* * *
Reggie smiled for the hundredth time and rolled her head as the photographer called for yet another shot of the wedding party. Then, as he finally finished with her and the other members of the entourage and called other willing victims, she moved away and looked for any sign of Stella–she had gone. Her hand went automatically to her side and she shook her head. Carrying her phone around her waist with the dress wasn’t happening.
“Sparky you look wonderful,” a voice full of pride announced.
“Dad…do you have to call me that in public?” she said with a laugh. “Thanks, it is a lovely dress.” Reggie’s eyes twinkled as her father drew her into a hug.
John Stockton smiled as he put his daughter at arms length, “I thought I’d better take some shots of my girl in a wedding scene. God only knows how long it will be before this happens again.”
Reggie laughed softly. “Dad,” she said. Not knowing what else to say she asked, “Where are Susan and Henry?”
“Oh Susan thought young Henry had a cold coming on and didn’t want to chance his being out here. She’s going to hate not being here but every picture tells a story. You look beautiful Reggie.”
“Dad, you sound surprised wasn’t I before?” Reggie teased her father with a warm smile.
Embarrassed, he replied, “No I’m not it just brings it all into focus that’s all.” He decided to change the subject and asked, “Now where’s the indomitable Stella Hawke that you constantly talk about these days. I figured she’d be here drinking in every possible second of seeing you in that dress. I know I would if I was your beau.”
Reggie’s cheeks turned a pale pink at the simple compliment. Disappointment tinged her words as she said, “Oh, Stella isn’t one for these official functions. She’s probably gone on ahead.”
John knew his daughter well enough to see Reggie’s sadness that her friend wasn’t there. “I’m sure she’ll be waiting for you at the reception Sparky. If she doesn’t, someone else is going to snap you up in that dress.” He pointed the camera and got several more shots before she waved her hands to tell him to stop. Five minutes later, he was gone and the cars were arriving for the wedding party.
A bubble of excitement built in Reggie as she thought of seeing Stella face to face again and being able to touch her again. The opportunity to kiss the woman creating a wonderful craving that felt right.
* * *
Stella swallowed hard as she entered the banquet hall and saw the wedding party lined up waiting to greet the guests. Darien had deliberately held on to her hand and now, as she sorted through her scattered thoughts, she tried to disengage from the tactile possession her ex lover appeared to hold on her.
Providence in the form of the bride effectively severed the connection as several eyes turned in their direction as Angelique gave out a delighted cry.
“Darry, I wasn’t expecting you. My god girl you look marvelous.” Angie clasped Darien close kissing her cheek in welcome.
Darien with her tinkle of laughter smiled demurely. “This is one party I wouldn’t have missed…particularly now.” Her eyes flicked to Stella behind her.
Angelique grinned at Stella. “Sorry we haven’t met you must be…”
Darien, forestalling Stella’s conversation, succinctly replied, “This is Stella…another old friend that I’ve met today.” She made a show of glancing down the line. “Isn’t that Reggie?”
The penny dropped as Angelique’s smile froze on her face as she switched her gaze to Reggie who was talking to one of Ralph’s relatives who had already gone down the line.
“Darling, are you ok you’ve gone pale?” A worried look crossed Ralph’s face as he glanced from his new bride to the beautiful woman talking to her and the silent woman who looked like she wanted the room to swallow her up.
“I’m ok Ralph. I promise. Darry this is Ralph my husband?”
Darien eyed the man, gave him a sweet smile, and shook his hand. “You don’t look Italian? Didn’t you say that your man was an Italian stud Angie?”
Angie realized why she was glad this woman wasn’t part of her life. Darien was vitriolic to the core. “ Ralph is English Darry. He’s an archaeologist. We’ll catch up later. I’m sure my mother will be really pleased to see you.”
“Of course, it is your day after all. Now I really must catch up with my best buddy Reggie.” Darien announced as she flicked Ralph a disparaging look and then proceeded very quickly towards Reggie’s place in the line.
Stella closed her eyes a fraction before shaking Angie’s hand. “Thank you for inviting me. I hope you will have lots of happiness.”
“You’re Reggie’s friend Stella…right?”
“Yes. Look, I’m sorry about Darien…she can be a little tactless.” Stella didn’t know what else to say as she shook Ralph’s hand.
Angelique nodded. “That’s Darien. She has to be the center of attention and if she isn’t, she makes sure she is. Reggie will be glad to see you. She’s been wondering where you’d gotten too.”
Stella remained silent and gave a tight smile as Ralph introduced her to the mother of the bride.
Ralph gave his new bride a searching look and then whispered, “You look worried?”
“I am. It’s a long story, will you remind me to tell you about it if ever we have a fight. I guarantee you we’ll make up immediately.” She turned to the next person in line. “Why Mrs. Lancaster, it’s lovely to have you here…”
With a smile permanently plastered on her face, Reggie turned to greet the next guest. Her smile slowly vanished like ice-cream dripping down a cone when she saw who it was. Her eyes bulged as she blurted out, “ Darien?”
