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.”