For the next week Lance and the others traveled around to finish promoting before the tour kicked off with a bang.  Two weeks of cities and venues went by and Lance hadn't found a spare minute to call Paige, so finally after their first night in Milwaukee he called her from the hotel.  "Hi Paige, my name is Lance.  I'm not sure if you remember me or not, but I met you a few months ago and I came to see you and everything."  He smiled when she answered the phone.

            "Hmm, the name sounds familiar."  She laughed and played along.  "How is the tour going?"

            "Great."  Lance nodded and tried not to yawn.

            "Where are you?"

            "Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Home of the cheese heads or something."

            "Do you have a performance tonight?"

            "Did.  We're done and back at the hotel."

            "Oh, you must be tired."

            "Yeah a little."  Lance smiled.  "But I haven't talked to you in forever so I wanted to uh, to just call and say hi and see how things were going."

            "Things are going great over here.  Hope is learning more words every day it seems.  This week she picked up 'no', so everything has been 'no' this and 'no' that.  It's actually kind of cute."

            "Aww, I'll bet it is."  Lance smiled and pictured the smiling little girl in the picture frame he'd tucked into his suitcase.  "So hey, I got you your tickets and passes and everything for you guys to come out."

            "Really?"

            "Yep.  I don't think the tickets have even gone on sale yet, but I know a guy."  He laughed and paced in the small hall between the bedroom and the little living room in the front of the room.

            "Cool."

            "I can't wait for you to come see the show, it really is awesome this time."

            "I can't wait to see it.  It'll be kind of weird with Hope and all… but… well, we'll see."  Paige smiled.  "So what did you do today?"

            "What did I do today?"  Lance yawned as he sat down on the love seat by the window.  "I got up at six or six thirty or something, had a quick breakfast while we rode over to the arena to do a press thing there, then we hung out for a while and goofed around.  For lunch Chris, JC and me went to this sushi place that was just awesome.  They made everything right there in front of you.  Then we had a meeting back at the arena, the sound check party, then we went back to get ready for the show, had the show and now we're back here."

            "Sounds busy."

            "It's a lot of 'hurry up and wait', you know?  But we have fun."  Lance stood up and headed for the door.  "Wanna come with me to get some water and ice?"

            "Sure."  Paige smiled as she heard him open his door with the ice bucket in his hand.

            "Cool."  He smiled and headed down the hall.  "So hey, do you by any chance know when the next conference thing is?"

            "Conference thing?"

            "For the uh, the Donor Foundation?"  Lance asked.

            "Oh… no."  Paige shook her head and switched the phone from one ear to the other.  "I'll call them tomorrow though, or go in.  I should go in, I feel like I've been neglecting the foundation."

            "No rush, really."  Lance shook his head.  "I'd just like to go again, but I'll need to see if I can work it into my schedule."

            "Yeah."  Paige nodded.  "Of course you'll probably be suckered into speaking again."

            "That's okay."  Lance laughed and tried not to blush as he remembered how nervous he was last time.  "Do you think they'd care if I just did the same speech again?"

            "Nah, no one will notice.  You're a big celebrity you know.  You could probably just get up there and talk about dirt and they'd be thrilled."

            "Gee thanks, I'd like to think I have more to offer than dirt talk."  He smiled as he rounded the corner by the ice machine.

            "Ooooh, you're talking dirty?"  Joey smirked as he dodged Lance with his hands full of ice buckets.

            "No, I'm not talking dirty."  Lance rolled his eyes and shook his head.

            "Dude, you just said you were doing dirty talk or something."  Joey frowned then laughed.  "Know what?  I don't need to hear you talk dirty man, take that kinda talk to your own room or something.  This is a family establishment you know."  Joey laughed and continued down the hall.

            "I'm sorry, Joey just has a dirty mind."  Lance said into the phone.

            "That's okay."  Paige laughed as she mentally pictured the exchange.  "He sounds like he'd be a lot of fun though."

            "Fun how?"

            "Just fun."

            "I'm hoping you mean fun like he'd be fun to hang out with like a kid… and not fun in the way Joey would mean it."  Lance smiled as he filled his ice bucket with ice, then bought two bottled waters, one for that night and one for the morning.

            "I mean fun for you to hang out with.  He's a little too much for me."

            "He's a little too much for everyone I think."  Lance laughed and stepped back into the hall to go back to his room.  He nodded 'hello' to Lonnie as he stood watch at the end of the hall, then continued to his room three doors down.  "He's a good guy though."  Lance said as he sat on his bed and took his shoes off.  He tossed them toward the closet in the corner and opened one of the bottles of water.

            "I'm sure he is."  Paige nodded.  "They all seem great."

            "Yeah."  Lance took one of the small glasses from the table beside the bed and filled it with ice and water.  He got his pills out of his backpack and sighed as he set them out on the bed,  "Yay, pill time."

            "Isn't it late?"

            "Nope, I've altered my schedule for the tour.  I usually took these at nine, but at nine we're on stage, so now I take them at eleven which is after the show."

            "What about those nights when you don't have a show?"

            "Well I don't go to bed before midnight anyway, so it works."

