There were no violins
There were no soft guitars
Hot summer love under the city stars
I was Mr. Dynamite
And you were my only girl
We held each other through the night
Caught in a whirl...
The house was silent. Belle slipped out of bed and thrust her arms into her warm robe. Sleep was impossible. Her mind was just a mad carousel flinging off miserable thoughts and impressions. It had been an emotional day—her pounding headache was proof of it. It was making itself felt by the minute, a heavy throb that held her in sway and threatened to render her sightless if she didn’t find something to ease the pain soon.
There was Tylenol in the medicine cabinet downstairs. Denise kept it out of reach at the best of times but Belle knew where the key was kept. Two or three might take the physical edge off her pain. The emotional edge would just have to wait its turn. Out in the hallway, she moved swiftly and silently towards the fathomless dark well at the base of the stairs.
A sudden noise had her gasping and falling. Two strong hands reached for her in time and set her right. Her heart lunged with fright and her stifled cry was buried against a hard chest.
“Its okay, Belle. It’s just me,” he whispered.
Belle calmed her voice with an effort. “Glen? You frightened me! What are you doing down here at this time of night?”
Glen was two years older than Belle. Like her, he was heading to university in the fall. Unlike her, the handsome young man had experienced a few educational setbacks not to mention some immature run-ins with the law caused mostly from laziness, peer pressure and a distinct lack of positive direction. At eighteen, he was only now getting his act together.
His smile was wry. “Probably the same thing as you. I couldn’t sleep so I thought I’d make myself some hot chocolate. Denise doesn’t keep anything stronger. There’s some left in the pot...come and join me?”
Belle felt her way along the wall to the bathroom before she answered. “I just came down for some painkillers. I wouldn’t be very good company right now, Glen. Go ahead without me.” Taking the key from up above, she opened the cabinet with shaking hands. Her eyes blurred and she felt herself sliding to the floor. Once again he caught her before she landed on the hardwood. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me tonight...” she mumbled.
He picked her up in his arms and carried her down the hallway into the family room, finally laying her gently on the couch and covering her with a throw. “Stay here and I’ll get you some water for those pills.”
She closed her eyes and groaned. The pain was so much worse now. Not as bad as what she had gone through that day but close enough. She drank the water and swallowed the pills he held out before laying back with a sigh. “Pretty stupid huh? I suppose everybody knows by now how I threw myself at him again. Not to mention that I got slapped down in the process.” A single tear made its way down her face. She was so pathetic.
The older boy lowered himself to the floor beside her. “His loss, Belle. You can’t let him destroy your life...not when you have so much to offer. I may not know you very well—hell you’ve been here two years already and you haven’t let any of us get very close to you—but I do know that you deserve better. Just because he doesn’t realize how special you are, don’t let him drag you down because of it.”
She didn’t say anything. The headache was slowly becoming a dull throbbing again...a little more manageable. “Don’t mind me, Glen. I think too much sometimes. A broken heart never killed anybody right?” She ached with the kind of unhappiness she hadn’t known existed. Absorbing hit after hit left her with nothing but a lonely future to think about.
He was silent for a moment. “I hear you’re going to Stanford in the fall. Believe it or not, I’m going into pre-med there. Maybe we can hang out sometimes? I won’t know another soul.”
At least someone wanted to be with her, she thought sadly. “I doubt that our courses will match up, but that would be nice.” She stood up. “I think I’ll get some sleep now. Thanks for staying with me.”
He walked her upstairs to her room. “You’re welcome. Hey, don’t let him eat you up inside, Belle. You have so much to give. One of these days a guy is going to come along who sees you for the wonderful and sweet person you really are.” Unbeknownst to her, at that very moment, he hoped it might be him.
She closed the door and walked wretchedly towards the window. In the twilight she thought about Shawn. It was time to give up on him. She couldn’t go on like this and survive. How many times did she need to be told that he wasn’t the boy for her?
No other love
In all of the world
In all of my life
There was no other love
She had misinterpreted his appearance at her graduation. Let’s face it Belle, you are just a young naïve little girl. Why would he want you when he could have someone so much more experienced? But he kissed me... She shivered violently in rejection of that memory. It didn’t help. Belle remembered the hungry passion of his lips on hers, as if he wanted to devour her in those first few moments. Oh god, Shawn, she pressed her face to the cool glass, When will I ever be free of you?
The young woman curled up in bed and let the tears drop for what she hoped would be the last time. She couldn’t let it happen again—the nightmares, the pain, the terrible need. Superficially, she had finally been getting over him. At least that’s what she had told herself. She had been sleeping easier, coping better. Sighing miserably, Belle mocked herself for being such a fool. But she really couldn’t blame herself. Time and distance had lent a powerful enchantment that she found hard to dispel, at least until now. Their meeting today had served its purpose. She needed disillusion. At last she had it once and for all.
Tomorrow was the beginning of her new life...a life without Shawn Douglas Brady. No more hankering over the impossible. Belle wanted to be stronger. I need to find the courage and self-confidence to live MY life. Goodbye, Shawn, goodbye forever!
Sleep was a long time coming...crippled by every detail of her own disenchantment.
There was no fireside
No Beaujolais for two
Winter was cold but we had me and you
All the words we used to say
All the crazy plans we made
We were so naïve that way
Getting drunk wasn’t the answer. Getting drunk was what had gotten him into trouble in the first place. His hands moved over her diary in reverence. It was all he had left of her...that and her rag doll. How silly was it that he’d kept a stupid doll? He’d tried so hard not to think of her. Why couldn’t he bring himself to leave the past behind? He didn’t want to remember how much he needed to be near her. He didn’t want to see her face everywhere. What good would it do him, anyway? He didn’t want to remember how many lonely nights were in his future. Most of all, he didn’t want to remember the woman in the other room who had destroyed his only chance of getting Belle back in his arms where she belonged.
It takes two, Brady! Yeah, he knew that. He could be the daddy. One out of three—at least that’s what she said. Hell, how had he got into this stupid mess? Now he had to find the strength to pull away from Belle for good even as his heart rebelled at the very idea. If he closed his eyes and touched his lips it all came back...
“Am I dreaming?” He whispered softly. “Can this be true?” And then they had kissed. He had lowered his head to hers and lost control. He remembered how her lips had moved under his, gently pleading for more. It was a hunger that he still couldn’t explain. His heart had quickened and then almost shattered as he forced himself to pull away.
No other love
In all of the world
In all of my life
There was no other love
No! He couldn’t keep torturing himself like this. Today he had grown up in more ways than one. Today he had closed the book on his life with Isabella for good. For once he was going to stop feeling sorry for himself and do what was right. He had to prove to himself that he wasn’t his foster father...he wasn’t a loser...
Shawn stumbled quietly out of his room and headed for the screen door. It didn’t matter to him that dawn was only hours away. He knew that he wouldn’t get any sleep. Even if he closed his eyes, he couldn’t guarantee that subconscious thoughts of her wouldn’t bleed him dry. He needed some fresh air. He didn’t notice his guest leaning against the veranda’s balustrade until she spoke.
“Do you want me to go, Shawn?” He had no idea what it took for her to ask.
Shawn looked out at the gardens and said nothing.
“I’m sorry about today. I never knew about her.” She laughed sarcastically. “Then again how could I? We don’t even know each other.” Her voice softened. “Maybe you could go to her and explain. Tell her I’ll only be here until the babies come and then I’m getting right out of your life...” She held her breath for his answer. She was playing Russian roulette and wanted to come out the winner. This was the biggest scam of her life and if she pulled it off the windfall would be enormous.
He cut her off angrily. “And what? She’ll understand when I tell her that there’s a one in three chance that I’m the daddy? Then she’ll open her arms to me and say...there...there ...Shawn, I forgive you? Somehow I don’t think so! I pushed her away for the second time today. I doubt she ever wants to see me again and I don’t blame her. Little things like rejection bother most people!”
The older woman dug the knife in deeper without even knowing it. “So, do you want me to leave? You don’t have to take responsibility. There are lots of families out there who will want the babies...maybe even foster care.”
Shawn grabbed her arms and swung her around, looking intensely into her eyes. “No way! They are not going into foster care!” He suddenly realized what he was doing and let go, feeling disgusted with himself. “Look you need your rest. I don’t know how this is going to work out, but for now lets just play it day by day. I’ll give you a roof over your head and food, but make no mistake...I’m only doing this for the babies.” I’m only giving up on the most important person in my life for them, he thought inconsolably. Never had he felt so cold...so empty.
He didn’t watch her go inside. He didn’t see her hidden smile. He was caught up in the angry thoughts that continued to swirl around him.
