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Absolute Obsession
by C. Elizabeth

Category: Mainstream/Romance
Description: Triggering an intervention of fate, 42 year old Rose Gerbaldi, discovers her heart and soul have been forever united with beautiful, 30 year old, British movie star, Michael Terrance - - a discovery that compels her reality to firmly reclaim her, consequently devastating the very lives fate had so lovingly entwined.
eBook Publisher: Wings ePress, Inc., 2011 2011
eBookwise Release Date: May 2011

eBookeBook

1 Reader Ratings:
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [433 KB]
Words: 97823
Reading time: 279-391 min.


He took a deep breath. "All right, bear with me, please... I noticed your letter right away within the piles of fan letters that I get simply because it was just a letter. It didn't have hearts all over it, it wasn't flower-scented paper, there were no gifts attached to it... It was a plain letter like everyone used to write years ago, a letter that a friend would send..." He hesitated. "When I read it, I was surprised at...well... You weren't too far off base. That was exactly how I was feeling. Actually, it frightened me some."

Interrupting him, I said, "Sorry."

"That's all right, I got over it. Your letter made me feel better, you didn't seem to have a hidden agenda and you only wanted me to know that you enjoyed my work."

Of course I had no hidden agenda, I really did want him to know... Unfortunately, on the other side of that...he would definitely think me to be off my rocker.

He continued. "It was nice to get a letter that was real and didn't make me feel like another...how did you put that? Pretty face." He slightly snorted; it was a beautiful snort.

Neither of us said anything for a few seconds. I didn't know what to say--how do you respond to something like that?

"Hello! You still there?" he queried.

"Yes! Sorry, just thinking," I stated, reaching back in my mind.

"May I ask about what?"

Outlining the letter in my head, I replied, "Trying to remember everything I wrote."

"Oh, sorry. Certainly did not want to confuse you." He chuckled.

"Humph! That's not really hard to do right now." I laughed. "Well, I'm glad the letter made you feel better. You deserve to enjoy your newfound fame, without all that extra crap. I am truly sorry that you have to put up with that, but I guess there's good and bad with every job."

He tried to keep the conversation going. "I knew that you were older... Your letter was very articulate."

I laughed. "Ahhh... Sorry about that. When you use the terminology I use day in and day out, even in the most normal circumstances, I find it hard to write and talk like a normal person. It's something I'm working on though."

He chuckled. "What do you do?"

"I work in a financial management firm."

"A secretary?"

"Assistant, if you please!"

"Ohh, sorry. Assistant it is," he drawled, chuckling.

A comfortable silence.

"How did you find me?" I asked, not wanting the conversation to end.

"Well, your letter was one of the very few that I actually wanted to write back to, but, as you know, I didn't have a return address. By the way...that was very frustrating." He emphasized the word "frustrating", playing with me.

"Sorry," I interjected quickly.

He paused, then continued. "I have read your letter a few times."

"How many is a few?"

He snorted. "Well, let's just say...more than a few." He huffed. "Anyway, I thought I would look your name up. You did give me the city where you lived, and your name isn't that common. I wanted to see if I could find an address to write you back, maybe even send you an autographed eight by ten glossy of me." He chuckled. "But of course, there was no address, only a phone number... It took me a while to get the nerve up to actually ring you. As I said, I didn't know what I was going to say."

I was trying to pick up every little bit of emotional expression I could get from over the phone. I needed to see him in my mind's eye, with that voice, his real voice and accent, how handsome he was. Get a grip.

"I'm glad you did call," I said, feeling that the conversation was about to end. But it didn't.

* * * *
* * * *
The Whole of life is but a moment of time.
It is our duty, therefore to use it, not to misuse it.
--Unknown
* * * *

Eight

"Is it parky there right now?" he asked.

"Is it what?" I asked.

He laughed. "Sorry, is it cold there right now?"

Interesting use of words. "Yes, very--it's about minus twenty degrees Celsius."

"Brrrr," he grumbled under his breath.

I laughed. "That pretty much sums it up."

He seemed very interested in my life, asking me all kinds of questions, and I gladly answered all of them, informing him of my experimental cooking fiascos that passed the winters, as well as my passion for gardening. He seemed at ease talking to me, teasing me about being an Eskimo and living in an igloo and, of course, I confirmed that it was true.

His life was interesting. His dad was Irish, his mom was British and he had been born in Dublin, Ireland, but when he and his twin sister were one year old, they moved to Plymouth, England, to be closer to his grandmother, where he'd lived up until five years earlier. Then he had moved to London to jump-start his career, and once he was successful, he helped his parents buy a country home closer to him. He said it was because his mom wanted to keep an eye on him, but he was also certain it was so his twin sister, Mary, could drive him crazy. He didn't go into great detail about his work and I didn't ask, enjoying hearing about his real life.

We talked like two old friends who hadn't talked in a long time and were just catching up. I laughed so much my mouth was sore; he was very witty and funny when he was relaxed and could be himself. It made me happy that he felt comfortable, and it seemed he was enjoying it too.

"You know how I said earlier, that I knew you were older because of how articulate your letter was?" he hinted.

"Yeah," I replied, knowing exactly what he was trying to find out but not wanting to come right out and ask me.

Silence.

"Okay, I'll let you off the hook, but I bet you can't guess my age. I'll give you three guesses, but first a little background," I said.

"Brilliant," he responded.

