Stories from the Hart: Caught in the Middle, Part 2

Caught in the Middle,  Part 2 (To read Part 1, click here.)  

I took a deep breath for as long as I could in order to stall. When I couldn’t wait any longer, I opened the door and walked into what looked like a battle of testosterone.

“No way, mate. Footy is so much better than American football. You guys have all that protective gear! Real men shouldn’t be afraid of getting hurt!” Julian said as he kicked up his feet on to the coffee table.

“Do you even hear yourself? When a sport is called something so girlie as footy, there is no way it’s any good!” Scott got up, walked over to the kitchen and grabbed another few bottles of beer. 

“You’re one to talk! Look at you, you’re drinking light beer!” Julian snorted, but took the bottle Scott offered him anyway. 

“Julian, can I talk to you for a second?” I stood behind him, hoping to God my pounding heart wasn’t loud enough for Scott or Julian to hear. 

He turned around to look at me for a few seconds, as if pondering whether or not I was serious about talking to him. I held my gaze, not to seem like I was challenging him or anything, but just enough to warn him we were about to have a serious conversation. 

We hadn’t had one of those since the day we broke up. 

When he got up, I turned to Scott, whose eyes never left the television. “Scott, we’re going down to the coffee shop for a bit, okay?” 

He nodded and seemed as if he couldn’t care less.

I grabbed my jacket from the coat rack and walked out the door with Julian following closely behind me.

“I feel like I’m being sent to the principal’s office,” he said, as we walked into the elevator. 

“If I’m going to let you stay here, I need you to be honest with me. I want to know what’s going on, what happened, and what happens next.” 

Julian laughed. “I feel like we’ve had this conversation before.” 

We did – the day we broke up. I used more or less the same words. It was something like, “If we are going to keep fighting for this, I need you to be honest with me. I want to know how you really feel about all this, why you feel the way you do, and where we go from here.” 

I must not be very creative. 

“It’s not funny, Julian.” 

“Z, come on. Lighten up.” 

I shook my head and exited the elevator. I headed straight to the little coffee shop on the first floor of our apartment building; my runaway place whenever I needed to be alone.

“Hey, Rodney. Can I have the usual?” I smiled at the owner. 

“And your friend?” 

“Espresso. Thanks.” Julian stopped me from taking out money from my wallet, and dug into his pocket. He took out a few crumpled up bills and left them on the counter. 

“They’ll be ready in a minute. Go ahead and take a seat,” Rodney said, flashing his trademark friendly smile. 

I started walking to my usual corner table. Noticing a giggly couple occupying it, I quickly turned around to head towards the other side of the room, bumping into Julian who had been following my every move. 

For a few short seconds, I froze. I hadn’t been mere inches away from Julian since our last goodbye hug. I found myself staring at his scruffy chin, suddenly remembering how it used to drive me wild whenever he’d kiss my neck. 

“Where would you like to sit?” 

I swallowed. “Corner… other corner,” I said, brushing past him and walking as fast as I could to the end of the room. 

Rodney came up to us with his black tray, and set our coffees on the table before Julian even sat down. 

As soon as Rodney was out of earshot, Julian grabbed my hand. “Look, Z, I’m really sorry about dropping in unannounced like that. I really didn’t know where else to go.” 

“Yes, yes, we’ve established that.” I let go of his hand, and crossed my arms against my chest. “You have no one else besides Danny, Hugo and me. We’re past that. What I want to know is what happened. How did you get kicked out in the first place?” 

Julian sighed. 

“I told you, if I’m going to let you stick around, I want full disclosure.” 

“But why do you need to know?” 

“Because! You, me and Scott under the same roof? That is already a strange enough situation. If there is more drama coming my way, I need to know about it. If one day Lisa, Lucy, or what’s her name comes barging through my door, and you guys end up having world war three in my living room, I want to be prepared for it.” 

“We’re not going to have world war three in your living room. I promise you.” 

“How do I know that for sure?” 

