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Unfinished Business

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Chapter 1

July

“All I ask is this one. And I promise, I will not ask anymore. PLEASE?”

She cannot stand begging. Especially over something this trivial.

“I don’t even know who this person is.”

“I’ve been telling you, you need to watch this show. It’s the best thing on television.”

“I don’t watch television.”

“Clearly. Which is why you’re going to be the only person in the room still pining over an 80-year-old William Shatner.”

 “I’m not trying to do anything extra on my vacation.”

“Didn’t you get those press passes by ‘claiming’ to be working? So you have to justify it somehow. Look, all I’m asking is for a single autograph from a single person. That’s all.”

“Fine. Just text me where I have to go. I’ve got a plane to catch. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Yess!!! Thank you, sis!”

It’s been a hell of a long time since she’s been in San Diego. Not since the ‘90’s and the city is a lot bigger than she remembered. It takes a while to get to the convention center. She’s dragged along her equipment for cover purposes but is really more intent on kicking back and relaxing. Maybe a story about the rise of fanfiction or something like that. There are dozens of writing panels and she thinks it would make a great pitch to NPR. Talk to some of the aspiring writers present, get the perspective of the actors too…yeah. That’s how she’ll justify this trip. Fanfiction.

That’s the ticket.

Work is just a cover. In truth, she’s been trying to get to Comic Con for years, and has just never made it. Something, usually work, has normally gotten in the way. But this time, she’s managed to con her station into paying for her flight and hotel—the trade off, a few stories in return that can be run on local air.

Not a problem. She always finds a story. Hell, she reported on the stray chickens in Key West while sipping mimosas on the beach and ended up with a national award for it.

.

.

The morning light hits his face, making him wince and groan as he rolls over, hitting something soft.

Another body in the bed.

One eye opens and promptly closes as he crawls out and stumbles to the bathroom to relieve himself.

A yawn. A glance in the mirror.

Bloodshot eyes squint back. He looks exactly the way he feels. A crack of the neck. Roll of the shoulders. Some water to the face. Hand through hair. He walks back out and to the bed, shaking her gently.

“Hey.” She rolls over, looking at him.

“Time to go.” He tells her.

A yawn. She sits up and he hands her clothes as he gets up to put on some shorts.

“Thanks for last night.”

“Yeah. It was fun.”

“Call when you’re in town again, Travis?”

“Of course.”

A kiss on the cheek and she leaves. He goes for a shower.

Same old routine. Different year. He’s starting to get bored. No—he’s been bored.

A pair of old jeans, t-shirt and a brown and black patterned shirt over it. A hat, because he doesn’t feel like combing his hair. Flip flops.

It’s going to be a long day. He’s not looking forward to it. But, per contract, he’s obligated. So he goes.

.

.

She makes her way through the throng of people, a few writing workshops which ended up being quite informative—even if she’s a journalist, she’s still a writer and all great stories have the same things in common: strong characters, compelling scenes, a driving narrative, a plot, structure.

There have been a few interviews too and now, she can do her own thing for the rest of the time. Like the Star Trek panel.

Her sister had laughed at her, but who cares? William Shatner looks great for 80 and he’s hilarious. She tries to ignore the fact she’s the youngest and brownest thing in the room, and manages to have a great time. Shatner is kind enough to stay for autograph’s too.

A buzzing of the phone comes right after she gets a selfie with the legend himself.

She looks.

“DON’T forget Vikings! Need TF’s autograph, PLEASE! I’ll be in debt forever!”

Her sister. Still on that. But, she did tell the girl she’d try and so, halfheartedly, she consults the schedule and the map.

 Oh, it looks like she missed the panel. Sorry, not sorry. Still, she heads off in the general direction, because…family obligations. She at least has to be able to say she tried, through it’s a long shot anyone from that show will still be there.

.

.

Fuck, he’s trapped. And the line is long as hell.

Why does this always happen to him? Maybe it’s just his luck he’s the first stop at the table. It feels like he’s signing his life away. Next year, he’s bringing a stamp. Make it go faster.

A smile, a hug, pictures, more pictures.

At least this year his handler helps him out and the women are decent enough to keep touching at a minimum.

Katheryn is seated next to him and she leans over once he’s back down.

“Twenty more minutes, then you’re free. You can make it.”

Damn she knows him too well. He’s growing fidgety. She hands a bottle to him behind her back and he dips down a sec to take a drink of the clear liquid.

God yes. Vodka. Bless her angelic soul.

The line creeps forward and just as he’s starting to think he’s home free…

A stack of posters are dumped in front of him.

 “Are you fuckin’, kidding me, mate?” He mumbles with a heavy sigh, scratching his beard and taking up his pen again. There must be 50-odd posters here. He knows exactly what this guy’s about to do. Hawk them online. Bloody hell, these people…

“Sign the damn posters, Travis,” his handler leans down to hiss in his year. It just makes him shake his head, and grumble as he signs his life away. Today is not the day.

His head is still pounding. Water hasn’t helped. Food hasn’t helped. And he doesn’t to medicines. It also hasn’t helped that despite some interference he’s been touched, grabbed, poked and prodded—all uninvited. Nor has it helped that he’s been wearing a fake smile for the past four hours and his cheeks hurt, too. His right eye starts to twitch.

What he wants is a beer and a bed and absolute silence. And sleep. Sleep would be heaven right now.

Mercifully, the poster signing gets done and there’s only a few more people left. The guy walks away and he puts the fake smile back on to greet the next person.

A woman. Long hair in a ponytail, nice skin, plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up, shorts slung low over her hips with a brown belt, and hell of a set of legs. She’s almost worth the hours of slow torture he’s had to endure. He sits back in his hair to take her all in.

“You look like you’d rather be anywhere than here,” she says handing him a poster.

“Nah, it’s not bad. Anything for the fans. Who do I make it out to?”

“I’m not a fan and you can make it out to Kelli,” she says.

He looks at her again. “If you’re not a fan, why are you here?”

“My sister is the fan.” He nods at that.

“What’s her name?

“Kelli.”

He starts scrawling but she stops him midway. “Not spelled the way you think.”

Too late, he’s already messed it up. “Sorry. Do you have another one?”

“No. It’s good though. All I needed was to claim I tried. Congrats,” she says turning around and seeing no one in back of her. “Looks like you’re free. Hope it gets better for you.”

The woman starts walking away and he watches her leave, feeling a bit guilty for being so cranky. She was the last person in line.

But it’s finally over now. He’s done. ‘Till tonight anyway.

Still, as she retreats, he checks her out again. A foot kicks up under the table and he turns to see Katheryn watching him, a tiny smile on her lips.

“I swear it never gets old,” she says.

“What?”

“Watching you make an ass of yourself. You were looking at that woman’s ass like you have x-ray vision.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

The hotel room is that kind of artificial cold that a person can’t get warm from and after a while, she stops trying. It’s six o’clock—too early for sleep and there’s still daylight out. Her day had been planned but the night hasn’t.  Audio from the interviews has already been uploaded, the recorder cleared off and ready for day two. Luckily, she’s staying next to the convention center, and with nothing better to do, she leaves and goes back to see what the nightlife is like.

 She’s wandering the mostly deserted center when she comes across a sign that catches her attention.

“Archer Actress Aisha Tyler’s ‘Girl On Guy’ Taping at 7:30.” There’s an arrow pointing down the hall so she walks that way. Already there’s a line, but it’s not that long and she gets in it. The press passes have long since been put up and she’s blending with everyone else. Archer is a favorite show, and Taylor plays Lana Kane. Liz didn’t know she had a podcast though. This should be interesting. The doors open and they’re ushered into a smaller room. There are about 50 people here, not too many and it’s a much more intimate space. She takes a spot near the back and sits back to just chill.

 Tyler comes out.

 The sister is gorgeous. All tall and athletic, hair pulled back, with a take-no-shit attitude. She’s impressed. And it grows when Tyler’s crew comes around with bottles of beer and hands them out to the audience.

“Welcome to the Girl-On-Guy podcast!” There are cheers. She claps politely, choking a bit once she takes the first sip. This shit is strong.

“Tonight we’re taping live at Comic Con and we’ve got a special guest—you know him as Ragnar Lothbrok on History Channel’s Vikings, and before we get started, let me warn you, he’s an ‘intimate’ speaker so everyone get close…welcome to the show, Travis Fimmel!”

Huh. Go figure.

He walks on stage and takes a seat next to Aisha. She hands him a beer and he gives her a hug and the two start talking.

 They trade stories of Aisha’s trip to Ireland and she laughs along with the rest of the audience as Aisha recounts an encounter at a bar with two women, “eye-fucking” Travis…its hilarious really, and she’s quite enjoying herself.

It sounds like something that would go down. The guy is kinda sexy, in a roughneck-alcoholic kind of way. Earlier she had been close enough to catch a whiff of cigarettes and liquor on him.

Her office has been itching for someone to do a podcast so this is a good opportunity to take some mental notes, and she gives herself one to go up when they finish, and make a new contact. The press pass is put away in her purse.

 Travis talks low, mumbling a bit, but at least he’s in the mic and she’s by the speaker so she can hear okay. He smirks and grins as he talks, leaning forward elbows on the table. It’s interesting really. She’s becoming drunk off Tyler’s beer and he looks damn near wasted, eyes squinting as he talks. Tyler goads him on and he confesses to drinking pretty much all day. So that explains the liquor smell. Liz notes he’s still wearing the same clothes as well.

They’ve been going for about 40 minutes when Aisha announces her next segment: “Self-inflected wounds.”

The premise is to DIE for. Literally. Liz almost spits her beer as Tyler regales them of embarrassing stories her previous guests have shared. The best by far HAS to be Tyrese Gibson pissing in his own face.

If this is what she has to look forward to, she can’t wait to hear what he’s going to say.

 Travis starts talking in a soft mumble, clearly drunk off his ass. Slowly, he weaves the tale.

“So, I was ‘making love’ to two women…” he begins to a round of laughter. “One I didn’t know too well…”

Uh oh…

“I caught the clap.” They all die with laughter. It’s pretty damn funny. Travis keeps talking, and as he does…it becomes a lot less funny. At least, to her.

 “I didn’t want to tell her so I was trying to figure out how to slip her the pills…her drink…her food…”

Really? Is this really happening? The journalist in her wants to whip out her phone and start recording because what he’s talking about feels suspect, but she doesn’t. She just chills and as people continue laughing around her, she takes another swig of beer and keeps listening.

“…So she caught the flu and I start coughing too, ya know? But the next day, I’m fine and I give her these three pills…”

Wow. It’s Sheisty as fuck. She honestly cannot believe that came out of his mouth.

The audience gives a standing ovation and when it’s over, she makes her way up to the stage where Aisha and Travis are standing, talking to people. His eyes find hers and he nods in acknowledgement. She turns away. Eventually, the people start petering out but a few remain talking to Travis. She introduces herself to Aisha.

“Hi, I’m Liz Dubek, I’m with the Georgia NPR affiliate. Just wanted to say I liked the show. I’d like to chat with you about podcasting sometime in the next month if you’ve got the time.” The women exchange cards and she gets a guarantee.

Tyler heads out the room through a back door and she turns to step down from the stage and head out the main entrance. They were the last two in the room. But as soon as she steps through the door, she bumps into something hard and looks up, surprised. Travis Fimmel.

“My bad, didn’t see you there,” she says, stepping around him and continuing on her way. He follows.

“You never got your autograph from earlier. Sorry about mucking it up.”

“No problem. Good show by the way, but I think you should have chosen a different story,” she tells him, trying to be polite about it. “That’s not a good look.”

“Ah…yeah. I sorta realized that after the fact,” he says sheepishly, hands in pockets as they walk. Something in it makes her stop and turn around, looking at him. Really look at him.

“Are…you following me for some reason?” Liz’s eyes narrow in suspicion. This shit is weird. Was he waiting on her by the door or something? They’ve walked out of the convention hall, down the street, and are now standing in front of her hotel.

He shrugs and raises his hands. “You caught me. I saw you in the audience and I realized you didn’t get your autograph. Sorry I was in such a shit mood earlier. Long day. I wanted to give you what you came for,” he says reaching into his pocket and pulling out a folded up poster.

“Managed to get one off my handler,” he explains handing the poster to her. “For your sister.”

 “Thanks.” She takes it and puts it in her purse. Realizing they haven’t really introduced themselves she extends her hand.

“I’m Liz.” He takes it and they shake hands. “Travis.”

“Nice meeting you. Well, this is my stop.” She points to the building.

“Mine too.”

 “Really? I didn’t think they’d put celebs in here.”

He laughs. “They didn’t. I try to stay away from where the others are. Can I buy you a drink?”

It’s random. Really random. Quite possibly the most awkward come on she’s ever experienced. From start to finish, really. Him following her. He’s way too casual, and it’s in her nature to be suspicious. Not to mention that story from earlier. She damn sure doesn’t trust it. “Why?”

“It was just an offer, Liz. You’re looking at me like I’m diseased or something.”

The laugh comes out suddenly. And once it starts, she can’t stop it. Travis frowns, looking at her, trying to figure out what’s so funny. Awareness dawns slow, but when it hits, he cringes.