"Well, I have three grown children." He gasped. Ignoring him I continued, "I have two grandchildren." He sucked in his breath. Continuing to ignore him, I had to get it out. "The kids are a his, hers and ours situation. I have one step-daughter and two are mine. Their ages run from twenty-one to twenty-five years old."

"You're married?" It sounded as though he were affirming it more for himself than asking me.

"Yes," I confirmed.

His breath drew in heavily. I wasn't sure if he was going to hang up, but he seemed to gain control again. "All right, what are your children's names and ages?"

"My oldest daughter, Alexis, is twenty-five. My step-daughter, Anna, is twenty-four and my youngest daughter, Serena, is twenty-one."

"Oh." The wheels were spinning in his mind trying to figure out how old I was. "How old are your grandchildren?"

"Tamara is five and Rene is nine months."

"And they belong to whom?"

"Alexis and Carey."

"I'm assuming Carey is your son-in-law, not daughter-in-law?" He chuckled.

Giggling at his assumption I said, "Yes." Silence. "Hello, you there?" I said, thinking he'd hung up on me.

"Yes, I'm trying to do some math in my head--give me a moment."

"Okay, I'll wait." He was whispering under his breath trying to put the ages together.

"All right, well my first guess would be...fifty-three."

"Not even close!" I snarled.

Chuckling, he said, "All right...all right. Younger I take it?"

"Yes!" I hissed.

"Fifty-one?"

"Nope!"

"Forty-nine?"

"Nope!"

"How can you be younger than forty-nine?" he questioned.

"Well, I'm only forty-two."

"You're only forty-two?"

"Yes, that's a fact." I giggled at his surprise.

"How can that be?" he breathed.

"I had Alexis when I was very young, too young. Then I met Jim and Anna, then I had Serena when I was twenty-one."

Silence.

He finally spoke. "Well, forty-two isn't old, is it?" he responded, questioning himself.

"No, I don't think so."

Grain entered his voice, rubbing against the inside of his throat. "Thank you for being so honest with me. Anyone else would have strung me along just so that they could talk to Michael Terrance." There was utter distaste in his words when he said his own name.

"Michael," I began. "I may not volunteer all information, but if you ask me a question, I will answer honestly. I don't believe in basing any kind of human relationship on half-truths or deceit. I hope you can believe that."

"You know, I do," he confirmed. "You're very easy to talk to."

"That's not good," I cautioned under my breath, shaking my head.

"Why?" he asked, his voice rigid.

"Well, if I'm easy to talk to then you'll let your guard down and you'll say things you don't really want to say," I explained. "You don't know me from Adam--I could be a complete nut job and when you hang up the phone, you'll run the conversation through your mind..." I stated, pausing, "...and think to yourself I shouldn't have said that. Then you'll be freaked out for the next few weeks, thinking that it's going to show up in the papers."

Whistling through his teeth he responded, "You can read me... I've already done that."

"Well, try not to worry about it." He needed to understand. "When I have a conversation with anyone, and it doesn't matter who, that conversation is between me and them and no one else, unless of course someone is going to hurt themselves. I will never repeat anything we talk about to anyone, not even my family. They'll know that we talked, but I won't give any critical details about our conversation. That...I promise," I stated, trying to ease his worry a little.

"Thank you," he breathed, relieved.

I looked up at the clock. "Oh my God! We've been talking for almost two hours. Are you calling from a cell phone?" I blurted out a little too loudly.

"Yes."

"This is going to cost you a fortune!" I stated, agonizing over the thought of the phone bill.

He laughed. "I can afford it."

"That's not the point!" I half shrieked. He grunted. Calming my voice I continued, "But I should let you go. I'm sure you have more important things to do than talk to me." I didn't want the conversation to end--he was fun and easy to talk to--but Jim would be home soon.

"Not really...but I guess I should let you go." He hesitated, not wanting the conversation to end any more than I did.

I sighed. "Sorry, I really should go."

"Can I ring you again?" he asked hesitantly, faltering on the question.

"Sure," I said, with too much excitement.

"Are there other numbers that I can reach you at?"

Giving him my cell and my work numbers, I informed him, "I only have my cell on in the car, I always turn it off otherwise."

"Oh and the car is the safest place for your mobile to be on," he bantered.

"I have blue tooth." Both of us laughed.

"Well, have a good night. Cheers," he softly said.

"You too, good night," I said, not wanting to hang up the phone.

"Cheers."

He was gone.

* * * *
* * * *
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing
--Helen Keller
* * * *

Nine

Hanging up the phone, I stared at it in a daze, trying to remember every facet of the conversation, running it over and over in my mind. My fantasy world stayed behind the wall during it, but once the receiver was safely cradled on the base, the walls fell and it surged to the forefront... Stopping it was the first priority. Michael was just a young man, a young man who needed someone to talk to, someone that made him feel normal, and that was the most important thing--it didn't matter what a loon I was. My face radiated heat as my fantasy world flooded back to me in a tidal wave; it was crystal clear and not on fast forward. I loved the idea of the character I had created, but he wasn't real. Michael was.

Time had gotten away from me; it was 8:00 p.m. Damn. I had to put something together for supper; Jim was surely going to be home soon. Wait a minute. Why hadn't he phoned? Oh, I guess he had tried to call, but the phone would have been busy...oops. He would ask about it and I would tell him the truth, even though I had no idea how to explain the embarrassing letter and why Michael had called me.

Pulling out cheese slices and a can of tomato soup, I waited for Jim, trying figure out how to start the conversation, more afraid that his patience would have run out and it would put him back in a jealous, controlling demeanour.

