* * *
A low mist flowed through the camp set up just outside the dig site they were working at. It came in wisps and seemed to float around the campsite with a surreal quality.
Reggie smiled as she watched fascinated by the tendrils of mist that attempted to capture an object only to disappear on contact like magic.
“Are you all packed Reggie? The bearers will be here shortly to take us back to town.” Angie grinned at her friend as she put the finishing touches to her own gear before walking to where Reggie was standing.
“I’m all done. Need any help with your stuff?” Reggie asked as she glanced at the protrusion of Angie’s belly.
“All done thanks for the offer. Ralph has promised to cut the dig short and be back before the baby’s born…but you know what he’s like.”
Both women laughed. “Yes I do. I was supposed to stay for a couple of weeks, and I haven’t been home for over a year. He’s quite the charmer when he wants something isn’t he.”
Angie giggled. “Yeah aren’t we the lucky ones. Are you going to do what you said you’d do when you get home?”
Before she answered, Reggie considered the question, and then smiled slowly. “Yes, I think so. Susan’s letter indicated that my dad’s mild heart attack has only preempted the situation. I always intended to go back and run the newspaper…it was just finding the right time to go.”
Angie threw an arm around her friend’s shoulders. “I’m proud of you Reggie and I know your dad will be pleased by your decision. He’d only want you to go back and do that if it was what you really wanted. I know your grandparents left the company in trust for you until you were twenty-five but your dad knew you weren’t ready to take it over when you came out of the Army. He said you’d grown up but didn’t want to give you such a heavy responsibility. That’s why he put you on the society column…to get you ready if that’s what you wanted in the end.”
Reggie gazed at her friend in astonishment. “And you know all this, how? Why haven’t you mentioned it before?”
Angie frowned and then linked her arm with Reggie’s. “Do you remember the day I saw you in your office and told you about Ralph?” She watched her friend’s head bob. “I told you that I’d seen your dad at the club the night before.”
“Yeah, I vaguely recall that.”
“We sort of had a heart to heart. He was glad I was back because he thought you needed a friend around since Darien was…well you know. By the way, he dislikes her, but that’s another story.”
Reggie mouthed, “He didn’t like Darien? He never said. He always involved her in stuff. When she stayed over I never saw any animosity.”
Angie shook her head. “You know your own dad Reggie…do you really think he would show any sign of disapproval?”
Reggie’s head moved in a negative action before she sighed heavily. “ Angie, he told me before I left that running away wasn’t the right thing to do. If anything had…”
Angie turned to face her friend and lifted up the glum looking face so that they made eye contact. “It didn’t Reggie, it didn’t. Susan said he was ok in the letter and you’ve called and talked to your dad. Everything was ok. Look, in thirty-six hours you’ll be unloading your stuff outside their place and before you know it laughing and joking over dinner.”
“I’m going to miss you Angie. Are you sure that you won’t change your mind and come home with me? Your parents would be ecstatic if you went home.” Reggie gave her friend a warm smile, and pulled her into a gentle hug mindful of the bulge between them. Their long chats over the course of the last year at times were intense but fulfilling for them both.
After Reggie released her from the hug, Angie grinned and smiled before shaking her head. “Can’t be done I’m afraid. Ralph has accepted the university teaching job and he’s talking about beginning the next term. That gives me a little over two months to find a place to live outside of his London apartment. Then I need to get everything settled for the baby’s arrival. You could always change your mind and come back to London with me?”
They both knew that wasn’t going to happen. Vacations in the future absolutely, but for the time being they each had to go on different paths. The sound of a vehicle approaching caught their attention and they turned and said in unison, “This is it.” They both laughed as Angie went in search of Ralph and Reggie walked to the now stationary vehicle. Soon she would be on the road to home and all that held, even Stella.
* * *
John Stockton shook his head in wonder as he smiled at his eldest child over the dining table. Susan had taken Henry for his evening bath and left them alone. “I’ve missed you Sparky and I’m glad you’re back…even if you tell me you have to go again.”
Reggie watched her father closely for any sign that the heart attack had impaired him in any way. He was thinner, he’d lost a little more hair on the top and his features were a little paler than she remembered, but that could be because she was an amazing ebony color. “I missed you too Dad. About going away, I’m not. I’ve decided to come back to the paper and you can train me to take over as the Grandy’s wanted.”
John gave Reggie a long hard appraisal before he replied. “Is that really what you want Sparky? You know I can arrange to sell the business when the time is right. I don’t want you to do it if that isn’t what you want to do with your life.”
The sincerity of the words made Reggie tear up and then she shook her head. “Absolutely not. I have my brother to consider. He’ll want a say about whether we sell or not…well at least at some stage. It’s his inheritance as well.”
“You continue to amaze me Sparky. You know that you own the newspaper except for a ten percent share that your grandparents left me in their wills. At the end of the day, it’s your decision and your life.”
“Exactly and that’s why I want to re-enter the business. I want to act as your right hand if you’ll let me,” she said tentatively. Her father’s beaming smile expressed exactly what he thought without her words.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way Sparky. Are you ready to start on Monday?”
Susan Stockton walked in the room at that moment and from the doorway smiled; it was good to see Reggie back. Her husband hadn’t been the same since she left. He confided in her that he felt like he’d lost her for good. Now as she watched them, the atmosphere was full of love. “Who starts what on Monday?”