“Because she was very, very clear about never wanting to see or hear from me again.” 

His face fell, and I was suddenly speechless. I recognized that look; sadness, anger, helplessness, all rolled into one. 

“Julian,” I reached out and patted him on the arm. “If it’s too hard to talk about, I understand. I’m sorry.” As curious as I was, it was obvious he was still hurting. How could I be so insensitive? 

“It’s not hard to talk about, but it’s hard to talk to you about it.” 

I nodded. “I know, I know. We’ve barely spoken a word to each other in a long time. We used to be friends but we’re not like that anymore. I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking.” 

“No, it’s not that.” 

“I haven’t been very nice to you, I know. I… It was just easier to not talk to you or see you and… When you were standing at the door, I was just… I don’t know, scared, I guess. I didn’t really prepare myself for what it would be like to see you again.” 

“But we did see each other after the breakup. We met at Danny’s wedding.” 

“You waved at me from the other end of the ballroom. That doesn’t count.” 

“At least we were civil with each other. That’s got to count for something.” 

I laughed. “Yeah, I guess it does.” 

“Yeah, it does. We didn’t have ‘world war three’ at Danny’s and Emma’s wedding. That should count for a lot.” 

I smiled for a second longer than I should have. Julian was gazing into my eyes when I remembered he used to always say it was my smile he fell in love with the first time he saw me. 

I cleared my throat. “Look, if you don’t want to talk, it’s fine.” I pushed my empty coffee cup aside. “We should head back up before Scott gets worried.” 

“He seems nice.” 

“Scott? Yeah, he is.” 

“So… you’re happy… with him, I mean?” He wasn’t looking at me when he asked that. 

“What kind of question is that?” 

“I just… want to know.” 

“I thought you didn’t want to talk?” 

“No, you said I didn’t want to talk.” 

“I asked about you first and you didn’t answer me. Until you answer me, I’m not saying a word.” 

He shook his head and had half of a grin on his face. “Listen. This is how it’s going to be, okay? You tell me whether or not you’re happy, then I’ll tell you everything you want to know about me and Lisa.” 

“Why is it so important for you to know if I’m happy or not?” 

“Why can’t you just answer the question?” 

Julian still had that half grin on his face, but something told me he didn’t really find our banter amusing at all. 

I sat back, my way of showing him it was getting a bit weird. 

“Please just answer the question, Z. I’m begging you,” Julian said. Within seconds, the grin had completely disappeared from his face, and in its place was a pained expression. 

“Fine, I will. But tell me why.” 

“Because, Z. Every day since we split up, I’ve been going out of my mind wondering if you are happy and if breaking up was the right thing to do.” 

“Julian…” 

“Not a day goes by that I don’t think of you. I know we agreed that being together was too hard, too complicated. But what if we were wrong?” 

Before I could react, my phone started vibrating along with the roaring sound of Katy Perry’s “California Gurls.” 

Scott. 

“Please, don’t answer that. Not now,” Julian pleaded. 

I looked at him, then at my phone, then at him again. It literally took two seconds to decide what to do.

*****
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Book Review: Gold Coast Wives


Who doesn’t love a rags-to-riches story? In Gold Coast Wives, it’s riches-to-rags-to-riches. Kate Ryan’s life was turned upside down: she lost her job, her husband, her financial security – everything she knew and loved was no more. But then, opportunity knocked. When she opened that door, she found herself to be a part of a reality television show. All hell broke loose from then onwards. Kate is then a witness to bickering, scheming and backstabbing, diva-like behavior, and everything else one could imagine would happen on a reality show about housewives of the high society circle.

Kate’s character is strong – though at times she doesn’t believe in herself – and throughout the book, she manages to endure the endless drama between the wives without losing herself. She actually manages to find the humor in things and has all the clear attributes of a likable character. If you’re a fan of all the Housewives reality television shows, then this one is definitely for you. And even if you’re not, it’s the perfect read with a glass (or two) of wine by the pool this summer.

