by Victoria Adams
copyright © 2011 Victoria Adams 2011
Five years - Julie hadn't seen or thought about him in all that time, and now in the middle of nowhere, he stood on the beach drying off from a swim. Droplets flew as Robert shook his hair. His black mane was shorter than the last time she saw him. The wet ends dripped water on his bare, muscular shoulders. Tricia, an old high school friend once said he had the body of a male stripper - time hadn't changed that.
Julie stepped back onto the beach path, transfixed by the sight of the one person she hated. Her repulsion and loathing of him ran so deep; she'd repressed all memories of him. She thought he'd loved her, and had taken a chance, opening up her heart and body to him. But instead of returning her love, he proved himself worthy of the gutter from which he'd crawled.
Her body said run, but her feet refused to move as she watched a long-legged, svelte, golden blonde rise from the beach chair. She trickled her fingers down his rippled stomach. His voice floated across the sand. It was a calming sound, which had brought a smile to Julie's face when he whispered words of love and passion.
Details she thought she'd long forgotten surged forward. She remembered the way his dark eyes smoldered with anger and his sly, innocent grin. His joyous laughter had made her feel the abandonment of a child frolicking in the year's first snowfall. She moved along the path, distancing herself from the lovers as the blonde undid the strings on her bathing suit top, and let it fall to the sand.
With an unexpected shiver, Julie hurried along the meandering path, and returned to the cottage, and to the man she accompanied - who was nothing like her betrayer. Vincent's sad brown eyes reminded her of a basset hound's - loyal and true.
"Julie." She looked towards Vincent standing on the deck. "Jean-Marc's on the phone. Shall I take a message?"
"No, I won't make him suffer. He has few hairs left to pull out of his head." She took the cell phone and sat on a deck chair. "Hello, Jean-Marc."
"How's the knee?" he asked. As always, Jean-Marc, Artistic Director, was direct to the point.
"Have you been following your doctor's orders?"
"Yes, all I've done is sit on the deck, stare at the ocean and get fat. We leave this afternoon, and if the doctor says everything's okay, I'll be back on Tuesday. Sound good?"
She placed the cell phone on the table, and the other hand slid down to her knee. Two weeks ago, it was grotesque and painful. During a simple rehearsal, Julie posed in an elegant arabesque held tall on her pointe. Her leg was lifted high above her head, back arched, and her arms suspended in the air, as if frozen in time. Until she collapsed on the floor.
At first, only her dignity was hurt. Then the pain shot from her knee to her brain. The doctor said she was lucky there was no serious damage He urged her to take a vacation to let the knee mend.
Julie gazed out at the ocean, listening to the waves splash against the shore. Had it really been that long ago? Five years since she'd left her friends, her family and the longhaired, scruffy guy who snuck his way into her heart. Notorious gang member or not, he still portrayed a sense of vulnerability and innocence. Then in true gang style, he stabbed her heart - figuratively. She shook her head. "No, don't think of him."
"Hmm?" Vincent peered over the top of his Financial Post.
"Nothing, just mumbling to myself. I can't get over this view." Julie waved a hand towards the ocean and inhaled the headiness of the salty air, sighing in contentment.
Now, it was time to get back to the harsh realities of daily class, rehearsals and performances. She was a dancer, and that's what she must do – not lie on the beach, making love. She slapped the wooden arms of the deck chair, stood and followed Vincent into what he called a rustic little thing tucked among the trees.
"Which would you prefer?" He held out two plates. On each was a light meal of vegetables, a creamy dip, fruit wedges and low-fat cheese. Julie carried hers to the dining room where she found a pitcher of ice tea and a tray of crackers.
"Rustic little cottage. The dining room seats eight. It has five bedrooms, four baths, and you could roast a pig in the fireplace." Her gaze settled on the expanse of sand and seawater stretching to the horizon. "But you could begin to believe you're the only person alive. So different from my life at home - people at rehearsal and hundreds of people in the audience. It was nice to be alone, just you and I. If only for a little while." She turned to face Vincent. "Hello? Humph, I make a great impassioned speech about my place in the universe, and I'm talking to myself."