            "Man, I don't know how you could keep track of all of those pills.  Honestly, I forget to take my prescriptions all the time."  Paige sighed.

            "Well if you knew that not taking them may make your heart stop, I think you'd be better at taking them."

            "True, very true.  The worst that could happen to me is that my sinus infection or whatever would linger for a few more days."

            "Yep."  Lance smiled and popped the three pills in his mouth.  He washed them down with the glass of water, then filled it again.  "But what about when Hope has medicine, you make sure she gets it right?"

            "Yeah."  Paige smiled.

            "Every four hours like she's supposed to?"

            "Within a few minutes, yeah."

            "See?  You could do it.  You've just got to rearrange your priorities."  Lance laughed lightly and tried not to yawn.  "Anyway, it's getting late so I'd better let you go."  Lance said softly as he checked his watch and counted backwards to Arizona time.

            "Okay.  Have a good show tomorrow."  Paige reached for the kettle of boiling water and took it off the burner.

            "We will."

            "I'll talk to you later."

            "Alright.  Love you."  He responded out of habit.  As soon as the words left his lips, his mind clicked in and tried to form a sentence that would follow that, to make her think she'd heard him wrong; but nothing came to mind.  "I - wh - I mean - "  Was the best he could do.

            "I... bye."  Paige said as her heart jumped into her throat and made breathing difficult.  She set the kettle back on the stove and put her hand over her uneasy stomach as her face burned with a blush.

            Lance clicked the phone off and closed his eyes.  He'd said it without even meaning to.  It was a complete accident, a fluke, he was riding on autopilot… but that didn't mean he didn't mean it.  He did mean it, but he didn't intend for it to just spill out like that.  Saying something like that took time, it took planning and some kind of intent.

            His fingers hovered over the buttons on the phone as he thought about calling her back.  "What would I say?"  He asked himself.  "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it?  That wasn't what I meant to say?"  Lance sighed and pulled his bottom lip between his teeth.  He may not have meant to say it at that very moment, but timing wasn't always in his control.  It just came out of nowhere.

            After a full minute of deliberation, Lance decided not to call her back.  He didn't see a reason for making a big deal out of it when she may not have even heard it.  He convinced himself that she hadn't heard him, then stripped off the rest of his clothes and climbed under the blankets; he would shower in the morning when he'd need to actually stop and think about it.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

            The next day Paige tried not to think about what Lance had said, and for a moment even thought that she had imagined it.  She drove over to the Donor Foundation to touch base since she hadn't been there in more than a week and hadn't seen Donna in even longer than that since she had been on vacation.  Paige walked into the donor foundation with Hope on her hip and greeted her friend with a happy smile, “Hey Donna.”  She leaned on the counter and sat Hope on the edge by the pamphlets.

            “Paige!  Wow, what a coincidence.  Lacey just called you.”  Donna smiled and walked around he desk to hug her.  “My goodness, look at Hope!  She's growing like a weed!”

            “Yeah, I keep watering her and she keeps growing.”  Paige laughed and asked,  “Where’s Dan?  I wanted to find out when and where the next convention was.  I uh… I think I’d like to go again.”

            “Ahh, well he’s in the process of planning it right now.  I don’t know if they’ve settled a date or not.  You know how those suits are.”  She rolled her eyes.  “They’ve got to fit it in between their games of golf and their important business meetings.”

            “I know how that goes.”  Paige nodded and looked around the small office.  “So what’s new?”

            “Well, it’s pretty funny that you came in today.  We got something for you.”

            “You did?”  Paige’s heart sped up for a moment and she reminded herself to breathe.  “Another blue one?”  She asked hopefully.

            Donna shook her head;  “Nope.  You got a green one.” 

            “Green.”  Paige whispered.  She’d worked with the donor foundation enough to know that a green envelope was a recipient or donor who would like to make contact. 

            “You don’t have to take it.”  Donna said quickly as she noticed Paige's hesitation.  “I just… you said you wanted to know if anything came in.”

            “No I… yeah I did.”  Paige nodded.  “I don’t… I don’t want to take it right now though.”  She shook her head.  “But don’t lose it.”

            “It’ll be right here in your file if you or Jim ever want to see it.”  Donna nodded and slid the pale green envelope into the file in front of her.

            Paige took a deep and shaky breath,  “Wow… I never actually thought I’d get one.”

            “Are you okay?”  Donna reached for Hope and bounced the little girl on her hip while the color came back to Paige’s cheeks.

            “Yeah, no I’m fine.”  Paige nodded.  “It’s just weird you know?  I don’t know if I want to look.  I thought I did at first but now that it’s here, it’s like… I don’t know.  When I signed up for this thing I never thought anyone would respond and now I've kind of changed my mind and I don't want to know.”

            “You don’t have to.”

            “I know I don’t.”  Paige gave her a wobbly smile.  “I just don’t know if I want to or not.  Once I look there’s no going back you know?”

            “Well… all this has is their name and stuff in it.  Just seeing that doesn’t mean they’re going to move in with you or anything.”  Donna tried to keep it light with a little joke.

            “No, I know.”  Paige took another deep breath and reached for Hope.  “Wow… I completely forgot why I came by here now.”

