“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.”
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.