"Pardon?" Vincent entered the room and sat at the far head of the table. "I'm sorry I didn't realize you were speaking to me. Please, continue." He folded his hands.
Julie dipped a broccoli bud into the dressing. "Short version, it's been a great week."
Vincent nodded. "It'll be great to get back to work."
"You never left work." She raised her broccoli and shook it at him. "If you weren't texting someone, you were calling them."
"I can't be expected to be away from work for a whole week. I'm the boss." Vincent straightened his linen napkin. "But I did this for you. And look at you - all tanned and healed. I've a notion you're biting at the chance to get back to work."
Julie munched a carrot stick and stared out the window.
With the last bit of lunch consumed, Vincent carried the remains of the meal to the kitchen. Julie wandered back to her deck chair, and let the warmth of the sun relax her soul. Immobile, she listened to the clatter of Vincent as he cleaned the few dishes they had dirtied.
Bartholomew, Vincent's personal assistant/body guard, had been sent back to open the estate, and now Vincent's compulsion for neatness forced him to assume butler duties. "Robert wouldn't have done that." Julie lurched up, clamping her hand over her mouth.
"Your chauffeur's here." Vincent's sister, Cheryl, bounded onto the deck. "I've come to rescue you from the wilds of nature, and return you to smog filled civilization." Cheryl's eyes scanned her friend. "Don't take this personally, I hate you."
"Look at you," Cheryl flipped the car keys in her hand. "You're gorgeous. That ponytail ends in a perfect little flip. Your eyelashes go on forever, and your legs stop at your neck. I have paintbrushes fatter than you. And you've got a gorgeous tan." She stepped closer. "So, did you and Vincent...you know?"
Julie shook her head. "We haven't been dating that long. This was just a vacation. I think he needed an excuse to get out of the office."
"Luggage is in the car." Vincent held the door for them. As he settled into the back of the long, white, company limousine Julie sat next to Cheryl.
"Why are you here?" asked Julie. "I thought the chauffeur would be sent when Bart left."
"You don't like Bart?"
Julie turned to check on Vincent. He was involved in a cell phone conversation. "No," she whispered. "He's creepy."
"Well, knowing my brother's lack of a driver's license and your sore knee, I thought we could spend the time chatting."
"Vincent doesn't have a license?"
Cheryl shook her head.
Julie continued, "I never thought about that. His not driving us was because he's rich enough to have a chauffeur. Why drive?"
"I think he's scared of driving, and prefers to hide in the back seat."
The roar of a motorcycle caught everyone's attention as it sped past to take the lead. "There's a guy I'd like to get to know." Cheryl nodded in the direction of the motorcycle. "He's dating Corina Kroft, the stunning blonde who owns the blue Cape Cod cottage up the beach. Heiress to a small fortune. Estimated to be in the several billions. Vincent says she's lethal in business. The dumb blonde theory didn't rub off on her. There have been marriage rumors about motorcycle-man and her."
"Would you like to know his name?"
After veering to the left, Cheryl put the car back on the pavement. "You know him? Details!"
"We went to high school together."
"But you went to a rich bitch school?"
Julie nodded. "Westland Prep."
"I heard he was a biker. You know, gang member and all that."
"Long story. Unhappy ending."
"I've bumped into him on the path a few times. He doesn't talk much. I swear he's the handsomest man on the planet. His smile makes my knees weak. And his eyes. There's such intenseness about them. Just once I'd like to..." A soft sigh finished her sentence.
"His name's Robert Holiday." A chill ran down Julie's spine.
"So like, did you know him really well?" Cheryl popped her eyebrows up and down. "Didn't happen to date him did you?"
"Vincent tells me you got the job to paint the mural for the new Arts Centre."