John grinned at his wife as she stood behind his chair and gently touched the side of his cheek. “ Reggie! She’s decided to come home for good and join me as my right hand at the newspaper,” he said with a beaming smile. “What do you think of that?”
Susan looked at Reggie trying to assess the sincerity of the offer. It was entirely possible that Reggie was trying to make her father happy out of guilt for not being there when he fell ill. What she found satisfied her as she smiled warmly at Reggie. “Thank God for that! Perhaps now he’ll be home for dinner occasionally.” It was a mock censure as they all laughed.
John Stockton stroked his jaw-line and then suddenly said, “Hey, Sparky…it’s the annual barbeque tomorrow. Say you’ll come with us. You missed the last one and I know you love to go.”
Reggie chuckled. “I do not love to go Dad but…”
“But?” he asked quizzically.
With a wink in Susan’s direction Reggie said, “I love the way you cook those sausages.”
They all burst out laughing again as John shook his head at his daughter. It was good to have her back home safe. Later, Susan sent John to take care of their son. It was their nightly ritual for his father to read to him. Then she turned to Reggie who was listening to their conversation with quiet indulgence.
“I’m glad you came back Reggie and even more so that you’re staying.”
Reggie smiled as she sipped the cognac her father had poured to celebrate her homecoming. “Hmm, it seems right somehow,” she said with a shrug. “I don’t know that I can explain how I feel.”
“Then you don’t need to. Your father missed you dreadfully. I only ever saw him like that once before.” Susan’s voice went very quiet as she recalled her own memories.
“When was that Susan?” Reggie asked in curiosity.
“When he found out that you were going to fight in the war. He was upset that you chose to join up but he knew the environment you were in was safe and he knew you were intelligent enough to keep out of major trouble. When you got your orders to leave that safety it nearly killed him.”
Reggie heard the sadness in Susan’s voice and she considered for a moment how selfish children were. They didn’t give a damn about the parents they left behind. They only cared about what they wanted. It was life. It was nature. It was generations moving on to independence. “Ah, but there was a silver lining wasn’t there Susan,” Reggie teased with a sly smile. “He had you?”
Susan smiled at the woman who had grown to be such a wonderful person. “Yes, there was that.” Susan fixed her eyes on Reggie. “What about you and love? You’ve been away a long time now…have you found someone?”
Considering the question seriously, Reggie shook her head. “I’ve talked around the subject with Angie for the past fourteen months, but I still can’t get Stella out of my system. I told her I let go and I honestly believed I had but she’s there and always will be. I guess I have to find a balance and coming home is that.”
“She’s still working for the paper…your paper. How do you feel about that?”
“I’m glad. Stella isn’t a bad person. None of us in that infernal triangle really are…even Darien. I think we just all need to go our separate ways,” Reggie said in a whimsical tone.
Susan pulled the woman into her arms and hugged her tightly. “Well if that’s what you think then ok. Oh, by the way…you’re going to have another brother or sister.”
Reggie’s jaw dropped as she mentally gave a high-five to the both of them.
* * *
Dora Thistlebaum watched the young woman from her easy chair, bring in the groceries, and begin to unpack them. When Reggie moved away, Dora was upset and in a quandary over who would take on the weekly shopping expedition and several other chores around her place. With a warm smile, she wagged a finger in the younger woman’s direction. “You didn’t have to do this you know. I could have waited until tomorrow. It’s only twenty-four hours and the amount of food you bring in hardly leaves me destitute if it isn’t bought at your scheduled regime.”
A shake of the head and a hard glance that didn’t reach the depths within the eyes, was her initial answer. Then the woman delved into a brown grocery bag and withdrew a packet of cookies. Waving it in the older woman’s direction, she winked. “Want me to take these back until tomorrow?”
Dora chuckled and shook her grey hair covered head. “No you leave them right where they are. It’s my Saturday treat and well you know it. Thank you my dear.”
The soft thanks received a wide smile from the woman. “You’re very welcome Dora. Now I need to go. I’ve put everything in the normal places and I even bought you a fresh cream donut to go with your lunch since I can’t share it with you today.”
Dora stood up, walked her frail body over to the kitchen bench and looked at the chicken salad sandwich and the delicious looking donut beside it. “You didn’t have to do that. I can make my own lunch.”
“Why bother when you can have it delivered,” the younger woman quipped before kissing the lined but surprisingly soft cheek of the old woman. “I really need to go,” she whispered.
Dora watched her leave the apartment as she ambled over to the window she saw her young friend climbing into her car. “The young these days don’t know how lucky they are to move around so fast.” Then she turned back to her comfortable apartment and returned to her chair. Within minutes, her knitting was lying in her lap and she was taking her morning snooze.
The buzzing of the internal door bell dragged her out of her doze and she stood up a with a puzzled expression on her face. Walking over to the intercom on the wall she pressed to activate it and said, “Hello?”
“ Dora, it’s me Reggie. I thought I’d let you know I was back.”
Dora opened the door as quickly as her arthritic hands would allow and beamed her neighbor a welcoming smile. The next thing she knew as that the taller woman pulled her gently into a hug.
“My you look wonderful Reggie. Being away has done you the power of good. That tan you have makes you look even more beautiful. Have you the time to tell me all about it?” The old woman’s eyes sparkled as she gazed at the young woman who had released her.
