Brush With Fame

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Chapter 6

Disheartened, I enter the plane and find a seat. Across the aisle from me are three college age girls looking thru the latest trash magazine. I hear them talking about Ryan and me. I keep my face turned away from them and for once pray that someone will come sit next to me so they can hide me and distract me from thinking about Ryan. I don’t want the girls to recognize me and ask tons of questions about Ryan. Thankfully, an elderly couple sit down and chit-chats with me. Unfortunately, once we take off, both start reading and I am left to myself.

Since I have no distractions most of the way back to Kansas City, I think of Ryan. How can I not? I feel like I am in a fairy tale where I met and fell for the handsome prince. Every now and then a few tears slip out, scared that these last few days have been just a dream. I STILL have trouble believing that I met Ryan Paxton, spent the last four days with him and that he wants to get to know me and possibly wants to be with me. I really like him. I like him so much more than I should for just having met him. Plus, it is a little scary to me how well we seem to fit together.

Now that I am away from him, I try to figure out exactly what I feel for him and what I’m going to do about him. I’m so happy when I am with him. How can I feel this way about him already? Is this love at first sight? I’m just not sure if I believe in it. There is no other explanation for my feelings. Ryan understands me so well. I just cannot explain it.

Of course, being away from him, the doubts also creep in. Maybe I am just feeling this way because he’s Ryan Paxton – mega movie star, and I’m fascinated, reading too much into the past four days because of that. Is he just amusing himself with me for a few days? What if he doesn’t answer his phone when I call him and I never hear from him again? I will be devastated. With Craig already destroying most of my happiness, Ryan’s rejection would make me hit rock bottom.

That’s just great. Now I’m getting myself all worked up with this worry. Panic is about to set in. My heart beats frantically. I try to calm down, telling myself that if all I get from Ryan is the past few days, then those days will be the best days of my life. I will remember them always. I concentrate on all the fun things we did and everything we talked about. I do have pictures to look at and remember. I just need to remember to take one day at a time.

At long last, the airplane starts to descend into Kansas City, lands and taxies to the gate. I take a deep breath in, blow it out and prepare myself to kick some butt when I get back to the house. I walk off the plane and up the ramp into the airport. As I walk out of the ramp, I see Taylor just outside the gate. She is frantically pointing to her right. I glance over and see some reporters. Shit! I have to deal with them here, too.

OK, no problem. I can deal with them. I mentally prepare myself.

As I walk toward Taylor, cameras start clicking and questions start flying. I grab Taylor’s arm, tell her to just smile and we start walking toward the baggage claim.

“Did you have a good flight, Olivia?”

“Where is your husband, Craig?”

“Is Ryan going to come visit you?”

“What’s going on with you and Ryan?”

“Why are you seeing Ryan when you are clearly still married to Craig?”

“Yes, I had a great flight. Thank you,” I reply to the first question, ignore the other questions and flash them what I hope is a pretty smile. It must be since they take more pictures. I avoid all questions they ask about Ryan.

The three girls from the plane are off to my left. Their mouths hang open as they watch me and my entourage walk down the hallway.

Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Taylor trying not to gawk at me, but isn’t quite successful. Thankfully, the baggage carousel is bringing the luggage in already. I grab my suitcases from the carousel and turn toward Taylor, giving her a brilliant smile. “Let’s go.”
Taylor grabs one of my suitcases from me. We walk toward the parking garage. I hope Taylor didn’t have to park too far away. As we walk, Taylor speaks low to me.

“You’ve been through hell this week, haven’t you? But it looks like you’re doing ok. You handled those reporters like a pro. Just so you’re prepared, there’s been a couple people – reporters, I assume – at your house and work, too.”

“What?!”

She nods her head to confirm.

Great. Looks like I am not going to have any privacy for a while. I wonder how long it will take for all this to calm down.

“Well, with Craig blabbing about who you are, I assume they’re trying to find out more about you.”

“Damn Craig and his big, fat mouth. I’m sure they’re also here to see if Ryan came back with me,” I say, poking my thumb to the media behind us. “They must be disappointed.”

“Maybe they’ll back off and leave you alone now.”

“Let’s hope so,” I say as we get to Taylor’s car. We put my suitcases in the trunk, get in and slip on my sunglasses. I wave to one of the reporters trying to get one last picture before we drive away.

Taylor leaves the garage and pulls out into bright sunlight to drive to my house. I take out my cell phone to call Ryan to let him know I got back ok but see that I have a message. I put the phone on speaker so Taylor can hear, too.

Hi Beautiful. I miss you so much already. Knowing you, I’m sure you’re starting to think on your flight back. Stop it. I’m serious about being with you and not letting you go. Stop thinking that I’ll ignore you or forget about you now that you’re out of my sight. I’ll be calling you every day. In fact, you’ll probably get tired of me calling all the time and tell me to get lost. But seriously, I miss you. Call me when your flight lands so I know you’re ok.”

“Ohmigod! Olivia!” Taylor exclaims. “You two are more serious than I thought. I know I teased you about getting involved with Ryan, but I didn’t really think you would get with him. Why didn’t you tell me?”

