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Chapters 1 - 10

October 24 2004 at 11:47 AM
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Colleen  (Premier Login Mrs.B.)
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Response to Down The Hall

Chapter 1:

It had been seven years since Belle Black lived in Salem. So much had changed during that time, and she had changed even more. Now a more worldly young woman of 23 compared to the awkward adolescent the last time she lived in the small city, Belle was somewhat skeptical about how she would fare in her hometown. After being whisked off to boarding school, despite numerous protests and a period of refusing to talk to her parents, she went away to Westmoor Prep on the East Coast and now she was a graduate of New York University. A woman of the world after traveling throughout Europe as an intern for one of the leading fashion agencies, Belle was now back in Salem to work for her father's company Basic Black.

Living in Salem for all of three weeks now, Belle became acclimated to the quaint town she called home quite easily. She busied herself mainly with Basic Black affairs and working with the new fashion division of which she was director of teen design, a market Basic Black wanted to capture and dominate. During this time Belle lived with her parents and hung out mainly with her brother and his friends, who all mostly worked at Basic Black. She had little time to connect with old friends, the friends she left behind when she was sixteen. The friends whose letters and calls became fewer and fewer over the years. Belle had no real desire to reconnect anytime soon. Her life was different now and she doubted she would have much in common with those who grew up in the Midwest town.

Driving down Broad Street Belle listened to the radio, humming along to the familiar tune. Her mind wandered to so many things but mainly the excitement she felt about moving into her new apartment. Finally, reaching Forest Lane she made a right and a left onto Sycamore and saw the brownstone apartment building she would now call her home. Finding a spot on the street she parked her black BMW in front of the building. She stepped out of the car and popped open the trunk. Grabbing a large box she looked up at the old building, full of so much class and history. It had been renovated only 2 years ago and the apartments were gorgeous with hard wood floors, spacious rooms, and large bay windows. With a deep breath a smile crept on her face as she became anxious to start her new life back home. She walked into the building and quickly made her way up the flight of stairs to apartment 3A. Her fingers found the unfamiliar key and slipped into the lock, fidgeting with it slightly she finally found the trick to opening the lock and pushed the door open, revealing the spacious 2 bedroom she had been looking forward to occupying. "Perfect," she whispered as she walked into the bare living room. Setting the box down she stood in the middle of the empty space and twirled herself around slowly to look at the place, mentally figuring how she wanted her furniture to fit in.

A smile radiated her face as her mind filled with a variety of decorating options. She walked into the bedrooms, deciding which one would serve as her office and which as her actual bedroom. Her mind was swimming with ideas. Glancing down at her watch she saw that it was close to the time she expected the movers. Any moment now the empty space would be filled with boxes and crates, furniture and decorative items. Soon she became overwhelmed with the thought of setting up her new home when her thoughts were interrupted by the multiple rings of her cell phone.

"Hello?"

"Hey darling!"

"Hey Harry, what's up?" she smiled. Her friend Harry from work was one of the few people she associated with since she moved back to Salem. Harry was one of the greatest artistic geniuses she had ever known, and having worked with most of them in Europe she knew Harry was the real deal. Her father was lucky to have him working at Basic Black.

"Oh, Isabella!" he raved in a slight lisp. Belle began to laugh as she could picture Harry in all his flamboyance talking to her quite animatedly. "Let me tell you honey, the you know what is about to hit the fan. Grace in all her infinite divadom has decided that she should handle the Dreams campaign," he said with a bit of flare and over dramatization. His voice had a touch of attitude, his effeminate qualities becoming more pronounced as he talked with increasing speed. "Now, Isabella you know and I know that is absolutely-positively-completely AND utterly the worst! Darling, she is going to run this company to the ground!" He paused for a moment as he listened to Belle laugh at his endless tirade. "Isabella dear what are you laughing about! By the way, where are you? I am out of my mind with worry," he chuckled.

"Harry, I'm moving today remember? I am in my new apartment as we speak. I'm waiting on the movers."

"Oh," he sighed. "So you are not coming into the office today?" he asked with a hint of irritation, but mainly disappointment.

"No, but I will be there Monday and I'll do damage control then, ok?"

"Fine," he huffed. "Well, you let me know if you need some decorating help mademoiselle!" he beamed. "You know I absolutely adore new projects!" he said excitedly.

"Alright, Harry ... thanks for keeping me posted. Don't worry about Grace, I'll take care of that situation," she assured.

"Thanks baby cakes! Smooches!" he exclaimed and clicked off the phone in a excited hurry.

Belle hung up her phone as she shook her head at the thought of Harry having one of his famous cat fights with Grace. After only a few weeks the two were at each other's throats about every artistic decision and Belle welcomed the challenge of dealing with the dominant personalities.

With a deep sigh she cleared her mind of her work problems and had a seat on her new hardwood floor. Deciding quickly that a rug would definitely be needed she thought about particular patterns and styles that would fit the room. She sat by the box her mother had stashed away in a closet. Over the years, Marlena had saved old pictures and mementos from Belle's childhood and kept them in a box for her to have when she moved back to Salem. She searched through the box and picked up little ribbons and prizes from various competitions she had won in elementary school. Near the bottom was an old photo album. Pulling it out of the cardboard box, she blew over the surface to rid it of any dust and sat the picture book in her lap. Opening it to the first page she found a picture of herself as a baby in her mother's arms. Her father looked down at her, smiling proudly. The next was of Brady, as a toddler kissing her head, one of few precious moments she knew they shared as children. She laughed at the thought of how they fought endlessly as children, but now she wouldn't know what she would do without him around. She continued to flip through the album and stopped on a page that sent her down memory lane.

Studying the photo closely she smiled as she remembered the day when she was five years old. She wore her favorite pink dress. Her hair was in pigtails, tied with big pink ribbons. Her father told her she looked like a princess and she felt like one until he came along, the one who always made her mad and happy, both at the same time as a child and he teased her mercilessly at the park. The picture showed her in the sandbox with her best friend, Mimi Lockhart. It had been ages since they had talked. They were best friends up until Belle left for boarding school and the distance made them grow apart. They talked occasionally but it was never the same. In the picture the two little girls were building a mansion for their dolls. They looked so happy together, but then the next picture showed them both crying as a brown haired, brown eyed boy laughed behind them holding a frog in his hands.

Belle chuckled softly to herself as she remembered how Shawn Douglas Brady, the "ickiest boy" she used to call him at that age, would torment her endlessly. He always had a new pet, a frog, a snake, a lizard, anything creepy and slimy to scare her with and at that age she was scared of all the reptile pets he liked to have. She remembered how he used to tease her and call her names at school and at the park, but when they were alone at his house or hers, he was always so nice to her. They would play together and get along perfectly, and as they grew up they became very close, and best friends.

She flipped through the album and noticed how many times Shawn was in her pictures capturing the hallmark times in her life: birthdays, holidays, and special events. He was always there with her. Shawn was her first crush, and she was pretty sure that she was his first crush, too. They were each other's first kiss at age six, and each other's first real kiss when they were 12, both times on a dare, neither one of them willing to own up to the fact that they liked each other as more than friends.

Belle laughed softly as she flipped the book of memories, and realized how much Shawn had dominated her young life. How things had changed. They had lost touch over the years. She would get random updates from her parents, nothing ever positive. Things like, "that Brady boy got in trouble again," or "that Brady kid is no good." She knew that Shawn had it rough. His parents had divorced and eventually remarried, but that time was hard on him and he rebelled as a teenager. He was sent away to boarding school for a while to "straighten him out" but he eventually ran away and came back to Salem with a huge chip on his shoulder. When he returned her parents, particularly mother thought it best Belle go to boarding school and not be influenced by Shawn.

Over the years, Belle heard little bits here and there and recently found out that he was working at the pier. Part of her wanted to reconnect with her old friend, the other did not know how she would handle seeing him again. Seven years ago, he was her world, her best friend, and now, she felt he was a stranger.

Chapter 2:

Belle stood in her new apartment watching the movers bring in all her belongings. She had her items in storage for weeks now as she waited to find the perfect place to live. Thrilled beyond belief, she became increasingly excited as she saw her furniture and paintings. Most of the items she bought in Europe. The sophisticated belongings added the element of class she knew would be hard to find at Salem Place.

The movers moved quickly, a little too quickly for her liking as they came close to breaking or damaging her items. She found herself speaking harshly and practically yelling at them as they became careless with her belongings. Becoming nervous beyond belief and extremely stressed she found her purse and pulled out a cigarette. "God, I've got to quit," she cursed under her breath as she frantically lit the slim stick and closed her eyes as she took a deep puff. She walked to the window and leaned against the sill as she watched the men bring in the rest of the boxes and furniture, and for a moment she found a sense of peace and solace in the cigarette. A habit she regretted picking up in boarding school, continued in college and perpetuated in Europe, and ever since her return to the states she tried on numerous occasions to quit. Blowing out a stream of smoke, she listened to the men argue about where to put things, but she ignored them and allowed the nicotine to take effect. Shortly, after she finished and joined back in the chaos of her move.

