Chapter Seven

    Sleeping in late, in the quiet, comfortable suite was just what the doctor ordered. Having slept through breakfast, Jessie called Cassie, inviting her to join her at the hotel for a leisurely lunch, and an afternoon of girl talk and sunbathing. Good mood restored, Jessie headed downstairs to the lobby for some quick shopping at the Bahia Mar's posh boutiques, sure in the knowledge that charging purchases on Zach's credit cards would only improve her demeanor.

    Cassie arrived an hour later, and she and Jess headed downstairs, decked out in their newly acquired bathing suits. Jess chose a high cut black one piece, that accentuated her tan, Cassie a bright orange string bikini. Crossing through the lobby on their way to the pool deck, a familiar voice grabbed Jessie's attention.

    "Oh Mitchy! Here we are!"

    "Oh no, it can't be," Jessie groaned.

    "What?" Cassie asked, following Jessie's line of vision. "You mean the chick with the whiny voice?"

    Standing by the rear exit of the lobby, leading to the pool and beach, was the blonde from the night before, with the child who was supposedly Mitch's little girl. Of all the people she could run into it HAD to be them, Jess thought, AND Mitch.

    "You remember the woman I told you about? The one who was in Mitch's office, and in the parking lot?"

    "NO!" Cassie gushed, "what luck!" she laughed, lowering her sunglasses on her nose for a better look. "Let's go over there and say hello.."

    "Cassie.. really, I'd rather not," Jessie said, turning away.

    "Jess sweetie, I thought you were braver than that," Cassie teased, yanking her by the arm towards Lynn. "And that I take it, is Mitch. Am I right?"

    Jessie stayed behind Cassie, avoiding the meeting she knew inevitably was going to happen. "You got it.."

    "And she chooses the middle of a hotel lobby to meet him? How tacky," stated Cassie, only increasing her pace. "Oh man, she's mine.."

    Jessie could see Lynn visibly frown, and tug on Mitch's arm possessively, when she caught sight of her. "Well, well, well," she gushed, "look who we have here.."

    Jessie didn't know how to take Mitch's reaction - whether his gaping jaw meant he was shocked to see her, or if he liked her new swimsuit. "Hello," she muttered, smiling weakly.

    "Taken to tailing Mitch have you?" Lynn said, rolling her eyes. "Really. How desperate of you.." Lynn looked for a response from Mitch. Not getting any, she continued her verbal jabs at Jessie. "Mitch? Aren't you going to introduce us to your little.." she paused, venom building, as she thought of how Jessie had ruined her moment with Mitch, "friend?"

    "Lynn Stevens? Jessie Reynolds."

    "And you are?" Lynn spat, eyeing Cassie up and down.

    "Your worst nightmare," stated Cassie.

    "How quaint," Lynn said, tossing back her head, and laughing. "Honey, that SUIT is a nightmare.."

    "You WISH you had the body to pull off a suit like this, toots," Cassie said, setting down her beach bag.

    How could he just sit there, and let her talk to us that way? Jessie thought, glaring at Mitch. "Cassie, come on, it's not even worth it.."

    "No, it's not," Lynn interrupted. "Dismiss your ex's Mitchell," Lynn demanded, "bring them back into reality." Lynn stopped, stepping in front of Kelly, and into Jessie's face. "He's with ME."

    Lynn made a very vital mistake by getting into Jessie's face, for now she was going to set the little bitch straight. "Look, LYNN is it?" she said, pushing Lynn's shoulder back. "I suggest you get out of my face NOW.."

    "ENOUGH!" Mitch yelled, pushing the two women apart.

    Jessie, seeing Kelly cringe at Mitch's raised voice, backed up. Not one to back away from a confrontation easily, she opted to leave, only because the little girl was Mitch's daughter, and she was getting visibly upset.

    "Get a clue lady," Jessie said, in a hushed tone, "you're daughter's watching you. Or don't you care?"

    "Keep OUR daughter out of this you little tart," Lynn barked.

    "Real classy family reunion," Cassie interjected, unable to hold back any longer. "One for the scrapbook," she laughed. "And you have the balls to call US desperate.."

