hospital

Hey Loves,



Here it is, took a little longer than expected but I hope to have chapter 3 up as soon as i can!



Thanks so much to my editor Nnish, speedy as always and happy to help with my reoccurring mistakes! A little saint!!



Turning my work from soil to grass.



I hope you enjoy, though not as explosive I hope none the less interesting.



Mimi



xoxo




————-







Chapter 2



Matt had completely forgotten he was on call until his pager bleeped.



Quickly apologising to Cece for having to leave, he jumped in his Range Rover and got to the hospital as quickly as possible. Throwing his suit jacket in the back of his car before he got out, he rushed into the A&E.



“Where’s the patient?” Matt said to a nurse standing at the nurse’s station.



“Dr Andrews stabilised and patched her up; she’s gone for an MRI scan and then will be in ICU.”



“Sounds like you’ve got this covered; can I see the patient’s chart?”



Handing Matt the chart, the nurse continued to go about her business.



Matt aimlessly looked through the chart, seeing that the girl had been involved in a hit and run. She had a bad blow to the head with a large laceration, a broken arm, a fractured collarbone, broken ribs, a fractured cheekbone and to top it all off a compact pelvic fracture, this little lady was a fighter to be still alive.



He would have to commend Dr Andrews for stabilising her.



Thinking he should probably go and take the patient from Dr Andrews’s hands as he had other patients to see to as well, he got into to the lift to take him to the intensive care unit.



Looking at the chart again, he froze. He hadn’t looked at the name before, and now an all too familiar name was staring him in the face. Miss Honey Richards. ‘It couldn’t be my Honey, but how many Honey Richards are there?!’ He started to panic, his chest felt tight, his heart was palpitating, it started to get really hot in the elevator. He needed to see her, right now. Pushing the button for the fourth floor again and again, the elevator wasn’t going any faster!



*Ding* “The doors will now open”



Jumping out of the lift and walking as fast as his muscular legs could take him, he hotfooted it to the ICU.



There she was, battered and bruised, looking so small in the hospital bed, so helpless. Machines attached to her, not even breathing on her own.



“Mr De Mont, she has some bleeding to the brain but considering how bad it looks, she’s doing ok.”



“I’ll take it from here, good job.” Matt mindlessly stated, unable to pull his eyes away from Honey.



When Dr Andrews left, Matt sat down next to Honey, took her hand in his and vowed; he would do every and anything in his power to make sure she would make a full recovery. He wouldn’t lose her, he just couldn’t.



In that moment he realised how much Honey meant to him, he had never felt like this about anyone and had given up hope that he ever would.



The day he saw Honey, she was like a little ray of sunshine, brightening the day of everyone she met.



She was stunning, curvy, a perfect height. Long satin hair and intense amber eyes. She was beautiful inside and out.



Subconsciously from the moment he saw her, he knew that she would be his forever. Whether he wanted to admit it to himself or not.



He couldn’t go a day without at least glimpsing her.



He noticed every little expression from across the cafeteria when she sat talking to the other nurses, when she had her head stuck in paperwork and she furrowed her brow in the cute way she did when she concentrated or the bright, beaming smile that came over her face when she was talking to a patient.



He had tried to ignore his feelings for her by brushing them aside but it hadn’t worked, he just got frustrated then, he thought about her constantly.



Seeing her in such a helpless manner, gave him the push he needed to finally admit to himself; he had feelings for her.



Even if he didn’t know her well at all, he just knew they were destining to be together



________



Over the next few weeks, Matt was with her every day, tending to everything she needed. He also had her moved to the best private room in the hospital at his own expense.



He had met her father, Blake and her sister, Kimmy as they came to see her at least 3 times a week.



Matt didn’t want to meet Blake, he would have preferred to have Honey introduce Blake to him, but ‘sometimes we can’t get what we want’ he thought to himself.



Whilst talking with Blake one day, he discovered what had happened to Honey’s mother Genevieve and that in fact his father had treated her.



Only making Matt more sure they should be together.



Honey was slowly recovering; she was breathing on her own, she no longer had a frame supporting her pelvis and due to the nature of the fracture she hadn’t required any surgery which Matt was over the moon about.



She had her arm in a cast and her shoulder in a sling preventing movement so her collarbone could heal.



Her cheekbone was healing nicely and he had got the best plastic surgeon in the country to come and look at the laceration on her head and find a way to minimise the scarring.



The best news was that Honey was slowly coming out of her coma, she was fighting through.



She was beginning to respond to pain by moving away, she would move slightly from time to time and her eyes would flicker.



Honey was coming back to him.



But there was one major problem, Krystal. He didn’t love her and she slept around, so he should just leave her.



But he knew Krystal wouldn’t let the socialite life go that easily and his mother wouldn’t let Krystal go so easily.



Matt was also conveniently ignoring the other obvious problem; that Honey may not reciprocate his feelings.



Matt often spent nights at the hospital so he could be there at any moment if anything happened to Honey, but tonight he thought it best to go home; he needed some proper sleep after four weeks of tending to Honey constantly and if he didn’t get some sleep he would not be at his best for her.



He just prayed that Krystal wouldn’t be there.



He checked Honey’s vitals one more time, gave her some more morphine to be a hundred percent she was in no pain and some anti-emetics just in case today she decided to come around, he didn’t want her feeling any worse. Then he left.



Matt felt uncomfortable coming out of the hospital and walking up to his Range Rover; not one to be flashy, he had a more appropriate car he drove to work, an Audi A3.



Cars were his love; after work and his trips to Uganda. They were his vice, not to mention distracting him from the ever annoying Krystal.



In total, he had about 35 from Super cars like his Bugatti, which he managed to secure straight from the factory to muscle cars like his Chevrolet Camaro and luxury cars like his Mercedes S-class. He loved them all, even having an underground storage for them under his house, this being about the only part of this house he had a say in.



When Matt finally arrived back home, he retired to his bedroom in the luxurious house. Matt and Krystal had been sleeping in separate rooms for a while, In the beginning this was due to his odd sleeping patterns and not wanting to wake Krystal with his restlessness but now it was because he couldn’t stand to see her.



Seeing that Krystal was home, he really didn’t feel like talking to her. If he was honest, he didn’t even want to see her bony ass after seeing his beautiful Honey today.



To his disgust, Krystal had obviously seen he was home because no sooner had he hopped into his bed, Krystal stumbled into his room.



“Great, this is just what I need a drunk Krystal, chatting her usual shite I just want to sleep!” Matt muttered angrily.



“Mattey baby, why…why are you always so mean to me, I’m your wife!” she slurred.



“Krystal, you’re drunk go to bed.”



“No, I want to talk to you! I haven’t seen you in nearly 3 weeks!”



“You never cared before, why start now? I’m busy, end of conversation. Let me sleep”



“But-”



“Go”



When Krystal was drunk, was when Matt felt most sorry for her, actually had some compassion for her. She seemed to be a lot more expressive and talk about her feelings when she was drunk, but as soon as the sun came up Krystal would go back to her normal, bitch of a self. Frankly it was tiring, to the point he felt numb to her emotions.



To start with he would get annoyed when she slept around.



He was determined to make it work and for them to be happily married, eventually falling in love with each other.



But that had not happened; he went from feeling angry that she slept with other men to accepting it to feeling nothing.



He felt nothing for her anymore, the years of her whoring around, dating other men, getting ridiculously drunk and spending his money left, right and centre had taken its toll, he tried to love her but she made it impossible and now he felt devoid of feeling, even when she cried.



His father had always told him; there is one thing worse than hating the person you are supposed to love, and that is feeling nothing for them. No matter whether they beat you up emotional, physically or fall apart in front of you, you still feel something.



But if they’ve made it so bad for you, you feel empty and couldn’t care what happened to them, then they must have really destroyed the relationship and broke you down.



Matt had never thought he could feel that much disdain for someone. But he did.



He never really thought about leaving her, simply because he couldn’t be bothered, it was more effort than she was worth. But for Honey, it was worth it.



Drifting to sleep with the thoughts of Honey. Just as he was about to go into a deep sleep, Matt heard the beep of his pager.



She was awake his Honey was awake.







_________



Honey woke up feeling, disorientated to say the least and kind of high!



Feeling light headed but generally ok, she tried to get up.



A scream of pain was heard throughout the ward, even through the walls of her private room.



Never had Honey felt pain like that in her life, almost to the point of passing out. Night nurses came running to her bedside, helping her back into bed and administering more morphine to her IV.



That’s when Honey remembered what had happened, she must be in hospital. That light must have been a car and that car must have hit her.



She didn’t know how long she had laid there but the Morphine had started to kick in again and she realised in her hazy state how truly alone she was.



She wanted someone to care for her, that loved her. Yes there was Kimmy and her dad but it was not the same. They were her family, no, she wanted someone to be in love with her, to look after her in her times of need and share her life with in times of happiness. She didn’t know whether it was the morphine, the pain or just raw emotion but she started to cry. Not just sob but cry her heart out, she hadn’t cried in with so much feeling since her mother died. This only made her cry harder.



That’s when Matt walked in, with a look of concern etched across his face.



“W-what are you doing here Matt?” she managed to stammer out.



_________



Matt didn’t know what to do, he dreamed of this day; what he would say, what he would do.



In his head he was going to say something mind blowing and sweep her off her feet.



Sadly that didn’t happen.



“I’m the consultant on call.”



Kicking himself, he decided he would have to rectify the situation later. He’d make it up to her, after all he had the rest of their life to do that. He hoped.



“So is there anything I can do for you whilst I’m here Miss Richards? Call anyone? More painkillers? Cup of tea?”



“Umm… just a glass of water please” she replied somewhat croakily.



“There’s some on the stand next to you, would you like me to pour you some?”



“No, no it’s fine… I can manage. It’s fine, you can leave now, I’m sure you have more important things to do round here.”



“Well, it’s pretty quiet, so I can stay as long as you need.”



“Honestly I’m ok, I just want to know how long I have been out for?”



“About four and a half weeks.”



Her response was simply a nod.



As Matt turned to leave, he heard an almost inaudible noise.



Then there it was again.



Sniffling, weeping. She was crying.



He rushed back over to her.



“Are you ok?! Honey?! Where’s it hurting?!”



“I’m not in pain Matt, well at least not physically. I feel bad.”



