“I know, ok? I know.” She sighed when she saw him look up at her, confusion in his dark eyes. “I know I should just be grateful that you’re here, that you’re back, that you’re here with me and Grace, but I can’t help it…this anger it just creeps up inside of me and I have nowhere for it to go and I just…” She took a shaky breath. “So there, I said it. Go ahead…”
Billy took a seat beside her on the couch. “You know you have a right to feel whatever it is that you’re feeling. I’m certainly not going to tell you any differently if that’s what you’re thinking.” He heard a burst of air leave her lips and he smiled. “Is that how it used to be?”
“No.” The word left her mouth quickly. She looked up at him, her eyes softening as she saw his face, his eyes hesitant. “No, you were never like that. I just feel like it’s what everyone’s thinking. I’m not happy enough. I’m not joyful enough, but this isn’t easy.”
“That’s my fault,” he said quietly, hanging his hand.
She placed her hand on his arm. “It’s not your fault,” she whispered. “It’s just the situation. This whole damn situation and it was just made even more complicated by Ronan and his stupid plan to…” Her voice trailed off as she saw Billy’s head shaking solely. “What?”
He reached into his pocket, pulling out his square photo. “Hear me out, okay?” He could see the fire already flashing in his eyes and he held up a hand to placate her for a moment. “Look at this.” He handed her the photo and he watched in silence as her eyes widened a bit.
“Where do you get this?”
“Where do you think?”
She swallowed hard as she stared at the image. Her eyes closed, her head dropped over her sleeping daughter. “Ronan,” she whispered, emotion and questions floating in her voice.
Billy nodded. “I get that you’re angry he didn’t tell you the second he knew and I know I’ve had a bit longer to come to terms with that than you have, but I’ve got to say, I get where the guy was coming from. He didn’t do this to hurt you. He wasn’t trying to keep me away from you. He was trying to keep you from getting hurt. He gave me this picture. He promised to keep in touch. He just wanted to keep you safe…to be there. That’s all. He went about it the wrong way, but he had the right things in his mind. I just think you ought to know that.”
Phyllis jumped slightly at the sound of the knock on the door. Billy had left nearly an hour ago and she’d been frozen in virtually the same spot ever since. She couldn’t get his words out of her mind. Ronan had the right things in his mind. Did that mean he wanted her to give Ronan a chance? Did he not want to try and make things work between the two of them?
Her heart beat faster as she walked quickly to the door, glancing towards Grace’s room and hoping the knocking wouldn’t wake her yet. She pulled up the door. “Ashley,” she breathed, her voice betraying her surprise. “I didn’t expect to see you today. I’m sorry, but Grace is actually napping.”
Ashley smiled. “I didn’t come here to see Grace, actually. I was wondering if we might be able to talk. I brought lunch.” She held up two bags and forced a smile. Though she and Phyllis had called a truce after Grace’s birth, their interactions were still civil at best. Friendly lunch visits were still quite the stretch.
“Uh, sure..okay.” Phyllis stepped aside, watching with interest as Ashley walked past her. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Ashley, but we don’t eat lunch together and you never stop by to talk to me unless it’s to berate me about something and I’ve got to be honest…I’m really not up for it today.”
“Phyllis, I promise. I’m not here to give you a hard time. I honestly came here to try and make things better. I swear.” She laughed a bit at Phyllis’ narrowed eyes. “Oh, come on! Would you stop being so suspicious and just get us some plates.”
The sound of the fork hitting the plate startled her and Ashley’s eyes widened.
“Alright,” Phyllis sighed, “You’ve critiqued every food item here. We’ve talked about Grace and Fenmore’s and Jabot. You’ve complimented my outfit and even made a few frivolous comments on the weather. At any point are you actually going to get to the point and tell me what you’re actually doing here?”
Ashley sighed, but smiled slightly. “Honestly?”
“I wanted to talk about Billy.”
“Ashley…I thought we’d gotten past this..”
“No..not like that,” she interrupted, “I wanted to see if there was anything I could do to help. It’s just..” She paused, shaking her head as she thought back on how everything had happened between them. “The two of you went through so much to be together and then you had what—a few months of happiness and now…”
“I know,” Phyllis took a sip from her glass. “I wanted to believe it would work out. I really did, but he was just here a bit ago and I don’t know if that’s what he wants anymore.” The sound of the words leaving her mouth made them even more real and she felt her eyes burn with the tears.
Ashley shook her head. “Oh, I don’t believe that for a second. What did he say?”
“He was defending Ronan..trying to get me to understand why he kept the news from me. It was almost like he wanted me to be with him and not…” She couldn’t say it again—couldn’t make herself say the words aloud once more.
“Phyllis,” Ashley breathed, “He’s just…he’s trying to help you get through this the only way he knows how right now. You two loved each other. It took me a long time to realize it but once I accepted it, I have to say you were good for my brother. I never saw him as happy as he was when he was with you and when he was gone…Well, it broke my heart to see you like that. I have to believe the two of you can get through this.”
“I want that Ashley, I do, but this is like losing him all over again…but it happens every day…in every moment. Every time I look at him and I think I see a flash in him and then it’s not. I don’t know how much longer I can take it.”
Ashley reached across the table, lightly touching her hand. “Listen,” she whispered, “Just promise you won’t give up on him yet. He needs you and you need him. You have a beautiful daughter and I have to believe that all this didn’t happen so that it ends like this.”
Phyllis nodded, her mind going back to years ago when Billy had promised her their story didn’t end badly. She looked up at Ashley and smiled. “Yeah,” she whispered, “that’s not the way this story ends.”