Lady In Red

Billy closed the door with a sigh.  There was no sign of her in the living room, which probably meant she was upstairs…packing.  He ran his hands over his face as he glanced towards the stairs.

“Billy?” Her voice rang out through the empty house.  “Is that you?”

He smiled, half-heartedly, hating what he was about to do.  Slowly, he trudged up the steps.  The smile spread across his face when she met him in the doorway, her hands pressed to his chest.  Her lips lightly pressed against hers before she quickly turned away, reaching back towards the bed and picking up two swimsuits.

“Which one?” she grinned?

He groaned, flopping down on the bed and pulling her down onto his lap.

“What?” Her voice was soft as her hand softly caressed his face.

“The trip,” he whispered.  “We can’t go…I’m really sorry.”

“Oh.  Why? What happened?”

He could see the disappointment in her eyes and he hated knowing he was the one that caused it.  All he wanted, all he’d ever wanted was to make her happy.  “This stupid thing with work…This big campaign to break into the Canadian market..”  He paused, looking into her eyes.  “If there was anyone else I could send, I swear, I would.  I was really looking forward to this little getaway with you.”

Phyllis smiled sadly at him.  “Hey, you know what, it’s okay.  We’ll go away later—when you get back.  It’ll just be our six month and then some anniversary, right?  Tonight, we can just go have a nice dinner or something.”  She studied his face as his eyes closed again.

“What?”

“Actually.  I’m gonna have to take a rain check on dinner, too.  My flight leaves in an hour and a half.  I’ve got to grab a bag and head to the airport.”

She nodded.  “Alright,” she sighed.  “That’s alright.  We can celebrate when you get back.  It’s not a big deal.”

“No, see it is a big deal.”  His fingertips ran through her hair quickly before he rested his palm against the side of her face.  She felt his chest rise and fall as he took a deep breath and pulled her tight against him.  “I don’t want you to think I don’t think it’s a big deal, because it is…this is a very big deal to me.  It took us a long time to get to a place where we could celebrate our relationship and now…we’re here.  We’re together.  We’re getting married.  I just…I want you to know that it’s not a small thing for me to miss this.”

Phyllis felt her throat tighten as she heard the words.  Her head rested against his chest as she took a slow, deep breath of her own.  She’d never been the overly emotional type.  She was never the one to cry at the drop of the hat, but Billy somehow always knew exactly what to say to get to her heart.  “It’s not about the dates,” she said softly, raising her head to look at him, “it’s about the memories.  We’ll make it even more special when you get back, okay?”

He nodded, leaning in and kissing her quickly before standing up off the bed.  “I better get some things together.”

She smiled.  “It’s just three days,” she said quietly.  “Three days and you’ll be back here with me…where you belong.”

“You want me to put your suitcase back up on the top shelf?” Billy called out just before she left the room.

“No,” she smiled to herself, her mind already spinning, “I’ll take care of it later.”

~

Billy swiped the key card through the reader, pushing the door open.  He sighed heavily as his eyes roamed the empty hotel room.  This wasn’t at all the way he wanted to spend his six month anniversary with Phyllis.  He’d envisioned a much different type of celebration.  Instead he was here—in a very nice hotel with a bunch of stuffed shirts and an expense account.  He missed her and, even though there was plenty to do in Toronto, the only thing he really wanted to do was lie on the couch and think about her.

He glanced at his watch.  It wasn’t that late and the time zones weren’t so different.  Maybe she’d still be up.  A sly smile played upon his face as he pondered talking with her all night.  Walking over the desk, he reached for the phone, stopping only when he saw the note bearing his name.  He opened it and began to read

Billy,

I want you to know that even though you aren’t here with me, I’m always thinking of you.  We’ll celebrate when you get back.  Until then, don’t sit in that hotel room alone and mope.  I’ve booked you a table at the restaurant downstairs.  Dinner and drinks are already paid for. 

Love always,

Phyllis

A soft laugh escaped his lips as he placed the note back down on the table.  It was frightening how well she knew him.  He grabbed his suit coat and slid it on over his shirt before heading out the door again.

~

“And you’re sure he got the note?” Phyllis asked again, her eyes scanning the crowded room.

“I left it in his room—right by the phone.  I felt sure he’d probably come in and try to call you….unless…ugh..what if he used his cell and didn’t go anywhere near the phone.”  Ben covered his face with his hand.  “I’m really sorry.  I hope I haven’t messed this whole thing up.”

Phyllis shook her head.  “I’m sure he’ll see it,” she sighed, trying not to worry.  “You said your conference just ended a little bit ago though, right—so it makes sense that he’s just now getting back to his room and he might wait a bit before coming down.”  She paused, watching as a smile spread across Ben’s face.  “What?” she asked.

“Don’t uh…Don’t take this the wrong way, Phyllis, but I can’t imagine anyone keeping you waiting.”  He smiled at her.  “There’s my team,” he said with a grin, gesturing over to a large group of men in suits, “I better get over there before the rumor mill starts.”

She nodded.  “Thanks again for your help.”

Ben nodded and walked away.

~

Phyllis walked down to the end of the bar, adjusting her dress as she perched on the bar stool.  Dresses like this weren’t made for sitting, she thought to herself.  Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted him.  He’d obviously come straight from his room—not even bothering to change from the clothes he’d worn to the conference.  He looked tired and almost sad.  She smiled to herself.  She’d fix that.

He took a seat, a few stools down, not even glancing in her direction.  The bartender approached and she heard him give him his name.  The bartender nodded, reaching back and pulling a bottle of the top shelf scotch she’d requested.  She saw the smile on his face as he took a drink.

“You’ve got yourself a keeper there,” the bartender said quietly.  “Any woman that can pick a scotch like that…”

Billy just smiled.

This was serious she thought—the funk had set in long enough.  She untangled her limbs from the bar stool, sashaying across the length between them and slowly slinking up behind him.  Her hands crept around his shoulders, one hand covering each of his eyes.  He flinched, momentarily confused.

“Wait..What?”

“Sorry to disturb you,” she whispered, her breath warm as she leaned closer to his ear, “but it’s a real shame to see a man as handsome as you sitting here alone.”

She felt the tension leave his body almost immediately and she smiled as she watched a grin slowly slide across his lips.

“Phyllis,” he whispered, turning towards her.

Her fingertips covered his lips.  “I’m sorry,” she smirked, “You must have me confused with someone else.”

Billy paused for a moment, watching the mischievous glint in her eyes. Realization slowly hit him.  “Oh,” she sighed, reaching out to softly touch her hair.  “Who are you then?”

“Whoever you want me to be,” she said quietly, “But I do need to ask one thing…, that guy over there,” She gestured towards Ben who sat at the head the table of men. “He told me you left a fiancé at home.  Is that true?”

He cleared his throat.  “It is true and, uh…no offense, but if she were here right now,” He leaned in closer to her, “She’d kick your ass.”

Phyllis smiled, leaning in closer still, her lips now softly brushing his.  “I guess it’s a good thing she’s not here then, isn’t it?”  She smiled, her hands rubbing against his chest as she tilted her head.  “I love this song,” she whispered, “Dance with me.”

Billy hesitated.  “We shouldn’t.”

“Come on…I want to dance.”  She took his hand in hers, pulling him to stand.

“Seriously,” he laughed, “I told everyone my fiancé was at home and there’s a whole group from the conference right over there.  How’s it going to look if I’m out on the dance floor with some..” He stopped, taking a moment, to allow his hands to travel the length of her body, “incredibly sexy woman.”

“Awww…you think I’m sexy?” She smiled, leaning in and kissing him again, pulling him a little harder and finally bringing him to his feet.

He couldn’t help but smile as he felt her body pressed against his.

“It’s easy, see,” she said softly, “You just put your hands here, and move like this.” She swayed slowly to the beat of the music, stretching up just enough to allow her lips to meet his.

As she pulled away, she saw the smile on his face.  “What’s that for?”

“You keep doing stuff like that,” he said, swallowing hard, “makes me want to do an entirely different dance.”

“Maybe we should get dinner to go,” she suggested, giggling as Billy grabbed her hand and made a mad dash back towards the bar.

~

“So…I guess if those numbers check out then…” He looked up, turning his head towards what every other man seemed to be staring out.  “Guys,” he said.  “Guys!”

“Yeah,” a few answered in stunned unison.

“What’s the problem?”

“It’s just that guy…that Abbott guy.  We thought he had a fiancé at home and he uh…Well, he seems pretty damn cozy with that hot little number over there.” He pointed towards Phyllis who stood beside him, her arms wrapped tightly around his waist.

Ben smiled.  “That is his fiancé and uh…I’m pretty sure Billy won’t be joining the meeting tonight.”

“Think that’s a pretty safe bet,” Billy said as he passed by, his arms still wrapped around Phyllis, “And you might want to bump that meeting a few hours in the morning.  I’m anticipating a late checkout.”

 

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Room for Me

“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?”

“What?”

“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.”

