Authors: Francine Pascal
Jessica had never felt so much like she was flying as she did backstage at the MeanGreen gala. Everything went exactly as planned, actually
than planned. The models in their body paint stalked down the runway in breathtaking form; Jessica could already feel the buzz building in the night, and the dramatic makeup only heightened the whole experience.
The audience was filled not only with industry people but also with a few well-placed celebrities who liked to tweet about
The show was only half over when the Twitterverse exploded. In fact, by the time the show was over, the models and their all-nude paint was all anyone was talking about. #MeanGreen, in fact, hit the top three trending topics by night's end.
“You nailed this one, boss,” whispered Katy Johnson, her assistant, backstage. In that one moment, Jessica knew she really had. For the first time, she didn't feel like an imposter. She'd really done this. It wasn't some fluke or happy accident. This had been her brainchild and it had been a wild success.
Even her boss, Michael Wilson, executive vice president of VertPlus.net's Sweet Valley office, agreed.
“Great work out there tonight,” he told her as he gave her elbow a little squeeze. In the background, the indie band Hilt was rocking the stage. Hilt had been a suggestion from Liam, who knew the band's lead guitarist. Despite his overtexting lately, she had to admit that Liam had really come through with the band. She'd have to thank him tomorrow.
Michael grabbed a flute of champagne from a passing tray and handed it to her. Jessica took it happily. The gala was winding down, and it was now or never. She had to put her plan into motion so she could go meet Todd for their late dinner at Le Bouchon.
She glanced at Michael's face, framed by short, sandy-colored hair, and thought he carried the kind of boyish good looks that she could really go for. That is, if she weren't already in love with Todd.
“Thanks, Michael. Actually, there was something I wanted to talk to you about.”
Michael met her eyes, and for a split second, she saw hope there. It was clear to nearly everyone he liked her beyond a professional level. He'd ratcheted up the flirting since Jessica had publically separated from Todd. Of course, Michael never stepped over the line. He kept their relationship friendly and professional, but in recent months, he'd grown slightly warmer. He also found excuses to touch her more. Like his hand on her elbow right now.
In his eyes, she saw a flicker of desireâ¦and hope.
Jessica hesitated, but then decided to rip off the Band-Aid quickly. She had never been one to baby anybody.
“Michael, I have loved the opportunities I've had here at VertPlus.net. I've enjoyed working with you so much.”
Confusion passed across Michael's face. “Jessica, it sounds like you're leaving.”
“I'm sorry, Michael, but I think I need to spend more time with my family.” Jessica knew this was the last thing he wanted to hear, but she pressed on. There wasn't any need now to pretend that she put her career first and her family second. Now she could just put her family first. In some ways, that came as a kind of relief. Mostly. Except for the nagging doubt in her mind. Was she doing the right thing? She pushed aside the thought. It was too late now anyway. Todd was waiting for her.
“My son, Jake, needs me, and I'm going to try to spend some time working on my marriage.”
She could see those words came as a real shock to Michael. Like the rest of the office, he'd been hearing rumors she might be dating Liam O'Connor. Nobody had ever mentioned she was getting back together with her husband, Todd.
“Jessica, please. Have you thought this through?”
Jessica didn't know if he meant the job or Todd, but in either case, her answer was the same.
“I have, Michael. I've made up my mind.” At least, she thought she had. But something about the look on her boss's face, and the fact that she was about to walk away from the one place where she'd proven to everyone just what a winner she really was, made her pause. Was she doing the right thing? Somehow, it didn't quite feel like it.
“If it's the money, we could negotiate somethingâ¦.”
“No, Michael. It's not about money. It's personal. I want to make my marriage work and I have to do this.”
Michael's shoulders slumped and he looked at his feet, realizing there really wasn't any way he could force her to stay.
“Well, we'll miss you, Jessica.” Michael moved in for a hug, and she let him.
For a horrible second, she even thought she might cry. But she didn't. As hard as this was to do, she knew she'd made her choice. She was giving up her career for Todd. And, as she thought about her husband waiting for her at Le Bouchon, all doubt and sadness disappeared.
