PDA

View Full Version : Conundrum- T/E/F. A paradoxical, insoluble, or difficult problem; a dilemma.



Fate
8.7.07, 4:50 PM
Please read, review, and be merry...feedback is good for the soul!
Jenn
Prologue
Conundrum: a paradoxical, insoluble, or difficult problem; a dilemma.

December 24, 2000
“Should you choose to take Theresa Lopez-Fitzgerald as your bride, the consequences may prove to be lethal.”

The words echoed through his mind as he opened the door to the church, pushing his way through the crowd gathered for midnight mass. Several people called out Christmas greetings to him, but he ignored their well wishings.

Tonight was not one of celebration.

”You may think that the Crane name has no stake in your happiness Ethan, but ponder this: you now know that you are not a Crane by blood. Just like your mother, who is only a Crane by marriage. By making the incorrect choice tonight, your mother, who herself has made several incorrect choices in her lifetime, will be out on the street. Not a penny to her name. Not a coat on her back. Just think, Ethan, you could be the one to save her from that fate.”

Over the Hallelujah chorus, he could hear the church bell ring three times, signaling the start of the mass. His eyes roamed the pews, searching for her.

”Now then, Ethan, another consequence for you to chew on: Sam Bennett, Harmony’s heralded Chief of Police, has a family of his own. A bright son, Noah, who is earning top marks at an Ivy League medical school. Two beautiful daughters, who haven’t even had the chance to go out and experience life yet. A devoted wife, who has already had her own share of misery.

“ Picture them, Ethan. The All-American family. What would the knowledge that their father had another son out of wedlock do to that family, Ethan? Are you seeing it now? Are you finally realizing that your choices effect not just you, but all of those around you?”

He could sense her before he saw her. As always, she drew him in. He needed to be next to her, needed to hold her.
She looked beautiful in the soft glow of the candles that lit the cathedral.

But, then again, she was always beautiful.

How was he going to do this?

”Finally, I have one last plea for you to make the right decision. Hear me out, and then feel free to make your choice.

“You say you love this Theresa Lopez-Fitzgerald. You say that you want to marry her, Ethan. But, as I am sure you know, she brings nothing to this family. No name. No lineage. In essence, she is nothing but a serious thorn in my side.

“I do not like thorns, Ethan. I do not like anything or anyone that could be considered ‘problematic’. As you leave tonight, please remember that. And also remember that I have ways of making all of my problems… disappear."

He walked down the aisle, came to a stop next to her. Her body became rigid as she looked up at him, her eyes holding so much hope.

So much love.

She opened her mouth as to say something, but he quickly cut her off.

If he didn’t do this now, then there was a great chance that he never would.

“Theresa, I want you to know…”

Kneeling down next to her, he reached for her hand, but she yanked it out of his grasp.

Her eyes were no longer hopeful. All he could see was hurt.

“I never meant for any of this to happen. And I am so sorry for what I am about to do.”

The second he left her side, he felt cold. Alone.

His mind on autopilot, he walked across the aisle to the pew where another woman sat, patiently waiting. He stopped before her.

Took her hand in his.

Dropped to one knee.

Asked the question mechanically, void of any emotion.

Tried to ignore the satisfied glare she shot in Theresa’s direction.

Couldn’t ignore the pain that ripped through his being as she accepted his proposal.

He had made the correct choice, but he somehow knew that he had ended up the loser.

Fate
8.7.07, 4:53 PM
Chapter One: A Lesson in History

Conundrum:a paradoxical, insoluble, or difficult problem; a dilemma.

Present Day

The tiny fishing village of Harmony, Maine was well known for two things: it’s fresh Maine Lobster, caught right off her coast, and it’s exquisite sunsets, of which many a sonnet had been based. Tourists flocked from all parts of the world from late spring to early autumn to enjoy an early evening supper at one of the several seafood restaurants that sat on the bay and pier, and to watch, mesmerized, as the sun made it’s final descent into the gentle waves.

The sunset on that particular late June night was nothing short of spectacular, even by Harmony standards. Hues of crimson, burnt orange, pale violet painted the sky, all merging together as twilight slowly crept in. From the southeast, cumulonimbus clouds were building, coming closer, adding a touch of darkness to an otherwise stunning evening.