            “Did you want to work the rest of my shift and let me go home early?"  Donna smiled.

            "No, I'm pretty sure that wasn't it."  Paige tried to laugh back, but she found it hard to keep her mind on track.  "Oh well, if I remember I'll give you a call."  She bounced Hope on her hip and turned to the door.

            Paige left the Donor Foundation empty handed, and loaded Hope into her car seat.  "I'll just think about it for twenty four hours… no need to rush anything."  She said to her reflection in the rear view mirror.  Her brow furrowed slightly as she brushed her hair off her cheek to get a good look at herself.

            In her head she knew she was only 24 years old, but her eyes deceived even herself.  She looked ancient.  Then suddenly, she felt ancient.  In the two years since Travis' death she'd run the gamut of emotions in every direction possible.  Just when she'd think she was doing okay something would come along and bump her off course.  Finding out she was pregnant, getting the anonymous letters from recipients, meeting Lance… then again, that was a good thing.  Being around Lance was the only time she really felt 'okay'.  He brought a new little spark to her life and if she put how they met out of her mind, she could completely disassociate him with anything having to do with Travis.  He was nothing at all like Travis, and that was what she liked most.  Under different, very different, circumstances, she could see herself falling for a guy like Lance.

            "Mama ow bye."  Hope babbled from the back seat, kicking her feet happily.

            "Okay baby, are we ready to go?"  Paige blinked quickly then looked at Hope in the rearview mirror.  "Let's go home and get some dinner."

 

            Paige forced herself to concentrate on the road as the image of a little green envelope floated through her mind all the way back to her home.  When they arrived she quickly grabbed Hope from her seat and carried her up the short steps to their front door.  As she walked into the house, she dropped Hope's diaper bag by the door and headed for the kitchen.

            The light was blinking on her answering machine, and she said a small prayer that it would be Lance.  If anyone could understand what she was going through, it was him.  She sighed softly, then hit the ‘play’ button on her answering machine.  She listened to two salesmen try to convince her machine that they had the right mortgage rate for her… her and her rented home.  The third message was from Hope’s daycare lady to let her know that Hope had left her pink blanket there and not to worry, she’d wash it so it would be clean when they came by on Friday.  By the time the fourth message began, Hope was squirming to get down and Paige had dinner plans running through her mind.

            “Hello, this message is for Paige Stewart.  This is Lacey calling from the Flagstaff Donor Foundation.  We’ve received a correspondence for you at our office located at 1414 Dumont Street.  If you would like to call, the number here is 602-555-5285.”  Paige frowned and sighed again, then hit the 'erase all' button and listened as the tape rewound itself.

            Paige set Hope on the floor and walked into the kitchen to get out the macaroni and cheese mix.  In the car she had made up her mind to think about whether or not she wanted to get the envelope, but now she was having second thoughts.  Donna was right, just because she had it didn’t mean she had to open it.  And opening it didn’t mean she had to respond.  And responding didn’t mean she had to meet them.

            She made the macaroni and cheese, then ate it with Hope as she sat in her little high chair.  "Know what kiddo?  Mommy got a letter today and I don't know if I should go get it."  Paige looked at Hope as she took a bite of her dinner.  "Do you think I should go get it and read it?"  She asked the toddler.

            "Babama oww.  Uh oh."  Hope giggled as she dropped a baby-sized handful of noodles on the floor.

            "That doesn't help much sweetie."  Paige smiled and placed another spoonful of noodles onto Hope's tray.  They finished their dinner then Paige put Hope in the living room to play for a minute while she cleaned up.  As she wiped the high chair tray clean in the sink, she thought about the envelope and the letter waiting for her at the Donor Foundation.  It was already after five and she knew they were only open until six.  If she didn't go get it tonight, she wouldn't be able to get it until the next day.  "Which is fine because you're waiting 24 hours."  She thought to herself.

            "But what if I decide tonight that I want to read it and I can't?"  She asked herself.  Without anyone there to talk to, she'd taken to talking to herself.  "If I'm thinking like that I might as well go get it.  Having it here doesn’t mean I have to read it."  She reminded herself.

            Just then, Hope erupted in giggles in the living room causing Paige to stop cleaning and listen.  The little girl laughed hysterically at something and Paige smiled,  "What did you find, you little stinker?"

            Paige rounded the corner into the living room and saw Hope standing up, using the couch for balance.  She was looking at the far corner of the couch and laughing with her wide blue eyes closed into tiny squints.  "What are you laughing at you silly girl?"  Paige walked up behind Hope and lifted her onto her lap.  "You're a silly little girl Hopesy Wopesy."  She tickled Hope's sides then held her tight.  "Sweetie, you look so much like your daddy…"  Paige sighed as she released Hope from her embrace and looked down into her smiling eyes.  "You really do."

            "Hi?"  Hope grinned to show off her little teeth, then wiggled out of Paige's lap and walked to the corner of the couch and climbed up to sit across from Paige.  "Uh oh."

            "You know what kiddo?  I think we should go get that letter.  What do you think?"  She asked Hope again as she nodded.

            Hope imitated her mother and nodded right back at her, then flung herself back onto the cushions and giggled again.