Belle woke up feeling tired. It didn’t matter. She had places to go and people to meet. School was out and she had two months to go before she started at Stanford U...or did she? With a steely determination that threw her group-home mother for a loop, Belle presented herself at the breakfast table dressed in a smart-looking suit and full of plans.
An hour later she took a tram to the university campus. Two hours after that, Belle Black was registered and would carry a full caseload. Summer term began in another week and she now had to scramble to get her books, find her way around, and finally meet her new roommates. No more foster homes. No more group homes. Belle was going to embrace campus dorm living.
She was determined to make a success of her new goals—an undergraduate degree in psychology and then a transfer to San Diego State University to obtain her Masters degree in Social Work. The pressure would be keen. She needed to retain her honors status in order to qualify for another scholarship when this one ran out. A tiny fire of excitement went through her as she rushed home to tell Denise her news...
“But you’ve worked so hard, Belle. I thought you would like your summer off. Besides you’ve been under such stress lately. Are you sure this is what you want?”
Belle wouldn’t be dissuaded. And if at the back of her mind she secretly hoped that all this hard work would help her to forget, well miracles happened everyday didn’t they? Anything was possible.
Breaking the news to his boss didn’t go quite as he had planned.
“You might be the father? Shawn, that’s the oldest trick in the book. Who is this woman? What about Belle?” Jan asked in disbelief.
Lack of sleep made him snap back. “What does it matter to you? I do my job. I work hard,” he told her belligerently.
She looked at him and realized that he was terrified. “It matters to me because I care about you. It matters to me because I know how much you love that girl you watched over in the hospital. Are you really willing to give up on a once-in-a-lifetime love just so you can do the noble thing? Or at least what you see as the noble thing?”
I don’t know where it went
Turned into yesterday
Time comes and goes like music in a play
Looking back I still don’t know
Why we ever had to end
And it’s so hard letting go
Of what we had then
He swallowed once...twice...then tried to speak. It all came out as he confided to the woman who had become more friend than boss in the last two years. “I saw her yesterday. I went to her graduation. I didn’t mean to...but...but I couldn’t seem to stay away. Maybe it was to prove something to myself. If it was, it ended up being a miserable failure. I’m not over her. I never will be. I felt Belle’s presence before I even saw her...and when I did finally see her...well...she was so beautiful that she took my breath away. I was coming home to make plans for us. I was going to win her back—do anything to make her love me again. But...but when I got home, Angie was waiting. She told me about the babies... What was I supposed to do? What if they are mine? Her old man shoved her out of his life. I can’t let those babies end up having the same kind of childhood that I did! I swear I won’t let that happen!” He turned his back towards her in humbling grief.
The older woman cleared her throat. “So that’s what this is all about? You’re worried that a woman like Angie will...you want them to have what you never had? Shawn you don’t know anything about taking care of babies! You’re giving up on that sweet girl on the chance that you might be the father?”
“She plans on giving them away. What if they are mine? What do I do?” He turned back to face her. “Something has to give!”
Jan sighed. “And Belle is that something? You’re sacrificing Belle to do the right thing?”
He took a deep breath. No matter how hard he tried to push her to the back of his mind, it always came back to Belle. “I saw her you know. Belle came to see me last night.”
She flinched at his broken expression. “You sent her away, didn’t you.” It was a statement of fact rather than a question. She knew it would have destroyed him to do it but she felt deep in her heart that this was the action Shawn Brady had taken. His look of despair said it all.
No other love
In all of this world
In all of my life
There was no other life
His hands shook with a fine tremor. “Not before I completely screwed with her mind. I kissed her. I kissed her like I was a drowning man and then I threw her away from me in self-disgust. She saw Angie and it was like a frozen state enveloped her senses. She put two and two together and suddenly we were complete strangers. I think she hates me now. I can’t say that I blame her. I pretty much hate myself for what I’ve done.” His eyes filled with tears. “Men aren’t supposed to cry...”
“A stupid movie cliché, I’m sure.” His boss opened her arms and he ran into them. Deep, harsh shudders trembled through his body. Tears shook him for what seemed like forever. Over and over again Jan whispered motherly words of comfort. She didn’t know whether he heard them or not. Finally after what seemed like hours, he lifted his head and looked at her.
She smiled sadly. “That’s the way it is when you lose someone so important to you. I’ve been there. I know how difficult it is to pick up the pieces. So what do you intend to do now? The head gardener’s job is waiting for you if you still want it. Oh I know it isn’t what you really want, but in the meantime it will pay the bills and a little bit more besides.”
“You still want me after what I’ve done?” His voice was clipped with strain.
“You don’t need me to judge you. I’m just sorry about Belle.”
“I was so terrified that I would break down and call her back. I wanted to beg her to stay with me on any terms, any conditions,” he whispered.
“Did you think about offering Belle a choice? That maybe you were doing her a disservice by not trying to make her understand? How do you know she wouldn’t have stood by you?”
He hadn’t allowed himself to think that far. “I want so much more for her. I don’t want to drag her down. She has dreams...big dreams. She doesn’t need my emotional baggage. She’s...damn it...she’s better off finding a guy who can help her reach those dreams. I can’t be that guy.” It was too late and it killed him just thinking about it.
Perhaps it was the turbulence of his upbringing, the harshness of his life that gave him such a deep perception of what was right and what was wrong. The older woman could understand the darkness in him better than most. “So what now? What are your plans?”
“I need to convince Angie to leave those babies with me. I want them to know that at least someone loved them enough to not run away from responsibility. They may not be mine, but they deserve a better start in life than simply being assigned numbers in a system that tries but fails time and time again.”
She searched his eyes once more. He was so determined and yet she felt she had to play devil’s advocate...point out every possible option. “Adoption might work out very well. Have you thought about what you can offer them instead?”
“It wouldn’t be the same. I am not going to be the guy they look for years from now when they want to find their real parents...when they want to find out why they were given up. I don’t know what I can give them until I try. The last day or two have been so unreal. I was going to go back to school. I was going to make a life for Belle and me. That’s all changed now. If you don’t want me to stay then I won’t.” He started to move away, stopping just short of the door when he heard her quiet answer.
“I let my son go because of my stubbornness. He was all that I had. I won’t do that to you. I have more money than is good for me, but money doesn’t cure loneliness. I admire your values, Shawn. I’m not sure about what the future will bring, but someday soon I am sure I will need a favor from you...a big one...and then we will be even.” Very soon, she acknowledged sadly to herself.
He had often wondered why her eyes looked so sad. Now he knew. “Have you tried to find him? To bring him back?”
Her laugh was hollow. “You can’t bring someone back who doesn’t want to come back. You can’t force the issue. I said some terrible things to him. Things that I wish I could take back. It’s too late now. He died last year in a car accident. I never got to say goodbye.” She shook her head to clear it. I want you to stay, Shawn. You will need to decide how you will work and take care of babies at the same time though. I might be able to help you there. It will be nice to hear the sounds of children’s voices around the place again.”
He kissed her cheek and rose to leave. “You’ve been very good to me. That favor you need? Anytime...any place...just ask me. I won’t let you down.” He paused and then gave the older woman the best compliment she had ever received. “I think my mother might have been like you if she’d lived....kind...generous...” He thought of Belle then. She would make a wonderful mother too. His eyes shuttered in pain. “I have to go!” He ran out of there as if a pack of hounds were after him.
The older woman sat down and closed her eyes. So many decisions to make...so little time...
Song credit: Barry Manilow—No Other Love
One week later...
Leaving the group home was hard enough, but saying goodbye to Rico was disastrous and brought her to tears. He was still such a fragile little boy, so out of place. Promises of return visits did nothing to reconcile him. Finally, she had no choice but to gather her bags, kiss his soft cheek, and get into the cab that had been called to take her to her new campus digs. A last glimpse showed a group mother trying to console an inconsolable child. She had to do this. She had to grow up...spread her wings...without him...
Moving into the dorm was a big step. Her two roommates were as different as night and day. Penny was determined to get her law degree in half the time allotted. Given the heavy workload and risk of failure, she barely had time to say hello most days. Dallas was a little rich girl. Her idea of post-secondary education was to find as many guys as she could...find as many parties as she could...and play...play...play. As she repeated often, daddy was in oil and would buy her a degree. Belle didn’t care as long as she was left alone to do her own thing...study and study hard. To say the least, her chosen learning curve was singularly punishing, not as overtaxing as her determination to put her past behind her where it belonged, but definitely up there.
Her first few days were spent acclimatizing herself to campus life and finding her way around Stanford University. Thankfully, her classes were in the same sector, her professors were topnotch, and the subject matter as interesting as could be. Still there was one thing missing...no not him...that was a given.... What was missing was her need to find a part-time job to cushion her personal finances. Much to her chagrin, Social Services had insisted on supplementing her scholarship but in a small way only. She wanted to be independent. She wanted to pay for her own food and clothing. She didn’t want to use the vouchers. The humiliation she felt went very deep. Just for once, Belle didn’t want to be like Henrietta...a rag doll. She didn’t want to just scrape by. A different life was all she was asking for, one without so much pain.