Theresa Lopez-Fitzgerald saw none of this, which was unfortunate, as she loved to watch a big storm brewing. She knew all about weather, could spend hours studying cloud forms and tide levels and barometric readings. She had actually considered studying meteorology as her major in college, but had decided against it in favor of a double major in business and hospitality.

Which brings us to why Theresa was missing the beauty of the thunderstorm building at sea. She was sitting on a couch in the Book Café, sipping a glass of peach ice tea, poring over legal documents pertaining to her venture into the Bed and Breakfast industry and awaiting the arrival of her “real estate agent”.

She was moments away from making her first purchase as a businesswoman. After nearly a year of pondering what she was going to do after college, she had woken up one morning and realized that she wanted to run her own Bed and Breakfast. The idea nagged at her for a few days before she came to the conclusion, this is it! This is what I am meant to do with my life!

Where she wanted to open it, she wasn’t sure, but had spent months researching every nook and cranny of the industry; costs, assets, needs, everything down as to what type of linens to put on the beds and what type of coffee to stock in the cupboards. Those months of research led to her writing her Senior thesis on the topic, and her Senior thesis led to her writing a business proposal for (potential) interested investors.

The location was her only problem. She had chosen to attend a small liberal arts college in Taos, New Mexico, but she wasn’t so sure that was where she wanted to make her permanent home. She loved the cool summer nights and the Christmas breaks spent skiing. She adored the laid back culture, the warm people, the ethnic cooking, the southwest art and architecture…she loved everything and everyone in Taos.

But it wasn’t Harmony.

In the midst of her Junior year at the College of the Rocky Mountains, she started to have pangs of homesickness. The sultry sea air was beckoning her, slowly at first, and then, in a torrent of long forgotten memories, her childhood began rushing back…

Late night strolls on the boardwalk, eating funnel cakes and drinking pink lemonade…

The first dip in the ocean at the start of summer, running alongside her best friend, Whitney, full speed ahead, into the breaking waves, shrieking as the icy water splashed over them, sending them into hysterics as they dashed back out for the warmth of the sand…

The indescribable aroma of cotton candy, freshly dipped candied apples, and sweet kettle corn, blending together, it’s own unique scent, wafting over the park on Founder’s Day…

Warm mugs of spiced apple cider warming her chilly hands as she and her brothers huddled together on the front porch, watching the first November snow lightly powder the earth…

Late nights after Christmas Eve Mass, curled up next to her brother Luis on the old fraying couch, the dying embers in the fireplace flickering as Mama recited to them old Spanish Christmas fables passed down to her from her own Mama…

Harmony was home. After years of denying the simplistic joys of her youth, the small town charms were calling her back…

And she couldn’t resist.

Two months before she was to graduate, Theresa started calling up old contacts in Harmony, requesting information on the current real estate market. It was Grace Bennett, an old friend of the family (and the owner of Harmony’s most lauded Bed and Breakfast) who sent Theresa the information on 162 Tidal Cove. As Theresa read over the letter and accompanying flier, excitement started to build in her.

She had found it.

162 Tidal Cove was a two-story Cape Cod style home. Built in 1856, it had four bedrooms, three baths, and a wrap around porch, and it was exactly what she had imagined her Bed and Breakfast to look like. The home was nestled on a wooded stretch of beach, overlooking the Atlantic, with a planked walkway that took you past the pine trees, beyond the sand dunes, straight to the oceanfront. It also had not one, but two kitchens (one with an adorable breakfast nook), a cozy den with floor to ceiling book shelves and stone fireplace, and a dining room which, in the photo, looked both impressive yet homey.

Her favorite feature by far, the one that kept drawing her in as she debated each house that had been sent her way, was a widow’s walk that could be reached only from the master bedroom. It faced the ocean, and Theresa couldn’t shake the image of herself perched up there at the start of a summer storm, watching the waves crash into the breakers, lightening crackling over the ocean.

Of course, she wasn’t without trepidation. Her main concern, after reading through the information Mrs. Bennett had provided, was a short sentence towards the end of the description of the house. The flier promised that the house was “a quaint, cozy, fix-me-upper”, which, reading between the lines, Theresa could only assume that a major makeover was in order.

