Shades of Gray

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Opening old wounds

ELEVEN

Opening old wounds

Cal had split almost two-face cord of wood before he calmed himself down enough to call Michael at his home and apologize for his behavior earlier that afternoon. The physical activity had burned away the embarrassment but not the emotions that were smoldering inside him. They were tracking a professional killer. What would he do if she were the next undercover agent on his list? A light rain ushered in the twilight as he began to stack the wood he split along the back of his deck and pulled his mind back to the two days’ events that marked the last time he had seen Taylor, nearly two years ago at her grandmother’s funeral.

Taylor had arrived late to the funeral services. Not wanting to draw unnecessary attention to her late arrival, she shook off the cold mist from her jacket and followed a few other late arrivals into St. Agnes’ church. The family had already been seated at the front of the crowded church. Taylor moved away from the people she entered the vestibule with and took a seat in the last pew. It had been years since she had been home and even though she was confident that no one would recognize her, she kept her sunglasses on and her head bowed. Once or twice during the service, she noticed her sister scanning the assembled mourners; then during the final benediction, Taylor saw her whisper in their father’s ear and then both of them looked in her direction. As they followed the casket out of the church, Taylor stood with the assemblage and when her father and sister reached her, they paused to allow her to join them in escorting the casket out of the church.

As they had become very close friends over the years, Cal and Stephanie had been sitting with the Michael and the rest of the Bimonte family. Michael’s mother had always been fond of Cal and he had come to think of her, like so many of the kids who had hung around the Bimonte homestead, as his “Nana.” Cal was glad that Stephanie had agreed to attend the funeral services with him. He had called to tell her about Nan’s passing and she had been right there to offer comfort and support. Even though they had been separated for quite some time, Stephanie had always harbored the belief that they would eventually work things out.

They had agreed to try counseling as part of their formal separation and lately the couple seemed to be moving towards reconciliation. Their son, Jack, had been so happy during the past few months because Cal had been spending more of his off duty hours at the house and less time at the family’s vacation cabin. What started with rides home from school sporting events became recurring family dinners and mini-put golf games on Saturdays. Jack had been happiest of all the Sunday morning he woke up early to the sound of his father and mother’s muffled laughter behind her bedroom door. Now as they followed the procession out of the church, Cal felt Stephanie stiffen noticeably when Taylor joined her father and sister behind the casket just a few mourners in front of them. He could guess what she was thinking and hoped nothing would happen that might cause her to make a scene. As they left the church, Cal made a spur of the moment decision not to drive to the cemetery with Stephanie.

“I need to speak to the guys in the honor guard before they go to the cemetery,” he said as he opened Stephanie’s driver side door for her. “You go on ahead and I’ll meet you there.”

Stephanie eyed him suspiciously. “Are you sure? There really isn’t any need for us to have two vehicles there.” She decided see whether or not she was being overly sensitive or if she really should be suspicious. “I thought maybe I’d cook dinner for us at the house after the reception. Jack is staying over at Trevor’s”

“No,” he said a little too quickly. “I mean dinner sounds nice, but I really need to do this. Okay?” He gave her a quick kiss on her cheek. “I’ll catch up to you at St. Agnes’.”

It started to rain softly as the mourners exited the church casting a gray pall over the procession as it made its way to the cemetery. Cal found Stephanie waiting for him near the parking area of the cemetery when he arrived and he dutifully escorted her to the gravesite for the services. He guided their way to a spot a respectful distance from the family, close enough so he could see Taylor and far enough away, he hoped, so Stephanie wouldn’t notice. The ceremony was simple and quite beautiful. The gentle mist tapped gently on the umbrellas of the family like silent tears as the priest concluded the proceedings. Eager to feel the comfort of warm and dry vehicles, most of the mourners moved quickly from the gravesite. As Cal and Stephanie turned to leave with the largest of the group, he looked back at the family as they each placed a white rose on the casket and moved on towards the waiting limousines. He saw Taylor hug her sister and fall back from the rest of her family as they disappeared from view. She waited a few moments; watching the vehicles pull away before she went back to the casket. Cal felt Stephanie tug gently on his arm and turned to escort her to her car.

“Go on a head to the reception. I’ll follow you in my car,” he said tucking her safely behind the wheel. He tried to keep his voice neutral but he knew that his ex-wife wouldn’t buy it for a minute.

“Are you sure? I could wait.” Stephanie was trying to be hopeful but she had seen this look before and knew it was pointless to think that Cal would change his mind, even if he could.

“No, go on a head. I’ll be right behind you.”

He saw the disappointment register in her eyes and hoped that they wouldn’t have that argument again. But to his surprise, Stephanie simply nodded and started her car. Cal stepped away and waited for a moment while she drove away. Stephanie watched in her rearview mirror as he turned back and walked toward the gravesite; she gripped the steering wheel tightly and fought every instinct in her body not to peel out of the cemetery. She knew she shouldn’t do what she was about to, but she also knew she couldn’t stop herself. She pulled her car off to the side of the entrance of the cemetery and shoved it in to park. The she grabbed her umbrella and walked back, just in side the gate, to watch Cal break her heart.