My anxiety slides away, happiness replaces it. “Probably because I’m in denial of how serious it is already. How can we be so serious already, Taylor? We just met.”

“Sometimes is just works out that way.”

“I’m still wondering why he wants to be with me. I’m also scared, so I’m trying not to get too involved right now. And who knows what Craig’s going to do when he finds out that I’ve kick him out and filed for divorce. I don’t want to drag Ryan into that.” He doesn’t need to deal with that crap. “I’m going to call him really quick.”

The phone rings once before he answers.

“Hi Beautiful! God, I miss you.”

My heart soars when I hear his voice and I can’t stop smiling. I am in serious trouble.

“I miss you, too.”

“Your flight was ok?”

“Yes, no problems. I just had a lot of time to think about things. What have you been doing? Did you get some more sleep?”

“No. I’ve been doing nothing. Just sitting here in the hotel room. Vegas is boring.”

“Now that is not true. There are tons of things to do in Vegas” I laugh.

“But they’re not fun without you,” he insists.

“You’ll find something to do. Plus, you leave on Sunday so you don’t have too much time to fill.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Ryan,” I hesitate. I know he’ll be upset, but I have to tell him. “I had a few reporters waiting for me when I got here. And Taylor told me some have been nosing around my house and work, too.”

Ryan groans and curses under his breath. “I’m sorry, Olivia. I was hoping they would leave you alone when you left here and I didn’t go with you. Just try to ignore them and don’t let them frustrate you. They’re just looking for a reaction, a story from you.”

“I know. I got used to them in Vegas. I’m a quick learner. I observed you and know just how you handled them. I wasn’t expecting them to be here. Taylor warned me just a second before they started in on me. I answered a couple questions and smiled the whole time. I ignored the questions about you. I think they were hoping you came back with me. Now that they know you didn’t, I’m hoping they’ll leave me alone.”

“I wish I did go back to Kansas City with you. But don’t count on being left alone by the paparazzi.”

Those reporters won’t keep hounding me when Ryan’s not around, would they? And I am not going to give them information about Ryan, so why wouldn’t they give up. I dismiss Ryan’s comment.

“Anyway, I have to let you go. I need to strategize with Taylor about what we’re doing today. Call me any time, ok?”

“Yes, I will call you, and you call me, too, if you need me or just to talk. Anytime. I mean it. Let me know as soon as you hear from Craig. I want to know his reaction and what he says to you.”

“I promise, I will call. I miss you, Ryan. Talk to you soon.”

I am brilliantly happy when I end the call and put the phone back in my purse. I don’t remember the last time I was so happy. It’s been a while.

“You are radiating happiness. I can’t believe you and Ryan Paxton are together,” Taylor squeals.

“I know, right? But we’re not together, together. We’re just friends.”

Taylor snorts. “Just friends? Girl, no. You’re together. You may not be romantically involved, yet – ’cause I know that’s coming – but you are involved. I can see it in your eyes.”

Taylor knows me too well, Sarah too. It’s a good thing she isn’t here to also tease me. Of course, Taylor can see how happy I am now compared to the miserable being I was when I left. And with finding out that Annabelle is the one Craig is cheating on me with, I should be in a downward spiral of misery. Instead I am happy, cheerful and not caring about Craig. But I decide to play with Taylor a little bit.

“How do you know we’re not romantically involved?”

“Please, Olivia. Give me some credit. How long have I known you? If you and Ryan had gotten busy between the sheets, you’d be floating three feet off the ground. Plus, you’d be in la-la-land, daydreaming about you and Ryan,” she replies arrogantly.

I roll my eyes, unwilling to admit that she’s right.

“You know I’m right.”

“Whatever,” I mumble, trying unsuccessfully to keep the smile off my face. I fail miserably.

“You should know better than that. I know you too well to try to trick me.”

Taylor laughs. I join in. I tell Taylor about Craig and Annabelle coming out of our hotel room, that she had one of my necklaces on. How we moved all my things up to Ryan’s suite and then decided to go shopping.

“So we get to the main lobby of the hotel and guess who happens to be standing there?”

“No way! The cheating bastard and the bitch!”

“Oh, that’s bad, but I call her that, too!” I laugh. “Yes, Craig and Annabelle were there. Ryan puts his arm around me – to support me. We walked toward them. Annabelle saw us first and nudged Craig as we got closer. I smiled at them and casually told them to have a nice day. Then I look directly at Annabelle and tell her that I like her necklace and that I have one just like it. They both just stare after us. Annabelle turned bright red. It was hilarious.”

“Oh my gosh. I love it. That is awesome! I wish I could have been there. I can’t believe you made the comment about the necklace. I must finally be rubbing off on you. I’m so proud you stood up for yourself.”

“I know. About time, huh? That was my intention. I was so mad at myself earlier that day for not saying anything. It felt so good to talk casually to them and not show any irritation.”