Bernadette Walsh is a native New Yorker. When she isn't busy practicing law, she enjoys reading novels and now writing them too. She also loves indulging in her not-so-secret obsession with reality TV. Bernadette has won several writing contests. She is the author of Gold Coast Wives, The House on Prospect, and Devil's Mountain. Her forthcoming novels, Devil's Shore and Devil's Daughter, will be published by Lyrical Press in late 2012. For more information, please visit Bernadette's website
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Stories from the Hart: Caught in the Middle

Caught in the Middle 

            I felt my chest tighten. I expected the delivery guy from the pizza place around the block, not him. After everything that happened between us, I thought we were dead to each other; finding him at my front door never even seemed like a possibility.
“Julian, what are you doing here?” I asked, despite the ache I was feeling in my chest.
He looked distraught. He looked… helpless and hopeless. He looked nothing like the Julian Mason I knew.
“I’m sorry to just show up here unannounced. I… I have nowhere else to go.” He looked over his shoulder, pointing me to the direction of his suitcases and bags.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I got kicked out of my apartment. I went to Danny’s house, but their apartment is cramped as it is with the new baby and all. I tried to go to Hugo’s loft, but it turns out he’s on an assignment in Frankfurt for three months and sublet his loft to a Korean couple. They had no place for me either.”
“And so you came here?” I had trouble wrapping my head around his choice of backup plan. “What on earth made you think that was a good idea?”
He shook his head. “I knew you’d react this way. I’m sorry, Z, I couldn’t think of anywhere else to go.” He ran his fingers through his messy hair and sighed.
“Zo? Who’s at the door?”
I almost forgot – my boyfriend Scott was sitting on the couch, expecting to enjoy his favorite pizza with me while we watched the Knicks kick the Mavericks' ass.
“It’s…” I wasn’t exactly sure how to answer him.
“Sorry, I didn’t realize you had company,” Julian said.
“I think there are quite a few factors you didn’t think through when you decided to come here.”
“Zoey, please. I know things between us are awkward now, but we used to be good friends. I moved to the other side of the world for you, remember? Besides Danny and Hugo, I have no other friends here. Where else am I supposed to go?”
  “I don’t know… a motel? A hotel? Anywhere but here!”
               Julian took a few steps back. Not because my tone had gone up a few octaves – as scary as it may have sounded – but because Scott was suddenly standing behind me.
               “Is everything all right here?” he asked.
               “Everything is fine. Scott, this is Julian.”
               “Hey,” Scott offered his hand. Julian reluctantly took it. “You want to come in, man?”
               I turned to Scott and gave him a nasty look. Why on earth would he want to invite Julian in?
               “I would like that very much indeed. Thanks, mate,” Julian replied, sounding more Australian than he had ever sounded before.
               “Scott! No! He’s not coming in.”
               “Why not?” Scott asked, quite oblivious to whom Julian was.
               “Because! This is Julian.”
               “And?”
               Oh God.
               I rolled my eyes. Scott knew very well who Julian was; he just wasn’t using his head. On our third date, he asked me why it took me a year to start dating again, and I told him our story – the story of how Julian and I had a roller coaster of a romance. I went through all the details of how I thought Julian was the one for me and how he moved from Melbourne to New York to be with me. He moved into my apartment, and we were engaged by our first anniversary, and it all went downhill from there.
               The evil stepmother (his) who tried to break us up by offering me money to end things with him, the conniving sister (mine) who plotted to ruin his photography career, the psycho ex-girlfriend (his) that kept threatening to have me kidnapped if I didn’t break up with him, and the ill father (mine) whose dying wish was for me to marry a fellow Christian, and the immigrations officer that kept harassing him. There was a whole soap opera around our relationship, and we finally got tired. We weren’t fighting each other, but we were constantly in battle and just couldn’t deal with it anymore. As much as we loved each other, it just seemed too hard and complicated.
               Scott wasn’t that great at remembering things like our anniversary or when we first kissed, but I would have thought he’d at least remember who Julian was.