The End

 

Lock Up

The music was just loud enough or maybe she was just drunk enough, but somehow as she slowly swayed back and forth with the beat she could almost forget that she was here alone.  She brought the cool glass bottle to her lips, the last of the cold beer pouring down her throat.

“And that makes four.”  She lined them up straight down the bartop, surveying the progress she’d made in the last hour.  It hadn’t been the plan to come here and get drunk.  In fact she’d come here to talk to Nick—to see how things were going with Christian—to seek some solidarity in the despair that was her life, but instead she’d found Nick desperate to get Christian home before the roads got any worse.  He’d handed her the keys to the bar, telling her to ‘help herself to anything she wanted’ and to ‘drive safe’ when she headed home.

Phyllis sighed, reaching down under the counter and retrieving a bottle and a shot glass.  She could almost forget.  Almost didn’t count.

~

“I swear that’s why they call it mood music…”  She could hear her own words slur as she stumbled over to the booth.  The dulcet tones from the speaker seemed to lull her into a sort of sleepy peacefulness.  If she’d been a little less drunk and a little more sensible, she surely would have noticed the sound of the wind howling outside.  She would have known that soon the roads would be closing and that her decision to stay a little longer would soon become spending the night.

She might have even noticed the flash of lights that pranced across the wall of the bar as a lone set of headlights pulled into the nearly empty parking lots.  Instead, she pulled her legs up into the booth and, using her purse as a pillow, settled in for a nap.

~

“Phyllis”

“Phyllis, are you alright?”

She opened her eyes slowly, her vision a bit blurred.  The face in front of her was close and rather unsettling as just moments ago she was certain she’d been alone.  Quickly she moved to sit up only to find the room seemed to be moving much more slowly than she was.  Her head bobbed and she swallowed hard, a wave of nausea overtaking her.

His hand touched her face—warm hands.

“Billy?”

A puff of breath left his lips.  “Yeah.  It’s me.  Are you okay?”

She sat still a moment, not certain if she was ready to test the concept of movement again.  Somehow he seemed to know and she felt his strong arm wrap around her as he pulled her up against the cool leather of the booth.

“Better?” His voice was soft and kind.  She’d missed it.  She’d missed him.

“Yeah,” she said softly.  “Thanks.”

His eyes stayed on hers for a moment before he looked away.

Her mind was still fuzzy, but she was present enough to know she had one very important question.  “What are you doing here?”

“I was looking for Nick,” he said simply, flashing a quick smile.

Damn that smile.  She remembered that smile—the power it had over her. She wondered if he knew—if he had any idea the things one flash of that smile could make her think, could make her want, could make her do….

“He uh..”  She took a shaky breath.  “He left.  He wanted to get Christian home before the roads got too bad to drive.  He left me the keys to lock up which I should probably do.  I should be getting home.”  She stood, her hand almost immediately grabbing for the table as she realized her legs weren’t holding her.

“Oh no you don’t.”  He reached out, catching her in his arms and then..

It was just happening.

She stood, pressed up against him, her face buried in his chest, his hands pressed tight against the small of her back.  For as drunk as she was, she could have shifted, moved, leaned—done something to break the contact, but she didn’t want to.  She’d missed this closeness, the way it felt to be held by him.  As she stood there silently, she felt his hands softly stroke her back and she knew he was making the same choice—even if only for a moment.

His head turned, his face turning towards her cheek, his breath warm as he finally broke the silence.  “I can’t let you drive like this,” he whispered his lips brushing against her cheek as he spoke.

He felt her nod into his chest and closed his eyes as he felt her take a step back.  She looked up at him, her green eyes sparking.  “I can call a service.”

“No service is gonna come out here in this weather.  Everything is closing.”  His eyes looked into hers once more.  He reached out to touch her, then pulled back breathing in sharply as she felt her take his hand.

“I don’t want it to be like this.”  Her eyes began to shine, a sure sign tears were soon to follow.

Billy shook his head, reaching out to cup her face in his hand.  “Like what?” he whispered, hating the idea that anything he said or did would bring her to tears.

“Like you’re afraid to be alone with me..like you’re afraid to touch me.”

There was a silence for a moment as the thought  seemed to hang in the air.

“I guess in a way I am.”  The words poured out of him in a wave of honesty—a concept he only really experienced when he was in her presence.  She was someone he could truly be himself with.  She didn’t judge him or criticize him.  She was the one person he knew that would accept him with all his flaws.  “I don’t trust myself around you.”

“I know,” she whispered, “I don’t trust myself around you either.”  It was her turn now to return the honestly.  Cards were on the table.  Everything was out in the open now.  There was no point hiding their feelings.  The entire town knew about their affair.  What was the point of pretending it didn’t happen..of pretending like the feelings just disappeared?

He smiled at her again, the simple action sending a wave of heat through her.  “I guess I should take you home.”  His smile grew wider as he saw the familiar twinkle in her eye.

“Is that really where you’re gonna take me?” she grinned, “Home?”

She stepped in closer to him, their bodies almost as close as they’d been earlier.  She watched his lips curve into a mischievous smile just before his head dropped to allow his lips to hover over her.  One hand pressed into the small of her back as the other quickly found its way into her hair.  Her breathing grew faster as she felt his breath heavy on…

“I was wondering whose car that was…”

Billy took a quick step back, turning towards the voice.  “Yeah..Yeah, it’s me.  I was looking for you actually, but Phyllis told me that you’d already left for the night.  I was just trying to convince her that she’d had a little too much and that she should let me drive her home.”

Nick nodded.  “That’s a good idea.  Roads are pretty rough out there.  That’s actually why I came back..wanted to make sure you were alright getting home.  Wasn’t’ thinking about leaving you here in that cute little ride of yours…it’s not exactly made for driving in the snow.”

Phyllis nodded, barely able to get a “Thanks” out.

“So, you said you wanted to see me?”  Nick looked over at Billy.

“What?”  Billy sputtered, his mind on everything but Nick at the moment.

“Earlier when I came in, you said you came here looking for me.”  Nick glanced back and forth between the two of them.  It hadn’t been hard to see he’d interrupted a moment when he walked in, but it wasn’t his place to bring it up.

“Yeah..Victoria was looking for a place to throw a little welcome home party for Reed and she was looking at the Top of the Towers.  I don’t really think that’s his scene and I was thinking about this place..thought maybe I could see how you’d feel about it..maybe get someone on my team to help change her mind.”

Nick nodded.  “Yeah..I think that’s a great idea.”

Victoria.  And just like that, reality hits.  She looked at him, knowing she’d always want him and, in truth, knowing he’d always want her, but it wasn’t about that.  It was about having all of him and she wasn’t sure she ever would.

“Nick,” she said, forcing her voice to sound strong and confident even as her heart broke, “You think you could give me a ride…I mean it’s kind of out of Billy’s way…”

Billy turned quickly, his eyes searching hers for answers.

“Sure,” Nick said quickly.  “No problem.”

“Phyllis, I don’t mind..it’s no trouble, really,” Billy said, his confusion evident.

She reached out, her hand warm as she gently touched his.  “I know,” she said softly.  “But it’s better this way….it just makes more sense.”  Her eyes were serious as she looked at him and he instantly understood the sudden shift.

“Alright,” he managed, his voice nearly breaking as he watched her eyes water slightly.  “If you’re sure.”

She saw the hope in his eyes as he looked at her and she nodded.  “Yes,” she said, her heart breaking slightly as she watched the light fade from his eyes.

Nick held the door as the both walked out then turned to lock up.  Billy gently took her arm, pulling her away slightly.

“If this is about what I said about Victoria, I’m just trying to help her with Reed…that’s all.  We aren’t together.  Please don’t walk away because of what you think might be going on with…”

Phyllis smiled.  “I’m not saying not ever,” she said softly.  “Just not tonight.”

 

Tonight

Based on lyrics to “Tonight” by Sara Evans

She’d been sitting there, in the same place, for hours. The same drink sat in front of her, untouched. Nothing could numb her pain tonight. In truth, she’d known it was over. It had been over for a while now. In fact, she wasn’t sure it had ever truly been right since she’d come back from Georgia. It was as if she was trying to step back into a life that had moved on without her. The feelings were there, but the passion wasn’t.

There had always been something to blame—the coma. She’d been out of commission for a year. That would take its toll on anyone. Certainly that would explain her difficulty connecting to Jack, wouldn’t it? Then there was Kelly. It took time to rebuild trust once it was broken. Relationships weren’t simple. They were complicated. They evolved. This was a phase—something all couples went through. Then there was the whole mess with Marco. For a while, she believed her own psychological scars were keeping her letting anyone in, from trusting again, from being loved…until…

Billy.

“This seat taken?”

“Billy,” she breathed, staring at him with wide eyes, silently wondering if her thoughts had someone beckoned him over.

“Yeah,” he said quietly, a small smile playing on his lips. “Is it okay if I sit?” He looked at her, the expression on her face confusing him. “Phyllis, Is everything okay?”