The rain had increased and tattooed softly on the awning perched over the grave. Cal approached carefully, doubting every step he took toward her. It had been over nine years since they had last spoken; their last words bitter, their last meeting painful but he was still unable to stop; he was pulled to her by a force that was well beyond his control. He ducked under the awning, the sound of his heart pounding in his ears drowning out the soft rain. Taylor was standing at the casket, her head bowed and her back to him, still holding the white rose in her hand. If she knew he was there, her movements gave no indication. He simply stood quietly a few steps behind her and waited. After a few minutes she reached out and placed the rose on the casket.

“Papa’s waiting for you,” she whispered.

She turned with her head still bowed then she lifted her face to look at him, her green eyes welling with tears. In that moment their eyes spoke to each other of lost things that words couldn’t express. He extended his fingertip to catch a tear as it fell and she allowed him reach for her and pull her close to his chest and softly kiss her forehead. Her hair smelled of sweet flowers and the scent of her perfume pried open the locked doors of his memories. He gently tilted her face upward, his eyes searching hers for any clue that there was anything left of what they had meant to each other there. Taylor pressed closer into his body, threading her arms around his waist and brushed her lips against his like a whispered secret. Cal tightened his grip around her waist, fearing that she might pull away and kissed tenderly kissed her. The rain continued to fall as they stood silently holding one another. For that one moment, there was no time, no painful history or distance between them; they were one heart, one being. Without warning, Taylor pushed away from Cal’s embrace, lowering her head as she turned and moved away from him. As he watched her walk alone to her car, a wave of sadness rained down on him as that one perfect moment began to slip away into memory.

Cal knew he needed to clear his head before going to the reception being held at Nana’s favorite restaurant, the Lake Placid Club’s Boathouse. He needed to be sure his head was firmly in the present so he decided to take the long route along the back road from St. Agnes Cemetery to John Brown’s Farm and the Olympic ski jumps before heading to Mirror Lake Drive. He circled the lake three times before finally pulling into the parking lot across the street from the Boat House. He hadn’t realized how long he been driving until he noticed the gloom had deepened enough so that automatic streetlights began to flicker on. By the time Cal arrived at the reception, most of the Bimonte family had left leaving a crowd most comprised of Michael’s police friends and their wives. Cal saw Stephanie across the room and, when she looked in his direction, he couldn’t miss the disgusted alcohol induced glare in her eyes. He knew that she was watching as exchanged some pleasantries with some fellow officers as he made his way to offer Michael his condolences.

Stephanie was sipping a glass of white wine at a table in the far corner of the room with two other women, two empty wine glasses in front of her, pretending she wasn’t watching Cal. He would have like to stay and share some memories of Nana with a few people that he hadn’t seen in years, but the look that Stephanie had trained on him since his arrival was a clear indication that if he didn’t get her out of there soon, an embarrassing scene was certain to ensue.

He stopped at the bar and ordered a Labatts Blue, with a tequila shot chaser and another glass of wine for Stephanie. Cal downed the shot in the time it took the bartender to pour the glass of wine and return with his change. He picked up the remaining two drinks and was about to cross the room in an attempt at some damage control. Stephanie rose from her seat at the table and met him before he reached the bar.

“Nice that you could make it,” Stephanie hissed as she accepted the glass of wine Cal handed her. “Too bad your girlfriend couldn’t.” She seemed a little unsteady and leaned into the bar to help anchor her balance.

Cal ignored the opening shot and took a sip of his beer. He scanned the room hoping that no one was close enough to hear the anger in Stephanie’s voice. Stephanie instantly misunderstood the reason behind Cal’s visual sweep of the room.

“She’s not here. She left with her sister about fifteen minutes ago.”

“What are you talking about?” Cal growled defensively.

Stephanie glared at him as she pounded back her wine. They’d played this scene out before; he knew she was just warming up.

“Let’s not do this, not here.”

“Oh let’s,” Stephanie reply was dripping with sarcasm. She swayed unsteadily bumping into Cal’s arm, spilling what was left of her wine.

Cal slammed the beer bottle on to the bar, took Stephanie’s glass from her and grabbed her quickly under her arm as discretely as possible. She offered little resistance as he pulled her out the side door leading to the porch and continued straight through the parking lot to where her car was parked.

“Keys,” he barked.

Stephanie rummaged through her purse and surrendered her keys. Cal unlocked the car and opened the passenger’s door.

“Get in.”

“No, I’m not going anywhere with you,” she protested stubbornly.

