Authors: Jana Richards
When she opened the door and found Zach on her front step, her heart made a foolish leap. God, it was wonderful to see him again. But why was he here? What did it mean?
"Hi." He tucked his hands into his pockets. "It's really cold out here. Do you think I could come inside for a minute?"
"Oh, yes, of course." She stood aside to let him in, closing the door behind him to shut out the cold. He pulled off his toque and ran his hand through his hair.
"How have you been?"
"I'm fine," she said, even though she knew it was a lie. She really hadn't been fine since their fight at Fiona's wedding. "How's your mother?"
"She's good. Unhappy with me for treating you so badly, but otherwise fine. I'm sorry for the things I said to you, and I'm sorry I didn't trust you. I spoke to Jonathan and he told me everything."
Dani looked away. She couldn't talk about what had happened between them without crying. She was so tired of crying.
"Don't worry about it. It's water under the bridge." She desperately needed to change the subject. Her nerves jangled and her stomach threatened to lodge a revolt. "And Camp? Is he well?"
"We were all a little worried about him after Chantal's latest wedding disaster. His blood pressure was up and his heart was beating way too fast, but things have settled down now and he's doing fine."
She lifted her gaze to his, shocked. "Chantal's latest wedding disaster?"
"You haven't heard?"
"No." She'd been avoiding talking to Fiona, not wanting to hear about how happy Chantal was, or wasn't, with her new husband. "What happened?"
He sighed. "It seems Chantal can't be faithful to anyone." He told her the whole sordid story.
Dani honestly felt sorry for Chantal. Something had to be very wrong with her to toss aside the love of everyone who'd ever cared about her.
"I'm glad Camp's okay. The family must have been so upset." She sighed. "I'll have to call Fee, see if there's anything I can do. Maybe I can visit Camp and wish him well."
He smiled tenderly, lifting his hand to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. Her heart beat wildly at his touch. She wished with all her heart the look in Zach's eyes could be real.
"That's what I like most about you, Dani. You always think about everyone else's feelings. You truly care about people."
She closed her eyes and took a step away. "So now that Chantal is free again, I suppose you're going back to her."
He laughed. "Believe me, that's never going to happen. If I wasn't convinced before that Chantal is poison, the point was driven home very clearly during this latest fiasco. No, sweetheart, I'm finally free of her."
Relief flowed through her. He was finally free to find someone to love, someone who genuinely loved him.
She just wished it could be her.
"I almost forgot." He produced two tickets from the inside pocket of his jacket. "I'm making good on my promise. These are two vouchers for airline tickets and accommodations in Maui. Just let my friend Mike at the travel agency know who you're taking and the dates you'd like to go, and they'll get the real tickets ready."
"I can take anyone with me for two weeks in Maui? Really?"
He grinned. "Really. Take anyone you'd like."
"What if I want to take Jonny?"
His smile faltered. "If he's who you want to take, then that's what you should do. But I was really hoping you'd say you want to take me." He clasped her hands in his. "I'm sorry for doubting you. I'm sorry for all the terrible things I accused you of. Do you think you can forgive me, that we could start over?"
She desperately wanted to believe he was serious, that he wanted to be with her. But she couldn't bear the thought of losing him again in a few months' time when he was ready to move on. She shook her head. "Of course I forgive you, but I think it's too late for us. Maybe we weren't meant to be."
His grasp on her hands tightened. "No, you're wrong, Daniella. So wrong. We had something really good together."
"Please Zach. We both know that sooner or later you'll realize there's a whole wide world of beautiful women out there for you to explore." The thought of him with another woman killed her, but it would be so much worse if she gave herself to him body, heart and soul and he then changed his mind about their relationship.
"No." He shook his head. "You're wrong. You're the only one I want. I love you."
She stared up into his beautiful blue eyes, her heart bursting. He seemed so sincere, so honest. Did he really mean it?
Fear slammed into her chest. His rejection had ripped her heart to shreds. Another rejection would destroy her.
