The Long Road Home

long road home

Part One

I’m sure you’ve asked yourself the question, “What if?” at one point in your life or another. Until I was twenty-seven years old, I never asked myself a ‘what if’ question. The first time that phrase crossed my mind I was standing in my kitchen watching my husband leave for work. I watched him walk down the path that led from our front door to the driveway where his dark green Volkswagen Passat sat waiting for him. He had breezed through the kitchen, barely kissed my cheek and out the door he went. That was when I thought to myself, what if I had never married Derrick… I wonder how my life would be now.

My name is Emily, and I want to tell you about my life as it was, and what it has changed into. My life seemed pretty ordinary through all my years in school. I graduated high school in the top twenty in my class and went off to college to study education, with the hope of becoming an elementary school teacher.

My mother planted these grand visions of getting married and having two children, a boy and a girl of course, in my mind; my son would play sports and my daughter would be a ballerina. I would do the carpool to soccer on Saturday mornings, and then morph into a trophy wife for a night on the town with my perfect husband. She told me to always have the best of everything, and never settle for less than perfect.

My father was the quiet intellectual, saving any sign of emotion for the board room or the golf course. They were perfect to the outside world, always happy together and talked to each other with the utmost respect. I wouldn’t know until years later what their marriage was really like behind closed doors.

When I left for college, I was lucky enough to have my best friend Darla choose the same school as I did. However, while I was studying to receive my teaching degree, she plotted a very different class schedule. Darla always had strength about her that I envied; her self confidence in any situation astounded me just as much then as it does now. So when she chose to become a lawyer, I wasn’t exactly surprised. Halfway through our college life, things change for me when I met Derrick again.

We had first met in high school, and became friends. Upon graduation, we all said goodbye and went our separate ways; I stayed on the east coast and went to school in Virginia, while he ventured to the west coast, landing in Washington State. Two months into my junior year of college, I went home for a long weekend to visit with my parents. I had run out to the grocery store for them one night and ran into Derrick squeezing oranges in the produce section. We stood and talked over Florida’s finest for about fifteen minutes, catching up on the last few years. He asked me out for dinner the following evening, and of course, I agreed. From that point on, we continued to keep in touch, and became friends once again.

While home for the summer before our senior year in college we began dating. Derrick was everything I wanted in a man; he was handsome and smart with seemingly the same life goals that I had. Needless to say, both of our families were overjoyed with our pairing. That year he transferred to a school outside of the Washington D.C. area to be closer to me, and six months after our respective college graduations we were married. Derrick’s parents bought us a two bedroom ranch two blocks from their own home on the Jersey Shore as a wedding gift and we easily settled into our new life.

The first three years of our marriage went by so quickly. Before I knew it we were moving out of the ranch and into a larger house a few streets from the ocean. After settling in, we got ourselves into a routine of going to work, coming home, having dinner and going to bed. Derrick was a bit of a workaholic, and I had tons of papers to grade and lesson plans to work on. Both of our careers seemed to consume us and we had time for little else.

Derrick and I had discussed having a family when we first got married, but agreed that we needed to be more firmly established before we brought a child into our lives. As the next year or two went by, I got the strong impression that having that child wasn’t on his “to do list” anymore. He became more and more engrossed in his work, vying so hard to get that executive washroom key before he turned thirty.  Five years into our marriage, I came to him with the news of being pregnant and his reaction wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for. At first he actually accused me of getting pregnant on purpose, just to throw him off his ‘career track.’ For hours we sat and talked about the pros and cons of starting a family, and when all was said and done, the con list was much longer than the pro.

After discussing our options, he thought the best plan of attack was to terminate the pregnancy and if down the line we felt that we were more prepared for children, we could try again. I was very disappointed that he didn’t want to have the child, but I didn’t go against what he wanted. It was about two months after I terminated the pregnancy that I stood at the window and had my ‘what if’ epiphany. I also think that is when I began to fall out of love with him.

Two more years went by, and nothing seemed to change. We were still following our routine, which now included one night every two weeks put aside for sex; every other night he was far too tired to even think about it, and immediately feel asleep. For a while I thought maybe he was having an affair and when I confronted him with it, he laughed.

“Are you serious?” He said, “I could never afford to have an affair. Not only don’t I have the time for one, but you’d bleed me dry in the divorce!” He scoffed and went back to reading his newspaper. I knew deep down I knew he wasn’t the type of man to carry on an affair. But when he said it the way he did, it still unnerved me.

Derrick and I had never been a couple that showed a great deal of outward affection, especially in the company of others. When we were dating, we would hold hands or maybe a kiss in public and as our relationship grew, there was passion between us. But after we were married, it just kind of fizzled out. A year went by, then two, then three and I never questioned why he didn’t kiss me, or touch me for no reason. It never crossed my mind, and I guess that is because I never did it to him either. We just weren’t that kind of couple. But after the ‘baby incident’ as I had come to think of it, I started to wonder why we never acted liked that. I had begun to feel stuck, and I felt all those childhood dreams of a perfect family slip away. I was dreading going home at the end of the day and volunteered for every after school project there was.

In the spring of my seventh year of marriage to Derrick, the private school I had been teaching for closed its doors due to lack of funds. I began submitting my resume to public schools, but none were hiring. I tried to fill the time with various tasks around our house, but quickly came to realize that Bob Villa had nothing to fear from me. It got so bad that Derrick began to hide the tool box from me. I could see him growing more and more tired of my “projects” and tried encouraging other activities, preferably outside of our home. So, I began to volunteer at the local animal shelter, and three days a week at the library reading to some of the younger children. Seeing the wonder on their faces as I read to them made me think about the baby I had gotten rid of; the one Derrick said we weren’t ready for. But now, I thought; now it’s different. We were two years older and I wasn’t working, the timing couldn’t be more perfect. I had tried to broche the subject one night at dinner and didn’t exactly get the response I was hoping for.

“Come on Emily, I thought we talked about this.” He said, obviously annoyed.

“Yes, but that was two years ago. A lot has changed since then; the timing couldn’t be more perfect.”

“See, that’s where you’re wrong. Do you have any idea how crazy things are right now?”

“Crazy for you maybe.”

“I know that you’re bored Emily, but I don’t think a baby right now would be financially feasible. I mean, with you not working, it means I have to work twice as hard to bring home more money. Give it at least one more year and then I promise we’ll rethink the topic then. Hey, I know, why don’t you adopt one of the dogs from the shelter? You’re always saying how they need homes. ”

So, that is just what I did. A week later I brought home a mixed breed puppy, named him Jake and poured all my efforts into his training. But as the days turned into weeks, I found myself falling into a quietly depressed state. I tried to act as though life was just going on as usual, but something inside me felt like it was choking. I tried to not think about the feelings that were stirring, but Darla wouldn’t let me avoid them. On many occasions she suggested that maybe I go and talk to a psychologist, and get out my feelings about Derrick and the state of my life. I thought she was being ridiculous and certainly overreacting. Nevertheless, she persisted and persisted till finally I realized that she was right; my life, the one I envisioned for myself, was gone and an imposter’s in its place. Derrick was never going to sign on to having children; his work would always come before us and nothing would change it.

One afternoon while Darla and I were having lunch at her place, she helped me see that I had two options.

“The way I see it,” she said as she placed down her wine glass, “you can either keep going in this pathetic state to which you’ve become accustomed, or…” she paused for effect, “you can start to dig yourself out.”

“And what do you suggest I do Darla? Get pregnant without his knowledge. That’s just not right.”

“No, you’re missing the bigger picture here Em… this is more than just having children, this about how the two of you live. It’s about how he treats you, if he respects you… which, by the way, he doesn’t.”

“Oh come on, Derrick respects me.”

“Oh yeah, he respects you so much that he never takes into consideration what you want, or what you need?”

“So, what, you think I should leave him?” I looked down at my food, not really wanting to hear what she was going to say.

“I don’t know, only you can make that decision. All I’m saying is you should really consider if Derrick is the guy to give you the kind of life you really want. He’s obviously not going to change; and the sooner you realize it, the happier you’ll be.”

When I left Darla’s that day, I began to think about what she had said. Was he the right man? Was this life one that I was going to settle for? I had no answers for the millions of questions that had been circulating, but I knew that it was time to find them.

Part Two

After a morning at the library I was supposed to meet Darla for lunch at her place. Ten minutes before our lunch, she called to cancel because she was down sick with a bad sinus infection. I offered to bring over some items of comfort and she gladly accepted. When I arrived a half hour later, I found her curled up on her couch with blankets covering every inch of her body and shivering. It was so rare that Darla ever got sick, but when she did, she milked it for all it was worth. What had been a severe sinus infection ten minutes earlier, had suddenly developed into the flu; according to Darla anyway. I gave her the medicine I picked up and some of the other remedies I thought would help and took a seat on the couch across from her.

“Ok, I’m here for the afternoon to take care of you, your highness. So what can I do for you?” I asked sarcastically.

“Well, could you turn on the TV and put on channel 6, I’d like to watch my show.”

“Ok.” I turned on the TV and flipped to the requested channel. When I did I had to check to make sure I put on the right one, because on the screen was a soap opera. I saw it was the right channel and looked at her and starting laughing.

“A soap?”

“Yeah, you’ve heard of daytime television. A soap opera.”

Now, I had known Darla since we were twelve years old, and I never knew that my best friend watched a soap opera.

“Since when do you watch soaps? I though you hated shows like this. I couldn’t talk you into watching one episode of Oprah, but you can sit through soaps?”

“Oprah is obnoxious.” Darla whined and slipped deeper into her pile of blankets.

“And a soap isn’t?”

“It can be, but most of the time, it’s pretty good.”

“And how long have you been watching this?”

“I don’t know… a long time I guess. What’s the big friggin deal? It’s just a show. If you don’t want to watch it, change it.”

“No, I’m just surprised… that’s all. You don’t strike me as the type to watch a show like this. You are so not into sappy crappy movies.”

“I know… I’m really not. But this is different. It’s not all sappy crappy Em. Some of the stories are really good. Just sit and watch with me, I give you a week before you’re hooked. Besides, it lets me forget my life for an hour everyday and slip into a world of secrets and intrigue. Think of it like a great book that never ends.”

Ok, so here is when things started to change for me, a little bit anyway. It wasn’t too long after that, that I did found myself watching the show everyday. As the weeks went by, I really began enjoying that hour everyday, and I saw what Darla meant by escaping for a little while. It was just nice to have a change in routine, even a small one like that. Things between Derrick and I were deteriorating more and more as the weeks passed until there was virtually nothing left to say. We would sit together every night over a silent table, then he would go to his study to continue working, and I would go in living room and read. But, for that one hour every day now I had something to look forward to.

One afternoon after coming home from the library, I went up into the bedroom to fold the laundry I had waiting for me. I noticed the time and switched on the TV to channel 6 and awaited my show to start. That is when I saw the most beautiful man that DNA ever created. I put down the towels I had in my hands and walked closer to the TV. I sat on the end of the bed and just stared at this new face. I had never seen him before and wanted to call Darla to see who this character was. Before I could reach for the phone, an announcer said, ‘The role of Steve Chambers is now being played by Danny Brewer.’ Well, that explains it, I thought. In the short time I had been watching, I’d come to know the character of Steve Chambers as an arrogant, self-centered teenager. Actually, he was one of my least favorite people on the show, so when his character took a leave of absence to explore the world, I wasn’t too upset.  Now the show decided to bring the character back, older; but as the show progressed, I knew, unfortunately, that the character’s attitude wouldn’t change, but this man who was playing the part certainly made it much easier to watch. Danny Brewer was tall, exquisite looking man with perfect features. He had a smile that would stop you in your tracks, and beautiful green eyes that shone with an impish quality. His hair was a bit shaggy and unkempt, but it worked for him. Even though he didn’t speak many lines that day, the sound of his voice caused my arms to break out into goose bumps. I felt absolutely ridiculous, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.

As I lay in bed later that night with Derrick reading beside me, I thought about the guy who was now playing Steve Chambers. I remember thinking that how gorgeous he was, and what it would be like for him to… I stopped myself, immediately feeling ridiculous and guilty for having the thought. I pushed him from my mind and kissed Derrick good night. As I slept, my subconscious started a little game that would go on for months. I began to have dreams about this actor that aren’t suitable for print (unless this story was being sold in an X-rated book store). I felt embarrassed when I woke up in the morning, sure that Derrick would know what I had been dreaming about, but he never did. I made the mistake of telling Darla about the dreams, and she teased me endlessly, saying that I should leave Derrick for him. If I hadn’t felt ridiculous before, I certainly did then.

Several weeks into my infatuation with Danny Brewer, Darla came to me with the biggest tease of all. We were again having lunch at her place when she pulled a magazine from her purse and handed it to me. As I looked at the cover I saw a picture of Danny Brewer and several of the other actors on the show. There was a large banner across the top that read, “Don’t miss, Soap Star Weekend!” I shrugged and threw it back to her.

“Yeah, so what?” I asked, taking a bit of my sandwich.

“So what? This is your chance to meet your man, that’s what.”

“Yeah, ok Darla. You know, I wish I never told you about those dreams I was having; which, by the way, I am not having anymore.”

“Sure Em, whatever you say. Anyway, I’m serious about this. I read the article and it says that Danny Brewer, among many others, will be at this soap weekend thing. You can meet them, get their autographs and they have different events going on.”

“What kind of events? Dunk the shirtless soap star in a vat of whipped cream?”

“Don’t I wish!” Darla laughed and threw her hands in the air. “I don’t know exactly what kind of events, but… I was thinking that it might make for a nice little vacation for us.”

“Ok, I’ll bite. Where is this weekend taking place?”

“It’s in Florida in November. I was thinking we could make a real trip of it and go see Joy while we were down there.”

“Joy? As in our college roommate Joy?” I sat up straighter realizing that Darla was totally serious about going on this trip.

“Do you know another Joy?”

“No, I just haven’t heard from her in a long while and was surprised to hear her name.”

“I get emails from her every so often and I was looking through some of our college pictures last night. It got me thinking and I thought it would be great to see her. Then this morning when I was at the store I saw the magazine and took it as a sign that we have to go.”

“Going to see Joy sounds like a great idea, but I don’t know about this soap star thing. It’s a little silly don’t you think? I mean, what are we going to do, walk around a theme park all day stalking our favorite soap stars?”

“No, it’s not silly. Come on, wouldn’t you love to meet him? Your dream man… literally.” Darla couldn’t hide the sly grin that came across her face, and I laughed at her.

I can’t lie and say the idea of meeting Danny Brewer didn’t intrigue me, because it did. Even if it would be for only a few minutes, just to get to be that close to him…

“Let me think about it ok? I have to see if I can get some time off from the library and shelter, and let me run it past Derrick.”

“Excuse me? Run it past Derrick? Why would he have any say in this?”

“Darla, he’s my husband and no matter how I feel about him at this moment, I have to make sure he is ok with me leaving for a week to go to another state; besides, if I don’t tell him, who would take care of Jake?” Darla’s good humor faded quickly and an obvious annoyance took over her face. I knew how she felt about Derrick; Darla certainly didn’t try to hide the fact that she greatly disliked my husband. “It does sound like a nice idea though, getting away for a few days with two of my oldest friends. But, if we go, I’m still not sold on the soap weekend thing, ok?”

“Ok,” Darla smiled again, “I won’t try to push you into going to the weekend, but I do think that a vacation is just what you need.”