Stephanie tried to stare him down but the stern look on his face quickly melted her resolve. She angrily planted herself in the passenger’s seat, slapping his hands away as he tried to buckle her into the seat. He slammed the door harder than he had intended to and moved around to the driver’s side. Before he opened the door, he saw Michael, his face a mixture of concern and suddenness, standing on the foot of the porch steps. Cal shook his head apologetically, got into Stephanie’s car screeched out of the parking lot. They managed to endure the tense silence that filled the fifteen-minute ride to Stephanie’s house. Stephanie had done her best to position herself s far as she could from Cal and refused to even glace in his direction. As he pulled into the driveway, Cal was grateful that their son was spending the weekend at a friend’s house so he wouldn’t be there to witness the final act of his parents’ drama. They sat in silence for a few moments as the rain began to drum harder outside.

“You’re not coming in.” Stephanie struggled to keep her voice calm as she tried to decide if her words were meant as a declaration of defiance or a veiled request.

“No.” Cal’s feelings were too raw and he knew that there was no way he was going to play emotional roulette with his ex-wife. A bright flash of lightning flashed followed by the rumble of thunder in the distance.

Stephanie felt her resolve lose the battle between her feelings and the wine coursing through her system. Before she could stop them, tears began to stream down her face as deep sobs welled up in her chest.

“Why?”

“I don’t think either of us is in the right frame of…”

“Why couldn’t you ever look at me like that? We were married for 15 years and you NEVER looked at me with a fraction of what was in the way you looked at her at the cemetery today!”

Stephanie jumped out of the car and slammed the door behind her. She made it all the way to the door before she realized her house keys were on the same ring as her car keys; she stood cursing her self as Cal appeared beside her and unlocked the door. She pushed past him, snatching the keys from his hand and slammed the door in his face, secretly hoping that lighting would strike him as she heard him called for a cab from his cell phone, his voice fading as he disappeared down the sidewalk and into the street.

By the time the cab pulled behind into the deserted parking lot of the Boat House, Cal had consumed about a quarter of the fifth of Jack Daniel’s he had bought at the Wine and Spirit Liquor store on the way. He didn’t really care if the cab driver recognized him or noticed the way he tore into the bottle as soon as he’d gotten back in the cab; if the driver actually was concerned, he gave no indication as he drove in silence and then simply announced their arrival and the amount of the fare. Cal threw twenty dollars into the front seat of the taxi and made his way to his truck. He tossed the bottle into the passenger’s seat and sat in the cab of the truck trying to separate what he wanted to do from what he felt he should do.

He should go back to Stephanie’s and apologize for being an asshole at the reception. He realized that she must have seen him the cemetery and how that must have hurt her. He should know the nice, solid life they had built together was something that a lot of people didn’t have and he should know that it was something worth making sacrifices to keep. He should know difference between what was possible and practical and what was pure fantasy. Cal punched the dashboard and started the truck. The problem was that what he wanted to do was to drive over to Michael’s house and mourn the loss of someone who had treated him like a grandson. He wanted to be with people who shared his pain and sense of loss. The problem was that all that crap about wanting to share Nana’s passing with family would only be a sorry excuse to get to Taylor. He wanted that moment back at the cemetery. He wanted time to stand still. He jammed the truck into gear and headed for home.

The sky continued to rage with the thunderstorm and the streetlights flickered with the bursts of lightning. Cal turned into his driveway, parked his truck and waded through the mud with the thunder and the pouring rain welcoming him home. He bullied his way through the door, carelessly discarding items as he tried to navigate the entry hall; his keys skidded over and behind the stand he tossed them at, his soaking wet suit jacket and tie dropped just short of the closet door.

Cal staggered in to the kitchen and filled a glass with ice. He briefly considered cutting the rest his Jack Daniel’s with Pepsi, but decided to finish what he’s started in the cab and let the whiskey, like the rest of the events of the day, slam into him full force. He took a beer out of the refrigerator to chase the booze then built a fire in the fireplace and settled into the sofa to listen to the thunderstorm rage out side while he polished off the rest of the whiskey. When the bottle was empty he stared at the fire through the empty glass, watching the shifting colors and patterns the flames made in the glass. As he reached for his beer, he noticed that the light on his answering machine on the end table was blinking and rather than listening to the messages, Cal scrolled he numbers on the caller ID screen; Stephanie’s cell, Stephanie’s house, Michael’s cell. Stephanie’s house, Stephanie’s house. As soon as he replaced the phone receiver in its cradle, the phone rang; he looked at the caller ID read out: Unknown Name, Unknown Number. He let it ring until the machine picked up.

“Leave a message. I’ll get back to you.”

“No,” Cal thought rising from the sofa, “I won’t.”

Taking the beer with him, he stalked off to his bedroom to change out of his wet clothes. He hadn’t gotten far when he kicked over a box jutting out of the corner of the hall. The contents splayed across the floor littering his path with loose photos and other miscellaneous items. Cal slid down the wall and sat amid the mess of memories that surrounded him. He sifted through the images: grade school pictures, graduation, high school friends, fishing and camping trips with his dad and then later with Michael, picnics with Allison and friends, a picture of him and his mother on the day he got married. The strong feeling of nostalgia combined with the fifth of whiskey he had consumed ignited a desire to continue digging through the box’s contents. Cal pushed the scattered photos and rifled through the box. Amid Boy Scout merit badges, a home made sling shot, ancient baseball cards, varsity letters with pins, four yearbooks and photo albums his eyes landed on an intricately carved wooded box buried underneath everything. He brushed the other mementoes away from it and stared at it for what felt like an eternity before he gathered enough courage to lift from its resting place.