“I don’t…I don’t think this is such a good idea.” She reached for her purse, her hand trembling as she reached for cash to pay for her drink.

“Hey.” His hand was warm as it covered hers. Her eyes involuntarily closed as she remembered the warmth of his touch on her skin.

She shook her head quickly, snapping herself out of her thoughts—the same thoughts that had landed her here in the first place. “I should go.”

“So that’s it? That’s what we do now? You see me and you go flying in the other direction? We can’t even stay in the same room together?”

If I had a weakness
You sure found it tonight
Some hidden desperation
You saw floatin’ in my eyes
Moments just like these baby
Wrong can feel so right

Damn him. Of all the people in the world to run into tonight…why did it have to be him? Why did it have to be the one person that had the best chance of actually making it better? Why did it have to be the one person that could hold her in his arms and make her believe that life wasn’t quite so bad? Why him?

“I don’t want it to be like that. I just…Tonight isn’t good…” She could feel her eyes filling with tears. This was the last thing she needed to be doing. Billy didn’t want to hear about her problems with Jack and she didn’t want to tell him.

“Why? What happened?”

“Billy, please. I need to go.”

“Phyllis,” he took her hand again.

The same rush of emotion flooded her body. One touch making her feel more than she’d felt in nearly a year with Jack.

He looked directly into her eyes—she’d swear almost into her soul. “I know things are different now, okay? I get that, but I’ll always care about you and I want to help…no matter what it is. I’ll listen.”

“I can’t. I can’t talk about this here.”

“That’s okay. We can go upstairs. I’ve got a suite here.” He saw her eyes narrow. “Yeah,” he nodded. “I just couldn’t stay in that house with Mom and Colin. It was like being in high school.”

She smiled slightly—the first sign of life he’d seen all evening.

“So what do you say? We’ll go up and talk?”

“I..”

“Just talk, Phyllis.”

She sighed. He did know her better than anyone else and it was a far better offer than sitting here and staring at a glass of wine. One thing was certain, she didn’t want to go home to her daughter’s apartment and answer a million questions.

“Alright,” she said quietly. “Lead the way.”

I’ve held it all together
As long as I can
There’s pieces of me fallin’
Right into your hands

“I’m sorry.” Billy handed her a glass of red wine as he took a seat on the couch next to her.

Phyllis cut her eyes over to him, smiling slightly. “No you’re not.”

“I am. I never wanted you to get hurt and I can see that you’re hurting. No matter what I wanted or how I wish things had turned out…if Jack had made you happy and if he was good to you, I would have wanted that for you.”

“Yeah well, that’s all in the past now. Jack and I are over.” She took a long drink from the glass of wine.

“I’ve heard you say that before,” he said quietly. “You and my brother love each other. Maybe you can make it work.” It killed him to even say the words, but he did want her to be happy. Seeing her so sad, so dejected—it broke him. He’d give her up to see her happy.

“No. Not this time.” Phyllis stared out in front of her, trying to make sense of the thoughts that jumbled around in her mind. “This may sound crazy, but I’m not really even sure I’m upset about losing Jack….I think I’m upset about losing.” She looked over at Billy. “My God…what kind of a person says something like that.”

“An honest one…one that knows they aren’t gonna be judged for saying what they feel…one that knows that the person on the other end of this couch has probably thought and said far worse.”

“Touche.” She raised her glass, before draining the last bit. “This is good,” she said softly.

“Yeah. I remembered you liked it. It’s the same…” He stopped himself, closing his eyes and silently cursing his big mouth. He brought her up here to talk, to show her that they could be friends, that they could still have a relationship outside of all the complications and here he was throwing the memories right back in her face.

“the same what?”

“It’s the same wine from the night of the benefit—the night of the storm. I just remembered you said you liked it, so…” He saw the look on her face, the way her eyes instantly filled with tears. “I’m sorry, Phyllis. I am. I know I told you that we could come up here and talk like friends and everything would be normal and I ruined it…”

I might be just a sinner
Who wants to be a saint
One justifies the reason
Oh, one understands the pain

“Stop.”

It startled him to hear her speak. He’d expected her to, at the very least, shut down. At worst, he’d envisioned her grabbing her things and storming out, all the whole shouting how she’d known this had been a bad idea.

“You didn’t ruin it,” she said softly. “You remember the wine?”

“Yeah,” he said quietly. “I mean, I think that’s the right one, isn’t it?” He was suddenly worried he’d been wrong.

“No..no..” The breath came out as a soft laugh as her eyes looked into his. “It’s the right one. I just…I can’t believe you remember that.” She knew she could recall ever detail of their time together with alarming, sometimes torturous clarity, but the fact that he could as well made her wonder if she had somehow underestimated him—if he too spent his nights dreaming about the prospects of their life could have been of the future they could have had.

“Yeah—of course I remember. I remember everything. Every single moment…including the moment you walked away.”

“I never wanted to hurt you, Billy. Whatever you believe about me, please believe that.”

He nodded. “I do believe that, but you did.”

“I know. That’s why this can’t happen. I don’t want to take that chance again…not when I’m just not in that place. Everything is so mixed up in my head and I just don’t know where I’m going with my life. It’s not that I don’t love you, Billy. It’s not even that I don’t want to be with you. It’s just that I don’t know who I am anymore and I need to find that out before I try to make something work with anyone…especially someone that means so much to me.” She scooted closer to him, her hands holding his. “Can you understand that?”

And don’t the lies come easy baby
When the truth just ain’t worth the fight
No I, I don’t wanna go home tonight
Tell me I’m the only one you see tonight
Lonely woman, lonely man
There’s just some things only lonely understands

He looked at her, her emerald eyes now shining up at him, full of tears and questions. More than anything in the world he wanted to hold her, to reassure her that he would always be there for her, that he would always love her, that he’d wait as long as it took for her to realize that the only place she’d find real happiness was with him.

“I understand,” he said quietly, brushing his lips lightly against her forehead.

She smiled at him thankfully and slid forward on the couch. “I guess I should go,” she said, the reluctance evident in her voice.

“Will you be okay to get home?”

“Yeah,” she sighed. “I’ll be fine. I’m just really not looking forward to the questions tonight. Summer can always tell when something’s wrong and she won’t rest until we’ve talked it out. I just wish I didn’t have to go there tonight.” She felt her throat thicken again. “This is never how I envisioned my life, you know?” Another tear ran down her cheek.

He cupped her face, gently brushing the tears away with his thumb. Leaning in closer he swallowed hard, reminding himself of his earlier agreement. “Why don’t you stay here? I can sleep out on the couch. It’s no big deal.”

“No…I couldn’t do that.” In truth, she honestly doubted her ability. To sleep in a bed without him knowing he was within walking distance could prove a physical impossibility.

“You’re staying here,” he said, standing and walking over to the bureau. “It’s late. You don’t need to be trying to get a car at this hour anyway.” He turned around, handing her a shirt. “Here, I’m assuming you don’t want to sleep in that.”

Phyllis looked down at her dress and nodded before disappearing from the room.

~

Billy stood, his back to the wall as he forced air into his lungs. “This is a bad idea,” he whispered, softly allowing his head to hit the wall. “A very, very bad idea.”

Phyllis stepped into the room, his shirt hanging loosely on her small frame. “Did you say something?”

“Me? Uh, no..I didn’t. I was just waiting until you got settled before I turned off the lights.” He tried not to stare as she climbed into the bed, somehow managing to still look impossibly sexy in an old t-shirt.

Walking over the small bench, he grabbed a blanket and unfolded it, laying it across the bed and pulling it up over here. “I know you get cold,” he said softly, unable to resist the urge to brush her hair away from her face.

She smiled at him. “Thank you…Thanks for letting me stay here, for listening, for everything.”

“Not a problem.” He leaned down, kissing her forehead gently lingering closer to her for a moment, longer than he needed, relishing the feeling of her warm breath on his skin. He moved to pull away, but felt her hand grip his shirt, her eyes now staring at him much more intently.

“Do you have to go?”
Billy stared at her, wide eyed. She’d asked a question, but there was another—a far more weighted one, that was implied. “Not if you don’t want me to,” he said quietly.

“Maybe you could stay,” she said softly, before adding, “just until I fall asleep.”

“I can do that.” He took a seat on the foot of the bed, the awkward silence filling the room.

She shivered, pulling the covers up tighter around her.

“You cold?”

“A little,” she whispered.

“I can get you another blanket…” He allowed his voice to trail off, watching her every move.

“Or maybe you could just…” She smiled as his eyes met hers. Within seconds his arms were around here and his lips were on her forehead, her eyes, her nose, before stopping on her lips. His kiss could always make her forget everything else—that certainly hadn’t changed.

“I thought you said you needed to find yourself,” he breathed, his lips still covering close to hers.

She ran her hands across his back, “I did say that, but I forgot a very important thing…I’ve already done that. I found myself when I was with you.”

Billy shook his head, in complete awe of the woman in front of him, smiling at her before, his lips came crashing down on hers once more.