“Sorry Dora, I can’t, not today. How about I come over around eleven in the morning…and I will cook us both brunch and we can chat like we used to. I’ve got stories of the desert that will curl your hair.” Reggie winked as she gave the older woman a quick appraisal. Seeing nothing amiss, she glanced around the apartment. “I see you’ve had help since I’ve been gone. Does that mean you won’t be requiring me to do any chores from now on?”
Before she answered, the old woman pondered the question. Then with a slow smile, she said, “Oh I’m sure there’s plenty around here for you to do. Besides, just a nice chat is welcome enough for an old woman like me.”
“Sounds like a plan to me. Well we have a date tomorrow. Sorry but I need to go and change. I’ll see you tomorrow Dora.” She bent her long frame and kissed the old woman’s cheek again and with a cheery wave headed for the stairwell leading to her apartment.
With a chuckle, Dora shut and bolted her door. A twinkle in her eye was the only reaction to a plan she was constructing as she went back to her chair. Closing her eyes, she didn’t sleep but contemplated on that very plan of action.
* * *
The barbeque was in full swing as Frank Smith raised his eyebrows heavenwards as his wife asked him to fill her plate with food that she liked. He grinned affectionately at the woman he’d married thirty-five years earlier and still loved her as much if not more than he did back then. “Ok, what about you Hawke?”
Stella Hawke smiled at her boss and friend. He’d insisted that this year she join him and his family at the annual barbeque and he wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. “How about I go with you, you might need help.”
Frank laughed. “You could be right Hawke. Dan, will you find us a beer for our troubles.”
Dan Smith, Frank’s youngest son at twenty-one was enjoying his first official public drinking session with his parents and he was eager to please, “Sure thing Dad.”
Frank and Stella walked towards the throng of people and joined the line for the sausages. “ John’s going to be busy as usual, though he has a helper today.”
Stella nodded her head. “Yeah he doesn’t want to overdo it after that scare a few weeks ago.”
Clearing his through slightly, as they moved up the line, he quietly asked, “So how’s life generally these days Hawke? Thought you might have finally found someone to take to this shindig. Wasn’t that new girl in reception giving you the eye?”
“ Frank!” Stella exclaimed in embarrassment.
“What? It’s true, even Cory said she had taste.” Frank laughed at the expression on his assistant’s face.
“I can’t believe you…and they say women are gossips.” Stella grinned at the man as they edged closer to the food.
“Ah well Hawke, we men might gossip but it’s rarely as vitriolic as women.”
Stella didn’t reply because she knew from painful experience that could be true. “Hrumph, I’m not so sure. Anyway, Cory hates me, at least that’s the impression he gives.”
Frank thumped her on the back and laughed heartily. “Hawke you have no idea…that man worships you. Even though you have the job he wants, you’ve never made him eat humble pie and you go out of your way to help him. He’ll never admit it to you, but the rest of us know…it’s a man thing.”
They moved forward again as Stella contemplated that. “I’m sure it is,” she finally said. Then, she was riveted to the spot when she saw John Stockton. The woman standing at his side made her feet feel like lead when she saw her–Regina Stockton had returned.
Frank moved forward and gave his order.
Stella heard the bantering and the welcome he gave Reggie but she for the life of her couldn’t move. It was as if someone glued her feet to the spot and she couldn’t make them move. When someone behind her pushed her in the back, she woke up out of her stupor.
She couldn’t bear to look at Reggie for fear of seeing the dismissal again that she saw over a year ago. With her eyes fixed on the table she said, “I’ll have two with mustard and onions…thanks.”
John looked at his daughter and saw she was by the sausages but motionless–she looked like a statue. “Good choice,” he said as he nudged his daughter. “ Reggie the lady needs to be served.”
Reggie heard her dad speak and it brought her out of the shock of seeing Stella in the flesh. She’d spent months trying to forget her only to have her appear nightly in her dreams. When alone either day or night, Stella’s face taunted her as her body and soul craved to see and hear her speak just one more time. Now that the moment arrived, she felt more bemused than elated. “Sorry, how many was that again?”
Stella’s head shot up as she heard Reggie speak and drank in every line and feature of the woman. She still loved Reggie even though she had lost her because she never said the right words. “Two please,” she said barely above a whisper.
John grinned as he watched the exchange. “ Reggie why don’t you take your break now and then you can release me for my mine in say, half an hour.”
Reggie glanced at her dad as she handed the sausages over to Stella and their fingers touched. It was like an electric shock as she blurted out, “Yeah…sure.”
Frank collected his items and with a shake of his head smiled at the woman next to him. “Why don’t you get reacquainted with her Hawke?”
Stella didn’t have time to say anything as Frank walked briskly away toward his family with the food.
Moving aside, Stella stood alone contemplating the sausages on her plate.
“You look well Stella.”
A shiver went down Stella’s back as she heard the one voice that meant life was worth living again. “Thank you,” she said without raising her head. “You look pretty good too. The tan suits you.”
Reggie nodded. “Thanks. Well I need to find some lunch.” She turned away and was astonished when Stella spoke again.
“Take one,” she said shoving the plate in Reggie’s direction. “It even has mustard and onions.”
Reggie considered the offer for a few seconds then with a slight smile took the sausage and bit into it. Half way through she gave Stella a quick look and asked, “Why did you order mustard and onions? If I remember correctly you don’t like either.”
Stella frowned, as she tasted the bitterness of the mustard on the sausage she was eating. The onions felt like string in her mouth but she’d persevered. “People can change.”
Reggie nodded and bit into her hotdog again and a spurt of mustard dribbled down her chin.