Cal put the box on the coffee table and stared at it. He remembered when he’d packed this box and the rest of his childhood memories away. It had been the night before he asked Allison to marry him, the night he finally accepted that he had to let go of Taylor Bennetto. He knew that looking through the contents of this box would only aggravate the rip that had opened in his soul. That moment at the cemetery had resurrected something he had fought to keep locked away in this box for more than 15 years. It had been easy to pretend that it never happened, that he never loved her, as long as she remained the desire of his fantasies, the phantom of his nightmares. He ran his hands over the carved design on the lid, tracing his fingers tenderly over the edges, lightly touching the eyelet hook that kept the lid securely closed. What fury would he unleash if he dared to open his Pandora’s Box? Cal’s head began to feel too heavy for his neck as his memories began to swirl. He closed his eyes and let the waves of plans abandoned and dreams lost washed over him like the pouring rain and the thunder outside. Like a siren calling a sailor, the words to a once favorite poem, one of her favorites, seemed to sing through the lid and danced across his memory.

“As we stand silent,

Staring into each others eyes

I am reminded of all the reasons why I love you.

Your smile,

The way it brings such life to me.

Your laugh,

The way it makes everything okay.

Your eyes,

The way they seem to read my thoughts”…

An exceptionally loud clap of thunder interrupted his reverie and knocked out the electricity leaving the room bathed in the eerie glow of the fireplace. He got up and stood before the glass door leading out to the deck. He had always enjoyed listening to the falling rain; he found it very soothing and would often sit in the open doorway and watch it rain. As lighting flashed high in the sky and the thunder roared in the distance alternatively painting the sky in bright light and total darkness, he began to relax as he let the sounds of the rain temper his dark mood. As he began to feel more in control of himself, Cal stepped out into bright lighting and the silver curtain of the driving rain to get more wood for the fire. The air was heavy the smell of the storm drenched woods and the smoke from his chimney cast a gray pall over the cabin and the cool rain washing down on him felt soothing, like a cold compress on a fevered brow.

He paused for a moment to enjoy the revitalizing effects of the wilderness and nature; then he turned to go back inside and thought he saw someone standing at the top of the steps in the darkness. The next lightning strike froze him where he stood; the light bringing with it a sense of confusion and denial at what had to be a case of whiskey induced wish fulfillment. He dropped the wood just inside the open door and turned to face Taylor standing on the top step of his deck.

“The way you seem to read my thoughts, as we stand here now,” echoed in the falling rain.

The thunder clapped as he rushed towards her and took her in his arms, tracing the lines of her face, afraid that if he stopped touching her, she would vanish with the next bolt of lighting. Taylor wrapped her arms around his neck, tangling her fingers in his hair as he buried his face in the nape of her neck inhaling her scent, pressing his lips to her cold, wet neck and then he kissed his way to her lips. There was no tenderness between them when their lips met; they collided in an urgent need to connect. As he pulled them back through the open door each battled with the other’s sodden clothes, Taylor peeling away his shirt then her jacket as Cal ran his hands up under her shirt as he pushed her against the wall. His lips and tongue followed the path of his hands was his worked his way through the layers of her clothes. By the time he reached the top button of her blue jeans, all time had stopped and all histories erased, it didn’t matter if there was nothing beyond this night, this moment existed. She sank to her knees as he pushed her jeans to her feet and quickly relieved him of his belt and pants. They knelt before each other for one instant then Cal seized her by her buttocks and slammed her onto him. She gasped as he drove deep inside her and wrapped her legs tightly around his waist; their arms locked around each other, their bodies battered each other until all of the raw emotions had been exhausted. Their bodies remembered and responded, connecting completely until both were satisfied. After a while, they relaxed into a gentler embrace, their bodies still joined as one; listening to the last rains of the storm washing over the cabin and the logs popping in the fireplace as old feelings began welling to the surface.

Cal kissed the hollow of Taylor’s throat moving slowly tracing her jaw then continued back down to her collarbone.

“I’ve missed you,” he said pressing his lips to the top of her shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” Taylor whispered, her face buried in Cal’s hair.

Cal pulled her down further onto his lap and pulled her body closer to his and searched for the meaning of her apology in her eyes. He brushed against her lips gently.

“I’m not,” he said kissing her lips again.

Taylor rocked her hips gently against him, feeling him begin to stir inside her. “That’s not what I meant.” She smiled sadly. “I meant I’m sorry things couldn’t have been different for us then.”

“Things could have been different,” Cal said with regret. He sighed deeply, choosing his words. “You didn’t give us a chance.”

