eyes were serious as she looked at him and he instantly understood the sudden shift.

“Alright,” he managed, his voice nearly breaking as he watched her eyes water slightly.  “If you’re sure.”

She saw the hope in his eyes as he looked at her and she nodded.  “Yes,” she said, her heart breaking slightly as she watched the light fade from his eyes.

Nick held the door as the both walked out then turned to lock up.  Billy gently took her arm, pulling her away slightly.

“If this is about what I said about Victoria, I’m just trying to help her with Reed…that’s all.  We aren’t together.  Please don’t walk away because of what you think might be going on with…”

Phyllis smiled.  “I’m not saying not ever,” she said softly.  “Just not tonight.”

 

Love Lost pt 7

“Don’t even start, Chloe.  I see that look on your face and I don’t want to hear it.  Whatever you might think about Phyllis or about me going out with her..just keep it to yourself.”  With a huff, he walked over to the rack and grabbed the shirt.

“Wait..Wait a minute.”  Chloe sighed, her face softening a bit as she looked at him.  “I wasn’t going to say anything bad.”  She saw the expression on his face, his eyes narrowing as he looked at her incredulously.  “Well, not really.”  He did know her—she couldn’t deny that.  Her smile grew wider as she relaxed and shrugged.  “I just—I really want good things for you and I’m not sure that Phyllis is…”

She thought for a moment, considering how much she should really be sharing with him.  He’d been away from Genoa City for quite a few years and, although Phyllis and Billy’s escapades had been big news here, she wasn’t sure that it would make for tabloid fodder all around the country.  But even if it hadn’t, Ronan was a good friend and she didn’t want him getting involved with someone who might not be ready right now—or possibly ever again.  Say what you will about the way the relationship began, it was clear that Phyllis adored Billy and the feeling was certainly reciprocated.  Every time she saw them together, their love was almost palpable.  It was still almost impossible to imagine that he was gone.  Somehow knowing that he was now with their daughter gave her some small comfort, but she knew that comfort meant nothing to Phyllis.  That kind of loss left a hole in you that nothing and no one could ever fill.  She didn’t want to set Ronan up for that game—the kind of game you’d never win because it was unwinnable from the start.

“I’m just not sure Phyllis is really in that place right now.”  Chloe watched as the words settled over them, the look on Ronan’s face reflecting his obvious disagreement.

“Chloe,” he began, a slight annoyance creeping into his tone, “I wasn’t asking for your approval.  You simply asked who I was going to dinner with and I answered.”

“I know, but…do you know about everything that happened?”  Her eyes searched his, trying to discern if he was indeed aware of all the goings on in Genoa City in recent years.

“If you mean everything that happened with Billy Abbott,” he sighed, “Then yes, I know what happened.  I also know that Phyllis is raising a daughter alone and that she could really use someone in her corner.  I’d just like to give her a little bit of support right now.  That’s all.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.”

Now it was Chloe’s turn to narrow her eyes, staring at him with suspicion.  “Right, so buying the outfit is so that you can look dapper and dashing while providing all that good, friendly support?”

“I know what you’re trying to do here, Chloe and you can stop it.  I’m not going to let you make this into more than it is.”

“Alright..Alright.  You win.”  She lifted her hands up in front of him in a sign of mock defeat.  “If you say it’s nothing, I’ll go with that.  I’m not going to badger you, but I just want to do one thing, if you’ll let me.”

Ronan sighed.  “That depends,” he groaned.  “What one thing and how long is it gonna take?”  He glanced down at his watch.  “I don’t have a whole lot of time here.”

“That’s okay.  It won’t take long.  I want you to let me help you find something decent to wear because clearly…”  She gestured to the shirt in his hand.  “You need some serious guidance here.”

“I know I’m going to regret this, but fine,” he grumbled.  “Do your magic.”

~

She turned around, staring at the clothes that now almost completely covered the bed.  It wasn’t just about finding the right outfit.  That was complicated enough.  It needed to be nice, but not too nice.  Dressy, but not too dressy—sexy enough to prove she wasn’t afraid of being sexy, but not sexy in a way that made him think she was trying to be sexy.  It was all very complicated.

