“Don’t say it. Don’t even think it.” Phyllis took a deep breath as she pulled a soaking wet strand of hair away from her face. “I have been to six hotels in this city. Do you hear me? Six…and I’m not going back out there again.” She leaned in over the counter. “I don’t care what I have to pay. I don’t care what kind of room it is, but find me a room.”
“Maam…I’m sorry, but we’re…”
“Don’t call me Maam.” She jerked the handle of her suitcase hard and sighed as it broke off in her hand. “For God’s sake…what is it with this night?”
“I’m very sorry, but we don’t have any rooms. I just booked out last room to that gentleman over there.”
“Where? What gentleman?” Phyllis turned, her eyes prepared to scan the crowd but finding a familiar face instead.
“I think that would be me.”
“Need some help?”
“I most certainly do not.” She grabbed the suitcase by the cloth handle and clumsily rolled it over to an empty chair. Her body fell into the sunken seat before digging through her bag to find her phone.
“You having some trouble finding a room?” Billy couldn’t help but smile as he watched her silently fume. Phyllis hated being bested at anything and this was killing her. “You know I hear this designer showcase has hotels booked up all over town.”
Her eyes shot up to look at him. “Don’t you have a room to get to?” He was smirking at her in that way—the way that made her want to slap him.
“I do actually. In fact, I’m pretty sure I heard that guy say I got the last room available. It’s a shame really…” He wasn’t even trying to hide his pleasure now. The fire in her eyes was something he always enjoyed. It was that same fire that made her unpredictable, exciting, and impossible to control. To some she was volatile and maybe even a little irrational, but to him she was the very essence of being alive.
The breath left her lips in a huff as she stood in front of him, her body mere inches from his. “You know what, Billy? I don’t have time to play games with you. I have to find a room, so why don’t you just go so I can make some calls and do that, ok?” She turned on her heel as she raised the phone to her ear.
He felt her body still as his hand touched her shoulder. She didn’t resist him as his hand covered hers and slowly lowered the phone to her side. “Actually,” he said quietly, turning her around to face him slowly. “I was going to ask you to stay with me.”
“Wh-What?” She felt the blood rush to her cheeks as she stammered. Sure there was still an attraction, a pull. They had chemistry. They both knew it, but she’d been so certain that he didn’t feel anything more than that, that he wanted a life with Victoria, that he wasn’t….She shook her head, trying to quiet the thoughts that overwhelmed her ability to be a functioning woman instead of a schoolgirl with a crush. “You want me to stay with you…in your room?”
“Yeah,” he said with a smile, “I mean it makes sense doesn’t it? I have a room. You need a room. We’re both here for the same show. We might as well make the most of it.”
“Make the most of it…” She repeated the words aloud without meaning to as she allowed her eyes to drift up to meet his. There had been moments when she’d allowed herself to remember the last time she’d been in his arms. It seemed like so long ago. Already her heart raced in her chest and she took a deep breath to steady herself before speaking again. “Don’t you think it might be…” She stopped, questioning her words, her intention, her sanity…. “Don’t you think it might be a mistake to….”
“Come on, Phyllis.”
His voice was impossibly soft, tender, warm. God she missed him.
“We’re friends, right? It’s not a big deal. There’s two beds. Who knows? Maybe we can actually have a little fun. It’s better than spending the entire weekend watching stupid late night television, right?”
“Two beds,” she breathed, “Yeah…you’re right..no big deal.” She gripped the broken handle of the suitcase hard in her hand, the jagged piece of plastic digging into the fleshy part of her palm. The pain was just a distraction.
“Here we are..Room 316..Home sweet home. At least for this weekend.” Billy held the door open for her to walk inside.
Phyllis pulled the bag inside the door, moving towards the bed closest to the window. She stopped in front of it. “You have a preference?”
“No. Take your pick.” Billy pushed the door closed behind him as he pushed his suitcase towards the small chair and table. He watched her for a moment as she slipped off her coat and hung it on the hook on the wall. She’d said nothing on the elevator and, even now, she wasn’t looking at him.
“Hey.” He stepped over, closer to her. “You okay?”
“Everything’s fine.” She glanced up, meeting his eyes for only a moment before looking away again. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
“I don’t know. You just seemed…I don’t know…distant or something.”