"Hello," Jim called from door.

Jumping up, excited and afraid to hear his voice, I ran to the door, throwing myself around him, hugging him hard.

"Well, hi!" he said, catching me. "What's this for?"

"I just missed you!" Letting go I said, "I'm making grilled cheese and soup for supper. Are you hungry?"

"Yeah, starving," he said. "Sorry I was gone so long. Things got a little out of hand at work. I tried phoning but it just kept ringing busy. Were the phones out?"

"No, I was on the phone." Flipping the grilled cheese, I kept my eyes down.

"Who were you talking to for so long?" he asked, making himself a drink.

"Michael Terrance." My voice quivered, and I glanced sideways at him.

"Michael who?"

I watched his eyes to see if that old possessive nature was returning. Nope, not so far...just curiosity. "Well, let's sit and eat and I'll tell you about it. It's really quite interesting."

He sat at the end of the table, me on the left side. Spooning the soup into my mouth as fast as I could and not talking right away made Jim suspicious. He looked up from his soup, and there it was: his eyes glazed over as he narrowed them, his voice deep, threatening. "Is this something I should be worried about?"

"No! No, not at all."

Cocking his head to one side, lips tight around his teeth, he glared at me, waiting for an explanation...I think.

Trying to smile I began tentatively, "Really Jim, it's nothing. Actually, it's really kind of stupid."

Gripping the end of his spoon, using it as his safety net not to blow, "Okay, let's have it!" he demanded.

Taking a deep breath, I told him about the letter and how it had embarrassed me. "I didn't even think he would read it. Really, what are the chances that he would read it?" Rolling my eyes, I tried to make light of it... It didn't work.

"Go on!" he pushed, holding his spoon just above his bowl, glowering.

Looking down, filling my spoon and dumping the soup back in my bowl, I continued, "Anyway, he phoned today to talk about my letter." Glancing back up at him, I hoped to see something more pleasant. Nope.

"And?"

I shrugged. "He just wanted to let me know that he found my letter interesting and that it made him feel good. It made him feel better about the people out there, that someone understood how he was feeling." I was speaking a little too quickly and sure that Jim had to strain to catch all my words.

"And?"

"Well that was all...really, nothing much else."

His eyes turned into little slits, lips drawn back, pursed, a look I hadn't seen in many, many years. "It seems to me the phone was busy for a hell of a lot longer than your perception of the conversation," he hissed through his teeth.

Attempting to ignore it, I said, "We talked about simple stuff too. I told him about you and the kids, we talked about where he grew up and about his family. Really, Jim, it was nothing. It was a little weird actually, having this huge star phone me, but that was all it really was."

His facial features softened; he could tell I was telling the truth. Then he pulled his head back, looking at me, scowling. "Are you going to be talking with him again?"

"He asked if he could call me again and I said yes. I didn't think it would be a big deal. I'm just someone he can talk too and feel normal. Besides, Jim, he's only thirty years old. Is that okay?" I asked, hoping it was.

"Well, there really isn't anything I can do about it, is there?" he responded, with sarcasm injected.

"Of course there is. If it bothers you, the next time he calls I'll tell him not to call again," I stated, not really wanting to do that, but I would.

Jim scanned my face, looking for any signs of doubt. "No..." Piercing my gaze with his, he continued. "...that's fine, but if it gets out of hand, I'll know about it." He used his threatening voice, the one that proved he meant business.

Patting his other hand I reassured him, "Yeah, I know. Everything is fine." I got up to hug him; he shrugged me off. It did bother him, but he trusted me.

"I'm going to bed." I smiled, winking devilishly at him.

He rolled his eyes. "I'll be there in a little bit. I'm a little too wound up from work."

"Okay," I said, kissing him with a little bit of force behind it.

"You really have to get that under control--you're gonna kill me." He laughed.

"Hmmm, ya think... Good night."

"Good night, babe," he replied.

* * * *
* * * *
Without struggle, there can be no growth.
--Chinese proverb
* * * *

Ten

The whole night went by without one interruption of sleep. First thing in the morning, I ran to the mirror to see if the dark circles under my eyes had faded some; they had a little. My face was looking better and better everyday, more like my own age.

Jim was standing in the kitchen. "Morning," I chimed, pouring coffee in my travel mug.

"Morning, babe," Jim said, kissing my cheek... That was new. "It's cold out there, minus twenty-eight Celsius and minus thirty-four with the wind chill. Dress warm," he ordered.

"Okay." Sighing, I put my coat and shoes on. Jim followed me out to the garage and kissed me with some intensity. I looked at him from the corner of my eyes, confused and shaking my head. I jumped into my truck.

The radio was still turned off in the truck, and I left it that way, preferring to be alone with my normal thoughts. Except my fantasy world was trying to force its way to the front of my mind, though not with as much intensity. Nevertheless, I started thinking about him, just as it was before... Not only did I have the face, but the voice and the personality to go with it. He was real.

Curiosity got the best of me, I searched for Michael Terrance on the Internet. There was a staggering amount of crap about him; it was shocking. People had even created web sites specifically dedicated to him, each having disclaimers so he couldn't sue them for what they put on it. Thoroughly disgusted, I closed that tab and turned to a game just as my phone rang.

"Rose speaking."

"Hiya," that beautiful, British accented voice said.

I felt the heat rush to my face, and my hands started to sweat... I reminded myself to keep control. "Hey," I said. "How are you?"

"I'm all right. How are you?"

"I'm good, thanks." My voice not so steady.