On her first free day, Belle left the door and went job hunting. She crossed the avenue and walked down the narrow cobblestone paths, adorned with fountains and wondrous flower displays. The quaint little streets surrounding the university campus made her feel as if she were in times gone by. A café was looking for help...too many hours. A grocer was looking for cashiers...no experience. She scoured the want ads one last time. In a tiny corner, in the last column, Belle found what she was looking for. At the end of the next street she came to her destination. Her hands softly traced the window lettering. Ye Old Music Box Shop, Maximillan Wagner, Proprietor. She pulled open the door to the rose-covered cottage music box shop and went in. A lovely chime rang out, breaking the silence.
The place had a sleepy old-fashioned charm to it. Ageless music boxes—carousels, unicorns, figurines, jewelry boxes, kaleidoscopes, dolls, clowns and more—laid on the royal blue velvet covered shelves, An old English folk tune, Lady Greensleeves , was playing on an old Victrola. The grey-haired, handlebar-mustached man sitting behind the little counter sipped his tea and lowered his wire rim glasses down his nose to look at the newcomer.
“Vat can I do for you, little lady? Vat brings you here?” He asked with a distinct Swiss accent.
Belle smiled at him. “I saw your sign in the window, sir. I was hoping I might leave my resume with you to consider. I need a part-time job.”
“Well now...” He barely glanced at it and smiled back at her. “Isabella is such an old-fashioned name. I like it. Do you like music, Isabella?”
She was a little nervous now. “I love music, but I don’t know much about it.”
He nodded, snapping his suspenders back. “My name is Maximillan Wagner. We try each other out, yes? We see if we make a good fit! Now I pour us some tea and we talk.”
She sat on Shawn’s news for as long as she could. She put the wheels in motion for her lawyers to investigate the woman’s background. Jan Brander was by no means a snob, but then again she wasn’t born yesterday. Time would tell if his “guest” was the fraud artist Jan suspected she was.
It was funny the way life turned out sometimes. Plans put into place could be destroyed in a matter of seconds simply by a turn of fate…a doctor’s prognosis…a second opinion that mirrored the first. Not one to feel sorry for herself, she set about putting her life in order and settling her financial and human debts. History would not repeat itself. She would not let Shawn’s adulthood go the way of his childhood. Her plans for him were set in stone. Conditions were devised that she was confident he would approve and triumph over. The lawyers were primed, the documents that would see a transfer of power just waiting to be served…
...He watched the sprinklers as they misted over the eight Japanese plum trees and four Osage orange trees just planted. His satisfaction in doing a good job paled as he thought of his unwanted guest. Why the hell couldn’t she leave him alone? She had a blasted roof over her head...a new wardrobe...plenty of food...even pocket money, and yet she insisted on making him elaborate meals, washing his clothes, insinuating herself where she wasn’t wanted. He took her to the doctor’s and made sure she followed all of his instructions, but he couldn’t watch her 24/7 even if he wanted to which he didn’t. He dreaded having another argument with her. She promised that she would be gone when the babies came. Their first argument came when he caught her dying her hair. Wasn’t that supposed to be dangerous for unborn babies? It didn’t help that the color was a dead-on match for Belle’s.
Tonight his boss’s lawyer was coming with the papers he had asked for. He prayed she would sign away her rights to the babies to him. Still, nothing but nothing had gone right for him up till now, so why should this be any easier? They weren’t exactly on good terms. And then there was that addendum added at the very last moment. He guessed that his boss thought him naïve but he knew exactly why it was there. But at such a cost? How could he ever repay her?
Last night had ended badly. Shawn cringed whenever he thought about it. He caught her reading Belle’s diary, making notes from it. He turned around and found Henrietta and the only framed picture he had of Belle gone. His temper flew off the Richter scale.
“Where the fuck are they? What the hell have you done with them? How dare you touch my personal property?” His voice was deadly quiet as his body filled with a violent tension.
Angie knew right away what he was talking about and assumed a caring and sympathetic facial expression. That girl was a stumbling block that she intended to obliterate if it was the last thing she did. She could do Belle...affect her mannerisms, her innocence...well maybe not the last one, but once those damn babies were out of her, she would have her figure back and could seduce the boy over to her side. He was her meal ticket and a damn fine one.
“I’m sorry, Shawn. I know how painful it is for you to have those reminders constantly around. I just thought if I put them away that it might be easier for you.” And maybe he could forget the little bitch once and for all, she thought sarcastically.
He grabbed the diary out of her hand. “And this? Where the hell do you get off reading this?”
She had no answer so she bluffed. “I wasn’t reading it. Some pages came loose when I picked it up. I was trying to find out where they went.” She saw his eyes go to the list in her hand. “Oh that? Just a grocery list, Shawn.” She quickly tucked it into her bosom.
“You do not touch them ever again, do you hear me? I may be stuck with you but I will not have you messing with the most important things in my life. They stay out where I can see them or else!”
So maybe she had gone too far? Pressed too many buttons? Time for a little damage control? “I’m sorry. I don’t see what the big deal is. You broke up with her, remember? And...and...I even made you a big dinner and a cake for dessert...and oh...oh...” Her eyes filled with crocodile tears.
He couldn’t even stand to look at her anymore. She wasn’t Belle and yet everything about her... No! “I know what you’re trying to do and it won’t work. You could never replace Belle in a million years. If you want to stay here then butt out of my life! I’m going out!” He turned and slammed out the door.
They hadn't spoken since... not that she hadn’t tried...at least until the boss lady had stopped by...
Jan was beyond frustrated. The girl was every bit as bad as she thought.
“It’s none of your damn business, lady. This is between Shawn and me!” No busybody of an old woman was going to get in her way.
The harshness of her voice and the blind anger in her eyes made Jan realize that she had to do something and do it quickly. “If you really think that I am going to stand by while you perpetrate a con job of this magnitude on that decent young man, then you are very much mistaken!”
“Shawn doesn’t feel that way. He could be the father you know! Besides, what difference does it make to you? You’re not his mother.” Angie tried to close the door in the woman’s face but Jan pushed her way through.
“You and I are going to have a little talk,” Shawn’s boss said quietly. “It will be a single-sided talk with me doing the talking and you doing the listening.”
Belle sat nursing her iced latte and tried to concentrate on what her companion was saying. To tell the truth she was bored to tears. They had nothing in common and she hated the way he constantly stared at her. This was their third meeting (she winced at calling it an actual date) and all she could think of was the 25 page term paper she had completed the night before on child behavioral disorders. It was due in three days time but with her perfectionist attitude she insisted on rereading, re-polishing, and fine-tuning it until the very last moment.
“So what do you think, Belle?” Glen asked eagerly.
She turned to him with chagrin. “I’m sorry, Glen. What were you saying?”
He knew he was good looking. He knew the chicks thought he was hot. So why was it that the only girl he was interested in such a cold fish? “I asked whether you wanted to go to Paul’s party on Friday night. Well?”
Thank god she had a readymade excuse. “I’d love to but I have to work for Max.”
Hell, she was such a stickler...such a goody two shoes....school...work...school...work. So yeah he had gone back to his old ways, found some new friends and new habits that she wouldn’t approve of. Any other girl would be begging to jump his bones by now. What would it take to get her nice and ready for him? He forced himself to react calmly when what he really wanted to do was teach her a lesson she would never forget. “How about Saturday then? We could catch a movie...maybe dinner after? I know for a fact that the old man closes shop by 5:30 p.m. so you can’t use that excuse.”
Her mouth thinned in anger. “I don’t like being checked on. I’m not making any excuses, Glen, but I’m also not going to the movies with you. Excuse me.” She scraped her chair back and hurried out of the café.
He slammed his hand down on the table. She wouldn’t make him a laughingstock in front of his friends. Throwing some money down on the table, he sauntered out onto the pavement. He could just see her exquisite body in the distance. His eyes narrowed in purpose. What he wanted he always got.
Belle ran all the way back to her dorm room, saying a tiny prayer of thanks that her roommates were nowhere to be seen. She curled up on the bed and reached for her term paper. Concentration was impossible. He seemed to think he owned her...that he just had to snap his feelings and she would fall in with his plans. When had she ever given him that impression? When had she ever showed him that she could be controlled? She wouldn’t see him again. That was all there was to it. His ways weren’t hers. Pulling the term paper back onto her lap, she started proofreading. Her study group met in a few hours, so refocusing on her goals beckoned.