---
A motorcycle sped down the streets of Salem in a fury. Pulling onto Sycamore Ave, abuzz with activity with a moving truck blocking the spot he usually parked in, the driver cursed silently under his breath in annoyance. "Not another damn neighbor," he grumbled as he swung in before a black BMW he had never seen before. Flipping off his helmet he brushed his hand against the shiny car, "a snobby rich neighbor at that," he complained. Running his fingers through his thick brown hair, he sighed impatiently. His day was one of the worst he had ever had at the pier. His hands ached and were callused to no end, and going to the club tonight to play a gig was the last thing he wanted to do. He walked up to the old brownstone he called home and hustled up the stairs to his apartment, 3C. Automatically hearing the noise of movers, he let out another stream of obscenities under his breath and slowly walked by apartment 3A to get a glimpse of who was moving in. He saw two men from the moving company and the back of a petite blonde. "Whoa," he said to himself as he instantly fell in love with the bombshell that stood in the disheveled living room. He couldn't even see the mess around her, all he saw was her in the tight jeans and yellow tank top looking like a goddess. He watched hoping she would turn around so he could see how hot he imagined she looked from the front. His eyes stayed fixed on her as he licked his lips slowly, contemplating if he should do his neighborly duty and introduce himself.

"Hey buddy," one of the movers said in a gruff voice.

The man snapped out of his daze and looked up at the bulky man who was carrying two boxes stacked up in his arms. "Oh," he moved out of the way, "sorry," he said a little flustered. Not wanting to see if the blonde temptress was watching he quickly made his way down the hall, not wanting to get caught spying.

The mover walked in and Belle turned around as he brought the boxers inside. "Who was that?" she asked.

"I don't know miss... one of your neighbors I think. I think he was spying or something."

"That's odd," her curiosity peaked and she walked out of the apartment to see the door down the hall close. "Hmmm... I guess I'll meet him later," she said to herself.

Inside his apartment, he threw down his helmet on the chair and went straight to his kitchen. Opening up the almost bare fridge he grabbed a beer and made his way to the living room. He flopped down on his couch and planted his feet atop the coffee table. Grabbing the remote control he switched on the television and snapped open the bottle of beer. He took a long drink and sank into the sofa, with a loud groan he let out a loud sigh. "Shawn," he said to himself, "what are you going to do with your life?" He was frustrated beyond belief. His job at the pier was leading nowhere fast and he knew that, he hoped beyond hope his fledgling band would go somewhere but it had been three years and though they were the biggest thing in Salem and nearby cities, his dream of making a living with his music faded fast.

His phone rang and he stretched his arm behind him to find the phone that rested on the table behind the couch.

"Yeah," he grumbled.

"Hey baby," a female voice spoke in a low sultry tone.

"What's up Chloe?" he asked, still in a grumpy tone.

"Not that much. I miss you that's all. How was your day?"

"Don't ask, it was absolutely the worst."

"Sorry to hear that. Want me to come over?"

"Nah ... I'll see you tonight at the club. I just want to sit here by myself and drink my beer and watch my sports."

"Alright baby, I'll see you tonight then and maybe you can come to my place afterwards?"

"Maybe."

"Ok, baby. I love you."

"Yeah. Me, too," he responded somewhat distantly. He hung up the phone and he watched the sports highlights to drown out his nagging thoughts about what his boss told him today.

"Shawn, you know I like you and all but we've got to cut back and well... in terms of seniority you don't have it. You're not union so we got to let you go. Two more weeks, alright buddy. No hard feelings."

"No hard feelings my ass!" he yelled as he threw the empty bottle across the room. "CHRIST!" he shouted and ran his fingers through his thick brown locks, pushing back the hair that hung down in his face back behind his ears. "The band is going nowhere ... in two weeks I will have NO job! DAMN IT!"

He looked at the shattered bottle on the ground in front of him and he rolled his eyes at the thought of having to clean up the broken glass. "Great," he mumbled. "When will life get better?" He forced himself out of his seat and slowly walked to the closet and got his broom. He went to the glass and swept it up and then discarded of the pieces. As he made his way back to the couch he passed his front door and for a moment thought about walking out to get a glimpse of that beautiful blonde one more time. For some reason she looked a little familiar to him. He couldn't figure out how or from where he thought he knew her, but there was something about her presence that felt familiar.

---
Hours later Belle sat on her couch looking at the mess of her new apartment. Not wanting to deal with unpacking right away she enjoyed the soft plush cushions of her couch and sank into the sofa. As time passed by she grew increasingly hungry and decided Chinese take out would hit the spot. She whipped out her phone and ordered some food, in a matter of minutes she heard a knock at the door and she was ready to have a quiet evening alone with her chicken with broccoli. After paying the delivery man she tipped her generously and closed her door.

Shawn got himself ready for his gig at the club. Sporting black jeans and a white and green long sleeve shirt he grabbed his leather jacket, helmet and keys and rushed out of his apartment. Seeing the delivery man leaving the door of his new neighbor he saw the door closing as he was locking his own door. He shook his head in disbelief, figuring he was destined not to see how gorgeous he expected his neighbor to be.

Chapter 3:

Belle unpacked her boxes after finishing her dinner. She felt renewed in her sense of purpose to getting her place straightened up as soon as possible when she was interrupted by the phone ringing.

"Hello?"

"Belle?" the female voice asked tentatively.

"Yeah, who is this?"

"OH MY GOD!" the female screamed exuberantly. "Belle, I can't believe you're back in Salem!" she yelled excitedly and spoke quickly. "I ran into your Mom at Salem Place this afternoon and she told me you were back in town and that you were working at Basic Black and she told me you moved today and she gave me your number so I could give you a call and catch up ... OH MY GOD!"

Belle laughed at the rapid explanation, "hey Meems. What's up?"

"Goodness Belle how come you haven't called?!"

"Sorry Meems but I've been so caught up with work and trying to find my own place. I was determined not to stay with my parents that long and so with all that adjusting I just haven't had time."

"I see, well what are you up to now? A few of us are going to meet up at The Shack for drinks and listen to some local bands. It would be great to see you and catch up."

"I don't know. I was just thinking of hanging out here and unpacking."

"You've got forever to unpack, let's have fun tonight. It's Friday night and I just got paid," she laughed. "My treat!"

"You got a deal. So where is this place?"

"Don't worry about it. I'll pick you up. Your Mom told me you live in the old brownstone off of Sycamore ... I live like five blocks away. I'll be by in half an hour, is that cool?"

"I'll be ready. Thanks Meems."

Forty-five minutes later Mimi called to let Belle know she was on her way. Belle thought to herself how some things have never changed. Even when they were younger Mimi was bad with time, but Belle never seemed to mind and she didn't mind this time either. Eventually, Mimi pulled up in front of the building where Belle was waiting and she got into the silver Audi. Once inside the two giddily greeted each other and were off for a night on the town. They went down near the pier where The Shack was located. It was an old warehouse converted into a club where local bands would play every Friday night. Saturday nights were reserved for DJ dance parties. They got out of the car and saw the long line to get into the building.

Belle sighed, "well it looks like it will take forever to get inside."

"Don't be silly. It's like this every Friday, but I've got connections," Mimi smirked and walked confidently to the front of the line. She smiled at a blonde guy who was watching the crowd outside and selectively choosing who could get in next. The club was the best thing in Salem so the owners could afford to be somewhat elitist in their approach as to who got in. The young man looked to be about their age and Belle watched Mimi as she sashayed to the front of the line and flashed a sexy smile to the man. He smiled in response, and she sauntered up to him, "hey you," she said softly and quickly pulled him into a deep kiss. Belle was shocked at what she was seeing. She never expected Mimi to be so bold.

As their lips parted he looked at Mimi, "hey baby. Is this your friend you were telling me about?" he asked.

"Yeah," she said and motioned for Belle to come closer. "Kirk Thompson this is Belle Black. She's like my best friend in the whole world!" she said excitedly.

"Belle ... good to meet you," he smiled and shook her hand. "Welcome to The Shack."

"Thanks. So ... are you like the bouncer or something?" Belle asked a little confused.

"Nah, I keep all the losers out and the pretty ones in," he laughed. "Actually, I run the joint ... my buddy Phil owns it, but I manage it. I just came out to check how things were going out here."

"Now, you wouldn't happen to mean Philip Kiriakis?" Belle asked.

"Yeah, you know him?" Kirk asked.

"I sure do, we grew up together. Is he here tonight?"

"Up in the office. Mimi knows where."

"Great! Thanks."

"No problem," he grinned then looked at Mimi. "Come here you," he said quietly.

Mimi got closer to him and he pulled her close to his body with his strong arm. He kissed her longingly. "Hmmm... I'll see you inside," she whispered.

"You know it. Go on and have fun. The band is great tonight."

"Whose playing?" Belle asked, as if she would have a clue.

"Couple a bands are on the bill tonight. The Gunmen are finishing up a set and Rhapsody should be starting in about 20 minutes. They're the ones everyone is basically here to see."

"Excellent," Mimi said. "Come on Belle let's go. I'll see you later honey," she said to Kirk, and the two walked inside the club. They were immediately hit with the thunderous sound of guitar and drums. It wasn't the kind of music Belle really enjoyed, it was loud and fast and the pulsating force of the music gave her a slight headache.

"MEEMS?" she yelled, trying to be heard over the noise. "IS IT ALWAYS LIKE THIS?"