"Is this too soon to ring you again?" he softly asked.

"No, this is good. I don't start work for another twenty minutes or so," I stated, not entirely answering his question. "What are you doing up so early in the morning?"

He laughed his beautiful laugh. "I don't get to sleep in! I have to be on the set in about half an hour. I thought I would ring you whilst I can, because I don't know how the day is going to go. I may not get a chance later."

"Oh, how'd you sleep?" I asked, not sure what else to say.

"All right, and you?"

"Really good. First time in a long time I slept through the whole night."

"That's good, but it's not good if you're not sleeping," he warned.

"It's just one of those things."

"Yes, I do know what you mean," he agreed. "Well, I should get going, I just thought I would ring and see how you were doing."

"Okay, thanks for calling. It was nice to hear from you, again."

"Have a good day, cheers."

"You too."

And he was gone.

Short and sweet, that was weird.

At lunch time I sat in the lunch room even though talking to Michael made me want to be alone with my thoughts again, but it was best not to push it. The table was strewn with all kinds of newspapers and magazines; everyone scrambled to get a piece of one or the other. Not me--I just wanted to eat and stay in the real world, holding a couple of small conversations, but mostly just smiling and nodding in all the right places.

"Hey, you guys, did you read this?" Tania squealed as she started reading an article. Of course, it was a gossip magazine. I rolled my eyes and shook my head.

"Michael Terrance was found in a hotel room with a stripper last night in L.A. He apparently was so drunk, he claims he didn't know what he was doing." My teeth clenched together, and my blood pumped against my ears. She went on. "The stripper claims that he was a little forceful with her and he's now in a jail cell." She looked up from the paper. "Isn't he supposed to be doing a movie right now?" she asked, looking around the table to get confirmation.

"Yes, he is!" I hissed. "How can you read that crap--none of it's true!" Not able to control my fury, fire blazed up my throat. "He's not in a jail cell, and I'm sure he's on the set of the movie, right now!" I screeched. Stop it, stop it. Everyone's looking at you like you've lost your mind.

"How would you know if he isn't in a jail cell? The paper says he is!" Tania eyed me suspiciously.

Oh! How I did know, because when he was supposedly in a jail cell, he was talking to me. Composing myself, I calmly said, "Of course I don't know, it's just...those damn magazines make up so many stories, and ninety-nine percent of them aren't true. I don't think it's very nice. It just bugs me."

"Oh well, I like them." She smirked, shrugging her shoulders.

"You would!" I snapped, standing up, never really liking her all that much anyway. I had to leave before the fire burned my throat again and exploded. Stupid people. If they only knew how much that bothered Michael, they wouldn't be so damn quick to accept it. Damn it! Absolute wrath was running through my veins. Michael needed to be defended, and that outright pissed me off. Stupid people! The rest of the day Tania didn't say a word to me, but that was fine by me--she was an idiot anyway. Saying good night to Ray, I needed to get home to let off some of the steam.

"Hello," I called from the door.

"Hey," Jim replied.

"Hey, Mom," Serena said.

"What are you doing home?" I asked her.

"Took the day off. I was getting sick of all the arguing!" Rolling her eyes, she shrugged.

"Oh, nice to see you." I never really saw Serena very much. She usually worked into the early morning hours so she was sleeping when I went to work and when I came home she was at work. It was nice to have her home for supper.

Kissing Jim I said, "Hey."

"Hey, how was your day?" he asked.

"Very, very long."

"Sorry," he said, his tone consoling.

"That's okay. What's for dinner?"

"Roast."

"Mmm, smells good. How long?" My appetite had come back somewhat but still wasn't great.

"About an hour." Pecking my cheek he suggested, "Why don't you go have a shower and put your jammies on?"

"Maybe I will... Jim?"

"Yeah?"

"Do you want to watch a movie tonight?"

"Sure, what do you want to watch?"

"I don't care, just pick something."

Jumping in the shower, I let my mind wander a little bit to Michael and let the heat soak into my bones, taking the stress of the day away. It was interesting how there wasn't an urgency to talk to Michael, like he would always be there, a good friend.

Looking forward to supper, I sauntered downstairs, Jim and Serena were in the living room arguing. "What are you two arguing about?" I grouched. Jim was grinning and so was Serena; it was the usual way they argued.

"Dad wants to watch some blow 'em up, kill 'em till their dead movie!" Serena whined.

"You said I could pick!" Jim said, flashing a mischievous smile.

"Oh, you two are horrible! Just pick something good!" Rolling my eyes I thought, My children, before shaking my head and walking away.

Serena ended up winning in the end. She knew what I liked to watch, and Jim usually did too, but I think he was just trying to antagonize Serena with his "shoot 'em up" movie. I lay down on the couch, with Jim settled in his big lazy boy and Serena lay on the other couch. We watched the movie in silence, and it helped take my mind off things.

"I'm going to bed," I said, stifling a yawn.

"I'm right behind you," Jim said.

"Good night, Serena." I smiled, kissing her cheek.

"Good night, Mummy." She of course would stay up and play video games on the big screen all night...her usual.

* * * *
* * * *
How can I tell that the past isn't a fiction designed
to account for the discrepancy
between my immediate physical sensations and my state of mind?
--Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
* * * *

Eleven

Weeks went by and Michael stepped up the phone calls to two or three times a day, because emailing was definitely out of the question--way too risky. He never gave me his phone numbers and I never asked. Most of the time our conversations were short; his schedule didn't give him much time to talk to anyone. Every so often he would try to find out what I looked liked; he said it was only so he had the right mental picture in his mind when he talked to me. I would simply tell him "a little bit round, buck teeth, green eyes, and grey hair." The only truth in that statement was the green eyes; my hair was actually brown, nothing fancy, just brown and, of course, no buck teeth.