            "You're a nut."  Paige smiled and pushed herself off the couch to call Jim before she changed her mind again.  She leaned on the counter as she dialed, and waited a few seconds for Jim to pick up.  "Hey Jim, this is Paige."  She said softly.  After all these years she still identified herself when she called her father-in-law.

            "Hey sweets, how's it going?"

            "I'm okay."  She sighed and ran her finger along the edge of the counter.  "Um, do you think you could keep an eye on Hope tonight?  I know it's Thursday and you usually go bowling with the guys but I… we uh, we got a green envelope today."

            "Oh."  Jim said after a moment's pause.  "A green one huh?"

            "Yeah.  In fact, my God why didn't I think of this?  Why don't you come over here and we can open it together.  I'm sorry Jim, I didn't even think about you wanting to see it."

            "No no sweets, I can see it any time."  He shook his head.  "If you'd like to open it in private then that's okay with me."

            "Yeah but you should see it too."

            "So you can show me tomorrow."  Jim smiled.  "You can show me then we can talk about it."

            "Are you sure you don't mind?"

            "I don't mind at all.  Go ahead and bring Hope on by, she can come bowling with me.  The guys adore her, and I get an extra pin with each shot when I bring her."  He laughed lightly.

            "You're a lifesaver Jim, really."  Paige sighed with relief as Hope dug some crackers out of her diaper bag.  "I'll be over in ten minutes."

            "I'll be waiting."  Jim smiled as he hung up the phone.  He had worried about Paige since the day of Travis' accident; she just wasn't herself since then.  In the back of his mind he knew she had to move on, to find someone else that would make her happy and to find some sort of closure.  Maybe this green envelope was a step in the right direction.  Perhaps being in contact with someone whose life was saved because of their decision, would help her to see the goodness in what she had done and to get over the suffocating grief.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

            Paige dropped Hope off at Jim's and kissed them both goodbye before she jumped back in her car to go back to the foundation.  Butterflies took off in her stomach as she pulled the door open and stepped into the silent office.  "Hey."  She said softly as she leaned on the counter.

            Donna looked up quickly and smiled,  "Hey yourself."

            "I think I want the letter now."

            "You think so?"  Donna reached into the file in front of her.  She'd kept it out, knowing that Paige would be back.

            "Yeah, I think so."  Paige nodded and tried to ignore the trickle of sweat that was making its way down her back.  Thunder crashed in the distance and both ladies looked toward the ceiling.  "It's the perfect night to get curled up with a mug of hot chocolate and read it, don't you think?"

            "These storms always give me the willies."  Donna shook her head and placed the green envelope on the counter in front of Paige's hands.  "Where's the munchkin?"

            "I uh… I took her to Jim's.  I kind of wanted to do this myself, you know?"

            "I know."  Donna nodded and tilted her head to the side as Paige gently rested her fingers on the paper.  "Are you going to be okay?"

            "Yep."  Paige forced a weak smile and slid the envelope off the counter and into her purse.  "I'll be fine."  She heaved a heavy sigh and met Donna's eye.  "This is a good thing, right?  This will help me move on and be okay with everything, right?"

            "Of course it will honey."  Donna whispered.

            Tears flashed in Paige's eyes as she nodded,  "I'm just being a big baby about it."  She laughed nervously.  "Okay, well thanks Donna.  I'll uh, I'll talk to you tomorrow, okay?"

            "Okay."  Donna nodded with a look of concern.  "Is Jim keeping Hope all night?"

            "No, I don't think so.  He's bowling so I told him I'd pick her up after."

            "Okay."

            "Th - Thanks."  Paige clasped her purse shut and turned for the door.  It took all of her strength, both physical and mental, to walk out the door without tearing the envelope open.  She locked her purse in her trunk for the drive home, then forced herself to make a cup of hot chocolate and change into something more comfortable before she let herself read the letter.

            For all she knew it could just be two little lines,  "My name is Bob.  I got a kidney."  But then again, it could be something much, much more.  She added a splash of peppermint schnapps to her hot chocolate then went into her bedroom with her purse in her hand.

            With the hot chocolate on the table beside her, she pulled the letter out of her purse, then dropped the bag on the floor.  She turned the envelope over in her hands to read the donor number printed on the outside by some random foundation worker, probably in a whole other city.

            Paige closed her eyes and slid her finger under the flap of the envelope, releasing the weak glue and opening the top.  She reached inside and pulled out the two pages of plain white paper and slowly opened her eyes.  Her heart raced in her chest as she held the folded papers in her hand, this was the point of no return.  "I can still put it away…"  She whispered to herself as she sat on the edge of her bed. 

            The mug of hot chocolate sat steaming on the little nightstand, filling her nostrils with the minty chocolate scent.  She brought the cup to her lips and blew on the cocoa before she took a sip, letting the schnapps warm her from the inside out.  "You can do this.  It's just paper, you don't have to respond."  Her lips barely moved as she gave herself a little pep talk.  For the first time she wished someone were there with her to do this, she was too nervous to open it on her own.

            The phone on the bed beside her invited her to call Jim to have him come over and open it together, or to call Lance to get the moral support she needed from him.  He'd understand in a way no one else could, what she was going through.  "Just do it."  She closed her eyes and shook her head as she unfolded the paper and took a deep breath.