               “Seriously? You don’t remember who he is?”
               Scott shook his head, and I wanted to scream.
               “Look, mate, I appreciate your invite, but I realize it was a mistake to come here. I’ll just go…”
               “Oh, wait. You’re Julian. The Julian.”
               Finally.
               “I guess so.” Julian looked down. He stuck both his hands into the pockets of his filthy jeans, like he always did. He looked so… cute.
               I hated it.
               “Zoey, come on. He’s got nowhere else to go.” Scott turned to me, and I could feel my cheeks flush.
               “Do you not see his luggage?” I couldn’t believe it. “He comes in and he stays, you know. You can’t invite him in now and kick him out later. You’d be comfortable with my ex-fiance crashing here with us?”
               “I’m more comfortable doing that than letting him sleep on the streets. Come on, Zo, grow up.”
               Bewildered, upset and annoyed, I left them both at the door and headed straight to my room, locking it behind me.
***
               I heard a dozen loud knocks coming from the other side of my bedroom door along with Willow’s high-pitched voice.
              “You’re going to have to come out sometime, Z. You can’t stay in there forever.”
  “Oh yes I can!” I insisted.
  “Umm, no you can’t, sister dear. You don’t have a bathroom in there.”
               Crap. She was right. But I intended to hold for as long as I could.
               “What are you doing here anyway?”
               “If you’re not going to come out, can you at least let me in?”
               I had an inner debate for a few seconds before I decided that letting Willow in couldn’t cause any harm. As the doorknob slowly turned, I pulled the door just enough to peek and make sure Scott or Julian wasn’t standing on the other side just waiting to push it open.
               Not even close – they were sitting down on the couch together, like they were old college roommates or something. It was truly a remarkably disturbing sight.
               Willow pushed the door open a bit further and pushed me aside as she walked in. “What the hell is going on here? I stop by to bring you some of the stuff you left at mom’s house last weekend and who opens the door? Julian! Freakin’ Julian Mason!”
               “Now do you understand why I’d rather lock myself up in here?” The frustration in my voice must have been more obvious than I intended because even her dog Elphie – named after the Wicked Witch of the West – looked terrified.
               “What is he doing here, Z?”
               “He said he got kicked out of his apartment and had no other place to go.”
               “You mean she kicked him out?”
               I nodded.
               “I wonder why…” Willow said, opening up the door a bit again so she could spy on the guys. “They seemed so happy the last time I saw them.”
               “You saw them?”
               “Bumped into them at that café over on Clover Street. They were holding hands, she was wearing a ring.”
               “My God! Does he propose to every girl he dates?” I said, even louder than when I thought I was being too loud.
               “Hey, hey. What are you so upset about? Aren’t you engaged to Scott, too? Do you say yes to every guy who proposes to you?”
                She was lucky I remembered she was the cute little sister who always used to curl up in bed with me whenever there were thunderstorms because if she weren’t, I would have kicked her out of my room already. But she was, and I loved her to death, so all I did was give her a nasty look.
               “Sorry, that was mean. I know the situation is a bit odd, but you’re never going to find out what’s going on unless you go out there and ask.”
               “Why would I want to find out?”
               “Because I can see it written all over your face! You’re curious as hell, and you’re pretending you’re not because you don’t want Julian to know you actually still care. Plus, you don’t want Scott to think you still care for him either. Am I right?”
               I shook my head. “When did you grow up and get so smart? Where’s the perky little kid who only cared about princess costumes and tiaras?”
               Willow rolled here eyes. “Just go out and ask him!”
               I took a long deep breath, as long as I could in order to stall. When I couldn’t wait any longer, I opened the door and walked into…  
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Book Review: Growing Up Beautiful


Star, Joanne and Casey are three girls who have absolutely nothing in common except for their desire to make it big as models in Milan in the one month they have there with an agency.