He paused not wanting to continue, not wanting the memories of the last time they were together to spoil this tenuous and fragile reunion. He felt the siren in the box pick up her song again and the rest of the poem pushed its way into his memory

“As we stand here in darkness now,

I am reminded of all the reasons why I hate you.

Your smile

And the way it seems to confuse me.

Your laugh

And the way it seems to mock me

Your eyes

The way they look through me

And seem to feel nothing.”

He could feel the specter of that distant last night hovered just beyond the warm boundary of their embrace, searching to push between them, to push them apart. If that memory was successful, this would be the final scene they never had, the good bye that never was played out all those years ago. Before Cal could stop himself, the words he had never had the opportunity to say out loud spilled from his lips.

“You left; no explanations, no arguments, nothing.” He said. “You left and never looked back.”

“Things aren’t always so black and white Cal.” She kept her voice low. “Do you think it was really that easy for me?”

Taylor closed her eyes to avoid seeing the hurt she heard in his voice reflected in his eyes. “You wanted things I could never give you; things I still can’t give you.”

She was whispering again her face turned completely away from his. Cal felt her shiver slightly and felt the cool drops of unseen tears splash on his chest. He took her face in his hand, and gently turned it back so that she was looking directly at him again. His thumb brushed the silvery trail on her cheek.

“All I ever wanted; then or now,” he began, emphasizing each of the next two words, “Was you.”

“I’m here,” she whispered. “For now.”

Taylor gently cradled her arms around Cal’s neck and tightened her legs about his waist as she felt him growing hard again inside her. He kissed her throat and neck tenderly as he slid his hands under her buttocks and lifted her to the couch and gently reclined her body as he repositioned his weight above her. He wanted to be patient, to make this night last as long as possible. Cal traced the lines of her face and stared deeply into her eyes. For an endless moment their eyes gave voice to the desire for things both past and present. They made love on the sofa and then again in front of the fireplace. He let his mind relax as their bodies intertwined, moving slowly together, remembering every movement, every position of the dance their lovemaking had perfected long ago. When they were both satisfied, he pulled her into the hollow of his body and wrapped himself around her like a human blanket, resting his head in the curve of her neck. The storm subsided and soon only the soft silence of the night and the gentle popping of the logs in the fireplace remained. Taylor snuggled her body closer to Cal and the watched the flames become embers without speaking.

As the first rays of morning filtered into the room, he felt her body relax against his as she drifted into sleep. Cal fought the urge to follow her into sleep; afraid that he would wake to find this night had been a dream. Instead he pulled her body tighter against his, deeply inhaling her scent, softly tasting her skin against his lips, and feeling more complete than he had ever felt. Cal reached behind them and draped the blanket from the couch over them and then he finally allowed himself to slip into the first peaceful sleep he had experienced in a long time.

*****************************

Stephanie had spent the better part of the morning cleaning up the aftermath of the tantrum she had thrown the night before. After she had slammed the door on her ex-husband, Stephanie spent the better part of an hour imitating a tornado as she ripped through her house, terrorizing anything that remaindered her of the marriage she had been trying to resurrect. She had started in their living room with picture frames and knick-knacks and worked her way to the bedroom where a pile of clothes and various other items Cal had left behind over the past few months lay slumped against the wall where Stephanie had thrown them. She had raged until there was nothing left to throw, and after she stripped all the bedding from the mattress, she collapsed on their bed and cried herself to sleep.

As she swept up the debris, she was grateful that their son had been away at a friend’s house, but as she filled the dust pan with pieces of broken glass nick knacks and destroyed photographs, Stephanie knew that some of the items would have to be repaired or replaced before Jack came home. She began to feel guilty about what had happened the previous day and berated herself for undermining the progress she and Cal had made toward reconciling; after all, they had had a good marriage, not perfect but sound and stable. She had convinced herself that it didn’t matter if they loved each other in different ways; they loved each other and that was enough for her.

Stephanie remembered the exact moment when she realized that she was in love with Cal Montgomery. They were in the eighth grade and she had found out that he had asked one of her girlfriends to go to the movies. Stephanie wasn’t sure why this news bothered so much; after all she and Cal were like brother and sister. They had built tree forts together, played street base ball and football on the same teams and road the school bus together since they were eight years old. She wasn’t sure what bothered her more; that her girl friends were talking about Cal using terms like “hot” and “cute” or that if Cal wanted an actual girlfriend, why hadn’t he asked her?

Stephanie sulked for two days, refusing to speak to Cal about it, even though he hounded her to no end, demanding to know what her problem was. The whole issue reached the boiling point one afternoon when Stephanie refused to join Cal and the rest of the neighborhood crowd for a pick up game of baseball in the field near their houses.

“Why don’t you ask your girlfriend to come over and play?” Stephanie had hissed over the phone and the she hung up on him.