"NO," Mimi reassured as she led Belle to the bar. She flashed a smile to the bartender who she knew and she ordered her drink. She looked over at Belle who was trying to soak in all that was happening around her. "WHAT DO YOU WANT?" she asked Belle who did not hear her. Mimi tapped her on the shoulder and Belle looked at her, "DRINK? WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DRINK?"

"AMARETTO SOUR IS GOOD," she said. Mimi placed the order and shortly after she handed Belle her drink and held onto her long beach. Mimi grabbed Belle's hand and led her through the crowd of the club to the back near where there was staircase and they walked up to the office.

Upstairs the noise from the club was no longer overwhelming and they were able to talk in regular voices. "It's usually not this loud but that band gets kind of crazy. Don't worry, Rhapsody is nothing like that ... you know how Shawn is, he's more concerned about musicianship and ..."

"Shawn?" Belle interrupted.

"Yeah, didn't you know he was in a band?" Mimi asked.

"No. I lost touch with him and according to my parents he's a troublemaker. I never found out what he was up to, except that he works at the pier ... so he's in a band?" she asked out of complete shock.

"You sound surprised. You know he loves music and well his job at the pier is nothing. The band is his heart. They're the biggest thing in Salem. They sort of have that Dave Matthews feel but with a little more edge ... they're really good and personally I think they have a shot to make it. But hey what do I know? Anyway, let's see if Phil is up here." Mimi walked down the hallway and Belle followed close behind. She reached the door and knocked. In response, she heard a faint answer to come in and she opened the door slightly, "hey Philly, ya busy?"

"Hey Mimi. No, come on in. I was just looking over some numbers, you know how it goes. So what's up? Did you see Kirk outside?" he smiled, displaying his famous dimples.

"Yeah, I saw him," she smiled brightly, unable to hide her excitement. "But anyway Philip you're working too hard ... I think you need a break, like a blast from the past," she beamed and opened the door more to reveal Belle standing behind her.

"I can't believe it," Philip gasped as he stood up slowly from his desk. "Belle Black," he whispered, "what the heck are you doing here?"

"Hi Philip," she smiled as she walked into the office, with drink in hand she made her way to her old friend. "It's good to see you."

"I'd say," he grinned. He went up to her and gave her a big hug. "So are you visiting?"

"No, I moved back about 3 weeks ago."

"Three weeks?!"

"Yeah, I know Phil," Mimi interjected. "She's been laying low," she grumbled disapprovingly.

"I'm sorry, I've just been adjusting to being back," Belle explained.

"Anyway, whatever the excuse I'm glad you're back," Philip said with a satisfied grin. "So what are you up to? How's life been treating you?"

"I'm working for my Dad at Basic Black in the fashion department."

"I heard you were living the life on the continent," Philip teased.

"You could say that," Belle grinned. "I interned for Gino Vinzinni over the last year. It was fabulous!"

"Get out!" Philip exclaimed excitedly with a laugh. "As in Vinzinni International? They're the best!"

"... and expensive as sin!" Mimi interjected with a laugh.

Belle blushed as her friends grew excited over her past year experience. "Yeah, they are both of that, but it was a great time. I traveled everywhere ... London, Paris, Milan ..."

"Getting jealous," Mimi interrupted in a sing song voice.

Belle laughed in response, "sorry, I just get carried away when I think about it."

"It's ok, so where did you live?" Mimi asked.

"I had a flat in Milan ... that's where the headquarters are located, but I was hardly there. I got to travel a lot to all the various fashion shows throughout Europe and I was in New York quite a lot."

"Your old stomping grounds," Philip said.

"Yeah," she smiled. "Anyway, I'm sure you two don't want to be bored with my stories."

"Bored?" Mimi asked in shock. "I might be jealous but bored? Never!" she beamed.

"Well, how about this?" Belle began. "I will invite you over to my place when it is all finished for dinner and we'll catch up. Mimi you can bring Kirk and Philip feel free to bring the lucky lady you are with," she smiled.

"Thanks for the invitation," Philip grinned, "but there's no lucky lady ... I'll just bring myself and a bottle of wine. Just let me know when you plan on having this shindig," he joked.

"Will do. Philip it is so good to see you again."

"Same here Belle," he smirked and gave her another hug. "We should definitely get together," he said quietly as he released her from his embrace. "It would be good to catch up," he said softly, his change in demeanor did not go unnoticed by Belle and she knew what he was hinting to in a subtle way.

"I'd like that Phil," she smiled at him sweetly.

"Ok, let's go check out the band," Mimi interrupted the mini reunion.

"Yeah," Belle said shyly as she pulled away from Philip. "I'll see you later Philip." She walked out with Mimi and the two headed back down the stairs.

"That was sort of weird back there Belle," Mimi stated.

"I know. It was like, one minute I'm chatting with an old friend and then the next minute it seemed like he wanted to ask me out. It's Philip ... it's weird you know?"

"Tell me about it. Anyway, let's drink up and have a good time!" Mimi said excitedly. "You're amaretto sour is getting a little low," she laughed, "and I need another long beach. Come on, drinks are on the house!"

Chapter 4:

Belle and Mimi continued to catch up as they sat at a small table at the club. The air was filled with music from the DJ as the band set up on the stage. Belle watched closely as she saw a group of guys set up a massive drum set, keyboards and start to tune a few guitars and a bass. All of them were relatively good looking she thought, not the typical looking band in her opinion, especially in comparison to the band that played previously. The former band was loud, with long hair and tattoos, not the kind of look Belle appreciated and their music matched their attitude. From what Mimi told her Rhapsody was the opposite and Belle welcomed the change of pace from the five piece band that finished up their set up. She looked for Shawn on stage but didn't recognize any of the guys as her childhood friend. Once everything was set Kirk appeared on stage and grabbed a microphone.

"Alright guys and gals!" he announced.

"God isn't he gorgeous," Mimi said dreamily. Belle just rolled her eyes in response and watched Kirk pump up the crowd.

"Ok," he continued. "You know what you've all been waiting for and here they are! My buddies, Steve, Jordan, Dave, Rick, and for the ladies," he flashed a smile and winked, then continued in a long drawl, "Shaaawwwwwnnnn!" Immediately a group of girls gathered near the stage and started to scream in delight at the sound of his name. "You know them best as RHAPSODY!" The crowd went wild as the five took the stage with wide smiles at the reaction and went to their instruments.

Belle gasped as she saw the sight of Shawn. He went behind the set of keyboards, elaborately set up on the stage and he lowered his microphone so he could speak. He had the sexiest smirk on his face as he faced the crowd and played a few notes on the keyboard while his band mates settled themselves with their instruments. Shawn's hair was perfectly combed back, hanging behind his ears, but a few strands hung down in his face, it added to his sexy image. He had a light amount of stubble on his perfectly tan face and he looked up at the crowd, chuckling to himself as he got ready to speak.

"How's everyone doing tonight?" he asked excitedly. The screams from the audience made him chuckle even more and he looked over at the band who shared his sentiment. "So good evening, we are Rhapsody ..." he was interrupted by thunderous applause and whistles. "Thanks everybody," he grinned. The wide smile sent shivers down Belle's spine, he was so gorgeous. Shawn was always good looking but now ... on stage with the perfect hair and chiseled face, accented by what appeared to be two gold earrings in his left ear and a gold cross around his neck. His white and green shirt fit his body perfectly, giving Belle a good idea of how muscular his frame actually was. He looked over at the band and yelled away from the microphone, his voice sounded distant to the crowd, "2! 3! 4!" and the band immediately started in what appeared to be a crowd favorite.

Belle sat watching in amazement as her old friend looked so great up on stage playing the piano with great enthusiasm and passion. The guitarist, a blonde with spiky hair sang the lyrics, but Belle ignored what he was singing, her eyes were fixed on Shawn who, as he played, would occasionally toss back his head to get his hair out of his face. The simple action made her toes curl and her heart skip a beat, she understood why the girls at the club were screaming for him. He had it ... that sex appeal every band needs, but he definitely had the talent to back it up.

"They are so good!" Belle exclaimed to Mimi.

"They're fabulous, just kind of stuck."

"What do you mean?"

"They're stuck in Salem. The guys love playing but it is frustrating to be in a small place like Salem when they should at least be playing at clubs in Chicago ... it would increase their chances of getting noticed. Philip helps them out from time to time by giving them a standing gig here and he has made some calls to some friends to check them out but nothing has panned out. Really unfortunate, it's sort of Shawn's dream you know, but he trudges on."

"That's really bad," Belle lamented. "I wish I could help out, they are so good and they obvious love playing. Look at this crowd. The girls are just dying!" she laughed.

"They're swooning over Shawn specifically if you haven't noticed."

"Oh I noticed," Belle said under her breath as she stared up at the stage and became fixated on Shawn once again.

"Earth to Belle!" Mimi laughed. "Lost you there for a second."

"Sorry," she snapped out of her daze, "but I can't get over how good he looks."

"Who? Shawn? Yeah, he's a definite hottie, working at the pier helped him fill out the gorgeous bod of his!"

"I'd say," Belle mumbled as she took another sip of her drink.