Automatically, Stella reached out and wiped it away only to close her eyes as Reggie shrunk away from her touch. “I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s ok. Look, I need to go and see Susan. I promised to take Henry on a couple of the rides. It was good to see you again Stella, take care of yourself.” Reggie began to move away and found it was the hardest thing she’d done since she’d left over a year ago. An invisible rope attached to her seemed to be dragging her back.
Stella said, “Thanks for joining me for lunch, maybe we can do it again sometime?” It was tentative, it was desperate, and it was reaching out.
Reggie closed her eyes and was glad her back was to Stella. “Perhaps, next year,” she said the calmest voice she could muster. All the while, her heart was beating tenfold.
Stella watched Reggie go. The woman looked so composed and sure of herself that she finally realized finally that when Reggie had said she’d let go, she really had. Instead of going back to join Frank and his family, she turned toward the exit. The realization that her dream of winning Reggie back had finally turned to ashes.
* * *
Reggie sank onto the bench opposite her stepmother and looked down at the wooden table. Her world was spinning out of control again just as it always had from the first moment she’d seen Stella Hawke.
“Are you ok Reggie? You look pale.”
With a vague smile, Reggie nodded and then replied, “Yeah, I think so. I’ve seen her.”
It was a bald statement and Susan understood it perfectly. “I suspected that you would bump into each other here, probably as good a place as any. And how do you feel about her now?”
With a short depreciating laugh Reggie said, “I never knew until today how hard it was to not love someone. Do you think I’ll ever feel anything but pain Susan? Right now I’m in agony.”
Susan glanced at her son asleep in his buggy and she moved onto the bench beside Reggie and placed a comforting arm around her shoulders. “It will in time Reggie, it will.” The slight whimper from the younger woman had Susan almost in tears too. “Is this what you really want though Reggie? Can’t you both begin again? You never know, she might feel the same way?”
Pain filled eyes looked up in a woeful gaze. “I can’t trust her Susan. She betrayed me so easily. How can I go back to her when she let me down? All I ever wanted was to love her and have her love me back. I would never have done what she did.”
The words filled the heavy vacuum that seemed to surround them. Susan knew that Reggie loved Stella but the actual reason for her rushing off abroad was because Stella didn’t have the same feelings. However, the words ‘let me down’ and ‘betrayal’ sounded like there was more to the story. Susan asked, “Were you and Stella lovers? Did she leave you for someone else?”
Reggie sniffed in an attempt to keep her nose from running before she shook her head. “No, I wish we had…perhaps then I could have the memory of what it was like.”
Puzzled, Susan didn’t equate the depth of the emotional turmoil that Reggie was experiencing if Stella hadn’t been that close. “There was someone else I take it?”
Reggie nodded as her vision blurred when her tears filled them.
“Did you know the person? Is she still around?”
“ Darien, it was Darien. How can I match up with someone like her and expect Stella to love me more,” Reggie half asked as she hung her head.
Susan pulled Reggie into a comforting hug again and shook her head. “Oh Reggie, you make five of Darien’s type. Don’t disparage yourself that way I’m sure Stella knows that too. Darien is with someone isn’t she Reggie?” The whole scenario sounded odd and out of kilter to Susan.
“Yeah, Darien is with someone but she still likes to play the field and I caught them at Darien’s place after Angie’s wedding. I thought Stella and me…well she told me afterwards she loved me but I can’t believe her…not after that.”
Susan understood all too well the power of an old love in the life of someone you loved. She had to scale obstacle after obstacle to have John in her life–it was all worth it. Perhaps that’s what Reggie needed to see; love that can survive the odd weakness in the early stages. “ Reggie did I ever tell you about how your dad and I got together?”
Reggie shook her head, thankful for another topic of conversation rather than her own selfish sorry sob story.
“Let me tell you shall I…”
* * *
Dora Thistlebaum smiled as the doorbell rang and she ambled over to open the door. “ Reggie, you’re early…but I’m glad.”
Reggie grinned at the old woman. She’d first met the woman when she was six years old and her grandparents had bought the upper floor. Dora had been in the building only six months. Her husband had suddenly died of a heart attack at sixty and she moved to the city from her country residence for the company of being in a lively city. “Yep, I’m used to being up when the rooster crows. How does, eggs, hash browns, and bacon sound?”
Dora chuckled. “Wonderful. I’m glad you’re back, Reggie, it’s not been the same not having you in the building.”
“Security checked on you though didn’t they?” Reggie asked with a frown. She paid them handsomely to look after not only her building but check on Dora everyday as well.
“Yes, my dear. Mr. Johnston is wonderful and his wife sends me a batch of fresh cookies or cakes every Wednesday. I’ll miss that,” Dora mused.
Reggie heard the regret in the woman’s voice and smiled. “I’ve decided to keep the security on even though I’m back.” Up to that point, she decided to cancel it in the morning but it might prove useful to keep it up and if it meant Dora felt more secure. She owed it to her grandparent’s memory. They’d have expected no less for their old friend.
The old woman beamed a grateful smile as they walked inside the apartment and Reggie headed towards the kitchen. “Now you can tell me all about your travels my dear I’m excited.”
Two hours and numerous stories later with a hearty brunch inside them, the woman quietly sat deep in their own thoughts. Reggie was sipping her tea and asked, “What’s the new help like? You haven’t mentioned them at all. Did you contact that agency I gave you the number for before I left?”