She was going to have her family back and this sacrifice would be worth it.
Todd was waiting for her in the all-white lobby of Le Bouchon with a bouquet of white roses. He had on a dark suit, which he wore like the former athlete he was. He was tall and broad, and as she walked in, he had flicked the hair off his forehead in that gesture she'd come to know so well.
Instantly, a smile broke out on both their faces; they grinned at each other like teenagers in love.
Jessica hadn't had time to change before heading to Le Bouchon, but her strapless red dress was a stunner, she knew.
“Wow,” Todd said, giving a low whistle. “You lookâ¦beautiful.”
A dozen other people had told her that same thing during the gala, but she realized Todd's opinion was the only one that really mattered. Jessica took the flowers he offered and inhaled.
“Madame is here, then,” said the maÃ®tre d', grabbing two leather-bound menus. “Your table is ready. If you will follow meâ¦.”
Todd offered her the crook of his arm and she took it. The cozy, upscale bistro, with its intimate, white-linen-covered tables and candlelight, rose up before Jessica and took her back three years ago, when Todd had proposed.
Theirs had not been an easy relationship. Both of them had resisted the attraction they had felt for each other for years, for Elizabeth's sake. After all, Elizabeth and Todd were the ones everyone thought would get married, not Jessica and Todd. That all changed when Elizabeth found out about them, and then moved to New York. A bitter and heartbreaking eight months passed, but eventually Elizabeth began to forgive them as Bruce came into the picture.
It was three years ago, next month, that Todd got down on one knee in the middle of Le Bouchon and offered her a beautiful diamond solitaire platinum ring. He'd had tears in his eyes when he proposed, and Jessica had, too.
Now here they were again, back in the place their life together really began. If there was a better place to reconcile, she didn't know it.
The maÃ®tre d' led them to the cozy table in the back where they had sat on their one-year wedding anniversary. The top of their wedding cake hadn't survived the ceremony, but Todd had gone to the same bakery and had commissioned them to re-create just the top with the decorative pink roses.
Sitting across from Todd now, Jessica realized that she was never as happy as she was when she was with Todd. This was where she belonged.
After he'd ordered a bottle of their favorite wine, he took her hand in his and drew her close.
“Jessica, I have to say, I feel so happy tonight. These last few months I have been miserable. And I just want to tell you how sorry I amâ¦about Sarah, aboutâ¦accusing you of trying to get her firedâ¦for everything. Mostly about the things I said about that first night all those years ago. I knew it wasn't true.”
“These last few months have been the hardest for me, too. I'm so sorry.” And then, because she had to know: “Are you still seeing Sarah?” Jessica took a deep breath to brace herself for the answer. Her throat went dry and she reached for her water glass.
“No.” Todd shook his head. “Jessica, she doesn't mean anything to me, and I'm so glad to hear that nothing happened between you and Liam, becauseâ¦well, nothing happened between Sarah and me, either.”
“What?” Jessica nearly choked on her sip of water. “What do you mean nothing?” Could it be possible that Todd had
slept with Sarah? “But what you said, and the rumorsâ¦”
“Were just empty threats and rumors,” Todd said. “Look, I'm not going to lie to you. Sarah wanted to take things further, but any time she triedâ¦well, I just thought of you. And I couldn't. Because I love you, Jessica. You're the only one I really want.”
Jessica felt a rush of reliefâTodd really
slept with Sarah.
“I love you, too,” she said, shaking off the little twinge of guilt she felt, and squeezing his hand. “And that's why, tonight, after the gala, which was completely amazing by the wayâ¦” Jessica saw the tight look cross Todd's face, and she immediately backed away from any talk of the gala. That's not what this night was about. Who cared if it went well? Her job with VertPlus.net was history. Todd was her future. “What I meant to say was that right afterward, I quit. It's over. I'm not going to work at VertPlus.net anymore. I want to be your wife and the best mother I can be for Jake. That's it.”
“Jessicaâ¦are you sure?”
“I've never been more certain of anything in my whole life,” Jessica said, and right at that moment, holding Todd's hand and seeing him gaze at her with love, she meant it.