Star, who is foul-mouthed, occasionally obnoxious but probably has a kind heart deep down inside, has an additional agenda: to find her prince charming: a loaded rich man who can take care of her and her mother, and take them out from the slum life they were living back in the US. Too bad her attitude keeps her from getting jobs and the man she thinks is her financial savior has one too many secrets to hide.

Casey, naive and gullible, is so overwhelmed by everything, she can’t tell the difference between right and wrong, even when right (as in Mr. Right) is standing right in front of her.

Joanne, who has a Ivy League education waiting for her back home, is quickly the favorite at the agency and gets all the jobs everyone wants – and the photographer they all lust over too. Now that she’s in love with him as much as he’s loved her since the first time he saw her behind his lens, she can’t decide: should she stay in Milan and change the entire course of her life, or go back and lead the path her parents set out for her?

Growing Up Beautiful showcases the story behind the glitz and glamour of the world of modeling. This debut novel by Lori Jones features the raw, hard truth of what happens off the runway and off the pages of the glossy magazines, like only a true insider could tell. It’s certainly a page-turner, although some scenes were quite short and tended to jump to the next scene rather quickly. All in all, an enjoyable read for those who have always wondered about the world of modeling.

Lori Jones had a sixteen year modeling career from 1981 through 1997. Her career began after graduating from the Barbizon School of Modeling and signing on with the Wilhelmina Agency in Los Angeles. Bookings included runway, print for magazines, catalogs, TV commercials, and an album cover for Kool and the Gang's Ladies Night. Lori moved to Milan in 1982 and modeled in Milan, Germany and Spain over the next five years. Always interested in writing, she kept journals of her work experiences, which included her extensive travels throughout Europe and Africa, and the people she met along the way. Growing Up Beautiful is a fictional account of how three young models grow up in the foreign world of fashion in the 1980’s.

Stories from the Hart: Chasing Charlie, Part 2

Chasing Charlie by Shannon Hart, author of Until the End of Forever
Part 2 (To read Part 1, click here.)

I watched him wave goodbye to Mr. Dalton, the postman, just as he got one foot out of the door. Mr. Dalton must have said something to make him laugh because all of a sudden his wide, gorgeous smile was painted on his face. I felt my cheeks warm up. God, I missed that smile.

Charlie checked his watch before taking a left turn, heading down the street. I almost nodded when Dan asked if we should follow him, but common sense kicked in. I couldn’t even bring myself to get out of the car and talk to him, what use would following him be? It was a terrible idea. What if it made him even angrier than he already was?

Besides, I didn’t really know what to say to him anyway. I guess I didn’t really think this whole thing through after all. I ran on emotions; I raced back to Los Angeles, and I let myself come all the way down here with a fit-for-a-movie romantic scenario in my head. I actually pictured myself running into his arms, and him, not even allowing me to say I was sorry, holding me tight, not needing any explanations because he just loved me unconditionally. I should slap myself silly for having been that naive.

“What am I going to do?” I asked myself, a lot louder than I had planned. In fact, I didn’t plan on asking that question out loud at all.

“Do you want me to actually answer that?” Dan asked, taking off his chauffer’s hat and turning around.

“I don’t know what to do here, Dan. I mean, I came here thinking I could talk to him and try to win him back. But I don’t know where to begin.”

“Just begin with what everyone expects to hear. Just say you’re sorry.”

“I did say I was sorry! A million times! It’s not enough,” I said, still able to clearly see that hurt look on Charlie’s face the day he found out who I was.

“Maybe there was something wrong with the way you said it. Maybe you didn’t sound like you were sorry about what you did, but rather, sorry that he had to find out.”

I wondered when Dan turned from chauffeur to relationship expert, but the more important question at hand was, was he right?

I had just come back from the gym when I found him sitting in front of my building. I was happy to see him, but judging by the look on his face, I either looked hideous after my workout, or something pretty bad had happened. I went with my gut feeling and went with the latter. I was right.