There would be struggles and changes and many things left to face, but they certainly didn’t have to deal with them tonight.

Say Goodbye

Lyrics are from All I Ask

By Adele:

I will leave my heart at the door
I won’t say a word
They’ve all been said before, you know
So why don’t we just play pretend
Like we’re not scared of what is coming next
Or scared of having nothing left

“Billy?”

It had been nearly two weeks since she’d seen him.  She’d hoped the distance and the time would make the pain go away, but it hadn’t.  It was one thing to know it couldn’t work, to acknowledge the pain and destruction their relationship would cause, it was another to get the message to her heart.  To say she never loved him would be a lie—a lie that neither of them believed—a lie that even Jack had seen through.  She wanted to save her marriage—that hadn’t been a lie, but she was beginning to realize her affair with Billy didn’t have anything to do with that goal.  Leaving Billy had done nothing to repair the relationship she had with Jack, just as being with Billy hadn’t really been about Jack at all.  Being with Billy had been about Billy.  It had been about their connection, their relationship, the way he made her feel.

“I can go,” Billy said quietly after a few moments of uncomfortable silence.  He wasn’t sure what he was expecting when he came here, but it wasn’t this.  In his mind, he’d been afraid she would be angry, but the silence had never even been a thought.  When had he stopped mattering enough to her to even warrant a reaction?

“No, Billy wait..”  She reached out, touching him for the first time in weeks.  The moment seemed to spin in slow motion as he turned around to face her.  Her eyes were shiny, a clear indication of tears and she said nothing, choosing instead to simply step aside and let him walk through the door.

“I wasn’t sure if I should come here,” he said quietly as he heard her shut the door and watched her take a seat on the sofa next to him.

“Why did you?”

The breath seeped through his lips as he stared at her.  No matter what she said, no matter how many time she told him she felt nothing, he couldn’t believe it.  He didn’t see that when he looked in her eyes.  She couldn’t be that good of a liar..no one could.  “I guess I just needed to see you,” he whispered.

She nodded.  “I’m glad you came.”

“You are? I didn’t expect that.  The last time we talked you told me to leave you alone and you were pretty damn clear about it.”

Phyllis sighed.  “I know.  I’m sorry about that.  I think I was trying so hard to get you to believe that I didn’t want to see you because I was afraid to see you.  I was afraid if I saw that I wouldn’t be able to keep telling myself the lies.”

“What lies?”

“That I never loved you.  I did love you.  I still do.” She saw the look in his eyes, the flash of hope and her heart broke again.  “But Billy, we can’t do this.  It’s too hard.  There’s just too much that…”  Her voice broke.  It had almost been easier to let him believe it had been a lie than to admit it had been so real while simultaneously admitting it could never work.

Look, don’t get me wrong
I know there is no tomorrow
All I ask is
If this is my last night with you
Hold me like I’m more than just a friend
Give me a memory I can use
Take me by the hand while we do what lovers do
It matters how this ends
‘Cause what if I never love again?

He stared at her for a long moment, not knowing what to say.  She’d just said the words he’d prayed for, followed by the words he’d never imagined to hear.  “I don’t understand,” he breathed.  “If you love me…if you admit you want to be with me, then why can’t we be together?  Everyone knows now. The fallout has been as bad as it will be.  There’s nothing else that can possible happen.”

“Yes, there is,” she said sadly.  “As long as we’re together, we’ll be a constant reminder for everyone.  You’ll never have a chance to rebuild your relationship with your family and I know how important that is to you.”

“You’re what’s important to me…just you.”  He reached out, grabbing her hands, holding them tight in his as he stared into her eyes.  “My family will understand eventually and if they don’t, well then it’s their loss.”

“You don’t mean that.  You need your family, your mother, your brother, your sisters….If we end this now, there’s a chance you can get that back.  You can explain that we both agreed that the relationship wasn’t good for the family and we ended it.”  Her own voice shook as she said the words.  They were much easier to think than they actually were to vocalize…especially while staring into the eyes of the man she loved.

“So what is this exactly?” Billy stood, running his hands over his face in frustration.  “You said you were glad I came….why?  So you could tell me in person that we can never be together?”

She stood up, taking a few steps til she stood in front of him.  His eyes were wet with tears as they flashed at her in anger.

“This isn’t easy for me, Billy.  I want you to know that.  Believe me, in a perfect world, you and I would be together and I would never..ever look back.”

“But this isn’t a perfect world.”  His voice was low, resigned.

“No,” she whispered.  “It’s not.”  She drew in a deep breath as his hand touched the bare skin of her neck.  “But I’m glad you came here because I didn’t want us to end the way we did. That wasn’t fair to us.  What we had was real to me and to act like it meant nothing was wrong.  It meant something.  It meant a lot and it deserves to end better than that.”

“How do we do that?” he asked quietly.  “I don’t know how to say goodbye to you.”  He wiped the tear from her cheek as he saw it fall from her eye.


I don’t need your honesty
It’s already in your eyes
And I’m sure my eyes, they speak for me
No one knows me like you do
And since you’re the only one that matters
Tell me who do I run to?

She could feel them inching closer together, the warmth of his body now nearly touching her.  “This is probably not a good idea,” she whispered, closing her eyes as she felt his fingertips begin to run through her hair. Before she could protest further, his lips captured hers.  They both stood, captured in the moment, neither wanting to break the kiss, but both very aware of where it was leading.

Billy leaned back after a moment, dropping his head to lightly kiss her cheek.  “Probably not.”  His fingertips moved down to the tie on her robe.  His hands stopped, his eyes looking up to meet hers.  “If you want me to stop, just say so.”

Tears still streamed down her face and leaned back, his hands now cupping her face, swiftly brushing away the tears.  “Hey,” he whispered.

“No,” she shook her head.  “Don’t stop…”  She took a breath, trying to reign in the tears.

Billy hesitated.  “I just…I can’t…”  He pulled her closer to him, sitting back on the couch and pulling her down into his lap.  “What’s the matter?”

“It’s hard to say goodbye to you,” she whispered.  “No one knows me like you do.  You’re the one person that I could always be honest with—no matter what.  I always knew I could count on you.”

“And you always can,” he whispered.  “Just because we aren’t together, doesn’t mean I’m going anywhere.  You’ll always have a place here.”  He pulled her hand to his chest, softly leading her hand to his heart.

“Thank you for saying that.”  She let her head fall to his chest, the sound of his heart beating comforting her, just as it always had.

“I’m not just saying it, Phyllis.”  He turned his head, staring in to her eyes again.  “I mean it.  Just like I’ve meant every word I’ve ever said to you.  I will never stop caring about you.”

“Same, Billy Abbott.”  She leaned up, her lips lightly brushing his.  “So I guess in a way this isn’t really goodbye, huh?”

“It’s never goodbye…not for us.”

The End

Fire Keeps You Warm

“This wine is delicious, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, yes…it’s…delicious.” He forced a smile as he took another sip from the glass. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with her exactly. He’d only agreed to do this to get his sister off his back and now he was sitting across the table from a perfectly lovely lawyer with dark brown eyes and hair to match…..and he couldn’t remember her name. Damn it.

“So Billy, Ashley tells me you’re involved in running a cosmetics company. That must be exciting.” Her eyes were bright and eager as she looked at him. The hope and life that spilled from her almost mocking his own morose mood.

“Not as exciting as you might think,” he muttered, taking another, much larger drink from the wine glass. “I don’t run the company alone. There are three of us–four if you count my mother.”

“Your mother? I’m sure that’s interesting…”

“That’s one way of putting it.” He raised his hand, motioning the waiter over to the table. “Can I get a scotch, please?” He shifted his eyes to her. “You want anything?”

“No,” she said softly, “I’m good with the wine.”

The expression on her face dimmed for only a moment before she recovered, the chipper smile and bright eyes returning in force. “So what about outside the office? What do you like to do there?”

He smiled, allowing a puff of air to escape. The scotch arrived at the perfect time and he paused to take a sip before responding. “Well, I love to gamble, but then I got addicted, so I had to quit that.”

There it was again–a momentary blip, but an amazing recovery.

“I see,” Her voice was hesitant and accompanied by slightly nervous laughter, but she continued. She was persistent. He had to give her that. “Well, since you don’t gamble anymore, what do you do?”

“I have a bike–that I’ve wrecked…could’ve killed myself…and my brother’s wife.”

She stopped, the wine glass in mid air. “Wait a minute…you mean that’s true? I thought that was just tabloid trash? You really slept with your brother’s wife?”

Billy smiled, “Guilty as charged.” He watched as the look of hope and excitement changed to condemnation and judgment. “And you know what the best part is? I’m not sorry…not even a little bit.”

“I…I don’t even know what to say to that. I really hoped this could be something good for us. I’m a lawyer for God’s sakes. I have a lot to offer.”

“Go offer it to somebody else,” Billy mumbled, staring down into the scotch glass.