Glen called the boys and made plans...plans for his Barbie Doll aka Isabella Black
“I hate you! I hate you! I’m ugly and it’s all your stupid faults!” Angie looked down at her bulging tummy in revulsion. “I’ll make sure he doesn’t want you either! I am not going to compete with two whiney, needy, monsters...nuh uh...no way!”
Shawn turned to his boss and the lawyers in shock. What had they just walked in on? He just stopped himself from saying something when one of the lawyers shook his head.
“You do realize that you have just threatened to harm those babies, don’t you miss?” The senior of the two lawyers commented.
Angie spun around. “Who the hell are you?” She looked at Jan and spit out... “What the hell is she doing here?”
Shawn turned to the others. “Would you excuse us for a moment please?” He wrapped his hand around the younger woman’s arm and pulled her into the kitchen.
“I thought it would just be the two of us tonight, Shawn. I was hoping we would have some quiet time together,” Angie griped.
He looked dumbfounded. “Will you get it through your thick head that we are not and never will be a couple? I don’t want you. I don’t even like you. All I’m concerned about are those babies. Get it? Comprende? And just for your information, my BOSS is welcome here anytime. She owns the damn place, Angie! I swear if you plan on doing anything to those unborn twins, I will kick you out on your ugly butt and personally drive you to the nearest women’s prison! Now get out there and behave!”
She followed him out vowing revenge on all of them...including that witch pretending to be his boss.
With a huge release of pent-up breath, the four tired but contented students called it a night. They were two weeks ahead in their readings and pleased as punch. Belle felt especially glad that she now had friends who were as serious as she was about doing well. The four of them moved towards the library exit before breaking into twos for the trek back to their rooms.
Jordan stood next to her as they waved Ryan and Kylie off. He slipped into place beside her and they strolled through the campus. “You were awfully quiet tonight, Belle. Want to grab a cup of coffee before we call it a night?”
Something in his expression told her that she had found the makings of a good friend. It gave her a sense of protection. “I’d like that, Jordan.”
Together they walked over to the same café she had been in earlier. This time she felt a whole lot more comfortable. They sat across from each other in relaxed silence.
“It’s nice to find a few people among the thousands here that care about getting an education. My roommates are more into having a good time than anything else,” Jordan said idly.
She nodded in agreement. “I know what you mean, Jordan. I have one roommate— Penny—who is just as determined as I am to work hard, but the other one—Dallas—well her Daddy is buying her grades for her. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her crack open a book. I do know that she doesn’t write her own papers.”
His eyes turned serious for a moment. “Not me! I need to do well or I’ll lose my partial scholarship. My parents can’t afford the fees and I’m already working two part-time jobs just to make ends meet. Neither of them made it to university. I want them to be proud of me. They both plan on coming down next weekend to visit me. How about you, are your parents coming down for a visit soon?”
Belle watched his animated face and smiled. He was so easy to talk to. It was just too bad that she couldn’t get interested in a nice, cute like the boy next door, kind of guy.
Even so, she found herself opening up to him without realizing it...at least a little. “I’ll just cut to the chase. I grew up in the foster care system. My parents died when I was young. Anyway, I’ve got a scholarship too and I’m working a part-time job as well.”
“I’m sorry, Belle. Hey, if you’re not busy on Saturday night would you like to join us for dinner?” As soon as he saw the wariness in her eyes, he hastened to reassure her. “It’s not a date, Belle. Actually you’d be doing me a huge favor. I don’t make friends easily and my parents are always worried that I’ll be lonely in a strange city all by myself. I had a girlfriend but she broke up with me before I came here,” he said with a faintly sad smile. “I guess I’m still licking my wounds.”
Her heart twisted at his words. They were two lost souls fighting the same hurts. Maybe they could help each other. She smiled softly. “How about we help each other? I’ve got major road burn from being dumped as well.” She held out her hand to him.
Jordan held her hand, and with a grin, proceeded to polish up his best Humphrey Bogart expression. “Well, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, sweetheart...” Both of them started to giggle...but one moment later Belle felt the hairs rise on the back of her neck and she turned around.
His face was pressed against the café’s window watching the couple in the corner. His mouth moved grimly. In no way are you moving on without me, Belle Black...not until I’ve fulfilled my quota with you! He felt her eyes on him and grinned at her. She knew exactly what he was thinking. Now she just needed to learn her place.
Belle gasped as Glen walked forcefully into the café and up to their table.
“Hey, Belle...miss me?” His voice was softly menacing as he pulled her to him in a tight embrace and kissed her with marked possessiveness.
She did the only thing she could think of and bit down on his lip as hard as she could. His anger rose to new leaps and bounds and he wound his hand around to slap her for her impertinence. He smiled as she cowered before him. His amusement was short-lived though because his hand never met its destination. Jordan was up and around the table in mere seconds. He had Glen’s arm twisted tightly behind his back before he could do any damage. A power of wills ensued.
“Get away from me you moron! Look what the bitch did to me! She deserves everything she gets!” He touched his now bleeding lip in disgust.
Belle scrambled across the booth as far away from him as she could. Her face was white, her body trembling. In that instant she flashed back to a scene with her foster father. Her memories were of Ray and all the misery that such thinking evoked.
Jordan looked at her tentatively. “Do you want to lay charges against him, Belle? Do you want me to call the police?”
She couldn’t answer him...no words would come. She just shook her head in denial and turned her face away. In that instant she was lost in a frigid cocoon of pain.
“See? The girl knows who she belongs to. I have every right to be angry if you’re poaching on my reserves, man. C’mon Belle, lets get out of here. I’m willing to forgive and forget this time only.” Glen glared at the other boy. “Let go of my arm already!”
All Jordan could see was that Belle was terrified of more than just this creep. “She isn’t anybody’s property and she doesn’t seem to want to go with you. Get the hell out of here and stay away from her!” He shoved Glen towards the door. If the other boy thought he would dispute Jordan’s authority, he only had to look around the restaurant to see that the other boys in attendance were more than ready to back Jordan’s decision.
He glowered at Belle. “This isn’t finished, sweetheart. I say when we’re through!”
Glen shoved him out the door.
Belle was crying now. She’d promised herself she wouldn’t cry anymore. She only wanted to belong to one boy. She didn’t want to be weak, but oh how she wanted to be with Shawn at that moment. Only he didn’t want to be with her and there was nothing she could do about it. That was the story of her life. He shouldn’t matter to her anymore, but he did so very much.
Jordan slipped onto the seat beside her and reached for her hand. He held it gently and caressed the soft skin in a comforting gesture. When she looked up at him with eyes full of sadness, he gathered her against him and just held her...nothing more. “Don’t worry, Belle, he won’t hurt you again. I’m going to report him. Even if I have to shadow your every move from now on, I won’t let him near you.”
Shawn paced the room, waiting for the lawyers to finish explaining the deal. So far Angie had sat quietly, not saying a word, not showing any expression. A good poker face he thought.
She wasn’t born yesterday. She knew the score. She had something he wanted. He had something she wanted. “So let me get this straight. You want me to give up Shawn. You think I’ll sell my babies to you for twenty-five thousand dollars? Isn’t that somewhat illegal?” She asked sarcastically.
Shawn stopped his pacing and swung angrily around. “Listen to me! You don’t have me. You never have and you never will! Take the damn money and get the hell out of my life!” He stomped out of the cottage, slamming the door behind him.
Jan pressed a hand to her stomach. It was getting worse. The pain was getting so much worse. She forced herself to concentrate. “Your best bet is to let Shawn have those babies. They are not just yours, dear. You keep saying that there is a good chance he is the father. More and more, the courts are giving babies to the father these days. We won’t have any difficulty portraying you as an unfit mother, especially after what we walked in on earlier. Take the money and start a new life. Shawn doesn’t want you. You’d have to be blind not to see how much he hates you. That isn’t going to change. Whether you intended to or not, your timing couldn’t have been worse where he is concerned.”
Angie glared at the busybody. If not for her nosing in where she wasn’t wanted, her scam might have worked. “It will take more than twenty-five thousand dollars to get me out old lady...much more!”
They had her where they wanted her—hook—line—and definitely sinker. The lawyers withdrew a second document mirroring the first with one notable change. “We thought you might hedge at such a low figure. This is our new and final offer. With it comes the proviso that you will at no time attempt to contact Shawn Brady or his children; you will at no time contact Mrs. Brander for any reason; you will not receive or ask for one penny more than what we are now offering. If you attempt blackmail, this document will nail you to the door.”
The other three waited quietly while the pregnant girl read the new deal. Twice as much as was offered before was now up for grabs. She was no fool. Grabbing the pen, she scribbled her signature on it and watched as the older lady witnessed it. <br />
“Your due date is June 20th. A cheque will be handed over to you upon your leaving the hospital. Shawn will take the babies home. His name will be on their birth certificates next to yours. You will not follow him—attempt to talk to him---mention any of this to anyone else—is that clear?” Jan would make this deal airtight if nothing else.