            As she exhaled the paper waved in her hand but stayed open.  With her heart pounding she set her drink down and read the first line of the letter.

 

Dear Donor Family -

 

            I wrote to you before to thank you for your incredible gift, I am the heart recipient.  I don't know if you received the first letter I sent, or if you will get this one either, but I just wanted to have this out there… just in case.

 

            Paige smiled; this was easier than she expected.  She still had the original letter that the heart recipient had sent the year before, and she felt a sort of kinship with this person who would no longer remain anonymous.

            As she continued to read her brow furrowed into a frown and her mouth became dry, there was something strikingly familiar in the writing.  The way the T's were crossed, the way the capital I's dipped below the line.  The mention of show business and Hawaii triggered something in her mind and she squinted as she continued to read.  Her mind refused to make the connection until she reached the end of the letter where it was signed.

 

Thank you again, for the million possibilities -

Lance  - Heart recipient

 

            Paige's lips turned cold and her hands began to shake as the possibility presented itself.  "No."  She shook her head as she frantically pulled open the drawer on her nightstand.  Her journal was on top and the letter Lance had written to her was sticking out of the top.

            Paige pulled it out and laid it on the comforter beside the letter she'd just read.  She spread them both out flat and put the signatures side by side, removing any doubt.  "No… no."  Her stomach lurched and the hot chocolate rose to the back of her throat as the alcohol burned in her nose.

             "This is some horrible joke."  She thought to herself as she reached across the bed for her phone.  She hit the speed dial button for Lance's cell phone and prayed he'd answer.  She could feel her neck and shoulders tense up as the phone rang in her ear, "Answer dammit!"  She growled as her feet tapped nervously on the floor.  Paige crossed her arms over her stomach and leaned forward onto her knees to try to settle her queasy stomach.

 

            Lance wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his t-shirt and stepped into the hall with Joey.  They were on their way to the last of their eleven interviews that day and Lance was exhausted.  He swirled the ice in his clear blue plastic cup then raised it to his lips and finished the last of his iced tea.   A cell phone played The Entertainer as Lance stifled a yawn.  "Who's ringing?"  Lonnie asked as he fell into step beside Lance,  "Is that you?"

            "Shit."  Lance blushed and pulled is cell phone out of his pocket.  Just as he went to hand it to Lonnie for safe keeping during the interview, he saw that it was Paige's Arizona number.  "Hang on."  He held up his finger and hit the 'talk' button with his thumb.

            "Hey you, how's it - "  Lance smiled flirtatiously though she couldn't see.

            “What is this?”  She demanded before he had time to finish his sentence.

            “What?”  Lance frowned and moved away from the others as they walked down the hall toward their interview.

            “Lance?”   Justin stopped and looked back at Lance as he stood close to the wall.

            “Go on, I’ll be there in a second.”  Lance waved him off and turned back to the phone.  “Paige?”

            “What the hell are you doing?”  She demanded in a voice that didn’t sound like her own.

            "I'm going to an interview."  He frowned with confusion.

            "What is this?"

            “What’s what?  What's wrong?”  Fear settled in his stomach as he leaned against the wall and held his drink to his side.  “Paige?”

            “You think this is a joke?!  This is – you are sick.  What kind of disgusting person are you?”  She practically shouted into the phone.

            “Paige I – what’s wrong.  Tell me what’s wrong.  What happened?”

            “I hope you’re satisfied!  You and your sick sick joke.  I can not believe you, you’ve… you make me sick.  I can not believe I trusted you.”

            “Time out.  Paige, what happened?  What did I do?”

            “You know what you did!”  Her hand shook from squeezing the phone so hard.

            “I don’t!”  Lance started to feel panicky himself as he pressed himself closer to the wall.  “Tell me what’s wrong?  Do you want me to come there?  I can be there in – “

            “Stay away from me.”  Paige growled.

            “What is wrong?  You’re freaking me out here.” 

            “I got a green envelope today.”  Paige said softly.

            “A gr – “  Lance stopped and closed his eyes.  He knew what a green envelope meant to her,  “Paige, you don’t have to open it.  Just seeing the name doesn’t mean you have to meet them.  Tear it up… just forget about it.”  He tried to calm her down.  “It’s not selfish for you to not want to see them… trust me, the recipients don’t expect a response.”

            "Where did you have your surgery?"  She asked suddenly.

            "What?"

            "Where?"  She asked again.

            "In uh, in Tucson."  Lance said softly.

            Paige's hand covered her mouth as she choked on her next question,  "When?"

            Lance was silent for a second,  "Paige?"

            Tell me.”  She insisted.

            “August 14, 2000.”  Lance frowned.

            “No.”  Paige whispered.  “No, no, no, no, no.”  She dropped the phone and used both hands to cover her mouth as sobs wracked her body.

            “Paige?  Paige!?”  Lance heard her phone slam against something hard, then the sound of her crying in the background.

            “No, no no.”  He heard her repeat softly, and then he knew.