“What do you feel bad about?” Relief washing over his face, the thought of Honey in pain distressing him.



“I don’t want to bother you I’m just being silly.”



“Go on, I’m all ears.” Matt spoke with a friendly smile on his face.



An endearing expression from Matt that she’d never really seem before. He seemed genuinely concerned for her, She gathered that this was probably how he treated all his patients. The Matt she had heard all about from Rory, many a lunchtime!



“I just feel bad for putting Kimmy and my dad through all this just because I got drunk because I was jealous and upset. It’s ridiculous. I feel so ashamed of myself.” She lowered her head and began to sob again.



”It’s not your fault, accidents happen. They’ll just be happy to see you well Honey.”



Matt couldn’t help but think she had got herself in such a state because she was upset at seeing he was married, It made sense why she had excused herself so abruptly and why she looked so hurt by Krystal’s presence, but then he could just be overthinking the situation, people get drunk all the time, he rationalised.



So instead of pondering it he stepped back and went to call Blake and Kimmy to tell them the good news.



____________



Before too long it was nearly time for Honey to leave her bed at Mercy General.



In the following weeks leading to her leaving, she had many sessions with the physiotherapist so she was able to walk again.



All her bandages and cast where off and the scars were nearly non-existent.



She had worked really hard to get her health back to how it before the accident.



She had seen Matt from time to time but he never stayed very long just to check that she was on course to go home.



Cece had come to see her practically every day bringing her something nice every time and always with a bag of grapes.



Before Honey could go home, there was a problem that needed to be resolved.



Where she was going to stay.



This was a problem that was thoroughly stressing Matt out, more so than Honey who hadn’t even really thought about it.



The issue was that Honey still needed a lot of assistance. She could walk but only for short periods of time, she was still very frail.



From conversing with Blake, he knew that Kimmy was in college most of the time and Blake was in no state to look after himself let alone anyone else, he now had a helper coming round every day to help him around the house and keep him company.



Matt was ready to have Honey come live with him, but as Honey knew nothing of his feelings for her he figured this may be too much.



So he contacted the next best thing; Cece.



“Hey big brother” her voice chimed down the phone.



“Hey Cece, I’ve got a favour to ask of you.”



Cece couldn’t recall any time in her adult life that Matt had asked her for anything, she was all ears.



“Go on.”



“I need you to have Honey stay with you until she’s completely better.”



“Of course Matt, you didn’t even need to ask. We have more than enough room at the flat and if I’m honest it would give me some company, I get so bored when I have no shoots and when I do, I’m sure we can find someone to take my place.”



‘That would be me.’ He thought to himself before speaking.



“Great she’ll be discharged on Friday, can you pick her up?”



“Yes Matt, that’s fine.”



“Alright, thank you Cece, it’s much appreciated. By-”



Cece interrupted is hasty goodbye’s “I know why you’re doing this.”



“What do you mean?!”



“I know how you feel about her, I’ve known since the day I met her. Bye Matt.”



The phone line went dead. ‘How does she know, was is that obvious? No, she just knew him too well.’ That’s what he hoped anyway.



____________



Honey was happy to see Cece for her visit, she hadn’t been to see her since Monday and it was now Thursday.



Honey was getting increasingly agitated about not being able to go anywhere or do anything for herself, not to mention being really, really bored. So seeing one of her best friends was a more than welcome sight.



“Hey Hon, how you feeling?” Cece said, in a chirpy tone.



“Ready to go home.”



“Well that’s really what I came to talk to you about. See Hon, I know you desperately want to go back to your own home, but your dad just can’t give you the care and support you need right now. So I was thinking you could come and stay with me? If that’s all right with you?”



Honey sat for a moment and thought about what Cece had said.



Yes, she really wanted to go home and see her family but Kimmy was rarely there and she didn’t want to put any more pressure on her father.



Plus it would be nice having someone around to help her out.



“If you’re sure it’s ok with you and Jack, that would be so great! Thank You.”



“You are more than welcome Hon, you can stay for as long as you like!”



“Only until I’m better, then I’ll be out of your hair.”



“I’ll come for you about one pm tomorrow.”



“Thanks again Cece”



__________



It was finally time for her to leave, Honey could not believe that she was actually leaving.



She felt like she had been in the hospital for years, like she was never going to get better.



But she had, and she was leaving.



What she really wanted to do was get back to work and just absorb herself in normal life again, but unfortunately she still had a few months before she could go back to work.



There was one thing she was still confused about, Matt.



She thought being in the hospital, around him all the time would at least give her some peace of mind about her feelings for him and maybe even a bit of insight about how he felt for her.



Unfortunately, she had no such luck, in fact she was more confused than before her accident.



Her father and Kimmy had told her about how well he looked after and that he was always checking up on her, but he was an amazing doctor and he probably did that for all his patients.



But she did know, well she hoped that her and Matt could finally be friends. Putting her feelings aside for him, if only for Cece’s sake, friendship would be great.



So, deciding on a plan of action that would be best.



First she would have to talk to Cece and see what she thought of the whole situation.



Then find a way to talk to Matt, which was difficult seeing as something always went wrong!



Cece then popped round the door, interrupting her train of thought.



“Hey Doll, excited to finally leave? I’m so excited we can go shopping, get our nails done, go on little trips! You can be the sister, I never had. Like a giant sleepover!”



Cece, ever the optimist! How she lived to this day without her she didn’t know.



“I’ve packed my stuff up, can we leave? Please, please, please!!”



“Doll, we shall be leaving shortly just got to get any prescriptions you need and then get you discharged.”



“Okay, fine! Just hurry” she replied with a smile.



Cece got it sorted in a matter of few minutes with a quick bat of her eyelids, before Honey knew it they were back at Cece’s and she was helping Honey get settled in her room.



“So…Hon, I was thinking we should have like a ‘Welcome Home Honey!’ party?”



“Umm I really appreciate the thought but is it a bit soon? And umm.. I don’t know that many people Cece.”



“Oh don’t worry about that, I have it all sorted, everyone’s coming. I got help from my dear brother.” She winked.



“I didn’t really have time to meet anyone just Rory I guess.”



“I have it all sorted for Sunday.”

Thanks again to KevH, DawnJ, and Aruban who offered so much advice and support, and to those who’ve enjoyed the previous chapters enough to continue on. I promise this chapter will give you all the answers left open in the previous ones, perhaps even offer a few surprises….



~~~~~



“Tim, it’s Donna, I don’t know why you believe what you do, but it’s not true. Please call me…” He hit a button and the answering machine croaked, “Deleted.”



“Tim, where are you? Please, I’m going out of my mind. I didn’t do anything, why won’t you believe me? I’m begging you, call…”



“Deleted”



The messages went on and on. There were over two dozen. As he went from one to the next, the tone in her voice gradually changed, sounding more emotionally overwrought as they went on.



He reached the last one only to find her sounding tired and detached.



“Tim, don’t bother trying to contact me. I was willing to listen to whatever nonsense made you believe the worst about me, but I’m done. The way you treated me was unconscionable. I didn’t have any idea you could be that cruel. Now you ignore me on top of it? It’s too much and I’m not going to beg anymore. I love you and I’m sorry… for both of us. Goodbye.”



Something in the tone of her message took the anger right out of him. It was already a forgone conclusion that they were through, but to hear her say it was still crushing. He had been so sure that she was the one he’d be spending the rest of his life with. Now he would have to start all over, if he even had it in him to try.



The distraction of his thoughts caused him to miss the chance to delete the message, and the machine proceeded to the last one. A woman’s voice, sounding nervous and uncertain sounded through the machine.



“Yes, uh…this is for Tim Sullivan. My name is Marcie and you need to get in touch with me as soon as possible. I’m going out of town, but I need to talk to you about your wife. You need to know the truth about what happened in the restaurant with Jake. Please don’t put this off; you really need to call me right away. I…I don’t want to talk about it on the phone, but it’s very important. My number is . . .”



Tim stood there in shock, missing the rest of the message. Who the hell was she and how did she know about the restaurant? What did she mean “the truth?” He snapped out of it and replayed the message, writing down her number, completely forgetting about Donna’s last message.



~~~~~



Tim walked into the bar, looking around anxiously for the woman in blue jeans and a red blouse. He spotted her at the other end of the room already seated at a booth. She half waved with a grim expression, giving him the impression that she wasn’t happy to be there. He headed toward her, troubled by an uncomfortable feeling, like the stillness you sense right before a tornado strikes.



“Hi Mr. Sullivan, thank you for meeting me,” she said, not extending her hand.



“Marcie,” he replied guardedly. “Your message was impossible to ignore. What’s this about?”



“Right to the point, huh?” she said sadly. “Good for you. Well, I don’t really know where to start. This is very difficult for me to discuss.”



The events of the last few weeks left Tim with no patience for small talk. “Listen, I don’t know who you are, or what this is about, but I’m not going to play games. You said you know something about the restaurant and Jake, so start talking.”



She nodded, her face reflecting shame. “I guess I can’t blame you. It was a terrible thing to do. I was just hoping that it didn’t cause a rift between you and your wife.”



His temper flared. “A rift?” he said in disbelief. “She screwed her old boyfriend on our anniversary. I threw her cheating ass out of my house. Now please stop wasting my time and tell me what you want.”



Marcie looked up at him sadly, “I’m so sorry Mr. Sullivan, I swear to you I had no idea. If I had known, I never would have helped him.”



“Him?”



“Jake,” she confirmed. “I was the one who helped him trick you.”



“Trick?” he said, suddenly feeling sick.



“Your wife never had sex with him. She wouldn’t give him the time of day.”



“No,” Tim groaned. “You’re lying. He told me…”



“Yes, he told you exactly what he thought would keep you from believing her. We met right after he moved here and we’ve,” she paused, looking uncomfortable, “we’ve been intimate on and off since then. A few days before your anniversary, he called me and asked for a favor. He said that this guy who had screwed him over was going to be at this restaurant with his wife, celebrating their anniversary. Jake asked me to help him convince the guy that she was cheating on him.”



“The way he told it, you were some awful man who was making his life miserable. He said that your wife used to go out with him, and was making terrible threats toward him at work. My head was telling me how wrong it was, but I wanted to believe him. It took some time for him to convince me, but I finally agreed to help.” She looked away, the shame she felt clearly evident on her face.