I knew that Derrick wouldn’t be happy about me going away without him, and I certainly couldn’t explain to him why I needed too. I just hoped that he would be understanding and not question my motives; that he wouldn’t give me a hard time about how things were ‘tight’ at the moment, and it wasn’t really a prudent time to go away. The more I thought about the change of scenery, the more I realized that I needed it. Maybe some time away from Derrick would give me a new perspective about my life and help me realize the changed that I needed to make.

That night Darla got in touch with Joy and she was more than thrilled about the idea of having us come to visit. Joy told her that the timing couldn’t be more perfect because her husband Charles would be in Chicago for a medical conference and she hated being at the house alone. From that, the plans were arranged. After getting the call from Darla about our trip, I felt energized. This was just what I needed; what we both needed. Darla said that she would take care of the flight arrangements, and all I had to do was to tell Derrick.

When I told him of our plans, Derrick was as resistant as I originally thought he would be. He expressed his concern about the financial aspect of the trip, and when I explained to him that Darla was buying the airfare and we would be staying with Joy, his concerned seemed to lessen. Actually, he seemed happy for us; even to go as far as saying that he thought it would be good for Darla and me to get away for a few days. I was more than a little surprised, but figured maybe he also realized that the time we’d be apart would be a great benefit to us both.

Two weeks later, Darla and I were boarding our plane to Tampa, Florida to meet our friend Joy. Little did I know then, that this trip would change my life; forever.

Part 3

Our flight took little less then two hours, and was relatively smooth. Considering that it was hurricane season, I was expecting much more turbulence that we had; I’m not the greatest flyer to begin with, so I have to admit to being quite relieved. We saw Joy immediately upon entering the terminal and she greeted us each with a big hug. Even after all the years since our graduation, Joy had barely changed at all. She was still a statuesque blonde beauty, with a Southern-Bell accent, radiant personality and Miss America smile.

After the three of us graduated from our little Virginia College, I married Derrick and moved back to our home town. Darla originally tried living in New York City, and when that didn’t work out, she ended up back in home as well. I was happy to have her only five minutes away again. Joy however, moved on to bigger and better things; namely, Dr. Charles Maher, renowned cardiac surgeon and twenty years her senior. For all the years that I had known Joy, she longed for nothing but a wealthy husband who could provide for her the lifestyle she desired. Upon leaving college, she went back home to South Carolina, and met Dr. Charles Maher through her father. He was recently divorced and new in town. Joy and Charles took an immediately liking to each other, and were married eight months later. The union didn’t sit too well with Joy’s father, who wanted more for his little girl then to just be a doctor’s wife, but it absolutely delighted her mother.

On the ride to her home, she chatted on about all the things she was planning for us that week; shopping, spas, more shopping, lying by the pool and spending the day at the private beach house on the Gulf Coast. Darla prodded her with question after question, and Joy was more than eager to answer. I sat in the back seat half listening to their conversation, adding in the appropriate response when needed. I watched the palm trees roll by, and took in a deep breath of the warm Florida air; I was feeling so content at that moment. Before I knew it, we were pulling up to the front of Joy and Dr. Charlie’s home. Well, home isn’t really the world for it, compound was more like it.

When we pulled up the drive, I saw the front door start to open and a man in his early to mid-sixties stepped out onto the stoop. He was dressed casually, in khaki pants and blue button down shirt. At first I thought maybe it was Charlie, who decided against going to his conference, but Joy quickly told us that it was Murphy, their butler.

“Butler?” I asked, not being able to hide the surprise in my voice. Joy smiled and nodded her head.

“Murphy has been working for Charlie for many years. I didn’t think we needed him at first, but I couldn’t imagine life without him. He’s really become a part of the family. Besides, he’s the nicest guy.”

Joy was right, Murphy proved to be indispensable that week. He was right there to open our doors and take in our luggage. He immediately informed Joy of all the happenings that went on during the short time that she was gone, and quickly disappeared upstairs with our bags. We followed Murphy through the lavish hallways and into a suite that was larger than Darla’s entire condo. Murphy placed our bags down in the center of the room and smiled a large, welcoming smile. He pointed out the two bedroom doors on either side of the room and showed us the bathroom. We quickly freshened up and went to down celebrate our arrival.

Our first two days there were wonderful. We did nothing but sleep late, lounge by the pool, drink Murphy’s marvelous frozen concoctions, and relive our college days. Joy was the ultimate hostess; Darla and I had so much fun, I had barely even thought about Derrick once. One night, we sat down in front of the big screen projection television located in what she called the Great Room. We watched old sappy movies and ate tons of ice cream and cookies. We passed around the tissues and cried together as Deborah Karr and Cary Grant fell in love on their cruise ship. After the movie, the inevitable conversation of romance came up, and I told myself to steer clear of this conversation. I got up and went into the kitchen to retrieve more cookies from the box, when I overheard my name mentioned. Upon re-entering the room, Joy and Darla were looking at me expectantly.

“What?” I asked and sank back into the leather sofa after passing out more cookies.

“I want to know how things are between you and Derrick.” Joy asked. “I was just saying to Darla that even after almost four years together, Charlie is still the biggest romantic. I was asking Darla if Derrick was the same way.” I shot Darla a reproachful glance and then turned my attention back to Joy.

“Well…” I began but was interrupted by Darla.

“Actually, I think that our Emily is lacking in the romance department.” Darla said matter-of-factly.

“That’s not true,” I objected, “not entirely anyway.”

“Why Em, don’t you and Derrick do romance anymore?” Joy asked. She had a tone of genuine concern to her voice. “I mean, isn’t romance a big part of being married?”

“I certainly wouldn’t know.” Darla laughed and took another bite of her cookie.

“He is… sometimes. Derrick is just more career orientated. When he gets home at night the last thing I expect him to be thinking about is complimenting me or making grand romantic gestures.” I felt immediately guilty because I knew that I wasn’t being honest with her. I had wanted to take this trip partly so I could re-evaluate my feelings for Derrick, yet here I was trying to make excuses for our dying marriage.

“I’m not talking about compliments or grand gestures, Emily… I’m talking about candle lit dinners, and sending flowers to you at the office for no reason.” Joy paused and sighed, obviously thinking about some romantic gesture that Charlie had performed. “I’m talking about a walk down the beach while the moon is high, holding hands and stealing kisses.”

“Oh Joy, please. Like that happens anywhere but the soaps.” Darla said. And there it was. The soap opera conversation that I knew was bound to arise under this topic. Darla had an idea that romance and true desirable, passionate love only happened in the worlds of “Steve Chambers” and his romantic counterpart “Lacey Smythe.” Darla had always had a sardonic tone when it came to being in love; I suspect because the spell had never been cast over her. Darla was a lot of things, sweet, loving and the best friend I could have ever asked for. But when it came to being in love, she was just as clueless as I was.

“Love and passion are very real Darla,” Joy continued, “and should especially be there between a husband and wife.” Joy turned her attention back to me. “I supposed that Derrick doesn’t do things like that… at all?”

“No.” I said quietly. Suddenly, I felt very tired. The conversation was bringing all the feelings to the surface that I had successfully been able to suppress for the past few years. Sure I missed romance, and feeling loved. I missed being kissed for no reason, and holding hands with my husband as we walked through a store. I didn’t need the moonlight walk on the beach to feel romantic, or flowers sent to me at work. I would have settled for the occasional compliment or tender touch; but both instances were very rare. I had begun to realize that somewhere down the line I gave up hoping for those things with Derrick and just accepted that he wasn’t that kind of man. But he was good to me in other ways, and that is why I loved him. He never spoke mean or hurtful things to me, as my father sometimes did to my mother. He always provided security and a sort of comfort when I needed him too. Before I could stop it, I felt a single tear roll down my face.

“Oh, hey, I’m sorry Em; I didn’t mean to upset you.” Joy said getting up from her seat to come and sit next to me. She took my hand and smiled sweetly.

“No, you didn’t. It’s just that… well; my relationship with Derrick has never really been that way. I know that Derrick loves me, and I know that he is always going to be there to rely on. He’s faithful and can be caring.”

“Sounds more like a dog then a husband.” Darla joked, and I shot her another reproachful glance. But, she was right; actually I think I got more affection from our dog Jake, than I did from Derrick.

“Darla, I know you don’t particularly care for Derrick, and I know that he is a bit of a stiff, but I do love him.” Or did I? I thought. “And I know that our relationship is so far from perfect, and that something needs to change, but I have to do it in my own time.”

“I know Em. I’m sorry.” Darla said as genuinely as she could.

I smiled at Darla and rose from the couch.

“Look girls, this conversation wore me out so I’m going to head up to bed now. I’ll see you guys in the morning.”

We said our goodnights, and I headed off to bed. That night before I feel asleep, I thought of Derrick, and the things that Joy said. I tried to recall one instance Derrick showed me an outburst of affection in the last six months, and came up empty. I felt tears struggling to reach the surface, and pushed them back fiercely. I refused to cry on my trip, no matter what. As I drifted off to sleep, my subconscious’ evil game of dreaming resumed, and of course, there was Danny Brewer.

The next morning, there was a note from Joy on the kitchen counter stating that she had some errands to run, and would probably take most of the day. She left us the keys to one of the cars in the garage, and jotted down a few places we might be interested in seeing. When Darla awoke and joined me in the kitchen, I informed her of the day’s situation.

“So where do you want to go?” I asked.

“Well… today is the first day of soap star weekend in Orlando. What do ya say? It’s only an hour’s drive from here. We go in, meet a few hunks and come back. I think it would be fun.” Darla’s eyes shone with excitement, and I didn’t have the heart to say no.

“Okay, but we only stay for an hour, and then drive back. Joy was nice enough to lend us her car and I really don’t think we should be driving all over Florida with it.” Darla rolled her eyes, and took off upstairs to get dressed.

An hour later we were on our way to Orlando. The drive took less then the expected hour, and we found easy parking. Upon entering the park, I was amazed at what I saw. People lined the main street, shopping, talking and chasing after their children. I had never been to this park before and was shocked at the amount of people that invaded its gates. Darla grabbed my hand and we were off to find the signs directing us to the meet and greet portion of the soap star weekend. When we reached the courtyard set up to accommodate the festivities, again I was amazed at the amount of people who were lined up to see the stars up close and personal. Some of the fans were wearing T-shirts with their favorite stars’ picture on the front. Almost all of them were carrying cameras and autograph books, all the while salivating at the prospect of meeting the stars.

I could see that most of the seats were filled, only one or two still stood empty. I quickly scanned the actors and actresses that were already signing autographs, looking for Danny Brewer; but he wasn’t there. Darla went from line to line, meeting her favorites, and even some she didn’t care for. I watched her as she talked to the men and women and the smile never left her face. I was happy that she was having such a good time, but then I realized how kind of pathetic the two of us were. We were getting our fill of fun and excitement from meeting soap stars in a theme park. I began to feel sorry for her that she didn’t have much else in her life, but this. But then I realized, neither did I. After the previous night’s conversation, I had become conscious of the fact, that I had a boring husband and a dreary marriage. The only excitement I had in my life was waiting to see who was going to sleep with who on tomorrow’s episode of a soap. It was then that the depression really began to sink it.

Darla grabbed my hand again, this time leading me back to the main street for the All-Stars Parade. This part of the program was where the other set of stars (those not currently signing autographs) rode in classic cars with the park’s loveable characters, and waved to their adoring public. We got a decent spot along the parade route, and my hope of seeing Danny Brewer renewed. Again, I was disappointed.

The car ride back to Joy’s home was quiet. Darla could tell that my mood wasn’t really up to conversation, so she held out for as long as she could; which, I might add, wasn’t too long. She eventually began to go on and on about the actors and actresses that she met, and the gossip that she heard while standing in line. When she finally did notice that my responses were almost non-existent, she stopped talking.

“I’m sorry Darla. I’m just not in the greatest mood today.”

“Why, because you didn’t get to meet your dream man?” Darla let out a laugh, and I smiled at her sarcastically.

“No wise ass. And yes, I was looking forward to meeting him, but it’s really no biggie. If anything, that conversation we had last night is still bothering me.”

“What conversation, the one about you and Derrick?”

“Well, yeah. I realized last night that I am married to a man who barely knows I’m alive. You know, he didn’t even care that I was going away.”

“But… I… I thought that was a good thing.”

“Yeah it was. But at the same time, it would’ve been nice to hear, ‘please don’t go, I’ll miss you;’ or something along those lines. The only concern he had, was if we could afford the airfare. But when I told him you were buying the tickets, he was fine. Probably couldn’t wait for me to leave.” At that remark Darla laughed even louder, and even though my heart felt heavy, I had to join her.

“Maybe when you get home, he’ll realize how much he missed you, and he’ll make you promise to never leave him again for more than a minute.”

“I think being around all those soap people today distorted your mind, because you now sound like one of them.”

After that our banter felt a little easier, and I felt my gloominess lift a little. I had a few more days to spend in this little slice of heaven and planned on enjoying every minute. At that point, I refused to let Derrick rule my thoughts, or emotions; at least until I got home.

The rest of the time we spent with Joy, was absolutely fabulous. We took day trips to fabulous beaches and places to shop. We continued to enjoy the drinks Murphy supplied us with and spent a great deal of time by the pool. Joy told us more about how she met Charlie and about their wonderful life together. She told us how when he returned home from his conference in Chicago, she wanted to begin trying for children. Joy explained that Charlie already had two children by his first wife, but loved kids so much, she just knew he’d want more. As I watched her talk about her life with Charlie, I couldn’t help but be a little envious. They were perfect, and I wanted what they had. Not the material things, although I wouldn’t necessarily turn that down either; but the emotional connection that they shared.

Late Monday afternoon, Darla got a call from her mother, Nancy. Darla’s father had been rushed to the hospital early Monday morning complaining of chest pains, and Nancy thought she should come back immediately. Darla rushed upstairs to pack, and Joy made arrangements for her to catch a flight out that evening. Unfortunately there was only one seat available, so I couldn’t go with her. My ticket was still for the following day, and I thought I wouldn’t mind spending one more day with Joy. We both escorted Darla to the airport and I watched as she exchanged an emotional goodbye with Joy. I kissed her cheek and said that I would call her the next evening when I got in.

When Joy and I arrived back at her house, Murphy was on the front porch waiting for us, just as before. He opened our car doors, and as we exited, I noticed how the wind was starting to pick up a little and the sky was growing darker.

“You ladies made it back in enough time I’m glad to see.”

“In time for what Murphy?” Joy asked when she saw the concern on his face.

“To beat the storm Mrs. Joy.” Murphy said in his thick southern drawl.

“What storm, I didn’t hear of any storm on the weather today.”

“Oh, yeah you know they’d been trackin’ that hurricane for the last few days that’s been tearing up parts of those Caribbean islands. But now they say that it switched courses, and it’s bound to hit us now.” Joy looked at me, and I was suddenly very nervous.

“Good thing Darla’s flight was tonight.” I said, trying not to show the growing concern about my own flight out the next day.

“Yep, storm should hit the Gulf coast by early Wednesday morning. So they say anyways.” Murphy said as we made our way into the house.

By the next morning, it was evident that there was some type of nasty weather looming on the horizon. The sky was gray and the wind was beginning to whip around pretty fiercely. I began to grow more and more nervous about boarding a plane in that type of weather, but how else was I going to get home? Joy and I ate our breakfast without saying much, just an occasional remark about the wind.

“Are you sure you want to leave today? Why not just stay until this storm passes.” Joy asked.