The two continued to talk and laugh as they continued to listen to the band play. Every song was better than the one before and Belle was just completely floored by the quality of their performance. The five guys had a blast singing, playing, joking in between songs, and getting the crowd involved. Near the end of the set Kirk joined them and he and Mimi could not keep their hands off of each other. Before he arrived Belle and Mimi talked about him, Belle was curious to know how long the two had been dating as she was beyond shocked when Mimi told her only a month. Relationships had never been a strong suit for Belle. She was always super picky when it came to guys and dating. Somehow they never met her expectations and she never had a relationship that lasted more than three months. Nine times out of ten she initiated the break up for some obscure reason like an annoying laugh or bad table manners. She could never look past the superficial, she was searching for something deeper. She was looking for someone who wanted to be her friend as well as her lover. Some of her friends told her she was asking for too much but she knew what she wanted and deserved.

After about an hour, the band took a break and Belle watched Shawn disappear behind the stage.

"Do you think we should go say hi?" Belle asked Mimi, wishing that Mimi would say yes.

"Sure. Shawn would be excited to see you!" Mimi said and stood up. She looked back at Kirk, "we'll be back soon."

"Ok, baby," he smirked and gave her a searing kiss. "I'll be around."

Mimi happily led Belle backstage and met up with band. They saw all of the members except for Shawn, much to Belle's growing disappointment.

"Mimi," Rick said, "what brings you back here? Whose your friend?" he asked in a low voice, obviously intrigued by the stranger in front of him. "Hey I'm Rick," he extended his hand to Belle.

"Rick, this is my friend Belle," Mimi said dryly. Rick was not one of her favorite people and she did not want him trying to make the moves on Belle, the thought was sort of disgusting to her. "Have you seen Shawn?" she asked abruptly, before Rick could speak to Belle.

"Oh, yeah ... he's in the back having some argument with Chloe ... again," he added with a deep sigh.

"Great," Mimi mumbled. "Ok, let's go Belle."

Mimi pulled Belle along with her to get away from Rick and went further backstage to the lounge area where they heard two voices, a male and female, yelling at each other.

"Meems, maybe this isn't a good time," Belle said, trying to slow Mimi down.

"Don't worry about it. Those two argue like it's their job. Whatever they're fighting about Shawn will forget the moment he sees you."

"I hope you're right," Belle muttered under her breath, a little skeptical of what her friend was telling her. "I really hope you are right."

Chapter 5:

Belle followed Mimi into the back room where she could hear two people fighting. Both knew it was Shawn and Chloe, but Belle was very hesitant to go in, but Mimi insisted, knowing that a Shawn and Chloe fight was a regular occurrence. The two were known for their passionate arguments, but equally known for their overall intense relationship. Belle did not have a clue about what she should expect. She stood in the doorway with Mimi and watched Shawn move around the room to the small refrigerator in the back and grab a bottled water. He twisted the top off and took a long drink as Chloe stood behind him, talking angrily to him. Both of their backs were to Belle and Mimi. Belle grabbed Mimi by the hand trying to pull her away to give the two privacy, but Mimi would not budge, she just smiled to herself as she watched Chloe lose her temper.

"Damn it Shawn what are you going to do now?!" Chloe asked angrily.

He chuckled somewhat maniacally as he put the bottle down and turned around to face her. His intense gaze seemed to pierce through her body. "Don't you think I've been trying to figure that out? I just found out today Chloe!" he yelled.

"But Shawn ... the band," she sighed. "You need to think of something else. This isn't leading anywhere?!"

"I can't believe you'd say that?!" he screamed incredulously. "What the hell do you mean 'something else'? I put my HEART AND SOUL in this group ... into the songs and the music!"

"I know but maybe ..."

"MAYBE NOTHING!!" his voice filled the room and scared Belle causing her to jump back slightly as she saw him lose his temper. His face was flushed with anger, eyes black as coal, and his breathing ragged to calm himself from blowing up any further. "CHRIST!" he screamed out of frustration, and ran his fingers through his hair, scratching his scalp a little as his fingers made their way. He calmed down slightly and lowered his voice, "Chloe if you won't believe in me than you should just leave, because I do NOT," his voice began to rise again with every word, "need! This! BULLSHIT!!!"

"Fine Shawn! FINE!" she yelled. "You go on and feel sorry for yourself and think if I care. You can just go to hell! GO TO HELL!!" she swiftly turned on her heels and stomped off to see Belle and Mimi standing in the doorway. She looked at Mimi and gave her nastiest glare she could give then looked at Belle, who she did not know, and snorted, "looks like you've got a groupie!" and she pushed her way through the door past the two.

Shawn watched Chloe storm off but his angered gaze softened when his eyes landed on the familiar face of the blonde hair, blue eyed angel he grew up with and knew as one of his best friends. "Belle?" he whispered in surprise.

"Hi Shawn," she said timidly as she moved a little out of the door way. "Sorry to interrupt."

"Interrupt?" he asked confused and then remembered what just happened with Chloe. "Oh that?" he questioned. "That was nothing," he dismissed with a wave of his hand. He looked her up and down, his eyes widened in amazement at how beautiful she looked in front of him. She was no longer a girl, she was now a woman, all woman and he became entranced as he stared into her tranquil blue gaze and followed the soft golden hair with his eyes down to her shoulders. He gulped slowly as he took in all of her with his eyes, "you look so ... beautiful," he whispered, almost unable to speak. Snapping out of his daze slightly he once again became lost as he watched her cheeks redden and a bright smile escape her lips. "It's so good to see you," he said happily and in a few long strides he reached her. His arms wrapped around her waist and he lifted her up excitedly as he gave her a deep hug. Belle giggled at his reaction, keeping her arms around his neck and he finally put her down. "What are you doing here?" he asked, his grin widening with every passing moment.

"I moved back a few weeks ago," she said trying to subdue her laughter. "I'm working at Basic Black."

"That's great!" he hugged her again. "I've missed you."

"I've missed you, too," she replied, a little confused at how easily he could calm down from what she saw earlier. He looked furious only a minute ago and now he was the old Shawn, the Shawn she remembered from childhood ... her Shawn. She pulled back from the embrace and looked at him closely, studying the deep brown orbs that spoke volumes to her, even after all this time she felt connected to him. "You look great," she said softly. "Very different from when I left," she joked, "you're not as scrawny," she smiled.

"Funny," he grinned. "Seven years makes a difference, I just wish we had stayed in touch better. It became a little hard as time went on," he said sheepishly.

"I know," she quietly agreed. "But anyway," she brightened, "you guys sound fabulous out there! All those afternoons practicing the piano paid off," she teased.

"Yeah," he chuckled. "You really like it?"

"Like it? I love it! You guys definitely have talent, I couldn't believe how good you all are!"

"I'm glad you think that, I was afraid we were going nowhere fast. I love this group and I love writing music and performing ... it's such a thrill."

"You write the songs?" Belle asked surprised.

"Most of them," he answered. "Speaking of which I need to get back out there. I'll dedicate a song to you," he grinned.

"Thanks but you don't have to do that," she blushed.

"I insist, after all you're the reason I formed the band."

"What are you talking about?"

"Remember when we were 12 and we had our," he looked over at Mimi and then back at Belle, he whispered in her ear so Mimi wouldn't hear, "we had our first kiss?"

"Yes Shawn," she smiled. "I remember, and Mimi knows about it so no need to be secretive."

"I should have figured you would have told her," he chuckled. "Anyway, after it happened we were talking about some stupid stuff, I guess to not think about it and you told me that all girls love guys in a band. I don't remember the whole details but I remember you saying that and it sort of became my goal after that to form a band. Sounds corny I know but you were the inspiration."

"Shawn, I remember but I'd hardly call me an inspiration."

"Trust me," he winked and flashed her a mischievous grin, "you were. But I've got to get back on stage. Let's try and meet up afterwards, we have so much to catch up on. I want to hear everything!"

"Ok, Shawn," Belle smiled. "I'll see you later."

---
After Rhapsody finished playing, Belle sat at her table with Mimi who was getting anxious to leave. Belle was eager to see Shawn after he completed his set. The club was winding down and people were starting to filter out as 2:00 AM started to roll around. Belle was tired, exhausted from her move but she kept her energy up with the thought of reconnecting with Shawn. As she waited she smoked a cigarette trying to pass the time. Mimi was beyond surprised that Belle had picked up the habit, but joined her as her buzz from the alcohol wore off.

Eventually, Shawn casually strolled towards their table, wearing his leather jacket and holding on to his helmet he approached the two from behind. "I can't believe that the perfect Belle Black smokes!" he said, startling them both.

"Bad habit ... I know," she said slightly flustered, a little embarrassed Shawn caught her. She quickly pushed down the slim white stick down in the ashtray as she let a final stream of smoke escape from between her lips. "You know how boarding school girls are," she laughed.

Shawn grabbed a chair. Turning it around he straddled the chair sitting next to Belle, "God Belle I can't believe you're here!" he said excitedly. "You look so good. So tell me what are you up to now?" he asked full of energy. "The night is still young!"

"Still young?!" she asked in shock. "I'm beat, I'm just hanging out around here waiting on you."

"Well, I'm going to take you out." He quickly got up from his seat and looked at Mimi who was struggling to stay awake. "Mimi, I'm going to go get Kirk to take you home. You look too tired to drive."

"I'm fine Shawn," she yawned. "Don't worry about me."

"No I insist. I don't want you falling asleep at the wheel. I'll take Belle back home so you don't have to worry about that."

"Fine Shawn. You two have fun," Mimi yawned again.