“I’m just tired. It’s been a long day—a long, frustrating day. I think I just need some sleep. Early day tomorrow, right?”
Billy nodded. “Yeah. First showing starts at 9. You want to grab some breakfast downstairs before we head out?”
“You don’t need to do that. Do your own thing. We’re not here together.”
He opened his mouth to speak, but stopped as he watched her. She stood, her hands busied with her suitcase as she folded and unfolded clothing in an attempt to keep herself occupied. It was clearly the frenzied activity of someone desperate to keep from thinking, from feeling, from saying what she really meant to say.
“Where did that come from?”
She turned her back to him. “It’s just the truth. You came here for Brash and Sassy. I came here for Fenmore’s. We didn’t come here together. The only reason I’m here—in this room is because they were out of room and you agreed to let me stay here. That doesn’t mean you need to do anything to occupy me. We both have our own plans for the weekend. You do your thing. I’ll do mine. That’s the way it should be, right?” Her eyes shut tight as she held her breath. There would be no more tears. She couldn’t allow herself to feel again, because that kind of hurt couldn’t happen twice. Her heart couldn’t handle it.
“You sure you don’t want any?”
Phyllis glanced up from her laptop. “I’m fine—honestly.”
Billy sighed. “And I’m offering—honestly. Seriously. I’m not going to eat a large pizza myself.” He smiled as he saw her eyes widen slightly as he pulled a piece from the box and allowed the cheese to string across the plate. “Come on…you know you want some…”
She giggled, finally relenting and sliding the laptop over to the side of the bed. “Alright….if you’re sure you don’t mind.”
“I don’t mind.”
He waited until she’d settled in with the plate on her lap before shifting to face her. “So…how are things with Fenmore’s?”
The confusion on his face as she sputtered and cough was almost as amusing as the question itself. “Really? That’s how we’re going to play this?”
“It’s just…it seems a little weird..you and me sitting here in a hotel room, eating pizza, and chit chatting about work. It’s all very polite, very mundane…It just seems a little out of character I guess.”
“Eh—Fair point I suppose, but we’re grown-ups, right? We can be friends. We can talk about our lives. We can have relationships. We can do this. We were friends first…before….” His voice trailed off as he felt the mood in the room shift. “Sorry.”
She shook her head. “It’s alright. It was a matter of time.”
“Well,” he sighed, “Now that I’ve said it….I mean, it’s true. We were you know. We were friends before we were ever anything more and I miss that…I miss talking to you and venting and being able to tell you what I was thinking and feeling.” His eyes softened as they stared into hers.
“I know,” she whispered. “I miss it too.”
“You think we can ever have that again? That kind of friendship?”
She smiled at the sincerity in his voice. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to spend time with him. It wasn’t that she didn’t miss him. God—did she ever, but she wasn’t sure if she could ever be okay with only having part of him…with only being in his life in a way that forever assured her a place as a platonic placeholder. “I hope so,” she whispered. Her eyes drifted over to the clock on the bedside table. “You know what…we better finish this up. It’s getting late.”
He nodded sadly. It was getting too real for her—for both of them.
“God Billy!” Phyllis shrieked.
“What? What’s the matter?”
“Just stay in there. Don’t come out yet.” She pulled the gown down across her body, pulling the robe on quickly and tying the belt. “Alright,” she sighed. “It’s okay now. You can come out.”
“What in the world is the matter with you?” He walked out of the bathroom slowly, looking around the room.
“I was changing,” she said quietly. “I thought you said you were getting ready for bed in there.”
“I did. All I had to do was brush my teeth though…that only takes so long.” He looked at her for a moment, a smile spreading across his face. “I don’t know what you’re so freaked out about though. It’s not like I’ve never seen it before.”
He expected a witty remark, some sarcastic banter, a biting comeback—something very Phyllis, but instead he watched in horror as her face crumbled.
“You think I don’t know that,” she said softly. She took a few steps towards him, her eyes now locked on his, their gaze never wavering. “You think I don’t remember the way it was between us, the times we spent together, the moments, the touches, the words we said? You think you have to remind me?”
“Phyllis.” The word was barely a whisper as it left his mouth, his hand reaching out to touch her as she jerked away.