But, Theresa wasn’t going to let major renovations stand in her way. After serious deliberation, Theresa decided to call the man selling the house, a Mr. Nicholas Foxworth, and see about the asking price.

She was surprised when a young man answered the phone.

“Fox here,” was his way of greeting. Theresa had almost burst into giggles, because he sounded so… silly, not at all what she was expecting.

She went on to introduce herself, to explain her situation and ideas, and to ask about the cost of the home. Mr. Foxworth was very accommodating at answering her questions, and seemed almost, well, flirtatious in conversation.

When she finally brought up the cost of the home, she about fell out of her chair at his response.

It was almost like she was meant to have the house at 162 Tidal Cove. The price Mr. Foxworth quoted her was more than generous; it was practically a steal! She figured, at the price that she was quoted, that the house had a bit more work than a “fix-me-upper” would require, but who was she to complain? After all, one should never kick a gift horse in the mouth.

After that first conversation, everything started to fall into place. Mrs. Bennett put Theresa into contact with the investor who had helped her open her own Bed and Breakfast, Mr. Walton Updike. Mr. Updike liked the business proposal Theresa sent his way, and little negotiations were needed between the two.

And then there was Mr. Nicholas Foxworth. Over the past few months, she had started to look forward to their weekly chats. He had promised her that the house was not “a heap of junk” as she assumed, but rather, a piece of property that he bought as an investment that he really had no use for.

With each conversation, Theresa found herself enjoying Mr. Foxworth’s laughter and banter more and more, and soon she was anticipating their first personal encounter as much as she was her return to Harmony. In Mr. Foxworth, Theresa had found a confidante and supporter. Talking with him, her nervousness about returning home and starting her own business slowly began to eke away. In fact, her last week in New Mexico was one of anticipation and excitement as she packed up her belongings and prepared to turn the page on her current life to begin yet a new chapter.

On the phone, Mr. Foxworth sounded warm and unassuming. His voice was one of humor, and held the slightest bit of an accent that suggested an upbringing in old New England money.

Theresa was glad that Mr. Foxworth seemed on the level. Harmony had changed quite a bit since she left, and she was grateful for the helping hand he was extending.

In the years that she had been gone, her Mama had left Harmony to return to her native Spain. Her younger brother, Miguel, had married his high school sweetheart, Charity, and they had moved to Boston to attend college. Her childhood best friend Whitney Russell had become engaged to Chad Harris, and they were planning on an early fall wedding. Her older brother, Luis, had married Sheridan Crane…

And that’s where the demons of her past started to haunt her.

In New Mexico, about a year after she arrived, Theresa had started to see a psychologist. She wasn’t crazy or insane or having strange hallucinations or anything of the sort. She was, however, depressed. In the span of a year, she had fallen in love, been loved in return, had her heart basically stomped on, and moved cross-country to start a new life. She was twenty years old and had no clue as to whom she was or where she was going.

She had a lot on her plate.

Slowly, painfully, she had been able to come to terms with Ethan Crane and the misery he had caused her. On occasion, though, she still thought of him, but it was more of a fleeting thought, a whisper in the wind.

The last thing she had heard about him was that he and his wife had moved to Las Angeles. Whitney had told her that Ethan had been named the CEO of Crane Industry’s West Coast endeavors and was living the “high life” somewhere in Beverly Hills.

Which made the decision to return home to Harmony all the easier. Without Ethan there, she would be able to grow and prosper, and not come face to face with what could have been all of the time…

Theresa set the papers she was studying down on the table in front of her, rubbing her eyes as she picked up her peach tea. She was growing tired of all of the documents and paperwork regarding her Bed and Breakfast; she was ready to see her house and get started on the more “exciting” part of the business.

The door chimes to the Book Café jingled, and Theresa looked up to see who was coming in. Taking in his tousled blonde hair and casual dress of faded jeans, wrinkled white button down, and flip flops, she was about to dismiss him as just another person about town. But she caught sight of his brief case, and suddenly, she knew.

It was Mr. Foxworth.