Cal was genuinely shocked. Stephanie had never refused to play ball before and her choice of words made no sense to him. He got on his bike and pedaled to up the street to her house. Since they practically lived in each other’s houses, Cal dropped his bike by the front door and walked inside. Stephanie was sitting on the floor pretending to be playing a video game.

“Exactly what is your problem,” he demanded. “What was that crack about, go ask your girlfriend?”

Stephanie hit the pause button on her controller. “I meant why don’t you go ask Amanda to come over and play ball or is she afraid she’ll break a nail?”

“You’re being stupid,” he said picking up the other controller and resetting the game so that they could play together.

“I am not,” she said trying to grab the controller from him. “If you want Amanda to be your girlfriend, then I guess I’ll have to find someone else to hang with too.”

“You’re mad because I asked Amanda to go to the movies? We go to the movies all the time. Why is this such a big deal all of a sudden?”

“Because you asked her on a date!” Stephanie threw her controller down on the floor. “How come you never asked me on a date?”

Cal started to laugh and it only served to add anger to Stephanie’s building embarrassment. He picked up the controller and handed it back to her. She grabbed it and stared him down, waiting for an answer.

“I’m not sure how to say this without you punching me in the face,” he said with a smile. “But I’ll try to explain if you promise not to hit me.”

Stephanie considered what he said for a moment and then agreed.

“You are my best friend in the world. I can trust you and count on you to do things and go places. We have fun together. I would never want to lose you as a friend.”

“You could never lose me as a friend, you idiot,” Stephanie said. “We’ve been friends forever!”

“I know that. Just listen,” Cal remained serious. “If we started dating and then broke up, we could never be friends anymore and I don’t think I could handle that. You mean more to me as a friend.”

From that afternoon and all through high school, Cal and Stephanie maintained their close friendship. They supported each other through teenaged romances and defended each other through all varieties of high school drama. Stephanie always believed that she’d outgrow the romantic feelings she had for Cal but she never did so rather than lose him all together, she remained his friend even when it meant watching him fall in love with someone else.

Stephanie tried to call Cal’s cabin one more time before she finalized her decision to drive there and apologize, but he still wasn’t answering. She really didn’t blame him for being upset with her. Cal had lost someone that meant a lot to him, what difference did it make that it brought Taylor Bennetto back for one day? She’d leave quickly, just like she always did. Stephanie plucked up her resolve and grabbed her keys. They had come too close to getting back together to just throw it away because she was feeling insecure. They owed it to their son; they owed it to each other. As she drove, Stephanie found her resolve strengthening because she knew that she could do something for Cal that Taylor would never do; she would be there always, she would stay.

Stephanie had accepted that Cal would never be hers entirely the night their relationship changed from friendship to romance; in fact she reveled in her role as the mender of his broken heart. She was confident that, even though she loved him more, in time it would be enough for him and he would finally move on and let the past be the past. The longer Taylor stayed away, the easier it was to believe that Cal was finally hers and she completely invested all her hopes for their relationship in that belief. She could handle the veiled references old friends sometimes made to Taylor, she could even handle the way the mere mention of her name could stop him cold because she knew that Taylor was gone and wasn’t ever coming back. She knew it before Cal did because Taylor had told her so the night she gave Cal to Stephanie.

Over the course of his three-year relationship with Taylor, Cal had attempted to forge some sort of cordial relation ship between his best friend and his soul mate but it never really came to fruition. The old “keep your enemies closer” thing was no foundation for anything resembling a friendship, so the two women tolerated each other’s presence on the few occasions when Cal forced them together other wise they avoided each other completely. When she answered the phone that night, Stephanie could not believe what she was hearing.

“Stephanie,” she knew the voice and it stopped her cold. “This is Taylor Bennetto. Can you meet me at the Boat House?”

“What for?” Stephanie was certain that she’d sooner stick needles in her eyes than meet Taylor anywhere.

“Look Stephanie, I know that you don’t like me very much and after tonight, you’ll probably like me even less.”

Taylor’s voice was calm and business like. She paused briefly, almost like she was rehearsing her next sentence.

“I need you to come and get Cal.”

“Come and get Cal? What happened? What’s wrong?”

Stephanie was shocked at the coldness in Taylor’s voice. Stephanie had some knowledge of what was supposed to be happening tonight. Tonight, the Bimonte family was suppose to be having a duel celebration; Taylor’s graduation from law school and, as much as it pained Stephanie to think about, the announcement of her engagement to Cal Montgomery. Cal had shown Stephanie the ring two weeks ago and explained his plan to fly down to Virginia and surprise Taylor before graduation then share the news with her family. From the tone of Taylor’s voice, apparently things had not gone according to Cal’s plan.

“Will you come and get him?” Taylor’s voice wavered; some of the ice in her tone was melting. “Stephanie, please. Cal needs you.”

The last three simple words slammed into her brain and short circuited Stephanie’s reason. She shifted straight from bitter indifference into a state of panic. Her mind raced as she tried to understand why, tonight of all nights, Taylor would want to send Cal away.

“I’m on my way.”