We talked about his frustrations with the papers, not having any privacy, yet we never talked about the projects he was working on in detail. He preferred to talk about me, always asking how my family was and what they were doing, what was new in their lives. After our conversations I would give Jim a little run down about what was going on in Hollywood, without giving away too much detail. Jim seemed a little perturbed, but he was okay; he cocked it up to my mothering instincts...always trying to look after people. I tried to do the same, but something was tugging at me from the inside, and I didn't know exactly what.

My sleeping wasn't any better, and Michael always asked about it. He seemed very concerned, but I would tell him the same thing, time and time again.

"Good morning, Beautiful," Michael said with his usual morning enthusiasm.

"Morning."

"How'd you sleep?" he asked again.

"I'm fine, I'm not at the collapsing point yet. I can still function." I snickered.

He chuckled. "You really should do something about that, you know."

"I know. It'll pass."

His windpipes tightened as he spoke. "Rose! It's been almost four months. I think it's getting out of hand, luv."

"Maybe you're right. I'll think about it."

He sighed, knowing full well that I wouldn't think about it nor do anything. We had come to know each other very well, especially the tones in our voices. I was even able to understand our conversations and all his British slang, but it didn't come easy--he probably repeated every sentence he ever said, twice, using proper English words.

"Do you have a big day today?" he asked. I could tell that it was going to be a long conversation day--he apparently had time.

Moaning at his question I responded, "Oh, probably. Everything's a rush around here."

"Well, I guess we both have to try and stay focused today. We both have big days," he said, an ulterior motive in his voice.

"You always have big days." I laughed, echoing it with sarcasm.

"Yes, I suppose I do, but today is especially big." He was trying to get my attention.

Knowing the tone in his voice, the one that he used when he wasn't going to offer any information unless some interest was shown, I took the bait. "Want to tell me about it?"

"Well...I have to do a luv scene and, to tell you the truth, I haven't been looking forward to it since the beginning of filming. My co-star isn't a very nice person. Honestly she's duff and I don't like her very much, so it's a lot harder to focus when you don't even like the person you're suppose to be in luv with and...it doesn't help matters, when all I do is think about you constantly."

I sighed.

"Sorry," he apologized. "I guess that really isn't something you wanted to hear."

"No, no, that's okay. I just don't know what to say. I don't know if I should touch on the fact that you have to do a love scene with someone you don't like or the thinking about me part, I haven't decided yet," I said, trying to make the conversation lighter.

He laughed. "Well, why don't we touch on the luv scene. Maybe you can help me focus there."

"Me! Are you crazy? I know nothing about that stuff!" The words jumped from my throat.

Being clever, he said, "Right...then let's talk about the thinking of you constantly."

"Hmm, decisions, decisions?" I questioned, trying to be evasive.

"Probably the luv scene problem would be best," he added, his voice light.

"Wait! How intense is this love scene exactly?" I was utterly terrified of what he might tell me.

"Completely starkers," he said, being naughty.

I felt the heat rush to my face. "That's not fair!"

"What isn't?" he asked innocently, pretending he didn't know what I was talking about.

"You expect me to help you focus on a love scene, where you're right down to the skivvies, and then you expect me to stay focused? Forget it, I'll be a nervous wreck all day!" I cried. He went into a fit of laughter. "Well...I...guess...you...have...a...point."

"Not fair!"

He calmed himself. "All right, all right, I guess we'll leave both of those things alone for today, but I do have to go now."

"So do I, and thanks a lot."

"What? We didn't talk about either of them."

"You did that on purpose didn't you?"

"No! Honest, luv, I didn't, I really thought you might be able to help me focus, honest!" I could tell he was trying to stifle his laughter.

"Well, I hope you're focused because now I have the mental picture in my head and I'm going to be in ruins all day!" I growled at him.

"Sorry, I really didn't mean to do that. It's just work for me and sometimes I forget."

Calming down, I said, "It's okay, I'll get past it, but I have to go. There are piercing eyes on me telling me to go to work."

"Okay, I'll talk to you later. Have a good day--cheers," he said.

"You too. Bye."

He was gone.

Looking up, I saw Ray standing there smiling. "Good morning," he said. "Are you okay? You look a little anxious."

"Yeah, I'm fine!" I snapped. "Let's get to it."

That night I woke up at 1:00 a.m. in near panic, sweating, tears running down my face. My heart was being strangled and my soul was scorched. Sitting up and trying not to disturb Jim, I scoured my mind, trying to find what it was that had me so pain ridden. There was no recall of a dream or even a thought; there was absolutely nothing there to justify the inner torment being felt. I lay back down, clutching my chest, trying to calm myself. I eventually fell back to sleep, but it was fitful.

* * * *
* * * *
Friends are quiet angels who lift us to our feet
when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly
--Unknown
* * * *

Twelve

Driving into work, my thoughts were focused on the panic that I felt the night before. Why was I crying? I spent the drive trying to figure out what had brought that on. "Incoming call," my blue tooth lady said, snapping me out of my thoughts.

"Hello."

"H...Hiya," Michael choked out. His voice sounded jaded.

"Michael, are you all right?"

"Yes."

"You don't sound all right."

His voice broke. "I am."

