Chapter 1

Evangeline woke up tightly encased in John’s embrace. She tilted her head up slightly as her eyes adjusted to the dark and examined his sleeping face. More than ever before their lovemaking had soared and reminded her again that they had a sexual union unlike anything she had ever experienced before and doubted she would ever know again. They utterly claimed one another in bed; more and more she felt totally on her own when they weren’t in each other’s arms. She waited for the regret sweeping through her now to pass. She knew this must be done or she wouldn’t recognize herself in a few more months, wouldn’t be able to claim herself as her own anymore and she would hate John with everything her. But for now, for now, they still owned the night and each other and John could give her one more memory before she placed him in yesterday’s life and moved on. Van let one hand dance over the skin of John’s thigh heading upward while she planted soft, warm kisses on his shoulder blades feeling him stir beneath her, respond to her touches and sigh her name in pleasure as he rolled her onto her back and came fully awake to make love with her.

“I promise to turn off my cell for a few hours tonight so we can enjoy a late dinner together. What time works for you?” John asked as he searched for his tie on the chair and the floor around the chair where their clothes had ended up the night before. He laughed out loud to find the tie entangled in her panties and wondered how they got that way.

Van drew a deep breath as she stepped out of her walk-in closet, tempted to wait for the night knowing she’d be lost if she did. “Actually, no, dinner won’t work. John, I need to speak with you right now.”

Quickly glancing at his watch then back to her serious face John nodded “Let me make a quick call then I’m all yours.” Giving a half-hearted ironic laugh Van thought “If that were true we wouldn’t have to endure what comes next!” “Ok, you have my complete attention.” John said as he turned off his phone, “Is this about why you were so quiet last night?”

“Yes. And there’s no easy way to say it so….John, I’m done with this; with us and whatever is between us. While I can still face myself in a mirror, before I become an object of pity, before I start to hate you and do something drastic to hurt you. We’re over and done and there’s no coming back anymore.”

“What? What? Why? I’ve made you mad; I can fix it. Whatever it is, I can make it right for you.”

“There’s nothing to fix; I’m not mad, I was hurt and sad, and now I’m not even that anymore. What I am is DONE. I heard Natalie tell Michael you said you loved her when you found and saved her from the Killing Club murderer at the nature preserve. I heard you clarify to Michael that you just said you couldn’t lose anyone else you loved. Which version is the truth doesn’t matter to me anymore; the point is you can’t say my name and the word love in the same sentence under ANY circumstances and I’m done.”

“Wait, just wait and let me explain...” he said and Van heard the tears gathering in his voice, “I HAVE waited and there’s nothing to explain. I accept that you can't say you love me, especially when you don’t. You have the right to feel, say and react anyway that works for you. I don’t want you to say things just to please me or shut me up. You’re entitled to your feelings or lack thereof. I told Nora long ago you were most comfortable just being with yourself and that hasn’t changed. I needed to face that reality, accept it and let go. I couldn’t let go and move on before but now, at last, I have.”

Walking over to John she placed a hand in his and one on his cheek and kissed him lightly, “I don’t want you changing just to try and please me when it’s not what you really want to do, not who you really want to be. If you do, in a few years’ time we’ll be at each other’s throats or worse, hating each other quietly for all the unmet dreams. I don’t want that for either one of us. Lets call it a romance while we can still stand to look at each other, while we can remember the great times we had and feel a twinge of regret. While we still like each other and will always ache for what was and what might’ve been. And to that end, here are your mother’s pearls, seems they weren’t meant for me after all.” Releasing his hand she left the pearls in them and stepped away from him.

“I have to go to work, so do you and as they say I’m sure we’ll see each other around.” Van knew he was stunned and that she sounded too causal but there was no other way, she had to get him out of her place, out of her space before he tried to touch her, before she started to fall apart.

“We need to talk about this, things can change, I will change.” John sputtered and opened his mouth to say more when she cut off. “No. John, I’ve just said it all and we both know it. Prolonging the agony serves no purpose. I will miss you, but I’ll get over you…someday. We need to get on with our lives. I think you’re wonderful, you’re so special in more ways than you ever let yourself know. I’m happy to have known you. I want this over. You say you don’t want to hurt me, only want what’s best for me? Then this is it. Please go, and let me go. Accept my decision, this time I’m not changing my mind.”

As she spoke Van took his arm and propelled John towards the front door, “Please, Evangeline, please. I’m not in love with Natalie; I didn’t tell her that I loved her she’s just put her own spin on this.”

Laughing Van replied “I know that, John. But you continue to send the girl mixed signals and apparently you have no desire to make things clear in a why that leaves no room for misinterpretation on her part, unless she’s sliding into delusion.” Opening the door she beckoned him to use it, “It took me awhile to realize how often you employ the lawyer’s tactic of omission. It’s not a lie to keep the truth to yourself. You admitted Natalie made a pass at you; you omitted that you kissed her back. Way back when I stayed with you after I was attacked, I asked you about the nature of your relationship with her. Somehow you neglected to mention she had kissed you that very night and at least for a moment you kissed her back.”

John’s mouth pursed into a grim line as his tension and pain came at her in waves, “How did you hear about that?”

“Sins of omission. Doesn’t matter how I found out, I found out and I’ve been snapped and slapped back into good sense. It doesn't matter that you have no interest in Natalie; it only matters that you can't care for me the way I want and now know I need. This isn't about you and Natalie, as you're so fond of saying it's about you and me and that's so true. Now, I know you didn’t see this coming but it’s here now and if I didn’t quite manage to walk away before love broke my heart, at least I walked away before I was destroyed. Please, please leave.”

Now standing on the other side of her doorway John turned and looked at her completely, drinking her in, letting her fragrance sweep over him, and trying to do what she wanted and to just leave. He had to, there wasn’t a way to refute anything she’d said. “We’re not done; we’re not over, not forever. Evangeline, I do love you, I never wanted to hurt you.”

“Oh, John,” she sighed, “way too little, much too late and really just a knee-jerk reaction to try and keep from losing me. No, no.” her voice softened, “I wish you well, happiness and someday when you want it and need it, love. Goodbye, John.” The door closed in his face, not with a slam of anger, but a quiet closing of finality and Evangeline was gone from his life.