            He had submitted a green envelope weeks before, and she had received one… “Paige!”  He shouted into the phone as his security guard placed a hand on Lance’s shoulder.  “Fuck.”  Lance slammed his cup against the wall and watched as it shattered into a dozen pieces.  He fell to the floor amidst the plastic pieces and ice then pressed his hands against his eyes as he tried to curl into the tightest ball possible.  A wave of nausea swept over him and he prayed that he wouldn't throw up there in the hall.

            “Call the paramedics.”  He heard a security guard say.

            “No.”  Lance insisted without looking up.  “I’m okay.”

            “You’re not okay.”

            “I am.”  Lance raised his head and took a deep breath as he wiped his face quickly.  “I’m fine, but I need to go.”

            “We’re calling an ambulance.”  His guard said again.

            “Don’t.”  Lance growled.  “I’m fine.  Tell Johnny I had to go.”  Lance jumped up off the floor in one swift move and stomped down the hall, not caring that Lonnie was only a step behind him.  He held his phone in front of him and scanned his electronic phone book till he found his travel contact.  "Ken, this is Lance.  I need to be on the next flight out to Flagstaff."  He explained as he ignored everyone around him.

            "Flagstaff Arizona?"

            "Yeah.  Tonight."

            "It's late."  Ken frowned.

            "I don't care.  Find me a flight or a bus or rent me a car, I don't care."  Lance tried to keep his hand and his voice from shaking as Lonnie walked quickly to keep up, shouting orders to other guards as far as what to tell Johnny.

            "Is everything okay?"  Ken asked.

            "Yeah.  I just need to get there as soon as possible."

            "Okay, let me put you on hold so I can check."  Ken said before he clicked over and left Lance listening to silence.  Lance and Lonnie went out to the vans where they climbed in and got situated.

            "Where to?"  Lonnie asked as he put the keys in the ignition.

            "The airport."  Lance said as he held the phone to his ear with one hand, and leaned forward on his other elbow to cover his eyes with his hand.  "Dammit."  He whispered.  He could feel his heartrate quicken with anxiety and a dozen other emotions, and he prayed that he could calm down so he wasn't put in danger.

            "Lance?"  Ken came back on the line a minute later.

            "Yeah?"

            "I can get you in but it's gonna be tight.  You'd better be en route already."

            "We are."

            "Okay, your flight leaves Milwaukee at 7:45 tonight, so that gives you like, shit… 40 minutes to get there."

            "No problem."  Lance said.  He turned to Lonnie and said,  "Our flight leaves in 40 minutes."

            "Okay."  Lonnie accelerated and whipped out his phone to call in for faster directions to the airport.

            "That's fine.  When do I get there."

            "You get into Phoenix at 9:20 but then the connecting flight leaves Phoenix at 9:55 so you're gonna have to hustle from one gate to the other.  You get to Flagstaff at 10:40, the last flight in."

            "Okay."

            "I got you a car too, I figured you'd need it so it'll be at the Budget desk."

            "Okay."

            "I'll send the confirmation numbers to your cell and to Lonnie's too.  He's going with you right?"

            "Yeah."

            "Good guess.  Okay, you're set."  Ken said as he tapped the confirmation numbers into his cell phone to send them to Lance and Lonnie.

            "Thanks."

            "No problem.  Did you need return flights?"

            "Not yet."  Lance said softly.  "See ya."  He hung up the phone and took a couple deep breaths as they zipped down the freeway to the airport.

            "You okay?"  Lonnie asked, giving Lance a paternal look.

            "Uh huh."

            "You look like hell.  I swear I'm about two seconds from taking your ass to the hospital."

            "I don’t need a doctor."  Lance grumbled as his heart thundered in his ears.

            "I swear man, if you keel over I'll kill you."

            "I'm fine."

            "I'm not joking."

            Lance looked up and met Lonnie's eye;  "I'm fine."

            "You know Johnny's gonna have kittens."  Lonnie said after a minute.

            "I know."  Lance nodded.  "I'll call him when we get there."

            "I'm calling him before we leave."

            "I'm going anyway."  Lance looked up quickly.

            "I know you're going.  I ain't gonna stop you from going.  But I'm also not gonna just take you away from your commitments without a word to your boss.  To our boss.  Fuck that man, I'm at least gonna tell him you're okay."

            "Fine.  But I'm going."

            "I know.  I'm going too."  Lonnie nodded, then they drove the rest of the way in silence.

            When they arrived at the airport they ran through the security checkpoint and went right to the gate.  They flashed their ID and were given boarding passes once their e-tickets were confirmed.  Most of the passengers had already boarded, so they only waited a few minutes before they were allowed to board the plane and take their seats in first class.  Lance sat by the window and sunk as low as he could into the seat as he stared out the window into the dark sky.  Pretty soon the stars would come out and he'd be able to lose himself in them as they flew cross country.

            "You wanna talk about it?"  Lonnie asked after more than an hour in the air.

            "Nope."  Lance mumbled softly.

            "What?"

            "No, I don't want to talk about it."  Lance said clearly as he turned to Lonnie.  "It's nothing personal man, you know that.  Its just… there's stuff I've got to work out."

            "That's cool."  Lonnie nodded.  "You swear it's not your heart?"