Dora licked her lips before she spoke. “I did contact them. She’s a lovely girl Reggie you’d like her…in fact I know you will.”
Reggie laughed. Dora knew of her sexual tendencies and they’d had many a discussion about some of her earlier girlfriends when she was younger. “Ok, what’s she like?”
“She has blue serious eyes, which hide a depth of caring you don’t see on the surface. Not as tall and willowy as you but I’d call her quite curvaceous if I was looking for a chickie.”
Reggie laughed at the term chickie. “ Dora you’re getting worse as you get older. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you have a crush on this woman yourself. Give what’s this paragon’s name.”
Wagging her finger, Dora said, “No, I’ll not say. In fact, I called her last night and asked if she’d keep me company this afternoon. If you’re still home you can meet her then.”
Reggie’s eyebrows rose at the statement. “She comes over when she’s not being paid. That’s devotion to duty…she must like you a lot,” Reggie said with a wink.
“Oh, she’s a splendid girl. Will you be home later?”
“Hmm, probably at least until five…I’m going over to my dad’s for dinner.”
Dora smiled in satisfaction. “Excellent, she’ll be here at two.”
Reggie sipped the remaining tea and then stood up. “I’ll load the dishwasher and turn it on. I’ll unload it when I come back later to see the mystery woman. Now, you have a nap because I’m sure you’ll want to keep us regaled with stories of your youth.” She kissed the old woman’s cheek and winked as she proceeded to do just that. Fifteen minutes later, Reggie left the apartment and walked slowly up the stairwell to her residence.
As she entered her quiet hallway, she looked around. It was home and she’d missed it while out in the desert but something was missing. Then she said to the silent space, “I want to come home to someone who loves me. Is that such a difficult a thing to wish for.”
* * *
Dora was laughing at a funny story the young woman who had been her salvation when Reggie left was telling. The sound of her bell ringing had her young friend giving her a quizzical look.
“Are you expecting anyone Dora?”
Dora smiled. “Yes, do you mind?”
“No.” Moving out of her comfortable seat on the sofa, she walked briskly over to the door and opened it. Her jaw nearly hit the hard wooden floor as she came face to face with Dora’s visitor. “ Reggie?”
“ Stella?” Reggie’s voice was a mere whisper as she paled at being such close proximity to the woman she loved.
A reedy voice from inside the apartment called out. “Well, let her in Stella. She’s an invited guest.”
Stella pulled the door wider and Reggie stepped inside. She was careful to avoid any contact with and Stella as they passed each other in the hallway.
With a knowing smirk on her face, Dora said, “I told you Reggie you would like Stella.”
Stella for her part was trying to compose herself. She of course knew Reggie lived in the building; she stood outside on the sidewalk often enough hoping for Reggie’s return. Her determination had placed Dora in her life instead and at this moment, looking at Reggie’s composed features she wasn’t sure it had been a good idea.
Dora waved at Reggie to sit after she’d kissed the old woman on her cheek. Bemused, Reggie covertly looked at Stella. It was the last place she expected to see the woman. Finally finding her voice, she quietly said, “I didn’t realize you had a second job?”
Stella was standing awkwardly near Dora’s easy chair and not sure if she should sit next to Reggie on the sofa. There wasn’t anywhere else to sit and she wondered if she should get a kitchen chair when Reggie asked her question. “A second job?” Stella asked.
Reggie nodded. “You help Dora around the place,” she said. “When do you have the time? My dad tells me…”
A kernel of hope fluttered in Stella’s stomach as she listened to the words. “It isn’t a second job. Dora is a friend that I help out because I want too.”
“I see. I’m glad. Thanks she’s a very special woman.”
Dora interceded at that point. “Please Reggie, I’m in the room. You can speak about me when I’m not here.” The old lady’s eyes twinkled in pleasure.
Stella and Reggie laughed before silence ensued once more.
Dora glanced from one to the other and then smiled. “ Stella sit down please. I’ll have a crick in the neck looking up at you. I’m sure Reggie won’t bite…unless you want her too.”
Stella went bright red as she cast a quick look in Reggie’s direction. She realized that the insinuation had embarrassed her too although her tan shaded her cheeks well. “Ok, I’ll sit.”
“So Reggie, are you going to stay this time or be leaving again on your trips?” Dora asked. Although Stella felt sorry for Reggie’s discomfort at the direct question, she really wanted to know the answer.
Moving in the sofa, Reggie considered how to answer before deciding the truth was the best. “I’m here to stay. I’ve finally stopped running.”
“Running my dear…isn’t that a slight exaggeration? There are cars, planes, and boats for trips,” Dora lightly replied at the heavy words in the room.
Holding up her hands, Reggie smiled. “Of course and I used them all.”
Stella, her prayers answered, joined the conversation. “You look great Reggie. Maybe I’d better go on an extended vacation and get one of those tans. How’s your friend?”
Reggie was grateful for the change in conversation to her friend Angie. She gave Stella a small smile. “Good, great in fact. She’s six months pregnant and has returned to Ralph’s home base in London.”
“A baby, how wonderful. They won’t be taking it on those horrible digs with them will they?” Dora asked.
“No, Angie is finding them a house in the country and Ralph is joining a faculty in a London university.” Reggie smiled and felt loneliness invading her again as she thought of her friend and their camaraderie in her hour of need.