Not wanting to ask him direct questions, I did the best I could. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"No...not really, not right now anyway."

"Okay. How did your day go yesterday, with the love scene?" I asked gently, trying to redirect the conversation, even though my face was red hot at the thought.

"Horrible! I hated every minute of it, but I stayed as focused as I could. It's completed, and I won't have to do that again, well...not with her anyway," he said, chuckling. My diversion worked; he sounded better.

"How did you sleep last night?" he asked, concerned.

"Not well."

He sighed; he was truly worried about me. "I wish you would do something about that." He knew my aversion to taking pills, so he usually didn't push the subject.

"No, I don't think so." I kept hoping he would drop it.

"Even if you take a very mild dose and try to get yourself back into a sleeping pattern, then you can stop taking them. I wish you would. I'm worried about you not sleeping."

"Michael, believe me... I'm okay! Besides, if it was that bad, Jim would make sure I had something. Honestly, I'm okay."

"I don't like it!" he grumbled.

"Are you sure you're okay? You really don't sound like yourself," I asked, trying to deflect the conversation away from me.

"I'm tired. I didn't sleep last night." He did sound exhausted.

"Look who's talking, telling me to take something, are you?" I stated, accusing him.

"No, I don't do pills either," he confirmed.

"Hmm," I said.

"Rose?" His voice sounded unstable.

"Yeah."

He took a deep breath. "You didn't happen to see the papers yesterday, did you? I know you don't pay attention to that stuff, but something was out there, and it was front page."

"No," I drawled. "Should I have?"

He was scared; I could hear it. "I just didn't want you to believe it, if you had, that's all!"

"Michael," I said in a calming voice, "you know me. Even if I did see it, I wouldn't believe it, because you tell me everything anyway. I don't want you worrying about what I'm thinking or believing. Just look out for yourself--you're the one that's out there, not me." He didn't say anything.

"Michael, when is this movie of yours done?"

"It was suppose to be done already, but we're behind schedule and it seems to be taking forever to get things in order. As you know, Marnie is not very reliable and she only shows up when she feels like it. She has all the production schedules off, not to mention that she is driving us all a little barmy when she doesn't show up, because then I sit there most of day trying to do as many shots as I can without her, but it still doesn't work."

"Do you have any other projects immediately after this one?"

"No, not until this one is done, but they're giving us a week off in three weeks, regardless."

"What about publicity shots, interviews, etc. on your week off?"

"No, none."

"Well, you need to go away, get out of the spotlight. This stuff is torturing you. Is there anywhere you can go?"

"Luv, I'm apparently world wide! There aren't many, if any, places that I can go," he said, his voice allowing the frustration to seep through.

"I'm sorry, I know, but there has to be some place that caters to the stars and that is discreet."

"There is one place that I know of."

"Then book yourself in there," I insisted. "You need to do this--you'll feel better."

"Maybe I will," he confirmed.

"Good." I pulled into my parking spot. "Better?"

"Much," he replied.

"Good. I'm sorry, but I have to go, I'm at work now. Let me know how your plans go. You had better do this," I reprimanded, joking with him.

He snorted. "I will."

"Michael, it's going to be all right. The people who believe those things are nuts anyway." He laughed; it was nice to hear him laugh. "All right, I have to go and so do you. Go and get that movie done and take some much needed me time," I ordered.

"Rose?"

"Yeah."

"I think I found a place in this world where I can just be me," he quietly said.

"Good, where?"

"Talking to you," he whispered.

That made me feel great, but it was so, so not good.

"I'm glad. Have a good day," I said, smiling.

"You too. Cheers."

He was gone.

Sitting in my truck, I replayed his words in my mind, trying to push the last statement out of my head. He worried me, but there wasn't much more I could do. He just had to wait it out, and hopefully he would take my advice and book himself into that place that caters to the stars. Wow! Look at me, giving advice to a huge hunk of a superstar, well...a very scared huge hunk of a superstar.

* * * *
* * * *
Him that I love, I wish to be free.
Even from me.
--Anne Morrow Lindbergh
* * * *

Thirteen

After that conversation, sometimes I found myself glancing at the magazines and papers in the grocery store, just to see if his face was there, but never reading them because I knew what was going on, more than anyone else in the world. It was one of those days, when a headline blew my insides all to hell.

"Michael Terrance goes on vacation and falls in love," the headline read... He was kissing some beautiful super model on the front cover. I knew better than to believe it, but I couldn't help it. My mouth went dry, my throat closed up, and vice grips started to take hold of my heart, squeezing and twisting all of the air out me. My stomach tightened, unleashing an excavator ravaging my insides as the vice grips compressed, trying to finish off my heart. I tried to breathe, but my lungs wouldn't fill, I was going to pass out, my vision swaying back and forth; my whole body trembled. A voice came from behind me, but it was far away. "Are you all right?" someone asked and touched my shoulder. Gasping...my lungs began to fill again, but the air was being barricaded by my heart and struggled to get to my brain. Keep breathing, I told myself, pulling air in and letting air out. My head started to clear. "Yes, thank you," I said hesitantly, replying to the distant voice. What is your problem? Why are you doing this? The vice grips encapsulated my heart and twisted harder. It hurts, hurts so much... What is wrong with me? This was what I wanted for him, to be happy, wasn't it? I'd heard lots of things about him, the goofy affairs the papers printed, so why this one? Because the picture is of him actually kissing a beautiful super model, stupid! It couldn't be real; he would have told me about this...or would he? Why would he? Who was I to him? Just a friend, right? He didn't owe me anything; if anyone owed anybody it was me. Maybe it was something they were trying to keep private, completely private! Get a grip. I managed to get the money out of my purse and hurried out of the building; hopefully the cool air outside would clear my head.