    "Oooh!" Lynn squealed, watching the two friends depart.

    Jessie couldn't help but chuckle, hearing Lynn ranting and raving.

    "Put that in your pipe and smoke it, witch," Cassie laughed, looking back at Lynn. "I never knew this hotel had in-lobby entertainment.."


   The afternoon had only gotten better after that. Having Cassie to confide in helped Jessie get her thoughts together. "Trust me, Zach will be groveling for forgiveness before the end of the day," Cassie stated, as she reapplied her suntan lotion.

    "You think so?" Jessie asked, sipping on her drink.

    Cassie nodded. "He's already asked me if I've seen or talked to you. You just say the word, and I'll let it slip that we spent the afternoon together."

    "I dunno Cassie," Jessie said, sadly, "I don't know if it's even worth it anymore."

    Cassie reached out and squeezed Jessie's hand. "You have to make a decision Jess," she said, looking her in the eyes. "What? You're gonna leave Zach for Mitch? I don't think so.. For Mr
I-don't-have-the-balls-to-be-straight-with-you? I know things with Zach aren't perfect, but you have him on the ropes. Tell him what your limits are.."

    Jessie nodded. She knew what Cassie was saying was true. It came down to this. Either Zach made a promise to change, and kept to it, or she was out of his life forever. But it wasn't that simple. She just couldn't turn off her love for Zach like a light switch. Plus with Zach went her job. Jessie knew Zach would never allow her to keep her job at the paper if she broke up with him. And leave him for who? Mitch? The man who was ready to sleep with her one night, and was kissing Lynn in his office the next? The man who kept the fact that he had a child a secret? What else was he holding back?

    Cassie saw the anxious look on Jess's face. "Look, take it one day at a time. You don't have to decide this all at once." A devilish smile curved at Cassie's lips. "If you ask me the whiny Ms. Stevens was shaken. You saw the way she reacted at the sight of you. If you want Mitch, go for it. He didn't seem to taken with her back there.."

    "But what about Kelly?" Jessie asked.

    "Kelly? The little girl he failed to disclose he had? Come on. That kid must be four years old. Have you ever heard him mention her, let along spend time with her?"

    "No.."

    "Kelly has her mother and father to take care of her. You have to worry about YOU," Cassie stated, flatly.

    "You're right. I know you're right.."

    "So chill," Cassie grinned. "Right now your options are wide open. If you choose to pursue the possibility of getting with Mitch - which frankly, I don't see how you could, seeing how he's acting - wait and see. In the mean time you can occupy your time with the sexy Nick."

    "Nick," Jessie groaned, "I'd almost forgotten about him.."

    "What an absolutely perfect way to rouse the little green monster inside those two," Cassie laughed, punching Jessie in the arm playfully. "Come on Jess! Fight fire with fire, and have a little fun while you're at it!"

    It DID feel good to be on the giving end, Jessie reasoned, but being in that position for the first time, Jessie couldn't help but feel a little trepidacious. "You're right," she giggled.

    "You KNOW I'm right," Cassie laughed. "All you have to do is remember how both those guys have treated you recently. That'll fuel your anger," she sighed, looking at the black and blue bruises on Jessie's right wrist. "Get angry, damn it, or call me, and I'll get you that way..."


   Mitch was staring out the window watching the lines of the road zip by, shifting uneasily in the driver’s seat. Never in a million years did he think he'd be in this car again, under any circumstances.

    "How much farther Mitchie?" Lynn cooed.

    Mitch rolled his eyes, disgusted with Lynn, and the ugliness he had seen earlier that day between her, Jessie, and Jessie's brash friend, Cassie. Jessie hadn’t looked thrilled by the meeting, standing there looking beautiful in her suit, but Mitch's mind was far from how great Jessie looked. His mind was on one woman, and one woman only, Kelly. The confrontation had rattled him since all he wanted was peace around his little girl. Just the memory of Kelly’s fright brought all the anger back, evident by his tightly clenched fists.

    Lynn tapped Mitch on the arm, bringing him out of his daydream. "Where do we turn sweetie?"