At first, he couldn’t even say it. He just kept tightening his jaw every time I asked what was wrong. The half an hour we sat there together was pure torture, and when I finally said I was going up to my apartment to take a shower, he grabbed my wrist and said that my father’s lawyer contacted him and asked if our relationship was serious, because if it was, there were some confidentiality and some other nonsense type agreements that Dad (or rather, his stupid lawyer who had me followed for months) wanted him to sign before Charlie could create any “problems” for the family. Then, with hurt, anger and disappointment, he looked at me and asked, “Who the hell are you?”

I felt like a knife just went through my chest and the pain never really went away until I boarded that flight out of Paris. As soon as I stepped foot out of the plane, after two months of suffering, I felt warmth crawl back into my heart. Too bad that warmth turned cold as soon as I saw Charlie earlier at the diner.

“Miss, if you don’t mind me saying this…” Dan started saying, as he gave me a serious look, similar to the one my guidance counselor used to give me in high school. “Get the hell out of the car and go talk to him.”

“Excuse me?” Baffled by the sudden disappearance of Dan’s manners, I raised my voice. He was the most soft-spoken and gentle person I knew yet there he was, kicking me out of my father’s car.

“I’m sorry to be so harsh, Miss. But if you don’t get out of the car, you’re going to regret not taking the chance to make things right. You’ve come this far. He’s already mad at you, you’ve already broken up, what more do you have to lose?”

His directness caught me completely off guard, but everything he said made sense. I knew he was right, but my fear kept me glued to the backseat. I didn’t understand it myself, especially when I was so gung-ho about it before.

“Look, he’s walking back,” Dan said, lifting his brows, prompting me to quickly turn around and see for myself. True enough, Charlie was walking back towards the diner, with both hands stuck in his pocket. “So do you want to get out yourself or do I have to drag you out?”

I took a deep breath and unbuckled my seat belt. I opened the door and stepped out, nearly crashing into Charlie, who looked as pale as if he had just seen a ghost. I didn’t know I had that effect on people.

“Kate,” he said, with his eyes wide in horror. “What are you doing here?”

I could hear my heart beating so loud it was like it was outside my ribcage. With everything I had in me, I forced myself to open my mouth and say, “Can we talk?”

He seemed to need time to think about it, which I didn’t really take as a good sign. If he missed me as much as I missed him, he shouldn’t have needed to think twice, right?

“Charlie, please,” I said, feeling the tears build up in my eyes.

“What is there to talk about?”

“Charlie, come on. Give me a chance to explain… “ I begged.

“I’ve heard your explanation before, Kate. Is it a different one now?” He was still as angry as he was that day on the steps of my building. Two months had gone by, and he still didn’t have it in him to forgive me.

“The last time I tried to explain, you didn’t really want to listen. I know you’re angry. I know you feel betrayed and hurt and I’m sorry. I made a stupid judgment call. I thought the truth would scare you away and I didn’t want to scare you away. All I wanted was to be someone you thought you could be with and you know what,” I said, with tears streaming down my cheeks. “It was so easy for me to lie because I loved being that girl. I loved being the girl you thought I was. All the money, the VIP treatment… I didn’t need any of those things! I just needed you. I still need you.”

By then, I realized we had an audience. Next to us, I caught a glimpse of the dozens of diner customers with their noses against the glass window, trying to catch the drama that was happening. Not that I could blame them; it was pretty intense. I’d be sticking my nose to the window myself if I were them.

Charlie didn’t move. He didn’t look straight at me, but at least he was still standing there. He didn’t walk away like he did that day in front of my building. He stood there, pained and angry.

“I’m sorry I lied about who I am. But I don’t even like who I am. None of it matters if I don’t have you.”

“Kate, you don’t understand. Yes, I am mad that you lied to me. I’m furious because I thought I knew everything about you. But more than that, I don’t see why you felt you needed to lie in the first place. Why? I’m not rich, I don’t have a trust fund in my name, but did you think that meant I would be afraid to be with you because you have all those things?”

