Chapter One of A Reason to Stay

A Reason to Stay Chapter 1

CHAPTER ONE

Like A Wrecking Ball

Elise Newton sat across the table from Darren Masterson in Pierre’s, one of the swankiest places in town to eat, watching him like she would an ailing person in the hospital. Right after the doctor informed her he only had hours left to live.

She studied him, trying to remember everything about him that she could. Things that normally couldn’t be recalled if just the image of him popped up in her mind. Like a quick snapshot of a tall guy with a nice smile, dark hair, and an amazing set of blue eyes.

No, Elise wanted to remember the details. Like the lines in his forehead, and how there was one very pronounced one dead center over the bridge of his nose, etched deeper than all the others. And that solitary vein that pulsed on his right temple when he was either chewing or talking very seriously about something.

She took a sip of her expensive wine and swished it around in her mouth before swallowing.

It tasted dry; she much more preferred sweet. But this would do the trick. She needed just a few more glasses of it, though, to deaden the pain she knew would come after she told him what she had to say.

But first his lips. She needed to remember his soft lips. If they had a flavor, it’d be buttercream, like the kind found in the middle of her favorite doughnut from Margie’s Bakery, down off Ontario Boulevard.

She looked at him then, letting her eyes wander down to his perfectly shaped mouth as it took another bite. Lord, she’d miss that mouth … that tongue … that…

“Babe, are you all right?” he asked, chewing at the same time.

“Of course,” she said, blinking rapidly to get the image of him licking her lips out of her mind.

“It just seems like there’s something on your mind. Something you want to tell me.” He wiped the corner of his mouth with the linen napkin.

She shook her head and stared at his blue eyes as he drove his fork around the plate. Now, his eyes were a whole other story than his lips. Ones that she would miss the most. To describe them merely as being blue as the Arctic ocean would be like describing the Northern Lights as blurry thing-a-ma-bobs.

No, they were like two of the most devastatingly blue eyes that she’d ever seen in

California, since moving there fourteen years ago. When she looked into them long enough, she discovered they were actually secret portals into the heart of his soul.

And Bam! There she had it. These thoughts about the man sitting across the table from her were the precise reasons why she had to end it. Nip it in the bud. Stop the presses. Lane four is closing, take all your feelings and emotions to the express checkout and get the H-E-double-L out of there.

Elise’s brain sent the cut-it-and-run messages through the loud speaker in her head, but her mouth was having a hard time with the command. She shook her head, trying to snap out of the trance she’d fallen into again. Like the one that caught her last week when she told herself that would be her last date with Mr. Perfect. So far, this was the fifth ‘last’ date she’d had with him.

What was her problem? Instead of studying him like an Adonis sitting front and center in a Petri dish, she had to saddle up for what she came to dinner to do. To break up with him. There was no way around it. It had to be done. Only she had to think of a way.

He wasn’t like the other guys she was used to dating. There was nothing that truly stood out to be a problem with him. Other than Elise was beginning to fall for him. She had been for the past couple of eight months.

She could hear her mother’s Southern-coated drawl play over and over inside her head. “Don’t ever think a man is the answer to your problems, little girl. There is no man out there that’s gonna do anything but destroy you. Destroy all your dreams, and destroy your future. End it with them before they end it with you.”

“Hon, I wish you would’ve ordered the filet tonight. It’s actually melting on my tongue before I can even chew it.” Darren smiled and tilted his head slightly to the side, staring into Elise’s eyes.

“You’ve got to order it the next time we come.”

Elise grabbed for her wine, shaking her head and flashing him a tiny, one-lined smile. The kind that could go either way. Nothing that could incriminate her later, because she knew in her heart that this would be the last time they’d come here together.

Miley Cyrus’ song Wrecking Ball  kept streaming in her mind. She knew she’d have to play it loudly on her way home, probably crying her eyes out in between stoplights. She hated when people stared at a sensible girl lip syncing in her car and moaning that her life was over. All the while her nose and tears are running down past her chin because she doesn’t carry tissues with her and her blouse is silk and it’s hard to get mascara cleaned off it.

Maybe she could tell him her company was sending her to Guatemala for work. Nah, he would never fall for that. He’d somehow remember her telling him she’d failed Spanish in the tenth grade and couldn’t digest red beans and rice. Then it would be awkward when she’d run into him at the hospital when she was getting treated for some disease that karma gave to her because she dumped a completely great boyfriend for no good reason.

If only she had a reason.

Maybe she could channel some of her past breakups before Darren and take a cue for why those ended. Tommy Jorgensen was the first to come to mind. Maybe that was not the best one to remember. He was pretty simple to give the ol’ heave-ho to, because it was obvious as they approached their third week together that he had to go. Sure, he was easy on the eyes and had arms like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but there was a serious problem with his eyes.