I got in my truck...the excavator had already finished its job and I clenched at my heart trying, but failing, to loosen the pain. "Incoming call," my blue tooth lady said.

"Hello!" I screamed, not able to hide the pain.

"Hiya," that beautiful British accented voice said. Tears flooded my eyes... Vice grips squeezed, as my heart relinquished itself to the grip. Talking was impossible, thinking was completely unattainable and in that precise moment, my heart was strangled with pain.

"What's wrong?" the beautiful voice yelled.

"Noth...nothing."

"Rose! What's wrong?" He sounded scared to death.

I was still trying to gain enough vocals to talk. "Michael...I have...to go!" I choked out, pushing the button to disconnect the call.

Putting my hands on my face, I listened to my heart as it tried to gain some sort of rhythm; my stomach lunged forward again... There wasn't much more of my insides left, though I tried to focus and gain some sort of control. My blue tooth lady had spoken a few times, but I didn't answer her.

Sitting there for close to an hour, I finally managed to gain enough composure to drive. I put the key in the ignition, put the truck into drive and started home. When my brain finally allowed me to comprehend why I had reacted like that, it hit me with the full force of a meteor crashing down on me... I was in love with him. I loved him from the tip of my heart to the bottom of my soul, no longer in love with the fictional character that he portrayed anymore or the idea of that character; it was him--he had become part of my real world. The obsession that I had felt toward the fictional character and the idea of that character was now my complete obsession with him, hanging onto every word he spoke, waiting for every phone call, wanting to--no, needing to--hear his voice. I was obsessively in love with him.

I knew I didn't love Jim any less; I loved them the same, exactly the same. My heart hadn't split in two--it had grown to twice the size to accommodate both the men I loved. The vice grips threatened at the realization of what I had to do; it seared my soul. I had to let Michael go. It would be easy now that he had found love--I had to do it...for him. There was so much I wanted for him, and he could never know how I felt, just to spare my heart, of course.

Having put the groceries away, I stumbled upstairs to take a bath, Jim wouldn't be home for an hour or so and it would give me time to compose myself. I looked at the phone to see how many calls were missed...ten...and, not listening to any of the messages, I deleted them all. Figuring out how to tell Michael and still protect myself in the process was the only thing my brain would let me think about.

I sat in the tub and let the heat take some of the stress away, but I was still very close to breaking down again. My new heart and soul had shattered into a million pieces, but it grew there once; it would disappear eventually and heal. Anyway, how could one person love two men so exactly and completely... Something had to give. The phone rang, I cringed, knowing who it was and chose to ignore it.

I would tell Jim to leave the phone alone when he came home, letting him know that Michael and I weren't on good terms, having overstepped my boundaries with him and I didn't want to talk to him. That was the truth: I had overstepped my boundaries...way over.

The phone didn't ring for the rest of night, for which I was grateful. I didn't want to see the look in Jim's eyes if it had. I felt the need to be with him, as close as could be, and he made soft and tender love to me; he seemed to know that was what I needed. Spooning him, I fell asleep thinking of Jim.

It was Saturday and I had no plans whatsoever; a lazy day was in order, with my thoughts on Michael. What would I say? How was I going to do it? Could I do it? I hated the thought of not talking to him everyday--after all, he was one of my best friends and more. Wincing at the thought, I knew it was going to be hard. The vice grips tightened on my new heart, but I quickly got control of it. I couldn't let it stop me... He had to be let go.

Jim was working. I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat at the kitchen table, thinking. The phone rang. I didn't need to answer it to know who it was.

* * * *
* * * *
One's suffering disappears when one lets oneself go,
when one yields--even to sadness.
--Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Southern Mail, 1929, translated from French by Curtis Cate
* * * *

Fourteen

"Hello."

"Rose? Are you all right?" he asked anxiously, the sound of panic ripping from his throat.

"Yes, I'm fine--sorry about yesterday," I replied, my voice still as glass.

"What's wrong?" he inquired. He knew exactly what was wrong--I could hear it in his tone.

"Nothing. I was just being stupid," I answered, making light of the way I was feeling.

"You saw the cover page, didn't you?" he quietly surmised.

"Yup."

"I did kiss her," he breathed.

"Well, you certainly can't deny it, can you? Being front page news and all."

"Luv? Please! I need to explain," he pleaded.

I looked down at the floor, closed my eyes, and sighed keeping the vice grips at bay. "Look, Michael, you don't have to explain anything to me--you don't owe me anything. I hope she is good for you, and I hope you're happy--do you understand what I'm saying? Michael, I just want you to be happy. If she makes you happy, then I'm happy too." My voice quivered, but I kept it steady.

"You really don't understand," he cried.

I continued to try and keep an even tone, for his sake and mine. "Okay, explain if you feel the need to."