She huffed, offended and stood, whirling around to take one last jab at him before making her grand exit. “You know–you have no idea what you’re missing.”

He sat there, letting her leave without a response from him. She could have the last word if it helped her. Maybe it gave her some dignity, but it didn’t make her words right. He knew exactly what he was missing.

He missed her.

~

Phyllis tied the tie tight around her waist, her eyes still struggling to adjust to the light. She squinted at the digits that reflected from the oven. It was nearly 3 am. Who on earth would be at her apartment at this hour? The pounding on the door only got more insistent as she descended the stairs.

“Hold on,” she hissed, tiptoeing to see through the peephole. She slid down the door, her hand resting on the handle for a moment. A wave of conflicting emotions washed over her as she realized he was here.

Phyllis slowly opened the door, “Billy?”

“I know it’s late…I know…and I know…I know I’m not in a good…I know Ive had too much to drink.”

Phyllis stepped outside the door, glancing down the hallway. “How did you get here?” she asked, the idea of him operating any type of vehicle in this condition was disturbing.

“The bartender called me a car…well a cab…you know they really will tell you you have to go just like in the song. That’s what he said…I didn’t have to go home but I couldn’t stay there.” He pitched forward slightly, feeling her arms on her, her slight frame supporting his almost dead weight.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I think I might have had too much to drink.” He leaned in closer to her as he said this, as if he didn’t want to chance others learning this embarrassing fact.

“You think?” She smiled. “Let’s get you inside.”

Billy didn’t argue, walking along side her into the apartment and easing onto the couch while she closed the door behind him. He turned his head to look at her, smiling as she sat next to him.

“You want to tell me what happened to make you try to outdrunk the greater GC area tonight?”

“Ashley,” he muttered, shaking his head at the thought of her, “and her ideas.”

Phyllis nodded. “Ah, and what did Ashley suggest this time?”

“Who..”

“What?”

“It was a who…she set me up with this woman.” Billy rubbed his face furiously, still frustrated that he was unable to recall her name.

“A date?” It was as if someone had reached in with a vice grip on her heart. She didn’t have the right to feel this way, to be jealous, and yet the mere idea of him with someone else made her want to scream. She fought for composure, valuing her dignity above all, “Did you like her?”

“What do you think?” He’d lost count of the number of drinks he’d had, so he had an excuse for his dulled mental acuity, but her….she should be on point.

“I don’t know,” she said quietly, “that’s why I asked.”

“I’m here aren’t I? I’m not with her.” He looked at her, still remembering Deana, Donna, Dana…Damn it… her word’s as she’d walked out. He missed everything about her. It was the way her hair fell into her face, the way her eyelids hovered at half mast when she was tired, the way she said his name, the way she tilted her head ever so slightly when she was trying to understand, the scent of her, the way she moved, the way she could seem completely in charge one second and completely vulnerable in the next. It was everything and more.

“What was wrong with her? I mean your sister wouldn’t have set you up with someone she didn’t think you’d like.”

“I’m not sure that my sister knows what I like,” he said quietly, reaching out and gently brushing a rebellious lock of hair off her forehead. “She was nice…very poised, very classic, well-bred, you know the type.”

Phyllis nodded.

“Pretty, successful, good sense of humor, assertive, has her own law practice…” Billy continued.

Phyllis could feel her muscles beginning to tense. She knew she had no right to feel this way. She had no claim on him. She walked away… “It sounds like the two of you learned a lot about each other.” She moved to stand, feeling her eyes begin to burn, determined he would not see her cry.

His hand reached for her. “I learned all I needed to know,” he said quietly, his mind suddenly more clear.

She turned, looking at him intently, her mouth saying nothing. Her eyes begging, pleading with him….

“She isn’t you.”

Phyllis felt her legs weaken beneath her and she sat back down beside him, turning her body towards him. She still remained silent, not yet trusting her voice to speak.

“You,” he stopped, smiling at her, the thought of her–the mere mention of her name, made him almost giddy. “You make me feel alive. When I’m with you I’m excited, I’m happy, I’m inspired.”

Phyllis shook her head, no longer able to control the tears that streamed down her face. “But I hurt you..,that’s what I do. I hurt people.”

“You’re complicated, you’re passion,”he whispered, gently wiping away the tears, “and you’re challenging and you’re stubborn, but there’s nobody…”

She looked down, shaking her head again.

He touched her face, pulling it back up. “Look at me,” he whispered, his lips brushing against hers. “There’s nobody that makes me feel the things that you do. There’s nobody that makes me want to wake up every day as much as you do. There’s nobody that I’m more excited by…”

“How can you say that?” Her voice shook as she stared at him. His eyes were so full of sincerity and love and while she wanted to fall in with him, she couldn’t help but feel horrible for what she’d put him through. “I said such horrible things to you. I said that I didn’t…That it wasn’t about you.” She stopped, the thoughts of her own words too painful to even recall. She couldn’t imagine how it must have felt to have been on the receiving end. “Billy, the things I said…”

“Did you mean them?”

“No,” she breathed, her heart in her throat, the sorrow in her voice now reflected in her eyes and emanating from her whole body. “No, I didn’t mean them. I don’t mean them. I love you.”

He smiled, taking her hands and locking eyes with her. “Then forget them.”

“But..”

“No buts…”

She let him wrap his arms around her, closing her eyes as he whispered how much he loved her. As he broke the embrace and stared into her eyes, she spoke again.

“I am sorry, Billy…not only for the things I said..”

“That we’re forgetting,” he smiled.

“Right,” she agreed, “but for the lost time, for the days and weeks and months we missed..the times we could have spent together.”

Billy sighed, bringing her hand to his lips, and pulling her up to stand beside him. “You know what’s most important? That we not miss any more time.”

She smiled as he softly kissed her lips and led her up the stairs.

Philly Thanksgiving

“I’m not tall enough!” Phyllis screamed, attempting to make her voice heard over the shrill alarm.

“Hang on. Hang on.” Billy rushed into the kitchen, their little girl toddling behind him with her hands over her ears.

“It’s loud,” she whined, looking up at Phyllis with big brown eyes. “Make it quiet.”

Phyllis sighed, scooping her up and kissing her cheek. “I know baby, Mommy’s sorry. Daddy’s gonna fix it.”

He reached up, reaching the smoke alarm with ease and flipped the cover. With one quick motion, he popped out the battery and placed it on the counter. He smiled before turning to Alexandra. “You’re never ever supposed to take the batteries out of a smoke detector,” he said seriously, and then leaned in close to her, and whispered, “unless Mommy’s cooking.”

Alexandra giggled and nodded.

“You better go finish that hand turkey or we’re not gonna have any decorations for this yummy dinner,” he smiled.

The little girl looked at him, wide eyed and quickly went running back upstairs to finish her masterpiece.

Phyllis grinned at him as he pulled tucked his thumbs into her belt loops and pulled her closer to him. “You seem mighty confident for a man that just disconnected the smoke detector in preparation for my cooking.”

“I have total faith in your abilities,” Billy grinned, leaning down to kiss her neck. “Besides, you’ve got enough food here to feed a small army. There’s no way anyone could ruin all of it.”

~

“Thank you,” Billy said politely, taking the bag and bringing it back into the kitchen.

Phyllis stood by the table, surveying the dishes. She looked up as he entered, taking a stance of defiance.

“Dinner is served,” he announced triumphantly, a smile on his face as he held the bag in front of him.

She sighed, “You realize this may be the first Thanksgiving our daughter remembers and she’s gonna have sweet and sour chicken and fried rice.”

“And pot stickers…don’t forget those.” Billy laughed, walking over to her when she glared at him. “Hey, it’s fine…trust me. She’s not gonna care what we eat. She’s not gonna care what the table looks like or if the forks were on the right side. She’s gonna remember us being together and laughing and smiling and spending time together.”

“I hope so.” Phyllis kissed him, the feel of his arms around her instantly making her believe every word he said. “You know I do blame you for this, right?”

“Me?” Billy said, his hands outstretched in innocence, “What are you blaming me for?”

“As I recall, I had everything under control before you entered this kitchen,” she grinned.

“Oh, is that right? That’s why I had to come in here and disconnect the fire alarm,” he laughed.

“It’s very sensitive,” she teased. “One tiny little whiff of smoke and it just goes squawking about…we need to look into one that actually has to sense flames.”

“Yeah,” he laughed, “that sounds safe.”

“Anyway…As I was saying, I had everything under control and then someone came into the kitchen and distracted me.” She stepped closer to him, backing up closer to the counter and easily pushing herself up enough to sit on its edge. “Any idea who that might have been?”

“Not a clue,” he whispered, stepping in closer to her.

“As I recall, I had peeled the potatoes and diced them into identical sized pieces which, might I add, ensures consistency in the cook..”

“Very impressive.” Billy smiled, leaning in and kissing her quickly on the lips.

“I put them on to boil, checked on the turkey which was browning beautifully and took the pie out to cool.”