He barely glanced around the room before catching her eye. His face lit up as he strode towards her, sending out a vibe that could only be described as electric.

“Theresa? Theresa Lopez-Fitzgerald?”

He didn’t bother to wait for her response. He plopped down next to her on the couch, set his briefcase on the floor, stuck out his hand.

Timidly, Theresa held out her hand for him to grasp.

“Mr. Foxworth?”

He shook off her formal greeting with a wave of his hand.

“Please, call me Fox.”

He was everything that Theresa had imagined. Cool and collected, refined yet enigmatic.

“So…Fox. Can I see my house?”

Fox didn’t reply. He bent down to his brief case, shuffled about in it.

“Here.”

He took her hand, turned it over, and placed a gleaming silver key in her palm. Theresa’s heart nearly skipped a beat when she felt the cool metal against her skin.

She had promised herself, almost five years ago on a cold Christmas morning, that she was going to leave Harmony for good.

The only way she would ever return was if she had made something of herself.

Tonight, sitting next to Nicholas Foxworth, her fingers clasping that silver key he had given to her, she came to a realization.

She had made something of herself.

And there was no turning back.

Fate
8.7.07, 4:55 PM
Conundrum: A paradoxical, insoluble, or difficult problem; a dilemma.

Chapter Two: Easy Versus Right

Twilight was closing in as Theresa and Fox pulled into the driveway at 162 Tidal Cove. The ominous thunderheads were edging closer over the Atlantic, occasional bolts of lightening illuminating the plum-hued sky.

Settled in the passengers’ seat of Fox’s Jeep, Theresa’s eyes were fixed on the storm at sea, not on the house. Fox had taken the top off, and a large gust of wind whipped in the Jeep, taking Theresa by surprise, causing a shiver of giddiness to tingle her skin.

“Beautiful,” she murmured.

“She is a beauty,” Fox agreed proudly, pulling the Jeep to a stop in front of the garage. “The wood is genuine Maine Pine, right from these very woods. And-“

Her abashed laugh cut him off. “I meant the storm approaching. It’s going to be quite amazing. I mean, look at the clouds! See how the lightening is staying within the cloud cover? And..."

Theresa stopped short when she saw the look of disbelief on Fox's face.

"Sorry...storms excite me."

Her tone was apologetic, but Fox still let out a derisive snort. “I forgot. You are quite the weather aficionado, reveling in all things related to…the weather. Wow. You do realize, Theresa that officially, this qualifies you as a dork?”

Theresa’s mouth dropped open in mock surprise. In the semi-darkness, her eyes glittered with humor.

“A dork? You are calling me a dork? Seriously, I haven't been called that in years! I think I was eight...”

The girlish smile toying on her lips proved her to be anything but.

“Yup, you are a dork. A pocket protector wearing, Star Trek watching, calculus loving dork.”

Fox himself seemed to be having a hard time keeping a poker face.

“Hey, now, Star Trek is a good show,” Theresa protested with a laugh, pushing open the passenger side door. "And what's wrong with liking calculus? Means I'm smart..."

She stepped down onto the brick driveway, grabbed the manila file folder that housed all of her B&B paperwork, and slammed the door shut. Fox walked around to her side of the vehicle and offered his arm to her. For a moment, she stared at it like she had no clue as to what to do with it, but then, gingerly she wound her own arm through his.

In the almost night sky, the blush that rose up Fox’s face went unnoticed. Lucky for him, Theresa was in her own little world.

And at that moment, Theresa’s little world was one of perfection.

Standing before her, basked in the shadows of this lovely summer evening, was her new house, the majesty of it only heightened by the storm crashing in the horizon. And within her grasp she held the keys to her happiness.

For in one hand she held the documents that held proof that this wasn’t all just a delicious dream.

And in the other she held the arm of a man who was helping her make this dream take form into reality.

If there was ever a moment that could be frozen in time, this was the moment Theresa would choose.

Serenity had finally found her, and she never wanted to let this feeling slip away.

So deep in her reverie, Theresa hadn’t even realized that Fox had led her to the front steps, and was waiting, patiently, for her to snap to.

“Shall we go in?” That voice of his, so teasing, full of humor. In response, Theresa beamed up into his handsome face. It was time to stop the playful banter.