            Lance stared at him for a second and frowned in thought.  "No, it's not my heart.  Not how you mean it anyway."  Lance shook his head, then turned back to the window.  The stars were bright against the dark sky, but he closed the shade and leaned against it to doze a little.  His stomach was in knots and he figured if he slept for part of the flight it would go faster.  And all he wanted was to be there already.

 

            They landed in Phoenix and changed planes to continue on to Flagstaff.  By the time they landed at their final destination, it was almost eleven at night and Lance was exhausted.  "Do you want me to drive you?"  Lonnie asked, though he already knew the answer.

            "No."  Lance shook his head slowly.  "Can you go check us into the hotel though?"

            "Sure, where are we staying?"

            Lance glanced over at the hotel brochures to try to remember the hotel he stayed at last time.  "This one."  He picked up the little advertisement.  "The Hilton."  He knew how to get there from Paige's house, and the last thing he wanted to do was get lost.

            "Do we have reservations?"

            "No."  He shook his head again.  "Just go there and get two rooms.  Call my cell if there's a problem."  Lance took the paperwork from the guy at the Budget counter and waited as Lonnie got a car of his own.  "I'll call you when I get in tonight, okay?"

            "You're sure you're okay?"

            "Yeah.  Yeah I'm fine."  Lance said for what felt like the millionth time that night.  "I'll call you."

            "Be careful."  Lonnie hesitantly watched as Lance stepped out to the curb where a guy was going to bring the cars around.

            "I will."  Lance nodded, then waved half heartedly over his shoulder as he looked up at the sky.  It was too dark to really see the clouds, but he could smell the rain coming in the warmness of the night air.  He sighed softly as his car pulled to a stop in front of him.  The Budget guy jumped out and held the door open for Lance.  He dropped his cell phone onto the passenger seat, then slammed the driver's side door and headed for the freeway.  Without a doubt he knew he could get to Paige's house without directions, but he couldn't shake the fear in his chest as the rain began to drizzle down onto his windshield.

            "Dammit."  He muttered under his breath as he turned the wipers on and leaned forward to see the lanes ahead of him.  Lance made it to Paige's house in less than twenty minutes and parked at the curb.  He stared at the dark house for a few minutes and wondered if she was even there.  As he watched the light on the side of the house flipped on, then back off again as the side door opened then shut.  She was home.

            Lance jumped out of the car with the keys in his hand and ran quickly to the front step.  He knocked on the door three times, then waited to hear any sound from inside.  He was met with an eerie stillness as he knocked again.  “Paige?  Paige please answer the door.”  Lance knocked on the door one more time.  “Please?  Come on, we need to talk.”  His hand shook as he raised his finger to the doorbell button again, hoping maybe she was just in the back and somehow hadn’t heard the incessant knocking.

            The uncharacteristic summer rain fell across his shoulders as he hunched over and glared at the sky.  “Yeah, rain is just what I need right now, thanks.”  He mumbled under his breath as he knocked again.  “Paige, please let me in.  I’m sorry.  I didn’t know… God you have to believe me when I say I didn’t know.  I had no idea.”  Lance reached up and brushed his damp hair off his forehead as lightning flashed ten miles away.  “Please?  Come on, please let me in."  He leaned against the door to get out of the rains way.

            The door flew open unexpectedly and Lance stumbled across the threshold.  "Get out or I will call the police."  Paige said as Lance dripped water on the tile entryway.  "Leave."

            "Paige wait… listen to me."

            "I don't want to see you right now.  I want you to leave."

            "We need to talk."

            "No."  She shut her eyes tightly and held the door open as thunder rocked the sky.  "Leave."  Her voice wavered as she clung to what little strength she had left to keep herself from sobbing.

            "I'm not leaving until you hear what I have to say."  Lance stepped onto the throw rug so the water from his clothes wouldn't drip on her tiles.  "I'm sorry."

            "I don't want to hear it, Lance please just go."  She began to cry as she covered her eyes.

            "I didn't know… I didn't know Paige.  You have to believe me.  I would never do anything to hurt you, I could never mess with your head like this."

            "How could you not know?!"

            "No one knows Paige, no one.  We never discussed surgery dates or anything like that.  I had no idea Travis died in Tucson.  Just like you didn't know I'd had my surgery there, no one knew."

            "You knew!"  She insisted as she slammed the door shut hard.  Photos on the wall shook with the force of the door slamming and Lance's attention was momentarily averted to the rocking frames.  Travis smiled back at him from one of the pictures and wobbled from side to side before it came to rest at a crooked angle.  "God dammit Lance."

            "I swear I didn't know Paige."  He reached for her hand but she jerked away from him.  "I… it seriously never even occurred to me that it might be…"

            "I hate you."  She kept her eyes on the floor as her entire body began to shake.

            "Don't… Paige please…"  Lance took a step toward her only to have her step back.  He kept moving closer until she was cornered between the door and the wall,  "Don't hate me Paige."  He said softly as the tears resting in the corners of his eyes overflowed.  "I can't change anything now… you know I would if I could."

            "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you."  She whispered as he enveloped her in his arms and her tears turned to sobs.