“It all sounds so perfect.” He loved watching her, the way she spoke, how her eyes would dance as she laughed. He’d swear he could spend the rest of his days doing absolutely nothing but watching her.

“And then…”

“Then what?” He leaned in close to her, the warmth of his body against hers was almost more than she could take and she wrapped her arms around him as she felt him life her slightly. She slowly slid down his body, her feet touching the floor.

“The next thing I knew I had a burnt black block of potatoes and a crispy turkey,” she smiled.

“This sounds like a real tragedy. If I were you, I might never forgive the man that caused such a horrific event.”

Phyllis felt his hands, now warm against the small of her back. “It’s hard to stay angry at him for long. He always pulls you back in. One minute you’re mad as hell and the next you’re all over him again.”

She giggled as she watched the smile grow on his face. “That’s very good to know.”

“And,” she added, still watching him, “He does always fix his mistakes. Even though he ruined the dinner, he got Chinese delivered…in record time.”

Billy nodded. “Smooth and efficient…gotta admire a guy like that.” He pulled her closer to him again, his hands running through her hair.

“Absolutely you do…and I might have forgot to mention, but he’s also really easy on the eyes.”

“You’re gonna make me blush.”

“I’d like to see that,” she whispered. His hands toyed at her shirt buttons again and she lifted her own to cover his. “Ummm, we have a dinner..and a daughter…”

His head dropped. “Alright,” he smiled, leaning in for a quick kiss. “Why don’t I go get our little Picasso while you make sure we’re all set with the food.”

“Sounds like a plan,” she whispered, grabbing another kiss before he walked away. She moved towards the counter, opening the door to get serving utensils when she heard his footsteps back in the room.

“Hey,” he said, looking back at her with a smile, “At least the pie survived.”

Phyllis glanced over at the pumpkin pie, a stunning achievement that sat miraculously unharmed on the counter. “Yeah,” she sighed, “If only we hadn’t used all the whipped cream.”

Wrap Me In Your Love

Billy glanced at the time on his computer and sighed. There was at least two, maybe three, hours of work left to do on his desk before the end of the calendar year and he was the publisher–it was his responsibility.

The office was quiet, the hallways dark. He’d sent everyone else home to celebrate with their families over an hour ago. He’d stayed. His eyes fell on the framed photo on his desk. One look at his little girl and everything else faded away. At only two years old, Alexandra was a force, her fiery, red hair and green eyes were the spitting image of her mother. Her fiery attitude and stubborn streak were, at least according to Phyllis, all Billy.

This picture showed her other side, the precocious girl with a heart of gold. She sat so still and proud on Santa’s lap with the perfect smile and pose for the camera. He’d missed this day, a meeting a work demanding his attention. Now instead of the memory, he only had the moments.

Phyllis hadn’t been upset with him and she’d assured him Alexandra had been far too preoccupied with the chocolate advent calendar to notice his absence, but he still struggled with guilt.

He looked back at the computer screen, suddenly shaking his head and closing the laptop quickly. It could wit–and it would…Phyllis and his daughter couldn’t and he wouldn’t ask them to, not one more moment

~

“Daddy!” Billy scooped the little girl up in his arms, picking her up and holding her closer to his chest.

“Hey sweet girl,” he smiled, giving her a squeeze. “You having a good time with Mommy?”

She nodded, shoving the iced sugar cookie in her hand.

“That looks yummy. Is it for me?”

Alexandra smiled broadly, her eyes sparkling at him in exactly the same way her mother’s did. “Mine,” she whispered, another grin spreading across her face as he placed placed her back on her feet.

She ran off towards Phyllis who was sitting on the floor by the tree, watching both of them. She leaned down, grabbing another cookie off the plate.

“Here, Daddy,” she said, handing him a cookie.

Billy smiled at her, always surprised by the simple gestures that showed what a sweet child she truly was.

“Thank you,” he whispered, taking a bite before sitting down on the floor beside Phyllis.

He pulled her close to him, the stress of the day literally melting away as he surrounded himself with what truly mattered. “Hi,” he mumbled, nuzzling into her neck, “I missed you.”

She smiled. “I missed you too. In fact, I didn’t expect you home that early. I know you had all that end of the year stuff you wanted to finish.”

“Yeah, I did, but then I remembered that I had the most beautiful woman and little girl waiting for me at home and all of a sudden the work just didn’t seem so darn important.”

Phyllis smiled. Sometimes, when he looked at her like that, she’d swear her heart would stop, and yet it never did…it just filled with love for him.

He glanced over at the little girl, who struggled to contain a yawn. He pointed at her, looking at Phyllis, “This one been going strong today?”

“You know it. We spent the morning shopping for some last minute gifts and then we went for hot chocolate and cookies, didn’t we?” She smiled at her daughter who nodded happily.

“Wait a minute!’ Billy feigned astonishment, exaggerating a gasp and clasping his hand over his chest. “Are you telling me you didn’t make thee delicious cookies with your own two little flour-caked hands?”

“Were you following fire trucks here?” Phyllis teased? “No, I didn’t make them and trust me, you don’t want me to.make them. Besides, like I told Ally, Santa will probably appreciate the variety. We sprung for macaroons and madeleines.” She smiled at him.

“I hear those are Santa’s favorites,” Billy grinned.

“Really?” Alexandra’s eyes sparkled.

“Absolutely,” he sighed, “But you know what, you have to go to bed or Santa won’t come anywhere near this place.” Billy smiled as he saw the little girl’s eyes widen. “So what do you say, you ready for a brushing teeth, story, and bed?”

Alexandra nodded, smiling as Billy lifted her and started up the stairs. Phyllis smiled as she followed them upstairs.

~

Billy leaned down, adding wood to the fireplace. He only had a few minutes before Phyllis would be downstairs. Ally had used her powers of persuasion to get one more story out of her. Billy had used the opportunity to come downstairs and set the scene. He opened the desk and shuffled the magazines around pulling the wrapped package our. She checked the tape and paper. No sign of tampering. He carefully placed the package behind a framed photo where he could easily grab it later.

Quickly walking around the room, he lit the candles he’d strategically placed on the coffee table and the mantle. The pillows and blanket were already laid out on the floor and the bottle of wine was open and breathing. Two glasses were ready. He glanced around the room again–one final check. Everything looked perfect. He heard footsteps coming down the stairs and he walked to the landing, meeting her there.

Her sharp intake of breath as she looked around the room was exactly the reaction he’d hoped for. They deserved this. He’d been working far too much and while he’d hated to miss the time with his daughter and the time with them as a family, he’d also really missed the moments when it was just them. She smiled at him, the eyes he saw in their daughter sparking up at him.

“What did you do?” She whispered, her eyes already tearful.

“I just thought this would be a nice way to spend Christmas Eve. Ally’s asleep. I thought maybe we could have a little wine, sit by the fire,” He leaned in, brushing his lips against her before pulling back and smiling, “see what happens.”

“That sounds really wonderful, but…”.she grinned at him, “that’s kind of why I came downstairs….she decided she wants her Daddy to read her the story.”

Billy sighed, deflating slightly. “Oh.” He ran his hand over his face, the best substitution for a cold shower in a pinch. “Okay…Daddy duty.” He smiled at her, kissing her again, quickly. “I’ll pick the shortest story.”

She grinned at him as he headed up the stairs.

~

“Mission complete,” Billy said quietly, as he headed down the stairs. He neared the bottom, hearing nothing. “Phyllis?” His eyes fell on the bannister, his lips curving into a slight smile. “It’s not nice to mess with me,” he smiled. He reached out, grabbing the silk, red robe she’d draped on the banister.

“Now why would you think I’m missing with you?”

He heard her voice and turned, stepping off the landing and into he room. She was wrapped in the blanket, sitting in front of the fireplace, a glass of wine in her hand. He smiled broadly as he saw the red ribbon tied in her hair. “What are you doing all the way over there?” He whispered.

She slowly stood, allowing the blanket to pool at her feet. She stepped closer to him. “Well,” she said softly. “I got some gifts for you today, but I just wasn’t sure any of them would be just right, but this,” She leaned in closer to him, smiling as she saw his mouth slightly agape, “I was pretty sure this wasn’t something you’d return.”

He took her hands in his, quickly leading her back to the blanket. The fire crackled behind them, the flames bathing the room in a warm glow. The wine may have spilled, but tonight, neither of them cared.

~

Phyllis sighed, her fingers languidly dancing across his chest. The feeling of his hands in her hair, stroking her back, his arms around her, his lips gently kissing her forehead–it was all perfect–the perfect night.

“You’re quiet,” he whispered.

She shifted slightly, not wanting to move, but allowing her eyes to glance up at him. “It’s perfect,” she sighed. “I don’t want to mess with it.”

He kissed her forehead again. “It’s almost perfect.”

She smiled, “You want to lodge a complaint?”

His chest rumbled, a soft laugh emanating from within him. “No, this was…you were…”. He stopped, leaning in and kissing her, letting that serve as his answer. “I just..there was something else I wanted to do tonight.” He stretched over her, his hand just able to reach behind the picture frame.