“Well, to be honest, I thought about that. But I really need to get home. I’ve really gained some perspective on this trip about my life.” I paused, unsure of how much of my realizations I wanted to divulge to Joy before I could figure out everything myself. “Derrick and I have some things that we need to talk about. And the sooner I do it, the better. Otherwise I will lose my nerve.”

“I’m proud of you for taking a stand Emily. It’s important that he knows how you feel. But I’d rather you wait here through the storm. I called Charlie this morning and told him to stay in Chicago a few extra days. The airports are going to be shutting down, I’m sure; it’s only a matter of time.”

“Maybe I should go to the airport this morning and see if I can’t catch an earlier flight.”

“Well, if you are determined to go home today, that might not be a bad idea.” So, we finished breakfast, and I went upstairs to pack.

Part 4

Joy had Murphy drive us to the airport entrance, and wait in the loading zone as Joy walked me in. The airport was certainly full of life that Tuesday morning, with people trying to find a way home. Joy walked me to the waiting area and took a seat.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m waiting with you until you find a flight out.”

“Joy, I appreciate that, but it’s silly. You should get home before the weather gets too bad. I don’t want you or Murphy driving in it.”

“Well, I don’t want you flying in it.” Joy gave me a motherly look, and I couldn’t help but smile at her. I took the seat next to her and wrapped my arms around her shoulders.

“I love you for that Joy, but really, I’ll be fine.” Joy’s face softened, and she reached for my hand. I took the chair beside her and waited for her to collect her thoughts. Joy and I had spent so much time together in college that even after all the years of being apart I could still read her face at any given time.

“Emily, I just want to apologize for the other night.”

“Apologize for what?”

“Getting on you about Derrick… I know that the conversation bothered you; a lot more then you’re letting on.”

“Oh,” I said, not sure exactly how to respond to that. “You have nothing to apologize for Joy. The other night just made me realize that the issues I have with Derrick need to be dealt with and not suppressed. I love you for being my friend, and pointing out the obvious.”

Joy smiled at that, released my hand and ran her hands through her long blonde hair; something she always did when she was anxious.

“I just want you to be happy Em, and I know that you and Derrick love each other. But just remember there is a big difference between loving someone, and being in love with them. Catch my drift?”

“Yeah, I do.” And, I really did. I knew exactly what she meant. That was something that I really needed to figure out. Did I just love the idea of Derrick, of having a husband, or was I really in love with him. Maybe it was something I could think about while I waited for the first available flight. Joy rose to her feet and I followed her lead.

“I’m really going to miss you Em. Please keep in touch. Don’t let a lot of time to pass between us without contact again.” Joy pulled me into a tight hug and squeezed. I could catch the faintest hint of her coconut lotion; a smell that will forever remind me of her.

“Me either,” I said as we parted from our hug. Joy turned to leave, and I reached down for my bags. We didn’t need to say more than that. I watched Joy walk regally from the waiting area to the airport entrance and out to the white Jaguar waiting curbside.

After gathering my luggage from the floor, I surveyed the airport for my best plan of attack. I started with my airline’s terminal, trying to exchange my ticket for an earlier flight. Of course the early flights were all booked, but I could be put on standby. But, the man explained, I would mostly like end up on the flight that I was already booked for. By the time my flight was scheduled to leave, he suspected that the storm would be too accelerated and the flights would be grounded. When I asked him what I should do, he impolitely suggested sitting and waiting with everyone else. I stepped out of line feeling extremely frustrated and began to scan the airport again. I really didn’t feel comfortable waiting for a flight that would never take off, so I planned for another course of action.

I took the escalator to the second floor of the airport, and there I spotted Plan B. The Travel King Car Rental sign was there in all its glory and I thought maybe my luck might be shifting. There was no one in line for a rental, which I thought odd, considering the sure to be cancelled flights. When I approached the desk a woman in her mid-to-late-fifties came out from behind the office door.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“I’m going to go out on a limb here, and hope against hope that you have a car available.” I could immediately see by her reaction that a favorable answer was not forth coming.

“I’m sorry ma’am. Due to the weather conditions, most people rented cars and began driving hours ago.”

There went Plan B.

“Is there anyway you would know if maybe there is another car rental agency in the airport anywhere?”

“No ma’am, there isn’t.”

“How about in the surrounding areas of the airport? I could take a cab there to get the car.” I asked, trying to keep my voice hopeful.

“Well, actually, I might be able to help you. A friend of mine works at a place a few miles from the airport. I could call over there to her, and see if they have anything available. That way you won’t waste a trip.” The woman smiled, and went to reach for the phone.

“Thank you, so, so much…” I glanced at the name tag on the front of her navy blue uniform.  “…Rhoda. You are a life saver.” Rhoda smiled and began to dial.

Instead of standing there desperately starring at Rhoda, I turned around to face the congested terminal. Scanning over the waiting area at all the weary travelers, I saw a man rising from his seat who had a very familiar face. I placed my bag on the floor and took a step forward. Just as I went to take a closer look to confirm that my eyes weren’t playing tricks, Rhoda called for my attention. I took my eyes off of him, turned to look at Rhoda, and then quickly back to where the man stood but of course, he was gone. I turned and stepped back to the counter, knowing that my eyes must be exhausted, it left my mind.

“You’re in luck.” Rhoda said with a pleasant smile. “My friend Janet said that a client just turned in his rental, and you are welcome to it. She can hold it for twenty minutes in my name. Just tell her that you’re Rhoda’s girl and she’ll take care of ya.” I never wanted to kiss a woman before, but at that moment, I could’ve kissed her.

“You are the best!” I said, unable to hide the excitement. As Rhoda turned around for pen and paper to write the company’s information on, I reached into my purse and pulled out my wallet. I quickly grabbed a bill, wanting to show her my gratitude. As she handed me the paper, I slipped the bill into hers.

“Thank you again Rhoda. It’s nice to know that in crazy places like this,” I said motioning to the airport, “that there are still friendly and helpful people.” I took the sheet of paper, and left her holding the bill. I smiled again, picked up my bags and headed towards the front door.

I walked over to the line of cabs, and the first rains of Hurricane Sally began to fall in the Florida region. As the rain began to fall harder, I noticed that the cabs were filling fast, and that I’d better hurry. From the corner of my eye, I saw a tall man waving me towards a cab. Without really looking, I handed the driver my luggage to put in the trunk, I slipped into the backseat of the cab, and slid far to the left. The man got in behind me and closed the door.

“Where to?” The cab driver said as he got into the front seat.

“Bayside Car Rental, please…” I unfolded the paper from Rhoda, and read him the address. I looked over at the man next to me, and suddenly lost all feeling in my body. It was the man I thought I saw in the airport; the one who I thought my eyes deceived me into seeing. With all the rain and craziness of the cab line, I hadn’t seen the face of the man waving me towards the cab; Danny Brewer was sitting next me in a cab leaving the airport. He must have told the driver where he was going, but I didn’t hear him.

“Hi,” he said. “Guess we’re headed to the same place.”

“Huh?” I couldn’t verbalize anything else.

“I’m going to the same rental agency as you; funny huh?” He smiled.

Ok, before I go any further with this encounter, I have to say I really don’t remember what was said word for word as our cab headed to the car rental. I’m sure it was a slew of unintelligible words that I strung together to at least prove that I was able to make sound. Once I began to get over the shock of it, I felt the excitement of the moment. I found my composure, along with my ability to formulate sentences, and spoke as calmly as I could.

“The lady at the rental agency in the airport told me they have one car left. We might have to flip for it.” I tried to make a joke, then instantly regretted it. I felt my face flush hot, and he just smiled at me again. That was when he held out his hand, and formally introduced himself.

“I’m Danny.” I reached for his hand, and took a deep breath. I could faintly smell his cologne, mixed with the scent of fresh rain.

“I’m Emily. It’s nice to meet you Danny.” I wanted to let him know that I recognized him, but didn’t want to come off as a crazy, obsessed fan. So I figured, if it came up in the short time I expected to be in his presence, I would admit to knowing who he was; if it didn’t, no big deal. I just had the luxury of a ten minute cab ride with the man of my dreams (literally).

“I tried to get a flight out this morning, but there was nothing.” Danny said and shook the rain drops from his wet shirt. “I called over there from the terminal and they said they had a car left. I guess your friend and the guy I talked to promised away the same car. If that’s the case, I just might have to flip you for it.”

I giggled and tried to take in as much of him as I could without starring. Everything about him seemed perfect. From the top of his rain soaked hair to the bottom of his sneakers. No matter what happens to me in the rest of my life, I will never forget how he looked that day.

“Where are you headed?” he asked.

“New Jersey. I was supposed to leave on a flight tonight, but I think the airport will be closed before that. I don’t like to fly anyway, so I figured driving home might be a better idea. How about you?”

“Manhattan. I was actually supposed to fly out of Orlando, but there was a mix up, so I had a flight out for tonight too. I bet we would’ve been on the same flight. Were you going into Newark?”

“Yeah, small world huh?” I smiled and caught his gaze, but quickly looked away.

He had a playfulness in his eyes that intrigued me. If given the chance, I could’ve studied his face for hours. My mind quickly flashed on one of the dreams I had about him, and I noticed that he had the same look in his eyes then, as he did now. I didn’t know what else to say, so I turned and looked out the window. The rain was coming down a bit harder, and I knew that it wouldn’t be too long before Hurricane Sally made it impossible to travel by any mode of transportation.

Danny must have noticed the concern look on my face, because when I turned back to him, he asked, “Everything ok?” His voice seemed genuinely concerned, and gentle.

“Yeah, I’m just worried about the weather. I’m not in the biggest rush to get on the road, but I really don’t want to have to wait out this storm, you know?”

“Tell me about it. I’m actually looking forward to the possibility of driving back. I haven’t had time like that to myself in ages.”

“Are you trying to make me feel bad so I give you the car?” I asked playfully, and a large grin spread out across his face.

He feigned innocent and said, “I would never try to make a woman feel bad, or guilty about anything. However, if you did feel guilty and…” Before he could finish, the cab was pulling to a stop, and I knew our time together had ended. I felt a pang of disappointment, and wanted to tell the driver to keep going, to let me have a few more minutes with him.

I reached for my purse to pay the driver, and Danny waived my hand away. “Wait here a second.” He said as he got out of his door. I heard the trunk open and close, then my door opened, and there stood Danny with an umbrella, reaching to take my hand. I smiled at him and stepped from the cab. He walked me with the umbrella to the over-hang and went back for the luggage and to pay the driver.

When Danny and I stepped into the rental agency, we were instantly greeted by a smiling woman standing behind the granite counter.

“Hello, and welcome to Bayside Car Rental. You must be the girl that Rhoda called me about.” She said turning her attention to me.

“Yup, I’m Rhoda’s girl.”

“I was also told that there was a car available by a male representative.” Danny said leaning up to the counter.

“Oh,” the clerk said, with a bit of that elongated Midwestern ‘ooh’. “My, that is a problem.” She went for her reservation book, and placed it in front of us to read. “See, I have only one available rental. A fully-loaded Chevy Blazer reserved in the name of Rhoda for a young girl that she was assisting. I assumed the two of you were together.” She looked up at us, then at Danny. “I’m sorry sir. You might’ve talked to Harvey, the mechanic. Sometimes he answers the phone and he’s really not supposed to. I don’t think he even knows what a reservation book is.” Danny couldn’t help but let out a laugh, and I couldn’t either. We looked at each other and laughed even harder.

“Laurie,” he said reading her name tag, “that’s ok. Let the young lady have her car. I will find other means of transportation.” My heart sank at that, knowing that he would be either calling for another cab, or I would be driving away leaving him sitting there. I wasn’t happy with either option. Laurie looked at me for clearance, and I nodded. Danny grabbed his bags and walked over to the sitting area to the right of the counter. I followed him over there and sat beside him.

“Thank you, for the car. But I feel really bad about leaving you here like this.”

“I’ll be fine. Really, like I said, I’m in no great hurry to drive home. I’ll get a hotel room for a few days and fly home by week’s end.” Danny reached for his duffel bag and pulled out a dry shirt. “Besides,” he said with a sweet smile, “you hate to fly.”

I looked at him intently after he said that. I tried to read his face for sarcasm, but saw only genuine concern. He turned and walked into the men’s room. I remember thinking, this is so not happening; I felt like it was just another dream my subconscious stirred up. Now, in my dream I wouldn’t leave him at this place, alone, waiting for a ride. I would tell him to drive with me, and we would have a torrid affair the entire journey home. I thought about the nights we would spend together in hotel rooms, and having candle lit dinners, not wanting to be apart for more than seconds. All of these situations flashed through my mind in the two minutes it took him in the Men’s room to change his shirt.

When he emerged, I snapped back to the reality. I wanted to ask him to share the car with me, and have it all unfold the way I would have dreamed it. But I couldn’t imagine how it would sound for me to ask a complete stranger to share a car with me for at least two days. Before I could think of something to say, Laurie was calling my name and waiving the rental forms for me to sign.

“I’ll be there in one second.” I told her and turned to Danny. “Look, I know this is crazy, but would you like to drive with me?” No sooner did the words leave my lips, I wanted to take them back. I couldn’t read the look on his face at first, but then he just smiled.

“You want me to drive back with you… you don’t even know me.” He stood before me and placed both his hands in his pocket, “That’s not the safest thing in the world to do you know.” If I really wanted him to agree, I knew that I had to tell him that I knew who he was and that I trusted him.

“Look, Danny. You aren’t exactly a stranger to me. I know who you are.” He looked puzzled for a moment and then realized how I knew him. He nodded, understanding setting in.

“Oh.” He said shyly. His gaze averted to the floor for a brief second, and when it met mine again, he smiled that soft crooked smile that made my knees go weak.

“I’m sorry I didn’t say anything before. I figured you probably get that a lot, and I didn’t want to come off as a crazy fan.”

“It’s cool.” He said with a laugh. “I appreciate you not making a big deal of it.”

“Look, I’d really like it if I could help you out. I don’t feel right just leaving you here. Besides, it’s a long drive and I really wouldn’t mind the company.”

Thirty minutes later, Danny was behind the wheel of our rented Chevy Blazer, headed northeast towards Jacksonville. We were ahead of the storm, but not by much. The winds were blowing very strongly, and I could feel the Blazer getting thrown all over the road; I was so grateful that I wasn’t driving by myself. For the first few minutes of the drive, there was a bit of an awkward silence between Danny and me. Not really knowing how to start a conversation with him, I wanted to wait to see if he would speak first. Finally, he did.

“So why were you in Florida?”

“My friend Darla and I were visiting with an old friend from college. The three of us hadn’t been together for years.” I told him a little about Darla and Joy, and the time we spent together, but left out Darla’s little excursion that took us to Soap Star Weekend. “How about you?” I asked.

“I was supposed to go to an event in Orlando, but my scheduling got all screwed up, and I missed my flight. By the time I finally arrived in Florida, it was Sunday night. Another scheduling conflict had me flying out of Tampa Airport instead of Orlando. This whole weekend was just a disaster from the start.” I began to think that it was fate for me to meet him at the airport. The whole thing was just way too weird, but I stopped questioning it, and just enjoyed spending the time with him.

Because of the measured speed by which we had to travel, by the time we finally reached Jacksonville it was starting to get late, and Danny seemed to be getting tired. I suggested that we stop to eat, and maybe find a couple rooms for the night. When he found a place right off of the highway, we pulled into the parking lot, and found a space in front of a Howard Johnson. Danny had me wait in the car until he knew for sure they had two rooms available. Not five minutes later, he was running back to the car through the rain to grab me and the luggage.