“We got to the restaurant just after you and sat at the bar. After a while, Donna got up to go to the bathroom. Jake and I followed her, and he waited in the hall while I went inside. When she was washing her hands, I walked up to her with a glass of wine and…”



“And you spilled it on her dress,” he finished, feeling distraught at the memory of Donna trying to explain her absence.



“Yes. I apologized and told her that it was going to ruin her beautiful dress, so we needed to get someone to help. I walked out and told Jake to go ask a waiter for some club soda for the stain. It was his plan to keep her in there long enough for you to think something could have happened. I went back in and kept her busy until the waitress arrived. When she did, she took over and I just kept apologizing and tried to keep her talking. Because I spilled the wine on the bodice, she had to take it off to clean it, so the waitress ran out to get her something to put on.”



“When she came back, Donna took off the dress and put a smock on. That’s when I saw the underwear she was wearing. That was what Jake said he needed, but I noticed that the panties she was wearing were sheer and it was obvious that she…well, you know.”



“I told her that my man loved the fact that I did that too. She seemed embarrassed, but told me that she had just done it that day to surprise her husband for their anniversary. I knew it was exactly what he needed and excused myself to go tell Jake everything. Then I went back in and tried to stall them while he talked to you.”



She finished her story and looked up at him sadly, “That’s everything.”



Tim wanted to scream that she was lying, that this was some kind of intricate plot, just to fuck with him. People couldn’t be this devious. In the end it was all so overwhelming all he could do was make himself ask, “So why are you telling me now?”



“He was so thrilled with how well it went that he got loaded afterward. When we got back to his place, he told me the truth about everything. I was disgusted with him, but the more I thought about it, the more I hated myself. It was idiotic to believe what he told me and worse to do something that horrible to people I didn’t know. He just had a knack for convincing me to do what he wanted. ”



“After he finished bragging, he fell asleep. I left and haven’t spoken to him since. To be honest, I don’t think he’s even noticed.” Her expression showed disgust. “I felt like the least I could do was make sure you knew the truth. I just hoped that it wasn’t too late for you and your wife. Neither of you deserved this and I can’t tell you how sorry I am for my part in it.”



Tim’s mind swam with confusion, trying to sort out the truth from the lies. “So why did it take you two weeks to get around to calling me?” he said accusingly.



She tried to make him understand her regret was sincere. “If you had done something this horrible, would you be anxious to meet the person whose life you helped to destroy? Besides, I did call you several times, but got your machine. I wanted to talk to you in person. This isn’t the kind of story you can leave on a machine and hope for the best. I waited as long as I could, but I’m leaving in a few days and don’t know when I’ll be back, so I finally left a message.”



They talked for a few more minutes, but she didn’t have any insights into Jake’s motivation. Tim wanted to be angry with her, but was too busy hating himself. Still, after everything that had happened, he knew he couldn’t just take her word for it. He didn’t know who to trust at this point. The only thing he could think of to do was to go back to the restaurant and try to confirm what she claimed.



An hour later, Tim arrived and asked to talk to the manager. He was a well-dressed man with graying hair, who appeared to be in his early forties.



“Hi, my name is Robert, how can I help you?”



Although he had played out a dozen scenarios on how to address what happened, in the end Tim decided the truth was the best. He told the man about Jake’s claims, but didn’t mention the incident in the bathroom.



“Mr. Sullivan, this is a fine dining establishment. I can assure you that there is nowhere on the premises that an encounter like this man described could have taken place.”



“Well,” he said, choosing his words carefully. “Do you know about any unusual things happening two weeks ago Friday night? My wife said that there was an incident in the ladies room with another woman and a glass of wine.”



“Wine,” he said thoughtfully, stroking his chin. “That sounds familiar, let me check.” He reached over and picked up his phone. “Tammy, could you find Louise and send her in please.”



He hung up the phone and looked at me, “Louise is in charge of the wait staff and would know if anything happened.” They waited a moment, then a young woman in her mid-twenties walked in.



“Yes sir,” she said formally.



“Louise, did anything strange happen two weeks ago Friday night? It would have had something to do with an accident in the ladies room.”



Suddenly her eyes lit up, “Oh, you mean the woman in the Red dress.” Tim’s stomach exploded in pain so severe that he was forced to wrap his arms around it and lean forward. She gave him a strange look, but continued.



“There was an accident where another woman spilled some wine on her dress. I brought club soda and got her a smock from the kitchen to wear while we cleaned it. She was very nice, but terribly embarrassed about the situation. Are you her husband?”



He nodded, unable to say anything.



“She couldn’t stop talking about you and your anniversary. It was so sweet. I hope I’m that happy some day. Did her dress…” She stopped abruptly as he stood and rushed toward the door without a word.



“Did I say something wrong?” she asked as he ran from the room.



~~~~~



Tim walked hurriedly through the hospital doors, hoping to see one of Donna’s friends at the front desk. The maternity ward was high security so there would be no way to get in to see her. The best he could hope for was to find someone he knew to try to help. Unfortunately, the two women behind the front desk didn’t look familiar. He took a deep breath and walked up to them.



“Hi, I’d like to talk with Donna Sullivan please. She’s a nurse in the maternity ward,” he added, trying to sound nonchalant.



The older woman eyed him wearily. “And you are…”



He couldn’t help letting out a small sigh of disappointment. Her expression wasn’t pleasant. “I’m her husband Tim.”



She turned to the other nurse and they shared a look. “I’m sorry sir, Mrs. Sullivan expressly asked not to be bothered.” He could almost hear the unspoken phrase, By you.



He thought quickly, “Could I leave her a note?”



The first woman shrugged her shoulders. “If you’d like. I’ll make sure someone leaves it in her box.”



Tim quickly scribbled down an apology, making sure to tell her he knew that she had done nothing wrong and how terrible he felt for the way he treated her. It seemed terribly empty, but he had to find a way to get her to talk so he could tell her everything. He begged her to call any time, promising to meet anywhere she wanted. After signing it “Love Tim” he felt a wave of guilt rush over him, remembering his astonishingly harsh words for her. Feeling humiliated, he handed it to the nurse, who acted as if just touching it was offensive.



Tim thanked her and left, wondering if Donna would ever even see it.



~~~~~



“Oh Tim,” Trisha said sadly. “What are you going to do?”



“I don’t know,” he answered. “She won’t see me at all. It’s been two days and I’ve been to the hospital three times. Her cell phone is disconnected. I even tried calling her mom, but I’ll spare you the gory details. Suffice to say, I won’t be getting a Christmas present from my Mother-In-Law this year.” Seeing Trisha’s distraught expression he quickly added, “But I don’t want you getting upset about it. This is my mess and I’ll find a way to fix it.”



“Donna’s got to be hurting so much,” she said, wiping a tear from her eye. “She hasn’t talked to either of us since just after you left. I told her we couldn’t get in the middle and that the only thing I knew was you said you had proof she cheated. I told her if she needed to talk I was here for her, but she hasn’t called back. She must believe we’d take your side.”



Tim nodded in agreement, feeling his own tears begin to flow. The last two days had been the hardest of his life, far outdistancing the pain he felt at Donna’s supposed betrayal. He had thrown away a wonderful marriage based on the word of a man he despised, not to mention the horrible things he said to the only woman he had ever loved. His misery combined with the guilt had been overwhelming.



“At least Pete found a way for me to deal with what I’ve done,” he said with an effort to appear hopeful.



“Your husband took one look at me and told me to go straight to HR and ask Monique for the number of the family counselor the company recommends to their employees. As soon as I find a way to talk to her, I’m going to let her know that I will be going until I find a way to fix the problems I’ve been dealing with since she came back. I’m not going to stop until I know that I can be the man she deserves. I’m going to make sure she knows it too.”



“Just don’t you give up, no matter what it takes,” she said, drying her eyes.



“That’s the easiest promise I’ll ever make,” he replied.



They hugged and he went to the living room where he met Pete. They walked toward the front door, where Tim’s friend leaned in closely and whispered, “You know, there’s something else you have to do.”



“I know,” Tim said quietly, “it’s something that should have been taken care of a long time ago.”



“So what do you want to do about it?”



