Want to start at the beginning?
Colleen didn’t leave her bedroom in the morning until she was sure Sonya had left for work. Then she only left long enough to make some toast before she retreated back to bed. Someone knocked at the door around eleven, but she couldn’t bring herself to even look through the peephole to see who it was in case it was David.
What was David doing here? She’d left him without even a goodbye. She’d gone into the apartment when she knew he wasn’t home to pack her things and left her engagement ring on the kitchen counter. It wasn’t a gesture that could be confused.
So why was he here? They were no longer a couple. She moved across the country to be away from him.
But if he followed her all this way, didn’t that mean something? Didn’t that mean he still loved her?
When they met he used to steal flowers from the flower beds on campus to bring to her in her dorm. He stood below her window and read Keats to her on a snowy night the week after their first date. He used to cook her favorite foods all during finals and proofread her papers. He was sweet and gentle when they made love. He would hold her for hours. He was the first man she’d ever loved so completely that she had been willing to give up herself for him.
And he had obviously given up everything to follow her out here.
She heard a key in the lock. The clock only said noon so it couldn’t be Sonya back from work. She got up and pulled on a robe. She reached the living room as Laura, Scott and Dan walked through the door.
“Colleen, are you okay?” Laura crossed the room quickly. She tipped Colleen’s head back and looked into her eyes, feeling her forehead at the same time.
“Of course I am.” Colleen pulled back. “What’s going on?”
“I called this morning and there was no answer.” Dan said.
“So you got Laura and Scott to come over with the key?” Colleen demanded. “Why didn’t you just ask for the key yourself?”
“I did. After I came over here and there was no answer at the door either and Sonya said she hadn’t seen you this morning.”
“I didn’t hear you,” Colleen lied. Dan looked dubious.
“Calm down,” Scott said, stepping between them. “Colleen, Dan was just worried about you. He thought you might have been hurt worse than we thought last night. We just came to make sure.”
“Well, I’m alright.” Colleen spread her arms so they could see her better and her robe fell open. Hastily, she tugged it closed.
“So alright that you’re not dressed at noon?” Laura asked. “You never stay in your pajamas this late unless you’re sick.”
“I had trouble sleeping last night, so I slept in. That must be why I didn’t hear Dan…” she paused looking at Dan. “Either time.” Dan flushed.
“Well, that makes sense,” Laura said uncertainly. She looked at Scott for confirmation. Scott looked like he wanted to shrug, but didn’t dare.
“I was concerned about you. You had a really tough night last night.” Dan’s blush deepened. “I told you I was going to call this morning to make sure you were okay. When you didn’t answer-“
“You decided to ride to my rescue.”
“I thought you might have been hurt.”
“See,” Laura broke in, “he was just worried. I’m glad he told us even if there was nothing wrong in the end. There could have been, Colleen.”
“I did tell you I was going to call this morning,” Dan said. “And there’s a ding in your driver’s side door from where you hit it with my passenger door.”
Colleen turned away, remembering the circumstances of that conversation. If Dan had agreed last night, if he had taken her home with him, she never would have talked to David. How would it have felt to talk to David after she had made love to Dan?
“A ding?” Laura asked, her voice trailing away as she spoke.
“I didn’t hear the phone ring, okay?” Colleen turned back to them. “I forgot you were going to call. I’m sorry I worried you all.” She doubted her tone sounded sorry at all, but they seemed pleased enough with it. She glanced at the phone. It might be ringing now. A silvery panic spread down her neck and across her shoulders. Now she not only had the Dan question and the Mike question to deal with, she had the overriding David question.
“Are you sure you’re alright?’ Laura asked.
Colleen looked at her, trying not to let her panic show. When they were kids, Laura had almost had a sixth sense about other people’s emotions. “Of course I am. It was a bad night in the middle of a rough week.”
Dan snorted loudly enough to cause both Scott and Laura to look at him curiously. He suddenly found something of great interest on the floor.
“Look, why don’t you both come over to the house for dinner?” Laura offered. “I’ll throw something together and we can play some bridge.”
“I don’t know-“
“Laura, you know I can’t-“
Colleen and Dan stopped realizing that they were both speaking at the same time. Colleen stared at him clutching the neck of her robe closed. At the moment what she really wanted was for Scott and Laura to go away so she could lure Dan into bed. But then he would just ask her to marry him again and she would have to come up with something resembling an answer. If she told him yes, would it make things better or worse?
“That’s okay. We can teach you.” Laura waved her hand. “It’s easy. Just come over to the house when you’re dressed, Colleen. Dan, you can just follow us home.”