“This is for you,” he said softly.

“Billy,” she smiled. “I thought we were doing gifts in the morning with Ally.” She moved to stand, “Let me get yours.”

“No.No..” He grabbed her hand. “We are…this is a special one. This one is for tonight. Go ahead. Open it.”

She smiled at him, never one to turn down a gift. She carefully unwrapped the package, a white box underneath the wrapping. Her eyes looked at him, confused.

“Go ahead,” he encouraged.

She opened the white box, her eyes widening immediately as the black velvet jewelry box sat inside. “Billy,” she sighed, pulling out the box. “Is this?”

He reached for the box, taking it from her trembling hands. “You gotta let me do this ok?” His voice was already beginning to crack. “I’m gonna try to get through it.”

She smiled at him, the tears already streaming down her face.

“Our relationship…it’s never been typical. You and I, we didn’t start out like most couples do. We didn’t date. We didn’t get to know each other in the conventional way. It wasn’t about the little things–about favorite movies, or favorite foods. I didn’t get to talk to you about your childhood crushes or your favorite vacation spots, but I got to learn what makes you smile and I got to learn the kind of strength you have inside you and the amazing heart you have. I learned to trust you, to depend on you. I loved you, not for things we had in common, or for memories we’d made, but for you–for the person you were, for the person you are, for the person you make me want to be.”

He opened the box, revealing the flawless round count diamond engagement ring. “I don’t have all the answers and I’ll never claim to, but the one thing I know for sure is that you and our daughter are the most important thing in the world to me and every second I’m with you makes me realize how lucky I am to have you in my life. So tonight, the very best gift you could give me,” He paused, smiling at her, “Not that the gift you just gave me wasn’t wonderful, but the other best gift you could give me is a yes to this question.”

He dropped to his knee, pulling the ring from the box, and holding it out in front of her. “Phyllis Abbot, will you marry me?”

Phyllis sat for a moment, her eyes simply staring into his. “Yes,” she whispered through her tears, as she struggled to keep her hand still long enough for him to place the ring on her finger. He pulled her to him, her face buried in his chest as he held her close.

She had no idea what she’d done to deserve this man, this life, this much happiness, but right now she didn’t need to know. All she needed was to be present, in this house, in this life, in this moment…with this man.

Goodbyes

She stood outside the door, the cold wind cutting straight to the bone. She could hear the soft, dulcet tones of chatter and she wondered just how many people were gathered together in that room today. Surely everyone would have something to say about her presence. She took a breath, smoothing down the front of the tasteful, black dress.

This isn’t where she wanted to be. She dreamed of being in his arms in front of the fire, by his side in the bed they shared, staring into his eyes from across the table after sharing a meal with him. There were so many things she’d dreamed of doing with him–never this.

Her mind rushed back to earlier, to the moment she looked in the mirror, stunned by the reflection staring back at her. How could this be happening? How could someone do incredibly full of life be gone?

She pushed open the heavy door, the old hinges announcing her arrival. She heard the gasps and whispers move through the room like a spreading wildfire as she walked slowly up the aisle. Her eyes never left the picture. It was a large one, a promo he’d shot for Brash and Sassy–suited up and glossed over–nothing like the person he truly was. None of this was right. She could feel her composure slipping and she fought for control of her emotions.

Phyllis gripped the edge of the pew, slowly lowering herself into an empty space. She saw Ashley stand, sliding down and sitting next to her.

“You shouldn’t be here,” she hissed. “This is hard enough on our family without you showing up to remind everybody of why this happened.”

She had made herself a promise before she left the house. She’d promised herself that she wouldn’t make waves, that she wouldn’t cause a scene, that this wouldn’t be about the Abbotts, or their opinion of her, or anything else. This would be about Billy…about honoring him, about her love for him, about saying a proper goodbye to him.

But she never had been very good at keeping promises.

The rage was overwhelming. He was gone and yet she still sat beside her with that self-righteous, hypocritical stare. There was nothing fair about any of this. She couldn’t stop herself and, truth be told, she wasn’t sure she wanted to.

“How dare you…” Phyllis stood slowly, her voice low and trembling. “How dare you tell me I shouldn’t be here.”

Ashley opened her mouth to speak.

“No,” Phyllis continued, her voice louder now, more insistent, the rage morphing into righteous indignation. “I’m talking now. You’re going to shut up and listen for a change.” She took a deep breath, staring into her eyes and then looking around the room, scanning the faces of the people who had abandoned Billy, the people who’d judged him, criticized him, and berated him. It was a room full of people that continually assured him of what a screwup he was–all the while declaring their love for him.

“You,” she said, looking at Ashley first and then moving her hand across the span of the room, “all of you–you deserted Billy. You judged him and turned your back on him because he made a choice you didn’t agree with. Thus family all of you hold in such high regard told him that he was no longer an Abbott. They cut ties with him, refused to speak with him, fired him from the family business his father built…”

Tears streamed down her face now. She saw Jack and locked eyes with him. “You–he looked up to you and he knew how hurt you were. He knew how angry you were, but he had no idea what to do to make this better and you refused to even give an inch.”

She turned, her eyes staring at the picture and the small box that sat beside it. “And now…now, this is what we have left. Because it’s too late now.” She jerked her body back around facing them with anger in her eyes.

The words were less calm now. “It’s too late now, Jack, it’s too late because he’s gone. You wanted to punish him..you wanted to punish me, well I guess you did, huh? You took him from me. You made sure we’ll never be together. You robbed your niece and nephew of a father. You…”

Her legs went weak beneath her and she felt arms around her easing her to a seat. She blinked a few times, her head bobbing back and forth until her vision cleared and she could recognize a Jack. They sat quietly for a moment and she watched him stand and go speak to the minister. People started filing out through a side entrance.

Phyllis looked at him, confused.

“Graveside service,” he said softly.

Her face crumbled, the reality of the words tearing at her heart.

Jack closed his eyes and slowly shook his head, placing a hand on her shoulder before speaking. “I’ll walk out with you if you want.”

She looked up at him. “I can’t…I can’t go out there. I can’t watch them take that box and put it in the ground and….” A stifled sob escaped… “I can’t…especially when
I know he wouldn’t be there if I had just been honest with him about what I felt..if I hadn’t made him think I was moving on.”

“That’s not true.” Jack’s voice was serious but kind. “This isn’t your fault..if anyone can be blamed here, it’s me. You were right…telling him he wasn’t an Abbott. I said it because I knew it would hurt him and, at the time, that’s exactly what I wanted. I just thought I’d have more time to…..”

She looked up as she heard the creak of the door again.

~

“Mom?”

Phyllis sat up straight, her gown sticking to her sweat drenched form. She ran her hand over her face. “Summer,” she said softly.

Summer walked over to the bed. “I’m sorry to wake you,” she said quietly, “but I could hear you mumbling in my room. I think I must have been dreaming or something.”

“You’re right. You’re absolutely right. I was dreaming…having a bit of a nightmare actually, but lucky for me I have my wonderful daughter to remind me everything is ok,” she smiled.

Summer nodded, her expression turning quizzical as she watched her Mom swing her legs over the side of the bed and begin to pull on clothes. “Mom..where are you going? It’s the middle of the night?”

“I know honey, but sometimes you realize that there are something’s that just can’t wait–not one more second.”

~

Billy stumbled down the stairs, rubbing his hands through his hair. “This better be damn good,” he grumbled as he approached the door and flipped on the porch light. His lips curved into a slight smile as he saw her standing there.

He pulled open the door. “Phyllis,” he whispered, “what are you….”

She wasted no time as she stepped into the foyer and wrapped her arms around his neck. She pulled him close to her and pressed her lips on his. For a split second, she thought she sensed slight hesitation, but it was almost instantly gone and within minutes they were tangled in each other’s arms on the couch.

It was Billy who finally broke the embrace and leaned back, “I’m going o kick myself for this,” he began still breathing heavily, “but what brought this on…not that I’m complaining or anything mind you..”

Sh smiled and gave him a quick peck before recounting the events of the evening. He listened quietly as he explained about the dream, the fights, what she’d said, what she’d felt when she realized it was all just a horrible dream.

“So that’s it,” she said simply, “I had to come here.,to see you, to tell you how much .I love you, how much I want you, how much I want us and this…how much I don’t want to waste any more time.”

Billy smiled at her, his arms already wrapping around her again. He stood, lifting her up off her feet and cradling her in his arms. “What do you say we spend the first night of the rest of our lives in our bed?”

Phyllis smiled, resting her head against his chest. “I think that sounds like the kind of dream I’d like to make a reality.”

The End

Your Ghost

“Well..Well, fancy meeting you here.”

Damn him with those bedroom eyes and that smile that could turn turn her brain to soup. He enjoyed this–knowing the effect he had on her.

“Billy.” She gritted her teeth and sighed audibly, louder than necessary, making her frustration known and, if she was honest with herself, trying to hide the fact that he made her entire body ache.