He looked at him with a quiet fury burning in his eyes. “I want to kill him.”



~~~~~



It was just after ten o’clock when Jake finally stumbled out of the bar toward the parking lot. It only took the private eye four hours to find him someplace away from prying eyes. Tim smiled thinking about how convenient having money could be. He watched the larger man walk toward him with his head down, lost in some thought.



As Jake came closer, he finally noticed the man sitting on his trunk, staring at him. “Hey you, what are you doing on my car,” he said threateningly.



Tim couldn’t refrain from answering sarcastically, “Aren’t you Joey, that washed up football player.”



He laughed, “Well, well, well, it’s the computer geek,” he said mockingly. “How’s the wife?”



“We’ll be fine, Jake. You on the other hand, have been a really bad boy.”



He came closer. “Are you planning to do something about it?”



“What if I am?”



“We did this dance before. It doesn’t turn out too well for you. Maybe you should walk away and let her be with the guy she’s supposed to be with, like you did last time.”



“Oh, this isn’t going to be anything like college, Jake,” Tim said confidently.



Jake sneered, “Yeah, why is that?”



“Well, in college, you had all your friends around you. This time it’s my turn.”



He looked around, apprehensively. “What’s that supposed to mean?”



“It means, dumb-ass, that you are in a shit-load of trouble,” came a baritone voice from behind him.



Jake spun and to Tim’s delight, the color drained from his face as a hulking figure stepped out of the shadows. The man was African-American, standing six foot four inches tall and weighing in the neighborhood of three hundred pounds (although he constantly told his wife he was down to two hundred eighty). Although he had lost some of the muscle that made him an all-American defensive end and a sure fire first round draft pick, he still was a person that made virtually everyone he met step aside when he passed. If it hadn’t been for the horrific knee injury in his senior year of college, Tim probably would have never met him.



“Jake, I’d like you to meet my friend Pete.”



He looked over his shoulder, trying not to appear unnerved. “Hey, listen, I don’t want any trouble,” he stammered. He turned back to face Pete, while slowly backing away.



“Mother fucker, you’ve got nothin’ but trouble,” Pete growled.



Jake looked around for a way to escape, then evidently decided that he had no other choice, so sprung at him, hitting him with a body block. Tim saw his momentum move Pete back about a step, then he calmly grabbed the smaller man under one shoulder and, using his knee for leverage, threw Jake a good five feet. He landed with a terrible thud on his back, the concrete knocking the wind out of him.



Pete was on him in a flash, sitting on his chest, a knee on each arm to keep him from fighting back. Now helpless, Jake watched as Pete brought a huge hand back and struck him hard across the cheek. Tim watched with satisfaction as Pete hit him over and over.



“That’s enough. I think he got the point.”



He looked over and nodded. “It’s your party.” He rose slowly, then added, “This is for messing with my little brother,” dropping back down with a tremendous shot to Jake’s ribs.



Tim could hear the crack and winced, unable to stop himself from wondering ironically if Jake would be doing his own rehab or if he’d have to hire someone. Pete stood back up and stepped away, leaving Jake writhing on the ground in agony. He looked over to Tim, who moved close.



“You listen to me, you son of a bitch,” he hissed, close to Jake’s ear. “You got off light. The only reason that Pete got to kick your ass was because he was afraid of what I was going to do. If you ever bother Donna again…” To accentuate the point, he pulled out a modified stun gun he had worked on with the guys in engineering. It had just enough juice to be painful, and leave a tingling that Jake would remember well into the night.



“Ahhhh,” he screamed as Tim hit him in the groin with a jolt.



Jake stopped rolling and Tim knew he had his full attention. He grabbed Jake’s face with one hand and stared into his eyes. “Do you believe I don’t know how to take care of you? Really? Don’t ever fuck with my wife again!”



He leaned close and whispered menacingly. “Listen up, I want some answers, and every one I don’t believe is going to earn you another little kiss from my toy here, do you get me?”



Jake looked up at him in shock, wondering if Tim had lost his mind. “Are you crazy?” he started to ask, but was cut off by another jolt, drawing a strangled cry.



“Okay, okay,” he begged, “What do you want to know?”



Pete watched out for trouble as Tim made sure he got all the answers he was looking for. When he was finished, he stepped away.



“Now Jake, in case you get the idea to whine to anyone about our little talk here, I want to point something out to you. Do you see that brown four door across the street?” he said, pointing at a parked car. When Jake nodded, he continued.

“That’s the private eye I hired to find you. He’s got pictures of this visit, including us trying to talk to you and you responding by attacking Pete here. I’d hate to have to add felony assault and drunk & disorderly to what you’re already facing.”



“What do you mean, what I’m already facing?” he asked, confused.



“Do you know a man named Thomas Walker?”



Jake eyed him carefully. “That’s my boss at the clinic,” he answered, holding his side.



“Well, as soon as you feel up to returning to work, he wants to see you. You are going to have a long talk with him about stalking women who work at the hospital, and creating problems between the clinic and one of their biggest business partners. He also golfs with Pete here on the weekends,” Tim added with a wink at his friend. He doubted Jake would think to check up on that little white lie, and it would be a good way to keep him looking over his shoulder.



“And he doesn’t appreciate having to clean up messes like this for low-level employees,” Pete added.



“So I’m not going to be talking to you again, Jake,” Tim said calmly, “But that doesn’t mean I’m not having someone pay attention to the kind of shit you’re doing. My advice would be to move to a better climate now before things get more difficult for you, but that’s your call. However, if you ever see Donna again, I suggest you run, don’t walk, in the opposite direction. If she tells me she even saw you, I promise you that I’m going to turn your life to shit. Do you believe me?” he hissed, letting the stun gun hover inches above his body menacingly, then hitting the button causing the electricity to arc brightly in the dimly lit parking lot.



“Yes, yes!” Jake whined. “I’m sorry.”



He stepped away and headed toward the car, quickly climbing in. As they pulled out of the lot, Pete looked at Tim and asked, “Do you feel better?”



He shook his head resolutely. “I don’t give a fuck about him. I just want to find Donna.”



~~~~~



Three days later, nothing had changed. Donna was ignoring all of Tim’s attempts to contact her. Around noon, Pete received the call that Trisha had gone into labor.



“We’re leaving now,” he relayed. “If you want you could come with us and see what happens.”



Tim chuckled, despite his mood. “Thanks buddy, but somehow I doubt they’re going to believe I’m a relative. Go take care of your wife and meet your baby. I can’t wait to hug them both. Trust me, you guys are what’s keeping me going through this.”



Pete wanted to say more, but couldn’t find the words. It hurt him so much to see Tim like this, and he ached for Donna as well. He wasn’t used to feeling helpless, and didn’t like it. As he hung up the phone, he heard his wife call his name, and happily bounded up the stairs, grateful for his good fortune, and hopeful that he could find a way to make his last ditch idea work.



~~~~~



Tim finished up Pete’s work which he had agreed to take care of, then let Rhonda know everything was done and that he was leaving early. He had an important meeting that he couldn’t miss. An hour later he walked into the house, wishing more than anything that he could avoid the upcoming conversation.



“I just can’t believe it,” his mother said, disturbed beyond words at the turn of events. “How could you do something like that?”



“Mom, I wish I had an answer. I was angry, I was hurt, and I thought there was proof that she had cheated on me. After not telling me he talked to her, then seeing them together at that restaurant…I just lost it. I didn’t want to hear what she had to say. I was sure it was all lies.”



“And now?”



He sighed. “Now I know the truth. Now I see how badly I screwed up this whole thing. All I had to do was be honest with her about him calling our house and we would have put it together. She is the only woman I’ve ever loved, even after college when I pretended that she was nothing to me. After everything she went through to make me believe, I still kept her from getting all the way inside my heart. I was a scared, stupid idiot.”



Diane leaned forward, pulling her only son tightly against her, trying to comfort him.



He accepted the gesture before gently pulling away. “I’ve thought of everything possible, even getting the private eye to help me get in touch with her. I’m just afraid that if she feels like I’m pushing too hard, she’ll resent it. It would just push her away and I might never get to make this right.”



“The thing that keeps running through my mind is how carefully she acted around me when she came back. If she had come storming in saying how sorry she was, I’d have told her to get lost and never opened myself up to her again. The way she acted…it threw me off balance, which made me want to keep talking to her. That’s what gave us a chance to get through the bad memories. That has to be the best way to get through to her.”



“Tim, I’ve never talked to you about the things Donna said to me during that time. I promise you she never believed you’d forgive her. She wanted to see me, because she wanted to find a way to help take away the pain she had put you through. I told her that it was best to give you space, and maybe that’s what you need to do right now as well.”



“That’s unacceptable,” Tim said firmly. “She’s suffering right now because of me. I have to find a way to at least let her know how I really feel. If she needs time after that, I will respect her wishes. I just need to find a way to get through to her.”



“Tim, I can’t tell you what to do, and I can’t promise you what will work. You’ve hurt her terribly. What I can do is tell you that she loves you with all her heart. After all the conversations we had, I believe more than anything that even when she made those horrible mistakes, she loved you the way that you love her. Maybe what you need is to make sure she knows you understand that?”



Tim pondered her words quietly, suddenly an idea occurring to him. “Thank’s mom,” he said, giving her a hug. “I think I understand what I have to do. I just feel stupid that I didn’t get it a long time ago.”



He left and drove home, trying to convince himself that it wasn’t too late. When he stepped through the front door, he knew something was wrong. Things appeared to be moved around, and some of her possessions were missing.



“Donna,” Tim called out cautiously. He went up to their bedroom and found more of her personal items gone. The closet was open and her side was empty. His shoulders slumped and he walked back down the stairs. When he had come back from the two week vacation, there were only a few necessities missing. It looked like Donna had taken just enough to survive, probably hoping to come back home. There was enough gone now that it seemed likely she wasn’t planning on ever coming back.



He walked back into the living room and noticed the envelope. Tim wasn’t sure how he missed it the first time, but it was in the center of the coffee table. With shaking hands, he picked it up and opened the flap. As he pulled out the note inside, there was a soft clink. He looked down to see Donna’s engagement ring bounce off of the table and onto the floor. Tim bent over and picked it up, his breath catching in his throat. Clutching it in one hand, he opened the letter and read.



Tim, You can have this back now, I don’t need it any more. Please don’t try to contact me at the hospital again. You made your feelings about me clear. I want you to know that other than the two times you already know about, I haven’t seen or even spoken to Jake since college. There is nothing that could make me want to be with that man again; you are all I wanted, although I don’t expect you to believe me. I love you and am sorry that you couldn’t trust me. I realize some of this is my fault for the mistakes I’ve made, and for that I am sorry.



There is nothing of yours that I want. You can keep your house and everything in it. Just let me go and we can try to get on with our lives.



Donna




When Pete called two hours later to tell him about little Cynthia Marie, Tim tried to sound happy for him, but it was obvious that his heart wasn’t in it. He didn’t say anything about the ring or letter because this was a time for Pete to be concerned about his family. After giving him a chance to tell all the details about the birth and how mother and daughter were doing, Tim told him to give Trisha a kiss and said goodnight. Hours later he fell asleep on the couch, still staring at the ring and wondering if there was anything that could possibly undo this mess.



~~~~~



“Hello,” the woman’s voice answered, sounding openly hostile.



“Caroline, it’s Tim,” he said, out of courtesy. It was obvious from her tone that she knew who was calling. “Can I please talk to you for a second?”



Just when Tim thought she was going to hang up on him again, she hesitated. Maybe it was something in his voice this time, or perhaps it was something else, but she gave him a small opening.



“Go ahead,” she said grudgingly.



He took a deep breath, gratefully giving silent thanks for finally catching a break. “Caroline, I did a terrible thing. The reasons aren’t important, although I want you to understand that I know Donna didn’t do anything wrong. I’ll tell you what happened if you want me to, but they are just excuses. The bottom line is that I hurt your daughter terribly because of my jealousy and insecurity.”



There was silence on the line as he paused to give her the chance to interject. “Go on,” she said, giving him a ray of hope.



“The only thing that matters right now is that Donna understands that I never meant the horrible things I said to her, even when I believed the worst. I said them because I was hurt, but they were just to try and make her feel what I was feeling. There was never any time, not a second, that I hated your daughter. She is the best thing that ever happened to me and I will love her until the day I die.”



“Well,” Caroline said, “that certainly sounds more like the young man I thought I knew. But Donna is devastated. I don’t believe that there’s anything you can say to make up for what you did.”