"Change of topic. Ooh, this has to be good. Sleep with him?"
Cheryl glanced over at her friend. "Okay, I'll let you off the hook for now, but don't think I've given up. Someday I'll get you to talk. I suspect there's a great story here."
Julie knew Cheryl's determination, but her friend didn't know her stubborn refusal to talk about this topic.
Addressing her friend with a false air of pompous sophistication, Cheryl said, "Yes, I, Cheryl Foster, have been commissioned to design the lobby of Langston's new multimillion dollar Arts Centre. This piece of artistic mastery will be surpassed only by What's-his-name's Sistine Chapel."
As Cheryl rambled on about her latest project, Julie glanced back. Vincent was engrossed in work-related papers. He was the head of his family's import/export business. Import and export of what Julie didn't know. It was his job, and his job was his life.
As the limousine neared the turnoff for Westland, both women watched the motorcycle bank to the right, speed past two cars and head onto the southbound highway. "Still drives like a maniac." Julie mumbled. She heard her friend sigh. While he was a fantasy to Cheryl, it was relief for Julie he was gone.
When his taillight disappeared in the distance, Julie's clenched fist relaxed. She shook her hand, surprised to find her anger and hatred still so strong. Did she have any regrets? She turned and smiled at Vincent.
Julie froze. Her foot hung in mid-step. Her hand clasped to her mouth to avoid blurting out, "What is he, the repeatable curse?" Three years earlier, he'd been on the beach dripping wet looking like an advertisement for men's cologne. Now, he stood half a room away wearing a tuxedo, and impersonating the latest James Bond. Was she to spend her life bumping into this character every few years? She'd returned home, to Westland, to think about her future. Not to be haunted by her past.
Dragged by her best friend, Francine, to the Murran Estate to volunteer at a Summer Charity event, Julie spent the afternoon pouring tea, and making small talk with what seemed like the entire population of Westland. Her legs ached more than after a week of performing. Brittany, who had organized the event, had invited some volunteers for a drink and snacks as a thank-you for their help.
Now Julie hid in the dining room while the scene unfolded before her. Tricia, Jennifer and Francine, former classmates, sat in the elegant main room of the Murran mansion. Their hostess, Brittany, was delighting everyone with her charm and graciousness. Two people joined their soiree, Robert and his stunning date.
"You should've seen him," said his companion, the tall, svelte blonde. "He cut his opponent down to size. He destroyed all possible arguments. He put forth his case succinctly and with charisma. He—"
"She's had way too much champagne," Robert said. "Come on Cori, sit before you collapse." His hand slid down her bare back. Shivers ran up Julie's spine.
"I have not had too much champagne." It took two attempts, but she composed herself on the closest chair. Her golden blonde hair was immaculate, not a strand out of place even after celebrating for hours. Her makeup looked as fresh as early morning. She appeared to be a woman in control even when intoxicated.
Robert smiled. "She started celebrating about noon. Closed a three point seven billion dollar deal with the Chinese. At the Mayor's reception, I, unfortunately, lost my temper and had a disagreement with—"
"Disagreement!" Corina pointed at Robert. "You...you verbally destroyed..." She continued her praises of her lover's verbal exploits while ignoring his attempts to defend himself.
Julie slipped from the dining room into a polished chrome and white oak kitchen. Is he ever going to leave, or will I have to spend the evening examining Mrs. Murran's appliances?
Emily Murran, legendary in her generosity, was almost a recluse. Today there were hundreds of people on the grounds of her estate, but no sign of the matriarch. Instead, Brittany had assumed the role of the missing woman.
Julie was surprised to see Robert in the main room. As a young man, he was a ranch hand on the estate grounds. When questioned, he'd stated he never went into the mansion.
As she rubbed her hand along the cold, granite counter top, Julie allowed the banned and painful memories to flow. Robert arrived at Westland Private Preparatory Institute as an outcast, but soon shone as a knight in shining armour when he rescued her from a date rape attack. Two days later, at a riding party on the Estate grounds, he surfaced as her horseback riding instructor. After helping her overcome her initial fear of horses, Robert taught her to ride, and escorted her on a romantic walk along a path.