“Okay, I walked into that,” he says when she finally calms down.

“Yes, you definitely did.” Residual chuckles, but it’s not said to be mean.

“So, can I buy you a drink? Now I feel like I have to redeem myself,” he says and smiles. A real one, this time. It’s nice. His eyes crinkle at the corners and he bites his bottom lip, shifting slightly on his feet. It’s a sudden change—and he reminds her in the moment of an awkward teenager. He’s definitely not a pro at this, and she has a moment of empathy. Liz gives.   

“Sure.”

They head inside to the bar and take seats in the back.

“So, what can I get you?”

“White Russian.”

“Interesting choice.”

“Why’s that?”

“Didn’t peg you for it. Thought you’d say a fruity drink or something.”

“No. Maybe when I was younger and didn’t know better.”

“Fair.”

The waitress comes over, and he gives her their order.

“So, Liz…what brinks you to San Diego.”

“Justifying my nerd-dom,” she says, crossing her hands on the table. He leans in, seated across from her.

“How so?”

“Oh, if I told you, pretty sure you’d regret buying me this drink.”

A raised eyebrow. “Try me.”

“I’m a reporter.”

At that, Travis’s eyes goes wide. “Ah, Fuck me. Are you serious?” It would be his luck to work up the nerve to ask out a woman only for this to happen. Story of his life.

She must be looking at him some kind of way because he leans back and runs a hand down his face. “You are serious. Holy shit.”

“Why the bug out?”

“Are you trying to get information from me or something?”

“Aren’t YOU the one who followed me? I didn’t invite myself to drinks at a bar. Nor did I didn’t follow myself to the hotel. And I could be doing this in my own room right now.” Liz raises an eyebrow at him, lips slightly curved and Travis looks at her with suspicion.

“What kind of reporter are you?”

“I’m a news director, actually. I work at the Georgia NPR affiliate, in the capital bureau.” She leans across the table, her voice low. “Don’t shit yourself, Travis.  I cover politics, state-local stuff, healthcare, education.”

 “That’s good to know.” He looks visibly relieved.

Liz smiles. “No offense, but you’re not real news. You can leave now if you want. You satisfied your drink obligation.”

At that, he chuckles a bit. “Sorry. Just…I try to keep a low profile.” The drinks arrive and she sips on hers. “I don’t blame you for wanting that. But you chose a really bad job for it. So, tell me about you. I know you’re an actor and no, I haven’t seen your show. Tell me something else—aside from the fact you once caught an STD and lied to a girl about it.”

That makes him wince again, and he glances down before raising his eyes back to hers. “You’re not going to let that go, are you?”

“You’re out your head if you think anyone is letting that go.”

They end up talking for the next few hours, and by the time Travis looks at the clock, it’s well past 2 am.

Four hours.

Liz follows his eyes.

“Wow. Didn’t realize we’ve been here that long.”

“And I’ve been told I don’t talk a lot,” he says, sitting back and grinning at her. “I could talk to you all day.”

“Well, you technically talked to me all night.” She gets up from her seat and he follows, walking out of the bar and toward the elevators.

“What floor?” He asks. She looks at him. “Seven.”

The doors open and they step inside.

“Where are you going?” Liz asks, a half-smile on her face as she looks up at him.

“I’m escorting the lady to her room in the hopes maybe she’ll let me in?” That’s a definite come on, no less cheesy and terrible than the first. But as Travis says it, he makes a face at her and she laughs as the doors open on the seventh floor and they walk down the hall toward the room.

“This is my stop.” The card is put in the key slot and the light glows green. A low whir followed by the soft sound of clanking metal signal entry. She steps inside and turns, stopping him before he can follow with a hand to the chest.

“Not that kind of girl. Not this kind of party,” she says before standing on her tip toes to give him a peck on the cheek.

“Goodnight Travis. Thanks for drinks,” she says before closing the door quietly.

He looks up at the number. 702.

.

.

It’s late by the time he gets to his room, kicking off his shoes and dropping to the bed. He’s dog tired. Lack of sleep coupled with the long ass day, not to mention the night before. He’s really getting too old for this shit.  It’s 2:20 in the morning, but it feels later than that.

Alcohol-induced sleep quickly takes him away. Only when he wakes does he realize he never got Liz’s phone number. But he does know what room she’s in.

A quick call down to the concierge’s desk gets him what he wants. And he goes online to make the order.

 Because Liz Dubek is fascinating. And it’s been a long time since he’s found something that intrigues him.  

.

.

The intense rapping on her door is what wakes her. Liz rolls over groggily.

“Just a moment,” she calls, yawning and straggling to the door. When it opens, she’s confronted with a face full of white flowers in a white vase.

“Delivery for you, ma’am,” the concierge says, handing them to her. She takes them, puzzled.

“Thank you. What did I do to get flowers?” She asks.

“A special order,” he says, bowing slightly before heading off. “Have a great day Ms. Dubek.”

 The door closes and Liz walks back into the room setting the flowers on the desk. There’s card attached and she picks it up, opening it.

I didn’t get your phone number but I figured the room would do. Dinner, tonight—if you’re still in town?   -Travis.

She can’t help it. It makes her smile…a little.

Liz calls down to the concierge’s desk, noting that he didn’t leave a room number or a phone number. She thinks he’s testing her. So, she calls down to the front desk.

“Excuse me, I just received flowers to my room—room 702. I’m trying to find out what room Travis Fimmel is in?”

“I’m sorry ma’am. We don’t have anyone here by that name,” the clerk says apologetically.

“Ok. Thank you.”

She hangs up, thinking on it, re-tracing their conversation from last night. How can she reach him back? It’s likely he’s using some sort of alias. A sudden flash of inspiration hits, recalling him talking about his hometown and his favorite show growing up She calls back.

A different clerk answers.

“Yes, I’m trying to connect to Skippy Echuca’s room, please?” She asks politely.

“Just a moment.” The phone goes silent, and then a ring tone.

One ring.

Two rings.

He picks up on the third.

“Hello?”

“Hello Skippy.”

She smiles into the phone as Travis starts to laugh, a deep, resonate laugh that soon becomes infections. She laughs too.

“So you figured it out,” he says. “Does this mean yes to dinner?”

“You convinced me,” Liz tells him. “What time? And where?”

“I know a quiet spot about 20 minutes away from here, if you don’t mind getting in a car with me,” he says.

“Sure you want to do that? What if someone notices you?”

“Trust me, no one notices me when I don’t want to be noticed,” he tells her.

“Ok. What time?”

“Meet me downstairs at 9?”

They make a deal, and Liz heads back to sleep.

In his room, Travis leans back in his bed, hands behind his head a grin on his face.

Liz is smart. Clever. And gorgeous. She’s checked three of his boxes so far.

.

.

He spots her before she sees him and he hangs back a bit, watching her approach. She’s dressed in black pants that accentuate those gorgeous legs he got to see yesterday, and a white, ruffled top that’s much more conservative. Red heels.

Travis steps out from behind the large pillar, right in front as she approaches, and she nearly bumps into him.

“Hey! Didn’t see you there!”

“I tend to lurk nowadays,” he says, falling in step beside her. “The car is already outside.”

Their car is a hotel chauffer and they climb in. Travis gives the directions and they’re off.

“You’re a slippery one,” Liz says and he looks at her out of the corner of his eyes. “I learned a while ago to try to keep as much of myself off limits as possible. If you let too much of yourself go, you never get it back. This industry isn’t what people see on television.”

 There’s a touch of sadness there, and she catches it, turning to look at Travis fully. He’s looking at her too and she moves to say something, but decides now isn’t the time. A conversation for later.

 They pull up to the restaurant he choose, a non-descript brink storefront with a tiny sign out front near the pier. D’Angelo’s.

“What’s this?”

“Food,” he says getting out and coming to her side to open the door for her. She steps up and follows him in.

There are exactly 12 tables and only one other is occupied. Travis speaks to the hostess and they’re seated immediately in the back of the small space.

Water glasses appear, followed by table and place settings and two menus.

“So…I take it you hate your job,” she says, picking up on the thread from their brief conversation in the car. He sighs.

“No. I like my job, I hate the industry.”

“What about it don’t you like?” She’s probing, curious now.

“I don’t like the attention. I don’t like the predation. I don’t like the…pandering,” Travis says. “If you want something it’s mostly about whose ass you have to kiss. And if you haven’t noticed, I’m not that kind of guy. Unless…” He switches from serious to playful in the span of one sentence, but Liz isn’t fooled.

“This really bothers you, doesn’t it?”

“Sometimes. If I allow it.”

“Then why do it?”

Travis motions with his hand. “Money. It pays well, when it pays.” He says. “And I have goals that cost a lot of money. What about you? Do you like what you do?”

She thinks on it. There have only been a few times when her job has felt like one. Most of the time, though, it’s not.

“When I first started, I did,” Liz tells him.

“I always wanted to write. But my mother wanted me to be a doctor. When I was young, I kept journals, created short stories, plays, you name it—I would write it. It became my coping mechanism. And later, I realized that while I might not become a famous author, I could become a journalist. Everyone said I talked too much and was too nosey. So, I figured the skills went hand-in-hand.”

He’s watching her face as she talks, growing ever more animated. He can tell she’s passionate about this. The way she looks at him and speaks with such intent. Travis knows that feeling.

 He nods and leans forward.

“See, the same passion you have for storytelling? I feel that for what I truly love.”

“And what’s that?” Liz leans in.

“Farming. I grew up on a large dairy farm. My parents’ place, back home. I love being outside, working with my hands.” He holds them in front of him, palms up, and it’s the first time Liz has the opportunity to look at them.

 They remind her of her grandfather’s hands. Large, and calloused, faint scars across the knuckles. She takes one, touching the open palm gently. It’s hard, ridged and raised. She can feel the work in them.

“I love your hands,” she says, fingering the skin. “Work. That’s your passion.”

He nods, watching what she’s doing quietly. In the moment, they’re operating with complete understanding.

“My grandfather has about 40 acres in Arkansas,” she says. “We went there all the time. He was a pipefitter, worked on many of the skyscrapers in San Francisco. He and my grandmother retired to Arkansas, but even as a kid, he liked to be outside. Fishing, camping, Tending his garden, working on the house…You remind me a lot of him.”

“Is that a good thing?” Travis asks. Liz looks down at his open palm, still in her hand. She caresses it gently with a finger.

“My grandparents have been married 50 years. I adore them. My grandpa is the best man I know.”

Their food arrives and breaks up the moment. They eat quietly, each reflecting on the conversation, and when they’re done, Travis pays the bill and they go outside where the car awaits.

 The ride back is quiet, but the silence is warm. Intimate.

They retrace the path from the night before. To the elevators. Up to the ninth floor. Down the hall, turn right.

Room 928.

Liz puts in her key and the light glows red. She frowns then looks up. Wrong room, wrong floor.

He reaches around her and puts his key in. The light glows green, mechanical whir again and a click. The door opens and she steps inside.

She looks up at his face and he reads the question.

“When do you leave?” He asks.

“Tomorrow.”

“Then…spend the night?”

.

.

When he wakes up the next morning, it’s alone. The space beside him is empty. And cold.

He sits up, confused.

‘Liz?”

There’s no answer and he climbs out the bed and walks around, slightly dazed. She’s gone. She seriously up and left without a word.

 A piece of folded paper on the table next to the bed catches his eye, and he turns on the slight, squinting at the brightness and blinking several times in order to focus on the words.

 She left a note.

Travis,

If you’re still interested…it’s your turn. Let’s see how clever you are. :)

Liz

Only now is he realizing he never got her phone number. Or an email address from her. He smiles, recalling how she’d figured out his hotel alias. So now, the tables are turned. Travis laughs as he gets up, packing his bags. A favorite pastime has always been to figure out puzzles and mysteries. And Liz has given him both.

Nothing happened last night. Liz had fallen asleep in his bed, and he on the chair. Sometime in the night he’d come over and slept on top of the covers, her under them, and both fully clothed. But it had been a nice night. And so had the one before it.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

“Hey, Mark, it’s Liz from WGPU in Georgia? Yeah, I was calling about the pitch…”

The week went by too fast, and it’s back to work. A fresh week. There are a buzz of reporters hovering by her door and she signals to them with a single finger, covering the mouthpiece on the phone.

“I’ll be there in a minute,” she mouths before going back on the call.

“Uh huh…yeah…yeah… 3:45? Draft by Friday? Perfectly doable. How much?”

She frowns at the figure. “Well, I did fly out there…and I get it’s an event, BUT---…”

“I mean, it’s a feature, though. Not an investigative piece,” her editor says…

“Okay. How about $600? Once you hear the voices, we can talk some more about it,” she says.

“That’s fine. Just text when you send the draft,” he tells her.

She hangs up and grabs a notebook on the way out the office and into the newsroom conference table.

They’re not the biggest team in the state but with eight reporters, it’s a good group. A strong group. A very LOUD group.

Everyone starts talking at once until she can’t distinguish between them. A hand is held up and they fall silent.