The room clerk handed us keys to two rooms on the second floor. We agreed to get settled in our rooms and freshen up a bit. Then we would meet in the lobby and grab a bite to eat at the restaurant behind the hotel. Upon reaching our rooms we found they were across the hall from each other. The décor of my room was typical highway hotel, with lovely seascape pictures adorning the walls. The stiff sea foam green comforter was perfectly matched to the purple and green wallpaper that lined the walls. I sat down on the edge of my bed to collect my thoughts, and knew the first thing I had to do was call Derrick. When I didn’t get an answer and our machine picked up, I was a trifle bit annoyed. I called earlier that day and left a message about the weather situation and trying to find an earlier flight. I had told him that I would call as soon as I knew what was going on, and if I needed him to pick me up or not. What if I was sitting at the airport waiting for him? I left a message telling him the situation and gave him the hotel and room number. I quickly tried calling his cell phone, and it went straight to voice mail. When I hung up, that annoyance grew, and I decided to phone Darla. Again getting the machine, I briefed her as well, leaving out the Danny factor. I figured she wouldn’t believe me anyway. Twenty minutes later I was freshened up and leaving to meet Danny Brewer for dinner.

Part 5

Looking back on that first night with Danny, I can’t help but shudder. I was a nervous wreck and had nothing logical to talk about. I tried to avoid all questions about myself, not wanting him to ask if I was married. I’ll be honest with you, Derrick was the furthest thing from my mind, and if he had asked at that point I would have said ‘no, I’m not married’. Luckily, we mostly talked about the weather, and the routes he thought would be best.

“I heard on the radio before that they are beginning to evacuate cities along the east coast. This storm is supposed to be really bad. Right now the storm is pretty much baring down on Florida, but looks like its course is going to follow us right up the coast. Good thing we left when we did. If we get up early enough tomorrow we should be able to get pretty far, but will probably have to stop for one more night. I hope that’s ok.”

“Sure it is.” I said, a little more enthusiastically then I should have. Danny just laughed it off and we continued talking.

As the night went on I found that he was easier to talk to than some people I’ve known my whole life. We found that we had similar taste in books and movies; he loved to read classic fiction, and mystery novels, even enjoyed the same authors. We both liked horror movies, but confessed to liking some of the classics as well. I told him about Joy and me watching Cary Grant movies every Saturday night in college and he confessed that A Streetcar Named Desire was one of his favorite movies. Before I knew it three hours had gone by, our dinners long finished, and we had a growing tab at the bar.

I was flirting with him; I was batting my eyes and laughing at his jokes. I was flirting the way that I used to before I met Derrick; and he was flirting with me. It was harmless fun, and it made me feel good. I hadn’t smiled that much in years, and the sides of my face actually began to ache from it all. All the gloominess that had been following me around for the past few days, hell years, was gone, and I felt alive. I don’t want you to think this is just because I was sitting across from the guy who plays “Steve Chambers” on television. I was getting to know Danny Brewer the person, not the actor playing a part. After awhile, I began to even forget that is what he did for a living. He was just this incredible guy I met in an airport who needed a ride.

We let another hour slip by before I stood up to call it a night. Danny went to pay the bill, and I watched him walk to the bar. I watched the back of his t-shirt as it clung to the small of his back, and my eyes traced the lines of his shoulders and arms. He had a large frame of at least six foot three, and every muscle was well defined. His broad chest and shoulders flowed down to a slender waist. He was wearing shorts now, which showed off the tattoos he wore on his right calf. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed them until now, and I have to admit, I found them very alluring. I could go on and on, but you pretty much get the picture. He turned to walk back to me and caught me checking him out. My faced blushed bright red and he flashed me that crooked little smile. All my insides instantly turned into mush, and I steadied myself on the table. Never in my life had a man made me feel that way, and all this was just from a smile.

“Shall I walk you to your room miss?” He asked and offered his arm.

“Thank you sir that would be wonderful.” I gave a little curtsy and looped my arm through his.

“I had fun tonight.” Danny said as we paused for the elevator. “It’s nice getting to know someone new…” I looked up at him and held his gaze for a moment or two longer then I should have.

The elevator doors sprang open, and we rode the one floor to our rooms. We said goodnight and entered our rooms to find the beds turned down and a mint on the pillow, which was impressive for a highway hotel. I checked the phone expecting to find a message from Derrick, but there was nothing. I tried calling home again, and there was no answer; this time I was actually relieved.

That night I dreamt about Danny, but this time it wasn’t an x-rated version. We were sitting in a New York café having coffee. I noticed it was cold, because people walking by the window were dressed in heavy coats and scarves. I couldn’t hear what we were saying, but we were laughing, and holding hands over the table. When I woke the next morning to a knock at my door, I felt really good. I can’t explain it any better than that, I just felt really good. I opened the door and Danny stood there with a Styrofoam cup of coffee in one hand and a cheese Danish in the other.

“Continental breakfast for you my lady,” he said bowing a little before handing me the breakfast.

“How did you sleep?” I asked.

“Not bad, but the people next to me were up all night.”

“Were they fighting?”

“Not exactly…” He said and I noticed the hint of a grin on his face. I immediately felt uncomfortable, thinking that he could sense was I had been thinking about him. I stepped into the bathroom to freshen up for the day and got dressed. When I exited the bathroom ten minutes later, Danny was sitting on the edge of the bed, holding my book that had been sitting on the nightstand.

“This any good?” He asked.

“Not too bad. I just started it.” I went over to grab the coffee sitting where my book had been, and noticed how intently he was looking at me. I could feel his eyes on me as I moved around the room downing the coffee and gathering my things. He stood from the bed and stepped closer to me. My back was turned to him and I could feel how close he was now standing. I could smell the same cologne from the day before, but it was a bit stronger now. Still, it smelled just as good. I took in a deep breath, and felt his arm brush against mine.

“Here.” He said handing me the book.

“Thanks.” I turned to look at him, and he took a step back towards the door.

“If you need help with your bags, just holler. I’m going to get mine and we’ll get on the road.” We just stood there for a moment and looked at each other. It couldn’t have lasted more than three or four seconds, but it felt like forever. He turned towards the door and then he was gone. I stood there holding the book close to my chest, and exhaled deeply. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized that I had been holding my breath.

Ten minutes later we were standing in the lobby. Danny insisted that he pay for the previous nights’ lodgings, and I could buy lunch. He had figured that we would hit South of the Border some time that day, and we could stop for some cheesy souvenirs and a bite to eat. Danny loaded the bags in the back of the Blazer, and we set off north down I-95.

Our ride that morning felt a bit more awkward that it did when we first set out. For the first hour or so, we didn’t speak much. I watched the scenery roll by, and watched the last of the palm trees fade into the distance. Danny seemed as though he was very intent on the road, and I was worried that he was regretting driving back with me.

It was getting close to noon, and I was beginning to feel hungry. I wasn’t sure how much further it was to South of the Border, but I didn’t want to wait much longer. As if he was reading my mind, Danny made his way to the right lane, and took the next exit.

“I really need to get out and stretch my legs.” He said.

“Yeah, me too. I’m kind of hungry, mind if we stop for a little something?”

“No, that’s cool.” Danny kept his eyes focused on the road, and I began to worry that maybe I made him angry somehow that morning. I couldn’t imagine why his temperament changed so much, and I began to think that this little car pool trip wasn’t such a good idea.

Danny pulled the Blazer into a McDonald’s parking lot, and turned off the ignition. He sat for a second with the keys in his hand, just starring at the steering wheel. I was about to ask him what was wrong, when he looked at me and smiled.

“Um, I’m sorry if I’ve been quiet this morning. I must seem like a real jerk, huh?” Danny averted his eyes to his shoes and flipped the keys over and over in his hands.

“No, you’re not acting like a jerk. I just wonder… well… is everything ok?” I asked hesitantly.

“I’ve had better days.” He paused for a moment and took in a deep breath. “I didn’t sleep too well last night…” I sat quietly, waiting for him to finish, but he didn’t.

“Look, Danny, if you want to talk about anything… I’d love to listen. I mean we have miles to cover, and the radio stations down here are pretty bad.” That brought a little smile to his face.

“You’re a really nice person Emily, but… we’re strangers. Why would you want to sit and listen to me bitch about my life?”

“Well, every person I know was a stranger at one point or another. You gotta start somewhere.” Our eyes met, and there was that feeling again; the same one that passed between us that morning in the hotel room. He reached for my hand that was folded on my lap, and took it in his. He reached his head down and kissed my hand gently, before giving it a little squeeze.

“Thanks.” He said, opened his door and got out. I sat in the Blazer for a minute or two before I followed his lead and exited the truck. I watched him walk towards the McDonalds, pause, then head towards the back of the parking lot. Instead of heading inside to appease my grumbling stomach, I followed him to the back of the lot. I found him sitting on a bench under a magnolia tree and still turning the keys over and over in his hands.

“I thought you were getting something to eat.” Danny said as he looked up at me.

“I am, but I just wanted to make sure you were ok.” I said taking the seat next to him on the bench.

“I’m fine. Really…” He paused. It was obvious to me that there was something more he wanted to say, but for whatever reasons was hesitant to speak.

“Well, do you want me to get you something to eat?”

“No, I can wait until later. I don’t usually eat much in the morning.”

“I don’t want to seem pushy…” I faltered for a moment, and before I could finish my thought, he spoke.

“You’re not being pushy. I’m just… well… I feel a little strange sharing things with you when we barely know each other.”

“I don’t blame you. It’s hard enough to open up to someone that you’ve known your entire life, much less someone you’ve only known for…” I glanced down to check my watch, and Danny beat me too it.

“For twenty-three hours.” He said, and when I looked at him, his expression seemed playful.

“Ok, twenty-three hours. But maybe I’d be the best person to talk to.”

“And why is that?”

“Well, because I can be objective. I don’t know you very well, and I can give you a fair assessment of the situation. Not only that, but I won’t feel compelled to lie to you to spare your feelings.” Danny laughed, and there was that playfulness again spreading across his face. We sat for a few seconds just looking at each other, and letting light smiles play on our lips. I wanted to reach out for his hand, just to touch him, but my willpower held strong. He had the most beautiful green eyes; I could have stared at them all day. I felt a splash of rain hit my arm, and looked up at the dark gray skies.

“You have a point.” Danny said. “And you were right; there are miles to cover and plenty of time to talk. Why don’t we go inside and get a bite to eat. Besides, if we stay out here any longer, we’ll get soaked again.” He stood up and reached for my hand. I happily extended to him and he raised me up from my seat. As I stood, my flip flop caught on a small rock that I hadn’t noticed and I stumbled forward slightly. Danny’s hand was fast, and grabbed me by my waist to help steady me while his other hand still held mine.

“You okay?” He asked.

“Yeah, fine. I haven’t been walking too long, and sometimes forget how to.” I said and Danny laughed. He released my hand and waist and we walked into McDonalds.

We didn’t talk too much while we ate; just a few random comments about the surrounding activities. When we finished and got back into the Blazer, the mood seemed lighter than it had that morning. Danny was more verbose, and he carried a look of contentment for the rest of the afternoon. At about five o’clock that afternoon, the storm front that had been nipping at our tail pipe seemed to finally catch up. The sky grew even darker, and the dull roar of eighteen-wheelers that shared our road, was interrupted by thunder. At the first spotting of lightning, it caught me off guard, and I jumped a little in my seat. Danny immediately placed a hand on my shoulder and reassured me that everything was fine.

“Maybe we should pull off the road for a while. How much of a hurry are you in to get home?” He said with raised eyebrows.

“Well, I was supposed to be home today. But, I guess…” I thought about Derrick sitting at home waiting for me. That is what I wanted to believe anyway, that he was sitting, waiting, and missing me. But deep down inside, I knew that he probably wasn’t home. I had tried to call him the night before, and twice that day when we stopped for food and gas. I didn’t tell Danny who I was trying to reach, nor did he ask me. If he wasn’t going to bring up the subject of who was waiting for each of us at home, neither was I. “I guess it doesn’t really matter.”

“Okay, so if we aren’t in any big hurry, we should find a place to stop for the night. Better to be safe then sorry and I can see the storm obviously unnerves you.” His hand was still on my shoulder, and it felt wonderfully warm. I felt a tingling sensation start in my stomach, and travel down into my knees. The more I looked at him, the more that I wanted him.

In my entire life, I have slept with a total of three men. When I was sixteen, I lost my virginity to Travis Matthews; it was not a great experience and we’ll leave it at that. When I was in college, I dated Micah Hawkins for about six months. It was better than the first time, but still nothing great. Derrick was of course the third, and in the beginning our sex life was really good. Compared to my previous experiences, it was heaven on earth. What I was feeling now, just from Danny’s touch on my shoulder was nothing compared to anything I have ever felt before. If I was confident enough that the gesture would be reciprocated, I would’ve jumped on him like a frog to a lily pad.

“Um, yeah, that’s fine with me. I hate storms when there is lightning involved. Thunder I can handle okay, but I hate that flash of lightning. Once when I was little, my sister and I were standing at our screen door watching a passing thunderstorm. Summer on the Jersey shore, you got a real good one at least once every two weeks. It would pass through in an hour, and usually leave behind a beautiful rainbow. Well this particular storm was long, and really strong. So we were standing by the door counting the time between when the lighting flashed, and we heard the thunder. It’s supposed to let you know how many miles away the storm is.” Danny was nodding, and I assumed that he had heard the same trick while growing up. “So, we counted, and it seemed as though it was moving out. Then all of a sudden, there was a flash of light that came down right in front of our driveway, and a huge explosion. The lights went out all down the street and my sister and I started screaming and crying. The lightning had actually hit the street, and bounced up to hit the telephone pole that was right in front of our house. Ever since then, I hate it. Not that anything bad happened but losing electricity, but it just scared the hell out of me.”

“Was your sister scarred too?” Danny asked, not without a bit of humor.

“A little, but she grew out of it and now I don’t think it really bothers her either way.”

“Well, we’ll find a place to stay, and I’ll keep you occupied so you can’t even remember that there is a storm raging out here.”

I can think of one way to occupy me, I thought and immediately scolded myself for thinking it.

It took another fifteen minutes to find the next highway hotel. This time it was a Comfort Inn, and the parking lot was very full. Again, Danny told me to wait in the car so he could check for room availability. I knew that they would most likely be booked, but kept my fingers crossed. The sky was growing darker by the minute, and the wind was picking up. The storm may have downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm, but the winds were still outrageously strong.

Just as I spotted Danny running back to the Blazer, the sky opened up and the rain began to fall harder. He pulled the door open and jumped in the idling SUV. His clothes were almost soaked through, and I could really see the lines that defined his chest, and stomach. His worn, torn jeans were also soaked through and clung very tightly to his lower half. I felt my heart beat quicken and realized that I was starring at him for too long.

“Do they have any rooms?” I asked finally.

“Well, I have goods news and bad news.”

“Good news first.”

“Yes, they have a room.”

“Ok, bad news.”

“They have a room.” He looked at me and I swear it seemed that he was glad that there was only one room available. “We could either share the room, or go a little further down the road to another hotel. But the clerk said most of the surrounding hotels are just as booked because of the storm.”

“Well…” OH HELL YES I want to share a room with you! I wanted to scream, but again my willpower held strong. “I’m okay with it if you are.” I knew that I was blushing and tried to hide it, but I knew he had to have noticed.