It was time to get down to business.

[br]

"We all have choices to make in life Ethan. And making that choice is really quite simple. You have only two choices: you can choose what's easy for you, or you can choose what's right..."

Her words were soft in the crisp night air, puffs of steam trailing her breath in the frigid winter air.

But her meaning was anything but soft.

"You made your choice, Ethan. You chose Gwen."

He knew by her tone she did not understand. It was hard, brittle. Never before had he heard her use this tone with him.

But then again, could he blame her?

Could he expect her to understand that of which he himself did not fully comprehend?

Oh, what he would do to embrace her, to wipe the disappointment from her eyes...

But he could not.

He loved her too much.

"You are right, Theresa. I did make my choice. And I did choose Gwen. But for all your notions of right versus easy, I just want you to know..."

His words were quick, frantic. He had to say this and end things between them for good.

"I made the right choice, Theresa. Choosing Gwen... she is the right choice for me. And I pray to God that someday, you understand this...that I also made this choice for you."

Finally, she looked up at him. And when her glowing brown eyes, sparkling with tears in the moonlight, met his, he knew he was making the right decision.

One last time he allowed himself access to her eyes. Disappointment was melting away to confusion. She took one step closer to him, her hand reaching out for his...

And he turned from her and walked away.

At night, she came to him.

Most nights she stayed away, letting him rest in peace...

But other nights, like tonight, she returned, her eyes blazing into his, so close to him he could almost touch her, embrace her...smell her sweet scent.

The nights that Theresa returned, Ethan did not get much sleep.

Some nights her return was pleasant...a stolen kiss on the wharf...a bubble fight in her mother's kitchen, shrieks of laughter echoing through his head...a slow dance in Bermuda, the warm sultry air a whisper against his cheek...

Lately her visits were more frequent, and not quite so pleasant. Lately she seemed bound and determined to bring him down, to remind him of what he had lost, and what she in turn had lost.

Nights such as this, he knew better than to fight. He knew to let her come.

With a sigh, Ethan twisted free of his bed coverings and planted his feet firmly on the ground. A quick glance over his shoulder confirmed his wife was still asleep, her breathing soft and easy.

She had not heard him calling out for Theresa.

Quickly he stood and quietly padded out of their bedroom into the hall to the den.

He had found several years ago that it was much easier dealing with Theresa after a stiff drink or three.

Fumbling in the dark for the light, he made his way to the dry bar. He grabbed a glass and filled it with ice, followed by a heavy hand of whiskey.

Downed it in one swallow.

Once the burning in his throat subsided, he refilled his glass and walked over to the large window overlooking the Hollywood Hills. Taking a sip, he stared down at the activity in the valley below, so far below him, but still so full of life even in the wee morning hours.

Somewhere in the distance, a car backfired. And then there was silence, marred only by the sound of ice clinking as he brought his glass to his lips.

Hollywood was quite different than Harmony, Maine.

And perhaps that was what had fueled his decision to move here with Gwen. Harmony reminded him of another time, when he was another person.

Back when he was a better man.

Theresa had made him so.

Theresa, so idealistic.

So young.

So naive.

He could hear her calling once more.

Hurriedly he finished his drink.

For as much as he suffered from her late night visits, he wouldn't trade them for the world.

Because in those sweet moments, he got to see her again, to be with her...

And remember what it was like to be in love.

Fate
8.7.07, 4:57 PM
Conundrum: a paradoxical, insoluble, or difficult problem; a dilemma.

Chapter Three: Tiger and the Faeries

It was the perfect winter's night, calm and cloudless, with countless stars twinkling down on her, just for her.

The stars were her fairies, watching over her, protecting her every move.

"Little Bear, did I ever tell you the story of the Trooping Faeries?"

Wide eyed with excitement, she would shake her head as Papa tucked her into her bed, pulling her quilt up beneath her chin, tight, just how she liked. His eyes gleamed down at her, catching her lie, but playing along just the same. Settling down next to his young daughter, he began.