“I bet that really burned their butts that you weren’t bothered by seeing them. Annabelle’s probably all mad because you made out so much better than she did. She got your jerk of a husband and you got hottie Ryan Paxton.”

Thinking back, I try to remember Annabelle’s expression from yesterday. “You know, you might be right. She did look kind of pissed off when she first saw us. She should have been smug; but she was totally pissed off.”

“Well, she’s getting what she deserves. I hope Craig treats her just like he treated you.”

“From your mouth to God’s ear! That’s all I can hope for,” I say smiling. Then I sigh. “I’d better call Marc and make sure he’ll be able to take all of Craig’s crap.”

I pull my phone back out of my purse. I don’t want to call Marc. I’m afraid he will call Craig and tell him what I am up to. Hopefully he will be nice enough to let me bring everything over without too many comments.

“Hi Marc. It’s Olivia.”

“Olivia? Uh…hi.”

“I assume you’ve heard about what’s been going on this past week? And that Craig has been cheating on me for a while now.”

“I… uh…well.”

“It’s ok. I don’t blame you. I just want to know if it’s ok to bring Craig’s things over to your place.”

“So you’re kicking him out.”

Oh, crap. Please, please, please be nice and let me bring Craig’s stuff over to your garage.

“Yes.”

“Yeah. Uh, go ahead and bring his stuff on over. I’ll put it in the garage.”

“Good, thanks. I’m not sure when we’ll be over, but probably late this afternoon or early evening. I’ll call when we’re ready to come over.”

“Ok. Um, Olivia?”

“Yes, Marc?”

“I’m really sorry about what Craig has put you through. I’ve known about it and did try to talk him about it. I know you have no reason to believe any of this. But I told him he had a great wife and he was throwing that away. He didn’t listen to me, but I wanted you to know.”

What? Wow! Marc is being nice.

“Thanks Marc.”

“Does Craig know you’re doing this?”

“No, he does not know,” I cringe. I was hoping he wouldn’t ask that question.

“I’ll call and let him know, but I won’t do it until you’re done bringing everything over here. I don’t want him to harass you while you’re trying to pack things up.”

Holy crap! Craig has a decent friend.

“Thank you, Marc. I really appreciate your help and understanding. I knew there was a reason I always liked you.”

I hang up and am putting my phone away when Taylor and I pull onto my street and I see all my friends’ cars parked in front of my house. Taylor had called in the cavalry.

“It will go faster and you won’t have to deal with it any more. And they are more than willing to help,” Taylor says when she notices me getting emotional.

“Thank you,” I reply, as I wipe a tear away and lean across the car to hug Taylor. “You are the most wonderful friend a girl could have.”

“That’s what friends are for, Sweetie.”

Taylor has also lined up a locksmith to change out all the locks. Sarah’s called the security company to come out and update and change the alarm. I am touched that both of them went to all this trouble. I know I would not have thought about all the details until much later.

The girls all hug me when I get inside, offering their support. After I unpack and change, we get to work getting all of Craig’s things packed. He has quite a bit of stuff. However, most of his things are in the basement, a lot still in boxes because his stuff was meant for college kids. We split up; Sarah and half the girls go downstairs to pack with her knowledge of what’s Craig’s and the other half stay upstairs with me and Taylor. Working by myself in the bedroom, I decide to clean out his chest of drawers – which is part of the bedroom set I had purchased before we got married.

I get the first drawer emptied and all packed up. This isn’t too bad. Hopefully the rest of the drawers go just as fast.

I start on the second drawer. I pull out his t-shirts and see a small cigar box with the flip-up lid that I have never seen before. I put his t-shirts in a packing box then look back at the open drawer. I almost pack up the little box. Wish I would have pack it up. But since it seemed like Craig was trying to hide the box, my curiosity gets the best of me. I pick it up and peek inside.

Oh, no. Why didn’t I just pack it up? The box is filled with pictures and letters and little…souvenirs, I guess you would call them. I don’t recognize the couple of the pictures that I can see. Quickly I snap the lid closed.

What did I just see? What the hell is this? I stare at the box like it is going to bite me. I cannot stop staring at it for a few minutes, trying to grasp what it is. Is it stuff from before we met? Or were the pictures collected after we were together? My heart beat races and my hands, that are still holding the box, are shaking. Finally, my knees give out and I plop down to the floor, but still not re-opening the box.

It starts calling to me to open it and look at what’s inside – or is that my subconscious wanting to know? How ridiculous? I shouldn’t care about what’s in this stupid box. Do I want to know what’s in it? I already know that Craig is a jerk. Do I need to see more proof of just how bad he is? I should just pack it away like everything else and not think about it again. Oh, how that stupid, little box taunts me. I cannot help myself. I must know what’s in it. Knowledge is good, right? I open the lid.

I find a couple notes from Annabelle – aka ‘the bitch’. Basically, they consist of Annabelle telling Craig how sexy he is and how much fun he is and that it’s so funny that I don’t know anything about them. Well, I figure I deserve that since I ignored Craig’s behavior instead of standing up for myself and speaking out.