“For real, ya’ll. I JUST got back in here. One at a time. Nan, you’re up. Shoot.”

“So, I’m working on a piece about the possibility Morris Brown could get its accreditation back…”

“What do you have for a scene?”

“I was planning to head to the AUC…check out the Friday fest.”

“Sounds good. Mark, you’re up.”

“The lawsuit against Dekalb county teachers over the cheating scandal is at the Georgia Supreme Court. Oral Arguments start at 11.”

“Feature or short?”

“Probably short.”

“K. Plan For a 2-Way as well. Natanya will want something for the morning and Todd probably for this afternoon.”

It goes on like this, until everyone has assignments and they all scatter to the high winds. Reporters. They never stay stationary for long.

She gets up to go to her next meeting. Administration. There’s just five of them now. A cup of coffee is poured and she settles in as upper management talks programming and specials, schedule changes, pledge drives.

“What about news?” John, her General Manager turns to Liz.

“We’ve got a series coming next month—the re-segregation of public schools,” she says. “It’ll be nice. Full magazine layout online, interactive digital feature. I found a great graphics guy.”

They nod and after another 15 minutes of non-work chatting, it’s off to the third meeting. Content. Really duplicative, but it keeps the radio and television sides of the operation in the loop with each other.

 She repeats the same thing. TV says it wants in and she makes note of it.

Finally, back to her office. State News Directors Conference Call.

She keeps the phone line muted, half listening as she prepares the daily rundown and sends it to stations. The other news directors fret over the threat to cut state funding to their stations.

“Liz, any information?”

“Probably better to ask the GM’s but no proposal has emerged so far, though there’s rumblings,” she tells them.

The grumbling continues.

“I’ll keep an eye out.”

“Great. Thanks, Liz! It’s why you’re in the capitol!”

The phone beeps inconsistently as everyone hangs up. She’s last to go.  The time on the computer reads 11:37. She got in at 8. Monday’s are always a shit show. Back-to-back meetings that drain the time out the day. So much could be done with just email, or some delegation to others, but she’s never delegated her responsibilities and it’s worked for the past three years, so why stop now?

The newsroom is now blessedly silent, just the ambient sounds of programs coming out of the speakers, volume low. There’s at least two hours she can get in before her herd comes rushing back and she’s thrown into chaos and editing. Time to work on her own story.

Her headphones are on, and Liz is midway through a rough draft when a tap on her shoulder interrupts her flow. She jumps and turns, seeing John standing over her.

“Hey?” The headphones come off.

“You’ve got a phone call. Main line.” Sure enough, one of the lines is blinking.

“Thanks. Didn’t hear it.” He walks off and she picks up the line.

“Liz Dubek, speaking.”

“I didn’t get your number last week.”

The frown she’s been wearing this morning melts into a smile.  

“May I ask who’s calling?” There’s amusement in it, and he hears the tease in her voice.

“Travis. The guy from San Diego? Comic Con? Or did you forget me already?” He chuckles.

Liz laughs quietly. “So, you found me. I suppose you can have one of my numbers.”

“You’re so important you have multiples? I guess I need to get on the VIP list.”

“What makes you think that’s not the number I’m giving you?”

“Well, when I call, I guess that will be the test. So…did I do enough to earn the right to call you?”

She laughs again and gives him the number. Her work cell, though.

.

.

Travis hangs up, number in hand. 404.271.4879. It had taken about a week to track her down in Georgia. He’d worked on it in-between takes and breaks from filming.

“What’s that?” Katheryn walks up to him and he tucks the paper in his pocket and backs up a bit. She circles him and he turns, watching her warily.

“Nothing,” he says, but it comes out a bit too quick and her sharp eyes narrow at him.

“Uh huh…you’ve been acting funny since we got back from San Diego,” she says pausing and crossing her arms. “You seem…more distracted than usual.”

Of course she would notice. She knows him too well. Still, it’s not something he wants or is ready to discuss. So he brushes it off. “It’s nothing,” Travis gives Katheryn a quick peck on the cheek. “I promise.”

And later in the day, he manages to knock her off her boat and into the lake with a strong right throw of a head of lettuce from his perch on his own boat, at a distance where she can’t retaliate. It’s hilarious, and he ducks down below the sidewall of the long ship as everyone laughs at Katheryn, emerging from the water looking like a pissed off, wet cat.

 Later that night, he saves the number in his phone, intending to call Liz the next day.

But one day turns to two. And two days become three. The days turn to weeks. And the weeks become months. He’s gotten more offers. New projects. A few audition tapes.

By the time they finish wrapping the season, it’s September. Comic Con was three months ago.

He’s buried in work. Liz is swamped at hers.

Out of sight, out of mind.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

October

“Liz, come with me so I don’t look like a stalker. I heard Travis Fimmel is taping something downtown.”

Her sister, Kelli, has wrapped an arm around hers and is practically dragging her to the car.

“Why can’t you get one of your friends to go with you? Why me?”

“Because I don’t want them knowing I’m low-key stalking him.” She says.

“Get your life together. Don’t you have anything better to do? A test or something to study for?”

“Already aced it and I’m a free bird until next month. So, are you coming with?”

The sisters are 10 years apart. And Liz feels every single one of those years right at this moment. Sometimes, it’s like trying to communicate with an alien. This is one of those times.

“Fine, but please don’t embarrass us.”

“Yeah, yeah. I know. You have a reputation to protect,” her sister says mockingly.

“You know I’m serious about that.”

Because her name and her reputation are her currency—and as a journalist, all she has is those two things. She worked her ass off to become a news director and she’s still one of the few minorities at her station, and one of even fewer in the state. Journalism is still a majority club, even public radio to a great extent.

“I’ll behave,” Kelli says, calming down a bit as they drive from Liz’s condo into the city. They park and start walking, trying to find the place. The big sat trucks and line of Winnebago’s mark the spot. Liz still marvels at downtown, amazed at the transformation.

She’s been back now three years and in the 10 she was away Atlanta had managed to become a new hub for film. Now there’s something being taped nearly all the time.

“Oh my God, there he is!!” Kelli whispers furiously to her sister, grabbing her arm.

She looks in the direction her sister points, and sure enough, it is him. Travis. But Liz doesn’t hold the same kind of enthusiasm though.

“Good. Now, you came, you saw, let’s go.”

“Hell no! Are you crazy? I came to slay, bitch.” Her sister laughs. “No for real. I hear he’s really nice. I want to try and get another autograph.”

“Why? I brought you one back.”

“Yeah, but, yours was wrinkled. Plus…I just want to SMELL him. I read he smells amazing. Did you get close enough to smell him?”

“Yes. And the man’s a smoker. He smells like an ashtray. Come on, the guy is trying to work. Seriously?”

Because while Kelli may be excited to see him, Liz isn’t. She gave him her number four months ago. It’s October. If Travis wanted anything more, he would have at least sent up a solar flare. But aside from the one call to her station there hasn’t been anything else. San Diego was fun, and that’s all it had been.

 “Just because you mingle with important people every day doesn’t mean I get to. The luster may have worn off for you, but he’s still shiny to me,” Kelli says, pulling Liz in the direction of the production. “Not to mention he’s fine as fuck. Let’s. go.”

She gets dragged again. They approach right as the director calls for a break.

“Sorry ladies, can’t let you through.” A big, burly security guard comes up to them, pushing them back.

“Oh, we’re reporters with WGPU. Working on a story about Atlanta’s film industry,” Kelli says, nudging her sister. Liz looks at her in shock.

“Credentials? They’re about to do the gaggle now,” he says.

Reluctantly, she reaches into her bag and pulls out her ID. He takes it and waves them in. “It’s that way to the left,” he says as they start walking.

She’s not dressed for this. Decked out in Bermuda shorts with gold sandals and a plain white shirt ¾ sleeved top. It’s not bad…but definitely not for a press conference.

Liz is mortified. “I am going to murder you. Do not EVER ASK ANYTHING of me again, understand?”

 Her sister willfully ignores her as they walk and come across the group of reporters and videographers at the designated spot. Tripods and lighting is being set up and the two of them hang back.

“Behave yourself,” she hisses at Kelli.

“I KNOW. Calm the fuck down.”

They watch as Travis walks out behind a few city and state officials.

It’s the usual kind of affair, when everyone has to speak and they all talk for far too long. She’s bored out her mind. Finally, they start taking questions. Kelli pulls her closer but they’re still in back.

“I can’t see!” Her sister says in disappointment. Liz sighs.

“Come on.” She spotted the multi-box earlier and dips around the gaggle and to the sound guys.

“Can I plug in? Sound’s crap,” she says, pulling out her iPhone and an assortment of dongles. They point to a spot and she hooks in, but doesn’t record. It gives Kelly a better vantage point. They’re now behind Travis and Lena but out of the shot for the cameras.

“Last question!!” A woman in tall heels shouts. That usually means the last three.

Liz notes Travis is the only person who hasn’t said a word throughout the whole thing.

Finally, it’s over.

“Can we go now?” But when she turns around she sees she’s alone and when she looks around, she catches sight of her sister, striding confidently up behind Travis.

Mother hell.

Liz goes after her as Kelly taps him on the shoulder. She comes up in time to hear her asking for an autograph.

“Kelli Dubek. Love your show. Could you sign this for my sister? She’s a fan.”

What the hell?

“Kelli Anne Dubek!”

Both Travis and Kelli look up hearing her voice.

“So…who is the fan? You, or her?” He says, smirking.

Liz rolls her eyes. “THIS is my younger sister, if that’s not abundantly clear.”

He laughs, reaching out a hand to shake Kelli’s. “Nice to meet you. Your sister and I spent some time together a few months back.” Travis’ eyes drift over to Liz as he speaks.

Kelli looks at Liz. “You didn’t tell me that.”

“There’s nothing to tell. We had a drink at a bar. Thank you, Travis. Sorry to bother you at work,” Liz says, grabbing her sister’s wrist and dragging her this time as they walk off.

He comes jogging up behind them.

“Wait,” he says, slightly out of breath. “Do you want to go for a bite? I’m off in a few hours.”

Liz looks at him. “What?” There’s question in it. Kelli jabs her in the side. He notices.

“Can I take both of you to dinner?”

At that, her eyes get narrow. She wasn’t born yesterday.

“What kind of women do you think we are? I get what it looks like, but like I told you before, this isn’t that type of party.”

Travis looks at her, confused, trying to figure out where his fun, playful Liz went and where this standoffish, terse Liz came from.

“No! I’m not trying to… look, I just figured since you’re here and I’m here and your sister is here we could get food. I was trying to be nice.”

Now he’s defensive, and they’re both in a standoff.  Liz can’t figure out what Travis is up to, and Travis can’t figure out why she’s angry. Kelli’s eyes jump between them both, trying to figure out what exactly is going on.

“We’d LOVE to come to dinner,” she says, stepping in to try and diffuse the situation. “What time and where?”

At the sound of her voice, Travis looks at her, then at Liz. This time, when he speaks, it’s a lot more cautious.

“Em…well…I’m staying at the OMNI, don’t really know what’s close,” he says.

“There’s a great Chinese food restaurant in Buckhead. Grand China.” Kelli pipes up. “What time?”

“Around 9-ish?”

“We’ll be there. Thanks!” She drags her sister away, and when they get back to the car, Kelli is talking fast.

 “Damn that man is fine. Did you see his eyes? His mouth…Oh, my God and he smells divine. And dinner! I cannot believe we lucked into that—and you had drinks with him in San Diego? And didn’t say ANYTHING? What in the world, Liz! And WHY would you get all snobbish on him? It’s JUST dinner for Chrissakes…why do you have to be such a dick about everything? Anyway…what are we wearing? Can I raid your closet?”

Liz doesn’t respond, too furious with her sister to even speak.

It’s not until she’s taken a shot to calm her shaking nerves that she sits her sister down and begins to speak. Seriously.

“LOOK AT ME,” Liz commands as they sit on the couch. “This is just a dinner. There is no leaving with him—understand? There’s no going out afterward. Get that? And if we do, we go together. You forget that I’ve been around people with power a LONG time. YOU are young and don’t know any better. Men will use their power to take advantage. I’m not saying that Travis is that type of man. BUT what I am saying is that you need to conduct yourself the way you want someone to treat you. And looking desperate and thirsty is only going to attract the wrong type of people. Do you understand?”

Because she’s thinking about that Clap story and the few days in California and how he’d tried to get close. But he hasn’t reached out in four months, and now that he sees her he’s interested again? Liz shakes her head. She had given Travis the benefit of doubt in San Diego and agreed to drinks and dinner. Honestly, after the first few weeks of no contact, he’d fallen out of her thoughts. But now he’s there again and just expects that she’ll be too? He must be an idiot to think it works like that.

Kelly nods, sobered by her sister’s words.

“I’m sorry, Liz. Really. I got carried away. I swear I won’t go anywhere with him alone, if he asks. Okay?”

“Okay.” She says, standing. “Because he’s also nearly 20 years older than you. Consider this a life lesson. Now. What are we wearing? I’ll let you pick it out.”

They pull up to the restaurant right at nine and walk in.

