“Hey.” His voice was soft as he pulled the door open and waited for her to step inside. Grace turned into her chest, clutching her body and pulling away from him.
Phyllis glanced up with apologetic eyes. “She just woke up from a nap,” she sighed, “She’ll warm up a bit.”
Billy nodded, trying to at least pretend to believe that was the reason. In truth, Grace wasn’t becoming the least bit comfortable with him. Maybe it was because she could sense how tense it was between them, how much he felt like he let Phyllis down every time he couldn’t remember the memories and the moments she described. It had been weeks now and each time she visited, he felt like he hurt her even more.
“I brought you more albums,” she said cheerfully. “Your sister sent some from when you were younger and then I found the first professional pictures I had taken of Grace…I don’t think you’ve seen those yet.” She glanced up, smiling at him, her eyes full of hope—just as they always were, until he ruined it. “And then there’s these…”
He walked over towards the couch, glancing down at Grace who was now happily settled on her play mat. “What are they?” Billy let his eyes glance over to the stack that still remained in her hands. By the look on her face, he could tell it meant something—this was a moment she desperately wanted him to remember.
“I uh…we…before we really started seeing each other publically, we were together a few times at the Abbott cabin, but that really wasn’t a place that we could call ours and you wanted us to have a place like that…somewhere that would be special for us.” Her hand trembled a bit as she held the pictures out towards him.
It was like literal pressure surrounded him as he slowly flipped through the pictures. He saw their faces and he could tell, without a doubt, that he’d been happy there. That they’d been happy in that place and in that moment, but nothing about it seemed familiar. He looked up at her, the hope shining in her eyes. “I…”
“Do you remember?”
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I…”
She stood quickly, turning her back. She’d done everything she knew to do and nothing had worked. Ashley had asked her not to give up, but more and more this felt like torture both for her and for him. Maybe she had lost him—not in the way she’d thought, but in every way that really mattered. The Billy she loved had died that night in that accident. Maybe it was time to accept that.
“You know what?,” her breath nearly caught in her throat, but she forced herself to continue, “I really should go.”
Billy rose quickly, meeting her where she stood across the room. “So soon? You just got here.”
“I can’t….I just can’t…” Her voice betrayed her and she glanced up at him one last time. She rushed over to Grace, gathering her quickly in her arms and rushing for the door. “I’ll call you later,” she breathed as she disappeared into the foyer.
He stood frozen in place until the heard the heavy wooden door close. His eyes followed her as she walked to the car, wiping what he thought were tears off her cheeks as she strapped Grace into the carseat. It seemed strange, watching her from the window like this…as if she was talking everything in his world with him…even if he didn’t know how much it meant to him.
“I know, baby.” Phyllis lifted Grace out of the car seat. “You don’t like being strapped in there, do you?” Her daughter’s sweet smile made her laugh softly. She was the only thing that could possibly bring any joy to her right now.
She stepped into the coffeehouse, happy to see it was busy enough not to allow her to be the center of attention.
Her head turned towards the sound of her name and she breathed in relief.
“Ronan.” It was strange that her first instinct was to smile. Somehow her anger had dissipated over the weeks and, after talking to him a few times, she’d really started to see the reasons behind what he’d done. It wasn’t exactly that she agreed, and she’d probably never completely understand, but she knew it wasn’t his intention to hurt her and right now, that was enough.
“It’s good to see you,” he whispered, walking over to her hesitantly. He smiled broadly as Grace stretched her arms out towards him. “Hey you,” he smiled, reaching for her and easily taking her into his arms.
“Well, someone certainly missed you,” Phyllis grinned.
They walked over to the table, and took a seat. Phyllis watched as Grace smiled up, her hand slowly touching the stubble on his face as she usually did. “No,” she said softly, “I missed you too. It’s really good to see you.”
“You too. I’ve been thinking about you. I wanted to call, but…”
“Why didn’t you?”
Ronan shook his head. “It wasn’t my place to interfere. I know you and Billy are trying to work things out. I know that’s what you want and I think in time, he’ll realize it’s what he wants too.” He studied her face as he said the words. The pain in her eyes was palpable. “Hey,” he said softly, “What’s up? What happened?”
“It’s just…I’m not sure Billy and I are gonna happen. He doesn’t remember anything, Ronan and I don’t know if I can keep pretending that everything is just going to work out. It just hurts too damn much.” Tears filled her eyes almost instantly, the realization setting in as the words left her lips. It was hard enough to entertain the thoughts in her mind, but saying them out loud, especially to another person…it made it real.
This was what he wanted, wasn’t it? Didn’t he want her to give up on Billy—so that she’d be free to be with him? Maybe so, but her tears weren’t supposed to be part of the equation. “Maybe you just need to give it some time.”
“How much time?” she asked, the desperation screaming in her voice. “It’s been almost a month, Ronan and nothing…just a stupid perfume…I can’t….”
He was quiet for a moment, considering his words. “How about if you just got away for a bit…maybe just took Grace away for a few days..a long weekend. Do something fun…something to just get your mind off all this craziness. It would take the pressure off all of you.”
Phyllis nodded. “It sounds like a good idea, but traveling with a baby isn’t as relaxing as you might think,” she smiled.
“What if I came along?” He saw the look of shock in her eyes, and quickly added… “Just to help with Grace..no pressure.”