“Why Reggie I’ve only been out of the country for three years. Surely I haven’t changed that much,” Darien gushed while her eyes scanned every flicker that crossed Reggie’s face.
With a forced tug of her lips, she managed a smile. “Of course not, you look wonderful…you haven’t changed at all.”
Darien pulled Reggie into a sisterly hug. “I should hope not. Now you my dear Reggie have put on far too much weight for that dress you’re wearing. Exactly who said it looked good on you? Tsk, tsk I’ve been away too long if my best friend is losing her sense of fashion. We’ll have to go shopping Reggie and get you back on track.”
Stella listened to the exchange and heard the bitchy comment. When Reggie didn’t refute it or say anything at all, she was amazed. “ Reggie you look marvelous.”
Reggie looked beyond Darien and saw Stella. How she hadn’t noticed her next to Darien amazed her but Darien always did jump into the frame and fill it with her presence. “Thanks. Sorry I wasn’t able to see you at the church. The photographer was a nightmare.” Reggie felt her world that had spun out of control with Darien’s appearance right itself again. Now she had eyes for Stella and only Stella.
Darien took hold again and said, “My, it will be like old times won’t it. I’ve asked Angie’s mom to seat me next to Stella. It will be a bit cramped but you won’t mind will you Stella?”
“Whatever. I think we’re holding up the line.” Stella quietly pointed out forcing Darien to move along to the next member of the wedding party.
Reggie placed a hand on Stella’s arm as she began to move away. “Are you ok?”
The soft entreaty had Stella feeling like a betrayer. “Of course I am. She means nothing to me now. I’ll see you at the table later.”
“Sure,” Reggie said. Not convinced, she felt her heart plummet as she realized that her dreams could turn to dust again.
* * *
“May I have the pleasure of this dance?” Darien purred into Stella’s ear.
Stella reacted to the initiation of the sexual tension she’d always felt around Darien. Reggie, who now sat opposite them, was looking anywhere but at her. It was clear by her body language she wasn’t comfortable with the situation. “Not right now Darien. I’m not much of a dancer remember?”
A bubble of laughter escaped Darien as she pouted. “Oh Stella, you spoilsport. I can hardly ask Reggie…she has two left feet.”
There was a chuckle around the table as all eyes turned to Reggie who gave a small smile and then returned her attention to the gyrating bodies on the dance floor.
The band was playing a particularly fast tune and most of their table got up at that moment to dance leaving the three women alone.
“ Reggie you’ve been quiet all afternoon and you hardly touched your meal. Though I can’t blame you for is very rich and you do need to watch your calorie count.” Darien gave her a concentrated look and then smiled.
Stella put a hand to her forehead at the crass remark. She desperately wanted to scream at Darien and call her the bitch–she didn’t.
Reggie turned her attention to Darien and then glances at Stella. Darien was virtually perched on Stella’s lap and she didn’t look like she would relinquish it anytime soon. Quietly she said, “It’s the excitement of the day, all of a sudden I wasn’t hungry. Excuse me I need to use the bathroom.” She stood up and walked rapidly away.
“That was uncalled for Darien,” Stella snorted as she tried to distance herself from the woman.
“What was darling? Oh, don’t tell me you’re defending bright-eyes. I’ve known her far longer than you have and believe me, she can take care of herself. Besides, she’s a wimp and she needs people to point these things out to her.” Darien gave her a dazzling smile, and then moved her lips closer to Stella’s ear. Instead of speaking, she gently bit down on the lobe.
Stella nearly jumped out of her seat at the blatant sexual overture. “What are you doing?”
Darien laughed seductively. “Oh, please Stella we both know what I want and I know you want it too. We were lovers for months I remember that smoldering take me to bed look in your eyes.”
An overpowering feeling hit Stella like a lightning bolt and she felt herself drowning in the crescendo. “We can’t and I don’t. Besides, I came with Reggie not you.”
“Of course you do, but clearly dear Reggie is a spare wheel now. She’ll understand. She always has trusted me.” This time Darien moved her lips in a light kiss down Stella’s neck.
A voice clearing at their side had Stella looking up guiltily expecting to see Reggie–it wasn’t. It was a young man unknown to her but, by the cry of delighted recognition, Darien knew the man. “ David, my, haven’t you grown. You were in delicious short pants last time I remember seeing you. Stella this is Angie’s younger brother David.”
The young man smiled shyly and then asked Darien to dance. With a flourish of her hand, she jumped away from Stella. “Why of course, who wouldn’t want to dance with the most handsome man in the room. We'll make the most decorative couple here. Lead the way my gallant knight.”
Stella felt like she was in the grip of a python that had relaxed its hold and given her a short breathing space.
“I see David whisked her away. He always did have a crush on her. Lucky for him, he’s not her type.” Reggie’s voice drifted quietly next to Stella.
“Yes lucky him,” Stella replied sarcastically. Then added, “I think she was getting bored,” Stella didn’t immediately capture Reggie’s glance as she debated what to say next.