“No, there isn’t,” he agreed. “But I’m not important right now. Since she won’t talk to me, I want to tell you what happened. If you understand how it did, maybe there’s something you can do for her.” He struggled to find the words, realizing that his prepared speech wasn’t going to move her. He needed to reach deeper and tell her how he really felt.



“If something happened to me tomorrow, she’d think I actually believed the terrible things I said for the rest of her life and I can’t let that happen. At least if she knows the truth, it might not be as painful for her. Even if she can’t forgive me, I need her to know how I really feel.”



“Fine,” she said, a little more relaxed. “You tell me what happened and I’ll tell her. I won’t promise anything else.”



Tim held his hand over the phone as he breathed a huge sigh of relief. “All I ask is that you meet me somewhere. If I’m going to tell you everything, I can’t do it over the phone. I’ll fly out there tonight if you want me to.” He crossed his fingers, hoping she would see the logic in his request. He knew there was no way to really make her see how sincere he was if she couldn’t see him.



“That won’t be necessary,” she said stiffly.



“Why?” he replied, his hopes crashing.



“Because I’m already here.”



Yes! he thought gratefully, resisting the urge to cheer.



“Where do you want to meet and when?”



~~~~~



“Do you think that will really work?” Pete asked doubtfully.



Tim shrugged his shoulders. “If Caroline knows everything, at least Donna will too. It might not get me any closer to her winning her back, but that can wait. I tried to sleep last night but all I could do was lie there and think about her sitting in bed somewhere alone. Just imagine how much she’s suffering.” He shook his head sadly. “The things I said to her, then I threw her out…on our anniversary.”



Pete put his hand on Tim’s shoulder reassuringly. “It was a terrible mistake, but beating yourself up isn’t going to solve anything.”



Tim nodded. “I know, but until I’m sure she’s okay, there’s no way I’ll be able to deal with this. You still haven’t seen her at the hospital, right?”



He shook his head. “I know she’s there, but I only get to go straight from the door to Trish’s room. I feel bad about it, she and Trish had gotten so close. She must be avoiding us because she thinks we’ll try to get in the middle of things.”



“Look Pete, you’ve done way more than I have any right to ask. Trisha warned me not to jump to conclusions, but I didn’t listen. This is the time for you to take care of your wife and little girl. I got myself into this mess, I’ll find a way out. If you see Donna, don’t do anything but introduce her to Cynthia. I know that would mean the world to her right now.”



“I guess you’re right, but I still wish we could help.”



“Me too,” he said sadly, “but this is something I need to do myself.” There was a brief silence while they both struggled to find the right words. Finally Pete broke the awkward pause.



“So where are you going to meet her?” he asked quietly.



~~~~~



It was just after five o’clock when Tim walked into the restaurant. After briefly checking up and down the aisles, he spotted Caroline sitting in a booth between two other empty ones, facing the door. He took a deep breath to steady himself, then walked toward her, grateful the booths had tall backs so they’d have some privacy.



“Caroline,” he said nervously.



“Tim,” she replied tersely. Her greeting wasn’t as cold as he had anticipated. He tried to take comfort from that small mercy. He slid into the seat facing her and took a sip of the water the waiter had brought. She glanced down and he wondered if she saw how much it was shaking.



“How is she?” he asked.



“How do you think she is?” came the hostile reply, causing him to wince. “Look Tim, I’m not here for pleasantries. I always liked you and that’s the only reason that I’m giving you the opportunity to talk. I…” her voice trailed off and she looked over his shoulder momentarily losing her train of thought. Snapping her eyes back to him she continued.



“I wanted to know how you could have acted that way toward my daughter. She loves you more than anything and from what she told me, you were positively cruel.”



Looking down, he tried to think of a way to explain his actions. Instead he thought about how he’d been avoiding the truth with Donna and what it had led to. The truth, just tell her the truth, the voice screamed in his head. He took another deep breath and decided to plunge headfirst.



“I was cruel,” he said, looking at her. “Mean, selfish, and cruel.” His response seemed to startle her. “I believed the worst about her and instead of acting like a man and talking about it, I made the worst mistake of my life. Everything I said to her was me trying to make her feel as badly as I did. It was juvenile and she didn’t deserve any of it. Then when I found out she was innocent…” Tim stopped, unable to find any words to express the rush of emotions he felt.



“It took two years, but I finally understand why Donna came to see me, and why she said what she did.” Seeing Caroline’s confused expression he pressed on. “Your daughter isn’t just the woman I married, she’s part of my heart, and has been since the day I met her. I don’t want to find her so I can say I’m sorry and hope she forgives me. I need to find her so I can try to take away the pain I caused. The idea of her suffering…it’s more than I can take. I feel like I’m dying inside.”



“When she hurt me in college, she had to live with that pain for years. Finding out she was wrong about Jake, having to leave school,” he looked into Caroline’s eyes empathetically, “losing her father; it was all too much. There was no way to absorb that much pain. The one part of it she could control was to find a way to help me. She knew if she could make some of my pain go away, then there was a way she could heal and go on with her own life.”



“Well, that’s exactly how I feel now. I can’t just go on and let her be in pain because of me. She might never forgive me…maybe she shouldn’t,” he said sadly, “but what I can do is to make amends for what I did to her. If she can understand what happened and why, then I will accept whatever she decides. Even if it’s a future without me,” he finished with a great deal of difficulty.



Caroline’s eyes seemed to soften. “What on earth made you think she would have taken up with that man in the first place?” she asked.



Tim looked down at his hands. “He told me.” He heard her gasp, but was feeling so disoriented the sound seemed to come from everywhere. He took a quick sip of water and tried to clear his head.



“It started a couple of months ago. He called the house one day, then hung up after asking for her. After that there were more calls from a number I didn’t know, but there were no messages. I didn’t tell Donna about it because I was suspicious about why he’d have our number. When I found her at the restaurant with her friends and him, it was almost the end. I was so angry.” He paused to sip his water.



“Donna gave me a couple days to cool down, then explained everything and apologized. She was so sincere that I forgave her.”



“But there was still a part of me that just couldn’t fully accept what she was saying. I tried to tuck it away and enjoy the anniversary, but I know it was still there, eating away at me. When we got to the restaurant, Donna left for the restroom. About fifteen minutes after she left, Jake showed up and told me they’d been having sex since he moved to town. He also said that she was gone so long because they were…together in the back of the restaurant.”



He paused, finding it incredibly difficult to continue. Caroline didn’t have the same problem.



“So a man you hate walks up and tells you he’s having sex with your wife and you just believe him?” she said incredulously.



“No,” he said, carefully trying to avoid sound like he was making excuses. “I told him it was a lie, but he said he had proof.”



“What kind of proof? she asked, bewildered.



“This is going to sound crazy. A woman spilled a drink on Donna in the restroom. She had to get out of her dress to clean it before it was ruined. The woman was Jake’s friend and ran out to tell him what she was wearing and a couple of personal details. That’s how he convinced me he was telling the truth.”



She sat back, clearly stunned. “He went through all that? For what?”



Tim shrugged his shoulders. “He claimed that he never got over her leaving him. When he moved here for the job and found out she was working at the hospital, he thought he could come between us. He used a couple of her friends at work to get information about what was going on in our lives. They never had any idea that they shouldn’t talk to him about it, or what he would do. None of that matters. He isn’t going to be bothering her again,” he finished resolutely.



Caroline took a moment, appearing to gather herself. “Tim, I’m sorry. Neither of you should have had to deal with something like that.” She looked down for a moment, still trying to take everything in. “But that doesn’t excuse the way you treated my daughter.”



He looked at her sincerely. “Nothing could excuse the way I acted. I love her more than anything, yet I did everything I could to hurt her. Every night I try to sleep, but just lay there thinking about how she must be feeling; wishing I could hold her and tell her I didn’t mean it. I know it doesn’t make much difference, but I’m so sorry I don’t know how to even begin to tell her…or you. I would do anything to be able to take it back.”



It didn’t take any theatrics on Tim’s part to make the tears come. After days of his emotions being on edge, the strain of talking to Caroline pushed him past his breaking point.

“Please excuse me,” he sputtered, rising with the intent to go to the men’s room. As he stood, she caught his arm.



“No, don’t go,” she said so abruptly it surprised him. Her voice softened. “I mean…could you tell me why?” When Tim could only stare in confusion, she took his hand. “Why didn’t you talk to her. I don’t pretend to understand why you could have believed what he told you, but all you had to do was tell her what he said. She’s your wife, why didn’t you ask her.”



Here it is, the moment of truth, he thought.



After endless soul-searching, Tim finally understood it himself, but explaining it to Donna’s mother was a different matter entirely. He took a deep breath, knowing that he needed to make her understand. It was too important to hold back.



“It’s because I expected her to leave.”



“What?” came the half-question, half-outraged reply.



“Caroline, I’m going to tell you something that I’ve never told Donna. I should have, but was afraid to. I’m ashamed of myself for holding it back because I think we could have avoided everything if I just hadn’t been so afraid.”



“The night that I found out about Donna and Jake, something happened after I left. Jake followed me out of the house and said some things about her…bad things. I went a little crazy and took a swing at him.”



She regarded him doubtfully. “You two had a fight?”



“Well, I guess you could call it a fight. It was more like me volunteering to be his punching bag. I wound up in the hospital and it was a week before I was up to going back to school and getting my stuff.” She squeezed his hand sympathetically.



“Even though I thought I had forgiven Donna, part of me couldn’t let it go. What happened in college proved every negative thing that had been said to me or that I had thought about myself while I had been growing up.”



“What do you mean?”



He pulled his hands away and began rubbing them together nervously. “That I wasn’t good enough for someone like her. Someday, no matter how much I loved her or how hard I tried to make something of myself, someone like Jake could walk in and take her away from me.”



Caroline’s eyes began to show comprehension. “Someone like Jake,” she repeated.



“Someone better looking, more popular, stronger. No matter how much I loved Donna, he decided he liked her, then walked in and took her. There was nothing I could do. It made me feel weak, pathetic, and helpless. When he moved here, I was afraid it would happen again. He just told me exactly what I was expecting to hear, deep down.” He dropped his head, unable to look her in the eye.



“Tim Sullivan…that is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard you say!”



His head spun around, unable to believe what he’d heard. Donna was standing next to him, caught between looking furious and heartbroken.



“Donna?” he stuttered, “what are you doing here?”