Shawn looked at Belle and extended his hand. Happily she took it and smiled. "Come on let's go for a ride," he smirked. They walked out hand in hand. Shawn found Kirk and told him to look out for Mimi, Kirk was more than willing to oblige. Afterwards, Shawn led Belle to his motorcycle parked outside of the club near the pier.

"I'm not getting on this thing," Belle protested.

"Chicken," he grinned. "Don't worry," he grabbed an extra helmet from behind and handed it to her. "It may give you helmet head but ... uh, you'll feel safe," he laughed. He put on his helmet and straddled the bike, revving the engine he gripped the handlebars and looked back at Belle who looked completely apprehensive. "Come on!" he urged with a playful grin. "Just get on and hold on tight, I'll make sure nothing happens to you."

"Ok," she mumbled and slowly put on the helmet. She mounted the bike and put her arms around Shawn.

"Oh you're gonna have to hold on tighter than that!" he laughed. "Don't worry, I won't bite."

She leaned in closer, feeling the soft worn leather of his jacket under her fingertips. She wrapped her arms around him tighter and rested her chin on his shoulder, "I'm ready whenever ..." Shawn sped off catching Belle off guard and she screamed, "YOU ARE!!"

Shawn laughed as he felt Belle grab on to him even tighter and he sped off away from the pier.

At the club Chloe stood outside, having watched her boyfriend leave with the blonde she did not know. She glared at the sight and was filled with anger at the thought of Shawn with the stranger. "Blonde bitch," she snarled under her breath.

"Whoa there Chloe," Philip said as he overheard her mumble a string of expletives under her breath. "What happened to you?"

"Mind your damn business," she snapped.

"Jesus, what the hell happened to you?!" he asked angrily. Growing annoyed by her bitter behavior, even more so than her usual sour disposition.

"That blonde ... who just snagged my man!"

"Blonde?" he asked and then thought a moment. He immediately started to laugh. "Oh you mean Belle! Don't worry about her she's no threat to you and Shawn. The two of them are old friends, like brother and sister. They practically grew up together when they were kids. Besides, I think I have a pretty good chance with her. Trust me Shawn is NOT her type," he assured with overwhelming confidence.

"Then why the hell haven't I seen her before?" she asked with the same bitter tone.

"She just moved back to Salem. She left here just before you moved to Salem. She went to boarding school on the East Coast and then spent her summers with her grandparents in Colorado and summer internships in New York. We never saw her, except for glimpses at Thanksgiving and Christmas. She's John and Marlena Black's daughter."

"Hmmm... I still don't like her. She's up to something, I can tell," Chloe said flatly.

"Stop being so paranoid," Philip urged. "The two of them don't have a chance."

Chapter 6:

Shawn sped through the city and pulled off by the park. He turned off the engine and took off his helmet looking at the playground he had shared so many memories with Belle. A smile came across his lips, "we're here," he said quietly.

Belle sat on the bike and looked around. "What in the world are we doing here?" she asked as she looked at the playground with a wide eyed gaze. Her eyes roamed around and saw the sand box she had spent so many hours in as a child.

"You know Belle, you can let go of me now," Shawn laughed and Belle blushed as she realized she was still holding on to Shawn for dear life. Slowly she released her grip and then got up from the bike as she took off the helmet. Shawn followed and then took her hand to lead her to the swings. "This looks good," he said quietly and then sat down on one of the swings. He motioned for Belle to sit in the swing next to him and she did. They both moved slightly in the swings looking out at the summer night sky.

"Shawn I've got to ask you this," Belle began, "and if you don't want to talk about it that's fine but can you tell me what's the story with you and um... what's her name? Chloe?" she asked tentatively.

"Yeah, that's her name," he said dryly. "I don't know Belle," he sighed. "She, um ... has these ideas of what I should be doing. She doesn't think I have a future with the band. I'm beginning to think she's right. Like I need to get a decent job and just forget about this," he sighed.

"Is that why you two were fighting?" Belle asked quietly.

"That's why we always fight. See Belle, Chloe has a problem with me in the band because I'm actually taking a chance. Chloe has a lot of musical talent ... A LOT!" he added for emphasis. "The thing is she was afraid and I think she regrets it and so she always gets on my case."

"But Shawn that's not fair to you. You guys are good. Really good. I only wish I knew someone in the music business to help you guys out because frankly I think you guys have what it takes."

"You really think so?"

"I do."

"See this is why I need you in my life!" Shawn beamed.

The comment took Belle by surprise and she blushed lightly. "Thanks Shawn."

"Belle we have always been so connected you know? When you moved, even though it was years ago I felt like something was missing. You were my best friend."

"You really thought that way?"

"Well, yeah ... I wouldn't have admitted it back then because it wasn't cool for a guy to have a girl as a best friend, but you were." He started to chuckle a little.

"What's so funny?"

"I had the biggest crush on you," he laughed. "I remember when we were 12 and we kissed. That was my first kiss."

"It was my first, too," she smiled.

"Yeah, we had a lot of fun together when we were younger. I'm glad you're here. It's good to have my best friend back," he grinned.

"It's good to be back," she said and start to move her legs from under to pump the swing. She started laughing to herself as she went higher, "but you know what I really miss?" she asked playfully.

"What's that?"

"You pushing me on the swings!" she giggled.

Shawn laughed along with her and got up from his swing. He stood behind her and as she approached him he extended his arms and pushed her gently, but with enough force to make her go higher. "How's that Isabelly?" he chuckled.

"Higher Shawn D!" she squealed happily.

At that moment the two forgot their current situations and retreated back to the days of their youth, when they were little kids and everything was fun and carefree. As Shawn pushed Belle higher he lost himself in the moment. Happy for the first time in a long time he looked at Belle laugh with pure excitement and joy. Her face beamed brightly and he could not help but feel a sense of peace as they reminisced in their own way.

---
Shawn and Belle enjoyed their time in the park for well over an hour, laughing and talking about old times. Eventually, the late hour caught up with them and Belle was getting tired. They walked back to the motorcycle slowly, Belle held on to Shawn's arm as they continued to talk. Shawn was interested in what Belle had been up to and she shared some stories about her time in Europe.

"What was your favorite place?" Shawn asked.

"That's a hard one," Belle said quietly as she thought about the question. "Italy was gorgeous ... I loved Venice. I loved the water, I often thought about you when I was there. How you loved to be on your Dad's boat."

"You remember that?"

"Of course! How could I forget? You loved the water. We used to go fishing all the time with your Grandpa Shawn."

"I remember those days," he laughed. "I remember how you hated to touch the worms but you were determined to bait your own hook because I said you couldn't. You were so stubborn."

"Well, if that's not the pot calling the kettle black!" Belle mused. They reached the motorcycle and Shawn picked up the helmets, handing Belle hers, he put his on and got on the bike.

"So where to?"

"Sycamore Road."

"Seriously?!" he asked surprised.

"Yeah, why are you so shocked?"

"Well, I live off of Sycamore."

"So you know where to go," she smiled and got on the bike behind him. She held on to him and he sped off. He hit Broad Street and Belle told him where to turn on Forest Lane and then onto Sycamore.

"This is my building!" she told him as he slowed down in front of the brownstone. He found a spot to park on the street and Belle hopped off the bike. He got off and followed her, not letting on that he lived in the building, too. As she walked up the stairs and found her key to open the front door she turned around to see Shawn standing behind her. "Well, you don't have to follow me," she teased.

"I'm not. I'm going home," he smirked.

"What are you talking about?"

"I live here," he grinned.

"You're kidding!" she exclaimed. He shook his head, his grin widening at the thought that Belle was his neighbor. She opened the door and the two went up the stairs to the third floor. It finally dawned on him that Belle was the gorgeous blonde he had been lusting over earlier that day. He shook his head in disbelief at his luck, God was looking out for him that day, he thought. Belle approached her door and slipped the key into the lock, with a slight jiggle she worked the lock and pushed the door open.

"You should talk to the Super about that lock," Shawn suggested.

"I guess so, I think I've got the trick to opening it," she walked in and flipped on her light to her apartment. Boxes were still stacked on the floor, but she had made a lot of progress before Mimi had picked her up hours ago. "Anyway ... neighbor, I guess I'll see you later. It was good to catch up on old times."

"It was. Thanks for listening to me complain."

"What are friends for," she smiled and brought her arms around him and gave him a tight hug.

Shawn hugged her back, enjoying the feel of her small frame in his strong embrace. Her vanilla scent swept over him and he became intoxicated by her, getting lost in the moment of how perfectly her body molded with his. Desperately trying to push the thoughts out of his head, he focused on the fact that Belle was his friend, nothing more. He pulled back and looked into her crystal blue depths that entranced him and smiled, "if you need anything I'm right down the hall."

"Ok, Shawn. Good night," she kissed him softly on the cheek.

"Good night." He walked down the hall and Belle peaked her head out to watch him go inside. He grinned to her as he walked inside his apartment and then she closed her door. Exhausted, Belle went straight to bed, excited that she was lucky to have her best friend so close by.