Reggie gazed down at the top of Stella’s honey-blonde hair. “That’s Darien…off with the old and on with the new when it suits her.”
Stella looked directly at Reggie as she heard the reproach in the words. “You honestly think she wants to take up with me again and I’ll let her in spite of what she did to me the last time? Give me a little credit Reggie.”
Taking her seat, Reggie shrugged. “I wouldn’t presume to know what she wants or you either. I recall what she used to be like and somehow I doubt she’s changed.”
“You invited me here Reggie. It wasn’t my idea to meet her or sit next to her.” Stella was just getting started. “Are you implying I’m leading her on?” Stella bit out angrily. Her anger had more to do with her lack of control over her feelings for Darien, but she let it out on the one person who had given her hope of happiness again.
Reggie shook her head in resignation. “I saw her kissing you Stella,” Reggie said as evenly as she could. “Frankly, you didn’t seem all that unresponsive. I’d even go so far as to say you looked like you were enjoying yourself.” Reggie sucked in a calming breath. “Don’t worry Stella. I won’t get in the way of your reunion. I know when I’m not wanted.” Her eyes blazed. “You could have at least waited until I’d left the reception.”
“You’re being ridiculous Reggie! I resent the implication that I can’t be friendly with an old lover without you throwing a bitching fit.” Stella’s eyes matched the fire she saw in Reggie’s eyes. “We’re not exclusive you know. We’re friends not lovers!” Stella regretted the words as soon as they passed her lips. Reggie’s tone had finally pierced the delicate membrane she’d placed around herself regarding the sudden appearance of Darien.
“A bitching fit? Well I sure learned from the mistress of bitch. Darien makes the art of acrimonious language natural. I’m leaving. I saw Angie in the restroom and gave her my apologies for the early departure. I guess it’s pointless asking if you want to come with me.”
Stella sucked in a deep breath as she looked at Reggie’s pensive features and knew that she should go with her. However, a part of her hated being told what to do–she dug her heels in. “I’ll stay a little while longer. Darien might think that there’s something wrong with her company. It doesn’t look good when her ‘best’ friend walks out without a word.”
There was a deathly silence between them as they traded glance for glance. Reggie stood up and gave Stella a thin smile. “Ok, I guess I should have expected that. Enjoy the rest of the day Stella and tell Darien if she wants to go shopping to call me. I’ll see you around.” As calmly as she could, Reggie exited the hall and fled out of the hotel. She slumped in the seat of a taxi as it took her home.
Darien, who had been watching the two talking, knew they’d had a spat. The body language screamed as much. With a wicked smile, she sauntered over to the table. “Did you miss me Stella?”
The voice that had once fulfilled her dreams and shattered them in the space of six months purred seductively at her side. Stella turned to look into the green calculating eyes and forced a smile. “Why don’t we get out of here and catch up properly.”
Darien chuckled. “Why darling I thought you’d never ask.”
* * *
Reggie opened the door to her apartment and threw her purse on the coffee table already strewn with numerous magazines. A quick glance in the mirror told her that her mascara was like black rivers down her face. She then flung herself on the leather sofa and cried like a baby. After each sob, she tried to tell herself that it really didn’t matter. Ten minutes of bountiful crying didn’t take away the pain of Stella Hawke rejecting again. As she kicked her long legs off the sofa she, bent her body almost double and held in her head in her hands. She remained like that for several minutes and then looked up, her eyes making contact with the glass wall furnishing, which reflected back at her and she could see the ravages of the crying session she’d indulged in.
Walking unsteadily over to her iPod console, she switched it on and wandered around the large airy room. The strains of a song she’d often listened too filled the room. Not for the first time, she wondered if the author penned the song especially for her and her unrequited love for Stella. As the singer softly sang the melancholy, the lyrics made her tears begin again. This time, her tears ran silently down her cheeks rather than the racking sobs she previously had. Grief engulfed her as she stood statue like in the center of the room listening to the lyrics.
Turn down the lights turn down the bed
Turn down these voices inside my head.
Lay down with me, tell me no lies
Just hold me close, don’t patronize – don’t patronize me.
‘Cause I can’t make you love me if you don’t
You can’t make your heart feel something it won’t
Here in the dark, in these final hours
I will lay down my heart and I’ll feel the power
But you won’t, no you won’t.
‘Cause I can’t make you love me, if you don’t.
I’ll close my eyes, then I won’t see
The love you don’t feel when you’re holding me.
Morning will come and I’ll do what’s right
Just give me till then to give up this fight
And I will give up this fight.
‘Cause I can’t make you love me if you don’t
You can’t make your heart feel something it won’t
Here in the dark, in these final hours
I will lay down my heart and I’ll feel the power
But you won’t, no you won’t
cause I can’t make you love me, if you don’t.