She sat down next to him and threw her arms around his neck, pulling him against her tightly. Her hands turned his head toward hers, wiping his tears away. Her lips found his, kissing him hungrily. Tim’s confusion was forgotten at her touch. He brought a hand up to caress her face and realized it was wet.



“You’re crying,” he said worriedly. He peered anxiously into her eyes, everything suddenly rushing back. “Donna, I’m so sorry about what I said. Please believe me…” She put her fingertips across his lips, stopping him mid-sentence.



“I heard you Tim, and I do believe you.” she cried, resting her head against his shoulder. “I missed you so much.”



He couldn’t think of anything to say that didn’t involve the words, ‘I’m sorry’, so settled for holding her and stroking her hair as she sobbed. Having her warmth against him again was like finally waking from a terrible nightmare.



Their surroundings faded away as he held her for what seemed like hours, wordlessly assuring her of his love with tender caresses. Finally Tim allowed the situation to intrude on their intimacy.



“What in the world are you doing here?” he asked, turning his eyes from her to Caroline.



“Don’t look at me,” her mother protested. “I didn’t know anything about it.”



“Then how…” he started to ask.



“Well, that’s kind of a long story,” came the reply from the next booth. The voice was deep and powerful. Tim would have known it anywhere.



“Son of a bitch,” he said, standing up. “Pete?” He was sitting in the booth next to theirs, facing Tim with a grin from ear to ear. “You told me you hadn’t seen her. What the hell is going on?”



Donna pulled him back down beside her. “It’s my fault, Tim. When Trisha came to the hospital having contractions, of course I wanted to be there for her. I just asked them not to talk about you or tell you that they’d seen me. It wasn’t fair for them to be in the middle of our mess at a time like that. There was no way I was going to miss my God-daughter’s birth.”



Pete moved to their booth and sat down next to Donna’s mother, taking her hand in a greeting. The two then turned back to stare at the young couple and he spoke.



“I feel bad for not telling you about seeing her, but both of you were asking us to stay out of it, and I didn’t want to take the chance of making it worse by interfering. That is, until you got Caroline to talk to you. That was just too perfect to pass up. I had been working on a way to help, but needed a catalyst. This was exactly what I’d been hoping for.



Donna chimed in. “Trisha insisted that I needed to hear what really happened and why you reacted the way you did. I tried to tell her that I wasn’t ready. After all, I gave you two weeks and you wouldn’t even talk to me.” She paused, not wanting to take the conversation back in a negative direction.



“I’m sorry. I was so upset by what I thought happened, that I went away for a couple of weeks. Nobody knew where I was, not even my folks. I wish I could take it back. I wish I could take it all back,” he whispered, caressing her face. “I love you.”



“Not again,” Pete said sarcastically. “You two definitely need some alone time.” They all shared a laugh.



“There’s one question I have that hasn’t been answered yet,” Donna said looking at Tim with a raised eyebrow. “The whole hospital was talking about Jake coming into the emergency room in bad shape the other night. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about it, would you?”



“Don’t look at me,” he said defensively, staring at Pete.



“Peter Briggs,” she said accusingly. “You did that, with your wife due to give birth any day? What if you had gotten hurt or arrested? What were you thinking?”



“It’s not my fault,” he said, giving her his best ‘Aw shucks’ expression. “I was just there to make sure nothing happened to your husband and the fool attacked me. I swear that boy isn’t too bright,” he said, clearly amused.



Donna tried to keep up her stern expression, but failed and broke into a grateful smile. “Whatever you were thinking, thank you.” She got out of the booth and leaned over, kissing him on the cheek. He broke into the broadest grin imaginable.



Tim spoke up. “We really were there just to warn him not to mess with you again. The situation got out of control. On the bright side, I don’t think Jake will be bothering us anymore.”



“Since he pulled that stunt away from the hospital, we can’t exactly get him fired for what he did, but our company has a lot of influence because of all the business we conduct with them. Someone will be talking to him to let him know he doesn’t have a long future at the rehab clinic, or any other one, if he harasses you again.” Tim allowed himself to smile. “Besides, somehow I doubt he’ll be anxious to see Pete again.”



Pete chuckled. “You would have been proud of your husband. He was positively spooky.”



Donna gave Tim another questioning stare, but he shook his head so she let it pass.



“Pete…Caroline…I hope you don’t mind, but I really want to take my wife home. It has been far too long since she was there.” He took Donna’s hand, suddenly feeling overwhelmed by his emotions. “Plus, I have a lot of making up to do.” She smiled and kissed him again.



She moved her lips to his ear and whispered, “You’ve got that right, buddy.”



They all rose to leave. Tim gave her mother a firm hug, whispering, “Thank you for this chance, Caroline. I promise you won’t be sorry.”