    Mitch glared at Lynn, no smile, no answer. Lynn’s own smile faded, as she fell silent, sensing it was time to back off. Catching sight of his daughter in the rear view mirror, Mitch sighed. I can’t act like this, he thought. Not now. Taking a deep breath, Mitch turned to face Lynn, smiling as best he could. "Make a left here," Mitch said, calmly, "then a right.."
horse1.gif (5003 bytes)Krystal had taken them on an hour-long ride with two horses. Krystal rode her own Arabian, and Mitch his, while Lynn and Kelly rode an Apaloosa. After the ride, Krystal gave Kelly and Lynn a basket of apples to feed the horses in the stables, and some feed for the barnyard animals in the pen outback, giving she and Mitch some time to talk.

    "So, she’s your daughter?" Krystal asked, watching as Kelly had the time of her life feeding the animals. Even the usually staunch Lynn seemed relaxed.

    "Just look at her.." Mitch sighed.

    "Think she looks like you?"

    "I don't know," Mitch said, shrugging, "you tell me."

    Krystal pulled herself up onto the fence encircling the corral. "Just because she looks like you doesn’t mean she’s yours Mitch.."

    "Think I should get a test?"

    "Definitely."

    Krystal sat back and watched the look on her friend’s face as he watched the little girl. "Mitch?"

    "Yeah?"

    "Do you want her to be yours?"

    Mitch nodded. "More than anything else in this world."

    "Think you're ready for it?"

    Mitch pulled himself up onto the fence next to Krystal. "Are any of us ever really ready?"

    Krystal just shrugged. "Well, what’s the story with Lynn?"

    "I’ll fill you in on that some other time.."

    "Gimme the Reader’s Digest version.."

    "Short fling. I wasn't good enough for her."

    "OH REALLY?" Krystal said, arching her eyebrows, "she's no prize.."
goose1.gif (2674 bytes) "Yeah, well.." Mitch laughed, his voice trailing off. His attention was still riveted on Kelly as Lynn lead her over to the goats in the pen. Holding the door open for her daughter, Kelly rushed on in, chasing the animals. The geese honked, and the hens hopped about clucking, as Kelly giggled and ran after them.

    "So.. taken yet?"

    "No," Mitch laughed.

    "Anyone in mind?" Krystal asked, motioning to Lynn. "Mommy?"

    "No," Mitch sighed.

    "Who?" Krystal asked, knowing something was eating at him.

    "Jessie."

    Krystal swung back and laughed, teetering on the fence, and swinging her feet. "Jessie Reynolds?"

    "Yeah.."

    "Still have a thing for her, huh?"

    Mitch nodded.

    "Mitch.." Krystal said, putting her arm around his shoulder, "what am I going to do with you?"

    "Shoot me, and put me out of my misery," Mitch quipped.

    "Why?"

    "Long story short? We're fighting. Jessie and I, well, we kissed a few nights ago.."

    "You did? Who kissed who?"

    "Well, she kissed me first, then, I kissed her later.."

    "You kissed her?!"

    "Yeah.."

    "You finally acted on your feelings!" Krystal smiled, hugging Mitch. "I'm so happy for you.."

    "Don’t get too excited. Everything went to hell."

    "What happened?"

    "She happened," Mitch said, jabbing his thumb in Lynn’s direction.

    "I'm shocked you even made a move, with Jessie too. Wow. You had a thing for her for the longest time!"

    "I had a thing for everyone," Mitch laughed, noticing the evil grin on Krystal’s face. "I had a thing for you too, y'know?" Mitch mumbled.

    "I know."

    Mitch looked Krystal dead in the eyes. "Did I ever have a chance with you?"

    "Did."

    "I did?"

    Krystal nodded. "You waited too long Mitch. I liked you, and you had the strongest chance out of everyone, but you waited.."

    "I was waiting for you!"

    "Mitch, girls like to be chased. NO GIRL likes to do the chasing."

    "I wish I’d known.."

    "Yeah well, now you do.."

    "Any cha.."

    "Nope," Krystal said, interrupting Mitch. "I'm happily single. Maybe a few years down the line, who knows. But for now I'm happy not having to answer to anyone but me!" she giggled. "Besides, this place keeps me busy enough."