The strains of the music and the singer died away and another song drifted into Reggie’s consciousness. It was another bitter twist on what love could do to you. Her head pounding, Reggie walked over to the iPod sitting in the middle of her entertainment console that held her TV and DVD equipment. Then, in an uncharacteristic fit of pure anger, she swung her hand, flipped the iPod from its position, and watched in surreal fascination as it moved through the air hit the wall before crashing into pieces on the hard wood floor–the music stopped.
She heard her phone ringing from inside her purse on the coffee table and it drew her attention as she moved her head in slow motion. Instead of retrieving the call, she listened to the sound until the caller gradually gave up the connection. It rang again three times more but she refused to move. She absently listened to the melodious ring along with the only other sound in her apartment–her heartbeat.
“How is it possible to have a heartbeat when it’s broken?” she whispered to the empty room.
The lack of response to her question didn’t stop her from speaking aloud again. “Maybe if I go and see Stella we can work it out. I could have it all wrong and I allowed my own disillusionment at seeing Darien again cloud my senses,” she reasoned. “Perhaps it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie.” Pulling at her bottom lip that had wobbled all the way through her conversation, she muttered, “Maybe it isn’t Stella I need to see but Darien. For once in my life I need to confront her and not take it on the chin as I always have.” She reflected on the idea for a few seconds then made up her mind. She thought about what Stella had said to her in the early days of their renewed relationship–backbone.
Moving over to the mirror on the wall, she saw her makeup ravaged face and for a moment didn’t know who she was. “I need a shower and a change.” Reggie blew out a ravaged breath, and then walked with determination towards the bathroom.
* * *
Stella sat alone on the bench in the small public garden opposite Reggie’s apartment. She knew what she had to do but her legs refused to obey her commands, and take those short steps across the road. She needed to do the right thing.
Her eyes screwed up as she tried to check out the time on her wristwatch. It was large enough but the dim light of dusk was making it difficult. Finally, in exasperation at her pathetic effort, she stood up and walked a few feet to the lamp that swathed the street in a half light until darkness fell completely. It was ten-o-clock.
Stella frowned as she calculated that Reggie had left the wedding celebration just after five. Numerous phone calls to her cell had gone unanswered. Assuming Reggie even had her phone switched on. She might not have welcomed her call. Besides, the mood she had when leaving the reception probably required switching it off One of the things she learned over the time they’d been friends was that Reggie hated confrontation, she side-stepped it or diffused the event in someway. Classic example had been today. Reggie hadn’t wanted to engage in anything that might give finality to a suspected truth that might hurt. Ok it might be Freudian but that was Reggie and she loved her for it.
Wasn’t that the crux of the whole scenario? It wasn’t Darien she loved. If she was perfectly honest, she probably never loved the woman. Once she finally worked all the kinks out in her mind, she knew that Reggie was the girl for her. Blindness came in lots of forms. Reggie had a shut it out policy and she had her anger. All in all, it wasn’t a good team to work out problems. That was why they weren’t together when they should be.
Her eyes refocused on the windows of Reggie’s apartment. No light had appeared in the rooms at any stage during her two hour vigil. Walking back to the bench she hesitated before sitting and whispered, “What an idiot you are Stella. Just go up to the door and press the doorbell. For god’s sake, you need to talk with her. Where’s your backbone now?”
Blowing out a breath of air she straighten her back as she would have in the military and checking the traffic walked across the road.
The building housing Reggie’s apartment was in the wealthy fashionable side of town and usually three apartments shared the building. Reggie had the top-floor and middle, apparently her grandparents had bought the middle section when the last owner wanted to sell out.. She never had the grand tour but Reggie told her about it on occasion. Now, looking at the place, she realized that the building would swallow her grandma’s house at least twice.
Finally, she stood next to the main door and pressed the intercom. As it was a sealed unit and the door was made of oak, she couldn’t hear anything as she waited for Reggie’s voice. Ten minutes and several attempts later, she was about to give up when another voice she didn’t recognize spoke
“ Ms. Stockton went out a couple of hours ago. Will you please stop pressing that infernal bell?”
Stella felt self conscious as she moved quickly away from the door. The person had been annoyed and the voice didn’t sound young. Walking down the steps towards the sidewalk Stella frowned for she was out of options and didn’t know what to do next. She trekked back across the road and sat down heavily on the bench again–she would wait for as long as it took.
* * *
Reggie sucked in a breath as she pressed the bell of Darien’s old apartment. As she waited, her thoughts wandered down memory lane. They had some wild times together when they were teenagers. This had been the place she’d lost her virginity to Sharon Elverson when she was seventeen. Darien’s parents had divorced years before and she lived with her mom who, five nights a week, enjoyed frequenting the local clubs. Darien had assured her that her mom wasn’t home and that it would be a good place to take their new girlfriends. That was a night to remember in lots of ways. Darien’s mom came home early with a ‘friend’ and found her and Sharon making out of the sofa and in her bedroom with her date. It had been an eye opener for Darien’s mom and her dad too…Darien’s mom wasn’t going to be the only one who knew about it her family would too.