Angie laughed. $50,000 big ones would get her a new start. The bastard babies wouldn’t drag her down. It was a win-win situation except that she had to give up the boy. Oh well, plenty more fish in the sea. If he wanted to live with ghosts for the rest of his life, that was his problem.
He found himself near the fountains and yet their beauty brought no peace. His gaze swept the darkening clouds in an absentminded way. This was all wrong...so wrong, he thought angrily. When had his life become so complicated? Easy, Shawn...when you lost Belle. Face the facts, without her you’re nothing. He wasn’t over her and never would be. His cold heart was withering without her. Did she ever think of him? Miss him? Was she over him? He was a grown man and all he wanted to do was drown in shattered dreams of his own making. Shawn didn’t notice when the rain started to fall. He was immersed in a strange brooding silence. He didn’t notice when his boss sat down beside him.
“It’s done, Shawn. Angie signed the papers,” Jan said quietly.
He looked up at her with a face full of pain. “I wanted Belle’s babies. I wanted to have a family with Belle. Now I’m going to be a single father and any chance I had of winning her back is all gone. I want those babies to have a good life, Mrs. Brander. I just don’t understand why I have to lose so damn much for that to happen.”
She covered his hand with hers. “Don’t stop chasing those rainbows, Shawn. Dreams are all most of us ever have. Despite all the terrible journeys you have taken so far, I am proud of the responsible and caring young man you have become. Not everyone would give up their heart’s desire like you have. You’ve chosen your lot in life and it is one where you are forsaking your own happiness to bring stability and love to those two unborn children. God willing Belle will walk back into your life one day. It’s not your time right now, but never, never give up hope.”
He forced himself to swallow. “But the hours have turned into weeks and I still miss her so much. I never thought a person could fall in love like this. It’s killing me. I did the right thing and its killing me...”
The young man and older woman sat there in the rain in comforting silence. Shawn finally realized how chilled he had become and turned to her. He almost gasped as he saw her grey face and how fragile she looked. “You’re not well, boss. I should be shot for keeping you out here. Please, let me take you home,” he begged.
She smiled at him, her gallant young friend. “Let us go and have some hot chocolate. What I have to say will go down better that way.” She allowed him to pull her up and help her into the mansion.
Jordan’s eyes were everywhere as he walked her back to the dorm. He wouldn’t put it past Glen to be keeping tabs on them. Belle still hadn’t said a word and he didn’t want to let her go like this.
“Belle, what can I do? How can I help?” They were stopped in front of her building now.
She finally realized where they were and bit her lower lip to stop its trembling. “I’ve tried so hard to move on. I swear I didn’t give Glen any reason to think I was his girl. He was in my group home. I didn’t pay any attention to him, but when he told me he was coming to Stanford as well...I—I just thought we could be friends. I don’t know many people—I haven’t any family of my own...I thought it would be okay. We went out for coffee a few times...that’s all. He kept asking me out for dates and I kept making excuses. Today he got a little pushy so I ran out on him. I decided I wasn’t going to have anything more to do with him. Jordan I don’t belong to anybody. I never have and I never will...” She started crying and once started couldn’t stop.
He led her to the stairs and they sat down with his arm around her. “We all belong to someone Belle. Even if your parents are gone, you still belong to them. I get the feeling that there’s more here that you aren’t talking about. I’m a good listener and I never tell a secret on pain of death cross my heart.” He smiled softly at her.
She couldn’t help but smile through her tears, exhaling a shaky sigh at the same time. Maybe telling someone would ease the pain? “What do you do when you love someone so much and he doesn’t love you back the same way? How do you stop from thinking about him all the time, from wanting to beg him to take you back?”
“I don’t know,” he whispered gently. “Are you sure he doesn’t love you, Belle? Want to tell me about him?”
It seemed very natural for her to lean into him. Her voice sounded far away as if she were in a different place and time. “I met him when I was six years old and he was nine. We grew up in the same foster home. Shawn was like a brother to me, protective, caring, always there. We went through so much together and then we fell in love. Shawn gave up everything to take me away from a very bad place but then I got sick and he decided that I was better off without him...he let me go...he gave up on me.”
It was what she didn’t say that gave him the answers he needed. “He still loves you, Belle. He loves you so damn much that he is willing to sacrifice his happiness so that you could have the best life possible. He still loves you. I’d bet the bank on that.”
“But he’s with someone else now. She’s pregnant. I saw her. So you see if he’s moved on, why oh why can’t I? Why am I losing sleep over him? I keep reliving our time together. Its like being in a prison I can’t get out of.”
“And it will destroy you if you let it. I can’t explain why things happened the way they did, Belle. I’ve been there myself. It hurts like hell and some days you just don’t want to get out of bed because the pain is so bad. I know that neither you nor I are the love em and leave em kind.”
“So what do we do?” Belle asked plaintively. “I can’t go on like this, Jordan.”
“Neither can I., so we make a pact to lean on each other as friends and to be there to bring the other one up when their down. I’m willing if you are. I won’t crowd you, Belle. It’ll be like the buddy system. What do you say, buddy?”
“Watch each other’s backs? Purely platonic?”
“Yep! Deal?” He held out his hand to her.
She laughed for the first time in a long time. “Deal! I could use a buddy with no strings attached. At least if I go down I’ll have company.”
Stomach cancer...the woman who had done so much for him was dying of stomach cancer. He couldn’t wrap his mind around it. He wanted to tell her she was wrong but one look at her face and his heart tightened. It was amazing how you could work side by side with someone for so long and not notice the subtle and not so subtle changes. Shawn was ashamed...deeply ashamed that he was so wrapped up in his own problems that he hadn’t realized how sick this wonderful lady really was.
Now he just wanted to help. “But they can treat it, right? Chemotherapy?”
“I made the choice not to treat it with anything other than painkillers. My cancer is very advanced, Shawn. It’s a hereditary curse that has taken many members of my family including my mother. I choose not to prolong the battle...I choose quality over quantity,” Jan said with quiet dignity. She had come to terms with her mortality.
The back of his eyes burned with unshed tears. This woman had somehow snuck through his defenses and become so important to him and now he was losing her. “What can I do? What do you need?”
“We should none of us be afraid to die, Shawn.”
But not her...not now. The suffering he now saw in her eyes haunted him. “I can’t believe there is nothing to be done. Surely...”
She had to be strong. She had to find a way to convince him to do what she wanted. She reached for and held tightly to his hand. “Listen to me. I realize that your life hasn’t been a free one. I don’t want to be a burden on anyone but I have no other choice.” She squeezed his hand before continuing. “I need more than a few favors, Shawn. I need you to read this.” She went to her desk and pulled out her last will and testament, handing it over to him.
Shawn’s eyes grew rounded with confusion and disbelief at the same time. He read the document twice before finally looking up. “There must be family...relations...anyone more suitable than me...”
“None. You are the only one I can trust with this.”
“I wouldn’t know where to begin...I don’t have the training...this isn’t right...” He was shaking from the inside out. A bombshell like this wasn’t anything he had ever thought to experience. To go from being a foster child...to a street person...to a gardener...to a soon-to-be-parent...and now to a man of wealth in the blink of an eye? Life just didn’t work that way—not his life anyway.
“All you need is your heart in the right place. You have proven over and over again that others matter more than yourself.”
“But all this money...all this responsibility...”
“You’ll learn...I’ll mentor you with the little time I have left.”
“And school? You want me to finish school?” He was going to wake up any moment and realize this wasn’t happening.
“I’ve arranged for some highly-recommended nannies to come for interviews next week. Your schooling is most important to me. I want you to be able to take your place in society with every privilege possible. A nanny can help with the babies when they come. You will move in here...all of this will belong to you anyway. You and the children will never have to worry about anything.”
Shawn shook his head to clear it. “You’re serious? About all of this?”
Her eyes glistened as she looked at the young man she had become so fond of. “I know you can do this, Shawn. Have a little faith in yourself. I promise you the emotional rewards will be well worth it.”
His mind was awhirl with an acute sadness. “I don’t want to lose you. You’ve given me so much.”
“I’ll be watching from above, my dear. You have become like a son to me. I know you will do me proud. My only demand is that you continue my charity work. I want your promise that you will continue funding my orphanage, homeless shelter, and the summer camps.”
Kneeling down beside her, he laid his head on her lap. “I don’t want you to die,” he whispered with eyes awash with tears.
They sat there in the gathering darkness...a woman with so many regrets...a young man with so many regrets...a connection that would never be broken.