    Just then, Lynn opened the door for Kelly to come out of the pen, and a goat rushed out, running around in circles. Mitch and Krystal jumped off the fence and chased after the goat.


    Sally took Kelly and put her up on the bar. "She's so adorable.."

    "So, how did you end up with Kelly?" Angel asked.

    "Lynn wanted to rush back to the hotel and change, so I suggested she drop us off here."

    "Well I'm glad we got to meet this little Angel," cooed Sally.

    Mitch smiled. He was glad his friends were hitting it off with Kelly, especially since the start of her day had been kinda rough. Kelly was contented now, sitting on the bar playing with her toys.

    "Hey Kelly, wanna see a magic trick?" Mitch asked.

    Kelly looked up at Mitch, her blue eyes the size of marbles, nodding enthusiastically. She watched intently as Mitch pulled out a bag of M & M’s from under the bar.

    "Wow! An unopened bag of M&M's! That IS a magic trick around here!" Sally laughed.

    Mitch took the bag of M&M's and showed them to Kelly. "Open it," she said.

    "Nope. Watch!" he said, taking the bag, and ripping it open. Tipping it, four M&M's fell out from no where. Then Mitch waved his hands over the bag. Kelly’s face lit up as Mitch gave her the M&M's and the bag of candy, showing her that it was unopened.

    "I still don't know how he does that," Sally said, walking away.

    "Neither do I," Angel chuckled.

    "How'd you do dat?" Kelly asked, examining the bag.

    "Magic," Mitch smiled, ripping the bag open for her.

    "Any word from Jessie?" Angel asked.

Mitch shook his head. "No, and we need to talk. This has gone to far.."


    Jessie thought about what Cassie had said when she was back in her suite. One way or the other, she had to resolve her current problems. It was the only way she would be able to get her life back on track. It would be hard, but even if it meant starting her life over alone, something had to give. If there was one thing she did know, it was that right now she wasn't happy, and it was up to her to do something to change things.

    Tonight was a night for comfort, continuing the relaxation of her afternoon with Cassie. Showering to remove the left over sand on her newly tanned body, she chose black leggings, and a matching summer sweater. The evenings were getting cool, but she wanted to be comfortable too. Her stomach started to grumble as she finished dressing, and Jess contemplated what she was gonna do about dinner.

    The hotel offered sumptuous cuisine, but she decided against ordering room service. She wasn't in the mood for something fancy. But, she thought, maybe I can call Zach and ask him to join me for dinner. Reaching for the phone, she suddenly decided against it. Zach would surely take it as a sign that she was begging back to him, or at the very least accepting his boorish behavior. Nope, she thought, let him come to me.

    Putting down the receiver, she glanced at her wrist, noting how lucky she was that her injury hadn't been any worse. Especially, since she really hadn't iced it as the doctor had ordered her to. The swelling had already started to recede, relieving some of the pain she had felt the previous nights. Even the bruising was lightening, turning a creepy shade of yellowish green. Jess considered camouflaging it with some foundation, but poo poo'ed the idea, knowing full well one hand washing would wipe her efforts away. Slipping into some black leather flats, she decided to head downstairs and hop into her Jeep, and see where ended up. No stress, no worries, she repeated to herself, almost mantra-like.


    The sun was starting its descent into the evening sky, its rays luring Jessie north, along the coast. People were milling in and out of shops and cafes on A1A. They all looked so happy, enveloped in the sun's orange hues. Jessie always did like the sunset, especially watching it from the beach. The perfect setting, great music on the car stereo - it all helped fill Jessie with a sense of calm, as if nothing could go wrong to break the perfection of the evening.

    Why not? she reasoned, driving towards the Dusk to Dawn. A nice steak dinner with a big fluffy baked potato in the familiar surroundings of the bar would suit her just fine. And Mitch? What about him? She couldn't keep running away from the problems between them. If Lynn had been a little more cordial, maybe she and Mitch could have talked, and gotten past this ridiculous walking on eggshells stage. "Screw that," she stated aloud. What else could possibly happen?