Tonight there would be no chance of an intrusion if Darien wanted privacy. Her mom had died when Darien turned twenty-two, one more obtuse reason to join the Army at the time. She tried the bell once more. There wasn’t an answer on her first try, but this time she heard the shuffle of feet in the hall.
The door opened and Darien, partially robed with her breasts showing through the thin fabric, stood at the threshold with and unpleasant look on her face.
Reggie, with her gut aching as her tears welled, knew that look all too well. Darien had company and she just knew who it was–Stella.
“What do you want Reggie? I’m busy!”
Reggie stumbled with her words of apology and then found her voice. “I came to say I was sorry for leaving the reception like that and not telling you.”
Darien gave Reggie her full attention. “Didn’t matter I was suitably taken care of in fact…” She raised her eyebrows and indicated the bedroom.
Feeling like an idiot, Reggie blushed at the innuendo. “Yeah, sorry again about disturbing you.” Her mouth felt like it was full of ashes and she turned to go. Then she spun around just as Darien began closing the door. “You really don’t care about anyone but yourself do you Darry?”
Darien thrust the door wide and gave her timid friend a searing glance. “Isn’t that what’s life is all about? Taking what you can before someone else does. It’s the law of the jungle darling.”
Reggie felt her anger rising for the second or maybe the third time that day. Her response was soft. “You are… We’re supposed to be best friends. We go way back Darien. Doesn’t that mean something to you? All you did today was to take away my chance at happiness. You don’t care about her like I do…you never have! Why do you constantly do this to me?”
The usually quick retorting woman didn’t say anything at first. It was novel for Reggie to question her and Darien wondered why she started now. “Constantly do what Reggie? Save you from your own dithering personality. If it hadn’t been for me you’d have been taken to the cleaners with all the women you took an interest in. As your friend, I was protecting you from that.”
Reggie considered the words carefully before she replied. “Instead of you taking them away by going to bed with them Darry, why didn’t you just talk to me about it! I’m an adult I make my own choices and mistakes.”
“Do you Reggie. When was the last time you stood up and actually fought for something you believed in or loved? From where I stand, the answer is never. You never did when we were growing up. You always let your daddy or grandparents make the decisions. Later I did! You couldn’t even stand up to that bitch you call mother when she asked you for money. Bet you never told precious daddy that one did you. If this is all about Stella Hawke, take it from me she isn’t right for you. With the crook of my little finger, she still came running even after all I did to her. And, you still want to have her in your life…give me a break. Go home Reggie and find someone that does deserve you and not some leftover I’ve had my claws in.” Darien gave her a pitying glance as she moved back inside and began to close the door as a muffled sound came from the direction of the bedroom. “Got to go, my lady awaits me.”
Reggie felt the tears begin to flow and she didn’t care for it was irrelevant now. “ Darien, I changed my mind, don’t call me again. Don’t come near me ok. You and I are finished as friends.” With as much dignity as she could muster, she walked to the elevator and ignored the entreaty from Darien that it didn’t need to end like this.
As the doors closed in front of her, Reggie knew this part of her life was over. That included Darien and as much as she hated to acknowledge it, Stella too. Tomorrow was going to be a new start for her and all she needed to do now was to stop crying over something she couldn’t change.
“I really wish you hadn't gone back to her bed Stella. Maybe if you hadn't I could have forgiven you. But now... Darien's right, I don't want second best and you would be because I'd always be suspicious that you'd see her again and be gone.” The words she spoke echoed in the elevator. Glancing at her watch, she saw it was a quarter to nine and she knew the evening party Angelique had planned was under way and that meant she could try and rid herself of her woes and enjoy the rest of the evening. If Darien and Stella could…she damn well could too.
Her resolve in place, she walked to her car parked across the street and moments later drove off in the direction of the Cornelian Hotel. She’d go to the evening reception because at least there she knew one old friend who had never betrayed her.
* * *
Angelique laughed heartily at one of Reggie's preposterous stories about the old society dames of the city. “ Reggie if I wasn't happy doing what I'm going to be doing then I'd be on your case to let me be your assistant.”
Reggie shook her head as she downed another vodka martini. Her head was feeling somewhat light and her powers of deduction a little scattered. At least she hadn't drunk any gin for that always made her cry. Despite what happened earlier, she was having a good time.
Ralph saw the interaction between his new wife and her friend and took the opportunity to speak. “ Reggie, why not join us on the dig? We're due to meet in Cairo in three weeks. It would be a personal favor to me if you would.”
“Why? Surely you don't want a third party so soon after you've married.” Although astonished by the offer Reggie was secretly pleased that her friend’s new husband thought enough of her to ask.
Angelique laughed and Ralph smiled indulgently as they both chorused, “There’s going to be at least thirty helpers at the dig not to mention another five people from the university research team.”
Ralph smiled warmly. “You'd be a welcome non-participant Reggie. Besides, I don't want my wife,” he said grinning at Angelique as she gave him loving look. “To feel she’s alone. What do you say?”