Taylor was standing near the edge of the Boat House’s parking lot when Stephanie pulled in about fifteen minutes later. She appeared completely calm and composed, beautifully dressed; the soft glow of the restaurant’s lights behind her gave her an almost ghostly appearance, like she might vanish into thin air. She walked towards Stephanie as if nothing was more natural than for the two of them to be meeting there.

“Cal’s in the bar and he’s very drunk,” Taylor said very matter of factly, almost annoyed as she took Stephanie by the arm, leading her to the side entrance that led directly into the bar. “I need you to get him out of here before my father sees him; before he makes more of a scene.”

Stephanie jerked her arm from Taylor’s grasp and stopped. “Suppose you tell me what’s going on?

Stephanie glanced quickly at Taylor’s left hand; her ring finger was bare. The look in Taylor’s eyes confirmed Stephanie’s suspicion; what ever had been between Taylor and Cal was over. Taylor turned abruptly away from Stephanie and walked towards the bar entrance. She hesitated before following Taylor up on to the porch.

“I don’t really think that we need to go into specifics right now.”

“I disagree. If you want my help, I need some specifics.” Stephanie planted her feet on the gravel of the parking lot, refusing to proceed.

Taylor stared at her, surprised by Stephanie’s unexpected show of defiance.

“My immediate family is gathering here for my graduation party,” Taylor began in a flat monotone voice. She sounded more like a robot than a person. “I guess my father might have mentioned it to Cal, although I had specifically asked him not to”

Stephanie struggled to make sense of what she was hearing; even though this very scenario was something she had secretly wished for, it was difficult to accept that any of this was possible. Cal had shown her the engagement ring, had laid out his plans for the romantic proposal. He had asked for her blessing as his best friend and she had, albeit begrudgingly given it. She was dying to know what could have happened to spoil the fairytale ending in just a few short days.

“Wait here.” Assuming that her explanation had satisfied Stephanie for the moment, Taylor got back down to the business at hand. “I’ll be right back.”

Stephanie shook her head, annoyed and confused. Obviously there was no engagement to celebrate and if Taylor and Cal weren’t through yet, they would be shortly. After about five minutes, Taylor emerged from the side door with Cal; he had one arm draped around her waist and was quite possibly more wasted than Stephanie had ever seen him. She found it strange that Taylor was so annoyed that Cal was here; she seemed to be treating him more like a gate crasher at an exclusive party than her boyfriend.

“Why wasn’t Cal included in your little party?” Stephanie was beginning to feel protective of Cal as righteous indignation started to build inside her, the phrase ‘I told you so’ echoing in her head. “I mean why shouldn’t he be here, he’s your boyfriend isn’t he?”

Taylor glared Stephanie’s face with a look that gave Stephanie more than pause; her response to Stephanie’s petulant inquiry was interrupted as Cal started to weave unsteadily. Taylor, unable to support his drunken weight on her own, pushed him in the direction of an Adirondack chair in the corner of the porch. Cal landed with a thud and his body slumped to the side. She turned and regarded Stephanie with the same poisonous look as before, almost as if she were a child being forced to give up a favorite toy.

“Cal and I broke up about a week ago.” Taylor ran her hand through her hair, smoothing it down from where Cal’s hand had gotten caught in it. “Obviously, he’s not taking it well. He showed up here very drunk and acting foolishly. It’s very embarrassing for me and I don’t think my father or my family should have to see him like this.”


Taylor paused and looked away and Stephanie almost believed that some of Taylor’s icy coldness was faltering.

“Look Stephanie,” Taylor continued, softer almost apologetically. “I know what he means to you. Don’t make me have to call the police. Help me get him out of here before my father sees him. Please?”

Stephanie helped Taylor get Cal up out of the chair and off from the porch to the parking lot; it was easy going, as Cal was so drunk he pretty much did what ever they asked of him. Without another word passing between them, Taylor and Stephanie worked together getting Cal buckled into the passenger seat of the car. When he was safely secure inside, Taylor quietly stepped back away from the car.

“I’ll take care of him,” Stephanie said as she turned and got into her car. Pulling out of the lot, Stephanie watched in her rear view mirror as Taylor faded into the grey gloom of the evening before her image disappeared completely.

“Where are we going?’ Cal’s voice was heavy with liquor and muffled against the side of the door he leaned against.

“I’m taking you home,” said Stephanie, her heart broken to see him this way.

“I don’t want to go home,” Cal said as he leaned into her across the front seat and pressed his head into the space between her shoulder and her neck. His head landed hard enough to make Stephanie flinch, his breath reeking of liquor. He managed to lift his face just enough to whisper against her skin, instantly sending goose bumps all over her body.

“I want to stay with you.”

Stephanie wondered who he thought he was talking to and closed her eyes for the briefest of seconds, trying to separate what she wanted from what was best for both her and Cal, and then made her decision. She wasn’t sure of what was going on, but she knew that it was serious enough to cause him to drown himself in booze. She turned left out of the parking lot and drove back to her house.

