Authors: R. L. Griffin
Copyright © 2013 by R.L. Griffin
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Printed in the United States of America. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law. Contents and/or cover may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any form without the express written consent of the Publisher.
Sometimes bad things happen in life that make it difficult to read, hear or even think about particular issues without our mind taking us somewhere we don’t want to go. This book is dedicated to one of my best friends, John P. Green. Thanks for telling death to suck it. I would’ve missed you tremendously.
She heaved in the toilet for the third time in a row, but it was only bile now. The noise echoed through the empty bathroom. Hunching over the bowl, she tried not to grasp the sides with her hands. Because she was more aware of her body and its reactions to stress, she hadn’t eaten or had any coffee this morning, thinking maybe she wouldn’t get sick. Pushing herself off of the cold tile floor and flushing the toilet, she spit the remaining bile from her mouth into the toilet. Fighting the urge to wipe the excess saliva on the sleeve of her expensive suit jacket, she pulled a few squares of toilet paper off the roll and patted her mouth. Pushing the door of the stall open, she examined the image she saw in the mirror.
What she saw gave her pause and she stopped just shy of the sink to take in her appearance. Her new outer shell was almost unrecognizable. She’d recently cut her long black waves into a straight, chin-length bob, currently tousled. Her weight loss over the past several months made her cheeks look sunken; she’d attempted to hide her sallow skin with makeup, but she still looked just a little bit haunted. The new grey suit she was wearing was wrinkled. Irritated, she smoothed down the length of the pencil skirt to where it hit just above her knees. Her soft pink shell underneath was chosen to make her look more fragile.
As if it’s possible to look any more fragile
. Some of her scars were visible above the collar of the shell; all perfecting the image Millie said she needed to show the world.
Washing her hands quickly, she dried them and pulled out a comb.
. She pulled the comb through her hair. Her stomach rolled again and she dug in her pewter handbag for her medication. She’d finally gotten around to going to the doctor, who diagnosed her with some sort of stress-induced disorder that causes her to throw up.
No shit, I diagnosed myself years ago
. Throwing the pill in her mouth, she swallowed it dry. Reaching into another pocket, she pulled out lip gloss and reapplied the pink color to her lips, trying to feel the least bit “normal.”
She popped a peppermint into her mouth and closed her eyes, counting to ten slowly before she pushed open the door and walked to the bench just outside the courtroom. As soon as she sat down, the door opened and the U.S. Marshal assigned to the courtroom called her name. Her heels clicked and echoed against the marble floor. The courtroom was full, but she had tunnel vision. She didn’t allow any of her terrified thoughts to enter her brain; she could break down later. In private.
Making her way to the witness stand, she concentrated on not tripping in the six-inch black pumps she always wore. They were her lucky heels for court and she needed them more today than any other day. She took a deep breath, sat down on the stand and took her first glance at the defense table. Her entire body shook with fear at the sight of the man sitting in an ill-fitting suit next to his attorney; she knew the entire case rested on her testimony.
Shoving the fear down inside her, she folded her hands in her lap and stared at them.
“Ma’am, please state your name for the record.”
George gazed out at the waves crashing against the shore as Cooper, Stella’s 100-pound Labrador-Golden Retriever mix, ran up and down the beach in front of the house. He woke early this morning and made coffee to take on his walk with Cooper. His eyes drifted up and down the shore line as Cooper attempted to catch the sea gulls that were taunting him. He and Cooper became fast friends when Stella left the dog with him and traveled to Montana, and now Cooper treated George as one of his people. They’d been on the beach for a couple of hours, leaving Stella to sleep. Stella was beginning to shows signs of her old self, the one he’d fallen head over heels in love with, but he could tell she was holding something back from him. She slept a lot these days.
His life had become a rollercoaster since the day this wondrous, broken woman walked into his bar. Stella had come into Finnegan’s, the bar he owned, and changed his life with her sad green eyes and witty banter. When they first met, she was completely closed off, wounded, and grieving, but eventually he felt her open up to him. They had many glorious months together before he’d bumped into that last wall that he couldn’t break. So he bolted, thinking it would be better just to rip the Band-Aid off.
He was wrong.
He knew he made a huge mistake the second he told her he met someone else, which was a lie. The walls he managed to push through came crashing down right before his eyes. The way she looked at him changed, all emotion dissipated, and she walked away like he was nothing; like what they had was nothing.
That was the
time George lost Stella.
He tried everything, short of begging, to get her back. He tried all the usual things: jewelry, acting casual, texting, even having friends argue his cause. Nothing worked until he saw her collapsed, Cooper lying next to her, on the ground in the park. He picked her up, threw her over his shoulder, and took her home, where they finally had it out. He finally told her his real story; finally told her the truth. He admitted that his real name was Willston George Finnegan and he owned the bar. He explained, with difficulty, that he’d been burned several times by women who found out he owned the bar and seemed to want to stick around for his money, so he had a strict policy of not giving out his name. He met Stella as George, and he loved her as George, not as Will. Stella breathed life back into George and he loved her for it.