“Liz and Kelli! So happy to see you, it’s been a long time!” The owner, Yang Huiping, comes up to them with open arms.

They’ve been coming here since their family moved to Atlanta in 1993—and Liz swears, Yang hasn’t aged a bit. She’s still every bit as graceful and elegant as she was the first time they came.

“We’re happy to see you, too Ms. Yang,” Kelli says as they hug her back.

“Is it just you two, tonight?”

“No, we’re waiting on someone else, she says, taking a look inside. Sure enough, she spots Travis, seated at a table.”

“We’re meeting him,” she points and Yang looks. “Ah. Here, let me move you three to the back room. Quieter, more privacy,” she says walking them back.

Travis stands as the sisters approach.

“We’re moving,” Liz tells him as Yang picks up his menu and guides the three of them behind the large partition that displays an intricately decorated kimono. They know that its Yang’s wedding dress. She and her husband have run the restaurant since moving to the United States from China in the 1980’s. They get resettled and Yang puts the menu’s down.

“Friends of Kelli and Liz are friends of ours,” she tells Travis, squeezing his shoulder.

“I didn’t realize you two were so important,” he says, looking at Liz as they open their menus. It’s habit at this point. They know the entire thing. She’s pointedly ignoring his glances, holding firm on her resolve. Dinner only. Nothing more.

“We’ve been coming here since we were kids,” Kelli explains, oblivious.

“Well then I guess I should ask you two for recommendations.”

“If you like spicy, then you’ll love the mustard,” Kelli tells him. “And if you prefer something mild, there’s a great moo goo gai pan.”

Travis looks around. “This place is nice. Quiet. Wasn’t quite what I was expecting.”

“What were you expecting?”

“Something loud. More…casual?”

At that, the sisters look at him. Travis has on light wash jeans with a hole in the knee, a t-shirt and flip flops. He looks more like a man right off the street than a professional actor. Kelly is dressed in a red one-piece jumpsuit with heels and Liz has on wide-leg black slacks with a sleeveless sheer Victorian top and black camisole underneath.

He’s dressed down. They’re dressed up. Liz smirks a bit behind her menu. He’s completely out of the water. She’s content to let him flounder, but her sister works to reassure him.

“Not a problem. The dinner is usually a little dressier, but Yang didn’t put you out, so that’s good,” Kelli s says. Liz rolls her eyes, the menu still giving her cover. Did anything she tell Kelli earlier register? Clearly not.

The waiter comes over and fills their water glasses, taking their orders while putting down egg drop and wonton soups with bowls.

Travis and Kelli make small talk at the table. Liz focuses on her soup, just listening and fully prepared to drag her sister out at the first hint of anything inappropriate.  

 “I tried engineering but dropped out in the first semester,” he tells her.

“Where’d you go?”

“School in Australia,” he says with a shrug. I was never too keen on classrooms. Couldn’t sit still for too long. I was an outside kid.”

“What do you enjoy doing? Besides acting,” Kelli leans in, curious.  Travis notices the sisters are very much alike in this way. Liz had done the same when they were at the bar in San Diego.  He casts another look her way, but she’s focused on the soup in front of her. So far, they’ve not exchanged two words. And he’s starting to believe what she’s doing is purposeful. For some reason, Liz is mad at him. He doesn’t want her to be, but trying to ask her now, in front of her sister, would likely engender more ill will from her.

 “I hate acting,” he tells Kelli. “But it pays the bills. I bet you hate your job too.”

Kelli shakes her head. “I’m still in school. Biochemistry major at Emory,” she says. Travis raises an eyebrow. “No shit. Wait—how old are you?” He asks.

She grins. “21.” He looks from Kelli to Liz and Kelli speaks again. He didn’t realize she was that young. And now, he’s thoroughly confused. Kelli sees it on his face and grins.  “Liz is ten years older than me. I’m the ‘oops’.” Liz shoots her a look, but her sister ignores it.

Travis’ eyes drift over to Liz again, but she’s still not looking at him.

Dinner arrives, and conversation pauses for the moment.

Yang comes over.

“Dinner is on me, lovelies,” she tells the sisters pulling then both into a hug. “But you,” she points at Travis, “still have to pay for yourself.”

At that, the women laugh quietly at the surprised look on his face.

“Owners orders,” Liz says with a shrug as he pulls out his wallet and counts out bills.

That makes four words addressed to him.

They’re head out into the cool Atlanta air. Kelli is walking ahead and Liz is about to catch up to her when she feels Travis’s hand on her elbow, pausing them on the sidewalk. She looks at it. “Did I do something wrong?” Travis asks voice low, looking at Liz. He hasn’t forgotten what she said earlier that day and that, coupled with not speaking to him at dinner, is a red flag.

“Well, let’s think about it,” she says, putting a finger to her chin.

“First, you tried to wine me. THEN you tried to dine me. Then you try to sleep with me…and then you disappear. So…what should I think? And you can take your hand off my arm, now.”

He lets her go, feeling shamed. He really should have called.

“Liz, I wasn’t trying to use you. Is that why you’re mad at me? Because I didn’t call?” She looks up at him incredulously. “You cannot be that dense. And I’m not mad at you, Travis. I just now know how you operate. And I’m not down with that. And don’t even think about trying my sister.”

Shit. He runs his hand through his hair, trying to figure out how he screwed up so badly as to give her this impression. A large group walks by them laughing and talking loudly and they slip back a few steps—closer to the outdoor tables off to the side of the restaurant doors.

 “I didn’t mean to do that. It got really busy when I got back and it slipped my mind. I never intended to leave you hanging.” But one day turned to two, and two to three, and days to weeks and weeks to months…there had been auditions, bad weather, a rushed production…and now this project…it had slipped his mind. She had slipped his mind. And he feels bad for it. He tells her this, but even as he speaks, Liz doesn’t break.

Kelli is a few feet away from them, watching. She can’t hear what’s being said, but she knows her sister well. Liz is frowning, standing slightly back, arms crossed. Travis is leaning in, speaking urgently and they look deep into whatever they’re discussing. It’s the type of convo between people who know each other, not ones that just met. They look…familiar.

Travis is trying hard to convince Liz to believe him. “I’m not the kind of man you think I am. I didn’t mean to come off that way.”

“I’m sure you didn’t. It’s fine. Really,” Liz places a hand on his cheek, but she’s still not giving.  “I get it. But we all make room for priorities. I never expected to be anywhere near the top of your list. It was just a drink and a dinner.”

“If it was just a drink and dinner, then why are we standing here arguing?” He drops his voice and leans into her. Liz shivers, despite it being warm out here.

“You never called.”

 “Well, why didn’t you call me?” He asks. Almond shaped brown eyes stare into his, searching. He’s trying to figure out what she’s looking for. Finally, Liz answers, and its filled with disappointment.

“Because you never called me, and I never got your number. Isn’t that how it was supposed to go? It was your move. And, I’m not the type of woman to chase. I have a life too.”

At that, he pauses, realizing she’s right. Shaking his head ruefully, he speaks again. “Then…can I give it to you now? Can I make it up to you?”

Travis looks sincere, and he’s asking nicely. And so, for resolution purposes, Liz relents.

“Fine.”

He exhales the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.  “Are you’re free sometime this week? I’d like to meet you in a well lit area populated by other people with security cameras nearby for lunch.” It’s a joke. It works. Despite herself. Liz laughs, ending their standoff. “Sure.”

A second shot. He’ll take it. “What time?”

“I don’t know. We’ll have to play it by ear. It’s busy for me. Call around 10 in the morning,” she tells him, walking off and rejoining her sister. The two head to the back parking lot and he watches them go. Travis checks his phone. Liz’s number is still there.

He walks back to his hotel alone.

Damn that was hard. He’s not used to having to work this hard.

Travis falls into bed on his back, staring at the ceiling. He’d been surprised to see her on his set, surprised even more to actually see her sister—he’d been a little skeptical about that in San Diego, but lo, a sibling actually existed.

But man, this woman is difficult. He’d almost been reduced to begging her for lunch, but he couldn’t allow her to think he was some sort of user. That wouldn’t have been right. And he regrets, yet again, not calling her for four months. If anything, seeing her again had been a reminder of just how striking the woman was. Her skin so smooth and even when he touched her…so very soft.  He’s always been drawn to physical beauty, appreciating it in all forms, and while Liz was fully covered, he noticed the way her hips moved as she walked, the way her full lips formed words, and the way her long lashes framed those almond eyes of hers.

Liz had caught his attention standing in line at Comic Con, and he’d fully believed he missed his shot then—knowing how odd it would have looked had he tried to ask out a random woman seeking an autograph.

Her showing up at the podcast had been a happy coincidence, but damn if he didn’t forget to ask for her number after drinks. And dinner …Even now when he thinks of the way her fingers traced his palm the spot tingles.

Not to mention the effort it took to track her down. Travis looks at his phone again, reassuring himself that her number is still there. Liz Dubek. 404.271.4879.

How the hell did he forget? He knows how. Busy, was the excuse and that was and is true but…well, he’s done worse things over the years. Still, lunch is another opportunity. Because now that she’s in front of him, he wants to get to know Liz all over again.

And he won’t lie—he wants to finish what they started in San Diego. To see where it goes. Liz is smart. Feisty. Beautiful and, as he discovered tonight—fiercely protective of her sister. Family. He respects that. Respects her for it.

But she doesn’t have to worry.  While Kelli is a sweet girl, Travis is very much set on her sister.   

.

.

“What was all that about?” Kelli asks when they’re in the car.

“He wants to take me to lunch.”

She grins. “Are you going?”

“Not sure. Told him to call around 10 once I check my schedule.”

Liz sees her sister giving her side-eye.

“What?”

“I really think you should go.”

“Why?” Liz doesn’t trust it. Her suspicion is met with an eye-roll.

“Because he likes you,” Kelli says matter-of-factly. “You barely spoke to him at dinner and yet he was staring at you the entire time. And what was that really about a minute ago? And don’t even bother telling me it was just about lunch. Ya’ll were way too familiar. I’m young, not dumb.”

Kelli is blunt and Liz gives. “We had drinks the first night. Went out to dinner the second, and we talked in his room afterward.”

An eyebrow.

“You…were in his room? Wait—did ya’ll…? Is that why you’re pissed at him?”

Liz shakes her head. “Absolutely not. Besides, he’s suspect in that department.” She still hasn’t forgotten the clap story. “And I don’t have sex with someone I just met.”

“So meet him again and then have sex with him. I know I would.” Kelli smirks, watching her sister’s face for reaction. She gets none, just Liz’s hands gripping the steering wheel. “Oh, come ON. For a journalist who prides herself on fact-checking, you’re sitting here telling me you haven’t at least googled the guy? He’s a Cancer, for crying out loud. They’re not bed hoppers.”

“What does that even mean?” They get inside Liz’s condo and Kelly settles on the couch cross-legged with her laptop in hand. She starts typing.

“That’s his sign. I know you don’t buy into that stuff but, look. Check out some of his interviews.” They watch and Liz cringes. This fidgety, shy Travis isn’t the one she knows. He looks horribly uncomfortable in most of them. Not even with Alicia was he so put off.

“Those are terrible.”

“I think its endearing, actually,” her sister says. “He’s shy in public. Stays away from the spotlight. He really doesn’t like doing interviews, and he says it over and over again.” Sure enough, there are clips and news articles of him saying exactly that. And as she reads one account based out of Sydney, even the reporter makes note of it.  Kelli cuts to a clip of another interview. Travis being interviewed by Michael Strahan and Kelly Ripa.

“You know what you are? You’re lumber-sexual,” Ripa declares to audience laughter. Travis shifts on his stool, slightly hunched, hands clasped on his lap.

“What does that mean? That I put my back into it?” It comes out soft, said with a slightly uncomfortable grin and a shift of his body further on the chair. He’s sitting there, ankles crossed, dressed in a flannel shirt, jeans, and mismatched shoes.

“Oh…that’s…almost embarrassing,” Liz comments. But it does make a crack in her resistance. It’s sweet actually. Kind of endearing, his innocence—or rather, his obliviousness.

Kelli laughs. “Which part of it? The cluelessness or the mismatched shoes.”

“All of it.”

 “Wait until he mispronounces ‘Adirondack’.” Sure enough, he trips all over it and Liz laughs.

“See? I told you!” Kelli smiles, her fingers working fast. She says it almost gleefully.

“You act like he’s a puppy,” Liz tells her. “He’s a grown man.”

“Doesn’t mean he’s not shy though. You can tell he really hates these things. Every interaction is positively cringe-worthy.”

She gives it a moment of consideration, remembering the awkward way he’d asked her out for drinks, and how he’d been lurking in the lobby when she came down for dinner. Not to mention his reasoning for staying in a different hotel.  

Still, “I don’t think ‘shy’ is the operative word.  He didn’t have any problems with us tonight.”

“Yeah, but he also wasn’t surrounded by TV cameras either. He didn’t say a peep at that press conference.”

They watch some more videos. Comic Con panels for Vikings.

Travis dodging questions, mumbles into the microphone, shifting in his seat. “He reminds me of an antsy kid.”  

