JUST WHEN I THOUGHT -- THREE


When her eyes finally fell closed that night she had her ear against Lance's chest and was listening to the comforting rhythm that it played in her ear.  She'd always wondered where musician's got their inspiration for songs, but with a heartbeat like that it seemed simple enough to look inside instead of outside for song ideas. 

She marveled at how he did it, but he was always there to calm her and care for her.  She'd tried to do the same back to him, but she had a feeling that she'd be paying him back for years to come for the things that he'd done for her in the last few months.

The first thanks would have to go for the moment that he'd proved to her that he wasn't going to give up on her.

*****

"What are you doing?" She asked again remembering that she was supposed to be mad at him.

"Sleeping," he said looking at the chair as he got to his feet. He stretched with his hands over his head and said, "Or at least I was until you woke me up."

"Why?" She asked.

"Well you opened the door," he said.

"Stop it smart ass and tell me why you're camped out here like a hobo on my back deck?" She said.

"I told you. I wanted to make sure that you were going to be ok and since I thought that you weren't I decided that I should stick around a little."

"Lance," she whined and pleaded, "Please don't do this. I'm not going to have everyone you know getting pissed at me because you slept out in my backyard in the cold."

"Then invite me in next time," he said.

"Oh no," she said, "There isn't going to be a next time."

"Good, so tonight I can sleep on the couch?" He asked.

"No."

"Why are you so pissed off? I'm only trying to help you out."

"Help me out?" She asked. "If you really wanted to help me out you'll leave me the hell alone and go play in Candyland where you belong."

"Candyland?" He asked.

"Yes. That sugar and spice and everything nice world that you live in across town. You don't belong long here as much as I don't belong there with you," she said.

"But EJ--" Lance started.

"No buts," she said, "Just go!"

She turned and went back towards the house.

"Wait up EJ," he said.

A moment later he had a good hold on her hand and wasn't at all looking like he'd be letting her out of his death grip. She tried pulling her fingers but all she got were tears at the frustration at his power over her.

"Lance please," she pleaded, "Just let go."

"No," he said holding on, "I'm going to be here for you whether you like it or not."

"Why do you have to make life so miserable?" She asked.

"Life itself is miserable right now. If you'd trust me enough it wouldn't be that way," he said.

"Leave it alone. Stop meddling in my business." She finally broke free and ran into the house shutting and locking the door behind her.

*****

Her heart hammered inside her chest and in hear ears so hard that she didn't think that she'd really heard his voice until his hand came out from under the light sheet that had been their only cover the night before.  She heard a tired moan come from next to her in bed as his arm slid over her lap and curled around her.  "Emmm?"

"Shhh Baby."

He smiled in his sleep and moved his lips as if to kiss her.  She pressed her lips lightly to his and smiled down at him before she smoothed his hair back off his sweaty forehead.  He turned his head into her hand and moved to roll over on his other side.  "Hmmm."

She took a deep breath and counted in her mind to twenty hoping that concentrating on something would slow her heart rate.  "Go back to sleep."  Her head pounded, but she couldn't think of anything to calm herself down.  "I'm fine."  It was probably the worst lie she'd ever told, but she wasn't about to explain it to him.  She'd come to Paradise to get away from all that was waiting for her when she returned to Orlando.  "I'm gonna go get a drink of water.  I'll be back."

"Hmm," he said and rolled a little more then settled into a spot he would be comfortable in.

Her feet took her out of the bedroom, across the living room to the kitchen where she grabbed out a bottled iced tea before she shuffled out to the back patio and found a seat on the decking there.  It was still very warm outside and with the sun down only the lights of the boats on the bay and the few lamp posts below the balcony was lighting up the area around her.

As she put her bottled of tea to her lips a voice came out of the darkness, "You ok over there?"

Emma slid out of her seat and leaned around the little partition between the balconies and saw Mrs. Bass sitting at the table on the balcony next door.  "Why are you up?" she asked.

"I don't know," she said, "I wasn't tired.  Do you want to take a walk with me?  I was going to go to the water for a minute or two and see if that could get me tired out."

"Sure," Emma looked down at herself.  "I should change though."

"Five minutes?" Mrs. Bass said.