He took a deep, stuttering breath. "When I went on my holiday, I wanted to get away from everything. You know that, it was your idea. When I got there, there were more people than I thought would be. I also told you that." He started talking faster. "A couple of models were staying at the same hotel and started following me around. They would show up wherever I was--it was really quite irritating. I gave up and finally talked to one of them. I took her to dinner, but nothing...absolutely nothing else. She was company to have around--you have to believe me! I never said anything to you because it was nothing." He was barely taking breaths, trying to get it out as fast as he could. "We went to a club... I had a few drinks and so did she. I could tell she wanted more from me, but I didn't feel anything for her..." He trailed off. "Just before they took that picture, I was telling her that I wasn't interested, and she was all right with it, but she asked if she could have one kiss, so that she could at least say that she kissed Michael Terrance," he choked out. "So I kissed her. I'm sorry!" His breathing was laboured. "When I called you yesterday and you hung up on me, I knew you had seen the headline. I haven't slept since. I was a complete idiot. I know better--they're always after that kind of stuff, and she probably had the photographer set up right there on purpose. I'm sorry!" He was pleading, and I wondered why; he didn't owe me that explanation, after all--it was I who is in love with him, not the other way around.

"It's okay, I understand," I said, my voice dead.

"Do you forgive me?" he asked.

Acting nonchalant I casually said, "Nothing to forgive."

Silence.

When he finally spoke there was an urgency in his voice. "Rose, are you alone right now?"

I opened my eyes. "Yesss."

"I want to tell you something else."

"Go on!" I didn't really want to know anything else; what needed to be done had to be done quickly, only to save me.

He sighed...silence again.

Growing impatient I snapped out, "Go on!"

He started speaking but it was low, barely a whisper, and I had to strain to hear what he was saying. "I've fallen in luv with you."

Did I hear that right? "What?"

He spoke a little louder, but it was still only a whisper. "I've fallen in luv with you."

"Oh!" It came out more like a loud breath, than an actual word.

Complete silence.

"Rose, please say something," he whispered in an anguished plea.

A flashback of my dream, when I was cradled in his arms and he told me that he loved me, erupted in my mind... The effect the dream had on me was real... How could it be? He had made what I had to do the most abominable thing to do in the world. My stomach tightened, I could feel it begin inside me, things I didn't want to feel. "I...I...wow!"

"That bad?" He sighed.

"Hmm."

"I'm sorry. I know this really puts you on the spot," he apologized.

"I'd say."

Silence.

Ignoring the pain that started to constrict my very being, I asked in barely a whisper, "What is it that you want me to do?" I was asking the question more to myself than him.

"Luv, I want you to do whatever you think is best for us. I just needed you to know how I felt and that you had become my life, my whole life... You keep me focused..." He trailed off.

Breathing! I had to do it, not for my sake, but for his.

"Michael," I began, in a whispered anguish. A churning had come from his throat; he knew what was coming. My new heart blew up into another million tiny pieces. "I love Jim very much, and I'm sorry that it has come to this. I love talking to you, but you have to understand I have built my life with Jim, I already have children and I'm not having anymore! You need to find someone your age, get married and have kids and build your own life, not walk into one. This is very hard for me too..." I trailed off, trying to gain my composure. "Besides, even if it were possible for us to be together, can you imagine what the papers would do to us and my family? I can just see it now--'cradle robber'. They'll dig around, find stuff and make everything that's good and right, bad and wrong. They'll put me and my kids through the ringer." The vice grips were returning; I ignored them. "I want you to have all the things that I have--I want you to build a happy life with that special someone. I wish for you to have all this and more. I'm not willing to give it...again. You need to have children and watch them grow and build your life as I have..." I broke down and started sobbing.

"Rose?" He wept.

"Please...let...me...get...this...out." I didn't want to tell him about my feelings, but maybe if I did, he wouldn't hurt so much and would realize that it was the best thing for both of us. "Michael, I love you too, as much as I love Jim, but I won't leave Jim. I know I'm being selfish, but what if I left Jim for you, and after awhile, you decided that I wasn't right for you and you didn't really want me? You don't even know what I look like--what if you grew tired of me and let me go, then I would be left with nothing, I would have lost both of my loves and my family. I'm sorry, but I can't do that. I'm too selfish." Even though I was certain there was nothing left of my heart, the vice grips were tightening. I didn't know how long my heart would hold.

He started talking very quickly; I almost couldn't catch all the words. "You're my best friend. You know everything about me, all my hates, my luvs, my feelings, everything! I know that you're married but I can't help myself... I've tried to control how I feel about you, but I can't. When I went on my holiday I wanted you with me. I haven't been able to stop thinking about you since the first time we talked. You're what I have always wanted. I can get through anything with you. I feel normal with you--you're my place in this world that I can be me." He took a deep breath, and I could tell he was holding back tears. "Yesterday was absolute torture for me, I knew what you had seen, and it scared me... It scared me to the point that I almost went to the airport to come to you. I don't see anyone anymore--all I see is you in my mind's eye. I know I don't know what you look like, but I don't care. I don't care about the age difference--I just want to be with you. Rose, I luv you!" He was hysterically pleading.

Surrendering the little bit of my heart that was left to the vice grips, I firmly stated, "I'm sorry, but this is how it has to be."

He took a deep breath. "So that's it?" he hissed.

"I don't know what else to do... It's all I have. I'm sorry," I replied. "Michael, I will miss you and I love you, but please don't call again. Good-bye." I hung up the phone.

I put my head down and cried. It was beginning again: the pain, not being able to catch my breath. My whole body caved in on me, being crushed from the inside out. If only I would explode, that would feel better. But exploding was no longer essential; the vice grips finally finished what they had started, and my new heart burst into flames and lay somewhere deep inside me, burning like a charcoal fire, in a pile of burning embers. Clenching my chest, I felt my stomach tighten and waited for the rest to begin and finish me, it was final... He was forever etched into my soul.


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