Stella heard the genuine inflection in Reggie’s voice of love for her friend and she felt intense jealousy even though she knew she shouldn’t. Reggie no longer wanted her in her life on a personal basis. “That’s great. You can visit them a lot easier than trying to discover their whereabouts in some jungle or desert.”
A sparkle lit Reggie’s eyes as she said, “Yes, I’m going to be godmother.”
Dora watched the body language of the two women on the sofa. They were trying desperately not to get to close but each time they did their bodies unconsciously moved closer. She mentally shook her head at the foolishness of the young in love. “Well, my dears, I need to have a nap. It was lovely of you both to chat with me. Why don’t you invite Stella to your place for coffee Reggie? I’ve been a terrible hostess this afternoon and you’d be doing me a great favor.”
Stella gave out a strangled, “It isn’t necessary.”
Reggie blinked rapidly. She knew what Dora was up to but it wouldn’t work. Although she did want to know how Stella and Dora had become close. “Yeah sure, it’s the least I can do.” She stood up and kissed the old woman as she shook her head, before heading towards the door.
Stella, in a daze, stood up and dragged a hand through her hair causing several tuffs to stand up straight. When she bent to kiss the woman, Dora winked at her. “You’ll not catch her with your hair looking like spike. Now have a good time and you can tell me all about it next time you visit.”
“You’re an old romantic aren’t you Dora.” Stella smiled warmly at her and then proceeded to follow Reggie who was waiting at the open doorway.
* * *
Reggie's apartment was a mix of expensive old and new. As Stella followed her inside, she could see that it suited Reggie's personality exactly. It was a subtle melding of old fashioned values and a modern savvy woman.
As she followed Reggie from the hallway into the kitchen, she was amazed at the size. It would fit the whole of her house. “Wow, this is fantastic!”
Reggie turned to Stella and gave her a smile as she glowed at the compliment. “My grandparents entertained a lot. According to my dad this was their second office.”
“There’s every possible convenience here…my god it’s a chef’s dream.” Stella’s eyes glowed as she saw the stainless steel French refrigerator, large range style oven, microwave installed into a wall within easy reach when in the kitchen. Stainless steel utensils hung from hooks and a butcher’s block installed into a middle island gave it that extra chef kitchen feel.
Reggie smiled. “I guess being a cook you would think that way.”
“I’m not in the cordon blue range but I’d be in heaven here. Not that I do that much of it these days,” Stella admitted with a wry expression.
“Why not?” Reggie watched several expressions flit across Stella’s face before she answered.
“It isn’t the same cooking for one. I’m sure you can cook up a storm with this equipment.” Stella fingered the elaborately tiled surfaces her eyes taking in the perfect match of the decorations.
“Oh, I think I once mentioned that I’m a basic cook…eggs and bacon for breakfast, microwave meals for dinner.” Reggie raised her hands and shrugged.
Stella chuckled. “ Reggie that’s sacrilege in a kitchen like this.”
“Well, no one is perfect.”
“No, they aren’t,” Stella agreed as she caught Reggie’s gaze.
With a shrug, Reggie disconnected the piercing gaze and pointed to the coffee maker. “I can make a decent pot of coffee. At least the machine does, I just buy quality beans.”
“You don’t have to do that Reggie. I’ll go home. Dora obviously had an ulterior motive in us meeting at her apartment. I’ll have a word with her during the week so it won’t happen again. I promise.” Stella felt the words wrenched out of her but she knew it was the right thing to say.
Reggie leaned against the bench and gave Stella a long hard glance. “How did you get to know Dora?”
Not wanting to admit the truth, Stella remarked, “Does it matter.”
“Maybe not but I’d like to know…please.”
Stella’s mind drifted to the moment she met Reggie again after they served together. Back then, she would have belligerently refused. Now she didn’t want anything but the truth between them. “I figured one day you’d come home and when you did I needed to be around.”
Taken aback at the reply Reggie frowned. “You were spying on me?”
“No, no never that.” When Stella saw the distrust in Reggie’s eyes she added, “Please don’t think that Reggie. I was worried about you. Once I knew you were home safe that would have been the end of it.” Stella’s eyes didn’t flinch, as she looked straight at Reggie.
Reggie for her part was astonished but in an odd kind of way, she was happy. With her head placed to one side she said, “That still doesn’t tell me how you met Dora. She never goes out of the apartment these days.”
Stella shuffled from one foot to the other as she debated how to tell Reggie about her meeting Dora. “She was crying on the lower steps of the building and trash covered the sidewalk when I showed up one day.”
“What? She never leaves the apartment! She can’t walk properly because her arthritis is acute,” Reggie cried in distress.
“Apparently the woman they sent to help wasn’t that helpful. She wasn’t a good timekeeper and Dora knew the rubbish had to be out or it would be there for another week.”
“Oh god, don’t tell me she decided to take the trash outside herself.” Reggie shook her head. As her anger mounted, her features took on a thunderous look.
Stella nodded. “I cleared up the sidewalk and took her back inside.” With a slight smile, she remembered the old woman’s independent streak about not wanting a doctor. “I wanted to call the doctor but she persuaded me not to. So I said as a trade off, I’d do what this woman was supposed to do for her.” Raising her hands she said, “Here I am.”
Reggie didn’t speak for a moment then with tears unshed in her eyes, she nodded her thanks. In a voice filled with emotion, she motioned to the coffee machine. “Take a seat. Coffee is required after that story. Damn I thought that agency could be trusted.”