"Sounds like a plan."  Emma nodded and moved back onto her own balcony so that she could go inside and put on some sandals and grab a sweatshirt in case it was colder down by the water.

Ten minutes later they were at the water's edge.  Diane had curled an arm through hers and they strolled along looking at the boats out in the bay.

"So what's wrong?" Diane asked.

"Nothing."

"Then why are you awake in the middle of the night?"

She sighed and shrugged her shoulders.  "I'm confused about me and Lance...it's been that way since the beginning so it's nothing new."

"Why do you think that is?" Diane asked.

"I don't know," she shrugged again.  "I love Lance a lot and I know that he loves me, but I've never been one to depend on anyone.  I mean I did with my dad, but he was family and now that you all have pretty much adopted me into the family I have a this really big sense of --"  She tipped her head back and looked up at the sky above them.  All she could see was a huge black background on which stars had been sprinkled about.  "This is the worst thing to say, but I feel dread."

"Dread?" Diane seemed a little more than shocked.

"I want to believe that this is all going to stay around forever, but I'm so in the mind set that if it's perfect then soon it'll crack in half and I'll have my heart ripped out.  It's happened before and I can't live like that. I can't be waiting for something to fail because it's going so well at the moment."

"You're afraid of commitment."

"No," she said, "I want it more than anything in the world, but its the fear that I'll have it and it'll go away that makes me wonder if I'm going crazy or something."

Diane sighed.  "You're afraid that it's going to go away?"

"Everyone in my life that I've loved has gone away."

"Just because your father--"

"It wasn't just him though," she said moving away from her.  She kicked at the sand.  "It's everyone.  It's every time for God's sake.  Everything in my life that has ever gone well gets messed up.  I'm just waiting for something to fall out of the sky and crush Lance because he's been too perfect for me lately."

"Honey calm down.  It can't be THAT dramatic," Diane narrowed her eyes at her.  "Can it?"

Emma started to count on her fingers.  "When I was five I got a puppy that died of Parvo disease, when I was fifteen my mother died, when I was sixteen I crashed the new car that my dad bought me.  Just when I thought that things were going well for my father he up and dies."  She said the whole thing then began to crumble.  She fell into the sand on her knees and sobbed.  "I don't even want to think about what could happen to Lance because Pop's is--"

Diane moved to sit next to her in the sand and pulled her close to hug her.  "Pop's is what?"

"You have to swear to me on all that is holy that you won't tell Lance."

"Tell Lance what?" Diane asked.

"Pop's is going to go under.  We've done really well so far, but there was some debt that the accountant found that I'm having to pay off and now that the guys have been out of town no one is coming by to wait to see if Lance is there--I shouldn't even think about using him as publicity to save my ass, but I can't think of any other way to--"

"Have you talked to Lance about this?" she asked.

She shook her head and tried to wipe her face off, but the sand stuck in her tears on her cheeks.  "He tried to save me before with this, but I just can't do that.  I don't want to mix business and pleasure and to have me feel like I owe him something will only bring more hurt then losing the shop.  I only owe him my love right now because he's given it to me.  I don't want him to owe me anything or me owe him anything else."

"Losing that store is worse than that," Diane said.  "If you really need the money we can get you the money, even if its for us to co-sign a loan or something like that.  I don't think you should have to suffer because of your pride."

"Pride has nothing to do with it," she said, "I don't want to pull money into our relationship.  It's hard enough as it is to be together, that will just kill us."

"Then you and I will make a deal," Diane said.

"No," Emma cried.  "I don't want that either."

"Emma listen to me."  She'd never seen Diane angry, but this was probably the closest she'd get.  "I've never seen my son in love with anyone the way he's in love with you.  I don't know if you know how much that means to myself and Jim, but we've worried about him the last few years because of his career and the business.  You've put up with that beyond any rules of a relationship would demand and I can't sit here and watch the two of you be pulled apart over something like that."

"I can't Diane.  I can't even think about it.  It seems like a bribe--"

"No," she said, "I'll give you time to think about this, but you need to think about it seriously.  If you don't want Lance to know about it then we'll make a contract or whatever you want, but I don't think you should lose that shop because you can't ask for help."

"I'll think about it," Emma said seeing Loni coming up the beach.