“I know. It’s so hot.” Kelli says.

More videos. Liz raises an eyebrow as another panel comes up.

Travis and a beautiful blonde haired woman. She’s grabbing at him and he’s trying to block. They look like they’re having fun together. He’s smiling at her, and she’s grinning back at him. They look…intimate.

“Who is she? Were they dating or something?”

“That’s Katheryn Winnick. She plays Ragnar’s ex-wife on “Vikings’. And as for dating? Who knows? I know a lot of folks wish. But it’s mostly just rumors.”

Another clip.

“…Travis is just so unlucky in love and I’m married with three kids…we talk a lot…”

“Who’s that?” Liz is engrossed now, watching as Kelli shows her the many manifestations of Travis Fimmel.

“Clive Standen. He plays Rollo.”

“He makes Travis sound desperate.”

“Maybe he is. Who knows? If you watch enough of these things, he says it himself a lot. I think it’s what he really wants, and I personally think he is.” Kelly shrugs. “But I’d happily be barefoot and pregnant in his kitchen. Unless…” She casts a side glance at Liz. “Here, look.”

Sure enough, another Travis interview. In it, he’s less shifty, dressed better, a little more serious, contemplative. It’s just him with a white background, speaking to a camera.

“I’ve been told I’m scared of love,” he says with a tiny smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “But I love kids. Maybe a wife. But, I’m no good at that… Women issues. They all end up hating me in the end.”

It’s so casual, and he chuckles a bit, but Liz doesn’t. After drinks and two dinners, she won’t claim to know him very well, but what she has seen and observed, she thinks that what he’s said is true.  And it makes her crack a bit. Maybe he was telling the truth about why he didn’t call. Maybe he did honestly get too busy. Maybe he really did forget. Maybe… she should cut him a break.

 “Okay. A couple more, then I’ll stop,” Kelli says.

Her fingers go back to typing and Liz’s eyes go a bit wide. “Kelli!”  She feels a bit like a voyeur.

Her sister grins. “See? Now imagine what that body looks like in person. Oh—and here, there’s an entire blog dedicated to him.” The clacking of fingernails on the keyboard. Liz starts reading.

“That’s complete speculation,” she says, eyes skimming across the page.

Exactly. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. He’s not the kind of guy to spread his business in the street. And all his ‘relationships’ are pretty much just rumors. He’s a quiet guy. And even if he doesn’t want to get with you, lunch won’t hurt. So why not? You have lunch with politicians and sources all the time. Why not just treat him like a source?”

Liz considers it.

“Maybe lunch won’t hurt.”

Kelli smiles. “I KNEW you’d come around. So…what if he wants…dessert?”

“Liz glares at her sister. “I’m NOT some novelty toy.”

“What do you mean by that?” Kelli cocks her head to the side. “Oh—because he’s…Australian?” She makes at face. “You cannot be that closed-minded.”

“I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation.”

“Have you ever been with anyone of the other…persuasion? I promise, stereotypes are just that.”

“Aaand… we are not having this conversation.”

“Fine!” Kelli puts her hands up. “But here…” she goes back to typing. “Look.”

“What is this?” A list of names. Pictures attached. Varying women.

“I admit, he had me at Merrin Dungey. She and I are the same color,” Kelli ignores the look her sister shoots her. "You're definitely a Joy Bryant. Anyway, all I’m saying is…I doubt you’d be a ‘novelty’ to him. Seems like he likes who he likes, and he knows his way around a black woman. Hell, even Paula Patton put him on blast about that one.”

Liz yawns, switching out of this uncomfortable subject. “I’m exhausted. You staying here or going to your place?”

 “Mind if I say here? Easier to get to class in the morning.”

“No problem. Take the spare room. Good night, sister dearest.”

“Sweet dreams, Liz.” Kelli’s taunting laugh follows her down the hall.

.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

Her work cell phone rings promptly at 10 and she picks it up.

“Hey…are we still on…for lunch this week?” Travis. He’s prompt. Right on time.  She smiles into the phone. “Yes.” Liz flips through the planner on her desk. It’s antiquated, she knows. But she’s always been the type of person to always write things down. Force of habit. Now, she looks at the dates, trying to find a place to fit him in. Meeting, interview, speaking engagement. Another interview. Production. Meeting.

“How about Thursday? Did you have a place?”

“There’s a deli near me. Metro Deli?”

She nods. “That’s a few blocks from where I am. What time?”

“Can I call you when I’m breaking?”

“Umm…” a frown. The day is less full than the others, but still not quite open. “As long as I’m back by 3. I’ve got between 12 and 2:30 open.

 “It shouldn’t be any later than 1, if that’s good for you.”

“I think I can. Gotta go. Just ring when you’re ready and I’ll walk down. It’ll take about 15 minutes,” She tells him, penciling his name into the space. After they hang up Liz settles back in her chair, reading the paper her sister left for her.

“Understanding Cancer Men”.

Most of it is garbage, but she can’t help note some similarities.

Cancer men are shy.

Cancer men are family oriented.

Cancer men are tactile.

Cancer men are moody.

Cancer men are emotional.

Cancer men are unpredictable.

Cancer men need to know they’re loved.

Well, she doesn’t know about most of these, but she’s got an impression of the first. Watching the interviews and reading about him had the effect her sister was hoping for. She’s not feeling as… judge-y. Maybe if he were some random guy it would be different. But he’s not so…perhaps he is deserving of the benefit of doubt. And Travis had done her the same courtesy when she told him she was a reporter after he initially freaked out. It’s the least she can do.

Liz puts her headphones on and goes back to work. Evaluation time. For a news team of 15 people.

The next day, at 10—her phone rings again.

“Hello?”

“I just want to make sure…” Travis. This time, she smiles into the receiver.

“Yes. We’re still on.”

“Good.”

“Okay.”

He hangs up and she resumes working.

 Wednesday, 10 a.m.

The phone rings again. Travis…again.

“Are you still available tomorrow?”

This time, Liz laughs out loud. “Three days in a row? What are you going for, a record?”

He laughs on the other end, a low, chuckle. “I like that sound. And at least this time you can’t claim I didn’t call, or be mad at me for it.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Travis.” It comes out light, maybe a little flirty. But she is smiling. And Liz is still smiling when Tanya walks into her office.

“What’s got you grinning?” her assignment editor asks. Liz laughs to herself and shakes her head, sitting up a bit straighter at her desk. “Nothing. So, what’s up? Need me for anything?”

“Actually, yes. There’s a story up that a source is demanding be removed. He says he was misquoted.”

Liz rolls her eyes. “I bet. We got tape?”

“Yep. I heard the whole interview. No bad splices—he said it. It came out of his mouth. He’s demanding to speak to you.”

“Sure, put him through.”

 Tanya goes back to her office and transfers the call. And Liz listens patiently as the sources screams and vacillates and ultimately concedes that there’s nothing wrong with the story, but that he just didn’t mean to say what he did. Nine times out of ten, this is what it comes down too. But that’s not her job, to police the words of others. Her job, and those of her reporters, is to report. And that’s exactly what was done here.

Thursday.

 The week has gone by quickly, and she’s buried in a stack of paperwork when her work cell begins to vibrate on her desk.

It’s  12:42 in the afternoon.

“Hey, I’m finishing up. Still free?” Travis’ quiet voice comes through the line. She smiles, pleased he didn’t forget this time.

“Still free. I should be there a few minutes after 1.”

“Tanya, I’m heading out to lunch,” Liz calls as she grabs her purse and heads out the door.  

Tanya, the assignment editor, sticks her head out of her office. “Okay. Holler when you get back.”

“Will do.”

The walk is exactly 15 minutes and when the doors to the diner open Travis is sitting at the first table on the left. He stands as she walks over.

“Hi.”

“Hi.” She gives him a smile and it’s the first one he’s seen from her that’s not laced with something—suspicion, skepticism, incredulousness. It’s a pretty smile and it takes him back to San Diego, and the way she’d smiled at him then. He graces her with one in return as they take their seats.

A waitress comes over.

“Water with lemon for me,” Liz says.

“Modelo,” he orders. The waitress leaves.

“So, how’s your day so far?”

“Kind of slow, to be honest with you. I hate slow news days,” she says.

“Why is that a bad thing?”

“Because I’ve got four hours of content to fill,” she tells him. “And we’re not in the business of making stuff up.”

Travis leans back. “Seems to me that’s all you media people do.” At that, Liz’s face goes blank and he back peddles, sitting up quick.

“Sorry! Sorry, it was just a joke. Didn’t mean to offend.”

She shakes her head. “Nah. You’re fine. I get it. Just sensitive, I guess. I take what I do pretty seriously. Worked hard to get here.”

He looks at her, curious. “What do you mean? To get to…Atlanta?”

“No. To become a news director.”

“What was hard about it? You seem like you’re good at your job. You wouldn’t be in charge if you weren’t.”

At the sincerity in his voice, she looks at him, considering. “How do you know? You haven’t seen any of my stuff.”

“You’d be surprised. I know I don’t look like much, but I can read.”

Liz shakes her head. “You and I run in different circles,” she changes the topic. “So, how’s your project coming along?”

He lets it drop, taking her cue. It’s something out of his own playbook.

“It’s going. Another couple weeks, then back to my real job.”

“And what’s that?”

“My show.”

Ah. His show. Thanks to Kelli, she’s seen a few of the clips.

“It looks intense. How long does it take to film an episode? What all goes into it?”

So he tells her about how it all works. The time for choreography, filming, learning lines. “And once all that is done, there’s dubbing, which is another couple weeks,” he explains.

“Sounds like a marathon.”

“Eh. I’m used to it by now. But I will say, Ireland is a gorgeous country. I really love it over there.”

His face lights up when he says it, and Liz sits back watching as Travis tells her about Ireland. He becomes more animated, more excited. What’s clear is his love of the country and the people. The filming stuff, not so much.

So she engages him. He tells her more about raising cattle Australia. She tells him more about her grandparents and the summers and holidays spent in Arkansas.

He tells her how he likes being outdoors, the place he’s happiest.

You need to start using sunscreen.” Liz reaches over the table to touch his cheek, taking note of the fine lines. “You’re looking a bit rough.” Travis laughs. “My agent says the same thing. Works for the show, though. And I’m not a mask and moisturizer kind of a man.”

No. He’s not. And it’s…alluring, Liz thinks, remembering the roughness of his hands.

Another hour comes and goes, and they’re still talking. Sports—Australian football for him, American for her. Drinks: White Russians for her. Beer and whiskey for him.  Music? They spend a lot of time there. He surprises her with his choices.

“What do you know about Otis Redding?” Liz doesn’t buy it.

“Days are getting so lonely,
Life are getting so blue
Time has come for you and I
To get together and we'll make two.”

He recites the lyrics to her and its spot on.

“Why that song?”

He shrugs, glancing out of the window.  “How I feel, sometimes.”

It’s a surprisingly candid.  Liz takes a moment to study his profile and when he turns back to her, his face and there, she sees it. The same thing she saw in some of the clips.  A quick brush of sadness, and then, it’s gone. Her phone rings.

“Liz, where are you?”

Tanya.

“I’m still at lunch.”

“Well how much longer? It’s past two and I’ve got a mound of stories here that need editing and I can’t get through them all before ATC.”

Oh shit.

“I’m on my way.” She hangs up and stands up at the same time. Travis gets to his feet.

“You have to go?” There’s a touch of dejection there, and she feels a twinge at having to cut this short.

“Yes. I left my team stranded. Work is calling.”

“Then can I walk you back?” Because he’s enjoyed this time. Enjoyed it a lot, and he doesn’t really want her to go.

“Sure.”  Liz reaching into her purse and pulling out her wallet to pay her bill. But Travis’s hand on hers stops her.

“Let me. I didn’t get dinner last night, let me get lunch.”

 She puts her wallet back and they stop by the cashier desk to pay and they’re out the door. He likes that she didn’t assume.

The walk back to the station is quiet, but the two of them are close together. He wants to take her hand in his, but resists that urge. She may think he’s coming on too strong or something, and there’s a big chance he could blow it again. So the refrain.

“Thanks for coming,” he tells her when they reach her office. They climb the stairs but stop outside the glass doors.

“Thank you for treating. I enjoyed it.” It’s truthful. She did. Travis was a perfect gentleman. And he’s still a gentleman when he bends to kiss her on the cheek. Okay. She will grant Kelli that one. He doesn’t smell like an ashtray. He smells very good, whatever he’s wearing.

“See you later, Liz.” The breath of the words tickle against her cheek and she’s holding hers when he starts to walk off. But as she retreats, she realizes…she really doesn’t want him to go.

 “Travis?”

“Yeah?” He turns around and she slips down the stairs to walk back up to him.

“Let me give you my personal cell.”

He hands her his phone and she puts the number in there, calls herself so she has his, and goes back into her office.

He smiles, looking down at the number. So she has two. That woman.

“Sooo…lunch…date?” Tanya asks as soon as she steps into the lobby. Michelle, the desk clerk, is smirking at her.

“I didn’t get a good angle but he looked kinda hot…in a scruffy sort of way,” Michelle says.