Reggie felt the love that surrounded the pair and her heart missed a beat as she realized that all along that's all she ever wanted. She thought she had found the right person, but it was obvious that she wasn’t the right someone for Stella. The song I Can’t Make You Love Me played in her mind and for the first time she realized just how true the words were. It would be her anthem whenever she thought about Stella.
Angie gave Ralph a push toward the bar and whispered, “We need refills.”
He understood the less than subtle indication and gave her a hug and quick kiss on the lips. “Be right back ladies and no more story telling Reggie until I get back.” He left the two women alone.
It was well after two in the morning and the majority of revelers had departed. Leaving a few stragglers intent of taking advantage of the free bar particularly as the band had long since gone.
“He's a great guy Angie,” Reggie said as she watched the man disappear across the dance floor..
Angie watched him go too and sighed in satisfaction. “I know. After that idiot time with Carlos, I'm amazed he even wanted to take the time to get to know me.”
Reggie gave her friend an intense gaze and quietly asked, “Want to share?”
Angie looked like she was lost in her own thoughts then she answered in a soft voice. “I was still with Carlos when I first met Ralph. It hadn't been going well…dah de dah…you know the old story. He was a playboy and despite knowing about his affairs, I'd allowed myself to think that he loved me and that I was different.”
Reggie placed a hand on her friend's arm. “I'm sorry Angie, but meeting Ralph must have been a godsend.”
“Yeah, I guess. The stuff I told you for your articles in the paper was the truth but I never mentioned how Carlos went out of his way to make me out to be a whore when I wasn't. When Ralph and I finally began dating, Carlos told him that he was still sleeping with me. To this day, I don't know why Ralph ever made the extra effort. He told Carlos that he didn’t believe him and that he'd lost. That one simple word–lost–changed my whole life. How incredible is that?” Angie was so lost in her memories that she failed to notice that her husband arrived back at their table.
With a gentle expression flooding his face, he sat next to her and deposited the drinks on the table. Then he gently took his wife's hand and smiled lovingly into her eyes. “You’re absolutely wonderful my darling. Deep down I knew that you loved me and if you didn't…I was going to take the chance that I might make you. It was worth any heartbreak if I was wrong.”
Tears flowed down Angie's face and Reggie felt her own threatening to return.
Ralph grinned and shook his head. “Women, who will ever understand them. Right my lovely ladies how about we make a toast.”
Reggie and Angie looked at each and felt his buoyant mood overtake them. “And the toast is?” Angie asked.
Ralph deliberated for a few moments then smiled. “To love…it may not be a walk in the park but when it enters your life its worth sticking around to reap the rewards…even more so when it's hard fought for.”
Both women raised their glasses and repeated the toast, “To love.” Reggie’s voice was lackluster as she sipped the beverage and contemplated her life without love in it.
* * *
Stella felt the raindrops falling but refused to move. Her body was protesting at sitting in the same position for such a length of time. Then, the decision of to remain or leave was taken out of her hands. A police patrol car pulled up to the curb next to her and the officer got out.
“Ma'am you've been here for a long time now. People in the nearby buildings are worried about you?”
Stella glanced around the street dimly lit by the street lamps. “I'm sorry to have bothered them. I'll move on.”
“You didn't bother them ma'am they were genuinely worried about you. They reported that you've been here for several hours.” The young patrol officer smiled at her reassuringly.
Stella let out a dry laugh. “Sure they are. What time is it please, officer?”
“Three-thirty. Are you waiting for a specific reason?”
With a wry expression, she let a thin smile play on her lips. “I thought I was,” she said with a shrug. “But, it looks like I might be wrong.” Stella stood up. “I'll move on officer. Sorry to bother you.”
It had been a slow night and the young police officer felt sorry for the woman. “Why don't I give you a lift home? The rain is getting stronger and a taxi will be hard to find at this hour. Do you live around here?”
Stella shook her head. Her hair was already soaked as the raindrops fell around her. “I live in the market village area.”
The police officer smiled. “Come on get inside. I'll have you home in fifteen minutes.”
Stella looked at Reggie's apartment building one more time and felt her heart break. This time she knew what she felt for Reggie was the real deal. Love in all its glory and gory intrigues. Darien had incited pain with her betrayal but eventually she’d moved on and allowed herself to feel again. Stella guessed it wouldn’t be long before she actually couldn’t remember Darien’s name. Reggie…she’d never forget. The name forever etched into her heart, soul, and sub-conscious. The crazy thing was it wouldn’t matter as long as Reggie was happy. If only she had told Reggie sooner about how she felt this never would have happened–she was to blame. Then, she turned her attention to the waiting office. “Thanks I'd appreciate that.”
Once she was in the patrol car, Stella felt that final death blow when a life she could only dream about with Reggie would always remain that–a dream.
* * *
John Stockton strode around his office and sighed heavily as he once more looked at his daughter. “You really want to do this Sparky?”
Reggie mirrored the mannerisms of her father. “Yes. I need to do this Dad. Look you may not understand...”