“I remember, Billy. I remember everything. Every single day I try to forget, but I can’t. I can’t forget it and I can’t forget you.” She crawled into bed, pulling the covers up tight around her as she turned her back to him.
He stared up at the ceiling, the weight of her words crushing him, weighing so heavily on his chest that he could barely breathe. Slowly, he moved to stand, the movement of his body causing the bed to shift slightly.
“Don’t,” she hissed. “Just don’t.”
He closed his eyes as he sank back onto the pillows. It would be a long night tonight.
The sunlight flickered in through the blinds and his eyes opened. For a moment he was amazed he actually fell asleep at all. His next thought was of her.
“Phyllis.” He glanced over at the bed. The covers were pulled up and the outfit she’d laid out to wear the next day was gone. Clearly she’d had no intention of being there when he woke up. Her words still rang in his head. She still thought about him…in the same way he thought about her. Knowing that, that simple knowledge gave him everything he needed. He knew exactly what he was going to do today.
Phyllis sat up straight. She’d forced herself to get up this morning, to get dressed, to have breakfast and put her game face on. She was a businesswoman. She was here to work. She had a job to do and she was going to do it—no matter what Billy Abbott did or didn’t do. He had blown apart her life once before. She couldn’t allow him to do it again.
The notebook page was clean as she held it in her hand, her pen poised to capture notes and sketches. This was a clean slate, in every sense of the word.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the emcee stated, “Thank you all for coming out this morning. We have a wonderful event planned for you but before we begin, there’s someone that needs to make a special announcement.”
Phyllis sighed as she glanced down at her watch. It was always something. She began to scribble the date across the top of the page as her pen fell from her hand, the sound of the voice ringing out through the room sending a shockwave though her body.
“Good morning.” Billy took a breath as he looked out across the room. He’d looked for her while he stood back, waiting for his moment, but he’d been unable to find her within the sea of faces. “Many of you don’t know me,” he said, his voice slightly shaky, “and that’s okay…many of you don’t need to. The truth is, many of you won’t care about this—about what I’m going to say…and that’s okay too. This is about you. This is only about one of you.” He stopped for a moment, his eyes finally falling on her face.
She sat there wide eyed, her mouth slightly agape.
“For most of my life I’ve been known as a screw up. I’ve never been the guy that anyone could depend on to do the right thing. I’ve always been the one that people kind of have to look out for…the one that waits until the worst possible time to make the worst possible decision. I’m always a bit of a black sheep, an underdog. I guess in a way I kind of like it that way. I feel like it’s made me a fighter. I think it’s made me tough. Somewhere along the way I kind of got it in my head that I have to fight for everything, but sometimes you don’t have to fight. Sometimes—you just find someone that makes it all okay…you find someone that makes you feel like it’s not always so hard. You find someone that gets you..someone that understands.”
He took a few small steps closer to the edge of the stage where he could see her better. “I found a person like that and I had that feeling for a while. I got to experience what it was like to be with someone that made everything better just by being there. She could walk into a room and light it up. She could smile at you and make you feel like the most important person in the world and when she loved you, it was like you were untouchable. I had that…and I let it go. But if there’s one thing I know about—it’s fighting..and if I want something bad enough, I fight for it. I’ve been fighting for things my whole life.”
Billy stood closer now, close enough to see the tears as they streamed down her face. “I fought for you once and I’ll fight for you again….and I don’t lose. I won’t lose…not this time….not this fight.”
He handed the microphone back to the emcee who simply stood silent for a moment as Billy walked from the stage, his eyes locked on her.
Phyllis stood, walking towards the aisle to meet him. She said nothing as he took her hand and led her outside into the lobby.
“I’m sorry,” he began. “I know you probably wish I hadn’t done anything so…”
Her lips were on his before he could finish and she kissed him in a way she hadn’t before. It wasn’t a kiss that was filled with fear or regret. There was no other motive, no agenda, no one else in that room. It was only them. As he pulled away to look at her, he saw the look in her eyes, the same look he’d seen so many months ago. “You’re here,” he whispered quietly. “You’re okay. I’m not gonna have to fight for you again?”
She smiled, leaning into him as she shook her head in blissful disbelief. “I’ve always thought of you as more of a lover than a fighter.”