Chapter Eight

   Lynn stood outside the front door of the bar seething. How dare Mitch let Jessie be around their daughter? She was trash, and the fact that the three seemed to be having a wonderful time only made Lynn more furious. She was about to storm into the bar, when she bumped into someone.

    "Excuse me," a masculine voice said.

    Lynn shifted her gaze, drawn by the lilt of an educated man's voice, peppered with a north eastern accent - Connecticut maybe? "No, excuse ME," she purred, letting the handsome stranger in the Ralph Lauren sportswear go in before her, his exquisite cologne just about knocking the drooling Lynn over.

    'I tell you once more, before I get off the floor,
    don't bring me down..'

    From behind, she could see that the man was carrying a beautiful bouquet of assorted roses. Lucky woman, whomever she was, Lynn thought. The man stopped, about four paces into the bar, and looked over towards.. no, it couldn't be! Lynn's mind screamed. Jessie?! Lynn pushed the door open, wanting to get a better look, as if the glass in the window had played a trick on her eyes.

    The tall man bowed his head, keeping the flowers hidden behind his broad shoulders. "Jessie," she heard him say, "I've missed you baby, and I hope you'll forgive me.."

    Taking the cue, Mitch guided Kelly out of the way of the two reconciling lovebirds, waving when he saw Lynn. Jealousy turned her blue eyes green, bringing a predictable frown to Mitch's mouth. "Look sweetie, there's mommy," he said, trying to distract Lynn.

    "Hi sugar," Lynn said, blankly, eyes still fixed on Jessie and what she still couldn't believe was her boyfriends. "Go get your dolly, 'k?" she said, scooting Kelly away. Waiting til her daughter was out of earshot, she aimed her anger and resentment at Mitch. "How DARE you allow our daughter to be around that woman?!" she barked, barely suppressing her rising anger.

    "Kelly and Jess were just dancing to some music from the jukebox.."

    "I don't care if they were solving the government deficit," she interrupted, sarcastically, "I don't want her near my daughter.."

    Now it was Mitch's turn to get upset. "So now she's YOUR daughter.."

    "Yes, MY daughter," Lynn stated, matter-of-factly, "who's raised her the past four years?"

    "And who's fault is that?" stated Mitch.

    Kelly came rushing back out, her doll stuffed under her arm. "Mommy," she said, tugging on Lynn's skirt. "Watch me dance," she said, moving back towards Jessie.

    Lynn made a sudden grab for her daughter's arm. "No.. no, angel," she said, trying to regain her composure, "not now. We need to go.."

    "Awww," Kelly whined, looking up at Mitch with pleading eyes.

    "It's okay, Kel," Mitch smiled, "the next time you come by I'll let you push the buttons on the jukebox, and pick whatever song you wanna dance to, okay?"

    "Wurliserrr," Kelly answered, have nodding, still not fully reassured.

    "We'll talk about this later," Lynn said, taking Kelly's hand, as she shot Mitch a menacing look.

    "Bye Jessie," Kelly called out over her shoulder, waving awkwardly with her free hand, as she tried to keep her doll wedged under her arm.

    It hurt like hell - having Lynn whisk Kelly away like that, seeing Jess with Zach - it was all Mitch could do to retreat to the solitude of his office, before his expression betrayed just how rotten he was feeling.


    Jessie smiled the same smile she always did when Zach tried to smooth his snaffoos over with flowers. But what could she do? They were standing in the middle of a bar, people watching Zach's attempt at charm. Even Sally, who had Jess on her shit list, had peeked her head out of the kitchen for a quick look.

    "What do ya say, Jess? Forgive me?" Zach pleaded, thrusting the bouquet at her.

    "Why don't we go out on the beach and talk," she answered.

    Zach nodded yes, and started to lead her outside, when Jessie stopped. "Hang onto these for me," she said to Angel, laying the flowers on the table.

    "Sure.."

    They walked in silence for a few minutes, until they reached a bench on the edge of the sand that offered a perfect view of the setting sun. Jessie sat down, talking off her shoes, and digging her toes into the sand. Looking up at the sky, praying for a little guidance, she started to speak. "Look Zach, I didn't wanna go into this back there in front of everyone.."

    "I understand," Zach interrupted, bending over backwards to agree with Jess.

    "Please," she said, emphatically, "let me finish." Zach nodded, and Jess continued. "The other night was really hard on me, both physically and emotionally. What happened that night can't happen again. I won't let it.." Jessie slipped on her sunglasses again, tilting her head back, as she faced the blazing sun, as if she were trying to garnish courage from its searing warmth. "There have been many before Candi, and I'm sure there will be more after her," she said, sternly, "but if there's another little floozy sharing a bed with you again - hell, even touching you, I will leave you.."