John held up his hand. “I understand perfectly Sparky. Remember, I was married to your mother. Love is a delicate balance of those that do and those that don't. If you're unfortunate to love someone who doesn't care for you, there's heartbreak. But, if you look underneath the pain, you’ll find hope too Sparky.” The man shook his head and fixed his eyes on his daughter. “Running away isn't the answer,” he said softly.
Reggie looked at her dad and smiled. “I love you dad. One day I want to find what you and Susan have. Right now, I need a break.”
“I can have Frank release Hawke from her contract…will that help?”
Reggie hung her head. “That isn't the answer Dad. She's good for the paper and Frank thinks one day she'll be a great press foreman. I don't want to be known as the person who has people sacked because a love affair goes wrong.”
John frowned. “I have to lose my only daughter, Susan has to lose a close confidant and Henry his sister because you think Hawke is good for the newspaper!” he exclaimed. “Press assistants are a dime a dozen…daughters are harder to come by.” He sucked in a deep breath. “If you love someone who doesn’t love you in the same way you fight for another chance…you don’t run and hide. That isn't the answer Sparky.”
Reggie felt the overwhelming sense of responsibility that had been her nemesis for as long as she could remember. Perhaps Darien had been right. She always looked to others for the answer. Right now, she needed to find it herself even if what she did was wrong. The only way she would know the truth was to let go and chose her own road.
“I'm going Dad. It won't be forever.” She rushed to her father and hugged him as tightly as she could. “I'll miss you, but I need to let me do this for me.”
John felt the emotion cutting off his words. How could he let someone he loved go? Perhaps they never had really allowed her to make the hard decisions in life. With tears in his eyes, he gave a tight smile and kissed the top of her head. “You do what you need to do Regina.”
Reggie heard one word that finally made her happy. Finally, her dad understood. She was not Sparky or Reggie, but Regina. At last, she had been set free as an adult to do what she had to do.
“I love you dad.”
* * *
There was a pounding in her heart as well as the sound of her feet as Stella ran across the press room to the elevator. Irritation creased her face as she waited for the door to open.
When they did, she virtually pushed the two occupants out and jabbed at the button that would take her to the fourth floor and Reggie’s office. As the doors shut, her mind reran the conversation she’d just had with Frank.
* * *
“ Elaine Daniels is the new society column reporter? Get out of here Frank, no way.” Stella shook her head at the absurdity of the suggestion.
Frank gave the young woman a nod. “All true Hawke. I received the communication from John Stockton himself only half an hour ago.”
Perplexed, Stella ran a hand over her face. With a frown that scrunched up her eyes, she asked, “And Reggie what is she going to be doing…current affairs?” She felt her heart stop as she waited for the answer. It had been three weeks since the wedding. She tried to contact Reggie by phone and even went to her office on several occasions–the woman was unavailable. Her last fiasco of waiting outside Reggie’s apartment building hadn’t gone well. If the neighbors saw her lurking around again they might call the authorities. She didn’t want the law to take her home again. Once had been embarrassing enough.
Frank deliberated over her question for a few seconds then shook his head. “ John wasn’t specific about Reggie. All I know is that from noon today Elaine is the new society reporter.”
Stella’s eyes flashed her anger as she said, “That woman is a piranha! How could Mr. Stockton have her in that role? She’ll be horrendous since she has no tact.”
“How do you know that Hawke? Have you had a run in with Elaine Daniels as well as Reggie?” He didn’t know the details but John had indicated to him, as they went back years, he might have to find another assistant and would explain later. That hadn’t transpired and he knew it wouldn’t–He guessed it had something to do with Reggie and she wasn’t vindictive.
With her head hung down, Stella refused to make eye. “She was mean to Reggie. Surely Reggie didn’t approve her…she wouldn’t have. Are you sure, you don’t know what’s going on, Frank? If you do please tell me…it‘s important.”
It was true, Frank hadn’t known this woman long, but beneath her tough exterior, he knew there was a woman who could easily be hurt. He’d seen her checking for Reggie’s car at every conceivable break. Each time he saw sadness and disappointment etched on her face. “ John Stockton will have my head on a pike if he knows I’d told you,” he whispered. “She’s leaving today. Going abroad is what he said.”
“Abroad! Leaving! She can’t!” Stella exclaimed as she felt a gut aching cry threatening to consume her.
“I’m sorry Hawke. That’s what the man said. Look, Reggie always comes home eventually and maybe when she returns you can work out your differences.” Frank walked around his desk and placed a fatherly arm around her in compassion.
With a look, that was a cross between a demented dog and abject despair, Stella whispered, “She can’t go I haven’t told her I love her.”
When Frank heard the softly spoken admission, he lifted Stella’s chin. With a twinkle in the eye he said, “I’ll give you half an hour Hawke. Go tell her before she leaves the building.”
Stella glanced up as her eyes filled with tears. “She’s still here? I didn’t see her car.” She didn’t wait for his answer. She fled the office and headed with wings on her feet towards the elevator.