"I believe you're sincere, for now." She made herself smile and put as much levity into her voice as she could. "But think of the pressure on me to maintain your interest. As soon as I put that fifty pounds back on, you'll be looking for a skinnier girlfriend."
"I don't give a damn about your weight!"
Her heart thrilled at his words. Still, she had to protect herself. "You say that now, but I'm guessing you'd change your tune."
For a moment, he looked as if he wanted to shake her till her teeth rattled. Then he sighed and brought her hands to his lips for a kiss before releasing her.
"I'm going to convince you you're wrong, you know."
She didn't know if she should be thrilled he wouldn't give up, or afraid he'd wear down her defenses.
He kissed her forehead. "We'll leave this discussion for later. I should be going. Goodnight, Dani."
She pushed aside a curtain to watch him walk down her sidewalk, and open the front gate. Soon he was no longer visible, swallowed up by the night.
Even though he was gone, her heart continued to beat twice as fast as it should. She looked at the two vouchers in her hands. She hadn't expected him to make good on his promise of a relaxing vacation. She hadn't expected anything from him. What was she to make of his tender touches and sweet words? What was she supposed to do with his assertion that he loved her?
Perhaps the question was, could she trust him? She believed him when he'd said he was completely done with Chantal. Still, if not her, there were plenty of other women who'd be more than willing to warm Zach's bed. How could she possibly keep his interest?
Even so, a tiny glimmer of hope shone in her heart, refusing to be extinguished. But she was afraid that hope would be trampled by a nasty dose of reality.
Two days later Zach was in his office, struggling to make sense of the financial statements of a small Internet marketing company that had come to him for advice. The statements weren't complex, but he simply couldn't concentrate on the task at hand. He kept seeing Dani's face and the wariness in her eyes. Her beautiful dark eyes haunted him, mocking him with the knowledge that he may have thrown away the best thing that had ever happened to him.
He'd hoped that by giving her the tickets and letting her know she could take anyone she chose, she'd learn to trust him again. He wouldn't back out on his promise, even if she took another man. It might kill him, but he wouldn't stop her.
How did he convince her he'd love her for the long haul?
Giving up all pretense of examining the financial statements, he picked up his cell phone and hit Fiona's number. She'd known Dani for years. Perhaps she could shed some light on his problem. She picked up his call after a couple of rings.
"Hey Zach. How are you?"
"I'm kind of lousy, actually. That's why I'm calling you."
"What do you mean? Are you ill?"
"Depends on your definition of illness."
He told her the whole story, from Dani's kindness at his wedding to his accidently falling in love with her. He apologized for lying when he confessed their relationship had started out as deception to keep Chantal off his back. Fiona listened quietly until he'd finished.
"Todd told you Jonathan is gay, right? You know there's nothing going on between them."
"I know. Maybe I'm just jealous because it seems she'd rather spend time with him instead of me."
"That's because Jonny is safe. There's no way he can hurt her." He heard Fiona tap her pencil against her desk. "If you didn't know Dani well, you'd think she was totally carefree, and nothing really bothered her. But you'd be very wrong. She has a very tender heart that bruises easily, and she doesn't like people to see it. She cracks jokes to cover her feelings. I guess it's her way of protecting herself."
"Yeah, I've sort of figured that out for myself. I need your help, Fee. How do I win her back?"
"Maybe I can help you. I can put you in touch with her sister-in-law Olivia. We knew each other in university."
He sat up straighter. "You think Olivia can help me convince Dani I'm sincere?"
"I don't know, maybe. Dani is very close to her family, so maybe if you convince them you're serious about her, she'll believe it, too. You
serious, aren't you Zach?"
"Yeah. Very serious. I love her. She's the one."
Fiona was silent for some time, and he might have thought the line had gone dead if not for the sound of the pencil tapping in the background. He held his breath.
"I can't promise you anything, but I'll make the call. Good luck, Zach."
He exhaled. "Thanks, Fee."
* * * *
"Dr. Silverman will see you now, Daniella."