    There. She had said it. The two sat quietly, Jessie's ultimatum sinking in. Zach averted his gaze, visibly dumbfounded as to how he could possibly reply to what Jess had just said.

    "Jess, you know I love you. We're a team. Always have been, always will be, right? We’re gonna conquer the publishing world together, just like we planned, remember?" he said, taking Jessie in his arms, and kissing her hair affectionately.

    Yeah, yeah, yeah, Jessie thought. I've heard this all before. What would make this time different? "You say you love me, that you need me, but you go out and have your flings, Zach.. That's not love, that's not even commitment."

    "I know Jess," Zach said, taking her hands in his. "I've been a fool. I realized just how much I've needed you in the time we've been apart. Please come home with me tonight, and let me apologize properly.."

    Jessie looked away for a moment, trying to think. Awkward reconciliations were a common event between them, the only difference this time was that she had actually walked out on Zach. The countless arguments in the past over Zach's little rendezvous ended with Jess being showered in gifts, culminating in a hot night of love making. The intense closeness would carry them until the next time he strayed. But should she forgive him, only to risk being let down so badly again? "I need time to think Zach. This has been really hard on me. How about we meet tomorrow for a nice dinner somewhere. I'll let you know then what my decision is.."

    Zach sighed. Jessie hadn't given in to his request, yet she hadn't exactly slammed the door either. That was something. "Okay Jess," he said, quietly. "I guess I can stand another night alone...BARELY," he teased, tapping Jessie under her chin playfully. Where would you like to meet.. uh.. why don't I pick you up?"

    Jess laughed. She couldn't blame him for trying. "Nope, I'll meet you at Chez Henri's at eight sharp. And bring your platinum card, you're gonna need it."


  
Angel walked into Mitch's office, paperwork in a rough bundle under one arm. "We need to take a look at all this tomorrow," he said, shutting the office door behind him. "But there's something I think that needs your immediate attention.."

    Mitch looked up at his friend, a downtrodden look on his face. "What now? Kitchen fire?" he sighed.

    "I told myself I'd keep out of this, but.. Jessie's back." Mitch sat his desk not saying a word. "Zach's gone," Angel continued, laying the pile of paperwork on the corner of Mitch's desk. Meeting Mitch's eyes, he turned and left the office without another word.

    Mitch knew he couldn't keep running away from Jessie every time he saw her. They were friends, weren't they? Or were they? He could explain it all to Jessie, but would she listen to him? Or maybe what happened was meant to be.. Maybe it was good that Lynn showed up. Maybe he and Jessie should just be friends, as always. Angel had called his attention to a chance for he and Jessie to talk. Might as well give it a shot, Mitch thought, heading for the bar.

    Stopping the door before him with his hands, Mitch sighed, wishing that things could go back to the way they used to be just a week ago. "Some things should just stay as dreams," he whispered to himself, wondering if he should have ever let Jess’s pain touch his heart the way it had that night. If he just would have remained cooly detached, the kiss would have never happened. Time for reality, he thought, entering the bar.

    "Hey Mitch!" Nick called out, as soon as Mitch emerged from the back. Nick had just arrived. He immediately looked for Jessie, and was just about to make his way over to her, when he saw Mitch. Not wanting to appear to eager, Nick decided to go over to Mitch instead. Can't make her think I'm going to crawl on my hands and knees for her, he thought. He'd have to ignore her a little. Nick waved at Mitch, walking right by Jessie without even so much as a look. "Hey Mitch, listen, we gotta talk about.."

    Mitch held up his hand. "Uh sure Mick, but not right now.."

    "Nick. It's Nick, the drummer in the band."

    Mitch nodded. "Nick?" he asked, not the least bit concerned, just repeating him out of habit. "Right, Nick.."

    Mitch was on the other side of the bar, making his way over to Jessie, but Nick was blocking his path. Nick stood straight up in Mitch's way, a huge fake smile on his face. Presumably, this is what the idiot thought classified as charm.

    "Mitch, I'd like.."

    Mitch smiled, taking hold of Nick's shoulder. "Look Dick.."

    Nick chuckled. "Uh, Nick."

    Mitch chuckled. No, he thought to himself, I meant to say dick. Mitch took Nick, turning him around, and pushing him away with a light shove. "Nick - later, okay? I have to talk to someone."

    Feeling like a total fool, Nick let Mitch's shove propel him into the dance floor. He turned around, more than a little annoyed at the brush off, to see Mitch smile at him, his back to Jessie. Jessie was right behind him, all he had to do was turn around to reach her, and now that Nick was out of the way, he could. "But it's really important Mitch!"