She brushed her hand against his cheek affectionately. “I believe you, Tim.”



~~~~~



The door to their home burst open, the young couple oblivious to anything but each other. Their caresses turned to kissing, which led to them exploring each other so aggressively that they stumbled into the wall.



Donna broke away, trying to catch her breath. “Tim, I need to tell you something…”



“Shhh,” he scolded. “No more talking. I need you…right now.”



She nodded and pulled him close. After a few seconds of frantic kissing, she broke away and hurried toward the stairs, pausing to look over her shoulder briefly, then running up.



Tim took in the breathtaking picture; her long hair falling across her cheek, giving her a look of youthful innocence that staggered him. Shaking his head to force himself into motion, he jogged toward the stairs, giving thanks to whatever power had brought her back.



When he reached the top, he took a deep breath to calm himself before walking through the bedroom door. Rounding the corner, he saw Donna standing in front of the bed, her blouse unbuttoned, hanging loosely. The material parted just enough to see the swell of her breasts, a tantalizing glimpse of the treasure just out of sight.



“You look amazing,” he said, drinking in every detail.



“Thank you,” she said, pointing her finger then curling it toward herself, beckoning him closer.



He crossed the room and kissed her lightly, stepping back as he pulled apart the blouse to watch her breasts come into view. Her nipples were erect and there were goose bumps all over her skin. He leaned close and softly blew across her naked flesh, drawing a shudder.



“Tim, I want you so much. I’ve missed you more than you know.” Her hands touch his face and she kissed his forehead, then rested against him. “I didn’t know how I was going to make it without you. The hardest thing I’ve ever done was take off my ring…Oh no!” she said abruptly.



He pulled back, looking into her eyes with concern. “What’s wrong?”



“My ring. I want my ring. Please, can you wait while I get it?” Tim was surprised to see real distress apparent on her face.



“I don’t think that will be a problem,” he assured her. Reaching into the top of his shirt, he pulled a small gold chain until her ring popped into view. “I had to keep it close. It was the only way I was going to get through that meeting with your mother.”



Donna smiled ruefully, “I know what you mean.” There was no need to elaborate. Tim now understood completely how painful it had been for her to seek out his mom years before.



“So why did you keep the wedding ring but leave this one?”



She sighed. “I was so angry I was going to leave both, but there was a part of me that just couldn’t give up hoping there was a way to fix whatever was wrong. I had to hold on to something from you just in case. You know how important that ring is to me. I knew that leaving it would let you know how hurt I was, and how serious things were.”



He stared intently into her eyes. “I did understand, and I am truly sorry for the things I said. More importantly, I’m sorry that I didn’t trust you when it mattered. It’s a mistake I’ll never make again.”



“Here,” he said, unhooking the necklace and sliding the ring off. He placed it on her finger. “Now things are the way they should be.”



She looked at the ring for a moment, then back at my eyes. “Not until you’re inside me.”



Tim touched her shoulder tenderly, letting his fingertips brush her blouse further over until it began sliding down her arm. She reached up to help, but he shooed her hand away.



“Patience,” he scolded.



His fingertips slid up her arm, across her shoulder, then down to her breasts, where they skimmed across her chest, taking a moment to circle her nipple several times before resuming the journey. He delighted in watching her breasts rise and fall with her breath as it quickened, signifying her heightened arousal. His fingers reached the other shoulder and began sliding the material down her arm as slowly as he could, leaning in to kiss the skin as it was exposed.



He gripped her sleeve near her wrist, and tugged gently, watching the cloth fall away from one side completely. Instead of shrugging off the garment, Donna raised her other hand, inviting him to finish at the pace he desired.



Tim gently urged her to sit down on the bed, kneeling between her legs and kissing his way back up her arm, across her shoulder, then down to her breast. He ran his tongue lazily across her skin to her nipple, then fastened his lips around it, nibbling as she threw her head back at the sensation. Tim could feel her heartbeat; taking his time to delight in the simple pleasure of feeling her close again. Finally he moved his lips up to her shoulder, then down her other arm as he pulled her sleeve free, tossing the shirt to the floor.



He put a hand on her shoulder, causing her to lie back as his fingers stroked her breasts. When she reclined fully, he slowly dragged both hands down her body, drawing a moan of approval. Tim popped the snap on her jeans, then eased the zipper down. His hands gripped the belt loops and pulled, while Donna lifted her hips to help. After they joined her blouse on the floor, he worked his way up the inside of her legs, pausing to pay attention to every erogenous zone discovered over years of time together.



His fingers slid behind her knees, stroking the sensitive areas as he eased her legs apart, nibbling his way up her thigh. When he reached her panties, he hooked a finger under the side, sliding it over. He leaned close enough for her to feel his breath.



“Tim, please…stop teasing me. I need you,” she begged.



With a secret smile, he drew a deep breath, then blew softly across her lips. Donna shuddered, trying to move her hips toward him, but he stubbornly maintained his distance.



“No cheating,” he scolded softly.



He moved his mouth forward, running his tongue across her panties, tracing the cleft of her sex softly. Donna moaned, her hips writhing on the bed. Tim took both of her hands and pinned them by her sides, using his unfettered access to run his tongue up and down, steadily increasing the pressure. She twisted in his grasp, desperate to force contact where she knew she’d find relief. Instead, he moved his tongue to the side, sliding it along the junction of the material and her skin.



“I’m so close,” she pleaded.



“I know,” he teased, sucking gently at the sensitive skin mere inches from what she craved. Donna squealed in frustration, trying to will herself to orgasm.



“Are you ready?” he said, looking up at her from between her legs.



“Please Tim!” she practically shouted.



“Don’t move your arms,” he warned her playfully. He grabbed her panties roughly and pulled them to the side, closing his mouth over her clit.



“Yes!” she cried in relief.



Tim sucked the tender bud between his lips, flicking his tongue rapidly against it. He felt her hand in his hair, holding him in place and promptly pulled away.



“No!” she moaned in disapproval.



“What did I say?”



Donna made a pouting noise, then put her arms back down, lowering her hips to the bed, waiting impatiently for him to resume.



“That’s better,” he admonished, lowering his mouth again. His lips resumed their assault of her clit, this time alternately sucking it between, then letting it slide back out.



Donna laid on the bed, forcing herself not to move as the tremors began, moving outward from her core, each ripple larger than the next. Sweat poured from her face as she fought to remain still, desperate to keep from giving him an excuse to tease her further.



“Oh fuck!” she shrieked, as the orgasm finally struck, her entire body shaking from the release of the energy. It felt like an explosion inside as she forced her eyes shut, seeing stars from the exertion. She gave up trying to obey him, grabbing his head firmly and holding him in place as her body thrashed on the bed, the waves from the climax extending longer than she could ever remember.



“Stop…please!” she shrieked, pushing his face away. Tim stood up, calmly undressing, watching her body go through it’s final gyrations. Her skin was covered in a fine sheen of perspiration, causing her breasts to glisten in the sunlight spilling across the bed. He watched in open admiration as her breathing slowly returned to normal, the heaving of her chest fading into a regular rhythm.



“God you’re beautiful,” he declared in open admiration. He dropped his slacks and underwear, then slid between her legs, kissing his way back up her body.



“I love you, Tim,” she said, a tear running down her cheek. “I’m so happy to be home.”



He brushed her lips gently with his own as he slid himself inside her, finally feeling like his life was as it should be. Donna threw her head back, moaning her encouragement.



“Do you think you can top that?” she asked, her body quivering in anticipation of another orgasm.



“I’m sure as hell gonna give it my best shot,” he answered wryly.



“And I love that about you,” she replied with a giggle.



“Your choice, hard or soft?”



“Baby, it’s been too long,” she moaned, as he slid in and out teasingly. “Hard, please.”



Tim pulled away, standing at the foot of the bed and ignoring her protesting whine. He grabbed her by her ankles and pulled her to the edge of the bed. Sliding his arms under her knees, he forced them up until they rested against her chest. He used the advantageous angle to thrust inside her deeply with long, smooth strokes.



“Oh yes baby. That feels so good…I’m going to cum again,” she moaned.



He increased the tempo, ignoring the friction it was causing against his shaft. Again he listened to her breathing as it matched his strokes. Her fingers scratched against his arms, helpless to do anything else as he crashed against her body with every stroke.



“That’s it…I’m cumming!” she cried, throwing her head back, her eyes rolling upward.



Donna thrashed against him, a wail emanating from her mouth that was more a scream than a moan. Instead of stopping to let her catch her breath, he pulled her closer to the edge of the bed and gripped around her thighs with his hands. Tim leaned back, pulling her hips off the bed and fucked her with short, rapid thrusts, the slapping of their bodies echoing in the room above her now constant moaning.



“Say it,” he insisted, straining to hold back his climax long enough to push her to one more.



“Fuck me harder Tim!” she screamed. “Oh yeah, fuck me harder!”



He pulled her upward until she was even with his hips, allowing him to pull her to him as he thrusted; the cacophony of their bodies colliding becoming all he could focus on. Faster and faster he crashed into her until he couldn’t hold out any longer.



“I’m cumming!” he howled, releasing her legs and collapsing on top of her. Tim bit at her neck as his fingers wrapped in her hair, holding his last thrust as deeply inside her as he could reach.



Donna moaned loudly one final time, then came with him, her body too exhausted to respond beyond an uncontrollable trembling.



They lay together for several minutes, frozen in that position, each savoring every last ripple of their mutual climaxes. Finally Tim leaned his head back to look into her eyes.



“What do you think? An ‘A’ for effort?” he asked with a chuckle.



“I really missed you,” she cooed, wrapping her arms and legs around his body, trying to force him as close to her as possible.



They basked in the afterglow of the intense encounter as long as they could; neither wanting to disrupt the intimate moment. Finally Donna rolled away and turned to him.

“I have to tell you something Tim. You were completely honest back at the restaurant, and you deserve the same from me.” He gave her a curious stare, but refrained from interrupting.



“There’s something that I never told you about college. I wanted to, but the time never seemed right. I was afraid it would be hurtful, but after what you said to my mom, I started wondering if you knowing would have prevented all of this.” She paused, deciding the best way to say what was on her mind.



“When Jake started acting like a friend during the summer break, there was a reason the things he said were able to resonate with me.” She paused again and fidgeted nervously. “He told me that he had a lot of problems with women who just wanted to be around him because he was so well known or because they thought he’d be rich some day. That struck a chord with me.”



“Why?” he said suspiciously.



“Because I wasn’t sure how you felt about me,” she said quietly.



Tim sat still, completely stunned. “Wasn’t sure? How can you say that? We…I…” His voice trailed off, too astonished to think of how to respond.



“I knew you loved me,” she assured him, “but I wasn’t sure it was for who I really was. I wasn’t sure what our future was.”



“I don’t understand, Donna. What do you mean, if it was for who you were?”



“Tim, you were a wonderful person and I loved you, but try to think about what it was like back then. We were so young. I was your first real girlfriend. You cared for me, but how often did you stand up to me to voice the way you felt about things?”



“Probably not very often,” he admitted trying to remember past the fog of the fond memories.



“Almost never,” she replied. “At some point, you and I were both going to grow, but what was going to hold us together when we did? Were we going to grow apart? Was there enough there to make us last?”



“Donna, that’s crazy,” I said, unable to stay quiet any longer. “I told you every day how much I loved you.”



“You told me every day how beautiful I was and how much you enjoyed being with me, but where were the difficult talks? To move forward, we needed to challenge each other and not be afraid to speak our minds. At some point it became more physical than emotional and I started wondering,” she looked away, “if maybe I was wrong about the way you felt about me, and maybe you were in love with the fantasy of me.”



“What was going to happen when I couldn’t live up to the fantasy?”



“Donna, I just can’t imagine you being that insecure.”



Her eyes lit up and he could see her cheeks redden as her temper flared. “Of course not. I’m not supposed to feel afraid or insecure, I’m beautiful,” she said, her voice thick with sarcasm. “You think that because you see me that way, I didn’t have a worry in the world? Well, I’ve got news for you. I get scared, the same as you. I did back then and I still do today.”



She took a deep breath and her voice became softer. “You said you saw yourself as someone who didn’t deserve someone like me. Did you even for a second consider what I have to worry about?” Seeing his disbelieving stare, she continued.



“I don’t know how you can’t see it, Tim. In ten years, you’re going to be handsome and even more successful. In ten years, I’m going to be ten years older. How do you not understand how scary it is for me to think about the women who will look at you as a prize catch? Younger women who’ll do anything to turn your head? I’ll be older and probably have a couple of kids. How will I compete?”



“Donna, there is no competition. You are all I’ve ever wanted, from the moment I saw you.” He smiled at the memory. “You know, right before I walked into the wall.” They both laughed and the mood seemed to lighten a little. “So why did you want to tell me now, after so much time?”



“Because of the things you said about yourself to mom. When you asked me to stay, I realized that there was nothing I could do to fix your assumption of what happened back then. I thought I could make up for the past by being the best girlfriend, then wife that I could be. But I couldn’t. Nothing I said or did could make you believe that I’d be there forever for you. Because you saw yourself as the lucky one and never considered the fact that I am the one who feels blessed to be in this relationship.”



“After everything I did, everything that happened to me, I got to not only be with you again, but you were a different person; a stronger person. You were confident, unafraid, and willing to deal with me like your partner, your equal. That’s all I ever wanted.” She took his face in both hands and stared into his eyes, willing him to believe she was telling him the unvarnished truth.



“Trust me, there was never a point in my life where I thought he was a ‘better man’ than you. He used lies, tricks, and my own fears to come between us. That’s all there ever was, and you need to know it so you’ll stop believing that you have to worry about men like him.”



Tim kissed her gently, hoping to reassure her. “Why didn’t you tell me all this when you came back?”



She visibly tensed again. “How could I have done that? I show up after five years, then tell you the reason I cheated was because I was insecure about our relationship? What would you have thought?”



He paused to consider his feelings at that time. “That you were making excuses, trying to put the responsibility for what happened on me. I would have been furious,” he admitted.



Donna nodded, her face contorting into a pained expression. “There was no way to be honest with you that wouldn’t end up making everything worse, and maybe drive you even further away.”



“When you asked me to stay, I was thrilled, but still a little nervous about what might happen. That’s why I took things so slowly. I wanted to be sure before things went further again. Right until I found the ring.”



“Yeah,” he said with a chuckle, “I remember that day.”



“It was like a lightbulb went off for me,” she confided. “If I had been honest with you back then, you would have had the chance to give it to me in college, and maybe we could have worked through the problems. Not only would I have avoided all the bad things that happened to me after you left, but I could have spent that last year of college with you and watched you go from the guy who was afraid to stand up to me into the man who I was intimidated to talk to. That’s a journey that I will regret missing for the rest of my life.”



“It all became so clear, about what I lost and how important the time I have with you is, because we just don’t know when something could happen to end it. That’s why I was a little…enthusiastic.”



“Enthusiastic?” I laughed, “as I remember it, you basically attacked me.”



“Well,” she said with a sheepish grin, “I had good motivation.”



“Enough,” Tim said firmly, tilting her chin up with his hand. “There’s nothing you or I can do about the past. It’s time to let it go; for real this time…for both of us.” He pulled her close and rested his cheek against her head.



“I’ve got you home and I’m never going to let you go again.”



She looked intently into his eyes. “Is that a promise?”



Tim kissed her softly, then nuzzled her cheek. “I swear on my life. I’ll do everything in my power to make you happy. You are the most important thing to me and I will be the man you deserve. I promise.”



She snuggled against him contentedly, her head resting against his chest. “That goes double for me. I know exactly how close I came to losing you again. I’ll do whatever I have to in order to make sure nothing ever comes between us again.”



He couldn’t help but smile at her touch and her words, his mind already working on a way to start making up to her what his jealousy had cost them.