“Alright, you go ahead in, just tell the clerk we’ll take it. I’ll be there in a few minutes with the bags.” He put the car in drive, and drove it as close to the doors as possible so I wouldn’t get wet. This guy can’t be for real, I thought.

Part 6

The moment that I agreed to share the room with Danny, I knew that if the circumstances presented themselves, I would cheat on my husband. It wasn’t because I knew that Danny would want me as much as I wanted him or because I thought sex would be inevitable because we were sharing a room. I knew because I wanted both of those things to be true; just wanting it to happen, was enough to label me an unfaithful wife. For months I had been dreaming about this man and now I was sharing a motel room with him hundreds of miles from home. This was all too unreal, and part of me knew it just couldn‘t really be happening.

The clerk gave me a room key to suite 517, and Danny appeared with our bags. We rode the five flights in the spacious elevators, and headed straight down the long corridor. When we entered the suite, I immediately saw there was a couch in the far left corner of the room along with two large cushioned chairs. Danny put the bags down on the floor, and was about to close the door, when a little Asian women in her late fifties arrived at the door with an arm full of linens.

“Extra pillows and blankets sent up by the front desk clerk.” She said with wide smile.

“Thank you.” Danny said, and reached into his back pocket. He found the bill he was looking for and placed it in her hand as he took the linens from her. She smiled and thanked him very much, and waddled back down the hall the way we came in.

“There are some menus for room service here, and some flyers about the pub that’s downstairs off the lobby.” I said as I looked through the information booklet that was left on the table in front of the couch. Danny walked over to where I was standing, and reached around me to pick up the flyer about the pub. He leaned so close to me that I caught that same faint smell of cologne and fresh rain, and it had the same knee numbing effect as before. I had to either stay far away from this man, or just push him to the bed and have my way with him.

“Harrigan’s Pub.” Danny said reading the flyer. “Wanna check it out?”

“Hmm, sure. But I’d love to just freshen up a bit; maybe take a shower.”

“Yeah, that’s cool. I have a few calls I need to make, so I’ll give you some privacy.” He stepped back from my side, and went to fish something from his bag. I reached for my bag as well, and began to unpack my things and look for a change of clothes. He came out of the bag with a cell phone and address book, grabbed the key from the dresser and went for the door.

“I’ll go down to the lobby to make my calls, so you can take your shower.” Before he opened the door, he finally seemed noticed that his clothes were still soaked through. He chuckled to himself, and put everything back on the dresser. “Maybe I’ll change first too. When you’re ready, just come on down to the lobby, I’ll be there.”

“Okay.” I said, and took my things into the bathroom.

I stayed in the shower a little longer than I usually did; just thinking and letting the hot water run down my body. I thought about so many different things at once, that after a little while, I just needed my mind to shut off. The last few days had been exhausting, and I felt like I couldn’t take much more. I just wanted to be someone else; someone who wasn’t married with responsibilities, but a free spirit that was having a little adventure. Someone that could have a few nights of fun with a guy she’d never see again. Could I ever really be that kind of person…Yeah, I thought, I think I could.

After finally stepping out of the shower and dressing, I knew that I had one more thing to do before I met Danny in the lobby. I sat on the edge of the bed, picked up the phone and dialed the number. After three rings I heard Derrick’s voice say hello in his chipper, life-is-wonderful tone.

“Hi Derrick.” I said as enthusiastically as I could.

“Hey Em. Sorry I didn’t call you back last night. I got in late and figured you would be sleeping.”

“I tried to call your office today to let you know where I was and how the drive was, but I got your voice mail.”

“Yeah, it was a hectic day. So where are you calling from?” Derrick’s tone turned sour, immediately making me regret even calling him.

“Somewhere in South Carolina. The weather is really, really bad, and you know I hate driving in it. I should be home late tomorrow night, but it may be Friday morning.” I waited for his reaction, and was a little surprised by it.

“Ok, well I don’t want you to rush back and chance an accident. Really Emily, you aren’t the best driver in the world. I still don’t understand why you didn’t just wait out the storm with Joy, and get another flight home after it passed.” I felt a lecture coming on, and really didn’t have the patience for it. I took a deep breath, and tried to cut him off before his rant turned into a tirade.

“Derrick, I have to go. I’m going to get something to eat and read for a little while. I’ll give you a call sometime tomorrow to let you know when I’ll be home.”

“Okay, sleep well and drive safe.” Before I could even respond, he had hung up. I felt the anger rising, and did my best to suppress it. Was this the same man that didn’t even want me to go in the first place? I thought. I hung up the phone, and walked over to the mirror. I took one more look at myself, and left to meet Danny in the lobby.

The elevator doors opened, and I exited into the reception area. There were more people moving about then when we checked in and I could see the entrance to the restaurant was getting crowded. I spotted Danny sitting in the corner with his phone to his ear, and his head in his hands. I didn’t want to disturb him while on the phone, so I walked over to the front desk, and browsed through the leaflets. I noticed another flyer for Harrigan’s Pub, and picked it up. As I was reading about their karaoke nights, which happen to be Wednesday and Saturday nights, I heard my name. When I turned around, I saw Danny standing from his chair and making his way towards me.

“So, wanna try that place out?” he asked and nodded to the flyer. “I don’t think we really have much of a choice.”

“Sounds good.” As I turned to walk towards the entrance to Harrigan’s, and I felt Danny lightly place his hand on the small of my back, as if to guide me through the hordes of people in the lobby. My stomach dropped, and I realized how nervous I was. This was the first time in my life I had ever experienced desire and longing like this. Just the idea of it being a possibility was causing my hands to shake.

Now, I know you must be thinking that I am absolutely crazy, because I’m falling all over this actor that I just met forty-eight hours before hand… I thought the same thing. For those first two days I thought that; every time the thought or image of him came to me, I chastised myself for concocting it. But now, he was just Danny, and I was just Emily and we were just going to dinner.

Harrigan’s pub reminded me of a bar I used to go to in college; it was small, but the atmosphere really made up for it. Upon entering the room, I saw there was an old cherry wood bar ran down the length of the space with all bar stools occupied. There were some small tables scattered in the middle of the room, adorned with dark red table cloths and deep red dripping candles. There were a few booths with soft, low hanging lights that hung on the far wall. Looking past the tables and booths to the far left part of the pub was a small stage and dance floor that would be comfortable for about three or four couples.

I noticed the karaoke machines were set up on the stage and looked up at Danny. I could see that he saw them too, and I swear I saw the slightest look of panic wash over his face. The hostess showed us to the last booth before the dance floor and sat us with menus. She took our drink orders, and I watched her as she eyed Danny. I wondered if she recognized who he was, and just waited for her to start falling all over him; but I wasn’t sure how things like this worked out for soap actors. I knew if he had been in movies or on primetime television he was more likely to get noticed; but daytime television? I decided it wasn’t something that I really wanted to bring up right then; any talk about our lives beyond the right here and now, just wasn’t that interesting to me.

Our waitress, Shelly, came back with our drinks, and took our dinner order. I saw her check him out again, then give me a cross look as she walked away. I sat a little straighter, and smiled back at her with the sweetest smile I could muster. The stage was all set for karaoke, and I saw that there was a song book on the bench next to me. I picked it up and began to flip through it.

“Are you going to sing?” he asked.

“No, I’m just curious as to what’s in here.”

“I’ve never done karaoke before, and have no plans to start now. You couldn’t pay me enough money to do that.”

“You can’t possibly be shy.”

“Why not?”

“Well,” I hesitated, meaning to continue with ‘because you’re on T.V., that’s why’ but decided against it. “You don’t really strike me as a shy person.”

“I really am. When I was little, I nearly fainted when I had to get up in front of my entire elementary school and sing at the Christmas concert. Ever since then I can’t do anything in front of a live audience.”

“My friends and I used to go to this bar in college that had karaoke every Sunday night. It actually reminds me a lot of this place. So, we would go and only once did they get me up there to sing. But they got me really drunk first, and I swore I would never do it again.”

“I bet you can sing though, can’t you?”

“No way! I’m so bad that when I sing in the shower, the tiles crack.”

Danny laughed and leaned forward to look at the book with me.

“So, if I get you really drunk, I could possibly get you up there to sing?” He looked at me intently for a moment before his softer smile reappeared. “I’d love to watch you up there.” His voice had softened, and there was something in it that I hadn’t noticed before… longing. I held his gaze for a few moments, and then had to look away. I reached for my drink and took a good swig of it.

“No.” I said finally, “I will not be singing tonight. Because if I did, for the rest of our little trip you’d look at me and cringe.”

“I doubt that. How anyone could cringe when they look at you is unbelievable.”

Was he flirting with me? I asked myself a bit excitedly. Yes, it seems as though he was. That little voice spoke up, however, the one that lives way back in the murkiness of your brain; the rational one that points out the obvious and questions everything. You know that he’s an actor and you just happen to be an attentive audience. Of course he’ll sleep with you if you want him too. But all these things he says, is just a script from a scene, he doesn’t actually mean any of it. That’s what it told me, but my heart didn’t want to believe it. There was something going on here, and was ever since I first saw him in the cab; every time that we really looked at each other, I felt a little more enlightened. I had this knowing feeling in the pit of my stomach that all of this was meant for me to experience. I really began to think that this whole state of affairs — no pun intended — was a lot more than sharing a car ride home. In some ways, he seemed just as lost in his world as I felt in mine and I began to think that maybe we could help each other.

I told him a little more about my one and only karaoke experience, and he told me more about his Christmas pageant nightmare. We talked about some other embarrassing moments from our childhood and teenage years, and we laughed a lot. He was so easy to talk to and I began to feel like I’d know him for years. He had this way of raising one corner of his mouth, so there was always the slightest bit of a smile; it was one the sexiest things I’d ever see a man do. I wish that I had a great knowledge of words so I could begin to describe to you how beautiful this man was. I know that men aren’t generally referred to as being beautiful, but that is as close as I can come. It wasn’t just his physical features or his perfectly planned body, but everything that was underneath. He was genuine… and funny… and sweet and I loved every second sitting there with him.

After finishing our dinner, we placed another drink order with Shelly, and went back to flipping throw the song book.

“Which one did you sing?” he asked.

“Umm, I think it was ‘Crazy’ by Pasty Cline. I used to be so into her.”

“Really? I can’t picture you into country.”

“Not really country, but I liked her. There was always sadness to her voice that I liked. My favorite though, is Janis Joplin.”

“Now that I could see,” his hand went to turn the page just as mine did and when they touched, Danny’s hand lingered on mine for a moment before he took it away. I could feel his eyes on me while I turned the pages and I tried to pretend like I didn’t really notice.

Danny leaned closer to me over the table, and asked me in a low, husky voice, “What kind of music does your husband listen to?”

I can only imagine the look of shock my face wore. I was so surprised by the question, I actually began to stammer. “Um, my… my husband?” I asked finally, “What makes you think I have a husband.”

I know that I hadn’t mentioned it, and I knew that I wasn’t wearing my wedding ring. I hadn’t worn it since the night before I left Joy’s house. The weather had been so hot and humid, my fingers swelled a little and as I tried to take my ring off it bent, so I put it away to have fixed when I got home.

“Just a guess… Do you?” His voice was still low and his gaze intense.

“Yes, I do.” I sighed and looked out over the dance floor, immediately feeling guilty. I had been so confident that he wouldn’t ask and here I was, acting as though I had ‘available’ tattooed across my forehead.

“Does he know that you’re driving home with a stranger?”

“You’re not a stranger Danny.” I said finally meeting his eyes. “Not any more.”

“No? What am I then?” His tone wasn’t accusing or disappointed, but teasing. That mischievous look came over his face, and he gave me that gorgeous crooked smile. I decided that if I really wanted this to happen, then this here was my opportunity.

“You are…” I paused, knowing what I wanted to say, but still afraid to make that first move. I put my hand over his and lightly brushed my thumb over back of his hand. “You are just what I needed.”

“It’s funny you say that,” Danny said, “Because I thought the same thing about you.”

Before I could say anything, a girl in her early twenties went up to the stage to sing her karaoke song. The music began, and when she began to sing, I recognized the first few lines of a Nora Jones’ song. She had a beautiful voice, and the song couldn’t have been more perfect. I couldn’t for the life of me remember the title, but it’s about a woman and a man spending a few stolen hours together. Now if that isn’t a great case of irony…

Danny stood up from the table with my hand still in his, and he pulled me up with him. Still holding my hand, he led me to the dance floor and put his free hand around my waist. He pulled my other hand into his chest and I put my free arm around his shoulder. I could smell the traces of his cologne again, and I remember thinking I had to find out what it was. I wanted to rest my head on his chest, but I thought that might be a little too much right away. After about three seconds of hesitation, I did it anyway. Hell, Carpe Diem, right? When I did, I felt Danny lightly rest his chin on the top of my head and he pulled me the slightest bit closer. For the next three minutes the girls sang on, we danced that way without saying a word.

Danny and I walked back to our seats, and Shelly had brought another round of drinks. I had really begun to feel the first few rum and cokes, but took a drink of the fourth one away. What the hell, I didn’t have to drive anywhere and I was sleeping right upstairs. I was hoping the conversation of my husband would be forgotten, but no such luck.

“So what’s his name?” Danny asked, but didn’t look me in the eyes that time.

“Derrick.” I paused, feeling the need to apologize for not mentioning him sooner. “Look, Danny, I didn’t say anything because…”

“I know why you didn’t. Same reason I didn’t ask until now.”

“And what reason is that?” I asked.

“Wanted to leave what’s waiting at home… at home.”

“Something like that… So Danny… what are you leaving at home?”

“Do you really want to know?” I had to think about it for a minute and realized that I needed to know.

“Yeah, I do.”

“My girlfriend is in New York and we’re not really getting along right now.”

“Is that what’s been bothering you?”

“It’s part of it.”

“What’s the other part” I asked.

“You.”

He grew quiet, but still sat forward in the booth, leaning over the table like he wanted to tell me a secret. I leaned over the table to be a little closer to him and put both my hands over his. Danny opened up his hands and interlocked his fingers into mine. The tension that was growing was becoming almost unbearable, and I was having trouble catching my breath. Before I even realized what I was doing, I leaned forward from the booth bench and kissed him. He had the softest, fullest lips I had ever brushed against, and the moment I felt him kissing me back I freed a hand from the tangle of fingers and touched his face. At first the kiss was soft, but the longer it went on, the more intense it became. Finally I pulled back from him, but kept my eyes closed. He leaned in to start again and I sat back even farther.

“I’m sorry.” I said. “I shouldn’t have done that.” I instantly felt guilty and images of Derrick finally started popping in my head. I screwed up big time, I’m not the kind of woman who could do this after all, I thought. I pushed back from him and slid from the booth. Danny got to his feet quickly and reached for my hand.

“Where are you going?” He asked a bit concerned. “You don’t have to apologize.” His hand held mine, and I wanted so badly to pull him into me and kiss him again, but I pulled free and quickly left the pub. I headed for the elevators, and pushed the button for the fifth floor.

“I’m sorry,” I said when Danny caught up to me and began to feel stray tears forming at the corners of my eyes. I felt so foolish to have kissed him, even though I wanted so badly to do it again. I could feel my will power slipping and the sooner I got out of there, the better.

“Emily, please stay. If you didn’t do it, I was going to.” His face seemed to be pleading with me, and again that thought, he’s only acting you know.

“Even though I’m married and you are involved with someone?”

“Yeah,” He said and shrugged his shoulders. I couldn’t help but laugh at him and at how incredibly cute he was being. The elevator doors opened and I stepped inside.

