“Phyllis?” Ronan stood at the door, thankful it still remained partially open, but not stupid enough to step inside. “Phyllis, please—can you just give me a minute to try and explain?”
He heard movement inside and stepped back. She stood at the door, tears still streaming down her face. “I don’t know how the hell you think you could possible explain something like this.”
“You have every right to be angry with me,” Ronan said softly.
“Really? You’re going to stand here and try to justify my anger now? As if I needed your approval?”
“No,” he sighed, “that’s not what I meant…I just.. God,” he slammed his hand into the wall, and looked back at her, tears now filling his own eyes. “It was a horrible thing that I did but I want you to understand that I felt terrible about it. Why do you think I kept pulling away from you?”
She paused for a moment. “So what? You want me to give you a pass because you had the decency to not sleep with me.”
“That’s not what I’m saying. I just mean…it’s not like I didn’t have guilt over this. It was eating me up knowing how much pain you were in, but I just kept thinking about how much pain you’d be in if he were back here. He doesn’t remember you, Phyllis. He doesn’t remember your life, your relationship, all the memories that you have—the ones that have gotten you through your loss—they don’t exist to him.” He watched as the words hit her and her face crumbled. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to hurt you, but you aren’t to him what he is to you. I just wanted to spare you that. I didn’t want to watch you lose him again.”
Phyllis reached up, wiping her tears from her face. “That isn’t your call. You don’t know how I would feel about this. And what about Grace?” She gripped her chest as she thought of her daughter. “Ronan, she’s his daughter. Were you really okay with never telling her that her father was alive?”
“No..No of course not, but this is new to me too, Phyllis…and if you want me to be honest with you, it felt so good to be close to you again and Grace is amazing. I thought maybe you and I could have something real and then I…”
Her eyes widened, “So you’d just step right in and then who needs Billy, right?”
“No. Damn it. None of this is right. You don’t understand.”
Phyllis took a step towards him, her eyes now shining with tears. “I’ll tell you what I’m absolutely sure of,” she said, her voice shaking in anger, “I’m sure that you know where Billy is right now, or at the very least, you have a pretty good idea of how to contact him, so every moment I’m spending here screaming at you is a minute I could be spending with the man I love.”
Ronan shook his head. “Alright,” he whispered. “I’ll find him. I swear to you. I’ll find him and I’ll bring him back to you and then I’m going to fix this…I don’t know how, but I’m going to fix this.”
Ronan drove slowly, his eyes roaming the streets. This was insane. He couldn’t imagine Billy would be walking down the street in the middle of the night, but he had to do something. He had to try and find him. He owed Phyllis that much. The sound of his phone ringing brought instant relief and he glanced down to see a number he didn’t recognize. Quickly, he brought the phone to his ear. “Hello,” he said anxiously.
“Ronan?” Billy struggled to stay calm. He’d all but verbally accosted Ashley on the phone even though she’d sworn Ronan hadn’t given her any more details—only that it was an emergency and that he needed him to call him at this number as soon as possible. “It’s Billy. I got your message. Ashley said it was important. Is something wrong?” It felt weird to be worried about people you didn’t know, but somehow he felt he should know her and then there was his daughter. Memories or not, he needed to know that she was alright.
The familiar pang of guilt welled up inside him again. He hadn’t considered how the message would sound to Billy. “Yeah, Yeah. I’m sorry about that, man. I didn’t mean to worry you. Everyone’s fine. It’s just…” He paused. “Look, I know you’re probably gonna be a bit pissed at me and it sure as hell wasn’t my place to do it but, Phyllis knows you’re alive. She knows you’re in town.”
Billy let out a long breath. “Yeah,” he sighed. “I uh…I saw her in the park this afternoon. I was afraid she might have figured it out.”