Next there are pictures of Annabelle and of both of them. Eww. A couple risqué photos of Annabelle. Gross. I will not be able to get that image out of my head. Then I pull out another photo. I don’t recognize the girl with Craig. On the back of the photo is “Elizabeth”, dated almost a year and a half ago. I find a few more pictures of this Elizabeth. So far all the pictures and notes I look at are from after Craig and I were together. I’m kind of obsessed now. I have to know what’s all in this box. I have to know how long Craig has been cheating on me. I find pictures of yet another girl, Nicole. One of the pictures of Nicole was taken two weeks before we got married. A note attached to the photo rules out any innocence that Craig may have had. “Craig, thanks for the fuck”. Crude. I think I remember that the striper that Craig had for his bachelor party was named Nicole. I also remember his friends bringing her name up a few times, teasing Craig about her.

How awesome.

I sit, horrified, tears streaming down my face. I have been completely fooled by Craig. Here I thought that he only cheated on me maybe for the last few months, but he screwed around our whole marriage. How many others are there that he does not have pictures of? I shove everything back into the box and snap the lid closed.

“Olivia, are these Craig’s or yours?” Taylor interrupts from the doorway, holding some DVDs. She runs over to me throwing the DVDs on the bed. “Olivia, what happened? What’s wrong?”

I cannot talk, just keep shaking my head, like I’m trying to shake it all away.

“Olivia! Please tell me what happened? What’s wrong. Please, let me help,” Taylor begs.

I try again and open my mouth but I still cannot form any words, so I shove the cigar box into Taylor’s hands. She takes the box and gave me a confused look.

“What is it?” she asks.

I reach over and open the box. She starts looking through it.

“Oh shit!” she exclaims, continuing to look through it. Unable to squat beside me anymore, Taylor lets herself fall, sitting right next to me. “Oh! Oh, God. Olivia!” she whispers. She covers her mouth with one of her hands.

Unable to control the semi-hysterical emotions, I let go. I start sobbing and can’t stop. Taylor puts her arm around me to comfort me. Sarah comes in to find out why Taylor has not come back yet. She rushes over to us.

“What happened?” she asks.

“Look,” Taylor says, handing Sarah the box, then wraps her other arm around me.

Sarah sits on the other side of me and slowly starts going thru the box.

“Oh shit! What the hell is this? What kind of scum does this?” Sarah is livid. She grabs and holds onto my hand. “I’m sorry Olivia. We’re here for you. Go on and cry. Let out all the hurt. Then we can move on to anger.”

“Yes, let it out. You will feel better,” Taylor says.

After quite a few minutes of crying, I start mumbling questions. “Why did he do this to me? What did I ever do to him? Why was I so blind and ignorant to what he was?”

“Honey, you didn’t do anything to deserve this,” Sarah quickly says. “He deceived you into thinking he was a good man. He’s a con. He conned all of us.”

“But why?”

“We can’t answer that, Sweetie,” Taylor says. “I wish he was here so I could kick his ass. And I would kick his ass, too.”

I snort out a little laugh picturing Taylor kicking Craig’s butt. It is just what Taylor wants. “I know you would. Thank you. Thank you, too, Sarah. Please don’t tell anyone about this. I don’t want others to know how stupid I’ve been.”

I see Sarah look at Taylor, rolls her eyes, then answers me. “We won’t tell anyone, but you’re not stupid. Olivia, you were in a monogamous marriage. He should have kept his pecker in his pants.”

After a few more sniffs and a couple of deep breaths, I stop crying.

“Come on. Let’s take a break. You deserve a drink,” Taylor suggests. “Sarah, take Olivia to her office. I’ll be right there.”

Sarah and I go to my office. My office has always been my sanctuary from Craig. I love this room. There is a big, beautiful cherry wood desk that sits right in front of the huge picture window facing the door. Two matching tall shelving units flank either side of the window and are filled with books. A comfortable leather loveseat beckons in the corner with a Tiffany lamp beside it and a small coffee table in front. Thrown over the back of the loveseat is a soft blanket I use when it gets cold. This is my space. It is a space where I can relax. And, best of all, it has never been tainted by Craig.

My mind is still dazed. So many questions keep circling in my head with no answers to them. Taylor comes in with three glasses of wine, one filled almost twice as full as the others. She gives that one to me with an order to ‘drink up’. Sarah is babbling about some horrible blind date she had a couple nights ago. She’s trying to distract me. Contrary to what both Taylor and Sarah say, I feel extremely stupid for not realizing what Craig was really like. They both try to get me to talk about the box, telling me I will feel better getting it out. But I just cannot talk about it. I’m embarrassed about it. I have to figure things out in my own head before I can talk about it to anyone else.

The ringing of my cell phone interrupts their distraction efforts. I simply ignore it. I am certain it’s Craig. Marc must have called him. Hell, there is no way I am emotionally rational enough to talk to him. I say as much to Taylor and Sarah.

Taylor grabs my phone and checks out who’s calling.

“It’s not Craig. It’s Ryan. You should talk to him,” Taylor says, holding the phone out to me.