    Feeling absolutely invincible, Jessie reached into her purse, tossing the bottle of pain killers into the glove compartment of her Jeep. She didn't need them anymore. Well, what she needed the medication couldn't offer her. Brushing her windblown hair out of her face, she pulled into the bar's parking lot, the smells emanating from the kitchen's open grill luring her inside even quicker.

    Angel looked up from one of the tables in the still relatively empty dining area, and gave Jessie a friendly wave. Surprised to see her back so soon, he shook his head, and went back to looking over the accounting. Keep out of it, he thought. It was a good sign that Jess had returned so soon. Maybe now, since things were calmer, she and Mitch would be able to talk things out.

    "Hi doll," he said, seeing Jess approach. "I see someone's gotten some sun.."

    "Yup, sure have," Jess smiled, pulling up a chair. "Maybe you should give it a try. Isn't that why you came back down from New York?" she teased.

    Sally noticed Jessie the moment she turned around, finishing writing in the day's specials on the slate board on the far wall. What's she doing here? Sally thought. The woman has no tact, she reasoned, plastering on a smile, and going to take Jessie's drink order. Better make it good. She WAS sitting with the boss. "Hi," Sally said, sweetly, "can I take your order?"

    Jessie paused for a moment, questioning Angel's tensing at her playful remark. And now this, she thought, looking up at Sally. "Just a drink for now," Jess replied, "a Coke please?"

    "Right away.."

    What's with her? Jessie thought. Had the whole world gone mad or something? Wasn't this the same woman who had called her a 'life saver' just the night before? Jess shrugged her questions off, not wanting to ruin her own good mood. "So, what's that you're working on? Too early for tax season.."

    "The books, which can be just as bad," Angel groaned, shuffling the myriad of papers and receipts.

    "Mitch lets the paperwork overpower him," Jessie sighed. "I wish he would have taken me up on my offer to come help organize this mess.."

    How dare she criticize Mitch to the boss? Sally seethed. Without Mitch, the Dusk to Dawn would just be another joint on the strip. She set down a napkin, then the glass of soda, fighting the urge to spill the drink in Jessie's lap. If Angel wasn't here I would have, Sally thought, departing quickly.

    "It's partially my fault too," Angel sighed, slipping on his reading glasses. "I should have trained him better before I left."

    The place was silent, the only sound to be heard coming from the kitchen where the cook readied the evening's fare before the after work rush started. Jessie reached into her purse for some change. "You mind if I play some music? I don't wanna disturb you.."

    "No," Angel said, waving her away, "go right ahead. Won't bother me."

    Feeding the juke a couple of bucks worth of quarters, Jessie hit 'random play,' opting for the machine to play the day's most popular tunes. No worries, no problems.. The juke came to life, playing a lively one hit wonder - Scandal's "The Warrior."

    "Wow," Jessie mused, "I haven’t heard this one in a while."

    'Ohhh... You run run, run away, it's your heart that you betray,
    feeding on your hungry eyes, I bet you're not so civilized..
    When isn't love primitive, a wild gift that you wanna give
    break out of captivity, and follow me a stereo jungle child
    love is the kill, you're heart's still wild..'

    Sally, deciding she had had enough, picked up the phone. "Yeah, information? I need the number for the Wave newspaper in Fort Lauderdale. Thanks.." The little show off's gonna get her wings clipped, courtesy of me, she thought.

    'Shootin' at the walls of heartache, bang bang, I am the warrior,
    well I am the warrior, and hard to, hard to win, if you survive,
    the warrior, the warrior..'

    Jessie's energy was infectious, getting even the overwhelmed non-Eighties Angel to tap his foot, and take a break to watch her dance. Jessie spun around, moving to the rhythm, singing her heart out to the song. Maybe what they needed to boost revenues was a karioke night, Angel thought, with a chuckle.

    'You talk talk talk to me, your eyes touch me physically
    stay with me, we'll take the night, as passion takes another bite..
    who's the hunter, who's the game,
    I feel the beat call your name
    I'll hold you close in victory
    I don't wanna tame your animal style
    you won't be caged by the call of the wild..'