“I can’t stay Danny. If I do…” The elevator doors began to close, and Danny stopped them and entered. The doors closed again and our ride to the fifth floor started for the second time. He took a few steps towards me and I backed up until I hit the wall of the elevator. He put a hand on either side of me and leaned forward. Just as he began to lean in to kiss me again, the elevator stopped on the third floor, and an older couple got in. Danny turned around so his back was resting on the same wall as mine. He took my left hand in to his right and began to rub his middle finger up and down the palm of my hand. His gaze was fixed forward at the elevator doors, and when they finally opened on the fifth floor Danny led me out and down to our room.

“You never finished what you were going to say. If you did stay with me what would happen?”

“I have this feeling that neither one of us will be sleeping on that couch in the corner. And I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”

Danny opened the door to our room, and placed the key card on the dresser. He went over to the couch and stretched out, resting his head on one of floral printed pillows. He put his hands behind his head and turned his attention towards me.

“Do you love your husband Emily?” he asked me with a nonchalance that initially angered me; but when I saw him look at me with those beautiful green eyes, it immediately faded.

“What kind of question is that?” I asked as I sat on the corner of the bed.

“A simple one,” he said.

Maybe for you, I thought.

“It’s not so simple for me Danny. I’ve been asking myself that question for the past three months, hell the last three years. More so over the last week, but the thought has always been there.”

Danny sat up right on the couch and faced me. “Is he nice to you?”

“He provides well.”

“That’s not what I asked. Does he appreciate you? Tell you how beautiful you are?”

This has got to be a dream that I’m having. I’m really asleep on a plane flying home from Florida, and this is all a dream, I thought. This was all way to friggin’ weird. Then, that voice, the one that pops up when you want it to least, he knows all the right things to say to get you into his bed… he doesn’t mean them. But did I really care?

“Sometimes…” I said. He could see by my face that I was lying. I got up from the end of the bed, and began to walk around the room. “Derrick isn’t the kind of guy who shows affection that way, and I accepted that when I married him. I can’t just go changing the rules now that I’ve realized what I’m missing out on.”

Danny got up from the couch and walked over to me. He put a hand on my shoulder and when I felt the warmth of his touch, that wave of desire washed over me again. My will power was almost non-existent now, and when I turned to look at him, I saw everything that I felt in his face; the desire and wanting, just as much as the guilt and complication of it all. Then I knew, I didn’t care.

All of a sudden, none of the doubts and questions mattered; I was totally void of the voice of reason. Even the nagging voice that whispered most, when it was wanted the least was silent. The only thing that was clear was that this wasn’t just about sex. The two of us needed to experience it, experience the passion that we felt for each other. I knew that I could stop him, and that I probably should… but I didn’t. He kissed me first that time, and I didn’t stop him. I can’t really begin to tell you how incredible it was from start to finish. He touched every inch of me with a gentleness that drove me absolutely crazy and he easily turned it into the most passionate night of my life.

The next morning I awoke at about six a.m. and Danny was snoring softly beside me. I watched him for a few moments, just studying his face. I kissed the freckle under his right eye, and then kissed his forehead. I got out of bed and went into the bathroom to take a shower. I had just turned on the water, and began to soak my hair, when I heard the door open and saw Danny walk in. He pushed open the shower curtain and got into the shower with me. He was smiling a mischievous little smile, and began to kiss me.

After I was finally able to take a real shower, Danny and I went down to Harrigan’s for their breakfast buffet. We filled our plates with an array of breakfast foods, and ended up in the same booth that we were in the night before.

“So, how far do you think we can get today?” I asked trying to sound chipper. Up until that point, we hadn’t spoken much to each other; just a lot of sideways glances and embarrassed smiles.

“Well, that all depends.”

“On the weather?”

“Yeah sure, that’s one factor.”

“What’s the other one?”

“All depends on how fast you want to get home.” And there it was. I knew what he meant, and honestly at that point I questioned going back at all. I could’ve stayed in that hotel with him forever if he asked me to.

“I told Derrick I’d be home by tomorrow morning the latest.”

“If we drive straight through you could be. But if we stop for the night again it will most likely be tomorrow night. Then if you wanted to make some side trips…” He was smiling that impish smile and it was very hard to resist.

“Before we make plans for side trips, I think we need to talk about what happened last night…”

“And this morning…” Danny interrupted, and my face immediately turned red.

“About what happened between us… well, what did happen exactly? And don’t say just sex… because it wasn’t just sex… was it?”

“Not for me.”

“Ok, so what was it?” He didn’t answer right away, and I could tell that he was just as confused as I was, but didn’t want to admit it. He took a bite of his toast and looked at me seriously.

“All I know is… I never, ever do things like this. I would never have gotten in the car with a strange woman to drive twelve hundred miles. I would have never begun flirting with that woman, or share a hotel with her after being acquainted for two days. I certainly would have never slept with her. But there is something about you… I can’t put my finger on it. But, you make me want to break all of my rules.”

“Yeah, I know the feeling.”

We sat quietly for a few minutes, and ate the remainder of our breakfast. On our way out of the restaurant, we both noticed a small photo booth in the corner of the lobby we hadn’t seen the night before. Smiling and giggling like two teenagers, Danny pulled me into the booth and dropped the four quarters into the slot. As the camera’s flash blinded us, we posed in goofy positions for the first two, then for the last two photos, he surprised me with kisses. The machine dispensed the pictures and he tore them in half. He handed me two and then immediately stuck the other two in his wallet.

“That way we never forget.” He said simply. He placed an arm around my waist and we went back up to our room.

An hour later we had settled the hotel bill, got back on the road heading north on I-95 and crossed the border into North Carolina. The weather was beginning to clear, and according to the weatherman on the radio, Hurricane Sally, now Tropical Storm Sally, had drifted out to sea, and wouldn’t be bothering us anymore. We both smiled and concurred that was good news. Now, I can’t speak for Danny but I knew that I was very disappointed. I had hoped that the weather would hold us up for another night at least. I knew that this trip had to come to an end sooner or later, but I didn’t want it to be that day.

“So how long will it take to get through North Carolina?” I asked.

“With the weather clearer, probably about six or seven hours.” Danny paused and glanced over at me. “I don’t think you’ll be making it home tonight though; and not because I don’t want to bring you home; but unless you want to drive some, I won’t make it driving through the night.”

“I’m not the best night driver, and if you aren’t in a hurry…”

“I’d rather stop for the night.” His right hand left the steering wheel and placed it on my hand. I smiled and looked out the window, knowing that I had at least one more night with him.

Around seven o’clock that night we just crossed the border into Virginia. We pulled off the highway to grab a quick bite to eat and some gas. I tried to call Derrick from a pay phone, since my cell was conveniently getting no service. I got the answering machine again and left a message telling him that Friday evening was looking more possible than the morning. I thought about calling Darla, but I figured that she would be with her mother and father while he recovered from his hospital visit. Besides, I had no idea if I should tell her what was going on or keep it to myself. I didn’t even know if she would believe me.

A few miles up the road from the Country Inn we ate at, there was a Colonial style B&B. Danny thought it would be nice to stay there instead of a hotel, so we pulled into the lot and went inside. When we entered the house, there was an older gentleman in his early sixties standing behind the desk talking on the telephone. When he saw Danny and I walk in, he quickly finished his conversation and greeted us with a big grin.

“Well hello there, and welcome, welcome. My name is Larry, what can I do for you?” He used is index finger to slide the wire frame glasses up his nose. “A room perhaps?”

“Yes please.”

“Ok, will you be needin’ one or two rooms?” I looked up questioningly at Danny, not sure if he’d want to spend the night with me again. We hadn’t really discussed anything about the night before since breakfast, so I wasn’t really clear on his intentions.

“One,” Danny told Larry then he looked down at me and spoke in a softer voice, “If that’s ok.”

“Yeah, that’s ok.” I said, and Danny stepped forward to sign the paperwork.

As Larry led us up the three flights of stairs to our room, he told us a little history of the house, turned B&B that he and his wife ran. He said that some occupants reported strange noises at night, and that there have been reports of strange happenings in the kitchen. I figured he was telling us for effect, considering the antiquity of the home. He opened the door to our room, which he called “The Caramel Room,” and I immediately knew why it got its name. The entire room smelled of Caramel and Chocolates, and was decorated in different shades of brown, beige and pale blue. To the right hand side of the room was a small gas fire place and a mini bar to the left. Each room had its own private bath with a Jacuzzi tub, and shower. Larry gave us the run down of meal serving times, and different activities that were being held at the B&B the next day. A few minutes later he left us alone in our Caramel Room, and I felt my nerves begin to shake a little. Danny put our bags in the corner of the room and opened up the Mini bar.

“This thing is loaded!” He said excitedly, and began pulling little bottles of alcohol from the fridge.

“There’s even a TV in the dresser, look.” I said and pulled open the armor doors to reveal a 32 inch color TV. I found a list of what was on, and they just happened to be playing some classics that night.  “Wanna watch a movie?” I asked holding out the list to him.

“Hmmm… a movie could be cool.” Danny took the paper from my hand and threw it over his shoulder. I watched it float to the floor then looked back up at Danny. “But, I’d rather watch you.” He wrapped his arms around my waist and buried his head into my neck. His kisses were warm and soft, and I folded into him. Before I knew it, our clothes were spread around the room, and we made love again.

Afterwards, as we lay in bed together, I wanted to ask him so many questions. I wanted to know what all of this meant for him. If it was just a good time and he was just being a really good actor, I could take it. Or, if he was being legit, what the hell was I going to do then? Yes, he was involved with someone too, but I was married. I needed to know, but was panicked to ask.

“Danny…” I said as I lifted my hand from resting it on his chest. “What the hell are we doing?” He smiled, and brushed a stray hair from my face.

“I wish I knew.”

“I want to ask you something, but I don’t want to ruin all this…”

“Nothing could ruin all this.”

“What about your girlfriend? Why is it that she isn’t wondering where you are?” Danny was quiet for a moment or two, and when I felt him sitting up in bed, I sat up with him.

“She wouldn’t care where I was right now. We’ve been fighting for a while, and I think she’s had it with me. Before I left Manhattan for Orlando, we got into this huge blow out.”

“What did you fight about?”

“Name it. She hated the way I dressed, the way I ate, the way I breathed. She hated my job, my friends, and even my car.”

“Well, if that was the case, why did she stay with you?”

“She thought she could change me. When she began to realize that I wasn’t molding to her specifications, she started picking fights.” He looked at me, and I could see defeat in his face. “That’s what we fought about before I left. She picked a fight with me about what I was bringing for the weekend. The last thing I said to her before I left was that she was crazy. When I closed the front door I heard something smash against it, and I left as fast as I could.”

“How long have you been with her?”

“Two years… two very long years.” Danny sighed, and looked over at me. “How long have you been with him?”

“We been together for eight, married for seven.”

“Wow.” He said with amazement.

“I don’t know if I love Derrick anymore.” I said flatly. “I’ve been asking myself that question for the past few months. I mean I love him, but I don’t think I’m in love with him anymore.”

“How do you know?”

“If I can spend the last few days with you like I have, and not really feel that guilty about it, is a pretty good measure of love. Don’t you think?”

“You’ve got a point.”

“Danny, do you feel guilty about cheating on…” I paused, realizing he never told me her name.

“Sarah.”

“Sarah.” I said, “Do you?”

“Honestly, no. I haven’t really even thought about her till now. I tried to call her the other night, and I got her voice mail.”

“Oh.”

“Have you talked to Derrick?”

“Yeah, right before I met you at the pub… he didn’t care that I wouldn’t be home for a few days. In fact, I don’t think he cared that I was gone at all.” My voice cracked a little, and I began to feel angry at him again.

“Ok, tell ya what…” He flipped so he was leaning over me and he kissed my lips. “No more talk of them, or home. Not until we hit New Jersey. Once we cross the state line, we can talk about them or what we are going to do about them till our heart’s content. Ok? But until then…” He kissed me again, and when his hand found my thigh, I kissed him back deeper.

“Until then, just us,” his voice was soft and smooth, and it made me what to forget my life on the Jersey shore completely. I think that if he asked me at that moment to run away with him forever, I wouldn’t have thought about it twice.

Our night in the Caramel Room at the Johnson’s B&B was certainly like a page out of a Harlequin Romance novel. I took a Jacuzzi bath and when I got out and dried off, Danny had a mini bar picnic for me waiting in front of a low fire. I read a little bit of my novel, as Danny slept, resting his head on my abdomen. We stayed that way for an hour before I put my book down to wake him so we could go to bed. We made love again in front of the fire; slower this time, for the urgency we felt the times before had diminished. Before I feel asleep that night, I thought about what I was going to do when I got home. I knew that even if Danny went back to the city and made things right with Sarah, there was no way that I could stay with Derrick. Unless he was willing to change, which I knew would never happen, I couldn’t live my life without passion and real love. Now that I had experienced what lust and desire for someone can be like, there was no way I could void my life of it again.

Danny and I woke around seven the next morning, and went down to enjoy a home cooked breakfast. We were served a hearty meal of pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon with grits, toast and coffee. After breakfast, Danny and I reluctantly got on the road for the last leg of our trip.

The conversation that day in the Blazer was a sparse. I tried to keep things as light as possible as the miles winded down and we got closer to the New Jersey state line. Danny told me more about growing up in Montana and moving to New York to go to college. How he was really going to school for engineering, but was bit by the acting bug, and left school. I told him about Darla, Joy and how close we all were in college and my teaching job that I missed so much. The hours flew by and before I knew it we were about five miles from the state line.

Danny changed lanes to get ready to exit for the Turnpike and pass through the toll plaza. Just as he turned off the blinker, we heard a loud pop, and I saw him grip the steering wheel to regain control of the SUV.

“Damn!” He said, “blew a tire.” He was able to get the Blazer over to the shoulder, and turned off the engine. When I got out of the truck, I looked around to gain my bearings. Danny went into the hatch of the Blazer to get the jack and spare tire. I turned to look ahead of us, and saw the large green side that I had been dreading, no more than five hundred yards in front of us. The sign read, “Welcome to New Jersey.” I froze in place for a second or two then turned towards Danny.

“Danny, look.” I said pointing to the sign as he poked his head around the Blazer.

“Funny, huh? Blowing the tire right before the state line; right before the deadline.”

“You noticed that too huh?”

“Yeah, I did.” Danny put the tire on the ground and leaned it against the side of the truck. He walked over to me and took my hand.

“Give me ten minutes to changes this tire ok? Then we’ll talk.” He kissed my hand then bent down to kiss me.

True to his word, ten minutes later Danny had changed the tire and put everything back into the hatch. I had been sitting on a guard rail by the front of the truck trying to think of what I was going to say to him. Were we really going to have this conversation by the side of a major highway? It just didn’t seem right.

Maybe I’ll suggest finding a coffee shop, I thought.

Danny started walking over to me, and before I could make my suggestions, he said, “Why don’t we find a place to grab a bite to eat.”

“I was thinking the same thing.” I said, and we hit the road again.

The hostess of the Lucky Star diner sat us in the back corner where there was one water spotted window that looked out over the parking lot. She handed us menus, and even though I had no appetite, I decided on a bagel with cream cheese and coffee. I looked nervously at Danny, waiting for him to say something first, and when it was pretty obvious that he wasn’t going to, I did.

“So…”

“Yeah, this is a lot more difficult that I thought.”

“It sure is.” I said.

“Ok, so here is what I know. I know that I don’t regret one second of this trip, or one second of knowing you. I know that I really, really don’t want to take you home today. I also know, well am at least pretty confident, that you don’t want to go home today either.”