They were two of the biggest boob-watching eyes she’d ever seen before. At first she thought it was a fluke. Maybe she had something on her chest—a bug, a piece of spaghetti, a silhouette reminding him of his father’s dead aunt, the one who pinched his cheeks too hard. Then, she began wearing high-collared shirts, graduating finally into turtle necks, thinking he’d fix his eyesight on her face and not her cotton fronted shirts. It didn’t work, which made her wonder, was he even listening to her? Could he recall even her name or her occupation anymore?

Within the span of three more dates, it had escalated to other boob-watching instances— hostess boobs, waitress boobs, and women in park boobs. It didn’t take her a dinner over wine and piano music to call it quits with Tommy. She just wrote a post-it saying ‘Lose my number,’ and attached it to her boobs, the next time they met for coffee.

The guy after him was no prize winner, either— Hunter Montgomery. Again, great physique and a humdinger of a smile. He would’ve had to have veneers for how completely perfect his teeth were aligned. They might’ve even been dentures the more she thought back on it. Anyway, there wasn’t much not to like about him physically. Even his taste in clothing was impeccable. Never did she see him wear the same outfit twice in the two months they dated. But that was Hunter’s problem—they never dated. At least not in the fashion of ever leaving his apartment.

The only thing Hunter wanted to do was have Elise cook for him and then lie on the couch and watch rerun sitcoms for the next three hours before he’d stand up, stretch, and say, ‘I’ve got to get up early for work, babe. I’m feeling like

Mexican tomorrow night, how about you?’ Did this mean she was to meet him back there at his door wearing a sombrero and ready to cook enchiladas, or that he was going to actually treat her to a night out on the town, with salsa dancing?

Elise figured out Hunter was certainly referring to homemade fajitas and a marathon of The Office. She had to end it with him by leaving a note on the pizza box she had delivered to his house, the night he requested Italian, saying she was called out of town to attend a convention and she’d call him in maybe six months. It was a long convention.

“Honey … spill it. What’s on your mind?” Darren lowered his head, trying to get her attention. She was staring off somewhere toward the back of the restaurant. “I’ve never seen you this aloof.”

Elise looked at her current perfect boyfriend, fog drifting in and out of her mind. Her knees shook underneath the table. Having never fought with him over anything bigger than who was going to pay the check, she began having a mini freak-out moment.

“Rough day at work, I guess. I can’t seem to get my mind away from it.”

“I could have sworn you had teleported from the table. I hope they aren’t overworking you. I told you that once that Barry guy made partner, you’d have to pull his load too. It’s not right.” He stopped driving his fork into the last morsel of potato casserole and stared into Elise’s eyes.

“No, really, work is fine. I’ve just got some things on my mind.”

Elise gripped her fork so hard, the metal edge pushed into her bone. The longer it took her to do this, the worse it would be. She had slipped up with Darren Masterson. She should have seen it coming when he started opening doors for her, waiting for her before he started eating, and even putting the lid down on the toilet. Nine months and she still had nothing to hold against him. Nothing that would stick, anyway. She might have to pull out the oldie but goodie, ‘It’s not you, it’s me.’ Unfortunately, it would be an appropriate choice.

Okay, this was it. She was about to slip on her big girl panties and do it. She took a deep breath, started to swing her wrecking ball…and the waiter interrupted the drum roll in her head with refilling their water glasses. “Can I get this out of your way, sir?” he asked, touching the edge of Darren’s clean plate.

“Sure, and please give the chef my compliments. My appetite has certainly been amply satisfied tonight.”

“Very well, sir.” The smiling waiter with bowtie and vest carried off the plate.

Darren looked at Elise. “Was your fettuccini not good? You barely ate any of it.”

“No, it’s fine,” she said softly, trying to swallow the lump in her throat. Perhaps that lump would satisfy her growling belly. Yeah right, when this was all over with, a gallon of ice cream, Bridges of Madison County pre-loaded in her DVD player and a fifth of vodka waited for her at home. She might even stop sobbing long enough to order a quarter pounder with cheese at McDonald’s on the way there.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I reserved us a room at that bed and breakfast at Montego Bay this weekend.” He laid down his utensils, his right hand disappearing somewhere past the ledge of the tabletop. “I was hoping we could use the getaway as a sort of celebratory weekend.”

Elise nodded out of habit, before choking on the gulp of wine sliding down her throat. She couldn’t go this weekend. Those times were over. Mentally, she spun yards of yellow police tape around the memories of their past. Placing stakes at the important junctures, romantic trips, playing hooky from work to stay in bed all day, midnight Ben and Jerry runs. Her dysfunctional mind was settled. Rebound was only a date away.

As she attempted to clear her throat of the acidic burn and blurt out it was over, Darren grabbed the phone from his pocket and looked at the screen. “I’m sorry, babe. I’ve got to take this. I have a patient who’s not doing well and I told the nurse to call with any changes.”