He smiled as he watched her step into the elevator, his mind already conjuring up the best ways to spend these cherished moments of alone time.

“You know, I should really have a conversation with Vic and Cane about the wardrobe policy at Brash and Sassy.” He took a step back, making a show of looking her up and down. “Jabot is clearly way ahead of us in that department.”

Phyllis looked away, her face flushing immediately.

Billy stepped closer to her. “It’s a shame Jack keeps you locked up in that broom closet. I’d put you out front…where you belong.” He bent down slightly, finding her downcast eyes and meeting their gaze. “I haven’t seen this dress before…is it new?”

She opened her mouth to speak, her breath catching as she felt his warm hand on her bare back. His fingertips brushed the zipper’s pull and he smiled at her before letting his hand drop back to his side.

Steadied, she cleared her throat, annoyed by the ease in which he’d shaken her. “No,” she snipped. “Not new–Jack bought if for me last Christmas. It’s one of his favorites.”

Firing the shot felt better than watching it land. The lightness in his eyes faded instantly and he walked back to the other side of the elevator, turning towards the buttons. “It’s nice,” he said quietly.

“Thank you.” She smiled in a feeble attempt to lighten the mood then, after managing a little laugh added, “who knew Jack actually has good taste.”

Billy nodded and smiled. She was making an effort, perhaps out of pity, but an effort just the same. “Sure he does–he picked you..man’s got impeccable taste.”

And just like that she was lost in his eyes again. It would be so much easier if she could forget it, if she could forget him, if she could forget the freedom and peace she’d found in his arms, but every time she saw him, thought of him, saw his face, heard his name–she was thrown right back into the memories and the dreams and she was hopeless to do anything except stare in his arms.

Her body slammed into his and she fell to the floor. Billy’s hands were on her quickly.

“Hey, you ok?” His voice was full of concern as he stared down at her.

“Yeah..I think so.” Phyllis stood up, running her hand through her hair. “What happened?”

“I don’t know,” Billy said quietly, his voice confused. “The elevator stopped.” He looked over at Phyllis and immediately saw her eyes narrow. “No,” he said quickly, “I didn’t touch it, I swear. It just stopped and,” He paused, glancing at the buttons, “I’m pretty sure we’re between floors.”

“What does that mean…between floors?” Phyllis looked at Billy, his normally mischievous grin now seemed more serious. “Billy?”

“It means the elevator is probably stuck–the lights are on, so it’s not a power thing…it’s probably something mechanical…” He stopped talking for a moment, looking up at her and seeing the concern on her face for the first time.

He smiled, touching her arm lightly. “It’ll be fine. I’m sure the security guards will realize there’s a problem soon and they’ll call maintenance. Someone’ll be here to get us out anytime now. Until then, it looks like you’re stuck with me.”

~

Phyllis leaned back against the wall. “Wait…Wait..Wait…so you’re telling me you actually want to go skydiving?”

Billy smiled. “Yeah, why not? It’s about living life…every second..taking risks…not playing it safe. Just imagine standing there at the edge of that plane and stepping out into the clouds…how cool would that be?”

“Pfft, until the parachute wouldn’t open and you were impaled by a tree.” She laughed a little. “Let me guess you also think the idea of bungee jumping sounds like a good time?”

“Absolutely–sign me up..any day.”

“Billy Abbott. It’s a giant rubber band!!!!” She smiled as she took the water bottle from him. He had a half eaten granola bar and a bottle of water in his bag and they’d been making a meal of it. “Sometimes I really think you might be crazy.”

He shook his head, chewing thoughtfully. “Nope, see…you gotta do what makes you feel the most alive..life’s too short.” His voice trailed off, the lighthearted conversation fading. He turned, his eyes staring into hers. “That’s what I wanted for us,” he said quietly.

“Billy…I….”

“Don’t. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything..not here…not like this. It’s too awkward and we’re stuck here and I….”

Silence.

Phyllis stared, her eyes locked on his. “What?”

Billy faltered. He shook his head quickly, his hand rubbing over his face. “No…nothing.”

“I know you better than that, remember? It’s not nothing. Tell me what it is. What were you about to say?”

“There are things I want to say…things I want to do…that I shouldn’t…things that aren’t appropriate..that aren’t fair.”

“Fair?” The word rushed from her mouth with a burst of air. “Billy, none of this is fair. God…”

He was silent for a moment. Looking into her eyes he could see the frustration, the pain, the anger, the resentment, the division. He could see it so easily in her eyes because he saw it in his own every time he looked in the mirror.

“Phyllis,” he whispered, “tell me.”

“You know…I’ve heard stories about these people that think there are ghosts that haunt them. They talk about hearing voices or feeling a presence. They say they can see shadows or visions..,that they come to them in their dreams…”

Billy nodded.

“That’s how it is. That’s how I am with you. Everything I do reminds me of you. I close my eyes and I see your face. I try to get dressed in the morning and I’m thinking about the colors you like, I’m drinking wine and I’m thinking of your favorite vineyard. I’m sitting in front of the fireplace and I’m thinking of you…of us…of that first night.” She looked at him, her eyes wide and blinking.

“And even now, even when I’m sitting here beside you with everything I know, my head can’t seem to get a grip on my stubborn heart.”

“I know,” he said sadly. “I know what you mean.” His eyes stared at her lips. “I wish I could pretend that nothing else mattered…pretend that we are the only two people in the entire world. This little elevator box could be our entire reality and then Icould kiss you, I could touch you…”

“I wish that too,” she admitted, stopping suddenly, surprised to hear the words come from her lips. She’d been spending so much time worrying about what was right that she’d stopped actually considering what she wanted. Tonight, she was actually thinking for herself, answering for herself, choosing happiness for herself.”

She leaned in towards him, their bodies already close together. She could tell he was hesitant, guarded, ready at any minute for her to pull away, to declare this a mistake, but she didn’t.

As he wrapped his arms around her, she sighed, relaxing into arms. She dropped her head to his shoulder, already feeling his warm breath hovering over the skin of her bare neck.

Suddenly a sharp rapping was heard above them. Phyllis looked up to the the tiles being shifted in the car’s ceiling. She watched as a panel was removed and smiled at the fireman as he lifted down a cradle apparatus to help remove them.

~

Phyllis stood by her office door as she waited for Billy to thank the workers a final time. She smiled at him as he walked back over to her, following her into her office and letting the door close behind him.

“Well, that certainly was an interesting way to spend an evening,” he grinned.

“I always deliver on the entertainment. One thing I’m not is boring.” Phyllis looked up. She had to say something. Things like this could fester and grow if they weren’t addressed early on. “Billy, ummm, about what happened in the elevator…I…”

“It’s ok,” Billy interrupted, ‘You don’t have to explain. Stress is funny that way. It’s kind of like the list that married people have… the people they can have sex with if they’re on a crashing plane. I get it–honest. It wasn’t about me. It was about the situation.”

Phyllis stood, her mouth slightly agape. “Uh, I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone be so wrong about anything. What I wanted to say is not to read into that…the maintenance guy interrupting like that. I know I used to talk about signs and all that, but maybe the fact that we keep running into each other is a sign. Maybe the fact that we’re working in the same building is a sign. Maybe it’s a sign that we were in the same elevator together tonight to say those things.,,the things that needed to be said.”

“Wait..wait..” Billy stared at her. “You’re saying you don’t regret what happened in the elevator. You don’t want to take back what you said?”

Phyllis smiled. “The only thing I regret is the interruption.” She took a few steps back, standing at the edge of the deck, her hands now holding hers. With one quick sweep, she pushed the papers to the floor, giggling a bit at Billy’s surprised expression. “What about you?” She snickered, “do you know where we left off?”

Billy didn’t waste time with an answer, using one hand to find the pull of the zipper on the back of her dress and the other to flip the lock on the door.

Phyllis smiled, stepping out of the dress that now pooled at her feet as Billy easily lifted her on the desk. He began planting quick kisses on her neck and she flashed him another smile as her fingers went to work on his shirt buttons.

His lips fell on hers, almost taking her breath and she felt his hands in her hair as he loomed over her, his eyes impossibly gorgeous as they stared down at her.

“Billy…” She felt lips stop their journey, felt him pull back slightly, saw his face as he looked at her, his eyes a mix of confusion and pleas.

“Before we go any further, I need you to promise me something…”

Billy’s eyes widened. He breathed heavily, his lips swollen, his hair tussled. “Anything,” he whispered, stealing a quick kiss, “absolutely anything.”

The smile spread across her face. “No skydiving. No bungee jumping.”

A burst of air left his mouth as he bent close to her lips once more. “Done.”

“Ohhh..that was easy,” she cooed, “what about taking risks and being alive…”

Billy gently pushed her back on the desk, his hands running through her hair and stopping as they framed her face, “Babe, don’t you get it? I never feel more alive than I do when I’m with you.” He smiled as his lips fell on hers once more