Stephanie kept telling herself that she should turn at the next corner and take Cal back to his house but as he dozed lightly against her side, she convinced herself that it would be better if he didn’t have to wake up alone. She would be there to help him get through what ever this night had brought. She pulled into her drive way and helped Cal get out of the car. As quietly as possible, Stephanie did her best to get Cal out of her car and with some difficulty; they made their way through the back entrance of the house, down the hall and into Stephanie’s bedroom.

By the time they reached the door leading into her bed room, Cal’s weight had seemed to grow heavier as the alcohol took a tighter hold on his balance, and unable to support him any longer; Stephanie pushed against his body and angled him towards the bed. Without releasing his grip around her waist, he collapsed onto the bed pulling her down with him. Cal rolled so that Stephanie was under him and started moving his hands all over her body, pressing his lips into her neck, kissing her throat, her jaw, her lips. Stephanie’s mind was resisting, but her heart wasn’t; it overrode her reason and her body responded to all of Cal’s advances. Stephanie wasn’t sure anymore what her intentions were and she was even less sure about what to do next. She was torn between something she had always dreamed of and the consequences of what the light of reality would do to this ten-year-old fantasy in the morning. As her mouth found his, she decided it didn’t matter. This was now; she would find a way to deal with what ever came with tomorrow.


Stephanie parked next to Cal’s truck and used her key to open the back door to the cabin. She hesitated in the entryway; feeling like she was intruding and wishing he had answered the phone when she had called earlier. She could hear the clothes dryer droning softly and smelled freshly brewed coffee in the kitchen. The sound of the shower relieved a little of her anxiety about not having spoken to Cal before she came over. He must have been in the process of starting his day and not heard the phone. Stephanie wandered into the living room; as she ran her hands over the back of the sofa, she noticed that the sofa’s pillows and the quilt were laid out on the floor and the coffee table had been pushed out of place, as if someone had camped out in front of the fireplace. The feeling that she was intruding came rushing back. Then her eyes alit on the box sitting on the coffee table. She turned at the sound of her name.

“Hello Stephanie.”

Taylor, bare foot, dressed one of Cal’s State Police tee shirts and what appeared to be a pair of his boxer shorts casually stood holding a mug of coffee in the door way which led onto the deck. Though Taylor had addressed Stephanie, her gaze was focused behind her, where Cal had appeared, fresh from the shower, pajama bottoms clinging to his wet legs toweling off his hair; now he stood frozen as his ex-wife turned her hurt face towards him.

“Steph.”

It was all he could manage as she hurried past him and escaped the way she came slamming the door behind her. He turned to Taylor for some indication of what, if anything had transpired between the two women. Taylor responded with a wordless shrug of her shoulders as she turned and calmly walked out onto the deck.

Cal and Stephanie had often argued as all couples do over the little annoyances of daily-married life but whenever they really fought, it was usually when Stephanie felt threatened by the always-present specter of his past relationship with Taylor. Even though they were divorced and he had no reason to feel like a cheating husband caught in the act, force of habit flooded Cal with guilt at having Stephanie discover Taylor there; knowing that she knew what had obviously transpired the previous night.

“Steph, wait.” Cal yelled after her. He followed her out the door.

Stephanie stopped by her car; this was the realization of the nightmare she had fought against for the last fifteen years, the answer to the question that had hung like a black cloud over their marriage: what if?

“For what?”

The answer had been obvious all along. If Taylor came back, Stephanie would lose Cal for good. She stood staring back at the love of her life and a strange resolve crept over her as she realized that they had come full circle. She kept waiting to fall apart, but instead of sadness, she felt strangely relieved as she realized that this was the end of the fairy tale. She stood staring at his guilt-ridden face and waited for the expected response, the outraged tantrum that she’d always have whenever Taylor’s ghost would appear.

But the tantrum didn’t come. In its place a sad kind of resolve filled her heart as she finally realized that she couldn’t really lose something she never had; she had simply been caring for it until the rightful owner returned. Part of her wanted to gather Cal in her arms, as she did all those years ago, and ease the pain she saw registered on his face and then she realized she didn’t have to. Maybe Taylor would after Stephanie left; she hoped that she would.

“I’m through waiting.” Stephanie turned and opened the door to her car. “I’m through.”

************************************

Cal stood on his deck and tried to sort though recent events. It had been more than a week since he’d seen Taylor and even though he’d had no reason to believe that it mattered to her, one way or another, he couldn’t help but wonder why she hadn’t tried to contact him. He knew her time in the area was coming to an end, and there hadn’t been any new developments in the case to keep her here. Just like the last time Taylor had been in this very cabin, he knew she would slip away from him and there was nothing he could do about it. Cal looked back into the living room, every thing she had touched, every place she had stood and it seemed to him that he could still feel her presence there. The sound of his phone ringing focused his attention on what was instead of what he wanted. The caller ID read “Unknown Name, Unknown Number.” This time he answered the call.

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