“It was just lunch.” Liz turns to head to the double glass doors that mark the radio side entrance.

“Lunch…” Tanya looks at her. “Gone two hours for just…lunch. If he was just a source he wouldn’t have followed you back to the office. A new…friend?”

“Come on,” Liz says, avoiding the question. “We’ve got a show to get on air.”

.

.

 “You’re super late,” his co-star says when he finally gets back to set.

“Yeah. Lunch ran over,” he says as they get ready to start shooting.

“Who is she?”

He looks at her. “Why a she?”

“No offense Travis, but you’re pretty easy to read. Did you get dessert to go?” She winks at him and he shifts uncomfortably. Seeing it, she backs up.

“Sorry. Not trying to be in your business. Just messing with you.”

He relaxes a bit. “No problem. It’s fine.”

They resume filming.

His two-hour delay sets them back three hours in filming and its after 10  that night when he straggles into his hotel room and climbs into the shower. The hot water feels good against his skin and he takes the time to enjoy it and reflect on the day.

Lunch was unexpectedly good…and not just the food. The company.

Liz.

When he steps out he checks the time. 11:28. It’s not irrationally late...and she did give him her number. Maybe it’s worth a call….he dials.

“Hello?” A soft, feminine voice.

She’s still awake.

“Hey.”

“Hi.”

At this, he’s at a bit of a loss on what to say next.

“Am I calling too late?”

“You caught me right as I was going to bed.”

“Oh.”

Silence…

A beat…

Two.

 He really doesn’t know where to go from here. No—he does know…he’s just not willing to offend her if he says aloud what he’s thinking.

“Travis…” The way she says his name…the soft hiss of the ‘s’.

“It’s almost midnight. I know you didn’t call me this late on a Thursday just to hear me breathing.” Liz’s voice is quieter, huskier, throatier, he thinks.  Or maybe he’s imagining it…“Do you want to come over?” 

He feels himself get hard.  She caught him. The real reason for the call. “Where do you stay?” His voice drops to match hers.

She gives him the address and he checks the distance. Not too far.

“Be there in 30.”

He makes it there in 25, and when the door opens she’s  in an off-shoulder t-shirt, legs and thighs bare. Quietly, he follows her inside and down the hall, leaving his flip flops by the door. And as soon as they step into her bedroom he grabs Liz's hand gently and turns her toward him, kissing her slowly. He wants to get to know all of her—starting  here. Her lips, her tongue, her taste.

They back up slowly to the bed. Discovery is the product of exploration.

Eyes closed, teeth biting lip, Liz arches into his touch, letting him explore her body with his mouth. Large hands and long fingers slip around the fabric at her hips and her panties come down. Strong arms go between brown thighs, spreading them wide as he drops his head low, inhaling first before taking a long, slow lick between her legs.

A gasp. Hips jerk back at the sensation.

 It’s like a shot of whisky in the morning. The rush.

“Do you like that?” He whispers against a thigh, kissing her on it.

The way Liz is arched up, her fingers now buried in his hair are a physical confirmation. So he takes his time, kissing her here as she writhes against his mouth. Another soft moan. Trembling legs.

So this is what she likes…what pleases her, and he’s all too ready for the next part as he makes his way back up her body, removing his clothes carefully as he goes.

She pulls him down by the neck and he kisses her lips letting her taste herself as two fingers slip inside. Liz cries out at the stretch, not expecting two. Travis’ fingers are long…and thick, rough. Slowly, he starts to move them. She’s wet already and the sensation he’s generating is only making her more wanting.

A gasp, a sigh as her hips work in tandem to his hand…

He watches as she moves under him, eyes still closed, mouth parted, fists gripping sheets. Shit this woman is sexy…far sexier than what he’d even imagined…actually he’d imagined absolutely none of what’s going down right now and its turning him on even more. So he keeps working her as he reaches down for his pants, taking out the wallet and flipping it open to take out a condom. He tears it open with his teeth and slides it on getting ready. Sure enough, when her breathing starts to become uneven again he knows she’s almost there and takes away the hand, covering her body with his, and replacing it with himself.

“Are you ready, Liz?” A low murmur. He’s looking at her intently and she nods quietly as he dips his hips and hers rise to meet him. She cries out, not expecting that.

 “Oh God…”

“No relation,” he whispers as her legs wrap around his thighs and he rolls his back and starts in on her in long, slow strokes that gradually get more intense…until he's sexing her into the mattress.

Because no one calls at midnight just to say ‘hello’.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

She wakes up at the same time every single day. Rain. Snow. Sleet. Hail. Doesn’t matter. It’s always at the same time.

 Except today.

Today, the alarm on her phone is what wakes her up. She catches it before it gets loud and looks at the time. 9:15. Shit. Already an hour late to work.

Liz rolls over and bumps into a body. She rubs her eyes and looks.

Double shit.

But it’s too late to do anything about either of these situations now. She’s got an interview in 45 minutes. And it’s LIVE.

“Travis. Travis wake up.”

He rolls over and groans, reaching out to pull her into him but she swats his hands away.

“Wake up. I’ve got to go and you’ve got to go.” A hard shake to the shoulder is what finally does it and he opens his eyes to see Liz get out of bed and walk over to her dresser. Naked.

She bends over and starts pulling out clothes and he blinks, taking in the view.

A really nice ass. Round. Full. There’s a tattoo on her lower back, off to the right. And the view alone is getting him hard again. Liz slips into lacy brown underwear and turns in his direction giving him a close-up of her breasts--small but tight-- brown nipples all high and proud before they disappear into the cups of a matching, lacy bra.

Get up Travis. I’m out of here in 10 minutes,” she calls moving off first to the bathroom and when she comes back out, the closet. He finally rolls out the bed and is pulling on his shorts slowly when Liz emerges in a dress and flats.

She is moving fast and making for the door while he’s still buttoning his shorts. With a sigh and a yawn he grabs his shirt off the floor and follows her out to the living room as she grabs her purse and keys. One flip flop manages to get on a foot and the other in his hand. He’s still shirtless and hungover from last night’s sex as she pushes him out the door and follows, locking it behind them.

“Do you get everything? I’m really late. Sorry to do this to you, but I have an interview in 25 minutes.” She’s already fast-walking down the hall, leaving him standing there shirtless, wearing a single flip-flop. It takes a good long minute for him to fully wake up and realize the predicament. But it comes when a door down the hall creaks open and he tries to duck, quickly pulling out his shirt as a woman walks out and heads down the hall, not even looking his way. It’s a small mercy. Because as Travis slowly starts to wake up fully, he realizes that his wallet and cell phone are now locked in Liz’s apartment. She’s gone, and he’s got no other option but to try and figure out how to get back to his set, because he’s late too.

Shit.

Who knew at 37 he’d be doing the walk of shame in Atlanta, Georgia.

.

.

“Good morning from the WGPU Newsroom I’m Liz Dubek and you’re listening to Atlanta Alive. Joining us in studio today is…”

She makes it five minutes before air and slides into the booth on grace and prayer. It’s the first time in years she’s been late to work and it would be the day when she’s standing in for her daily talk show host who is on vacation. Thankfully, the program is only for a half hour and she makes it through, smiling with her guest, and asking questions and taking calls.

“…Join us tomorrow where we speak with Mayor Kasim Reed on what’s next for the old Falcons Stadium complex set to be demolished next year,” she finishes, wrapping the show. The red blinking light in front of her goes off and it’s now safe to take off the headphones. They’re finally off air.

“I’m so sorry about that,” she tells her guest, shaking his hand and apologizing profusely. “I had a…situation come up last night and it’s carried over into the morning.”

“No problem, Liz. It’s always good talking to you.” He says as they walk out the studio together. She goes to her office and leans back again the wall to just breathe a moment. Adrenaline got her through and now she’s coming down.

“What happened to you this morning?” Tanya sticks her head in the office right as Liz is slumping into her chair. She winces at the impact.

Tanya catches it.

“You okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine,” Liz tells her, quickly trying to recover.

“You sure? Because you look frazzled as hell. Did you forget to…comb your hair?”

Oh hell…. Really?

She reaches up to touch and sure enough…

“Did I really just do an entire interview with my hair like this?” She’s mortified. Absolutely mortified.

Tanya steps in and closes the door, dropping formalities. “Girl, what happened to you?”

She and her assignment editor are among the handful women of color in the building and at the closing of Liz’s office door, their masks come off.

“Late night,” Liz says reaching into a desk drawer and pulling out a wide-tooth comb. But she’s struggling. Her hair is now fighting back, reverting to its natural state. Tanya is watching with crossed arms and a smirk on her face as Liz becomes ever more aggressive with the comb. She already knows what’s up.

“Booty call last night? Sweated out your hair?”

“That obvious?” Liz asks huffily as she tries and fails to comb. The snapping of a precious strand finally makes her yell in frustration.

“Chill, girl. The rest of them probably think it’s a new style. You look fine, just pull it back and fool with it later,” Tanya says coming over and handing Liz a black band. She quickly pulls her hair into a messy pony tail and leans back into her a chair a moment to get her life together.

“All I want to know is, was it good?”

Liz is staring up at the ceiling tiles. At the question, her lady parts clench in response and she winces again. Soreness.  A lack of stretching. She doesn’t know what made her do it, or what she had been expecting…but she certainly was not expecting that.

“Yeah,” she admits. Tanya grins.

“Mystery guy from lunch from yesterday?”

“mmm hmmm.”

At the distant look on Liz's face Tanya laughs maniacally. “Good! You need something new. I can’t stand Montgomery’s smarmy ass.”

Liz snaps out of it quickly and  changes the subject. “So, what did I miss? What do we have lined up for this afternoon?”

They start running down the stories of the day.

.

.

It wasn’t too bad of a walk. About 45 minutes. But he’s got no phone and no wallet and so, when they take a break, he borrows a phone from a crew member and looks up the number to Liz’s office. All of the contacts he has for her are in that phone.

“WGPU?” Someone picks up.

“Liz Dubek, please?”

“May I ask whose calling?”

Shit. Last time the person on the other line hadn’t bothered asking his name.

“Travis.” He says.

“Last name?”

“Just Travis. She’ll know who it is.”

“Hold just a moment.” The station itself comes on and he half-listens as he waits. Some classical music…and then a news program of some sort.

“Liz Dubek speaking.”

She’s so fucking professional. All the huskiness is gone and her voice is a few octaves higher, the syllables crisp, the tone clear.

“And this is Travis Fimmel,” he says imitating her.

“How can I help you?” She’s not breaking for anything.

“I left my wallet and my phone at your place last night. Wanted to know if I could come get it?”

“Of course.”

“What time will you be home?”

“Around 6 will work.”

“Okay. I’ll be there. Thanks.”

The rest of the day is relatively uneventful and she leaves right as the last newscast is ending. The rest of the staff left hours before but she always remains behind in case something goes awry.

As she drives home, the phone rings and she answers it—the voice of her sister floats through the line.

“Heyyyy sis….” Kelli’s talking slow and Liz is immediately on the alert. “Yesss?” She answers in the same sing-song way.

“Sooo… I’m at your place,” Kelli says. “And there’s a blue-eyed Australian actor hanging out by your door…”

 At that, Liz drives a little faster.

“I’m turning in now. Stop talking.” She says pulling into the underground garage. When she reaches her floor she sees Kelli standing by the door chatting with Travis. They both turn to her as she walks up.

“What happened to your hair?” Kelli exclaims stepping back as Liz opens the door and they both follow her in.

“I had a rough night,” she says dismissively. Travis starts snickering behind her and she ignores him, leaving them both in the living room as she goes to her bedroom and retrieves his wallet and his phone.

“Here,” she says, handing them both to him.

“Thanks.”

“No problem. Bye.” Liz is playing it completely straight and his eyes go from her to her sister, who is looking at the both of them with a tiny smirk.

“Bye Liz. Bye Kelli,” he says walking out.

“Bye, Travis,” Kelli calls down the hall as she closes the door behind him. Once shut, she turns to her sister.

“You fucked him!”

Her sister has absolutely NO chill.

“I did not!”

“Bullshit! His wallet was here…his phone was here…HE was here…your hair is a hot mess and you JUST got it done. YOU hypocrite! Where’s all the ‘if you want respect you have to demand respect’ talk? Admit it. You fucked him last night.”

Liz sinks to the couch exhaling and just shaking her head. She’s not one to talk to her little sister about such things. But Kelli takes off to her bedroom before she has a chance to stop her.

“It smells like SEX in here!!!”

She rolls her eyes.

“Ew! There’s a USED condom in your trashcan!!!!”

At that, Liz gets up and is about to drag her sister out of the room but Kelli comes running back living with a dress draped around her arm.

“STOP IT,” Liz says. It’s terse. Hearing the warning her sister calms down.

“Okay, okay. Don’t get sensitive. But I REALLY want to know what it was like though. Tell me?”

“Absolutely NOT. You’re too young anyway.”

“You act like I’ve never had sex before,” her sister scoffs.

“I don’t want to know about your adventures.”