“But we have to go home sometime and deal with what’s waiting there.”

“I know. So, I guess the question is… are we going to go home and deal with what’s there, or pretend like our little tryst never happened?”

“I can’t pretend like it never happened. Meeting you was the best thing that ever happened to me, and not because you are Danny Brewer, soap star…actually, I think that is the least important thing about you.” I reached across the table and took his hand. “Not to sound like a cliché, but you showed me what passion is. You wanted me, you found me desirable, and those are two things that I haven’t felt in years. Now that I know how incredible it is, I can’t go back to life without it. So, I can’t speak for you, but I know that I have to make some changes; and I think that entails telling Derrick what happened.”

Danny’s face froze for a moment, and I could tell he was getting nervous. “You could tell him?”

“I don’t know, but I have to try. If you choose not to tell Sarah, that’s your decision. But…”

“But what?”

“But either way, we have to situate our lives before seeing each other again; if, we see each other again.” I felt my eyes begin to burn and knew that tears weren’t far from appearing. It had just hit me that this was it; I had to let him ago. He had been put in my path to help me realize a needed change and that was all.

“What if I want to see you again? What if I don’t want to bring you home today? What if I wanted to get to know you better…”

“Trust me, nothing would make me happier. But I can’t in good conscience not go home and deal with the man that is sitting there waiting for me. Besides, you have a life you have to get back too. What about work and family? We can’t just jump from highway hotel to highway hotel can we?”

“Sure, why not?” Danny joked. “I know you’re right about all those things, but…” his voice trailed off.

“I’m going to miss you too.” I said.

“I guess then, it’s time to go home.” Danny sighed and finished his coffee. We sat at the diner for another five minutes finishing our food, than asked our waitress for the check.

The conversation for the last twenty miles of our journey consisted of me giving directions, and Danny commenting on the scenery. I gave him the exit number for the highway and he navigated the Blazer down the twisted ramp that headed east towards ‘Shore Points’. It was only another forty minutes to my house, and I began to get very nervous. Not because of seeing Derrick, but leaving Danny. I couldn’t have him drop me of in front of the house, so I decided on having Danny bring me to Darla’s and I would have her bring me home. I would tell Derrick that I dropped off the rental car and had called Darla to pick me up.

Danny crossed the bridge that took us within miles of my house, and stopped at the light at the base of the bridge. To the left side of the road, I noticed a motel that I must have passed a thousand times and never noticed. Seascape Inn had a glowing vacancy sign hanging from its roof, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the pink flashing neon. When I felt Danny begin to accelerate, I jumped out of my daze, and told him to pull into the parking lot.

“Quick! Pull in there!” I said and pointed to the Seascape. Danny jerked the wheel and bounced the SUV over the curb and into the empty lot.

“What’s wrong?” Danny asked excitedly as he pulled to a stop and placed the truck in park.

“I… I’m not ready to go back yet.” I could hear the panic in my own voice and hoped it wasn’t too obvious to Danny.

“How far are we?”

“About five minutes or so… I… I just can’t go yet. I need a few more minutes.”

“Ok.” Danny turned the ignition key and turned to face me. “Is there anything I can do?”

“Yeah, turn the truck around and go back the way you came. I don’t want to go home at all!” I said with a laugh in my voice, but I don’t think I was entirely kidding.

Danny smiled and pulled me into him. I took in a deep breath and reach up to touch his face. He began kissing the top of my head, and tracing the outlines of my face with his fingers. He kissed my forehead, cheeks, lips, then he brought his lips to my neck and I melted into him. I wanted to be with him one more time before I left him for good. I had to be with him one more time, and I could feel him wanting the same thing. I pulled back from him and looked into his face. Without having to say a word to one another, we got out of the truck, grabbed our bags and headed into the Seascape Motel for one last night together.

It didn’t take more than ten minutes to fill out the information and have the clerk give us our room key. We found our room, and before the door entirely closed, Danny and I were pulling off each other’s clothes. He kissed me so deeply and longingly, and I clung to him like I would never see him again; after all as far as I knew, I wouldn’t. We made love, and when Danny finally closed his eyes to rest, I got out of bed and grabbed a piece of note paper from the table. I wrote down all the things I was thinking and everything that I wanted him to know. I thought I would crawl into bed with him for another hour or so, then I when I knew he was really asleep, I would call a cab to take me the rest of the way home. After putting the finished letter side, I crept back into bed and kissed Danny’s cheek. My hand traced the lines of his chest, and found its way down his abdomen towards his thigh. He woke to this and slowly turned to face me.

“I’m going to really miss you,” he whispered.

“Me too.”

“Can I at least know how to get in touch with you? In case…”

“In case of what?”

“In case I need you.”

“Sure.” I lied. I had no intention of telling him how to get in touch. I would be gone before he woke up again. He reached out for me and I went to him willingly and we made love for the last time.

Sometime later, I rose from the bed and checked the clock. It read five-thirty a.m. I moved about the room as quietly as I could, trying not to wake Danny. I got dressed and went to the pay phone outside the room and called for a cab. I went back into the room to get my things together, Danny began to stir and wake up.

“Hey,” he said, “going somewhere?” His sleep-worn face gave him a child-like quality which tugged at my heart.

“Um, no I was about to wake you,” I lied.

“Well, I’m up.” He sat up and rubbed his eyes. “Give me five minutes, and we’ll go get some coffee. Then I’ll take you home.”

“I should really get home,” I said, getting anxious about the expected cab.

“I promise, just coffee,” Danny said and grabbed his jeans from the floor. “I just have a few things I have to say to you, and I don’t really want to do goodbye in front of your house.”

“Me either. What do you want to tell me?” I walked over to him and hugged him.

“Just that… meeting you was just what I needed.” He hugged me closer. I pulled away from him and went to packing my bag.

“Ok, go get yourself together, and we’ll get coffee.” Danny turned to go into the bathroom and I called him back. “Danny… thank you.”

“For what?” His face blushed slightly, and that crooked smiled of his played on his lips.

“For everything.” I said and he turned into the bathroom. I took the letter out from under my coat and placed it on the bed. I quickly grabbed all of my things and quietly left. Just as I closed the door to the room, the cab pulled in, and I ran to greet it. I threw the bags in the back seat and asked him to quickly go. I gave him Darla’s address and we were speeding away from the Seascape, and from Danny Brewer.

Part 6

A little over a year has gone by since I wrote that last piece of the story. When I first thought about putting it all down on paper, I knew I had to do it right then and there. It was a week after I had gotten back that I started to write and it only took a few days. I stopped there, because I felt that was the story I needed to remember. I wanted to memorize every bit of it; how I felt and the things he said to me. I put the pages away somewhere that no one would read them, but me; and only when I needed to remember how he smelt and how his kisses made me shiver. But now I know that was just the beginning of it all.

When I got home, Derrick was different. He had changed into this man that I didn’t know, or haven’t known in seven years. He was loving, affectionate, and sweet to me. He did romantic things and showed me so much love, I was speechless. Every time I tried to talk to him about the trip and what happened, he would quickly change the subject and suggest that we do something together. After a few weeks of it, I thought that maybe he really did love me and want me, and that maybe I should work a little harder at the marriage like he was.

After a month had gone by, and slowly I noticed that his evenings at work were lasting a little longer, and the weekend meetings were getting a little more frequent. I felt him pulling away again, but this time I recognized it easily. In the first few weeks of being home, I had stopped watching Danny’s show, and avoided Darla’s questions about the trip. She could tell that something in me had changed, but I couldn’t find the words to admit to her what happened.

One afternoon shortly after the New Year started, I was having lunch with Darla at her place. She remarked that I hadn’t been over to watch the soap since we returned from our vacation and that we should do it again soon. When I told her that I stopped watching, she began cracking jokes on me.

“Why Em? Because Steve Chambers hasn’t been on lately?” Darla laughed.

“He hasn’t?” I asked.

“No, I guess the guy who plays him was on off for a while. They tape like three to four weeks in advance.”

“He was on vacation.” I said absently, not realizing what I had actually said.

“And how would you know?” She said, again with a mocking tone.

“Because I was with him.” I said matter-of-factly. Darla’s face froze and I couldn’t help but laugh. So I told her. I told her everything, and I know that she thought I was full of shit; just poking a little fun at her. It took a while, but I finally convinced her when I produced the two pictures of me and Danny in the photo booth. I had hidden them in the nether-regions of my purse; where I knew Derrick never ever ventured. For the next hour I answered Darla’s questions, and listened as she scolded me for keeping it to myself for all that time.

With my secret out to Darla, I thought it was time that I came clean with Derrick. I could feel us sliding back into the old routine of barley noticing the other’s existence and I had to stop it. One Thursday morning, Derrick came down into the kitchen and I poured him a glass of orange juice. He picked up his newspaper and I took the seat beside him. I tried to think of a way to start the conversation, but nothing was coming to mind.

“Are you going to be home this afternoon?” he asked.

“No, I’m working at Darla’s firm today.” I said, “Why?”

“No reason. I have a meeting in town with some new clients and I thought that maybe I would bring them home for lunch instead of taking them to a restaurant. This guy is really into the whole home and family thing.”

“Would you like me to come home and make lunch for?”

“No.” Derrick said a bit abruptly. “It’s just hard for me to conduct business while you’re around.”

“Well, then you’re in luck. I should stay in the office anyway, lots of work to catch up on.”

“Great.” Derrick smiled and went back to his paper. I decided to save the talk for tomorrow, and chastised myself a coward.

That morning in Darla’s office, I told her of the conversation I had with Derrick. Darla got unusually quiet, and I could see she was in real thinking mode.

“That sounds a little off to me,” she said.

“How do you mean?”

“Well, if this client is into home and family, why would you be a distraction? I would think that he’d want you there to show his client that he has a family.”

“True. I guess I didn’t catch that. But, hey, who cares. Tomorrow I am going to tell him everything anyway. So whatever his reasons are for not wanting me there is fine. I don’t really care.”

“Would you care if he was cheating on you?” Darla asked in her cross-examination tone.

“Derrick?” I laughed. “Derrick doesn’t have time to cheat on me. He’s too busy with his true mistress… the office.”

“Unless he really isn’t working as much as he says. Look, all I’m saying is I don’t put it past him. Why don’t we go check up on his business meeting?”

We did and Darla was right. With her car parked down the street out of view from the front of my home, we watched Derrick kiss a woman before she got in her car and drove away. She was a tall, leggy blonde with huge boobs and a tight blue dress. I didn’t recognize her and tried to imagine where Derrick would meet a woman like that; his office certainly didn’t hire women that looked like Bambi the wonder blonde. What I remember most about that moment, however, was the sense of relief that washed over me. All of a sudden so much was explained. He had to have been seeing her since I was in Florida, and that was why he was different when I came home. He had felt guilty, and was trying to make up for it, just like I had been. Every time I tried to talk about it he changed the subject because he was afraid I knew. When he realized that I didn’t, things went back to the way they were before and he continued his affair.

That night at dinner, I asked Derrick how his meeting had gone. He said that he got the account, and that this particular client was very high maintenance. I honestly wasn’t mad at Derrick for lying to me. How could I be when I had been lying to him for weeks too? After he was finishing eating, he rose from the table and was going to his office to go through some paper work. About twenty minutes later, I went to his study and stood in the door way watching him shuffle through some papers.

“Derrick,” I said and his head popped up. “Can we talk for a minute?”

“Can it wait till later? I’m kind of busy tonight.”

“Actually, it can’t.” I said and walked into his office.

“Ok,” he said with a very obvious annoyance, “what’s up?”

“Before I start, I would like to ask you to not say anything until I’m finished. Please…”

“Emily,” he started and I stopped him.

“Please Derrick, it’s important that you just let me say what I have to say.”

“Ok,” Derrick leaned back in his chair and I could read the expression on his face… Derrick was scared.

“Today, I had a feeling that maybe you weren’t being a hundred percent honest with me this morning. It was just a hunch, but I felt as though I needed to justify it one way or another. So, I came home at lunch time today.” I noticed Derrick freeze; he didn’t blink, flinch or quiver, he just stared at me with blank eyes. “I watched you kiss her goodbye, and I’m fairly certain that she wasn’t a client. My guess is that the affair has been going on since I was in Florida, because things between us were very different when I got home. Before I left we were distant and barely spoke to each other unless household business was the subject. When I got home, you seemed very much in love with me, and again, I’m just guessing, but I’d say that was a result of your guilt.” I paused and looked at him again, but now he was shifting around uncomfortably in his seat. Good, I thought, and then realized that I still had to tell him my tale.

“Emily… I, I’m not sure what to say exactly,” Derrick started but I stopped him again.

“Actually, there’s more.” I waited until he settled back into his chair and I took a seat on the arm of the sofa that sat across from his desk. “I’m not angry about it Derrick. As a matter of fact I felt a bit relieved when I saw you. It made me feel better that I wasn’t the only one not feeling the love around here lately and honestly, I’m not entirely innocent of adultery either.”

Derrick’s face went from guilt to shock in no time at all, “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“I cheated on  you too,” I said matter-of-factly. “I met someone in Florida and I spent a few nights with him.” I began to give Derrick an abridged version of the story, that wasn’t entirely true, but close enough to it to count. I told him that I met a friend of Joy’s and that we shared the car ride back together. I told him vaguely how one thing led to the other and we ended up sharing a hotel room. Derrick never asked me his name, or if we were still seeing each other; I got the feeling that deep down, he didn’t care. When I finished my story, he just sat back in his chair and closed his eyes. I wanted to give him time to absorb everything, to really let it sink in that this was the beginning of the end. I had come to the realization earlier that day that this conversation would most likely end my marriage; and I wasn’t all that broken up about it.

“Em… how did we get here? How and when did things start to go so badly?” Derrick’s question surprised me; I had expected him to deny the accusations against him and rage at me for what I had done.

“I… um… I don’t really know Derrick. But it’s been coming for a while now. Way before I even thought about going to Florida.”

“I think it started when I asked you to terminate the pregnancy.” He nodded at his own statement, as if to try and convince himself. “For what it’s worth, I felt terrible about doing that, but I just couldn’t imagine having children and I didn’t know how to tell you.”

“I know.” I didn’t know what else to say. I had the feeling that he never did want children as I did, but I didn’t want to let myself believe it. “I don’t really want to delve into all the past mistakes, I’ve done that so much over the past six months or so, I’m completely drained Derrick.”

We sat in silence for more than a few minutes. I think that we both needed that moment or two to realize, to let it sink it, that our relationship of nearly eight years, and our marriage of nearly seven, was over.

“About today…” Derrick started to say and I stopped him.

“Honestly, I don’t want to know anything about her or your relationship with her.” Derrick nodded, understanding that it really didn’t matter.

“So what now?” he asked me, his voice tired.

“You know what,” I said, feeling just as drained.

“The big ‘D’.”

“I think it’s probably best. But… do you think we could keep the reasons to ourselves?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I don’t think it’s anyone’s business but ours about our…”

“Indiscretions?” Derrick asked.

“Yeah,” I said finding his choice of words amusing.

“I think that could be done. I don’t want either one of us to have to endure lectures from our families. This is going to be hard enough on them as it is.” Derrick said, and I nodded in agreement.

“Well, ok then.” I turned to walk from his office and he called me back.

“Em, I’ll pack up some things tonight and go.”

“You don’t have to,” I said standing on the doorway, “I’ve already packed some times and am going to take Jake and go stay at Darla’s.”