If you'll only give me time
All the heartache that he left behind
Will fade from my mind
I'll be free to love again
If you'll only give me time
I'll forget I even knew his name
Forget that he came
I'll be no good till I can
Try to understand
Things went better after that. Or did they? Belle’s learning curve took precedence and that, she decided, was as it should be. She pushed Shawn to the back of her mind and only retrieved his image at especially weak times. It was then that she would recall a magical moment…relive a look…a touch. The comforting warmth that resulted left a residual determination in her to prove herself to the naysayers in her world. And then one day, a day she marked on her calendar, Belle reached a new cornerstone. Whether or not he had intended it that way, Shawn Brady had learned at few life lessons at her expense. As a survival measure, she packed up her memories, put a smile on her face, and determined to enjoy the life she was missing out on. She told herself that she was over him for good. She was ready to move on.
Jan delighted in spending her last moments on earth decorating a nursery for the babies-to-be. Angie had grudgingly set aside her animosity and handed over the sonogram pictures to Shawn who had in turn passed them on the his ailing boss. A boy and a girl, she thought with excitement…a beautiful baby boy and baby girl. Jan refused to be sad. It squandered what little time she had left. She busied herself is whatever way she could to be helpful to her reluctant heir.
Out of six potential nanny candidates, a Mary Poppin’s character jumped out of the woodwork. She sat sedately in the lounge with the five other candidates, knitting away. Two platinum blondes, one rainbow-dyed teenybopper, one Mohawk and two gum-chewing redheads later, the silvery-gray haired lady was shown in to be interviewed. Moira Bateman was everyone’s favorite granny rolled into one. Both Jan and Shawn pounced on her from the moment she opened her mouth. The others were summarily dismissed and Shawn breathed a sigh of relief.
With that important detail taken care of, Jan directed herself towards transferring the mantle of leadership to Shawn. He was a natural. Her mentoring took on a new joie de vivre simply because his brain was like a sponge ready to absorb the ins and outs of her financial interests. His ability to ask intelligent questions, challenge her decisions, and provide positive input into the daily dealings of her diversified portfolio, impressed everyone. She introduced him to her closest associates, taught him who to trust and who to watch carefully, and smiled with satisfaction as he learned the ins and outs of networking in the cruel world. Finally, Jan sat back and waited impatiently while Shawn poured over the University of San Diego catalogue weighing the pros and cons of one program over another.
“Commerce. I shall go for my Bachelor of Commerce and then move into an MBA program.”
“Only if you add a few musical courses to your curriculum. You have a wonderful talent, Shawn. I don’t want you to let it slide. Bracket your learning with one or two fine art courses. Don’t limit yourself to numbers and theory. Don’t stop feeling.”
He listened intently. “I haven’t played since...”
“Since you lost her that day long ago,” she finished sympathetically. “I don’t have much time left, Shawn. Please do this for me,” she pleaded softly.
It would kill him...bring back memories too painful to think about...but he couldn’t deny her. “I’ll do it for you.”
At the same time, Angie was the same selfish, out-for-herself person. Once mean-spirited, always mean-spirited. That didn’t change with age. She had plans. She made phone calls. What she didn’t know was that her landlord was always one step ahead of her. The calls were monitored, detectives were at the ready, and the moment she gave birth and was ready to leave the hospital, she and her partner in crime would be incarcerated for attempted fraud and a dozen other charges. The evidence piled up. Even Shawn was shocked at the detail. He was hard put to look at her across the table and pretend everything was normal, but he did it.
She tried to forget that today was her birthday. There were too many sad memories that accompanied the date, so she told no one, not even Jordan. If she seemed slightly paler than usual, she chocked it up to a late night of cramming for finals. If she seemed less than talkative, well that wasn’t unusual. Belle only contributed when she felt the need. She took copious notes and said very little. She took her scholarship very seriously. The day couldn’t be over soon enough for her.
This was one of those days that she couldn’t keep a lid on the past. This was the day that she thought about the diary she had left behind. Thank god the nurses had thrown it out with the trash. The idea that he could have read her innermost thoughts shamed her more than she was willing to admit. She didn’t want or need his pity. Belle had poured her heart out in that diary...every word...every feeling...all for him. She felt his presence now and wanted to cry. Why wouldn’t he let her go? Why was she fooling herself that she was over him? Someone else was sharing his kisses...his bed. The very thought nearly destroyed her.
A letter came for her, causing the past to well up to problematic heights of near suffocation. Marie, the only mother figure she really remembered, having found her at last...wanted to see her...begged her forgiveness...would she come?
Her tears wouldn’t stop. The letter fluttered to the floor. Too many memories. She wished she could forget. She wanted to forget him most of all. She cried herself to sleep and that is how her roommate found her, caught up in a horrendous nightmare with Ray Bennett in the starring role.
“Belle! Belle! Wake up honey!” Penny and Belle had gotten closer over the past few months. She knew there were things her roommate refused to talk about, but the words coming out of her mouth at the moment astounded even her.
“Don’t hurt me, Ray! Please! Let me go! Let me go! Marie! Make him stop! Make him stop! Don’t tell Shawn, Marie...please don’t tell him...” She was crying in her sleep, tossing back and forth.
“Damn it Belle! Wake up!”
Penny’s voice finally got through. Belle slowly opened unfocused eyes. She was shaking so badly that she couldn’t talk and watched nervously as her roommate made her some tea and brought it to her. She didn’t want to explain. She wanted to forget this too.
“If you want to talk, I’m a good listener. I won’t tell a soul, Belle, but it really looks as if you should tell someone. It’s eating you up inside,” Penny said worriedly.
Belle sipped the tea, finding its warmth comforting. “You know I grew up in a foster family, Penny. Things happen in foster families...bad things. Nothing more...nothing less.”
“And I know you told me that Shawn protected you...but he couldn’t protect you from this, could he? You didn’t want him to know about it. You didn’t want Marie to tell him. Why?”
Belle swiped more tears away. “Shawn would have killed Ray if he found out. The police wouldn’t have understood. Shawn’s life would have been ruined and all because of me!” Her voice was ragged towards the end.
“You loved him even then. How old were you when this happened? When Ray attacked you?”
The younger girl blanched. “It wasn’t rape, Penny. It didn’t get that far. He tried to...tried to...but he was too drunk. Marie pulled him away. I was fourteen.”
She was fourteen. Oh my god, Penny thought....just a girl. How did you comfort someone under such atrocious circumstances? “And now you have these nightmares? After all this time? You never got counseling?”
Belle shuddered. “I just wanted to forget...I did forget!”
Penny nodded understandingly. “So what happened to make you remember now?”
Belle picked up Marie’s letter and handed it to the other girl.
This was the day that Shawn read the diary once more. It was Isabella’s birthday and the connection was stronger than ever on this day of all days. He wanted her with a passion that surpassed anything he had ever known. So much for thinking she was in his past. What a fool he was that he wanted something he could never have. Something jerked him out of his daydreams. Belle! Damn it! He felt her presence...he felt her turmoil...then nothing.
It left him drained with anger, but also with something else. When he was ready...when the time was right, when he could give her everything she deserved, Shawn was going after her. They belonged together. He would get her back and never let her go again. A hugh weight lifted off his shoulders. A sense of purpose and direction finally pervaded his senses. He smiled a little at his thoughts, never thinking that she wouldn’t be as easy to convince as he thought...that she might actually move on without him.
His boss was getting weaker and weaker. It killed him to watch her condition deteriorate. She never complained although he understood just how much she was suffering. Jan Brander struggled to survive without any pain medication. She wanted to be alert and aware of everything go on around her. The brave and dignified front she exhibited made him want to succeed in her name all the more. He was accepted into the program of his choice for the fall. The birth of the twins in a few weeks would allow him time to get to know them for a few months before school started. In his limited but spare time, he had already amassed a collection of baby rearing books to rival the public library’s. To his knowledge, Angie hadn’t cracked open even one.
She continued to play on his feelings, flirt openly, and offer her body to him on a regular basis. She never gave up and he counted the days until she was out of his life permanently.
“Will you go? Now that Ray is dead, will you give her another chance?”
She didn’t know. “I’m not sure. Marie was good to me...as good as she could be under the circumstances. I don’t think I’m ready to go back there. I don’t want to hurt her feelings but there are too many memories. No, I won’t go. I don’t want to take time off. I’m going right into my second year without a break from my studies.”
And that is exactly what Belle did. She wrote a letter to Marie making her excuses. It took her twenty tries before she got it right. She registered in a full caseload, and pushed herself to study all the harder. Her dark moods were few, but they did swamp her now and then. Without Penny and Jordan, Belle would have gone crazy with self-doubts. Her decision to move on was hampered by one small undeniable fact. As long as Shawn Brady lived, as long as she lived without him, she was just playing the game... following the rules...enjoying none of it. But she couldn’t have him, and as she watched lovers walk hand in hand, she wondered if she could settle for less.