I can’t talk to him right now. I’m too discombobulated. Plus, I don’t want him to know how stupid I’ve been with Craig. I shake my head. “No! I can’t. I don’t want to talk to him right now.”

“Why not?” Taylor insists.

“I just don’t want to talk to him right now. I’ll call him later.”

Taylor contemplates for a second. Looking at the phone then back at me.

“Taylor…,” I warn.

But she answers my phone anyway.

“Olivia’s phone. This is Taylor.”

I try to get up and walk out of the room, but Taylor grabs hold of arm and shakes her head at me. If looks could kill, Taylor would be laying dead on the floor from my intense glare. She will not let go of my arm so I try to ignore her. I can’t help but listen fervently to her side of the conversation, praying that she won’t tell him anything.

“Yes, Olivia is here but she can’t come to the phone right now.”

Now he’ll what to know why.

“Things are going…ok.”

It annoys me that I cannot hear what Ryan’s saying.

“Well, you can’t talk to her right now. She’s upset and doesn’t want to talk.”

Oh, crap. That will get him.

“Well, while packing some of the ass’s things,” she pauses and laughs at something Ryan said. “Anyway, Olivia found a little souvenir box that Craig had hidden in one of his drawers. There were pictures and notes in there that shocked and hurt her and she’s an emotional wreck right now. She doesn’t really want to talk about it right now, but we’ll get her to talk later.”

Hearing only Taylor’s side of the conversation is a very frustrating.

I can just imagine how irritated Ryan is right now. Infuriated with Craig for treating me like crap, irritated that he isn’t here, annoyed that I don’t want to talk to him.

“No, Ryan.”

I knew it.

Taylor gets go of my arm. I’m too curious now to think that I was free to leave the room.

“Absolutely not! She wouldn’t want you to change your plans and it would stress her out even more. So, don’t even think about flying here. We’re handling things.”

What?! Alright. That was enough. I rip the phone out of Taylor’s hand to let him have it.

“Ryan.”

“Ah, so you finally decide you can talk to me, huh?”

Oh, he is pissed off, huh? Well, that makes two of us. I get up to pace around the room.

“What the hell are you think? Fly out here. I…I’m fine. Do not waste your time.”

“I wouldn’t be wasting anything if it means seeing you again and comforting, helping you. But that’s beside the point. Why did you hesitate when you said you’re fine, Olivia?” He doesn’t give me time to answer. “Because you’re not fine. If you think you’re fine, then why didn’t you answer your phone, Olivia? Why did Taylor have to explain things to me?”

“Because…because I had a little breakdown.”

“And you haven’t talked to Taylor and Sarah about it? Why not?”

“It’s just how I’m handling it. OK? I need to figure it out. Get it straight in my head before I can talk about it. I’m fine.”

“You’re fine?! You’re fine! God I’m growing to bloody hate that word. You won’t talk to your friends about it and you didn’t even want to answer your phone when I called. But I’m fine,” he mocks me. “So what, you’re just peachy now? Are you over it?” he asks, getting really angry and starts to yell.

“Hell no, I’m not over it. But I’m getting to a point where I can deal with it. And don’t you yell at me,” I yell right back at him.

“I’m going to yell at you if it makes you talk to me.”

I look around and realize that Taylor and Sarah has left me alone and closed the door. Good, I can yell at Ryan some more. I try to calm down, but it isn’t working.

“God damn it, Ryan. You make me so mad! You ask Taylor if you should come here. Like I’m some…some…piddly, little, spineless woman who can’t handle things on her own? Like I need a man to take care of things for me?” I say, getting louder as I rant.

“Well, get used to it, Olivia, because I am a man and I am not going anywhere, whether you like it or not. You can scream and yell at me all you want. But I care about what happens to you. I want to help you,” he says, again yelling back at me.

“You can’t protect me from everything bad that’s going to happen to me, Ryan. I have to deal with Craig. I have to clean up this mess, because I was stupid enough to not see past his façade. And I’m absolutely positive that more bad things are going to come out that will hurt me again and again. And that will make me feel even more stupid for staying with Craig for so long. So what, Ryan? Are you going to fly here and take care of me every time that happens?”

I am on a roll now. Ryan lets me purge without interrupting. “Hell Ryan. Between you and Craig I think I’m going insane. I can’t wrap by brain around how deceived I was by Craig. And I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do with you.” I pause, deciding how honest I want to be with him.

“Ok, Ryan, let us suppose that you do come out here now to support me, comfort me. Are you going to fly out again in a couple weeks when Craig comes over trying to get me to take him back? What happens when you’re on location filming and I have a problem, Ryan? Are you going to stop everything and fly back here?” My voice softens a little, my anger toward Craig turns into my fears with Ryan. “What happens when I get so dependent on you, and I grow to expect you to come and help with all the bad things, and you make me fall in love with you and then you leave?”

Oh, shit. I was not planning on saying that. But I’m not thinking too clearly and just let anything fly out of my mouth. Obviously, my relationship with Ryan is weighing on my mind, too. Him leaving and breaking my heart is what terrifies me the most about Ryan. I can see it happening so easily.