"Who are the Faeries? 'Fallen angels who were not good enough to be saved, nor bad enough to be lost,' say the peasantry. 'The Gods of the Earth,' says the Book of Armagh. But we know the Faeries are always with us, keeper of the night. There is much evidence to prove them fallen angels. Witness the nature of the creatures, their caprice, their way of being good to the good and evil to the evil, having every charm but conscience--consistency. Beings so quickly offended that you must not speak much about them at all, and never call them anything but the 'gentry', or else daoine maithe, which in English means good people, yet so easily pleased, they will do their best to keep misfortune away from you, if you leave a little milk for them on the window-sill over night. On the whole, the popular belief tells us most about them, telling us how they fell, and yet were not lost, because their evil was wholly without malice.

"Little Bear, by being honest and true and good, the Faeries will shine down upon you and keep you out of harm's way. Can you do this, love? Can you promise me to always be true?"

"Yes, Papa, yes!" she squealed in return, smiling up at him as he stood and bent down to place a kiss atop her head.

Her Papa always spoke the truth. Papa was a very wise man, he knew all kinds of stories, and how she, Theresa, fit into each of the tales.

With a sigh of contentment, Theresa sat down on a bench beside the church, overlooking the ocean. Midnight Mass would be starting soon, but she wanted to stay here and count her Faeries and say her blessings to them.

"What are ya looking at?"

Startled, Theresa turned her attention to a boy that had plopped down next to her, uninvited, on the bench. His hair was blond and messy, his tone was teasing, but his eyes were kind.

"And you are?" Theresa replied, using a tone that belied her six years of age.

"I'm Nicky. And you're Theresa. Your parents work for mine. So, watcha looking at? I heard they were supposed to launch the shuttle tonight, which would be really cool, unless it hit Santa while he was flying around and blew him up... But I don’t think that could happen, do you? ‘Cause Santa never comes until we’re asleep. Last year, I tried to stay up to see him, but I was younger then, only six, and I fell asleep…"

The boy was a Crane. So he wasn't a stranger. She could talk to him without fear of getting into trouble. She tried so hard to be a good girl, so her Faeries would be good to her, but trouble always seemed to find her.

Not tonight, though. Tonight she would be good, and honest, and true, just like Papa asked her to be.

"I'm not looking for a shuttle, silly. I'm looking at my Faeries."

Nicky took a moment to consider this. Then, he slowly nodded, as if he thought Theresa's reply made perfect sense to him.

"Faeries, huh? Yeah, I think I can see what you mean. The Faeries are the stars, right?"

Theresa finally smiled at him, a toothy grin with several gaping holes.

"Yes, the Faeries are the stars. My Papa says that they are up there to watch over the good people and to make the bad people miserable."

Narrowing her eyes, she quickly sized him up.

"Are you good or bad?"

Before Nicky could answer, another boy marched up to them, laughing. He was several years older than Theresa and Nicky, had blond hair that was quite neater than Nicky’s, but his eyes weren't nearly as kind.

"Nicky, don’t you pay attention in school? The stars are not Faeries; they're distant planets in other galaxies far away. Duh. Anyway, come on, Mother and Father are waiting for us. Grandfather is getting quite angry."

He reached down to take Nicky's hand, but Nicky slapped it away, glaring up at his brother. He stood up quickly, hands on hips, ready for battle.

"Ethan, I like her story better. Makes quite a bit more sense to me. Theresa is Martin's daughter- she knows what she's talking about. And, what about the Tooth Fairy, huh? She came to see me just last week and left me $50 for just one tooth! So, Mr. Dogbreath-Know-It-All-Escum, if the Tooth Fairy didn’t come from the stars, where did she come from, huh? HUH?"

Theresa looked between the two boys in amazement.

“Nicky, I don’t want to be mean, but you talk a lot.” Theresa smiled up at the boy ruefully, hoping she had not hurt his feelings.

“Really? No one’s ever said that before. Thanks!”

Ethan popped Nicky on the head and opened his mouth to respond, but stopped as a dark shadow fellow over them.

"Now look what you've done," Ethan muttered, yanking Nicky's hand, pulling him closer. This time, Nicky did not fight his brother.

Theresa remained seated as she gaped up at the man looming above them.

"Ethan...Nicholas...you have kept me waiting."

His voice was not pleased.

"Do tell what has kept you from joining the rest of your family in church."