Confessing that he loved her and missed her being in his life had been one of the hardest things he’d ever done. Stella was a loose cannon; he never knew how she was going to react. Since the time he realized he wanted her in his life, she’d been a whirlwind; teasing him, laughing with him, loving him. Stella couldn’t admit how she felt about him, but he’d grown to accept it, hoping in time she’d come around. He told her he would spend his entire life trying to put her shattered heart back together and he meant it.
That day, the day George found Stella and Cooper in the park, Stella seemed dazed and utterly devastated. She listened numbly as George bared his soul, and in typical form, she didn’t care about the fact he owned the bar, but was pissed he wasn’t completely honest with her. Stella told him that she was, once again, in the middle of an emotional upheaval.
she told him that her dead fiancé wasn’t really dead, but working undercover, that she’d just seem him. He’d been “dead” for four years, and she just saw him. At work.
Stella had been assigned to the Montana field office to babysit the cleanup of an ATF undercover operation that had gone awry. She told George her role was minimal; she was simply supposed to report back to the DC office. There was no real legal work involved. The problem was that not only was her ex-fiancé part of the operation, but her best friend, Patrick, had known he was alive the entire time.
George did what any scared shitless boyfriend would’ve done. He ran Stella and Cooper back to her house, where she confronted Patrick. Patrick tried to apologize and explain, but Stella wouldn’t give him a chance to. Stella was devastated. All the pain and all the healing over the last four years were for nothing; it was just practice.
Afterward, he drove them back to his house. George carried his broken love into his bedroom, undressed her and ran a bath. It was incredibly difficult not to touch her then, but Stella seemed so fragile. Later that night, when she admitted that she loved him, it was a like his heart grew three sizes. Stella told him she was uncertain that she could even be in a relationship, but she was willing to try. Happiness bloomed and filled every inch of him as they lay entangled in his bed. He’d slept with his hand on her tattoo, right where the half of a heart now appeared because of him.
He took her to the airport the next morning; they were sending her immediately to assist in the cleanup of the mess in Montana. The loss in his gut felt like the size of a cavern, but he put on a brave face. He couldn’t believe he was kissing her and seeing her off, watching her get on a plane with her former (and no longer dead) fiancé.
Cooper stayed with George while she was in Montana. She’d sent an email while she was on the flight with
; a message that made George want to fly to Montana to be with her while she worked. He printed the email and kept it in his wallet, always.
George or whatever the fuck your name is,
I’m on the plane, leaving you, and I’m miserable. This assignment will be long and I’ll be bored. Per our discussion, I will text you often. I plan on giving you what you need, George. You have given me what I thought I needed since I met you. Months ago, when you broke things off with me because you met someone else, I was coming to lunch to tell you that I was falling for you. I mean, hard. I was willing to try this thing, but I shut all that down once I heard you met someone. You know how I told you about one of my favorite authors who said everything that comes together falls apart? I still believe that. However, in that same book, it is said if you know that everything falls apart, stop grieving about it falling apart and enjoy the together time. I am going to enjoy us together. I promise.
I have always wanted you to be happy. I just never thought that would be with me. You, alone, made me realize that maybe I can be put back together. That I could possibly be happy. The realization that you could be happy with me is almost too much for me to fathom.
I love you. I love that you let me figure it out on my own (mostly). I will tell you what I don’t love, I don’t love that you know so much about me, but I don’t know that much about you. How selfish am I? I do know some things ... but I want to know everything. I don’t love that you give so much to me. I want to give you what you need. What do you need George? I know you’re thinking of a sexual comment to answer that question, which is fine, but I want to know what your heart needs. What does your soul need?
Do you need reassurances from me (I would) that I’m in no way interested in the agent I’m currently sitting 20 rows behind? If so, I can quickly give you those. Do you need reassurance that I will be dreaming of you every night in Montana? I can guarantee you, that after last night, that is absolutely the case. Do you need anything else, George? Because I plan on proving to you that I do, in fact, love you.
BTW- Please take care of Cooper. He has had my back longer than you have. Take him on his run; take him to the Dog Barkery. He likes the female collie that hangs there around 1:00-2:00 on Saturdays. Let him sleep with you, he can keep my spot warm for me. Maybe we could Facetime. Okay, just kidding.
I miss you already.
When George read that email he knew they’d be together, for real this time. Not just falling in bed every time they saw each other, although he really enjoyed sex with her. He wanted her in every way he could get her. He wanted to see her every day, see the wry smile on her exquisite face when she said something sarcastic. He wanted her to meet and love his family as much as he did. He knew he was asking for too much, but planned on being with her every step of the way until she accepted it. Accepted that they were made for each other—he’d known it as soon as they had real conversations on her lunch break when she was working at Cosi. His lunches with her became his favorite time of his day.