“I wouldn’t be able to…don’t you see? I have to be strong enough to survive all on my own.” I am almost hysterical again by the time I finish.

Ryan is quiet. I wonder if I have shocked him with my brutal honesty. But I am glad he made me mad enough to say it. I’m glad it’s out there now. I can hear him breathing into the phone. When he speaks it’s soft but still oozing with anger.

“Well, thank God you finally tell me the truth. I know you think it’s too soon for us to feel the way we feel for each other. I think it’s crazy too. It happened so fast. But Olivia, I care about you…so much, more than anyone else. I am not going to leave you. I honestly don’t think I could. I’m also scared of what we have. Something clicked in me when I met you. I was so happy when I was with you, feeling like I could conquer the world. When I had to put you on that plane this morning, I left the airport incomplete. And that scares the shit out of me.”

I can picture him running his fingers thru the front of his hair while pacing around. My heart soars with his confession, but before I can say anything he continues.

“I swear to God I will NEVER hurt you like that. I am not Craig. I didn’t mean to make you think that I will fly out to you at the drop of a hat to take care of you. And I didn’t mean to humiliate you or make you feel inferior, to make you think that I don’t believe you can handle Craig without a man. But even if it’s just talking on the phone, I want to help. I feel useless not being there with you.” I hear him blow out his breath. “I can’t believe you think that I could leave you and hurt you like that.”

“That’s my insecurities and I have to deal with them. I’m trying to deal with them. I mean, think about it. I’ve had to deal with Craig the last two years, well more if you count the months we dated. I had a set back today; it really messed with me. I am livid with Craig. Having proof that he screwed around on me all throughout our relationship, it’s…I don’t even know. Degrading? My marriage was a joke, one that I wasn’t aware of. I feel ripped apart, and not to mention that I feel stupid and naïve for not seeing any of this. I’m so mad at myself. How could I have been so blind?”

I think back to see if I could have…should have seen any traces of Craig’s cheating, but I can’t think of any.

“But, I’m not some helpless person who can’t do anything for herself. I’ll work through this and survive.”

“Oh god, Olivia. I want to be there with you so bad, to hold you and wipe away your tears. It kills me that I can’t be there with you. Please, at least talk to me and let me be concerned about you.”

My heart gallops in my chest. There is so much upheaval in my life. What am I supposed to do with Ryan when I fall a little bit more in love with him every time I talk to him? Am I strong enough to let someone into my heart and risk everything again? Ryan IS completely different than Craig.

“Yes, Ryan. You can be concerned and I value your opinion. And I will do my best to tell you what’s going on and how I feel about it. Just please don’t make it sound like I can’t take care of myself. If there is a time that comes when I do need you to come out here, I will ask you to come.”

“Alright. I understand you need to do this on your own. I’m sorry if I made you sound like you were weak. I know you’re very strong. Please understand that I support you and all you have to do is ask if you need me. Ok?”

“Yes, OK.”

“Now, will you please tell me what you found today? Did I hear you correctly earlier? Did you say you found proof that he cheated on you throughout your marriage?”

I groan. “Yes, before we were married, after we got married, the whole time.” I tell him about packing up the dresser drawers and finding the cigar box. I describe everything that’s in it.

Ryan curses. “Don’t feel stupid. None of that is your fault. He didn’t want you to know and he hid it well. Maybe you should have said something to him about being gone all the time, but he wanted you to think he was out drinking not screwing around on you. I’m sorry you were the one to find the box.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

“Well, at least you won’t have to deal with him too much more. Have you heard anything from the ass?”

“No. I called his friend Marc when Taylor and I got back from the airport.”

Ryan made a sound, like I shouldn’t have done that, but I continue.

“No, no. Really. It’s okay. He’s willing to take Craig’s things and let him know what’s going on. But get this. Marc said he wouldn’t call Craig until after we dropped off Craig’s things because he didn’t want Craig to bother us while we’re packing up.”

“Well, that was nice. Too bad Marc didn’t rub off on Craig. I wish you didn’t have to talk to Craig at all,” Ryan says, concerned.

“Oh, I don’t know. Part of me wants to confront him and find out what excuses he’ll give me.”

“Don’t. You’ll just end up getting hurt some more.”

“Yeah, you’re right. And today is not a good day to confront him either. I’m way too emotional.” I could just see how any conversation with Craig would go. I would be bawling the whole time I try confronting him. I would look like even more of an idiot and give Craig way too much ammunition to ignore my questions and fling insults back at me.

“What time is your flight on Sunday?” I ask, changing the subject.

“I fly out at eleven. It’s a quick flight,” he replies.

“If I don’t talk to you tomorrow, will you call me when you get back to Los Angeles?”

“Olivia. I will talk to you tomorrow and when I get back to Los Angeles. And probably sometime in-between.”

“Ok” I say with a smile. “I’m sorry I didn’t want to answer my phone and talk with you. Confiding in you is going to take some getting used to. Now, I’d better go so we can finish boxing up Craig’s things. The sooner I get his crap out of here the sooner I will feel better.”