“Selfish bitch. At least…was Katheryn right? Tell me that at least,” Kelli pleads. Liz glares at her, and she frowns. “Fine! Have it your way. I was just messing with you. Jeez. Why must you be so stuck up?  Maybe I should call Travis. Cause whatever he did last night clearly didn’t work.”

“Kelli Ann Dubek…” Liz walks to the door opening it. Her sister gets the unsubtle hint.

“I just needed a dress. I’ll bring it back later,” she calls, showing herself out.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

Damn, last night was good. He’s been replaying it over and over in his head all day.  

Back in his hotel room Travis sits at the desk and pours himself a shot of Jameson, enjoying the light burn at the back of his throat. Now that he got a taste of Liz, the idea of solo sleeping isn’t very appealing. What he wants is to go back to her place and go for more rounds but he gets the feeling if he calls, she’d probably hang up on him. She hadn’t looked too happy to see him when she came home.

Still… it’s a Friday.

He doesn’t know her schedule, but he knows his, and there’s no filming tomorrow. So he gets up, and throws clothes and toiletries into a backpack and heads out. There’s a waiting uber when he reaches the lobby, and only when he pulls up to her building does he realize he doesn’t even know if she’s home. Or if she’s got company.

But it’s too late now. He’s here.

.

.

Her music is up loud—not enough for the neighbors to hear, but enough that it fills the whole apartment. She’s been extra aggressive all day, likely because of the way it started. Her sister’s smart ass mouth didn’t help either. Nor did the way she woke up. Late. Liz has been riding out to Cardi B’s Bodack Yellow. It just makes her feel some type of way.

The knock on her door takes her by surprise and she wipes her hands on a dishtowel, quickly turning the music off and scrambling into a pair of yoga pants. All she had been wearing was a t-shirt and her underwear.

“Who is it?”

“Me.”

She goes to the door and opens it, seeing Travis standing there.

“Did you… call or something?” She asks, confused about why he would be standing outside her door. “Or did you leave something else?”

He shakes his head.

“Just wanted to come by.”

“Let me guess,” she crosses her arms. “You want to repeat last night?”

A wide grin and wagging eyebrows are her answer and despite herself, it makes her laugh. His facial expressions are funny.

“Well, you might be disappointed,” she tells him.

He shakes his head.  “Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. So…can I come in? Or are you going to leave me out here like you did this morning?” Because standing in the hallway clad only in shorts and a single flip-flop was definitely a net minus. Liz moves aside allowing Travis to walk in. He drops his backpag by the door and closes it before pulling her into a hug. He inhales.

 “I just really wanted to see you again. Thought you might be mad at me about earlier.”

“You’re packed for a sleepover?” Liz looks up at him incredulously, noting the bag.

“Unless you want me to go.” He sniffs. “Are you cooking something? That smells good.” He moves past her, wandering to the kitchen, and she follows as he removes the lid from the pot on the stove and inhales.

“Wow. That smells really good.”

She hears his stomach rumble, and chuckles quietly.

“And now, you just make yourself right at home, don’t you? It’s a masala. Want some?”

“Yes please.” Because she’s got his mouth watering and he can’t remember the last time he ate something that wasn’t pre-made, manufactured, take out or restaurant prepared.

Liz takes two plates out of the cabinet and scoops out rice and then the masala onto them.  She brings them both to the living room, handing one to him. He takes it gratefully and settles on her couch to start eating.  A swear coupled with a hiss quickly follows as he huffs, the food slipping back out his mouth.

It’s hot.

“That’s what you get for pulling a drive-by,” Liz tells him, laughing. “What if I had people over here? What would you have done?”

“Disappear,” he says honestly, trying again and this time blowing before he bites.

“What if I had male company?”

He stops, fork mid-air. “Wait—do you…have someone?” Maybe he should have asked that question earlier. Definitely before last night. He’s not into cheating—been there, done that. The outcome is always bad.

Liz chuckles. “No. I don’t. But still, is this something you do often?”

Travis looks at her quizzically. “What do you mean?”

“I mean…this. JUST…pop up, randomly?”

“Well, I figured you’d either let me in or lock me out. It was a 50-50 shot and I thought the odds were good,” he says, casting a sidelong glance at her and taking another mouthful.

The food is delicious. There are lots of spices, flavors he can’t quite identify but they’re all dancing around his mouth.

They eat quietly and she watches him.

Travis’ eyes are closed and he’s chewing happily, a look of pure bliss on his face. The food on his plate is nearly gone. Hers is still nearly full. A soft smile appears when she sees a bit of the masala stuck on his beard.

Liz reaches over and wipes it away with her fingers, brushing the soft hairs gently.  He opens his eyes and looks at her, and, in a single movement, catches one of her fingers between his teeth.

What he does to the finger with his tongue makes her entire body tingle.

His plate is now empty.

“Are you still hungry?” It’s a whisper. Travis nods slowly, licking his lips and looking at her intently.

Damn her body and it’s nearly Pavlovian response. He puts the plate on the coffee table and moves over closer to her on the couch. One arm wraps around Liz’s waist, pulling her into a long kiss. A kiss that heralds more than that when he takes them both to the floor.

Thank goodness she’s got wood instead of carpet. No rug burns.

.

.

Around noon Monday, she gets a buzz.

“There’s a package for you in the front,” Michelle’s voice comes through the com.

“On the way.”

“What am I signing for?” She asks, approaching the desk in the lobby. There are no boxes or envelopes anywhere. But there is a giant arrangement of white flowers.

“Those,” Michelle says pointing to the arrangement.

“Who sent flowers?” She muses as she touches them. Tucked inside the arrangement is a card. She unfolds and reads.

“Thanks for indulging me. Can I treat you, next time?”  --Travis.

 Michelle sees the soft smile dancing on Liz’s face.

“Admirer?” She asks.

Liz nods, picking up the flowers and taking them back to her desk. Tanya comes in.

“Ohh…pretty. New man bought flowers?” She watches as Liz fingers the green leaves, the white petals, a smile on her face. She’s lost in thought, remembering the weekend. Today, she’s in pants. They mask the bite marks he left on the inside of her thighs.

“Hello?” The snapping of fingers in front of her face bring Liz back to the present. Tanya is looking at her, grinning.

“What?”

Her friend just shakes her head. “Seems like you had a good weekend. I definitely like him more than Montgomery.”

.

.

He’s got Liz wrapped up in his arms, her back to his chest as they observe the whales swimming in front of them. “They’re beautiful,” she says quietly. Travis nods, squeezing her gently, lips on her neck.

“So are you.”

She smiles to herself as he kisses her bare shoulder. It’s quiet in the aquarium and getting later in the day. The Belugas swim by gracefully. A mother with a newborn calf.

“Thanks for agreeing to this.” Liz turns around to face him, her hand sliding into his as they start to walk again.

Today, Travis is dressed in dark, loose-fit jeans, black vans and a black t-shirt. Simple, but his hair is wild and that, coupled with the beard, gives Liz the impression of a lion. He looks good. She’s come to really like it, the hair and the beard. He’s opposite of everything and everyone she’s ever dated. Although, they’re not really dating. But she doesn’t want to think about it too much.

They end up at Atlantic Station.

 

 

“So what’s the deal with you?” Travis asks, glancing down at the top of Liz’s head. He wonders whether she’s dressed up just for him. He likes it. The white shirt that glances off her shoulders, the tight jeans and tan and gray heels that accentuate her already shapely legs. Her hair is long, nearly halfway to her back, and perfectly straight.  Back to the way it was before he ruined it that first time. He runs his tongue across his teeth, thinking about that one.

They’re walking around, her arm looped through one of his. It’s a date. He’d asked whether she’d been to the Atlanta aquarium and she’d said no, so he’d taken the opportunity, not wanting her to think that the only thing he was interested in with her was sex. It’s not.

Liz ignores the few, pointed looks sent their way. They’re not exactly approving, but Travis doesn’t seem doesn’t seem to notice.

“What do you mean?”

“You’re really single, right?”

She looks up at him. “You’re still on that? Yes, I have no formal arrangements.”

“What about informal?”

She shakes head. “None of those either.”

They keep strolling. The night is warm with a cool breeze. Pleasant.  Liz gives him the same question. “What about you? Formal or informal?”

“It depends,” he says as they walk.

“On what?”

“On what happens in the next month and a half.” It’s an admission. Something that’s floated across his mind a bit these past few days.

“So, when do you wrap up here?” Liz is looking ahead, head on his arm. They’re going nowhere in particular, just around. Dinner was pleasant, and the night air feels good. A new corner. They turn it.

“Six weeks.”

“And then straight to Ireland again?”

“Yeah.”

They pass another couple and this time, the comment is unmistakable. Travis hears it too and they both stop.

He starts to turn around but she takes his hand and stops him.

“What the fuck was that?”

“Ignorance,” she tells him. “Welcome to the world outside your bubble.”

.

.

He’s never encountered something like that before. Not with any of the women he’s been with. And he’s dated a lot of different women.

Wow.

It had damn near ruined their night, and made him royally angry when she told him it had been going on the entire time they were out there and that he just hadn’t noticed. The rest of the evening was spent in silence on her couch, him quietly furious, her resting against his chest, stroking his beard.

He shakes his head. Tonight, he’s spending alone. One of those times. He’d woke up in a bad mood and left her place silently, leaving Liz asleep in the bed. And he hasn’t heard from her. But he hasn’t called either. It’s Sunday. Liz has work in the morning and he’s taping. One more month in Atlanta. Six weeks more with Liz and he’s on his own again.

The bottle of Jamison sits on his desk and he goes for it, pouring a glass.

.

.

A fresh arrangement of white flowers are on her desk when she walks through the door Monday.

“They came this morning,’ Michelle tells her as Liz puts down her purse and computer bag.

“Who are they from?”

“By now, I think you know,” the receptionist laughs and walks off. Liz sees the card sticking up and opens in.

“I ruined Sunday. But here’s to a happy Monday. See you this week?”-TF

He didn’t ruin their Sunday. But she knew, judging from his silence Saturday night, that what happened really bothered him. And so she gave him time to brew, knowing it wasn’t directed at her. Liz takes a seat, thinking.

It’s her third bouquet now. The first he delivered in San Diego, and now two to the office. And he’s been so good these past two weeks. In all departments really…Travis has been the perfect gentleman. And she wants to do something for him, for a change. Just for making her feel something other than numb—which is what she had been feeling up until San Diego. These weeks together have been wonderful. And even if it doesn’t last, she knows she won’t regret it. Won’t regret him.

Liz reaches for her phone and sends a text.

“your choice, camping or cabin?”

There’s a buzz shortly after.

“Camping.”

“Do you have a two-day block anywhere?”

“I can make one.”

She smiles.

All they need is two days.

.

.

He’s got no idea where they’re going, but Liz’s car is loaded with gear. Sleeping bags, a camping stove, tent, coolers. And an assortment of other things. All she’d said was to bring clothes for outside. They drive for an hour and a half before pulling off the highway and making their way through what feels like a forest of some sort.

“We’re here,” she says, parking in a clearing and getting out. He climbs out too.

“Where’s here?” Travis asks, looking around. Theirs is the only car and Liz takes his hand and starts walking. He follows. She steps out of the clearing and walks out onto a dock. He takes a look around.  Before them sprawls a large lake, surrounded by trees. Everything is still. Quiet.

He inhales the air…fresh, scented with pine and as it makes his way through his body he feels himself mentally exhaling as well. He’s been stuck inside a hotel for the past month with only Liz’s condo as escape. But this…this feels like home.

 Liz is looking out over the water and he comes behind her, wrapping her into a hug.

“How’d you know?” Because this…is way more than he could have asked for. It’s completely unexpected and he thinks for a moment she might be a psychic.

She turns to face him, her arms coming around his shoulders.

“You told me back in San Diego. I’m always listening,” she says against his lips, already on hers. And when he lets her up, they go back to the car, hand in hand. He helps her unload and starts setting up the most elaborate tent either of them have ever seen.

By the time they finally get it up, they’re both laughing as they look at it. The tent is the size of a small cabin, nearly a construction project in itself.

“Sleeps 11,” Travis reads the instructions and looks at Liz. “Eleven? Who else is coming tonight?”

She smirks at him, while moving their sleeping bags and an air mattress inside.

“Well, if I did this correctly…only the two of us.” It’s loaded with suggestion and innuendo and the meaning is abundantly clear.

Travis moves fast, and before Liz can say anything else, the tent is zipped up tight. Her laughter quickly fades into a low moan that gradually becomes not so low. They don’t speak with words for the rest of the evening.

In the morning, he pulls the blankets up over her bare shoulders and makes sure she’s warm before putting his clothes back on and slipping outside.

It’s now December, and the temperature has dropped. It’s 38 degrees outside. He pulls his jacket up around his neck as he walks out onto the deck and leans out over the lake. A cigarette emerges and is lit. He inhales deeply, letting it out slow. He hasn’t smoked in front of her, but there’s no liquor available right now and it’s the next best thing. Because what he’s feeling is the one thing he wants most in the world and is most terrified of at the same time.

She just checked off three more of his boxes.