The receptionist's perfect smile and pert nose made Dani wonder if she was also one of the plastic surgeon's patients. If she was, he did very good work.
The receptionist led her to an examining room and closed the door behind her. A moment later Dr. Silverman entered, carrying a file, presumably hers.
"Hi, Dani. Are you all ready for the big day?" He opened her file and read. "Looks like we're booked for a week from Thursday."
She wiped her damp palms against her jeans. "Ready as I'll ever be."
He examined her closely. "Having second thoughts?"
"No, not at all," she lied. She'd been having second thoughts for weeks. "I guess I'm just a little apprehensive about the procedure itself. I'm not looking forward to the pain and all the bruising."
"There's no need to worry about the pain. We'll make sure you have sufficient medication to handle it. As for the bruising and the swelling, you'll just have to give it some time. Have you booked off work?"
"Yes, a couple of weeks."
"Good. What about your responsible adult? Have you made arrangements for someone to take you home from the clinic and look after you for a couple of days? We can't discharge you until someone's here to pick you up."
"No, I haven't nailed that down yet, but I'll have someone soon."
In truth, she still hadn't told anyone about the surgery. She already knew what her family's reaction would be. They'd be shocked and would argue strenuously against the breast reduction. But her brothers weren't exactly experts on the subject of breasts. At least not ones of their own. They didn't understand the frustrating hunt for clothes that fit, the neck and back discomfort, the assumptions men made about her because of the size of her breasts, and the lewd comments she was often subjected to.
She couldn't ask Olivia because she'd tell Tony, and he'd try to talk her out it. Fiona was five hours away in Toronto, and would likely have to take several days off work to help her, an inconvenience she didn't want to burden her friend with. That left Sarah, but at five months pregnant, she was hesitant to ask her. So who did that leave?
Really? Would he help her? How would he react to the news that she was having breast reduction surgery?
She dismissed the thought. She couldn't ask Zach to be her responsible adult. That assumed way more of their relationship than existed.
"I'll let you know soon," she said. Either she came clean with her family quickly, or she cancelled the surgery she'd been waiting years to have.
Lousy choices all around.
* * * *
Olivia DiPietro's call came a few hours after Zach spoke to Fiona. She came straight to the point.
"So why should I try to convince Dani and the rest of the family that she should see you again?"
"Because I care about Daniella. I'll do everything in my power to make her happy."
His statement was greeted with a moment of silence. "That's it? If that's everything you feel for my sister-in-law, I can understand why she's hesitant to see you again. Goodbye, Mr. Morrison. I won't take up any more of your time."
"No, wait! Don't hang up! She's the best thing that ever happened to me," he blurted.
"Okay," Olivia said. "I'm listening. Tell me more."
"I--I don't know what to say other than that Dani is a wonderful person." How did he make her understand that his life felt empty without her?
"Yes, she is. She told me she's actually known you for several years, but you really only began a personal connection last year when she was bridesmaid at your wedding."
"Yeah, the wedding. The most humiliating day of my life. The bottom had just fallen out of my world, and then there was Dani, making me laugh and telling me everything was going to be okay." He stopped to take a breath. "I never told her this, but meeting her that day was what got me through."
"I'm sure she'd be very pleased to hear it. What about Fiona's wedding? What made you decide to pretend that you and Dani were boyfriend and girlfriend?"
"She told you about that, did she?"
"She did. Why did you use her that way?"
"I admit, I did use her. It started out as a way to keep Chantal from thinking we could start over again. But then as I got to know Dani, her kindness, her humor, the way she treated everyone around her, it turned into something more." He sighed, remembering. "Then I screwed the whole thing up by not trusting her."
"You broke her heart," Olivia said. "Why should any of us believe you won't do it again?"
"Because I couldn't bear to lose her a second time," he said quietly. He wasn't accustomed to telling anyone his innermost feelings, but for Dani he'd risk the discomfort. "I love her. I'd give anything to spend the rest of my life with her."