Theresa looked over at the boys, cowering beneath the man's angry glare. Nicky was
nice, and she felt that she needed to help explain what they were doing.

"Sir, we were looking at the Faeries."

Nicky looked at her beseechingly, shaking his head at her, silently pleading with her to stop.

Ever headstrong, Theresa continued, standing up to face the mean man face to face.

“The Faeries are up in the sky, Mister, watching over-“

“Little girl, please do not waste my time. Nicholas- Ethan- let’s go. Now.”

Grabbing a hold of each boy’s wrist, he yanked them, pulling them towards the church. Nicky turned back to where Theresa stood and waved sadly. She followed a few steps behind them, catching parts of their conversation.

“She was so cool, Ethan! That’s the kind of girl I wanna marry when I grow up. Smart and pretty. Like Mother.”

“Nicky, you can’t marry a girl like her. You are going to marry Avery Stanton. Besides, you were saying yesterday that girls are gross.”

“Most girls are, Ethan. Girls like Avery and Gwen Horse-Face Hotchkiss. Those girls are icky. But Theresa was rad! I bet she could kick your butt in mud ball and teach you a thing or two about where the Tooth Fairy comes from. All in the same day.”

“Boys, that’s enough! Nicholas, you know that you are going to marry Avery Stanton, as Ethan will marry Gwen Hotchkiss. Girls like that half-breed trash you were talking to are a dime a dozen, Nicholas. No respect towards their elders. You better start acting like a Crane and start getting these ridiculous notions out of your diminutive brain! And don’t you DARE start crying…”

Theresa stopped following them. Her eyes welled with tears as they walked into the church, and the tears were streaming down her face when her older brother Luis found her and took her into his arms just a moment later…

[br]

With a gasp, Theresa awoke, heart pounding. She touched her cheek and found that it was wet with tears.

She had not remembered that night in a very long while.

As her heart slowed to normal, Theresa drifted back to sleep, and by morning that night was once again forgotten.

[br]

Coffee. Her body was desperately craving coffee. After spending a good portion of the night tossing and turning, Theresa gave up on sleep just after dawn and stumbled from bed towards the bathroom.

Time to face the day.

She had arrived at Grace Bennett’s Bed and Breakfast shortly after eleven the night before just as exhaustion was threatening to take her over. After welcoming her with a warm hug, Grace showed Theresa to her room, where the fresh towels were kept, and most importantly- how to work the coffee pot.

However, Theresa had become a creature of habit while in New Mexico, and coffee came only after her morning run.

After blindly making her way to her in-suite bathroom, Theresa brushed her teeth and examined herself in the mirror, and quickly determined this morning she looked like total crap. Her eyes were puffy and red, her cheeks swollen and shiny. She vaguely remembered waking up in the night with tears on her face, but brushed that thought aside as she scrubbed her face clean. Her face looked much better after cleaning, and decided, against better judgment, to forgo makeup on her run. She would, after all, just sweat it off and the only thing worse than puffy eyes and swollen cheeks was raccoon eyes and streaky bronzer.

Grabbing her I-Pod and a bottle of water, Theresa quickly scribbled off a note for Grace and took off down Ridge Street, crossing over to Ocean View and towards the beach.

Growing up, Theresa had not been one for exercise; give the occasional flag football or mud ball with her brothers, and the odd tennis match with Whitney. But Theresa was quite the competitor and knew she had no chance against the three time reigning All State Singles champion. Besides, exercise made her feel all gross and sticky and she had the advantage of having the metabolism of an infant. She could eat what she wanted, when she wanted, and not gain an ounce.

Her Psychiatrist in New Mexico had been the one to suggest to Theresa that she might benefit from finding an outlet to absorb some of her abandonment issues and suggested running. Theresa had balked at first, but once she started, running became an addictive endorphin. After just a few weeks, she found herself sleeping soundly through the night with out the aide of her prescribed Xanax.

Once she hit the beach, Theresa picked up her pace. After nearly two miles, she noticed another figure up ahead of her. Tall and lean, with messy blonde spikes mussing in the breeze. She sped up slightly, only slowing down when she reached his side.