    The room was suddenly filled with the sound of a child's laughter, followed by the scurrying of tiny feet racing across the hardwood floor. "Music!" Kelly laughed, gleefully, rushing blindly over to the jukebox. Jessie backed up when she realized who the child was, not wanting to stun her, after what had gone on earlier in the afternoon. "Oooh! Pretty bubbles!" Kelly said, pointing to the trail of colored bubbles, working their way up the edge of the juke.

    Jessie couldn't help but smile. If they could all be as forgiving and fun loving as children. "Yes," she smiled, leaning down to Kelly's level, "pretty bubbles. Your daddy’s pretty fond of those bubbles too," Jess grinned. "This is a jukebox, a Wur-lit-zer," she said slowly, running her hand up the front of the classic machine.

    "Wurliserrrr," Kelly repeated, giggling with delight.

    Jess stayed down, resting on her heels, watching the little girl dance. For the first time, with the sunlight streaming in from the street, Jess could see just how much Kelly resembled Mitch. Rich blond hair, with a slight curl, the same big sky blue eyes. Even the way the little girl enjoyed music, dancing and prancing gleefully to it.

    "I like to dance," Kelly said, smiling at Jessie.

    "Me too," Jessie answered, beaming as the little girl reached for her hand, and pulled her up to dance with her. This is turning out to be a great day after all, Jess thought, letting the music and the wonderful spontaneity of the moment sweep her away.

    A chip off the old block, Mitch chuckled, remembering Kelly's reaction to the music when it started to play, racing through the door of his office when she heard the steady, rock beat, dolly and daddy both forgotten. Mitch never could have expected the happy scene that greeted his eyes when he emerged from the quiet of the back - Kelly and Jessie dancing and singing along to the music, not a care in the world.

    "Shootin' at the walls of heartache," Jessie sang, she and Kelly, making banging gun motions with their hands, "the warrior, I am the warrior, and hard to hard to win, if you survive..."

    Mitch leaned back against the wall, a feeling of warmth rushing over him. THIS is what Kelly's life should be like, he smiled, full of music and laughter. He couldn't help but wonder if Lynn was including any music in Kelly's life, or if the love of music came from him. Suddenly, Kelly saw her dad, and ran up to him, happiness known only to a child shining in her eyes. "Bang bang daddy," she giggled.

    "Oh! You got me!" Mitch teased, pretending he had just been hit by an invisible bullet.

    Jessie couldn't help but notice Mitch's arrival, and smiled shyly, lifting her long hair off the hot, moist skin on her neck. She mouthed a hi at Mitch over Kelly's shoulder, not wanting to interrupt the father-daughter moment.

    "I see you've met my friend," Mitch said, stroking his daughter's hair affectionately.

    "Jessie's fun.." Kelly said, looking back at her new friend.

    Jessie shrugged at Mitch, indicating she hadn't told the little girl her name, and Mitch sighed. Kids picked up on a lot more than people gave them credit for - good or bad.

    Leading her father by the hand, Kelly brought him out to the dance floor next to Jessie. "Dance s'more," she demanded, the next CD slipping into the player.

    Oh God, let it not be a slow song, Mitch thought, knowing that at any moment, Lynn would be walking in to get Kelly. Jessie grabbed her already watery soda from Angel's table, and took three long sips from her straw, eyeing the juke, wondering what song would happen to play next. ELO's "Don't Bring Me Down," brought a sigh of relief from the two adults.

    "Wow, another oldie," Jessie said, breaking the awkward silence.

    "Kelly.. this song was popular when daddy and Jessie were in junior high," stated Mitch.

    "When your daddy and I were in school," Jessie corrected, making it simpler for the little girl to understand, "a long, long time ago," she chuckled.

    "Ha," Angel said, "I'm older than rocks."

    'You've got me runnin', goin' out of my mind,
    you've got me thinkin' that you're wastin' my time,
    don't bring me down, no, no, no, no, no,
    I'll tell you once more before I get off the floor
    don't bring me down..'

Please let my luck hold, Mitch thought…

 

* * * * *

Copyright 1998 Susana Audrain  All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this novel
or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by the U.S. Copyright Law.

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