Todd slipped into the seat next to her, wrapping his arm around her waist, and gave her a kiss that made everything worth it. Jessica didn't care if other patrons were staring, either. This was the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with.
Todd pulled away first.
“You know, I knew we would be good together, but I had no idea
“Me too.” Jessica's voice sounded a little husky.
“And I knew we would get back together the moment I found out that there was nothing between you and Liam,” Todd continued. “You don't even know how the thought of you and him drove me crazy. I know I shouldn't ask, but I can't help it. How did he take it when you turned him down? I bet he doesn't get turned down very often.”
Jessica's stomach tightened a little. It was one thing to omit the truth. It was another thing to fabricate a whole story about how it didn't happen. Was she going to have to do that?
Thankfully, the waiter interrupted them.
“Are you ready to order?” the waiter asked, and Todd and Jessica looked at each other and grinned.
“My wife will start with the beet salad and then have the salmon.” Todd knew her favorite meal by heart.
“And my husband will start with the tomato bisque, followed by le steak frites.”
“How would you like the steak cooked, monsieur?”
“Medium rare,” they both said at the same time, and then laughed a little. The waiter bowed and then retreated, and Todd lifted his wineglass.
“To us,” he said. “To true love.”
“To true love,” Jessica agreed, and they clinked glasses.
There might have been other customers that night, but Jessica didn't notice them. All she saw was Todd. The meal was the best she'd ever eaten, and she just felt warm all over. She knew she'd made the right choice. She was happy for the first time in a long, long time.
“Todd, I only ever wanted to be with you. There's no one else for me. Will you come home?”
Todd smiled. “You don't know how long I've been waiting to hear you say those words. Yes, yes,
. I want to move back home. You and Jake are all I've ever wanted.”
Todd leaned in to kiss her just as the waiter arrived with their check. The couple sprang apart but couldn't help giggling a bit. Todd reached for his wallet and Jessica excused herself to go check her makeup in the ladies' room.
Once inside, she gazed at her reflection in the mirror and saw a beautiful girl whose face was flushed with love. Her blue eyes shone, and she knew she was truly happy. Her makeup was flawless as always, but she did reapply a little bit of lipstick. She wanted to look her best for Todd. She imagined the two of them leaving the restaurant hand in hand, and how quickly they'd be home together. Already, she thought of what it would be like to have Todd back in her bed.
Jake and Liza would be asleep by the time she got home, of course. She would have to wait to tell Jake in the morning. Then again, maybe she wouldn't have to. Maybe Todd would be there himself to tell his son they would be a family again. No more Daddy-Wednesday nights and every other weekend. Just Daddy every night. Forever.
Back at the table, Todd signed the credit slip and, out of habit, pulled out his iPhone. That's when he saw a new e-mail waiting for him. Oddly, it was from Caroline Pearce. She was always sending him some new gossip, but Todd usually ignored her.
But this e-mail caught his attention. The subject read: “Jessica” and LiamâFriends with “Benefits”.
Todd clicked open the e-mail. And there, sitting at the table, he read every detail, down to the orgasmic sounds coming from Liam O'Connor's hotel room. But the worst thing of all, the most damning evidence, was the photo of Jessica leaning against Liam, waiting for the elevator that would take her to his room. How much more proof did he need?
Todd felt like someone had ripped up the floor beneath him and he was in a desperate free fall.
Jessica had manipulated and lied to him
He'd temporarily forgotten what a conniving and devious person she could be, but he swore he'd never forget again.
How could he trust her at all? He couldn't. It was just that simple.
He threw down his napkin on the table and left.
Jessica missed him by less than a minute. When she came back to the table, she found the busboy sweeping away the dirty dishes. At first, she didn't understand. Where had he gone? She took her purse and walked out through the lobby of the restaurant and into the parking lot.
That's when she saw his car was gone.
She grabbed her phone from her purse. Surely he'd texted? But, no. No message from Todd.
She did, however, have one new e-mail from Caroline Pearce.
She didn't even have to open it. The title alone told her she'd lost and nothing would ever be the same again.