    Mitch nodded. "I bet it is!" he said through a forced smile. Jesus, Mitch thought, as he finally turned his back on Nick.

    "Real important!" yelled Nick.

    Mitch waved the back of his hand to Nick, and looked right at Jessie. From the way she was arching her eyebrows, it was clear that even she had noticed Nick's little temper tantrum. Angel was busy prepping drinks for the few scattered customers sitting at the bar, watching Mitch swallow hard, as Jess turned away on her bar stool. Every once in a while he’d glance up at them, keeping his usual watchful eye on things. Sid was in his usual spot, a customer laughing at one of his usual off color jokes. "So the girl said, 'then I was robbed!'" he laughed. Angel smiled and poured another drink for Sid, one eye on Mitch.

    Mitch stood before Jessie, he knew she was going to give him a hard time, God knew it was well deserved. But he had to come clean. Things had been bad enough before, but Lynn only made matters worse. What must she think of me? Mitch thought, cringing. Inhaling deeply, he laid his hand on Jessie's shoulder.

    Jessie met Mitch’s eyes, noticing that sadness in them. She wanted to be tough, to tell Mitch how low she thought he was, and to get his hands off her. She wanted to be mean - but she couldn't.

    "Jessie.." he mumbled.

    Jessie couldn't hold onto her anger, her tough frown disappearing, the sharp points of her facial features smoothed to long, saddened lines. "Mitch, I.."

    "I wanna explain.."

    The fact that things seemed to be leveling off with Zach tempered the rage which had only recently bubbled inside her, and the last thing Jess wanted to do was detract from her newfound sense of calm. Her first priority was finding out once and for all if she and Zach would be making a go of it. Mitch had Lynn in his life now, not to mention Kelly.

    "No.. it’s okay really," Jessie interrupted, realizing Mitch needed some stress relief as much as she did, not to mention the fact that the last thing she wanted was to hear the gory details regarding Lynn.

    "I'm sorry.."

    "I'm sorry too.."

    "Jessie - I'm sorry. You're my friend," Mitch said, "and you've been that to me for so long. I just.."

    "It's okay.." Jessie said, putting her hand up to Mitch's face. She wanted to completely forgive him. Like Mitch said they were friends. But Mitch still had done her wrong. Did he even know what he wanted? Maybe he did, taking advantage of her at a weak moment, and had planned on telling her about Lynn later. Could he actually want them both, for bragging rights? No, Mitch isn't like that, she thought. But still.. Just let it go, Jess thought.

    "Jessie.. I didn't mean to hu.."

    "It's okay Mitch," Jessie said, interrupting him, "I've decided to give Zach another chance."

    "Another chance?" Mitch stuttered.

    "I love him, and I think.. I think we just made a mistake is all."

    Mitch's clenched his teeth. His stomach knotted, eyes starting to well up. He had just convinced himself what happened with Jessie was a mistake - he could handle it - from himself. Hearing it from Jessie made his heart sink. "Sure, a mistake," Mitch said, choking on the last word.

    Jessie smiled at Mitch, who looked like he had just gotten punched in the stomach. Her words had stopped him right in his tracks. Mitch pulled his hand away as she continued. "And Zach, well.. I love him, and I decided to give him another chance Mitch. We're having dinner tomorrow night."

    "I'm happy for you."

    Jessie stood up, pulling Mitch to her for a hug. "Thank you.."

    Angel smiled. He hadn't heard what they said, but he saw Jessie hug Mitch. Problem solved, he thought. Sally saw it too, while she was bringing some empty drink glasses back to behind the bar. Her eyes narrowed, and she let out a small 'hmph!' as she picked up a bar rag from the counter top. How dare she play with his feelings! she thought, and how could Mitch be so stupid as to be apologizing to her?

    Nick saw and heard everything too, from his position at the end of the bar, as he waited for his drink from Angel. What's the deal between these two? he thought. Angel had laid down the drink, and he sipped from it, pondering on it some more. What threat could Mitch pose, and who was this Zach guy Jessie had mentioned? Jessie had been such a flirt the other night. Nick's brow furrowed, the realization that he had been played bringing a bitter taste in his mouth. That bitch! he thought, gulping down some more beer, she used me!

    "Mitch should be done soon, if you still wanna talk to him," Angel said, refreshing Nick's drink.

    Nick nodded to Angel. "That's fine," he mumbled.

    Nick smiled evily, as he spun the ice around in his drink. No problem. Play with me, use me. Two can play that game..

* * * * *

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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