"It's all right you can come out now. He's gone." Francine peaked around the corner. "He had to go to the stables."
"He still works there?"
Francine nodded as she directed her friend back to the main room.
Julie sat. "Do you remember the day we went horseback riding here?"
Her friends all laughed and nodded except the woman seated on Julie's right. From the length of the legs stretched out on the thick carpet, and with Robert taller than 6'2", they would make a stately pair. His lion's mane now cut to a short, clean length was more professional, less rebel. Her blonde strands and steel-blue eyes would contrast with his dark hair and eyes. They were the perfect couple. Romances could be written about them.
Brittany, who paled in her plainness when near the presence of Robert's date, passed a tray of hors d'oeuvres. "Francine, please do the introductions."
Julie glanced at her friend, Dr. Francine Paulin. Maturity suited her. She ran an abuse clinic in the economically depressed district of North Shore. What a change from the self-centered, credit card maniac she'd been during their teens.
Before Francine spoke, Robert's date turned and her gaze met Julie's. "Corina Kroft."
"I believe we have a mutual acquaintance," Julie said. "Vincent Foster."
With a small sniff, Corina replied, "Ah...a pleasant man." Her voice matched the cool steeliness of her eyes.
"Before you two go off about your crazy lives, may I introduce a lifelong friend of Trish, Jennifer and myself, Julie Anderson."
"The Julie Anderson?" Corina's anger was visible in the flash of her eyes, and the set of her furrowed brow. "You...you—" She walked out of the room.
"Would anybody like coffee?" Brittany squeaked.
Shaking her head, Julie asked, "What was that about?"
"Robert was right. She's had too much champagne. I've never seen her lose it like that," Francine said.
"That's losing it?" Jennifer's eyebrows rose.
"For her it is."
Brittany sat in the vacated seat. "Corina loves him. They've been together, off and on, for years now. She's tried numerous times, but she can't get him to marry her. I think he loved someone long ago, and it didn't end well. I can't see him settling down though he's too—"
"Why blame me?" Julie sat straight-backed on the edge of her chair. "He cheated on me. He used me...he—" broke my heart and my trust in men.
"You don't understand do you?" Tricia's voice was low, but insistent. "After all these years." She shook her head. "You've been so caught up in your life that you've blinded yourself to reality."
Julie placed her hand on her chest. "I had to work extremely hard to get where I am. Dance is a competitive business. You get tied up in obligations, and if you aren't perfect every time...the pressures are unreal."
"But you forgot about us. Your friends." Jennifer shifted in her seat. "We've all lived busy lives. Francine got her doctorate and runs a clinic. Tricia's raising a family with four children. I started my florist business. All of us worked hard and dealt with pressures, but we kept in touch. We didn't forget our roots."
Tricia sat upright on the edge of her chair. She was more alive now than Julie had witnessed all day. "We've followed your life, but you cut yourself off from us. You never even looked back to see what happened and why. We always knew you were the dreamer of the group, but we also thought you were the smartest one. You may be the dancer, but our feet are the ones on the floor."
"He was your friend and lover. He was your first," said Jennifer.
Julie tried to verbalize a response, but Francine spoke first. "Before this boils down to some petty bickering, I suggest we head for home. It's two in the morning. It's been a long and successful day. Let's not ruin it."
Tricia stood, picked up her purse, put it down then cleared her throat. "You were wrong you know, Julie. When you left, you had no right to treat Robert the way you did. Even that would've been excusable had you had the—"
"Patricia-Ann!" Francine's voice was sharp. Understanding her signal for silence, Tricia and Jennifer said goodnight.
"You shouldn't have cut her off." Julie's voice rose half an octave. "I don't understand what I'm accused of."
