September 25, 2015 – Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six, Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight, Chapter Nine, Chapter Ten, Chapter Eleven, Chapter Twelve, Chapter Thirteen, Chapter Fourteen, Chapter Fifteen, Chapter Sixteen, Chapter Seventeen, Chapter Eighteen, Chapter Nineteen, Chapter Twenty,Chapter Twenty-One, Twenty-Two,Twenty-Three, Twenty-Four, Twenty-Five, Twenty-Six,Twenty-Seven, Twenty-Eight, Twenty-Nine, Chapter Thirty, Chapter Thirty-One
For the next several days, Jenny laid low, only working in the shop and working on her speech. She felt that it was her best work, and couldn’t wait until the night of the gala to see the looks on their faces when she stepped up to the podium as Carrie Grant. She wouldn’t be as cruel as some may have liked, but she’d be strong and confident, and her point would be well made.
She was more than a little surprised when Andrew came into the store that afternoon carrying his briefcase. She had purposely missed book club the night before, wondering if she’d ever be able to return. She hated to admit it, but her heart still leapt the moment she saw him.
She was cool. Her demeanor was too. “What can I do for you professor?”
He smiled. “Is that what you’re calling me now? I thought we were passed that formality.”
She offered a small smile but said nothing.
“You didn’t come to book club last night,” he said. “We missed you.”
She nodded, but avoided eye contact.
“I wanted to apologize. That must have been a horrible scene. I’m embarrassed, and I don’t want to hurt you in any way.”
“It was surprising,” she said.
“I wanted to come sooner, but I figured I would see you at book club, but you didn’t show. I do not like to admit my weakness, and I do not know what happened. She was flirting with me, and I’ll admit I enjoyed it and played along a little, but then it was like she went bonkers or something.”
Jenny sighed. “Was that before or after you asked her to the gala?”
Andrew looked confused. “I hadn’t planned on doing that, you know. In fact, I called her this morning and broke off the date. I was kind of shocked that things progressed and I panicked and asked her.”
“You’re not going to blame it all on Fiona, are you?” That would make her lose respect for him. Although he was hanging on by a thread, she did not want to lose him.
“No, but I did try to push her away. I actually thought there was something brewing between us, but then you seemed to back away. Then when I saw your reaction, I knew I was right. You sensed it too. I can see that now.”
Jenny laughed. “So, you’re blaming your actions on me now?”
Andrew shook his head and looked down for a moment in shame. ‘No, I didn’t mean that. You’re not making this easy, Jenny, and I’m not sure you have a right to be that angry.”
“You hurt my feelings,” she said boldly, surprised that those truthful words came out of her mouth. “Perhaps I don’t have a right, but I was hurt and I reacted appropriately. This is something very new to me.”
Andrew looked at her offering a calm smile. “It’s something you never get used to when the heart is involved,” he said. “And your friend is a forward young woman, Jenny. I’m not used to that, and I wasn’t sure how to handle it, either. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m not interested in her. Not at all.”
“ Did you tell her that while you were kissing her?”
“ I tried. Several times in fact.”
“ You are both single. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t…”
“Jenny, I had planned to ask you to go to the DIH gala with me as my date that night. I thought it would be fun to go together, even if it was just as friends. I never expected the night to end the way it did.”
“You and me both,” she said.
“It’s not too late. Would you like to go?”
Jenny thought long and hard, and decided it was not the time to come clean with Andrew about what would happen that night. “I do think it is too late,” she said. “I’m sorry.” She hate that she added the last part, about her being sorry. He was the one that should feel that emotion.
Andrew frowned. “I’m sorry, too,” he said, saying it again, and it weakened her but still not enough to let this all go. “I like you, Jenny. I really do. I can’t believe I acted like such a buffoon. I haven’t done that since college. In any case, don’t let my stupid behavior keep you away from book club. It’s not the same without you. And I promise I won’t ask you out again, so you don’t have to worry about that.” He nodded his head and walked out the door. She wanted to stop him, but knew she should let it be. Then it hit her. Why should she be angry with him, even if he did flirt with Fiona? It may not have been the classiest thing to do, but he was single and owed her nothing. He did not even know how she felt, and Mr. Hiller’s advice to be upfront about her feelings now made more sense than ever.
She ran to the shop’s front door and opened it, calling his name. He stopped and turned, walking back to the store.
“I changed my mind,” she said. “You didn’t know that I had feelings for you, so I can’t blame you for your behavior.”
He smiled and right after he tilted his head and kissed her cheek. “Now that sounds mighty promising,” he said. “I guess I feel pretty damn lucky you are an understanding woman.”
“Don’t get used to it because I won’t ever be again,” she said. “At least not about something like that.”
