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Authors: marian gard

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BOOK: To See You Again
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"What are you doing here?" she practically shouts.

"Shhhh! Rachel is sleeping. She's exhausted." I gesture
toward the couch where Rachel remains out cold. Vanessa looks over at her and
then back up at me.

"What are you doing here?" she asks again, this
time whispering.

"We were both supposed to be at a meeting today. I
heard she was sick and alone and I felt like coming to help was the right thing
to do."
I am going to be so pissed off if she tries to get me to leave.
Vanessa
still looks unsure, so I add, "She was in pretty bad shape when I got here
about three hours ago, but I helped her get some fluids and I think her fever
has gone down."

Her speculative glare doesn't change as she says, "I
brought chicken soup." She hands me a warm crock-pot and I set it on the counter.
"I had to wait until Ryan got home to watch the kids or I would've been here
sooner. I feel awful."

"She'll be OK," I murmur.

"No! She missed her big meeting and it's all my
fault." I shoot her a look of confusion.

"We had this terrible stomach flu go through our
house. Each of us got sick; one by one we fell, like dominoes. Anyway, she was
over twice during that time and she clearly caught it."

I shrug. "She'll be fine. This stuff happens."

"I know, but her boss is nuts. I guess he flipped
out when she called in sick. Apparently, she tried to drive there and was so
ill she almost didn't make it back home." She places a hand over her mouth as
though the retelling of it all is making her emotional. "I'm glad you were
here. I was so worried. I kept checking in with her, but I wasn't sure if she'd
tell me if she was really bad off or not, and then after a while I heard
nothing." She glances up at me clearly connecting Rachel's silence with the
timing of my arrival.

Rachel moans and shifts on the couch and Vanessa
and I freeze, neither of us moving a muscle. A few beats go by and she doesn't move
again. We look at one another and Vanessa whispers, "Let's go to the dining
room." I nod and follow her.

Rachel's dining room is narrow and just barely
fits a table and four chairs. Vanessa takes a seat and I squeeze in across from
her. I glance around the room and then settle in on a framed photo above her
that's clearly from her wedding. With their arms linked, Vanessa beams in her
wedding gown and Rachel clings to her, clearly sharing in her joy. This
would've been a couple of years after school, but they look the same as I
remember them both back then. A wave of nostalgia washes over me, but I don't
have time to fully absorb it. Vanessa is still eyeing me closely.

"So, how've you been, Collin?" Her words are
simple, but the question is loaded.

"Good. Congrats on your marriage and the kids.
Your girls are beautiful."
And back to you, Vanessa.

She looks at my quizzically. "How did you…?"

"Facebook."

"Ah ha," she says, nodding her head.

"For the record, I didn't sign up for that. My
ex-girlfriend, Leighton, created the whole thing." I don't add that this
includes the acceptance of her friend request, or however that went down.

Vanessa looks alarmed. "Ex?" She asks.
Crap
.
That was a misstep. I just became
more
dangerous, not less.

"Well, I don't know. Apparently, she's taking a
break from me." Vanessa's expression doesn't change.

"Does Rachel know that?"

We both instinctively look in the direction of the
living room where she's sleeping, though clearly neither of us can see through
the wall that separates the rooms. "Um, I don't think so. We haven't really
talked much until tonight and I was mostly just helping her with the flu…so…"

"I see." I feel judgment wafting off of her.

Sometimes the easiest path is the most direct. I
think with Vanessa this is my safest bet. "Look, I know about Beckett. He seems
like a good guy. I'm just here to help her, because she was alone. I'm not trying
to screw anything up for her."

Vanessa is silent as she studies me. I know this
interaction is crucial. Besides me, Vanessa was Rachel's closest friend in
college and obviously that friendship has endured. If I want any kind of
relationship with Rachel moving forward, I cannot be at war with her.

"Collin, you know I've always been a cut through
all the crap kinda girl, right?"

I grin at her. "Yes, and I've always admired that
about you."

"Well, so that's what I'm going to do for you now,
but then that's it. This is my one contribution to you in this whole mess and
after this, I'm out—mainly because my husband will kill me if I'm not, but also
because it's the right thing to do. Are you ready?"

I'm not sure if I'm ready to hear what she has to
say, but I don't think I have a choice at this point. I swallow so hard that it's
audible, and then nod my head. Vanessa takes a deep breath and then looks me
squarely in the eyes.

"Once upon a time, you broke my best friend's
heart." I open my mouth to protest and she holds a single finger pointed in the
air with a nearly-comical, authoritative look on her face. "Clamp it, Collin!
This is my speech and that is what it is. This isn't a conversation,
negotiation or a debate. So just buckle up and listen. Got it?"

How does a man argue with that? Poor Ryan. I can't
help but laugh—but only nervously—and then I nod my head for her to continue.

"I know this to be true better than anyone,
because I was there for the whole aftermath. We lived together in Chicago after
graduation and she was wrecked. Yes, she landed a great job, and on the
outside—for her friends and family—she never missed a beat, because she's
Rachel. But on the
inside
she was shattered. I'm sure it also won't come
as a surprise to you that since then there have been no shortage of guys
interested in her. She spent some time alone, dated a few people here and
there, but it took her a
long
time to settle down in a relationship with
anyone. It's also true that Beckett is a decent guy and I believe he really
loves her."

I look away from her and stare at the table. This
must be the token get-the-hell-away-from-my-best-friend-speech. I should've
known. Just then, Vanessa grabs my hand from across the table. "Collin! Tune in
here. Listen! I'm not done talking, OK? When I'm finished you can take it or
leave it, but for now, you're gonna hear me out."