Then I was the one who wasn’t moving. I had a feeling he’d ask another question – one that I was most afraid of.

“Or did you think I’d just be with you for the money?”

And there it was – the dreaded question. God, I hated that question.

“I lied because I didn’t want to scare you off. A lot of guys are intimidated by women who seem to have more and I liked you so much the thought of scaring you off was scaring me! Charlie, I never meant to hurt you. I swear I was going to tell you but I just never thought there was an appropriate time.”

“For goodness’ sake, Kate, we dated for a year! You couldn’t find a time to tell me in 52 weeks?”

It was getting harder and harder for me to breathe. My chest was aching and my shoulders kept shaking from all the crying. My eyes were burning and I didn’t want to even imagine how bad my mascara and eyeliner had run.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to say. I’m sorry, Charlie. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I didn’t mean for it to get to this.” 

I waited for him to respond, but he didn’t. He was still just standing there, not moving, not reacting. He wasn’t doing anything at all.

“I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. I love you and more than anything, I want to be with you. But I get that it’s too hard… I mean, I understand that I disappointed you and… At this point, I’ll settle for forgiveness.”

I kept waiting for him to do something. The way he just froze there, I wasn’t even sure I saw him blink at all. But he didn’t. And after holding out for a few more seconds, I knew exactly what that meant. I nodded, understanding exactly what he was trying to tell me. It was over. We were completely and utterly over. There was no chance on earth that he’d forgive me and take me back. And I just had to deal with it. I blew it, and there was nothing I could do about it.

“Well, can’t say I didn’t try, right?” I said, before I took a few steps back. “Goodbye, Charlie.”

I turned around and headed straight for the car door. Dan had already started the engine. I guess he knew I had no hope and figured he’d help me make a fast getaway to save what tiny bit of dignity I had left. I couldn’t deny that I still hoped he’d call out my name and tell me to wait but even after I was fully seated and shut the door, he didn’t move.

“I’m sorry,” Dan said, as he fixed the rear view mirror then stepped slowly on the accelerator.

“It’s okay. I guess I deserve it.” I put my seat belt on and sighed. I didn’t know if I really deserved it, but I guess Charlie thought I did. I guess I hurt him more than I realized.

My cell phone started buzzing from inside my handbag. I was in no mood to talk to anyone, but I decided to check my phone anyway. My eyes all but popped out when I saw Charlie’s name and picture blinking on the screen.

“Charlie?” I said, as soon as I picked up.

“Tell Dan to stop the car,” he said, sounding as if he was running and out of breath.

“Stop the car!” I cried, frantically looking behind me. In reflex, Dan immediately hit the breaks, with screeching tires no less. In about two seconds flat, I had unbuckled myself and charged out of the car, ready for my second chance with Charlie. A dozen different scenarios had already started racing through my head.

Panting, Charlie finally reached the car. He took a few moments to catch his breath and kept wiping the bullet-sized drops of sweat from his forehead. I waited for him to calm down, hopeful and anxious.

“Look, Kate…” he started. He took a few more deep breaths. “I’m not ready to forgive you just yet. But… I want to try. I’ll need more time to trust you again… but we can be friends first if you want.”

It wasn’t exactly the answer I was hoping for. All those pictures I had in my head about him embracing me and never looking back disappeared into thin air. Instead of an embrace, and in the place of what I imagined would be a kiss, he was basically offering me a handshake instead. But then again, a handshake was better than nothing.

“That would be great,” I answered, not knowing what to expect next. Being his friend wasn’t what I had in mind, but it was definitely a better alternative to being his enemy.

“So… Umm… You want to grab a coffee? I know this really cool diner down the street,” he said, offering me his signature crooked smile – the first smile I had seen in months.

We didn’t exactly know how to just be friends. I imagined a lot of awkward silence and uncomfortable situations, but there was something in his crooked smile that told me even though we had to start from zero again, we were on the way to being just fine. 
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