All the adrenaline coursing and banging through her veins suddenly flat-lined. He was a couple steps away from the table when she heard his tone change from relaxed boyfriend to professional cardiologist. Did she fail to remind her genetically flawed mind that he was Chief Resident at St. Mary’s Hospital? Under that shirt and tie, not only were there toned and tanned abs, but there was a Superman insignia. Who dumped Clark Kent?

Just as she was wrestling with the two-horned devil on her shoulder, Darren snuck up behind her. Pulling the hair away from her neck, he pressed his buttercream lips to her skin. The intimate gesture forced her eyes to close.

“I’m sorry. I have to go.” He moved in front of her, slightly squatting down. “The nurse on duty just told me Mr. Capshaw’s blood pressure is dropping. I might have to operate tonight. I’ll pay the check on my way out and call you later. Be careful going home.” He closed his eyes before kissing her on the lips.

“I will, and good luck,” she said, raising her voice as he dashed off to find the waiter.

Damn it, damn it, damn it. Another blown opportunity. If only she wouldn’t look like a total loser eating by herself, she would have ordered the triple layer chocolate cake and another bottle of wine. But who was she kidding? None of her suits had elastic waistbands, and she was still going home to eat that cheeseburger and gallon of ice cream. She’d save the vodka for when her mission was accomplished.

She’d just have to try again, and next time she’d have a cheat sheet. A few catch phrases written on her palm for easy reference: ’works all the time saving lives,’ ‘too generous,’ ‘likes to cuddle,’ or, ‘helps little old ladies cross the street.’ Elise had no doubt she’d find his fatal flaw. She gathered up the wrecking ball still intact inside her bag and left the restaurant, headed home to watch the clock until the next time.

Before placing her car in drive, she speed dialed her best friend, Kelly. The phone rang five times before she answered. “Tell me you’re coming home tomorrow,” Elise begged as she shifted into drive and pulled out on the street.

“You know I won’t be home until next week, Elise. These lectures are taking forever. It would be so much easier if I spoke Japanese. I swear the translator has a lisp and it’s taking double the time it should. Why? What’s wrong? Don’t tell me you did it.”

A red traffic light caught Elise. “Not yet. I’m having serious issues. I told you I should have ended it over Christmas. Now it’s spring and we’ve been together too long. I know him, Kelly. He’ll hound me, wanting to know why and how. I should’ve done it in the winter. I could have gone into hibernation before the smoke cleared.”

“Elise, you’re insane! Darren is perfect. He’s a doctor, number one. He adores you, number two. He’s never been married and he never brings up old girlfriends like that jerk, Todd Sweeney.”

“Don’t knock Todd Sweeney. He was fresh on rebound. He was fun, and I knew it wouldn’t last. He never once asked to go to my place. Gosh, that was a good month.” Elise drummed her fingers on the steering wheel, and a smile came to her face. She thought back to those two weeks she spent with Todd.

“So what if I learned a little too much about Stephanie, his ex. He was outrageously amusing while it lasted.”

No meal was made a martyr from that ending. Just a nice ‘See ya later, and tell Steph I said hi.’ Why couldn’t they all be that easy to shake?

The stoplight turned green and Elise drove

slowly through town, not knowing if she was ready to go home. Her task was still dangling out there somewhere, unfinished and unchecked. The thought of eating a fatty fast food burger made her feel as if she hadn’t done anything to deserve it. Misery would’ve eaten it and cried the entire time, but this loser feeling she was having would’ve only looked at the scales the next morning and made herself run two extra miles on the treadmill.

“All I’m saying is that Darren is a keeper. Get over your space issue and settle down with someone. I don’t want to have to think about you getting fat on Rocky Road, never shaving your legs, and sharing microwave dinners with twenty cats. I would like someone to be pregnant with at the same time I am. I did, after all, go off the pill last month. Martin has already bought a box of cigars.”

“Kelly Whithers, even if I did settle down, which I will never do, don’t expect me to have children. Look at what my mother did to me. I’m so messed up now, I can’t even make it a year with the same guy, no matter how freakin’ perfect he is.”

“Just don’t break up with him until I get home. I can bring over Terms of Endearment and we can eat twenty Lindt chocolate balls each. I deserve some hard-core calories after this business trip.”

“With my luck, it will take me until next week. I’m batting zero with a reason to end it. I don’t want to come off being the bad guy. And I certainly don’t want to give him something that he will try to fix.” She banged her hand on the steering wheel in frustration. “If only he cheated or practiced devil worshipping. Something solid.”

“Elise Newton, stop looking where there is nothing to find. Spend more time on the couch of a shrink. When you find out why you can’t commit, you’ll find out that Darren’s the one to keep.”

Elise got off the phone and thrust her head against the backrest. Slowly she looked up. Damn it, she was parked in the driveway of his house.

A Reason to Stay
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