Chapter 7:

A few months passed by as Belle became even more acclimated in her hometown. Her job at Basic Black was perfect. The new designs and campaigns were greatly received by her boss, the vice president of fashion and her father was pleased with the ideas and enthusiasm she was bringing to the company. Every Friday night became a routine where she and Mimi would meet up with Philip and Kirk at The Shack to see Rhapsody play. They seemed to get better with every gig. Shawn was more dedicated to the band than ever before, he was no longer working at the pier and to get some extra money he worked odd jobs at the pub and the marina. He was becoming frustrated more and more everyday, but he was not giving up on his dream despite what Chloe said. He received his daily reassurance from Belle to continue his pursuit. The two grew closer developing a quick routine of meeting after Belle got home from work to talk and just laugh with each other, enjoying the time together. They never seemed to run out of things to discuss. They would talk about everything and anything.

After a long day, Belle came home after work, exhausted. The final layout for the Dreams campaign needed to be finished for their presentation to the board and her team was bickering back and forth about the details. She shuffled into her apartment, dropping her leather bag down on the ground by the door. Her head throbbed, a result of the long, aggravating day and lack of food perpetuating the dull pain in her frontal lobe. Tension filled her body as she closed the door and moved slowly to the couch and flopped down on the large Italian leather sofa. Her body sank into the plush cushions. Her heavy eyelids closed as she raised a hand to her head and with her thumb and middle finger she gently massaged her aching temples.

Laying down in her dark apartment, lit only by the faint light of a corner lamp, she soon heard a soft knock on the door.

"Come on in Shawn," she said loud enough so he could hear her though the front door.

Soon the door opened. Belle had not locked it, knowing Shawn would be making his way to her place. He always showed up only minutes after she came home. Walking inside Shawn held a small plastic container in his hand and closed the door behind him, locking up.

"Long day?" he asked quietly as he looked at Belle laying on the couch. She did not move when he walked in. Her eyes stayed closed and her legs crossed at the ankles. In a constant circular motion she continued to massage her temples.

"I have the worst headache," she mumbled.

He walked into the kitchen and popped the container into the microwave. Quickly setting the timer. As the small dinner warmed up he walked back to the couch. He sat down and placed her feet on his lap. Slowly he removed her black pumps revealing her petite feet, covered by the light netting of pantyhose. He touched her feet gently, but with a hint of firmness that relaxed her. His fingers slowly worked their magic on her feet.

"Hmmm..." she moaned happily as he pampered her.

"Want to tell me about it?" he asked quietly. "Is it about the Dreams campaign?"

"Yes," she groaned, upset about the stressful day. "Harry and Grace fought all day about the final designs so that was one thing."

"Anything else?"

"Yes," she grumbled. "Some of the promotional shots ... the beach shots in particular, did not come out well and no one told me until today when it was too late."

"Poor thing," he said quietly as he continued to focus on her feet. As he massaged the beep of the microwave filled the air. "I brought you dinner so why don't you go change and I'll fix your plate, ok?"

"You don't have to do this Shawn. I'm sure you have better things to do. What about Chloe? I know she must hate the fact that you hang out with me so much."

"She does but she'll have to deal," he mumbled.

"Shawn," Belle sighed. "I don't want to come between you two. I love spending time with you, don't get me wrong but you're my friend and I want you to be happy. You should be out with Chloe and rubbing her feet and fixing her dinner."

"No I shouldn't," he said in a matter of fact tone as he got up to head to the kitchen. "Now, go get changed into something more comfortable. I know you don't want to keep that suit on," he suggested. He looked through her refrigerator and took out a few things, then searched through the cupboards.

Silently, Belle conceded to his request and went to her room. Minutes later she walked out in a comfortable pair of sweat pants and a T-shirt. Her hair was up in a pony tail and wearing her pink bunny slippers she walked into the kitchen to see Shawn putting the finishing touches on her dinner. He smiled as she reappeared, looking a little more fresh than before. "Tell me if you like this?" he asked as he lifted the fork to her mouth, filled with a small helping of the food he prepared. She opened her mouth and he slipped the food inside.

"Hmmm..." she moaned happily. "That's good. What kind of sauce is that?"

"It's a parmesan sauce I saw at the store. Thought I'd experiment for you," he grinned. "Chloe is a vegetarian so I could never make her a chicken dish. So you like it?"

"Yeah, it's good," she said pleasingly and took the plate from him to continue eating.

They stood in her kitchen. Shawn watched her closely, leaning against the counter with his arms folded across his chest and ankles crossed. She faced him, leaning against the opposite counter and ate hungrily, enjoying the dinner greatly.

"Thank you so much for this. I wouldn't have had the energy to cook tonight. It would have been another frozen dinner night."

"I know. Now that I have more time on my hands ..."

"No news on the job search?"

"Well, my grandparents are still letting me help out at the pub and of course there are odd jobs here and there, but as much as I hate it Philip called in favor with Victor for a job at Titan. I'm supposed to stop by tomorrow. If all goes well I guess we'll be competitors," he joked.

"What would you be doing?" she asked as she finished her food.

"Nothing too exciting. Probably some assistant job in marketing and sales, but it's something. After all I'll finally get some use out of my business degree," he joked. "My parents will feel like their money was well spent on tuition," he laughed.

"Are you excited about it?"

"What do you think?" he grumbled, "but I've got to work. I have bills to pay and well ... the band is my life but I'd starve if I depended on it only. I have to be practical."

"I guess so," Belle said as she put the empty plate in the sink. "That was so good," she said happily as she quickly cleaned up. "You hanging out for a while?" she asked as she walked to the living room. Shawn followed her out of the kitchen and sat next to her on the couch.

"I'll stay for a little. Chloe is coming over," he grumbled.

Belle sat on the couch facing Shawn. Drawing her legs up to her body she sat comfortably on the plush furniture. "Shawn, I've got to say this," she said somewhat cautiously, but confidently. "Why are you with Chloe?" she asked bluntly. "All you do is complain. You never say anything positive about her or your relationship. You groan at the mention of her name and you rather hang out with me than with your girlfriend. Shawn, I can think of only one reason why you are still with her and I hope to God I'm wrong because I would never think of you as the type of guy who would stay in a relationship just for the physical aspect."

"God your blunt," he snickered.

"I'm being serious. One thing I've learned in life is how to get to the point and you are avoiding the issue. Answer my question ... why are you with Chloe?"

"I don't know if I can answer that ... it's complicated."

"Do you love her?" she asked quickly.

"What?" he asked in shock.

"You heard me," she replied instantly.

"I guess so."

Belle chuckled incredulously, "you guess? Shawn it's either yes or no ... there is no I guess. If you don't feel about her the same way she feels about you, you can't string her along. That's not fair to her and it's wrong. Very wrong!"

"I do care about her."

"Shawn are you listening to yourself?" she asked. "I am so disappointed in you. 'I guess I love her.' 'I care about her,'" she mocked.

"What do you want me to say? I can't stand being with her?!" he asked angrily. "Because I can't. I'm with her out of guilt. She makes me feel like crap all she does is make me feel like a loser, a bum she needs to save. I put up with it because I have to. It's a long and complicated story and I can't tell you. And well as far as wanting to hang out with you, in case you haven't noticed I have a good time with you. I'm relaxed and not moody."

"I've noticed. I'm less moody with you around, too. My cigarette cravings aren't as bad," she joked.

"Yeah, you need to quit that," he said a little concerned.

"I know. Anyway, I don't want to keep you and ..."

"You want to avoid a lecture on smoking," he chuckled.

"That too," she smiled.

"Well, I should be going. I'll see you tomorrow?"

"Sure. Have a good night Shawn."

"Good night Belle," he said happily, and kissed her softly on her forehead. "Take it easy tonight." He walked out of the kitchen to the door and let himself out. Making his way to his apartment down the hall, he left Belle behind standing in the kitchen, her thoughts of Shawn betraying her.

"He's just a friend," she said quietly trying to convince herself that she had no future with Shawn other than being his friend or buddy.

Chapter 8:

A few days passed with Belle and Shawn continuing their routine. She would come home exhausted from work as the work for the Dreams campaign proposal began to wind down and Shawn would come to her apartment shortly after. Now with his own key he didn't have to worry about knocking. He would often cook or get some take out and they would eat together, talking about their days and afterwards he would make his way back to his apartment and wait for Chloe to argue with him once again. Belle enjoyed spending time with him more and more, and as time passed it became harder for her to suppress her feeling for him. They fell into their routine easily, but Belle grew increasingly worried about Shawn's relationship with Chloe. He dreaded going home more and more each night. He would be happy and carefree when he talked to Belle, full of jokes and teasing her endlessly, but when it was time for him to leave his countenance visibly changed. Belle was fed up with what Chloe was doing to him. She couldn't understand why anyone would purposely degrade another, especially Shawn, one of the most good natured people she knew. Belle didn't really know Chloe but she knew she had to bring an end to it.

Once again, Belle came home, tired from the day yet invigorated. The proposal was complete and had been approved by the board. The Dreams campaign was in full swing and she was ready to enjoy yet another evening with Shawn. Soon after she came home there was a knock at the door.

He must have lost his key, she thought to herself and happily went to the door. Opening quickly with a bright smile on her face, "last time I give you a key," she teased but soon her smile faded when she saw an angry Chloe standing in front of her. "Chloe?" she asked surprised to see her. "Um ... Shawn's not here," she said hastily, assuming that was the only reason Chloe was there.

"I know that," she spat. "I came here to talk to you, can I come in?" she asked and made her way inside before Belle could say anything.