After a moment, he noticed her presence and offered her a lopsided grin as he slowed his stride to match hers.

“Morning, Tiger.”

“Morning, Fox. So we’ve now moved past my God-given name onto yet another one from the Animal Kingdom? Nice.”

Laughing, Fox pointed at himself.

“Me Fox. You Tiger. Hear you roar. Growl!”

Theresa burst into giggles as they rounded the pier.

“That was the most pathetic roar I’ve heard in my life. And you call yourself a man!”

“GROWL!”

His even feebler attempt at a roar caused Theresa to choke on her laughter, bringing her quick stride to a stop.

“Sorry!” she gasped, clutching her rib cage. “Stitch-In-Side.”

Fox halted and grabbed her water bottle from her hands. He unscrewed the top and handed it back to her, which she accepted greedily.

“Easy, Tiger. So carrying on, great minds think alike, do they not?”

Theresa, finally catching her breath, nodded in agreement.

“Myself, I find it quite hard to begin the day without my morning run and a cup of coffee. And what do you know- we’re right beside the pier. My treat?”

“Sure,” she said, her voice slightly wheezy. She started towards the stairs, but Fox grasped at her arm, stopping her.

“On second thought, let’s walk. I can’t have you dying on me just yet. I only met you yesterday!”

[br]

The only other patrons inside the Book Café when Theresa and Fox arrived looked to be escapees from Harmony Hill’s Nursing Home, so they had the run of the place. Fox gently steered Theresa to a plush loveseat then walked to the counter to place their order. She had just begun thumbing through a People Magazine, circa ‘96, when an amused chuckle from behind her startled her.

“Well if it isn’t Theresa Lopez-Fitzgerald, as I live and breath!”

“CHAD!”

Her voice being just a decibel bellow a shriek brought the nursing home escapees to their feet, and they darted out the door without a second glance. Theresa launched herself over the loveseat and flung her arms around her old friend, clutching on to him for dear life.

With a loving squeeze, Chad released her.

“Girl, you are a sight for sore eyes! Whit was over the moon when you told her you were coming home. And here you are, in the flesh.”

“I’ve missed you both too Chad. So much.”

Chad grinned at her and pulled her in for another bear hug.

“What can I get for you, Theresa? Anything you want- it’s on the house.”

“Well-“

“Man, Harris, are you some kind of pimp or what? You’re already engaged to the only woman in this town worth marrying, and here you are, trying to steal away her best friend. And I thought we were friends!”

Smiling, Fox plopped down on the loveseat and handed Theresa her iced coffee. Chad held out his hand for Fox, and they shook, warmly.

“Foxworth, my man, how has life been treatin’ ya?”

“As fine as yesterday, Harris, but today is even better. I get to drink my coffee with a pretty lady. Always makes the morning a little more fun.”

“Well, then, I better let you two get back to your coffee. Theresa- dinner tonight at our place. We won’t take no for an answer. And you too, Fox- Whitney seems to think you never get to eat a home cooked meal, with you being a bachelor and all.”

“Chad’s great, isn’t he,” Fox said as Chad walked away.

“The best.”

“He was the first person I met when I moved back to Harmony. Took me under his wing, showed me the ropes, helped me set up shop.”

Theresa pondered this for a moment before catching on to something he had said.

“When you moved back to Harmony? Did you grow up here?”

Fox took a sip of his coffee before replying.

“Boarding School brat. I spent more time at Rosemary Choate then I ever did in Harmony. But…enough about me. How’s your coffee? Have you ever eaten Whitney’s cooking? If I may offer you fair warning- eat before going over there. And I mean that in the nicest possible way. Whitney means well, but the last time I ate with them she made chicken and I think she forgot to turn on the oven. Seriously. Sushi’s great, and I adore a rare steak, but raw chicken- definitely not good for the digestive system.”

Theresa stared at him in amusement.

“Fox, I don’t want to be mean, but you talk a lot.”

He looked at her then, right into her eyes. His were sweet and seeking.
His eyes were kind.

“Really? No one’s ever said that before. Thanks, Tiger! I guess I just have a lot to say to you.”

With that sentiment he lifted his glass towards Theresa in a sort of mock-salute, and began to question her about her day.