# # #
After closing the shop, Jenny walked up the extra flight of steps, foregoing her own door to get to Fiona’s. She knew she was home. She saw her walk by.
With trepidation, she knocked on the door.
“Surprise,” Jenny greeted once she opened the door, yet it couldn’t really be a surprise. No one could gain entry to the building without a tenant buzzing him or her in.
“Jenny,” Fiona said softly. “I’m glad you’re here, I have something to tell you.”
“Can’t imagine what you’d have to say that I’d be interested in, Fiona.” She was there for another reason, to tell her off again, about how much she hurt her with her actions. “I think it’s time for you to listen instead.”
“I’ve started seeing a therapist,” she said ignoring her plea, “to find out what the heck is wrong with me and why I keep doing this, especially to someone I care about.”
Jenny shrugged. “Obviously you want to, Fiona. You’re the priority at all times and your behavior shows you have no regard for anyone else.”
She smiled and started to fill up with tears. “Maybe, but it’s not that simple.”
“I know you can be strong,” Jenny said. “Look at the way you handled the Doug situation. I don’t understand why you would make a play for Andrew knowing how I felt. It’s pure and simple selfishness.”
“I’m lonely, Jenny. I’m so lonely. However, I’m going to find out why I’m so horrible, I swear. I never meant to hurt you. But you might be happy to know that Andrew called me and cancelled the date.”
“Yes, he told me that.”
“And that I’ve taken a hard look back at my life. You know more of the details than anyone else does, Jenny. I never told anyone about what drove me away from home, but I know I’ve said some things through the years that you might have pieced together.”
Jenny nodded, and even though she may have wanted to offer comfort and support, she hesitated. She was still angry.
“I was a mess back then, you know,” Fiona continued, “and before you say it, I know it was my own fault. I messed with the wrong guy and his girlfriend, earned a reputation for myself, embarrassed my family, and then had an awful confrontation with a brother of one of my targets. That’s my therapist’s word for the women I’ve hurt along the way. That same night with Doug, I ran into this man from my past at work. He shouted such ugly things at me, even though it all happened more than 20 years ago. I’m the kind of girl you don’t forget for the wrong reasons.” She smiled to avoid the tears from flowing, and then shrugged. “I’m not making an excuse for what I did, but those two incidents pushed me over the edge, and I felt worse than ever before. It sounds a little crazy, but I just need a quick fix. And poor Andrew was right there so I could see a little relief in my view.”
Jenny shrugged. “I never expected to be included on your target list.”
Fiona looked like she wanted to crawl under blankets and block out the world. “Me neither,” she said. “That was the worst moment of my life. My lowest point, you know. Much worse than the horrible confrontation that night that made me realize what I had become. When I went home that night, my parents looked at me as if they knew. And I know they couldn’t have known, but then I found out that they received a letter outlining my less than perfect behavior. I couldn’t face them and I ran and never looked back.”
“And that’s when you came to Philly?” Jenny asked. “I remember you meeting with my father when you were interested in renting the apartment. You seemed damaged, yet so confident.”
“God, I was so blessed to find this place. I couldn’t have asked for better landlords, Jenny.”
“I can’t believe someone would do that to you over a high school relationship. But you have to realize what you do to others can lead to that type of behavior.”
Fiona shook her head. “He said she was traumatized by the event and took it real bad. It was a blessing I suppose since he forced me to see the truth, and you think I should thank him for that, but instead it led me down a path of destruction these past 20 years. My therapist says I repeat the same pattern over and over again because I need to feel loved, yet I choose men who I know can’t love me because I feel I don’t deserve it. How’s that for a mouthful. And after one session.”
Jenny started to soften. “I can see it haunts you, Fiona.”
“I’m haunted by a lot of the things I’ve done. You think that confrontation at the Holiday Inn all those years ago would have taught me something. But it didn’t, and every night I hold my breath waiting for a banging on my door and Doug’s wife, or the wife of any of a number of men, standing there ready for vengeance. I know it’s coming, even more than it already has,” she said admitting her weakness. “Heck, I’ve reached the bottom several times already, and the other night when you walked in, that had to be the worst because I love you, Jenny. You are a dear friend, almost my sister, and if I’m capable of doing that to a dear friend, I know I’m pathetic.”
“I’m glad you’re getting help, Fiona, because you need it. And it was pathetic. I’m not ready to forgive you yet, but give me time. Maybe I can let this pass. I’m not sure yet. However, you’re right. A good friend would never do that to another friend. A good person would never do that to anyone, either.”
“You obviously forgave Andrew if you spoke with him. And I’m sure you can forgive me.”
“It’s not that simple, Fiona, and it’s different. You knew how I felt and you were supposed to be my friend.”
Fiona looked down in shame. “Yes, I know it is. But you’ve given me hope, and I will cling to that.”