“That sounds like a good idea. I’m sorry I got over protective of you. You know I care about you, and hate to see – or hear – you hurting.”

“I forgive you. Just don’t make a habit of it,” I tease. “Oh and Ryan, I care about you – a lot – too.”

“Good. I miss you so much, Olivia. So much that it hurts,” he breathes into the phone.

I can barely take in a breath. I feel the tears coming on again. “Oh god, Ryan. You’re going to make me cry again. I miss you, too. I’ll talk to you tomorrow?”

“Call any time if you need to. Goodbye Beautiful.”

I put my phone down and lay my head on the desk. What am I doing? I am getting rid of one guy and falling for another. Question is am I going to get hurt all over again. Ryan promises he will not hurt me. I just don’t have the answer because I barely know Ryan.

Even though he isn’t physically with me, I do feel much better after talking to, and yelling at Ryan. He makes that stupid, little box seem not as bad as I first thought. He also makes me realize just how bad Craig’s behavior had gotten. Craig had never been protective of me. He had never asked how I felt, never cared how I felt and never wanted to hear about what was going on in my life. He only wanted to talk about himself. And now, when I look back at Craig’s behavior, it was bad from the very beginning. How could I not have seen that? Why did I let him get away with it? What is wrong with me?

No use beating myself up about it. There is nothing I can do about it now and he’ll be gone soon enough. I shake it off. His stuff’s not going to pack itself. I get up and go to finish packing Craig’s things. I want him gone and out of my life now. I swear if I find any more boxes, I will not open them and derail me again.

A couple hours later, we finally finish. While my helpers load up cars, SUVs and a small trailer, I search through every inch of the house, making sure none of his things are left. Satisfied that I have everything, we drive it all over to Marc’s house. Again, Marc said he’ll call Craig so I wouldn’t have to deal with him. It really is too bad Marc didn’t rub off on Craig.

The girls and I head back to my house. We order pizzas and drink lots of wine. Ally bugs me to tell her every little detail about Ryan and what it was like dealing with the paparazzi. I have already given her the picture of Ryan with an autograph on it plus Ryan wrote her a personal note. Ally is in heaven.

“I can’t get over you being with Ryan Paxton,” Dhara says.

“Well, I’m not really with Ryan.”

“You hung out with him,” she argues. “And he calls you. You’re with Ryan.”

“Hanging out with celebrities. That’s not something I thought would ever happen to someone I know, especially here in the Midwest. How does he kiss?” Claire asks.

My face heats up.

“What?! Why would you think I know how he kisses?”

“Oh, please,” Ally says, with a calculating smile. “Taylor already told us that he kissed you.”

“Taylor!”

“Really, Olivia. You expected me to keep that to myself? I don’t think so,” Taylor smirks.

I roll my eyes.

“Plus, we’ve seen the photos the paparazzi took. One of them looked like he was kissing you,” Ally informs me. “Although I’m not quite sure because of the angle.”

“Hmm. I guess you haven’t seen the photos from this morning. I’m sure a couple photos were taken while Ryan and I were saying goodbye at the airport. Ryan is a normal guy, a very decent and sweet man. And he’s a really good friend.”

“Boring!” exclaims Ally.

“Oh, come on, Olivia!” Dhara says.

I giggle – actually giggle, like a school girl. “And he’s really hot! And gorgeous! And built! And the most amazing kisser.”

“Ooh. I knew it!” Dhara sighs.

“Will he come to visit you? Will we get to meet him?” Ally asks, hopeful.

“There are no plans for him to come any time soon. But if he does, yes, you’ll all get to meet him. He asked me to go to an awards show with him in a couple weeks.”

Damn it! I wasn’t going to mention the show at all. I got caught up talking about Ryan. It has been bugging me since he asked me. But now they won’t leave me alone about going.

“What? Oh, oh, oh! I’m so jealous! You’re going to have so much fun,” Ally exclaims.

“You told him you would go, right?” Sarah asks, studying me. She knows me too well and can tell I’m holding back.

“I told him I would think about it.”

“Why didn’t you tell him yes?” Taylor demands.

“You didn’t tell him yes!” Ally exclaims at the same time. “Why wouldn’t you go? Just think of all the people you get to meet.”

“I’m just not sure I want to go. There will be so many cameras and reporters and celebrities there. I wouldn’t fit in. I’d most likely stare at the other celebrities so much I’d embarrass Ryan,” I try to joke.

Taylor and Sarah are both watching me, probably trying to figure out why I am making excuses.

“You wouldn’t do that. You should go,” Ally argues with me. “Maybe I can go if you decide not to.” She raises her eyebrows a couple times.

“I’ll tell Ryan you’re interested.”

Taylor is still watching me, scrutinizing me. It makes me feel uncomfortable. I make a face at her. She glares at me.

“You know what I’m still confused about?” Sarah says.

“What’s that?” I ask anxiously, thankful that she changed the subject.