There was so much more that I wanted to say to him, but I couldn’t find the words. It seemed that more should be said, considering we were ending a seven year union. To just walk away without saying something seemed uncaring and somehow cruel.

“Derrick, for what it’s worth… I did love you and I do care what happens to you. I want you to have everything you’ve ever wanted from life. I think that we maybe weren’t right from the start, but we were both so eager to please our parents and to be what they expected us to be that we lost sight of what we wanted.”

Derrick stood from his chair and came to where I stood in the doorway. “I think you got that right. And for the record, I do care for you too.”

“Can you just do one thing for me? Make one promise?”

“Yeah, I think I can do that.”

“Let’s not let this divorce get ugly ok? I don’t want to fight over stupid petty things that really mean nothing and we are just trying to hurt each other. Everything down the middle, and walk away amicably… does that sound fair?”

“More than fair.”

“Thank you,” I said and turned, leaving him standing in the study.

The next day I hired Darla to be my attorney and I filed for divorce citing ‘irreconcilable differences’. We decided to sell the house and to our surprise it sold almost immediately. All the papers moved smoothly through the process and several months time, the divorce was final. My parents wanted me to move back in with them. I think they thought if I did, they could brain wash me into giving Derrick another chance; more so that they could save face and not have a thirty-something divorcée daughter. Thank god for Darla though, she let me stay with her until the sale of the house was final I had my share of the money from the belongings Derrick and I spilt.

By June of that year I was moved into a small bungalow down near the beach. It was a unique fixer-upper, but with some help of some very handy lawyers from Darla’s firm I was able to make it livable rather quickly. Every night I would go out onto the beach and sit as the sun set behind me. I’d wait for the stars to twinkle on one by one and then stare out over the ocean for hours. Even though I was living alone for the first time in my life, I never once felt lonely. Jake and I were very happy in our new surroundings and throughout the summer months we settled into an easy, contended routine.

For the first time in months, I thought about Danny Brewer. I missed him and I wanted to see him desperately. I knew that I could turn my television on the next afternoon and see him there, but it wasn’t the same. I still hadn’t put on the show since I had gotten back from Florida, and didn’t think I would ever watch it again. Darla was respectful of it and she didn’t watch it when I was over or talk about it anymore.

As September turned into October, and Halloween came and went, I felt a bit of the early winter blues setting in. November had come and gone and Christmas was lurking in the shadows. The first snowfall came in early December, and holiday decorations were out in abundance. I began to feel a bit depressed about the upcoming holiday, this being my first one alone. My parents were flying out to my sister’s house in California and I declined the invitation. The last thing I wanted to deal with was my perfect little sister and her growing family.

Darla called me one afternoon and suggested that the next day, we both play hooky and take the train in the city. She described a day of shopping, hot chocolate and fabulous food… a day to pamper ourselves. Even though everything in me didn’t feel up to the trip, a little voice somewhere in the back of my head said that I really did need to get out and do this. A day in the city with my best friend, how could I go wrong?

The next morning we took the early train into Penn Station, and out into the city we went. We hailed a cab and went to some of Darla’s favorite places. We spent hours walking from street to street, hitting every store in sight. We had a nice lunch in a small café and then decided to walk down to Rockefeller Center and to watch the people ice skating below. Despite my tired feet, I could feel my spirits rising and was suddenly very happy that I agreed to it.

By the time we reached Rockefeller Center, the streets were growing crowded and I realized how late in the day it was getting. They sky was starting to get darker and the lights in the city were turning on. We still had some time before we had to catch the train home, so we decided to stay there for a while and watch the ice skaters. We paid the driver and quickly found a vacant bench with a great view of the tree and ice rink. Holiday music was playing from various hidden speakers, and we could hear the laughter and excitement of the people skating near us.

“Darla,” I said as I placed my bags between my feet, “I am exhausted, I can’t believe we did so much shopping today.”

“I know. I think I went a little crazy, but what the hell, it’s only money right!” She laughed and adjusted her scarf. “Hey, there’s a coffee shop across the street, want me go get some hot chocolate?”

“Yeah, sounds good. You don’t mind if I stay here, do you? I’m beat.”

“No, stay put. I’ll be right back.” Darla ran off towards the coffee shop and I relaxed on the bench.

I can’t say exactly why I decided to stand up at that moment, but I did. A minute or two after Darla left, I felt like I needed to stand up and stretch. I heard a horn blast and screeching tires and I turned quickly to see what happened. I saw a bright yellow taxi cab hanging over into the crosswalk, and the pedestrians around the car were yelling and giving the driver the finger. Apparently he hadn’t seen the red light or the mass of people crossing the street in front of him. I quickly checked to see if anyone had gotten hurt and luckily the man had stopped in time. As I was about to turn and sit back on the bench, out of the corner of my eye I saw a head that seemed taller than the rest in the migrating pedestrians.

From a far away glance, his face looked familiar but it was hard to be certain. But as he got closer, there was no mistaking that it was Danny. I thought I was seeing things, but then he saw me too. I couldn’t move, I thought I was seeing things… I thought that it was all a hallucination. When our eyes locked, he stopped, frozen in his tracks; most likely having the same reaction I was having. We were standing no more than ten feet apart. From the corner of my eye, I saw Darla walking back towards us with a cup in each hand. When she reached me, she held out one of the cups and when I wouldn’t take it, she followed my stare and what I had been looking at.

“Holy shit,” Darla said, and that broke my stare. I turned to look at her, then back at Danny.

“Emily?” He said and took the few remaining steps towards me. He looked between me and Darla, then back at me and I saw him smile. “Holy shit doesn’t begin to cover it,” he said and winked at Darla.

“Hi Danny,” was all I could manage. In the year that had gone by since I left him at the Seascape, I had never imagined seeing him again; so I never thought about what I would say or do if face to face with the man again. The three of us stood there for what felt like an hour, but I guess it was really only seconds.

“What are you doing here?” Danny asked, “I never imagined that you’d be the one I was meeting here.”

“What? What are you talking about?” I asked surprised.

“You mean you aren’t supposed to be meeting me here?” Danny said, obviously confused.

“No, I… me and Darla are up here shopping for the day. I had no idea I’d see you. Actually, I never thought I’d see you again.”

“Me either.” he said more to himself then to me. “My roommate said that he had someone for me to meet. I was supposed to meet her here at Rockefeller Center at five o’clock.” I glanced down at my watch and saw it was only four-thirty.

“You’re early.” I said, unable to grasp that he was really standing in front of me again.

“I can’t believe you’re here,” he said it in a way that made my heart jump; almost as though he were trying to believe it was all real too.

“Oh, god, I’m sorry…” I turned to Darla who was still standing there with the steaming cups of cocoa with a goofy smile from ear to ear. “Darla, this is Danny Brewer, Danny this is my friend Darla.”

“I heard a lot about you,” Danny said and put out his hand. Darla shoved one of the cups towards me and happily took his hand in hers. “Don’t worry though, it was all good.”

“It’s so nice to finally meet you,” Darla said, still pumping his arm. Finally she was able to pull herself away. “Well, seems you two have some catching up to do and I see a few stores down the block we may have missed.” She handed me the other cup of cocoa and gathered up all our bags in each hand. “I’m going to leave you two to your selves and do some more damage to my Amex. I’ll catch up to you in a little bit.” Before I could object, Darla and the bags were headed down the block to continue the shopping spree.

“Wanna sit?” I asked and motioned towards the bench,

“Sure.” Danny sat on the bench and we just gazed out over the ice rink. I offered one of the cups to Danny, but he declined so I left the cup on the bench beside me. I cupped both my hands around the one cup, hoping to warm up my fingers a bit.

“So… how have you been?” I asked him, not sure of how to begin.

“Ok, pretty busy with work. You?”

“Oh, not so bad.”

“Still married?” Danny asked without looking away from the ice rink.

“Actually no. The divorce was final last April.” I looked at Danny then and but he still kept his gaze straight ahead. It felt almost as though he was scared to look at me.

“Because of me?”

“Partially, but mostly because we just didn’t love each other anymore,” I sipped the cocoa and wished desperately for him to look at me. “The fact that he was carrying on an affair for several months had a bit to do with it.”

That got his attention. He looked at me, his face full of surprise, and then a bit of humor. I saw that same smile that I had gotten used to the year before and it made me feel warm again.

“Well, now if that isn’t ironic… Did you tell him about us?”

“Bits and pieces; he didn’t really want to know and I didn’t want to know any details of his own.”

“Was it ugly?” he asked and I could tell by his voice that he was worried for me; worried that I had a hard time because of what had happened between us.

“No, actually it was very amicable.”

“Well, I am sorry that it didn’t work out for you. I never meant for…”

“I know.” Tentatively, I placed my hand over his and he curled his fingers around mine. “I don’t blame you for what happened. Chances are Derrick and I wouldn’t have lasted, regardless of whether I met you or not. I think it worked out well for both of us in the end. We just weren’t happy.”

“But are you now?”

“I can’t speak for him, but I am. The holidays aren’t the best time, but overall, I’m much happier with my life.”

We were both silent for a minute or two. I wanted to know how and if it ended between him and Sarah, but I didn’t really have the guts. I wanted to apologize for leaving him the way I did, but wasn’t sure if I should bring it up.

“So, you said something about meeting someone here? Like on a blind date?” It was the best thing I could come up with.

“Well, something like that.” He smiled shyly and it caused little creases to appear in the corners of his eyes. It was just so good to see him again, I hadn’t realized just how much I had missed seeing his face, and all the expressions he had. “Since Sarah and I broke up, my roommate has been trying to set me up on dates, especially with this one friend of his. So finally the other day I broke down and agreed to it. So now here I am supposed to be meeting her, but instead, I find you,” Danny paused and looked at me. When he spoke again, his voice was barely audible. “Funny, seems that I was supposed to meet you here first.”

“What makes you say that?” I asked quietly without meeting his gaze.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about you lately. Honestly, I didn’t for the longest time, I tried really hard not to anyway. But then the last few weeks, there you are, popping into my head again. I even thought about trying to find you, but I didn’t have a clue as to where to start.”

“Danny, I am so sorry for the way I left,” I blurted out, “I didn’t know how else to leave. I was afraid if I didn’t go when I did, I would have never gone home.”

“I know Emily; it took me a little time, but I realized you just did what you had to do.”

Just then, snow started to fall in large, heavy flakes and the wind picked up scattering them everywhere.

“What do you say we go inside somewhere? How about some coffee, there’s a shop over there.” Danny motioned with his chin the shop where Darla had just purchased the hot cocoa, which was rapidly getting cold in the blistery conditions.

“Sure, sounds good to me.”

After tossing the cups, Danny and I went to the coffee shop and found a little table by the window so I could keep an eye out for Darla. It occurred to me then that it all seemed so familiar; almost like a sense of deja’vu. We each ordered a large coffee and decided to split something sweet when the waitress came to our table.

“So,” Danny said reaching into his back pocket for a beaten up wallet, “I did keep your letter… and the pictures.” He rifled through the various papers and produced the folded hotel stationary with my writing on it. When he unfolded the severely creased paper, the other two photos we had taken dropped on the table. “I read this every so often, especially when I am having a really shitty day.”

“It’s nice to know that you still thought about me Danny. I really thought I’d just be a fleeting memory for you.”

“Are you kidding me?” He carefully placed the photos and paper back into his wallet which disappeared into his back pocket again. “You have no idea what that trip meant to me. What you had meant to me and how much you changed things for me.”

“Care to elaborate?”

“Before I met you in that cab I had given up on women completely. My last two relationships were a bust. The one I had been in at the time was quickly headed in the same direction. I was surrounded by awful, catty women that had no idea how to do anything but bitch, constantly. I was really beginning to think that there were no decent women left in the world. Then I saw you in a crowded airport.”

When he said that, I would have sworn that my heart actually did stop beating.

“You saw me in the airport?”

“Yeah, when you were standing at the car rental. Truth is, I saw you walk in with your friend. I know this probably sounds creepy, but I watched you. I watched you go upstairs to the car rental and talk to the woman at the desk. Then I thought you saw me staring at you and I felt like such a stalker, so I left. When I saw you coming out into the rain, I waved you over to my cab. I thought you were so beautiful, and even though I hadn’t really met you yet, I just thought there was something so special about you…”

When his words trailed off, I got the idea that this might all be a little embarrassing for him to be admitting this to me.

“Danny,” I said taking his hands in mine this time. I had no idea what to say, but I didn’t want him to feel embarrassed or scared to say anything to me. “It’s not creepy. So… this person you are supposed to meet here…”

“The person I was supposed to meet here…” he was smiling now, that sly little smile I’d come to love. “Can you hang tight one second?” I nodded and he reached into his jacket for a cell phone. He made a quick call to his roommate to inform him that he’d be unable to make his date. Just as he hung up the waitress brought the coffee and Danish to the table.

“Now, what were you going to say?” he asked as he began to prepare his coffee.

“I was just wondering if you were still going to meet her, but I guess I got my answer.”

“Well, I figured how often does an old friend come into town? Besides, I feel it’s my duty to show you and Darla a night out in the Big Apple.”

“We’re supposed to be on the train heading back soon.”

“You know, I think there’s a train in the morning… As a matter of fact, I think that the trains run all day tomorrow.” His smile grew wider and I could see we were falling into the same ease we had a year ago. “But, if that’s not an option, I’d be glad to drive you and Darla back to the shore tonight.”

“Don’t you have to work tomorrow?”

“I don’t have to be on set until later in the afternoon.” When Danny leaned closer, the familiar scent of his cologne hit me, and I was immediately brought back to the year before and our drive home. Like a switch, that delicious smell put me right back in the cab the night we met, when I first took in the mix of fragrance and fresh rain that he wore.

“Danny…” It seemed as though he was going to lean in and kiss me, but I saw Darla walk by the window and I was yanked out of the moment. Pulling back I knocked in the window to grab her attention.

“Sorry,” I said to him and he just sat back and sipped his coffee. He winked at me and I knew it was ok.

Darla joined us and we ordered her a coffee. She and Danny talked a bit, mostly about the show, and then he asked Darla if she had any plans for the rest of the evening or the next morning. She looked at me for clarification and I just shrugged, leaving it up to Danny to convince her to play hooky another day.

“Stay in the city for the night?” Darla’s face lighted up with the possibility and I was secretly delighted. “Oh! I know, we could stay at the Plaza…” Her eyes glazed over and I knew that the images of plush robes and massages were passing through her mind. No more coaxing needed, Darla and I decided to spend the night in the city.

Part 7

That Christmas my life took another detour, and by the time the Dogwood trees were blooming in Central Park, I was cementing myself as a New York City resident. Not long after our chance meeting at Rockefeller, Danny and I stopped trying to play the distance game and got a small place together.  That spring he decided to leave the show and try his hand at a life away from the camera and see what else was out there.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I was finally home. All those years I had spent living someone else’s life were forgotten. I decided to take a chance and follow a road that took me away from everything I’d ever know. Danny gave me the courage to do that. His voice, his presence, was what helped me to completely break free.

When I was afraid of not doing what was expected, he helped me to take a chance and go on this journey with him. His touch calmed me when I was anxious, and excited me when I was ambitious. His gentle urging, his passion for life helped me find myself and wake up to the endless possibilities that waited on the horizon.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that one chance meeting can’t change your life. Don’t be afraid to choose a road less traveled, because you never know what’s waiting. I found passion, life-changing ambition, and a family I had no idea was possible. But it is, and for me, it all started because I turned on a television show.

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