"Hello ladies," he said, "Did you happen to notice the time?"

"Umm--"  Diane smiled, "You mean it's dark out?"

"Yes," he said holding up his phone, "I just got a call from your husband and your boyfriend wondering where all the women went."

Emma smiled and wiped her face the rest of the way.  "We were having girl's night out."

^V^V^V^V^V^

He could hear her feet on the stairs and by the time he thought she was at the top of the stairs he'd pulled the door open and found his father across the porch doing the same thing he was.  They made eye contact and smiled at their similar reactions.

"Hello boys," Diane said.  He watched his mother turn and hug Emma and looked at his father over Emma's shoulder.

Lance saw his father mouth his words of concern and his mother probably smiled because his father didn't ask anything more of their strange outing.

When his mother came and hugged him he held her close for a moment.  "Are you ok?"

"We just needed a walk on the beach," Diane said.

"Thanks, Loni," Jim said as he reached for his wife's arm.

Lance wasn't sure how to handle things so when Emma came towards their suite he backed away from the door and let her come in.  "I'm sorry that I worried you," she said, "I didn't mean to cause any drama."

"It's ok."  He sighed and rubbed his eyes.  "My dad got worried.  He woke up and mom was gone so he came over to see what was up and then you were gone--"

"I didn't mean to worry you," she said and moved to hug him.  She smiled at him.  "Let's go back to bed and we'll see about things in the morning."

His heart beat against his chest.  "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," she said, "Just leave it alone for right now."

His head spun.  If this wasn't a repeat of something that had happened when her father had died then he didn't know what it was.

*****

Lance put a hand out and stopped her from closing it. "I don't want you to be by yourself," he said, "You look like you could use someone around."

"You know what I need? I need to be left alone. Just me. That's the way it has been and that's the way it will be because that's the only WAY it works," she said holding back tears that Lane could see were forming in the corners of her eyes.

"But why EJ?" he asked, "You can't want it that way."

She looked at him angrily. "Read my lips...BECAUSE THAT'S THE WAY I WANT IT."

"EJ," Lance reached out and grabbed her arm. He pulled her against him and felt her soften into his hug. He knew what the trouble was, but he needed to hear it from her. He needed to know why her face was red and puffy and why she looked like she'd been in bed for days. The pajamas she wore seemed to be well worn, wrinkles show the evidence of more than a few nights of tossing and turning.

EJ beat a hand against his chest and pulled away. "I can't do this. I tried this before and all I got was...was..." Her tears began to flow. She put a hand to her forehead then stared at him, looked him right in the eye and spoke, "My father died last weekend Lance and I really don't have the strength to deal with you...with this..." She motioned between them. Lance grabbed up her hand when it came towards him and gave it a squeeze. "...right now."

"I'm not letting you stay here alone," he said. It hurt him to know that she was upset. If he couldn't make her feel better when he caused the pain at least he could help her when he didn't cause the pain.

"I just want to be left alone Lance," she pulled her hand away and moved back into the open doorway a little. "Thanks for the thought, but I really just need to be alone."

"EJ?" he said and saw her disappear back into the house shutting the door before he could stop her.
 

*****

He watched her back as she tried to disappear into the bedroom.

"Emma?"

"It's nothing serious Lance," she said, "I just couldn't sleep.  I'll tell you about it later, but for now I need to get to sleep, ok?"

"Emma the last time you did this to me I had to wait a few weeks to hear that your father had died.  Tell me what's going on!"

She crossed her arms across her chest.  "It's nothing Lance."

It was at that moment that a phone started to ring.  Lance looked around and found his where he'd put it on the counter and saw that it was silent.

"What's going on Emma?" he asked when her phone blinked.  "Who's calling you at this time of night?"  He took a deep breath.  "Are you--"

"Am I what?" she asked.

"Are you cheating on me?"

Her jaw dropped down as she went and found her phone.  He watched her click the phone on and pick up the line.  "Vincent hold on a second."

"Who's Vincent?" Lance asked reaching passed her for the phone.

"He's nobody Lance.  Go to bed and I'll be in there in a minute."

Lance took the phone from her and put it to his ear.  "Who is this?"

The line was dead before he could get an answer and Emma was walking towards the bedroom mumbling things to herself.


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