He was falling for the girl with golden hair. His promise to her to remain just friends was proving harder than he thought. Jordan found himself drawn towards her against his will. His eyes followed her wherever she went. The more he saw her, the more attracted he was to her. He did his best to hide his feelings, but one night they got the better on him.
She met him for supper. Their study group met that night so they would walk over together. They walked through the birch trees in silence, leaving the crowds behind them. Her shoe caught in a sidewalk crack and she tipped over. As luck would have it Jordan caught her before she fell and as her body flattened against his, a strange madness took over. He kissed her with a hardness that demanded the opening of her lips. She struggled to pull away but then gave in. He was too caught up in the onslaught of his emotions. When he finally realized that she was a willing participant, he softened his kiss and groaned.
She felt nothing. She wanted to feel everything. But she was so lonely; surely second-best was better than nothing? Was it fair to him though? The passion in his eyes embarrassed her. Maybe she could settle for less than perfect.
Coming up for air, Jordan leaned his forehead against hers. “I couldn’t help myself, Belle. I know we said we wouldn’t, I know we said we would just be buddies, hell I told my brain all this, but my heart was another story. My feelings for you have started to change. I care about you more that just a friend.”
She smiled softly. “It’s okay Jordan...honestly it is.”
He nodded nervously. “Is it?”
“I like you, Jordan.” She wasn’t willing to admit to more.
So does that mean that maybe we can start dating...see where this goes?” He asked a shade too eagerly.
She felt herself nodding in agreement, and another piece of her heart broke off.
Later that night she found that she couldn’t sleep. “What’s wrong with me?” She whispered over and over again. A wonderfully handsome guy was interested in her. Maybe if she gave it time she would come to care for him as more than just a friend. Jordan deserved so much more than lukewarm feelings that stubbornly refused to heat up.
The buzzer rang by his bedside. He looked at the clock dial and realized it was 3:20 a.m. What was going on at the main house?
“Shawn! I need an ambulance...please!” Jan Brander’s husky voice came through, rigid with pain and fright.
He phoned right away. Barely stopping to pull on jeans, shirt and grab his wallet, Shawn raced over to the mansion. Using his spare key, he opened the door and found her on the floor just inside, barely breathing. His heart was racing. He could barely feel a pulse. His mind went blank with terror. Not her! Not his wonderful mentor...the woman who had given him a new lease on life.
It was touch and go for a week. Shawn knew it was only a matter of time now. Jan knew the same. It was so important that she tell him as much as she could before it was too late...tell him her secret.
She reached for his hand. His eyes flew open. Again it was the middle of the night.
“You should be sleeping...conserving your strength.”
She shook her head. “When you get home, look in the bottom drawer on the left side of my desk. There is a folder in there for you. The label reads “Belle Black.” Her voice cracked under the strain.
He was wide awake now. “What are you talking about? What about Belle?”
“Just as I have watched over you, Shawn, I have watched over the girl you love. I get weekly updates from a trusted private investigator on her activities and friends.” She closed her eyes and fell back asleep.
He was stunned by her news and sat watching his boss for a long time. The next day Jan Brander went downhill.
She was weakening rapidly. He could see in but refused to believe it. Sitting by her bedside it reminded him of the vigil he had kept at this same hospital when Belle had been brought in. All the people he cared about either died or left. It became an easy mantra for him.
On the sixth day, the doctors told him it was only a matter of hours.
On the sixth day, Angie went into labor, one week early.
On that warm summer day, the kind of halcyon day where you expect to have nothing but happy thoughts, Jan Brander died. On that same summer day, two hours later, two babies were born.
Life...death...renewal...sadness...joy...numbness...he felt it all. Joshua Thomas Brady, born six minutes before his sister, weighed in at 7 lbs 2 ounces while his sister, Jaime Isabella Brady, weighed in at 6 lbs 7 ounces. Mother, resting crankily, could care less.
Song Credit: Dusty Springfield—Give Me Time
It was twilight now and the overwhelmed young man wondered how so much could happen and so much could change...in just twenty-four hours. The moment he saw them he fell in love. Laying side by side in their hospital cots...the tiniest beings he had even seen. It was a feeling that had been sorely missing from his life for a very long time. It was also a feeling that revived a tiny portion of his battered heart. Two young angels were now dependent upon him for everything. He swore that he would not let them down.
Now he sat in the hospital chapel, immersed in prayer. The death of his boss-mentor-benefactor was a cruel blow. Jan Brander had given him so much. She had asked so little in return, and now she was gone. Her last words to him, as she clutched his hand in pain, were a comfort to him.
“I’ll watch over you from above, Shawn. You’ll never be alone...” Jan gasped out as she finally succumbed to the ruthless disease that beleaguered her.
And betwixt the dying and rebirth, was the revelation that the babies mother was ready to steal and sell them on the black market. The heartlessness of the scam sickened him. Her case was due to be heard soon and he was determined to bring forth the most damning testimony he could think of in order to nail her to the wall once and for all…
Three months later…
”Lullaby and good night, with roses bedight
With lilies o'er spread is baby's wee bed
Lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blessed
Lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blessed...
“Mr. Brady, you’re not letting me do my job! Look at you! Baby spittle all over you beautiful suit jacket!” Moira Bateman shook her head of white curls ruefully as she stood in the doorway of the nursery and observed the sweet familial scene.
It was 6 a.m. and Shawn had already fed, bathed and clothed his little ones for the day. He sat in the rocker with a sleepy baby in each arm and smiled up at their nanny. “Mrs. Bateman, these little miracles are keeping me going right now.”
And it was true. When Shawn held his baby son and daughter in his arms, for the first time, he was overcome with emotion. He greeted his newborn son, Joshua, by calling him by name. Then he counted fingers and toes. His boy, he thought proudly. A boy who would have the best opportunities and all the parental love he could handle.
His daughter...his little sweetheart. It wasn’t planned. He honestly couldn’t say how it came to be that Jaime Isabella was the name on this little darling’s birth certificate. What’s more, when she looked at her daddy, it was as if she understood. No regrets. Just saying her names together gave him a guilty pleasure that he refused to analyze too deeply. Personalities were already coming out in his munchkins. Joshua, being five minutes older, was definitely the leader, the explorer. Jaime Isabella, on the other hand, was the calm one, never to be hurried, never without a smile.
Every time he looked at his babies, heard their sweet cries, he fell in love with them all over again. They gave him a reason to get up in the morning. Thank god none of them looked like their incarcerated mother. Thank god she was out of their lives forever. When the time was right, he would come up with some reason for her disappearance.
He grunted a, “you were great baby!” Then he pulled out of her aching body, turned over, and fell instantly into a deep sleep.
Belle tried to focus…tried to regroup…tried to understand what had just happened…what she had just allowed to happen. She couldn’t play the blame game because there was absolutely no coercion. Neither was there any exploitation or force involved. If anything, Jordan had asked her any number of times whether she was sure…was it too soon…did she want to wait…and so on and so on… Each time she had said no…she was ready…she wanted this…and so on and so on…
The excitement in his eyes over their candlelight dinner was not infectious. Belle felt herself going through the motions and giving him the answers he most wanted to hear. With ruthless finality, she shut out the voices in her head that begged her to reconsider her chosen path. The smile she plastered across her face was a complete and defiant counterattack to the nails that were digging into her palms to keep her from screaming in revulsion.
Even afterwards, while she was going through the motions, there had still been time to pull back. Now there was none…no reversal…no healing to be had. Belle had never felt so cold in her whole life. Oh he had been gentle—at least as gentle as he could be under the circumstances—but losing her virginity hadn’t been a walk in the park for her, and at the last moment, the pain had been sheer brutal agony. Her body felt battered. Her mind was a mass of confusion and self-disgust.
They weren’t tears of joy. How could they be? Belle’s heart was breaking and the enormity of it all threatened to destroy her forever. She looked at the man sleeping next to her and wanted to run away as fast and as far as she could. You’re not a little girl anymore, Belle. You’ve moved into the big league now. This was YOUR choice you know. He didn’t push you into it. If anything, he tried to give you wiggle room to back out if you wanted. Why didn’t you take it, Belle? Why didn’t you stop him before it was too late? And more questions followed those. Why did she feel so cheap? So dirty? Why did she feel like used goods? Shouldn’t she be feeling loved and cherished...even that god-awful word...fulfilled? He told you he loved you, Belle. Wasn’t that special? What more do you need?
You know why, Belle. You did it to punish Shawn...it’s always about Shawn with you...nobody else...Shawn... Shawn...Shawn... If he didn’t want you then you figured you’d just get it over with. Never mind that Jordan is in love with you. Never mind that you used him too! In the end, the only person you ended up punishing was yourself, Belle!