* * *
The doors sprung open on the fourth floor and Stella walked as calmly as possible to Reggie’s office. She felt like she was stalking an enemy who was far worse than any enemy she’d faced when she was in the Army. But, this was Reggie and not the enemy. It didn’t make her feel any better. If Reggie left, it would be worse than a bullet to her brain.
Without preamble, Stella opened the door and faced whatever was necessary to explain what happened with Darien.
“Why if it isn’t Stella Hawke with an e. What gives you the right to walk into my office unannounced?” Elaine Daniels voice dripped sarcasm.
“I thought Reggie was here. It is still her office until noon.” Stella let he eyes land on the wall clock.
With a flick of her wrist, Elaine acerbically replied, “A minor point. It’s my office now and we have nothing to say to each other so I advise you to get out or I’ll inform your superior.”
Stella felt the rage flowing through her but she managed to keep a lid on it. It wasn’t a good time to lose her temper. “Is Reggie still in the building?”
“You’re pathetic do you know that. Reggie doesn’t want anything to do with you. I’ve been in her office when she’s ignored your calls. Give it up and move on. Darien said you were like a limpet and never let go…she was right.”
Ignoring that it would be a fool thing to do and prove nothing, Stella wanted to smack the woman. With clenched fist, she moved dangerously close to the obnoxious woman.
“What’s going on?”
Startled, both women looked at the person standing in the doorway. When Stella saw the woman she loved, she almost had a seizure. Reggie looked beautiful in a perfectly tailored skirt suit and as always, not a hair was out of place. The quizzical expression Reggie wore when she was working out what to say next shown in her hazel eyes.
“ Reggie you’re still here,” Stella said breathlessly and immediately felt idiotic.
Reggie managed to settle the butterflies in her stomach that occurred when she saw Stella. “I’m about to leave. I was just collecting the last of my personal belongings. Is there a problem in the press room?”
Elaine watched the exchange between the two women. She could see that each was vying with their own particular emotions and it would be so easy to make things worse. “ Ms. Hawke here hasn’t any reason to be here. In fact, if she continues to carry on in such an adversarial manner, I doubt she’ll have a job in the future.”
Stella growled between her teeth and turned to face Elaine who stood her ground with a sweet false smile on her face. “You’re nothing but a…”
“ Elaine…that’s enough. Why don’t you take that early lunch and when you get back the office will be all yours,” Reggie said decisively.
Both Elaine and Stella stopped and stared at Reggie. Neither had ever heard that tone from her before.
With an evil look in Stella’s direction, Elaine left the room muttering incoherently under her breath.
“Thanks she was getting up my nose as usual.” Stella smiled at Reggie who hadn’t moved from her spot at the doorway.
With a raising of her eyebrow, Reggie asked, “Is there something I can do for you?”
The words were cold and without emotion. Undaunted, Stella moved closer to Reggie and stood within a foot of her tall frame that filled the doorway. “Yes, at least I hope so.” Stella closed her eyes and blew out a breath when Reggie stood stoically in the doorway. “We need to talk Reggie…not here but somewhere private. I can’t let you go away without explaining what went on that day.”
Reggie moved slightly and flexed her facial muscles. “You don’t have any say in what I do or when I do it. I think that last time we were together was self explanatory,” she said as her cold eyes fixed on Stella. “Is that all?”
The coldness of Reggie’s words evaporated any euphoria Stella felt at seeing Reggie again. “I know I was an idiot and I should have gone home with you but… Look Reggie, you are the most important person in my life and I want to explain what was going on in my head when Darien showed up. Will you give me that chance?”
It could have been so easy to shut the door and listen to the explanation–the new Reggie did not. Devoid of any emotion, she said, “No.”
Aghast at the point blank refusal Stella felt her world shake on its axis. “No,” she whispered.
“Actually Stella, you saved me a trip to the press room. I want you to know that I’ve let you go Stella. The woman I thought you were…the woman I fell in love with when I first saw you at the Army training barracks so many years ago,…the woman I thought might love me in return… no longer exists. It’s all gone and I won’t go back there again. You hurt me more than you will probably ever realize Stella and that’s why I won’t go back there.” With a shake of her head, Reggie let a wry smile cross her face. “I never wanted anything as much as I wanted you to love me Stella. I now know it can never be. You need to let go too Stella. Perhaps then you will allow yourself to find true happiness.” Reggie felt a weight lift off her shoulders as she finally admitted her love and her feelings. It hurt like hell, and she didn’t know if her legs would manage the final break of walking away, but she would manage.
Amazed, Stella stood with her mouth partly open as her hopes rose when Reggie said she loved her only to plummet when she said she had let her go. When she finally found her voice Stella asked, “Would it make any difference if I told you I no longer have the jacket Reggie?”
Reggie shook her head a sucked in a settling breath. “No.” With determination that she never knew she had, Reggie said, “Goodbye Stella,” before squaring her shoulders, turning, and walking away.
“I love you Reggie, “ Stella whispered, blinking away the tears of her shattered emotions before walking like a zombie back to the press room–Reggie was gone.