“I don’t think so.” Colleen stiffened. She really didn’t have the energy to be entertained or entertaining today. She wanted to crawl back in bed and hide for at least the rest of the day. Maybe by the time the sun set she’d be up to attempting a little laundry. “I really have some stuff I need to take care of today.”
Laura frowned as if her spidey sense was tingling, but she didn’t challenge her. “Maybe next weekend then. Or one day this week.”
“Sure. Thanks for coming over to check on me.” Colleen herded them to the door. “Next time I’m thrown in front of a moving vehicle I’ll be sure to let you know that I’m going to sleep in.”
“Just try not to get thrown in front of any more cars, okay?” Scott said. “Especially cars I’m in.”
“You weren’t driving,” Dan cracked. He stopped at the door and would not be herded any further. “I’ll see you at the station, Scott. I want to talk to Colleen for a minute.”
“Okay, bye.” Scott grabbed Laura’s hand before she could speak and started pulling her down the hall as fast as he could go without running.
Colleen scowled at Scott and Laura’s backs as they retreated down the hall. Dan closed the door for her.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” he asked.
“I am fine.”
“You said you had trouble sleeping.”
“Last night by itself was enough to be nightmare inducing, don’t you think?” Colleen tried to sound light, but she found herself studying Dan and measuring him against David. David was just a little taller, but not as solidly built. His hair was just a little darker and she supposed some time in the California sun would bleach it out to about the same color. His eyes weren’t the same sharp, observant hazel as Dan’s.
“True,” Dan said. “I just got a little worried when you didn’t answer the phone or the door. I should have taken you in to Emergency last night to get checked over. I’m sorry if I upset you.” He sounded much more sincere than she had earlier.
“It’s alright,” Colleen heard herself saying. Now she just wanted him to go away. She needed to close the door and lock it. An unanswered phone had not stopped Dan. He’d just come over. Had it stopped David or was he lurking outside right now? If he was outside right now, did she really want Dan to leave?
“What’s the matter?” Dan, ever observant, asked.
“Nothing, I just – nothing.” Colleen forced herself to stop stammering before she spit out something too close to the truth for Dan to let go. And he wouldn’t. He would determine the problem, would make a plan of action to fix it and execute it to the last letter. If only she knew what action he would take. If only she knew what action she wanted him to take. “Look, Dan, I don’t want to be a drag or anything, but I really do have stuff to do this morning and I’m not even dressed.”
“It’s afternoon,” Dan pointed out.
“Sure, fine, whatever. I have stuff I need to get to doing.” She looked over her shoulder toward the kitchen as if some urgent task would magically appear.
He frowned. “Are you mad at me?”
“Mad? No, why?”
He raised one eyebrow. “You want the list?”
Colleen forced a smile. “True. Look, Dan, I’m not mad at you I just have some stuff I need to do and I really could use a break from the ardent pursuit, okay?”
“So I guess you don’t want to have dinner tonight.”
Colleen shook her head. She thought she might end up eating a bowl of cereal in her pajamas tonight, never having gotten dressed at all. It didn’t matter. Whatever she did today, she wanted to do it without the distraction of Dan’s company. She bit her lip. Dinner with Dan would be a lovely distraction. She wouldn’t have to think about David or Mike or how she felt about either one of them because she’d be too busy being overwhelmed by how she felt about Dan.
“That’s fine. I just need to know what’s going on.”
“If I knew I would tell you,” Colleen said and immediately regretted it.
Dan’s eyes narrowed. He’d scented her real problem, now he would have to run it down. “What do you mean?”
“Nothing. I’m just really confused about everything.”
“Us. Last night. What I’m trying to do with my life. Just everything.” Colleen thought that sounded vague enough that he would accept it without it being a lie in anyway. He could smell a lie from fifty feet and he’d never let that go.
Dan frowned. “I meant what I said last night.”
“I know you did. That’s what scares me.”
He drew her into his arms. He smelled clean and fresh, like he’d just stepped out of a shower. “It shouldn’t.”
“Colleen,” Dan paused, stroking her cheek. She thought he was going to kiss her, but he didn’t. He just studied. “Colleen, I really care about you and what I want most is to see you happy. If it’s not with me then so be it, but I really hope it is. Just remember, whatever happens I always want to be your friend.”
Colleen blinked back tears. He was being too nice and it unnerved her. She wanted him to get angry again. It felt more natural to deal with Dan angry than kind. “Thanks, Dan.”
He kissed her forehead and let her go. “I’ll give you a call on Tuesday, or is that too soon?”
Tuesday? She had until Tuesday to figure out what to do? It couldn’t possibly be enough time. She needed a couple of months, maybe a year. Or maybe she just needed a whole new identity to solve all her problems. “Tuesday’s good.”
“Expect my call,” He warned.
Colleen smiled faintly. “I will.”