A part of her felt as if she should turn him down, but the other part of her felt this would be a break…a chance for her to let herself heal and maybe a moment for her to accept what her life might be like with Billy in it, but without him as a part of it.
“I’d like that,” she said quietly.
She sat in the car, her heart pounding. She was thankful the sitter had been available at the last minute. This wasn’t exactly what she wanted Grace to witness—even though she had no reason to believe this would be ugly. Billy didn’t remember what they had, why would he fight not trying to get it back.
The walk to the front door seemed like an impossible feat and when she finally made it there, her hand felt impossibly heavy as she lifted it to knock on the door. The sight of his face standing there almost sent her running back towards the car.
“I was wondering how long you were gonna sit out there,” he said, the smile she loved so much playing across his face.
“Oh,” she said, her cheeks reddening with embarrassment. “I didn’t realize you saw me. I was just thinking..”
“It’s okay. You need to go back out there or have you thought enough?”
She smiled, her nerves getting the better of her as she fidgeted with her hands. “I’m good now,” she breathed. “Can I come in?”
He stepped aside, waiting for her walk in.
She’d barely passed him and heard the door close when she turned around, surprised to see him facing her. “Look, Billy, I don’t want to drag this out, so I’m just gonna say what I came here to say.”
‘It’s not really him.’ She said the words silently to herself as she looked into those eyes—the eyes she’d stared into so many times. “You know you’ll always be Grace’s father and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that the two of you have an opportunity to build your relationship, but us…what we had it was once in a lifetime and I don’t think we can recreate that.”
He stared at her. “What are you trying to say, Phyllis?”
“I just…I can’t keep doing this. I can’t keep trying to make you remember because it hurts too damn much, Billy and it’s not fair. It’s not fair to me and it’s not fair to you. Grace doesn’t deserve to feel this tension between us and it’s just got to stop.” She could feel the weight of his eyes on her and she looked away. “Anyway,” she managed, “that’s what I wanted to say. I’m actually going to be going out of town for a few days, but I’ll be in touch and I’m…” Her composure was slipping and the last thing she wanted was for him to see her fall apart. “I’m just gonna go now.” She headed towards the door, pushing past him but immediately feeling his arm grip her wrist.
She jerked away. “Let me go,” she breathed, looking up at him, tears glistening in her eyes. She stopped for a moment as she caught a look in his eye. He stood completely still, his arm wrapped around her wrist.
For a moment, she’d swear neither of them breathed until she felt him pull her close to him. “Before,” he whispered, “We’ve been here before.” Her slight gasp was the only answer he needed. His hand shook as he reached up, brushing her hair from her face.
“You were wearing a blue shirt with buttons…and a black skirt.” He paused, letting the moment play in his mind like a movie, the images slowly coming into focus—“You were leaving and I stopped you and then….”
“What?” The one word was the best she could muster. Her heart beat furiously inside her chest, but the rational side of her tried to keep her expectations in check. She swallowed hard, forcing herself to breathe. “Then what?”
She felt him push her backwards and she followed his lead, already feeling the tears in her eyes as she knew where he was heading. Her back rested against the wall as his hand gently cupped her face.
“And then I did this,” he whispered, pressing his lips to hers.
She sighed, laying her head on his bare chest as he pulled the chenille throw up over them.
“You okay?” he asked softly.
Lifting her head a bit, her eyes met his. “Okay?” She shook her head. “Okay isn’t the word for what I am. I don’t even know a word to describe what I am right now.”
Billy smiled as he pressed his lips to her forehead. “I don’t know how I could forget this,” he said softly.
“But you remember now?” she whispered, “Right? You remember?”
He nodded, “It’s like a switch was flipped. I remember this and the cabin, and our non-trip to Montreal, and everything else. I remember all the plans we made, and the dreams we had, how much we loved each other…” His fingertips ran through her hair and he smiled as her eyes fluttered closed. “But those memories aren’t nearly enough,” he whispered, his lips brushing against her cheek.
Phyllis’ eyes opened. “What? What do you mean?”
“I don’t just want to remember,” he smiled. “I want to create some new memories and since you said Grace is with the sitter tonight.” He smiled as he stood, wrapping the throw around her and lifting her in his arms. “That means you and I have all night.”
She giggled as they headed up the stairs.
Ronan walked slowly beside the window. It was ironic. He’d only stopped by to see if Billy was really okay with him dating Phyllis. He wanted to make sure he was honest and upfront, but that wouldn’t matter now. Phyllis wasn’t available—maybe she never really had been.
He reached into his pocket, pulling out the three plane tickets to Florida. He’d wanted this to be their chance to see what it would be like—to “test drive” being a family, but Phyllis already had that. He pulled the pen and pad from his pocket and quickly scribbled out a note. He needed to do this before his heart got the better of him.
Use these tickets to go on that trip with your family. With all my heart, I wish you all the love and happiness in the world.
Ronan held the tickets for a moment, his heart breaking a bit as he bent down to slide them under the door. She wouldn’t find them until the morning—no doubt they wouldn’t be returning downstairs tonight, but that was alright. They were making up for lost time.
He trudged back to his car, slumping into the seat. It was something he’d told grieving families many times. This broken heart was his own fault for not heeding his own advice.
You can lose time. You can lose people, but you never have to lose the love.