            "Paige I'm sorry.  I'm so sorry."  He stroked her hair softly as he held her close.  Thunder crashed outside the front door and startled both of them with the noise.  "Where's Hope?"  He asked out of habit when he realized she wasn't crying after the thunder.

            "She's at Jim's."  Paige sniffed against his chest then suddenly jerked away as Lance's heart beat in her ear.  "Lance…"  Her face crumbled as she raised her arms to cover her eyes while she forced her way past him into the living room.  "H-how, how, how can this be?  This is so messed up Lance, this is not right.  What is wrong with me?"  She fell onto the couch as she kept her face covered.  "I can't do this."

            Lance stood by the door for a second, afraid to move as the puddle grew around his feet.  He carefully shed his flannel shirt then dropped it in a heap on the floor by the door.  His t-shirt was damp and stuck to him as he bent to untie his soaked shoes.

            "Please go."  She sobbed into her hands.

            "No."  Lance said stubbornly.  "No."  He repeated as he added his shoes to the pile, then crossed the living room to the couch where she was sitting in the dark.  "Paige this doesn't change anything."

            "This changes everything."  She practically screamed as she hastily ran her hands through her hair.  "You have… that's… he…"  She tried to start several times but nothing came out.  "I loved him Lance, he was my… he was everything.  He was the reason I got up in the morning and the reason I smiled all day.  Nothing… nothing could ever compare to that and it was all taken away from me.  He was taken away before our lives even really started."  She held her hand to her mouth to stifle her continuous sobs.

            "Paige I  - "  Lance stopped and took a deep breath, he had nothing to lose.

            "Stop."  She whimpered as she pulled her knees to her chest.

            "No Paige, look at me."  He reached out and tilted her chin up to look him in the eye.  "Please look at me."  He pleaded with her as his eyes searched her face.

            "Don't do this… please."  She met his eye and saw that he was crying too.

            "I love you Paige.  I couldn't explain it at first, everything just felt… comfortable… right.  Fate stepped into this and made it so we'd be connected forever.  I know you loved Travis… you still do, and that's fine.  But Paige he's not here.  His body is gone but because of him I am here, and I can't explain this.  I wish there was a simple answer but there's not."  He licked his suddenly dry lips and kept his eyes on hers.  "Travis is living on through me… including his love for you.  It's meant to be Paige, and I can't turn that away."

            Paige let out a shaky breath as her face puckered and she lowered her eyes to his chest.  "I'm sorry."  She whispered so softly that he wasn't sure if she had actually said anything.

            "I have to believe that we are all put on this earth for a reason, and maybe Travis' reason was to bring us together.  To fulfil both of our lives in so many ways.  He made you happy while he was here; he gave you a beautiful and enchanting little angel that will remind you of him every day.  But Paige, he also gave me to you… and you to me.  Imagine how happy he made you, he has made me just as happy, if not more."  Lance paused for a second,  "But every time I see how much it hurts you that he's gone, it hurts me just as much.  All I want is for you to be happy Paige… that's all I'll ever want."

            "You want me to be happy?  Then leave."  She tried to sound as angry as before, but the emotion was lost.  She stood up from the couch and crossed her arms over her chest as her bottom lip quivered, threatening to release even more sobs.  "Lance… please."  She whispered.  "Please just go."

            "I can't."  He whispered as he stood up and placed his hands on her shoulders.  "Don't push me away Paige, I'm begging you.  I love you."

            Paige squeezed her eyes shut and brought her hands up to cover them again as he wrapped his arms around her in another tight hug.  She shuddered in his arms and fought the urge to shove him as hard as she could,  "I need you to go Lance.  I can't do this right now."

            "I can't just walk away."

            "I need you to."

            Lance held her for another moment as she stood rigid against his chest;  "I'm coming back."

            "Don't."  She looked up to meet his eyes as his heart seemed to break.  "Not right now Lance, I can't do this right now.  I need to think.  I need you to go away and let me think."

            Lance took a deep breath as he looked back at the front door listening to the rain fall outside,  "How long?"

            "I don't know."

            "Days?"

            "I don't know."

            "Weeks?"

            "Lance, I don't know."

            "Months?"  He had to ask.

            She wiped her eyes and shook her head,  "I don't know.  Just not tonight.  I can't even think straight right now."

            Lance nodded and hung his head as he went back to the entryway.  He slid his feet into his soggy shoes and draped his flannel shirt over his arm as he dug in his pocket for his rental car keys.  Without thinking she followed him to the door and held it open for him as the thunder boomed through the darkness.

            The thin key ring hung from his finger as the keys swung from side to side.  He stared at the two keys for a second then looked up at Paige standing just inside the door with red rimmed eyes.  A tightness spread across his chest and his stomach dropped to his knees, there was never a time when he felt as hopeless and scared to lose someone in his whole life.

            Before he could stop himself he licked his lips then pressed them against hers.  She didn't respond, or move… or kiss him back.  She stood perfectly still as she held her breath, not daring to breathe.

            Lance opened his eyes and stepped back as he looked at his shoes.  He bit his lower lip, then opened the door and stepped out into the rain… the only thing he could do.

 

 

 

 On to the end ...

 

 

 

Copyright 2002, Amy Lynn