Stella walked over to one of the modern bench seats and sat down then said, “The agency probably had no idea. Dora wouldn’t complain.”
“Yeah, but that means whoever was working there is still employed and doing that to others…”
“No, she’s not Reggie. I took care of it the next day,” Stella replied softly.
Reggie’s motions at the coffee machine stilled for a few moments. “Thanks.”
“You don’t need to thank me. I’m glad I met Dora. She gave me a sense of purpose.” Stella closed her eyes silently adding, ‘without you I was lost.’
Reggie turned and stood close by the coffee machine as she considered Stella’s last remark. Realization finally hit her. “I guess you and I should have talked before I left. I’m sorry I didn’t have the backbone, as you’d say, to do that.”
Stella cried out in anguish. “I didn’t deserve you Reggie. I know that now. You were offering me something that I once thought I had with Darien. I thought I was ready to move on, and that, in your words, I’d let go. We both knew that wasn’t the case…not totally. What you did was the right thing for you. It doesn’t make the ones you left behind feel any better. We all missed you dreadfully.”
“Thanks. The bitter irony is I missed all this too.” Reggie gave a general wave in the direction of the apartment but it encompassed the people she loved.
The soft whisper of the coffee machine signaled its process was ending. “Sorry, I didn’t ask you how you wanted your coffee. I remembered you always ordered espresso.”
Stella smiled wryly. “At least you didn’t totally forget me.”
Reggie replied, “How could I forget you Stella? I was in love with you, had been for most of my adult life. You’re hard to shake.”
Was there hope? Stella felt her mouth go dry before she finally said, “Yeah, like a sore head.”
Reggie didn’t reply as she passed over the coffee and they drank it in silence. Then after they’d finished, Reggie took a deep breath and quietly said, “We can try to be friend’s Stella if that’s what you want?”
Stella digested the offer for a few moments. Her hesitation caused Reggie to frown before turning away to place the used cups in the sink.
“I’d like that Reggie. Perhaps we can try and get back to what we almost had.” Stella said tentatively.
“We can’t do that Stella. I can’t trust you and probably never will. There will always be that hidden suspicion that if,” she hesitated before continuing. “If Darien came back how do I know that you won’t end up in bed together like the last time. I can’t open myself to that hurt again…I won’t let that happen!” Reggie felt the tears sting as she choked on the betrayal that still seared her soul.
A puzzled expression settled in Stella’s eyes. “I don’t know what you mean Reggie.”
“Oh please. Don’t lie to me now Stella there isn’t any point. It really isn’t any of my business anyway and when I had time to work all this out I realized that it never had been. We were just good friends and hardly lovers.” Reggie fought the tears and choked them back. She’d done enough crying over this episode to fill the Hoover Dam.
Stella jumped up from the chair, moved quickly to Reggie’s side and tugged at her chin so that they faced each other. “I am not lying to you Reggie. The last time I slept with Darien was in the army the night before she left me. That’s the truth. You have to believe me…please.”
Registering the distress and the plea Reggie closed her eyes for a second and swallowed hard. “You stayed behind with her. She implied it was you when I saw her at her apartment. It all made perfect sense.”
Stella shook her head then glanced around the room. There was a large leather sofa in a corner overlooking the courtyard garden from the balcony doors. “Come on Reggie, let’s sit down and I’ll tell you what happened. Is that ok?” Without waiting for a reply, Stella led the unresisting Reggie towards the sofa and placed her gently down before sitting next to her.
In disbelief Reggie whispered, “Why would she say it was you?”
Stella’s face diffused to an angry color as she realized that Darien had injected a poison into Reggie’s mind that might be insurmountable. Her mind screamed out one word–bitch! “I really can’t say what her reasons were. All I know is that it wasn’t me in her bed that day Reggie.”
The perplexity that overcame Reggie had her tugging at the ends of her hair. “Tell me what happened after I left you.”
“First, you have to know why I didn’t go with you that day. I was in total confusion. Darien’s appearance out of the blue had kicked me senseless. She was just there and all those old feelings surfaced. I’m not proud of myself Reggie but it happened. I thought she was once the love of my life…I guess I never knew the difference between lust and love.
“You spent time together before…how, how long?” Reggie’s voice wavered unable to comprehend the suggestion that Stella and Darien had been seeing each other before the wedding.
Stella turned to Reggie and took her gently in her arms so that they faced each other and Reggie could see her eyes. “I only met her in the bar prior to everyone coming back from the photo call. I swear to you.”
Nodding Reggie whispered, “Ok. Go on please.”
“You basically know the rest while we were at the reception. I was dumbfounded at seeing her Reggie. She’d eaten into my soul for so long and suddenly there she was. You seemed quiet but not overly worried about it. In fact, I thought you might have known she was going to be there and hadn’t told me.”
“You blame me?”
“Never! This was all me Reggie. I should have seen Darien for what she was years ago. I didn’t. I had this rosy picture in my mind of the lover I once knew. Have you ever found something, lost it and want it back so desperately you forget everything else even something or …someone more important in your life?”
Reggie whispered, “Yes.”
Stella acknowledged the simple word. “Well, that was me that day; at least I thought it was. You gave me an ultimatum when you left the reception early. I wasn’t ready for you taking possession of me in your life. Everything became a cloudy mess in my head.. I wish, and you don’t know how I wish, I’d just pushed my damned pride into a corner and gone home with you.”