"Neglect," said Francine. "Trish is feeling nostalgic and dowdy. We've been listening to your free and romantic lifestyle. She's tired and jealous. Forgive her. Tomorrow she'll be the Tricia we all know and love." She turned towards Brittany. "Another successful Summer Tea."
"Yes, this is turning into quite a fund-raiser for the Children's Hospital." As they walked to the front door, Brittany said to Julie, "It certainly was a pleasure meeting you. I've always enjoyed your performances. Will you be dancing while you're visiting Westland?"
"No, I'm on vacation." Julie opened the passenger door on Francine's Nissan Leaf, sat and clicked her seatbelt.
Francine punched in her ignition code then looked at Julie. "I know these new electric cars are quiet, but I think this one's a little too quiet. And my gas tank's on empty. Again."
Julie snorted. "Been there. I just got a Chevy Volt"
Brittany tapped on the window. "There's a long extension cord in the barn. We could plug you in then you could drive home."
"Wouldn't that be nice?" Francine glanced at her watch. "It's 2:15, guess we'll have to get a cab."
"No. Stay." Brittany opened Francine's door. "The house is disorganized with all the renovations, but we have four functional bedrooms."
"I don't have a cat to feed," said Francine.
"I don't have a curfew." Julie nodded towards the house. "Wouldn't we be imposing?"
Laughing as she closed her car door, Francine said, "It's ok. Brittany's the housekeeper here. Looks like you've got guests." Francine and Julie followed their hostess back to the house.
"Would anyone like a coffee or a late night snack?" Covered yawns were her answer. "I'll take that as a no. Follow me, and I'll get you settled in."
As they ascended the curved staircase, Julie examined the bare walls and floors. "Who's the interior decorator?"
Francine led the way. "Brittany's the jack-of-all-trades here. She's been trying to update the place to somewhere between modern and old elegance. You know things like up-to-date wiring and security while keeping its old-fashion charm."
"The house was built in 1833, and things've changed a bit since then," said Brittany. "Three days ago the walls here, around the staircase, were just wood two-by-fours. I'm going to have the steps stripped down to their bare wood, and stain them."
"This whole project boggles me." Francine chuckled. "I had trouble deciding what colour towels to buy for the bathroom in my apartment. This one?" Francine paused by a door.
"No, this one's ready." Brittany opened a door to a spectacular bedroom suite.
"For the tenth time, can I tell you how much I love this room?" Francine walked across the wood and carpeted floor to the lace, curtained balcony doors. She flung them open letting in a soft, summer breeze. A sharp whistle attracted her attention. She waved at the dark shape across the yard. He waved back, and shooed a dog into the barn.
Julie followed her onto the balcony. Stars filled the sky, and the air resonated with the evening animal chorus of clicks and grunts. Turning back into the room, she sighed. "It's feels so peaceful."
"Brittany hunted for that four-poster bed for a couple of months. The two dressers and the night table are over a hundred years old."
Opening a drawer, Brittany pulled out a floor length nightgown, and handed it to Julie. "There should be fresh toiletries in the bathroom cabinet." She opened the carved wooden door, which led to a sumptuous private bath.
"Is this somebody's room? I wouldn't want to..."
"No, it's a guest room. Always be prepared isn't just the Boy Scout's motto." She handed a second nightgown to Francine.
"This is the guest room?" Julie's eyebrows popped up. "It's beautiful." She picked up a perfume bottle from the dresser and sniffed. Her brow crinkled for a moment. The scent was familiar.
"If that's everything you need," Brittany paused. "I'll be in the room next door, if you think of anything."
A questioning look crossed Francine's face.
Brittany halted by the door. "The floors in the housekeeper cottage have just been varnished. They need a few days to dry, and a bit for the fumes to disappear. Then there is some wallpapering. It's a mess. So, I'm sleeping in the big house for the moment. Good night." She stepped through the doorway.