“Why did Craig spend money on the trip to get you out there, stay at the Bellagio – not an inexpensive hotel, then not spend time with you. Instead he meets up with Annabelle, sorry “the bitch”. Wouldn’t he want to share the Bellagio experience just with his girlfriend without you around? It doesn’t make sense.”

That was the question of the century.

“I know. I haven’t been able to figure out what’s up with the whole trip,” I reply. “…Other than to assume he did some major betting. Wasn’t the national championship football game earlier this week?”

“I think it was. And that could be part of it. But it’s weird because it almost seemed like if you decided not to go on this trip, he wouldn’t be able to go either,” Taylor weighs in.

“Right. And it’s so not like him to spend extravagantly when there are so many cheaper hotels in Vegas,” I add. “And for him to hire a limo to take use to the hotel. That is definitely not Craig.”

We leave that subject unsolved since I didn’t find out anything while in Las Vegas, well, other than he is cheating on me with Annabelle. And that he spent a lot of money just so I would find out about them. We find it impossible to get it to add up.

It was a wonderful, much needed evening with my girlfriends. Taylor is going to spend the night with me. She doesn’t want me to be alone. After the others leave, Taylor and I pick up then sit down to relax before going to bed.

“So, how do you feel now that you kicked the asshole out?” Taylor asks.

“It feels good, especially after finding that stupid cigar box.”

“It’s a good lethargic step in your healing process,” she informs me.

I shake my head in agreement.

“Now, tell me the real reason you haven’t given Ryan an answer about going to the awards show?” Taylor insists.

Oh, crap. No. She’s going to try to talk me into telling him yes.

“Come on Olivia. If you didn’t want to talk about it, you shouldn’t have told us Ryan invited you in the first place. You know this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. This would be an awesome experience.”

“I know.”

“So why are you not eager to go?”

“Oh Taylor. I’m scared. Terrified is more like it,” I say. I don’t even want to say it out loud.

“Why are you terrified?” Taylor asks intrigued.

“I’m scared of the feelings I already have for Ryan. He bulldozed me out in Vegas. Spending all this time with me. Saying he wants to be the one to replace Craig.”

“Whoa! He said that?” Taylor interrupts.

I nod. “If I spend more time with him, I’m going to fall in love with him. I can’t let him matter so much. I’ll be devastated when he breaks it this whole thing off.”

“Olivia Sterling! You need to stop thinking that way right now,” she scolds me. “I hope you do fall in love with him. He’s obviously hooked on you. What would make you think that he would break things off with you?”

“Taylor, come on. Why would Ryan Paxton want to be with me? I wonder if I was just a distraction for him out in Las Vegas. And when he returns to his normal life, he’ll just forget about me.”

Taylor stares are me.

“I know Craig has really messed with you these last couple years. Therefore, I’m not going to yell at you. Olivia, you are beautiful. Any man, and I mean any man, would be lucky to go out with you. Ryan Paxton is not going to forget you. You have made an impression on him. Hearing his voice mail today after your flight and him calling and yelling at you this afternoon tells me he is much more involved than you think. He cares. And I bet you a million dollars that if you told Ryan you needed him here, he would get his butt out here as fast as he could. I think you just need to relax and enjoy any time you are able to get with him. Go with him to the show. And then just see how things go.”

I don’t say anything. I’m thinking through everything she has said. She has some good points.

“Don’t answer now. Think about it. Talk to Ryan. He seems pretty reasonable and he knows what you’ve been going through with the asshole. The awards show is a once in a lifetime opportunity that you don’t want to miss out on”, she says. “Oh, and worrying about embarrassing yourself or Ryan, I think you’ll be so conscious of yourself, that you won’t do anything to embarrass Ryan or yourself.”

Dammit. She is right. Even if this thing with Ryan doesn’t work out, how many chances will I get to go to the show and see all the celebrities? She has given me some good advice. I’ll have to think about it.

Finally, Taylor gets up to go to bed. I sit on the couch for a while thinking. I am extremely relieved that we got Craig out of my house. Granted, I will deal with him when he gets back, but hopefully that’ll be the last time. Glancing at my phone I notice a text from Ryan.

Friday, January 15, 2016 7:18pm

Hi Beautiful. Just thinking about you.

Oh! I melt and give him a quick call.

“Hello my beautiful Olivia,” he answers. “What are you doing?”

“I was just sitting here thinking about you, glanced at my phone and saw your text and decided to give you a quick call before I go to sleep.”

“I like being the last person you think about before you go to sleep. Then you can have sweet or steamy dreams about me.”

“Trust me. I don’t need to talk to you right before I go to bed to have sweet and steamy dreams about you.”

Ryan lets out a loud, boisterous laugh.

“God, I miss you Olivia.”

We talk a little more about what Ryan did earlier today. Then I tell him I need to try to sleep and I’ll talk with him tomorrow.

Ryan makes me so happy. He’s fun to be around. And there is that amazing connection. But he is just going to be a friend for now. I keep telling myself that. Yeah, right. I am not fooling anyone. I’m already falling for Ryan. I miss him like crazy and I just left him this morning.

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