“Well, to be honest. She was pretty sure she was hallucinating. In fact, she called me over to her place insisting that she was going crazy and I almost managed to convince her she was just grieving, but I just couldn’t do it. She misses you too much. I can’t watch her suffer like this and even if you don’t know her—even if you don’t remember anything about her or your life together, it will mean something to her to just see you, to know you’re alive, to know you’re alright.”
“She wants to see me?” Billy took a seat on the edge of the small bed. In his mind, he’d expected this would come eventually, but never this soon.
“Yeah, she does. I’d like to come pick you up from wherever you are and bring you to her place. Can we do that?” Ronan waited, hearing nothing on the end of the line. “Billy?” he repeated.
“Yeah,” Billy finally whispered. “Yeah, we can do that.”
Ronan stepped up to the door, looking back over his shoulder and waiting for Billy to join him. “You okay?” he asked as he clasped his hand on his shoulder.
“I don’t know,” Billy admitted. “There’s not exactly a game plan for this. I don’t know what to say to her.” He looked up at Ronan. “I don’t want to hurt her.”
Ronan shook his head. “I wish I knew what to tell you..but I don’t…”
Suddenly the door swung open and Phyllis stood in the doorway. “Ronan,” she whispered, “I thought I heard your voice. Listen, I was thinking about this…maybe it’s too soon..maybe Billy would rather come in his own time. Maybe he doesn’t want to see me or…” She stopped talking, realizing for the first time that Ronan hadn’t said and word and instead simply stared at her. “What’s wrong?” she said quietly.
He stepped to the side, saying nothing as he watched her eyes widen and almost immediately fill with tears. Her hand flew to her mouth to silence the scream that threatened to alert the entire building.
“Why don’t we step inside,” Ronan said quietly, taking her shoulders and gently easing her inside the room. He looked back at Billy and gestured for him to follow.
“Here you go.” She took the glass of water and struggled to hold it in her trembling hands. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, forcing herself to look away. “I know you must think I’m insane. I’m just staring at you, but…” Her voice broke. “God, Billy, you have no idea how much I’ve missed you.” She stepped closer to him, her hand reaching up to touch his face but, after catching the look in his eye, drawing back. “I’m sorry,” she said again, tears again streaking down her cheeks. “Ronan told me that you don’t remember. I don’t mean to push.”
“It’s okay.” Billy forced a smile as he looked at her. “I’d really like to remember. I want to remember. I just…”
Phyllis looked down at her dress, smoothing the front of it before looking back up at him. “This was your favorite,” she said quietly. “You said it brought out the color of my eyes.” Her voice shook as she said the words, desperate to see some flicker of recognition on his face but instead seeing a blank stare intertwined with basic compassion. He felt sorry for her, just as he’d feel for anyone else.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I really am. It’s a beautiful dress. You have beautiful eyes. You’re beautiful. I just….I don’t…..” He stopped talking, his eyes falling on a picture that sat behind her. “Is that?” He walked over, pointing to a framed photo. He picked it up, holding it close to him. “Grace, right?”
She closed her eyes, trying uselessly not to cry. “Yes,” she managed, sighing in frustration as she felt fresh tears escape. “That’s your daughter. That’s Grace.”
“Is she here?”
“No. She’s…she’s actually with the sitter tonight. You can meet her tomorrow. You’ll love her. She looks so much like you. Remember how you used to say that you hoped…” She stopped, realizing that he remembered noting of their time together. Every memory, every touch, every word he’d ever said to her was now a completely one-sided story that he might never again share with her. Her heart broke as she looked up at him. To her, he was the man she loved with all her heart. To him, she was a stranger.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t…I can’t stay here,” she whispered. She grabbed her coat, throwing it on as she headed towards the door. Gripping her purse in her hands she headed out the door.
Ronan looked up, his eyes falling on Billy.
“I don’t know what to do,” Billy said quietly. “I hate doing this to her. She wants me to remember so badly and I just don’t. I can’t.”
“I know one thing,” Ronan said sternly. “You need to go after her. You might not remember her, but I’ll tell you from experience…that’s not a woman you let walk out of your life.”