"Sure," Belle mumbled and turned around. "What do I owe this ... pleasure?" she asked sarcastically. Her eyes grew dark as she glared at Chloe. Folding her arms across her chest she became very serious and the usual warmth she exuded was replaced by a cold, frigid stance.

"Look ... Belle," Chloe said, her words dripping with disdain. Her body language identical to Belle's as she stood in the middle of the living room. "I am just a little fed up with you."

"Me? What did I do?"

"Don't act so innocent. You think I don't know what you're doing?"

"Maybe you can enlighten me because I sure as hell don't know what you are talking about," Belle said curtly.

"You must really think I'm stupid."

"Do you really want me to answer that Chloe?" she quickly asked.

"You are such a bitch," Chloe said through clenched teeth.

Belle moved from her position and walked to the door, "well you know Chloe," she mocked a pleasant tone, "it has been fun. Try not to stop by again," she forced a smile as she opened the door wide.

"Trust me this won't be a habit, just like you spending time with Shawn. It ends now."

"In case you haven't noticed, Shawn is a grown man. He can determine who he does and does NOT want to spend time with. You know," she quickly added and moved closer to Chloe, "and while we're on the subject of Shawn I have a couple of things I want to tell you."

"Well, I ..."

Belle quickly raised her hand to interrupt, "I'm talking," she said calmly. "You are in my home and you will listen to what I have to say. First of all, Shawn is my friend. He has always been my friend and we will continue to be friends, with or without you in his life. Second, and most importantly, I don't like you so I don't have to listen to what you have to say. I don't like your attitude and I don't like how you treat Shawn. He is a good man. A great person and you treat him like dirt. Frankly, he deserves a lot better than you. A hell of a lot better!"

"How dare you?!" Chloe barked.

"How dare you?" Belle asked in return. "How dare you do this to Shawn. For whatever reason he is still with you even though he is miserable."

"You don't know what you're talking about. He loves me!"

"Sure," Belle laughed incredulously. "When was the last time he told you that?" she asked confidently. "Just think about it because I sure haven't heard him say it to you."

"Belle!" a voice from behind snapped. She quickly turned around and saw Shawn standing in the door way holding a small brown bag that she immediately knew was Chinese take out. He looked confused as he saw the two with serious looks on their face. Chloe's scowl was frightening, her cold, distant gaze was chilling, while Belle's eyes harbored anger but pleaded with him to understand, showing that she was frightened he heard too much. He walked in and set the bag down on a nearby table. "What's going on?" he asked confused. He had only heard the tale end of the conversation and wondered what would prompt Belle to speak so harshly to Chloe. He then looked at Chloe who watched him closely.

"Your friend here was telling me that I am no good for you," Chloe said smugly.

Shawn's eyes narrowed as he tried to process what Chloe had just said. He then looked at Belle who only shook her head slightly in disagreement.

"That's not true. I said that I don't like the way she treats you, but that was only after she came in here threatening me."

Like a tennis match Shawn moved his head back and forth between the two. He now focused on Chloe who with a somewhat sinister look, snickered and said, "I never threatened her. She said..."

"Wait just stop with the she said this and she said that... you two sound like children," Shawn snapped. He looked at Belle. "I really wish you hadn't said anything," he said seriously and then turned to Chloe whose smug appearance grew. "Let's go," he said somewhat sternly and walked out leaving Belle dumbfounded. He slammed the door behind him and went to his apartment.

"What just happened here?" Belle asked herself, walking to her couch she slumped down and stared out ahead blankly. "How could he believe her? " she thought. Belle doubted the connection she thought she had with Shawn and became despondent at the fact that she felt she blew her friendship with him. "Why couldn't I just keep my mouth shut!" she said angrily and stood up, beginning to pace around her living room nervously she looked over at the kitchen counter and saw the pack of Marlboro Lights sitting, hiding underneath a stack of magazines they seemed to call out to her. She didn't depend on them as much as she used to, not with Shawn around. Her anxiety wasn't as great when they were together and she hardly relied on her bad habit. Now, she was beyond anxious. Disappointed in herself and even more so in Shawn she quickly picked up the pack and nearby lighter. Taking out one cigarette and keeping the pack in her hand, just in case, she frantically lit the slim stick and took a long drag. Slowly letting the smoke stream out from her pursed lips she walked to her window, leading to the fire escape, which also served as a balcony, and smoothly lifted the glass pane. Slipping out of the window she sat on the metal steps and enjoyed her cigarette as she watched the sun set and the cool summer breeze lightly swept across her.

Belle continued to watch the sun disappear out in the horizon as she started on her third cigarette.

"I thought you quit," Shawn chuckled as he peaked his head out the window.

Startled by his presence Belle almost dropped the newly lit cigarette, but safely kept in her fingers. "What are you doing here?" she snorted.

He walked out onto the balcony and leaned against the railing as he watched her sitting on the steps, quickly extinguishing the cigarette under her shoe. He could see she was upset, and new he was part of the reason why. With a heavy sigh he spoke, "sorry about what Chloe did to you."

"Oh, so you believe me!" she said mocking surprise.

"I believed you from the start," he confessed.

"Well, you sure have a funny way of showing it," she snickered under her breath. "You know Shawn, you really hurt me," she continued, speaking angrily.

"I know, and I'm sorry, but I had to make Chloe think I believed her, if not I'd have hell to pay."

"So you make me feel like crap?" she asked and quickly picked up the pack of Marlboros.

"Give me that," he said annoyed she had continued smoking and quickly snatched the pack from her hand. Holding onto the cigarettes he shoved them into his pocket so she could not get them back. "Now you have to let me explain. I knew that if I took your side Chloe would lose it. In order to make my life easier ... and yours ... I had to play into her game, or at least pretend that I was. It's wrong I know, but if you knew why Chloe was this way it would make sense."

"Try me Shawn. I've been patient. I listen to you bitch and moan every night. Every night Shawn!" she repeated angrily, "and now my patience is wearing very thin."

"I wish I could but I can't."

"Then we have nothing more to say. I think you should leave. If you won't be honest with me you should just go."



Chapter 9:

After a few minutes Belle continued to sit out on the balcony and took a few deep breaths to calm herself. Closing her eyes, she slowly began to rub her temples to wish away the imminent developing headache. Groggily she stood up and sighed heavily as she walked back into her apartment. She closed the window behind her and walked into the kitchen to see Shawn sitting at her dining table with the Chinese food boxes set in the middle and two places set.

"I thought I told you to go home," she said quietly.

"You did, but I brought dinner. You've got to eat," he said plainly and began opening the boxes. Dishing out a helping of food for himself, she watched him get comfortable and his dismissal of her request began to annoy her.

"Shawn," she sighed.

"Belle, sit down," he said calmly. He picked up his fork and started to delve into the Szechuan chicken and rice. "It's getting cold," he mumbled as he chewed.

Hesitantly, she walked to the table and had a seat. She was frustrated beyond belief and upset with him, but the smell of the food wafted over her and she could not resist. Silently, she took one of the boxes and dished out a good portion of food and then spooned out another helping from a smaller container. She began to eat and Shawn looked at her with a quick glance. A smirk crept across his face as he continued to eat.

After inhaling his first helping, Shawn reached for the container and dished out another helping of food. Adding a spoonful of rice on top and pouring the soy sauce, he mixed up his food and looked at Belle who just stared at her plate.

"You know," he said jokingly, "I think this is the first time I've known you to be speechless."

"I have nothing to say to you," she replied simply.

"Ok, I deserve that," he sighed.

"Yes, you do," she snapped and let go of her fork so it loudly dropped onto the plate. She looked away for a moment and then back at Shawn whose deep brown gaze consumed her with their warmth and sorrow. "I can tell you're sorry Shawn, but I don't feel like I can trust you."

"You can trust me, but you need to let me handle Chloe."

"So you want me to just let her storm into my place and accuse me of some conspiracy to take you from her?! Shawn, I thought you knew me better than that. I will NOT stand in my home and let someone threaten me!"

"I don't blame you, and you shouldn't have to," he said quietly.

"Then why are you making me feel guilty about what I said?" she stood up and walked to the living room. Sitting on her couch she picked up a cushion and hugged it against her body. Drawing her legs up on the soft leather, she leaned against the arm and picked up the remote that sat on the coffee table. Flipping on the television she blankly watched a news program that did not really interest her, but it offered a distraction to what was happening. She wondered why she was letting Shawn upset her so much. She was angry at Chloe, but not him. Maybe he's right, she thought to herself, but then dismissed the notion when her pride got the best of her. Her thoughts debated back and forth between the issues, her mind wrestling so much with what to do next that she did not notice when he came into the living room. He sat on the couch and his movement as he scooted closer to her broke her out of her trance and she hugged the pillow tighter, as if the action would keep him away. He sat closely next to her and brought his arm around her shoulder. Gently, he pulled her to him until she finally relented and rested her head on his shoulder. Keeping the pillow close to her, he held her close and leaned his head against hers. His cheek feeling the softness of her golden hair.

"I didn't mean to make you feel guilty," he said quietly.

"Why Shawn? Why did you let her believe she was right?"

"Because I had to ... I didn't want her to know the truth."

"The truth?" she asked looking up at him. They sat so closely together. Their faces only inches apart as their eyes locked. His brown depths consumed her as they danced, watching her closely, memorizing every inch of her face. She gazed at him, her crystal eyes showing so much curiosity and wonder. "What truth Shawn?" she asked, barely audible. Her voice caught in her throat as she became affected by his closeness to her.