“It wouldn’t have worked though would it Stella, not facing what you felt about Darien.”
“No, it wouldn’t. I’d kept an image I had of her in my head for so long that it needed purging. The only way to do that was talk to her. I had to figure out what Darien meant in my life. We went for a drink to a bar two blocks away. She wanted more than that. All I wanted was to talk and figure out the two women in my life. Strangely enough it was easy.” Stella’s lips curved into a smile.
“It was, how?” Reggie asked fascinated as her unshed tears disappeared.
Stella looked deep into Reggie’s eyes. “Yeah it was easy. She kissed me and it tasted like ashes. All I could think about was the kiss we shared and the feelings that had run riot inside me from that moment on.”
Reggie held her breath then exhaled as she asked, “What feelings?”
With a tender smile, Stella gently lifted Reggie’s chin and stared into the questioning hazel eyes. “When your lips touched mine I was transported to a place that offered me my wildest dreams. I found someone who loved me for me, who didn’t judge me, who would be beside me in the good times and the bad. You made everything right in my world.”
“How can you say that from a kiss?” Reggie whispered.
“Because you already had, Reggie. I never realized what a precious gift you offered to me until I finally pushed Darien off that damned pedestal I placed her on for so long. You were all I ever wanted Reggie and fool that I was I thought I still might have a chance. I was an idiot, how can you trust someone who lets you down.” Stella dropped Reggie’s chin and looked anywhere but directly into Reggie’s eyes.
There were a few moments of silence and then Reggie softly said, “All I ever wanted was to love you, and that meant even if you didn’t love me. I guess I ran away from what I knew deep down I’d always known. You could never love me the way I wanted. I should have had faith and faced you before getting on with my life. ”
Stella sighed heavily. “That’s partly true Reggie I’ll never love you the way you do me, because I truly believe I love you more. You can go around the world again, you can ignore me, and we can be like strangers. I’ll love you forever and any crumb of your time is all I’ll ask for, and if it means I have to watch you fall in love with someone else- I will. As long as you find happiness that’s all that matters to me now.”
Both the emotionally drained women contemplated the words that they had exchanged and the enormity of the next step in their relationship.
Then Reggie paused and whispered, “If it wasn’t you in Darien’s bed, who was it? From what you said she needed to pick someone up within the hour for me to see her at her apartment.”
Stella tried to dredge her mind back to that day. The part that held Reggie was as clear but the rest were like moving through muddy waters. Then she remembered something and whispered, “ Elaine.”
“ Elaine?” Reggie echoed.
“Yeah, yeah I remember her entering the bar just before I left. She was watching us and when I was in your office that last day, she mentioned that Darien had called me a limpet. How would she know that? Were they close friends?”
Reggie shook her head. “ Elaine wasn’t really Darien’s type. Though they did hang out together…surely she wasn't that desperate.”
There was another silence in the room, as the sorry mess began to unravel again, although this time it took another path. Stella stood up and said, “I guess I’d better go.”
Reggie did the same glancing at the clock on the wall it was five-o-clock. The time had simply flown by.
“My dad invited me for dinner…he thinks I’m too thin.”
Stella appraised Reggie’s slimmer figure that accentuated the still toned muscles. “You look great…but then I loved the curves.” Blushing at the spoken observation, she quickly sputtered, “Will you be joining the newspaper? If you do maybe we can have lunch one day?”
There was a long pause before Reggie asked, “How about dinner?”
Stella frowned. “Dinner? Aren't you going to your folks?” Stella’s eyes widened. “Oh, you mean another time, sure, absolutely you know where I am.”
Reggie chuckled and felt like a weight she'd been carrying around far too long dropped away leaving her feeling as free as a bird. “No, I mean tonight. Susan always makes enough for an army. She'd have been a great mess cook. Besides, I think they might be worried that if you and I can't see eye to eye I'll go off on my travels again.”
“If you're sure it’s ok, I'd love to have dinner with you and your folks.” Stella grinned, lifted her eyes a fraction to the heavens, and sent up a silent prayer of thanks.
“Great! Oh, and you owe me an iPod. I don't come cheap so it has to be the top of the range,” Reggie added.
With a wide smile, Stella said, “Oh no, don't tell me I have to sing for my supper and you want to listen to it later. I'd better tell you now that I'm no singer, not even in the shower.”
Reggie laughed and shook her head. “No not for your supper. I broke mine when I came back to the apartment after the reception and had all these evil thoughts about you and Darien. I figure it's the least you can do in the name of friendship.”
A dark cloud moved over Stella's features as Darien’s name came up again. Reggie saw it and moved closer to Stella. “What's wrong? You look like you've just lost your best friend instead of regaining her.”
“Have I though…regained your friendship? Will we have the specter of Darien over us the rest of our lives and you will never trust me? I wouldn't blame you...”
It was a fair question. Reggie gave it consideration before she placed her fingers over Stella's lips. “I think we’re going to have to take this slow and if things work out the trust will come naturally. What do you think?”
Stella swallowed hard realizing the chance that her dreams might be reality again. This time she wasn't letting her dreams go. With a beaming smile she replied, “Whatever it takes Reggie. I’m here for the rest of my life.”
Reggie sank back in the sofa with a goofy smile fixed on her lips. “Good. Are you really a terrible singer in the shower? Maybe one day we can check that out…you’ll need an impartial witness.”
Stella chuckled as she gazed lovingly at Reggie as she wondered if slow came with a speed up option.