“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.
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.”