"Um ... well," he said quietly, and gulped trying to calm himself down. "That ... I ..." his heart began to pound heavily in his chest. "Don't ... love her..." He watched her closely, focused on her eyes and then his gaze trailed down to her lips. Her full pink lips that seemed to tempt him in a way that they had never before. He was attracted to Belle, how could he not be, he rationalized over and over in his head, but he was convinced she only wanted him as a friend. He tried to push back the desire to taste her lips, that with every passing moment were tempting him more and more. As he continued to battle his thoughts, he had no control over his actions and his lips brushed against hers in a soft kiss. Bringing his hand to her cheek, he gently cupped her face and continued to kiss her sweetly. Belle moaned quietly and returned the tenderness of the kiss. Her body moving closer to him and relaxing in his arms.

Their lips parted and both stayed in the same position, foreheads touching as they tried to come to terms with what had happened so innocently between them. Shawn's fears grew and in a panic he broke away from the position they were in, pulling back from her abruptly. "God ... Belle I'm sorry," he said full of worry, "I shouldn't have done that."

"Why? You weren't the only one doing it," she said.

"But, I shouldn't have ... I mean I took advantage ... and ..." he became flustered as he stammered his way to an excuse.

"Shawn," she laughed softly, "you didn't take advantage of me. I kissed you back. We kissed," she stressed.

He quickly stood up, running his fingers through his hair he let out a deep sigh. He looked at her apologetically, "I ... I'm sorry ... I should go."

"Shawn, why don't we talk about it?" she pleaded.

"It was a mistake," he tried to convince himself. "Belle we're friends. I don't want to ruin that," he argued.

"You won't," she said quietly, sinking back into the couch. She began to hug the pillow tightly as she started to pout slightly at the current situation.

"What are you saying Belle?" he looked at her confused.

"God, are you clueless or what? Shawn, for the last two months we have spent every day with each other. We have known each other our whole lives. Are you telling me that you can't figure out what I'm saying?" she asked. Standing up to face him, she walked towards him as he stood by the door. He watched her closely. His eyes penetrating her soul with his deep gaze. He took a step closer to her and brought his hand to her face, gently touching her cheek she leaned into his hold, enjoying the feel of his skin against hers, his thumb slowly stroking her soft skin. She closed her eyes gently as a powerful surge of emotions swept over her. Feeling both the ruggedness of his hand and the softness of his caress, she melted and fluttered her eyes open to see him studying her closely. His eyes memorizing every inch of her face.

"Belle ..." he whispered. "You are so ... wonderful, and the time that we have spent together has been so great. You really are my best friend," he smiled.

"And you are, too," Belle replied softly.

He smirked and continued, "You make me feel alive and ... being with you makes me know what I'm missing but ..."

Belle stopped him and brought a finger to his lips to silence him. Shaking her head slowly, "there are no buts Shawn. I want you to be happy."

"I am happy ... with you," he said quietly and then looked away, removing his hand from her he shoved both hands into his pocket as he suddenly became rigid, visibly fighting his inner conflict. With downcast eyes he mentally battled the decision he knew he would have to make. He wanted to give into his primal urge to take Belle into his arms and love her like he had fantasized about. Ever since Belle came back Shawn had a whole new outlook on life. He felt comfortable with her, nothing was forced and he found himself falling in love with her, so deeply, but he had a commitment to Chloe. One forged out of guilt and self sacrificial duty.

Looking down at the ground, coming to grips with his emotional conflict Belle brought her hand to his chin and gently lifted his head so his gaze met hers once again. She could see the turmoil, the struggle he was facing. With a worried look she spoke softly, full of concern, "you're thinking about Chloe aren't you?" Slowly he nodded in response. "Shawn, end it with her," she said plainly. "She makes you miserable and I hate to see you like that. I'm not saying end it with her to be with me. I'm just saying end it so you can be happy. What could possibly keep you with her?"

"Belle," he sighed. A pained expression came across his face. "I ... I ..." he continued to stammer unable to speak as he hated more and more what he was about to deny himself. "I've gotta go," he said hurriedly and quickly opened the door and left. Belle watched him swiftly depart before she had a chance to react. She was completely stunned by what had just happened. She knew he wanted her just as badly as she wanted him but she could not understand why he was being so loyal to Chloe. It didn't make sense to her and she was determined to find out the truth.


Chapter 10:

Shawn rushed back into his apartment, slamming the door behind him. Frantically pacing up and down in his apartment, his breathing became ragged as he tried to calm himself down. Mentally he chastised himself as he grew upset at himself for hurting Belle. Why are things so complicated? he thought to himself. If only I could leave her.

"Why is this so difficult?" he asked himself. "DAMN IT!" he yelled, pounding his fist against the wall. Almost immediately he heard his door unlock and Belle quickly stormed into his apartment. Her eyes were dark and she walked in with a sense of purpose, a look of determination that was not going to be easily swayed. "Belle, I can't do this right now."

"Shut up, Shawn," she snapped, slamming the door behind her she walked to him. Standing directly in front of him she stared him down demanding an answer from him with her intense glare. "There's only one way to get the truth out of you," she said flatly.

"What's that?" he asked out of confusion.

She quickly brought both hands to his face and grasped him from the back of his neck. With incredible strength, she pulled him to her. His lips crashing down on hers and she kissed him with great passion, he reacted, wrapping his arms around her waist he brought her close to him and matched the intensity of the kiss. His tongue was soon seeking entry and she quickly obliged. Their tongues meeting in a fiery dance inside the warmth of their mouths. Belle moaned deeply as Shawn's hands roamed up and down her body. His kisses became more passionate with every passing moment.

Her body melted into his strong hold. Bringing her hands down from behind his neck they roamed down his shoulders to his chest. Her soft hands feeling the strength of his frame and with a gentle push on his body she broke the kiss, both panting from want of air and each other.

Shawn's eyes were ablaze with passion. Dark with lust for her and his body edged toward her, wanting to continue what they started.

Belle stared at him with a look of pure contentment. "I have my answer," she said smugly.

"I'm not finished," he replied in a raspy voice. He forcefully grabbed her by the waist and her body thudded against his strong frame. Her petite body pressed against his muscular chest. Bringing his hand up to her face he slowly stroked her cheek. His fingers tracing along her face, his dark gaze consumed her, "Belle," he whispered, "we shouldn't ..."

"We should Shawn," she said softly. She raised herself up on tiptoe to reach him and brushed her lips against his, "we should," she whispered. Their lips met softly, tenderly locking with each other. Taking the time to taste each other, the kiss soon deepened as they both poured out the emotions they had been suppressing.

---
Later, Belle sat on the couch next to Shawn in his apartment. She stayed in his arms, enjoying the feel of the comfort and security he provided her in his strong embrace. Her small frame molded perfectly with his and as they stayed close to each other Shawn continued to place light kisses along her temple and cheek. He breathed in her scent, getting lost in the vanilla fragrance that wafted over him and calmed him tremendously. He had never felt so content from just holding someone.

Getting lost in the moment, the two seemed to forget about the situation with Chloe. Neither wanted to face reality, but instead enjoyed getting lost in the newness of the moment, of being together so close.

Suddenly, the sound of the phone ringing broke the quiet moment and Shawn reached behind him to answer the phone. He groaned when he heard Chloe's voice on the other end. His body tensed as she talked and Belle kept her arm around him to relax him, but her touch which seemed to melt him earlier had lost all power as his countenance changed at the sound of Chloe's voice. Belle realized that Chloe's affect on Shawn was a lot deeper than she realized. It was unnatural. Shawn became a different person, cold, distant, and curt with his responses when he dealt with Chloe, the complete opposite of how he was with Belle. She knew that understanding his situation with Chloe was far more complicated than she thought. Soon, after a few "uh-huh's" and "sure's" Shawn was off the phone and his demeanor quickly softened when he brought his arm back around Belle.

"We need to talk," Belle stated plainly.

"Can't we just enjoy being like this?" he asked wishfully.

"Shawn we need to know where we stand. I mean, all we did was kiss but it was, um ... pretty intense and well ..."

"It's obvious we both want something more than friendship," he continued.

"Yes and well ... officially you are still with Chloe and ..."

"You want me to end it with her so we can have a clear conscience," he added.

"Right, but ..." her voice trailed off, pulling away from him slightly so she sat up on the couch and faced him. A little nervous from what his answer might be she took in a deep breath and put on a brave face. "But if you want to stay with her then that's your choice and though I won't understand it, I'll respect your decision and we can forget this ever happened."

"Belle," Shawn sighed, "leaving Chloe isn't as easy as you think. Trust me I've tried before and well ... our history is complicated and ..."

Belle quickly stood up from the couch, hiding back the tears she wanted shed. Not wanting to see how she really felt, she forced an uneasy laugh to cover up the pain she was feeling. "Well, we will just forget this ever happened," she said calmly. Her voice was only a whisper, afraid of revealing too much if she spoke in her regular tone.

"I don't want to forget," Shawn quickly added, jumping up from the couch he grabbed her arm. With his dark gaze he pleaded with her to stay. "Please Belle, I promise you ... I will make this right. Let me explain."


    
This message has been edited by ..JJ on Nov 5, 2004 6:30 PM


 
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