There were some things that fit the bill, items that were suitable for a casual dinner with a friend, but the second she looked at them, in some cases the instant her hand touched the fabric, her mind blinked back to the memory of being with Billy..of the last time she’d worn this with him—of where they were, of what they’d done, of the things he’d said, of how he’d smiled…..

Phyllis sighed out loud as she ran her hands over her face.  Her eyes fell on the cell phone that sat on the bedside table.  Maybe she should call him and cancel.  She could explain that she’d said yes on a whim and, that after considering everything, it was just too much too soon.  She could even blame it on Grace—claim she couldn’t get a sitter on such short notice.  He’d believe that…she’d given herself an out by suggesting it might be a problem from the start.  There was only one problem—she really wanted to go.  She’d missed having someone to talk to, to confide in—someone that cared about her, valued her opinion, and enjoyed her company.

She and Billy loved each other without question, but they also liked each other.  They had fun together. They made each other laugh.  Sometimes she believed she missed their friendship almost as much as she missed the loving relationship they shared.  Shaking her head she walked back towards the closet, her arm reaching towards the back of the rack.  She pulled a dress from the hanger, her hands touching the tags that still remained there.  It was a dress she’d bought shortly before the accident, a dress she’d never worn.  She’d picked it because she knew Billy would like that it matched her eyes.  She nodded as she laid it flat on the bed and began to look for shoes.  There would never be a day that she’d stop missing him, but she knew he would want her to move on and be happy.  In her heart, she knew he’d approve.

~

“Anything?”  Ashley stood silent, waiting for him to speak.

“No,” he replied, the frustration in his voice now more obvious than she’d ever heard it.  “It’s just so damn strange.”

“I know it’s difficult.  Just close your eyes, relax, and try to visualize anything that comes to mind.”  She pressed down on the nozzle again, fanning the scent with her hand as the fragrance wafted through the room.  “Focus on what the smell represents, what you associate it with, what you feel when you smell it…”

She could see the muscles tightening in his face and neck.  He wanted so much to remember and it was making him crazy that he couldn’t come up with anything to explain why the scent seemed so familiar to him.  Her body jumped slightly as she saw his eyes fly open.

“What?” she asked, the calm in her own voice now replaced by excitement.  “Did you remember something?”

“I don’t know, really..” he muttered… “It’s not so much a memory…just kind of like a flash…”

Ashley nodded slowly.  “Of what?”

“I think it’s a face. It’s hard to know for sure…it comes and goes so fast.  It’s like everything is out of focus and I can’t hone in on it, but I’m almost sure it’s a woman’s face.”

“That’s really good,” Ashley said with a smile.

“Yeah,” he sighed.  “It’s great.  We’ve narrowed down our search to a woman that may or may not be associated with Scarlett Mist by Jabot.”

“Hey.  We’ve done a hell of a lot more than that.  The fact that you’re getting anything—even flashes indicates that your memories are there and it also indicates that in time, you’ll be able to get them back.  You’ve just got to be patient.”

“Right.  I don’t know about the old me,” he scoffed, “but the new me is pretty tired of hearing about patience.  Speaking of, have we heard anymore about the fingerprint searches?  Have they come up with anything?”

“Apparently they’ve moved to some of the surrounding police departments now,” Ashley said with a smile.  “You didn’t hit on any of the FBI databases which means you’ve never been involved in any federal crimes…which, let’s face it, is a good thing.”

He sighed.  “I suppose.”

“It is,” she said, shaking her head at his sarcasm.  “It would suck to know I’ve become so fond of a contract killer or some kind of mob boss.  The detective said they sent out to query yesterday and it normally takes about 48 hours so hopefully we’ll start hearing within the next day or so.”

“I guess hope is all we have, huh?”  He leaned back against the pillows, closing his eyes once more.  Hope was one thing, but results were another.