~~~~~



“Tim, this is crazy. You don’t need to take me out for our anniversary. It was a month ago. I love that you care so much, but this is not necessary. Besides,” she said, gesturing at her clothes,” I’m not dressed for a nice dinner. You could have at least let me go home and change.”



Tim regarded her with a wide grin. “You look beautiful. Just indulge my insanity. Think how much better I’ll feel if we can have a nice quiet dinner to remember for our first anniversary instead of that nightmare I caused.”



We caused,” she said, emphasizing the first word. Remember what the doctor said, everything needs to be we from now on.”



He leaned in and kissed her as the elevator doors closed. The man standing in front of them hit the button for his floor. He turned slightly toward the couple. “Where are you folks heading?”



“All the way up…ninety-six,” Tim said proudly. “My wife and I are celebrating our anniversary with a nice dinner and a beautiful view of the city. It’s our first time to visit the John Hancock building. I’ve heard it’s great.”



The man looked at his watch, then smiled, continuing to look forward as he spoke. “You’ll love it. At this time of the day, the sun setting is incredible. By the time you eat, it’ll be dark and it will be even better. Make sure to check out Lake Shore Drive and Navy Pier. They are amazing after nightfall.” The stranger punched their floor, then gave them their privacy.



Tim looked at Donna and beamed, kissing her lightly on the lips. “That sounds perfect.”



The doors opened at the ninety-fifth floor and the man stepped out. “You two have a wonderful night,” he said, looking at the couple with a mischievous grin.



“It’s nice to see two people so happy. Take care.” He waved as the doors closed and Tim felt the elevator lurch as they went up again.



It stopped a few seconds later. The doors opened and they stepped out. Tim turned to the right and asked Donna to wait for a moment as he stepped into the men’s room. Looking at himself in the mirror, he desperately tried to rein in his enthusiasm. He thought of the beautiful woman waiting outside.



“Worth every penny,” he whispered.



He stepped out into the hallway again and took her hand. Looking her over quickly, Tim brushed his hand through her hair. She gave him a questioning look, and he responded with a shrug.



“You look so beautiful, I just can’t believe it.”



Donna leaned in and kissed him, brushing her fingers across his chin. “You are a handsome man and I am the lucky one, not you.”



“Well, I can’t argue with you there,” he laughed. She elbowed him in the ribs as they walked into the bar at the end of the hallway.



“Surprise!” came the screaming voices, catching her completely off guard. Tim turned to see the shock on her face as the flashes from a half-dozen cameras went off simultaneously.



In front of them standing and clapping were Pete, Trisha, Cindy, her fiancée, Tim’s parents, Caroline, and dozens of friends and coworkers. Across the windows on the other side of the bar was a banner that read, Happy First Anniversary + One Month.



Her smile was infectious as everyone rushed to congratulate them. Tim turned just as Pete caught him in a bear hug that threatened to end his ability to breathe.



“Donna,” Trisha’s voice interrupted them. “I think you might need this.” She held out the dress Donna had worn on their anniversary.



Looking at the people around them, she laughed, saying, “Well, I told him I was underdressed.” She left with Trisha and Cindy, heading for the ladies room to get changed.



Tim talked to their friends and family while they waited. Everyone was thrilled to be able to share the special evening. Pete grabbed a drink for Tim as he tried to thank everyone for changing their plans at the last minute to help make this day special for Donna.



In the middle of the madness, he felt a tug at his arm. He turned to see Donna there, cheeks flushed, with everyone standing next to him in open admiration. It was amazing what the ladies had accomplished in the ten minutes she had been gone. Her hair was done up beautifully, her make-up was immaculate, and she looked stunning in her dress. Tim was powerless to do anything but stare at how gorgeous she looked and how lucky he was to have her in his life despite everything that had happened to them both.



“I love you more than I thought was possible, Tim Sullivan,” she said, wiping away a tear.



Beaming with pride Tim said, “Then you love me about half as much as I love you, Donna Sullivan.” They embraced, drawing oohs and ahs from everyone.



He felt her jump as a loud female voice announced, “Everyone, let’s hear it for the happy couple.” As the applause started up again, she turned towards the voice to see her favorite local band in the far corner of the room. They immediately launched into Stevie Wonder’s For Once In My Life and everyone began moving to the beat as they continued to wish them well.



Tim dragged her from the crowd to the dance area and enthusiastically spun her into his arms as several of their friends joined in. They danced a little more subdued than usual, content to hold each other and sway. They stayed on the floor for several songs, then walked back to a table next to the bar where they could talk.



“So do you like your party?” Tim asked with unconcealed pride.



Donna looked at him with such adoration, it made him blush. “It’s perfect. How did you do this?”



“Well sweetheart, sometimes you’re not quite as observant as you think you are. Is she John?” he asked, looking over her shoulder. She turned and saw the man from the elevator.



He nodded, “I guess I don’t make as much of an impression as I thought.”



Her eyes got wide. “Oh my gosh, John! I’m so sorry, I didn’t recognize you.” She got up and threw her arms around the man who had planned their wedding and made the day perfect; the only person Tim trusted with something as important as this night.



“That’s Ok Donna,” he said with a smile. “You were a little distracted. The hat and sunglasses probably didn’t help, but we wanted to make sure not to spoil your surprise. I was telling the truth, it’s great to see two people so happy.” Tim saw a very attractive woman walk up behind John and touch him gently on the shoulder.



He turned and took her hand, then turned back to them. “Tim, Donna, this is my wife Jenny. Jenny, these are two of the nicest people I’ve met since I’ve been in the business.”



She reached forward and took Donna’s hand, “It’s very nice to meet you. I’ve been hearing stories about how wonderful you two are together for an hour now. I can see that they weren’t exaggerating.” She stared purposefully at Tim. “It’s nice to meet you too. You’re a very good dancer. Do you think your wife would mind?”



“Not at all,” Donna said with a smile. “He wears me out. I’d be grateful for the break.”



John tried to suppress a laugh. “Good luck with this one.” When Tim gave him a confused look, John patted his shoulder. “You’ve definitely met your match here. Jenny used to be a professional dancer. If you can even remotely keep up with her, you’re a much better man than me.”



Tim laughed, then let her lead the way to the dance floor. She was thin, graceful and supremely confident. He had no doubt that John was telling the truth, just from watching her stride purposefully toward the stage. When the next song started, he was shocked to find someone who made Trisha look like a beginner. Jenny was actually significantly better than his dance instructors.



After several songs, Tim thanked her and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. They walked back to the table where Pete and Trisha had joined Donna and John. Trisha was looking at him enviously.



“That was impressive,” she said grudgingly.



He shrugged, “Don’t look at me, I was just trying not to step on her toes.” They all shared a laugh and Jenny thanked him.



“I’ll have to give you two discounts on any future parties if you agree to keep dancing with her like that,” John said. “I haven’t seen my wife that contented on the dance floor in a long time. I have a bad feeling we’ll be having the talk about me taking lessons again on the way home.” He grimaced, but looked at his wife with a level of affection that was unmistakable.



“I’m sorry folks, but I need to get going,” Jenny said suddenly. “We’ve got two kids at home and our sitter is probably pulling her hair out.”



“I told you to bring your whole family,” Tim scolded.



John shook his head. “We couldn’t. Dani would have loved it, but the youngest is still too little. Damn express elevators.”



Trisha nodded, “Speaking of that, I’ve been away from my daughter for far too long. I feel like I’m going to have a panic attack. I don’t want to leave your party, but we can’t stay much longer.”



Jenny said goodbye to them, then John escorted her to her car. Pete and Trisha retrieved their coats and came to say goodbye.



“Pete,” Tim said curiously. “There’s something I have been meaning to ask about the night we…talked to Jake.” He glanced nervously at Trisha, not wanting to get his friend into trouble.



“It’s okay Tim,” she said sternly. “My husband doesn’t keep secrets from me. He is still paying for that little stunt, but I forgive him. I know he’s been wanting to kick that son-of-a bitch’s ass for years.” She leaned forward conspiratorially. “To be honest, I’m only pretending to be mad. When he gets home tonight, he’s going to get lucky.”



“I heard that, woman,” Pete laughed loudly. “You better believe I’m going to hold you to it.” They all laughed briefly, then Tim’s expression turned serious again.



“Well, right before you nailed him in the ribs, you told him that he deserved it for messing with your little brother. Not that I mind the sentiment, but it was kind of odd. Plus you had an intense look on your face that I’ve never seen before.”



Pete sighed, looking long and hard at Trisha. She gave him an almost imperceptible nod, and he turned back to Tim.



“I guess it’s time you knew the truth,” he said, his tone suddenly becoming melancholy. He spoke, holding Trisha’s hand like it was a lifeline.



“When I was in younger, my little brother looked up to me like I was his hero. He was five years younger than me and a great kid. His grades were even better than mine. Mom kept both of us in line and never let us get involved with the crazy stuff that happened in our neighborhood.”



“During my first few years in college, everything was great. Everyone told me I’d be making a mint in the pro football and Daryl was in high school, winning science fairs. He was never like me physically; he was a lot more like you.” Tim noticed the past tense Pete was using, and began to get an uncomfortable feeling.



“My Senior year, everything changed. He was getting picked on by people who were jealous of how well he was doing in school. Some of them were even jealous of me, so they went out of their way to hassle him. Mom kept telling me she was worried, but I was so wrapped up in the attention I was getting that I didn’t take her seriously.”



Tim was startled to see a tear trickle down his cheek. He had never seen his friend so emotional. He felt Donna’s hand squeeze his arm, and knew she was equally distressed.



“The morning of a nationally televised game against USC, I got a call from Mom. She was crying hysterically. When she finally calmed down enough for me to understand her, she told me that Daryl had been killed in a fight with a gang member who had been picking on him at school.”



“He was my little brother and I wasn’t there for him when he needed me. I swore I was going to play the game and dedicate it to him. It worked too. I had an amazing first half. The announcers said I was making a case for moving up to being a top ten pick. Unfortunately, I was so determined to take out my anger on the quarterback, I never saw the tight-end coming to chop block me. That’s how I lost my knee. I tried to come back, but I was never the same on the field.”



Pete looked at him sadly, “The truth is, part of me died that day. I don’t know if I had it in me to keep playing. I finished my education and got the job he would have loved, if he had been able to grow up. I’ve been there ever since.”

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