"I'll be right across the hall." Francine pointed in the direction of her room. "I have a bed, but no wallpaper which is better than the master bedroom. I hear it has no walls. Consider yourself lucky. Sleep well."
"`Night Francine." Julie entered the grey marble bathroom, opened her purse and placed her array of prescription bottles on the vanity. She swallowed four different coloured pills then slipped into the soft silk nightgown. Lying on the bed, she felt the breeze as it drifted across the room.
What a day. Everyone was curious about her career. She'd discussed places she'd visited, people she'd met, and roles she'd danced. She'd had a wonderful time until the outburst.
What's Corina's problem with me? And what did Tricia mean? She insinuated that it was Robert who'd been mistreated. He didn't catch me in bed with someone else. He did the cheating, the lying and the heart breaking. Maybe I'm wrong in not forgiving him—Christian charity and all. But what's past is past.
She twirled the ring on her finger. Did she want to stop dancing, and become Mrs. Vincent Foster, socialite wife? Did she have to stop? She reached down, and rubbed her ankle. Was this latest injury a warning? The life of a professional dancer is physically stressful.
Sedated not only by the medication, but also by the intoxicating aromas and sounds of the evening, she drifted off to sleep.
As Robert walked to the stables, he glanced at his watch, and shook his head. "1:45 A.M., why can't horses deliver in the middle of the afternoon?"
As he crossed the lawn, he reached into his pocket, and pulled out an engagement ring. Marry Cori. He'd have to ask first, and he hadn't had a chance all day. He could wake her when he went to bed, and pop the question. A grin crossed his face. Should make for an interesting time after that. Can't remember, did she say she was staying?
He entered the ranch hands' quarters, and pulled his tie from around his neck. Are you staying here or having the limo take you home? She said yes. Hmmm - yes to which? He chuckled. Like you're going to make sense out of a conversation with someone who's had how much champagne?
Robert changed out of his tuxedo and into his barn clothes then went in search of his latest prodigy. After checking the birthing stall, and finding only his mare, he entered the kitchen and paused. Sitting at the table, sat a young male with a glazed look on his face.
The young man looked up.
"Think you need a cup of coffee."
"Yea, she's taking her time." He rose and stepped to the counter and plugged in the kettle. "The vet's on his way."
"I'll be in the office, getting caught up on some stuff. Call if you need me." Robert settled into his chair in the barn's office, and picked up a report. The veterinarian knocked on the door, waved a greeting then left to find the pregnant mare.
A continuous and excited barking brought Robert out of the papers he'd been reading. Damn dog. Chasing that raccoon again. He walked out of the barn and whistled. A light came on in one of the bedrooms in the main house. A dark silhouette of a woman appeared on the balcony. She waved. Robert waved back. Why didn't she go to my room? Probably can't deal with all the renovations. Dust'll ruin her manicure or something Shaking his head, he directed the dog into the barn, and went to check on the horse.
"Congrats Andrew, your first delivery." Wonderstruck, the teenager sat on the bloodied straw watching as the mare nuzzled her foal. Remembering the astonishment of his first delivery, Robert slapped his latest prodigy on the back. "Come on, I'll drive you home."
After parking the truck, back at the ranch, he picked up his tuxedo, and headed for the main house. While he walked across the yard, the horizon began to lighten. Dawn would arrive soon.
Walking past his bedroom, Robert opened the door. As he slipped through the room's darkness, her shape stirred, then nestled back into her dream world. Reaching into his tuxedo pocket, he pulled out a small jeweller's box, opened it and stared at the diamond ring encased in the rich blue velvet. Deciding to wait until morning, he clapped the box shut, and tossed it on the chair. He threw his tuxedo on top, stripped out of his barn clothes and climbed into bed.
Snuggling close, he wrapped his arm around her body, and nestled his face into her hair. Her scent and the softness of her skin were as familiar to him as his own face. He placed a soft kiss on her shoulder and closed his eyes. Content with himself, Robert slept more peacefully than he had in eight long years.