She crawled slowly out of the bed and walked carefully to the bathroom, shutting the door as quietly as she could. She barely made it to the toilet before throwing up their candlelight dinner. Belle rubbed her mouth and rinsed it out with cold water. Her body ached as she turned on the shower and stepped inside. I have to wash him off me! I have to destroy the memories! And then she was going to do the cowardly thing. She was going to run away and lick her wounds.
Jordan would hate her. His carefully planned weekend away from school was all for naught where she was concerned. She knew what was on his mind. She wasn’t stupid. If she was honest, she would admit that she thought she was ready. She thought she could handle the implications. She wanted to be ready. She wanted it to mean something. Instead she doubted that she could ever let Jordan touch her again. Breaking things off early in their relationship was all she could do now. It was for the best.
Hot water cascaded down her body. She fell against the shower wall and let the water pour over her, sinking to the tiled floor and curling up in a ball of misery. Finally, she
stepped out and wrapped herself in a bath towel, still chilled to the bone. She didn’t even notice how hard she was rubbing her skin until it was red and raw. Nothing worked. She still felt like a two-bit whore. She still felt as if she had given something precious away...something that belonged to another.
Then there were the letters...
My Love, My Life
A letter a day seems little enough to keep you alive in my heart, my darling Isabella. I can pour out my feelings, my dreams, and most of all my honest regrets where you are concerned. It isn’t enough that I never meant to hurt you. I did hurt you and nothing can change that. You may never forgive me for what I have done. You may never forgive me for what I am about to do. I can’t let that stop me. I can’t give up hope.
I thought I could forget you. I thought I could move on. It hasn’t happened that way. Will you see my deeds as a way of buying back your love? A bribe maybe? Possibly even au fait accompli? I promise you it is none of the above. I promise you that this is given out of a selfless love...out of need...but mostly out of desperation. I can’t live without you anymore. I don’t even want to try. I need to find a way to win you back.
Remember the way it was? Remember how little we had? We didn’t care though, did we? We had each other and that was all that mattered...that is until my destructive actions ruined everything. I don’t know what happened...how our loved turned into yesterday. Looking back, I just don’t know why we had to say goodbye. The reasons seem so unimportant now...
You will want to know about the babies. If they aren’t mine by flesh and blood, they are definitely mine by bonding and affection. Will you let me explain? Give me a chance? Accept a readymade family?
Someday I will come to you. Someday I will find my compass...you and only you. There will be no more violins until you return, my darling Isabella...
Shawn folded the letter and carefully laid it with the others. It was time to replace the shoebox they were kept in...too many now to fit into such a tiny space...tied with a yellow ribbon... one for everyday since she’d been gone...
He turned to the other papers on his desk. Even though Belle remained, as always, in his mind, his life was changing at a rapid pace. A letter had come that morning. His acceptance as an adult student into the San Diego State University’s accelerated economics program was there in black and white. A four-year bachelor’s degree would be achieved in half that time due to the fact that his practicum experience as head of the Jan Brander Consortium would count for the other half. An MBA would follow, but would be a long drawn-out process, with him taking courses whenever he could fit them into his tight schedule. For now though, when he wasn’t immersed in 3 a.m. feedings, he was learning the business ropes with Jan Brander’s most trusted advisor, and now his close friend, Cal Spenser.
Angie’s trial had come and gone. He was not impressed with a system that dispensed minimal five-year sentences to someone of her criminal caliber. Nevertheless, it was over and done with and she was out of his life for good. As god was his word, his babies would never be tarnished with her brand of evil influence.
His babies—he loved the sound of that. The babies were thriving. And yes they were wrapping him around their little fingers and he didn’t care. Mrs. Bateman was wonderful with them. All in all he had little time to miss the wonderful woman who had given him so much. He was taking his place in the consortium, reading portfolios and annual report projections until the cows came home. His voice was being heard and respected more and more. Whereas at the beginning little insider groups had banded together to topple him, they now worked for and not against him. It was a slow but constructive move in the right direction. He had a keen mind that knew when to ask questions, when to listen, and how to break loggerhead situations when they arose. He might be young, but he was Jan Brander’s choice and that was all that mattered.
Then there were his dreams...
Shawn was reliving his moments with Isabella, one dream at a time. She was fast become an obsession that refused to stay dormant any longer under any terms. It was time to plan…he wanted her back…it was time to reclaim his love…to play the music of his heart…
Eighteen months later…
Belle stood outside the university registrar’s office in utter and complete shock. An opportunity of a lifetime had just been thrown in her lap. An unknown benefactor, somehow aware of her outstanding record of academic excellence, was offering her an advanced scholarship, inclusive of educational and living expenses with one stipulation only…a transfer to her patron’s alma mater, San Diego State University to complete the last year of her undergraduate degree and subsequent masters work.
Balancing school and a job was as stressful as could be for the honor student. The idea that she could continue her studies, as well as go into her masters program in social work, without having to work on the side, was the stuff that dreams were made of. Could she turn her back on the friends she had made here? What about the friends she had lost?
It had been too much to expect that she and Jordan could go on as if nothing had happened. He was bitter and that bitterness resonated whenever he was near her. Her running had made him feel like a rapist! What the hell was wrong with her…was she frigid? Was she interested in the same sex? What reason could she possibly have for running off in the middle of the night?
“No! I don’t want to hear it, Belle! Do you have any idea how I felt when I woke up to find you gone? I didn’t push you into having sex with me, baby. You told me that it was what you wanted too. How do you expect me to hang around you after something like that?”
It hadn’t mattered that she was weak with lack of sleep, her own form of mental cruelty, and no appetite. It hadn’t mattered that she was barely able to stand. It certainly hadn’t mattered that she was pale and sick at heart. She deserved every single abusive word that he threw at her. She stood there in silence until he was done and never uttered a word in her own defense. And for a depressing sequel, Jordan quit the study group and changed majors just to get away from her. She surely didn’t expect him to stop loving her just like that? Then how could she expect him to be in her presence day after day…painful… much too painful… Belle told herself that as far as strikes went in the game of love, this was her second one. Now she was determined to take herself out of the competition for good.
His executive assistant, Gavin, sat on the other side of Shawn’s desk as they went through the day’s itinerary.
“By the way, Shawn, the secret scholarship bursary set up for I. Black has been gratefully acknowledged and accepted in full. The student will be transferring universities this fall for his/her final undergraduate year.” Gavin watched the man he had grown close to very carefully. This was personal…he could feel it in his bones.
YES! Shawn screamed silently. “Accommodations for the student? A private room in the dorms so the student can be by his/herself?” This was an important and non-negotiable clause. His Belle would never again be reminded of the shameful and reduced circumstances of her past.
The other man flipped through his notes. “It wasn’t easy, but yes a private room as been
set aside for this student.”
Shawn nodded. “Right. Let’s move on then.” Not willing to play his hand, he changed topics, flipped through his daytimer, and opened his palm pilot. “Why am I meeting with a Petra McNally over lunch? Who is she?”
“Mrs. McNally operates a nonprofit special education school for children with intellectual challenges—dyslexia, A.D.D., autism, etc… Her program is in desperate need of a transfusion of cash if it is to keep going. I’ve got her annual report for you to go through. What with government budget cuts, her school has lost its major funder. From what I can see, the Rainbow School provides a much-needed service to children with special needs in San Diego. Their success rate is phenomenal. Not only that, but they are bursting at the seams and have to turn away potential students by the droves…”
Reaching for his reading glasses, Shawn sped-read through the report and then turned back to Gavin. “So we’re talking about school expansion, hiring more special-ed teachers, as well as operation costs? This is something that Jan Brander would have jumped right into, don’t you think? If this lunch meeting goes well, I want you to put it on the agenda for Friday’s board meeting. I will introduce and champion it myself if need be.”
That’s what Gavin loved about Shawn. He cared about people just as much as his predecessor had. Gathering his notebook and work for the morning, he let himself out of the office.
Shawn was preoccupied. He walked to the window and looked out onto the downtown vista below. His office and those of his board members were on the twenty-first floor of the Brander Building. The quietness appealed to the dreamer side of his personality. The philanthropic nature of his job made him feel like he was Santa Claus. His enthusiasm for the career Jan had chosen him was growing daily. He loved his job...almost as much as he loved his two munchkins and almost as much as he loved Isabella Black....
She would be on the same campus. It wasn’t much but it was a start. He closed his eyes. “I’ll wait as long as it takes, Belle. With you I will feel safe again...only with you...”
Song Credit: Brahms Lullaby
|This message has been edited by Mrs.B. on Oct 21, 2005 8:00 AM|