I return her eye contact and she continues. "I
know part of the appeal of Beckett is, like Spencer, he is tried-and-true. He
isn't going anywhere. She's totally safe with him. Deep down though, it's like
she's always been waiting for something else, or
someone
else." She
holds my gaze for a beat and then says: "You." I feel my throat clench
unexpectedly and my mouth drops open. This is the last thing I ever expected
her to say. "Some part of her never let go of you, never let go of the
hope
of you.  There's a problem here, however. A pretty big one, too. That is, you
scare the shit out of her. She can't predict you, and let's face it; your track
record isn't great. Rachel fears being abandoned more than anything else in the
world. The other truth is, if you hurt her, you'd better never show your face anywhere
near me again." I don't laugh this time. She looks dead serious.

I swallow and am careful to extract any amusement
from my face. "Permission to speak?"

She raises one eyebrow and nods. "Granted."

"So, what are you telling me to do here?" She gives
me a lightning-quick eye roll.

"I'm not
telling
you to do anything,
Collin. I'm just giving you the facts, including some I don't think you knew.
What you decide to do from here is entirely your choice.  I'm just letting you
know, if you're going to make a move, then make it now, and mean it. Really
mean it." She splays her hands out on the table, leans forward and stares me
down. "OK, Collin. That's it. That's all you get from me on this topic." She breaks
our eye contact, looks down at her wristwatch and sighs. "I promised Ryan I
would be back in time for bath time. I gotta hit the road. Would you please
tell her I was here?"

"Absolutely."

She stands up and starts heading for the door, I
follow her, still reeling, and then suddenly she does an about-face, leveling
me again with her big, brown eyes. "Please, don't fuck this up." All I can
manage in response is a nod. I close and lock the door behind her and then
exhale a long, pent-up breath.

Holy shit.

 

 

Rachel

 

My entire body hurts. I roll over and open my
eyes. For a moment everything is unfocused. I shut them again and then hear a
low, gruff voice. "Hey there, sleepy head."

Oh, my God, it wasn't a dream. Collin is really
here in my living room, while I have been sleeping off the worst sickness I've
had in years. I open my eyes again and see him sitting in the chair across from
me. "Hey, you're still here."

"Hope that's OK. I wanted to make sure you were
alright." His voice is a husky whisper.

I sit up and the whole world rocks around me, or
at least that's what it feels like. Before I know it, Collin is next to me with
a tall glass of water.

"Here, you need to drink. You've been asleep for a
long time."

I take a long drink, gulping nearly half of it.
"Thank you," I whisper. My hand trembles as though the weight of the glass is
more than I can handle, and I can't seem to muster the effort to properly set
it down without spilling its remaining contents. Collin seems to notice my
ineptitude, and gingerly removes the glass from me and sets it on the table in
front of us. As he leans forward, I covertly inhale his scent. He smells clean
and fresh and I vaguely recognize his cologne from our time in the elevator. It
dawns on me how gross I currently am from head to toe, and a wave of
embarrassment washes over me.
Too late now.
"Um, what time is it?"

"About two in the morning."

"Oh my gosh, Collin! I can't believe you're still here.
What about you? You need to get some sleep, too!"

He reaches over and gently sweeps my hair from my
face. I feel chills erupt all over my body that have nothing to do with a
fever.

"I don't mind at all. I've gotten a lot of work
done tonight, and tomorrow is flexible for me. It's no big deal." His
expression is kind and gentle. I know I should feel self-conscious or
uncomfortable, but I can't bring myself to feel any of that in this moment. I'm
just so thankful he's here.

"Thank you for taking care of me. You didn't need
to do all of this."

He takes my hand in his. "I wanted to, and you
were so sick, you needed help. I think you still do."

My mind is struggling to fully connect with
everything that's happening around me, but I still feel awful—really ill—and I
just can't quite get there. All the painful sensations in my body are
overriding my ability to think clearly. "I think I need to pee," I blurt.

Collin smiles and I can tell he's restraining a
laugh. "That's good. That means you probably aren't dehydrated anymore."

I move to stand, but my legs feel weak, and
suddenly I'm very dizzy. He puts his arm around my waist, steadying me.

"Easy, there. I think your fever's back. Let me
help you."

Before I can protest, he's lifting me off the
couch and gently guiding me to the bathroom that's off the bedroom. He turns on
the light, deposits me through the doorway, and quietly closes the door. After
I use the bathroom, I examine myself in the mirror.
Oh God
. I splash
water on my face and brush my teeth. I have to do it very gently because,
everything, everything hurts. Somewhere in my brain a voice is shouting that
Collin is currently in my bedroom, and I know I need to respond to this
information somehow, but I'm so tired, I just can't.  When I emerge from the
bathroom the lights are low in my bedroom and Collin is sitting on the edge of
the bed.

"How ya' feeling?" He asks. There's a ghost of a
smile on his lips and at the sight of it I have a sudden and bizarre urge to
muss his hair, or touch his cheek, but by some miracle I have enough sense to
know I shouldn't.

"Not good, but I think I'm better than I was this
morning. So, thank you." I smile at him and he gazes back as a full smile
emerges on his face. He stands and guides me to the bed. On my nightstand is a
glass of water and more painkillers.  He hands them to me.

"Here, you feel pretty warm. I think the fever has
definitely made a comeback."

I take the medicine obediently and he eases me
under the covers and then leaves the room. I want to call out to him, but the
idea of using my voice above a whisper sounds incredibly painful. I also have
no idea what to say, or even what I want—maybe just for him to stay? A moment
later he returns with a cool cloth and places it on my head.

"Mmm…that feels good, thank you." He pulls the
sheet up to my shoulder and kisses me lightly on the temple.

"Go back to sleep," he whispers in my ear, and
then as though my brain has accepted his words as an edict, I feel exhaustion
pull me back under.

BOOK: To See You Again
11.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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