It’s been five weeks since he’s been here. Three since he reconnected with Liz. There are five more left. He wants to make the most of them, because he doesn’t like the thought of having to leave her and risk losing her again.

.

.

It’s his last day of filming, and his flight departs in three days. He knows exactly where, how and with who he wants to spend what time he has left.

“We just wrapped.”

Liz is quiet on the other end of the line.

“Hello?”

“I heard you. So, when do you go?”

“Three days.”

“Good. Back to your real job.” She’s trying to stay neutral about it. It’s not like they didn’t know this was coming.

 “I want to spend them with you. Can you take off work?”

Liz looks at the phone. It doesn’t sound like a bad proposition. She’s enjoyed Travis. He’s been a fun distraction. It’s felt a lot like a summer fling, a temporary thing with a date certain on it. Like a committee vote. A definitive end. At least, that’s what she tells herself.

“Sure.”

When she gets to her condo, he’s there by the door, bags in hand.

“What is this?”

“I checked out early,” he tells her. “I’ve got 72 hours.”

They settle onto her couch, and she lays on him as he holds her. They share the occasional kiss, but otherwise, it’s just silent. Warm. Comforting. Reflective. Sad.

“Are you hungry?”

Travis’s stomach rumbles in response. “I think yes,” he tells her. “Are you?”

“Not really.” But Liz gets up and goes to the kitchen. He follows as she starts pulling out a pan and other things from the refrigerator.

“You don’t have to go out of your way,” he says, but she turns to him, draping her arms around his neck. “You’re not in my way.” He lowers his head to kiss her again. Gently. Slowly.  

Shit.

She’s making separation that much harder and he’s really not looking forward to returning to his real life. It’s been nearly two months and he’s enjoyed every bit of it here, with her. Travis hovers, watching as Liz pulls out sourdough bread, gouda and cheddar cheese, salami, bacon, tomato and pesto. It all goes together in between the bread and she butters the pan, putting the sandwich in. As it sizzles, the aroma begins to waft, touching his nose and making him damn near drool—and for a moment he can’t really tell which he desires more. The sandwich or the woman that made it. While it cooks, Liz bends over back into the fridge. A little more rummaging, and she produces romaine lettuce, tomatoes, onions and carrots. A quick dicing and it’s on a plate, right as the sandwich comes out the pan.

She turns and presents it to him and he takes it gratefully. “Dressing?” He shakes his head and starts eating. The rumble subsides. Afterward, she brings him a beer. Modelo.

“You know me so well.”

“I pay attention.”

Because despite her efforts to not get attached, maybe she has…just a little. Her grandmother and mother taught their girls how to love men properly. To take care of their bodies and their bellies, and their hearts and their minds. And despite herself, Liz has accidentally slipped into doing that…with Travis. For Travis.

She never did it for Montgomery.  

He cannot figure out how he let it get this far in such a short time. But when he gets done eating, Liz is curled up on the side of the couch, a soft smile playing on her mouth. And so he gets up and pulls her up too.

“Come with me,” he says softly taking her hand and guiding her to the bedroom.

He knows exactly what he’s doing.

Because Cancer men don’t have sex. Nor do they fuck.

They make love.

.

.

She takes him to the airport, dropping him off at the terminal. Travis leans back into the driver’s side window and kisses her, long and deep, making her heart jump.

“Thank you,” he tells her sincerely. “I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.” It’s as much as he can muster. Because what he wants to tell her, he feels, will be too much, too fast. Pretty brown eyes look up at his.

“Bye Travis,” she reaches up, placing a hand on his cheek. “I hope you have a safe trip.”

Both are sorry substitutes for what they really feel, but don’t say.

He walks off.

She drives off.

It’s not until that night while lying in bed that it hits, like a sledgehammer to the chest. Liz sits up in bed, gasping and flushed, swallowing down the emotions.  Her sheets smell like him. Her pillows smell like him.

He’s really gone. Eventually, she gets up and goes to the kitchen, reaching for the bottle of Jameson whisky he left and drinking it, drinking until it starts to numb the rawness in her heart.

It’s not until his plane lands in Dublin and Tavis makes it back to his cabin does reality kick him in the ass.

The bed smells a bit musty from disuse. The sheets don’t really smell like anything.

There’s been a soft, warm body next to him for the past three days, and much of the past month and a half.

Now he’s alone. And never has silence been so fucking loud. It’s so loud it drives him out of the space and into the cold night air. He lights a cigarette. And another. And another. Until he’s smoked the entire pack and his lungs start to burn—a sensation that overrides the other one.

It’s the middle of December.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

January

“So, drinks?” Clive asks when they’re on break just standing around.

“Yeah. I could use one.”

“Could tell. See you tonight,” he says walking off.

They wrap for the day and he changes out of costume into regular clothes and makes his way into the city. The bar has become a cast favorite and sure enough when he rolls in, a few of his mates are already there. Clive is seated in the back and he takes residence of a chair across from him.

“Got one ready for you.”

“Thanks.” Travis takes the beer and starts drinking, grateful for it.

The first disappears fast. The second, even quicker. And he’s good and into the third when Clive starts talking again.

“So, how was the break for you?”

“Downtime in Atlanta,” Travis says. “Got the film wrapped. Should be out sometime this year.”

“Hm.” Clive takes a swig of his beer, watching Travis carefully.

“Anything…else? Any…one else?”

“Am I that obvious?”

“Yeah. Katheryn said something to me a few days ago. More ‘women’ problems?”

Travis always has women problems. Never has Clive been so grateful to be married with children. Watching his friend is like looking at a trainwreck in slow motion—so morbidly fascinating a person wants to, but can’t look away. If Travis isn’t getting his feelings hurt, he’s hurting someone else’s. The Katheryn situation was by far the worst. Since then, he hasn’t been right. Clive could have told him not to go there. Work and sex never mix. And Travis did the same thing with another cast member—except that time he had sense enough to not get attached.   

“Nah. She wasn’t a problem. Just wish I had a little more time, is all.”

“Ah. One of those. I got you. Well, there are more fish my friend,” Clive tells him, trying to be reassuring. “And, you’ve always enjoyed fishing.”

That he does. Yet while there are plenty of fish, he’s deep in his feelings about the one he thinks, might have gotten away. Travis and Liz didn’t make any promises, nor any commitments. They just said goodbye without any guarantee of ever saying hello again.  He should have said something to her. But it’s too late now. The opportunity is gone.

It’s three in the morning when he stumbles up the stairs and starts knocking on a door.

It opens and Katheryn’s there, staring at him. She’s dressed in a long night shirt, her hair a mess of golden tangles. Travis remembers how it used to be when he came to her apartment. When she was dressed in something slinky, or, often times, nothing at all. Just for him.  She moves aside as he comes in and he pulls her close, placing a sloppy kiss on her lips, his hands reaching under the shirt to grab her bare ass. He just needs…something. Anything, to knock the edge off.

“Travis,” Katheryn pushes him away gently, looking at him with worried eyes. It’s only the second time since she’s seen him this drunk and she knows exactly why. She’d sensed it when he came back, and Clive told her a few minutes ago. A woman, in Atlanta.

The first time this happened, it was her fault.

He smiles, eyes low and goes to kiss her again but she steps out of reach and takes his hands, pulling him to the room.

“Come on. Go to sleep. We both know it’s not me you want.”

He passes out, face down, in her bed.

.

.

“Hey, guess where I’m heading next month?” Kelly is sitting on Liz’s bed, bouncing.

“Where?”

“Dublin, Ireland! I’m doing the semester abroad, thing.” She’s grinning wide.

“That’s good! Have fun. I wish I did one of those when I was still in undergrad. I heard it’s beautiful over there.”

“You know what else is beautiful over there? Travis,” her sister says, watching Liz closely.

“Oh yeah. He is there, isn’t he?” She’s presently working on a story at her computer, mostly immersed in listening to the audio and chopping up .wav files, pulling soundbites.

“Duh! Come on, stop faking. You haven’t said anything since he left.”

“There’s nothing to say.”

Because it’s not like they made any assurances, or pledges. And she knew they were working on borrowed time from the start. It’s a repeat of San Diego, except worse, because at least back then, she hadn’t gotten too close. She’s already told him that she doesn’t chase. If Travis thinks it’s worth it, he’ll make the next move. If he doesn’t, then it was fun while it lasted. It’s the way she has to think about it in order to keep ignoring everything else.

“You’re really going to try and play me like that? I barely saw your ass for nearly two months and Travis was sending you flowers weekly. And I KNOW you two were having sex. There was enough…evidence in your bedroom. Now he’s gone and you’re just like…’whatever’?” Kelli is skeptical, arms folded across her chest.

“It was just a fling. Grown people have them. Look, the legislative season is starting. And I don’t have time for much of anything right now. When do you leave?”

“Two weeks.”

“Good. Call when you land.”

.

.

He hasn’t been this hungover since San Diego. And when he opens his eyes it takes a moment for him to realize where the hell he is.

“I was waiting for you to wake up.”

That voice. He knows that voice.

Travis sits up and immediately falls back down, groaning. Katheryn comes and settles next to him, two cups of coffee in her hands.

“Get up,” she commands. Reluctantly he does, accepting the cup she offers.

“Thanks.” His voice is gravelly, raw.

“Talk to me.”

She’s waiting and he drinks slow, enjoying the bitterness and the heat. It’s not until he’s finished that he shakes his head.

“Got something stronger?”

“Not for you.” But it comes out gentle. And so is the hand that comes to rest on his shoulder. Katheryn gets up and moves around the bed, coming to sit next to him.

“What’s her name?”

“Liz.”

“She’s…Atlanta?”

He nods.

She studies him a bit more, noting the reds of his eyes, the slight puffiness of his face, the dark circles under his eyes. She knows Travis better than anybody. Hell, they were together for nearly two years, until she broke it off. It had hurt her to do it, and she knows what she did hurt him too. They had miscalculated with one another. She thought they were just friends with benefits. He wanted more than what she was willing to give. She had misunderstood his feelings, didn’t realize the depths of them until it was too late. But by then, the damage was done.

“Why don’t you call her?”

At that, Travis gets up and walks out of her bedroom and out the door. It closes with a slam, making the pictures on the wall rattle.

She sighs, knowing exactly why he won’t call.

.

.

February

Her phone buzzes with a text. She opens it and sees a picture. Kelli, at a bar. But what catches her eye is who is next to her.

Travis.

“Look what I found!” the message says.

“What happened to his hair?” She texts back and goes about her business. Travis is now bald. She won’t admit it looks good on him though. She won’t admit he still looks good. That’s over and done with. A text from her sister is not the same as correspondence from him. It’s been more than two months now. And he’s not so busy that he doesn’t have time to show up at a bar.

Liz is waiting in the lobby of Representative Mike Brunson’s office when the doors open. She stands  when she sees who walks out with him.

“Hey Liz, it’s been a while,” Montgomery says, extending his hand. She takes it in a handshake but doesn’t smile.

“Good seeing you,” she tells him formally.

Her ex.

Montgomery Wells. A Lobbyist. A damn good one at that. Bald head, smooth dark skin, dimples and a smile that’s more than a little suggestive.  She doesn’t dare close her eyes because she knows exactly what’s under that fitted, three piece suit he’s got on. She’s felt it and seen it many times. Montgomery is and always has been a walking situation. He drips sex.

It’s a situation she knows too well. They’re still technically in “a situation,” though he hasn’t crossed her mind in several months, not since Travis was here.  But he’s gone now and her ex is standing in front of her and there’s an itch she really needs scratched.

“I wanted to talk with you about a story,” he says, leaning in and still holding her hand. I’ll call you tonight.” He straightens up and turns to the lawmaker. “Representative Brunson, good speaking with you, today.”

The men shake hands and the Rep. Brunson turns to her. “I’m ready when you are, Ms. Dubek.”

She’s slightly thrown off by Montgomery but recovers fast and heads in to do her interview.

That night, her phone rings.

 “Hey Miss.”

“What do you want?”

“You act like you don’t like me anymore. I was wondering if I got ditched.”

“You got ditched a year and a half ago.” It’s terse. Hard.

Montgomery gets quiet. “Liz, I was wrong. But you know how I feel about you.”

She doesn’t budge.

He utters a long, exaggerated sigh. “Are we going to rehash this again? What’s done is done. You were mad. I was mad. I thought we got over it.” He says.

It’s her turn to get quiet. She will NEVER get over it. Hearing only the sound of her breathing, Montgomery sighs again at the other end of the line.

“Look, I just wanted to tell you I thought you looked beautiful today. That’s all. You’re always beautiful. You know what you are to me. What you’ll always be.”

See? It’s this shit. What he’s trying to do to her, even now. Three years they’ve known each other. Were in a relationship for half that time. Now here they are, stuck in each others’ orbit because she doesn’t trust that man as far as she can throw him—and it’s not far because Montgomery is well over 200 pounds and six-feet plus, and she’s 5’7.

Still, there’s at least one thing he’s still good for—her reliable fallback. “I’m cooking tonight, if you want to come over,” she tells him.

“What time is dinner?”

“8.”

“I’ll be there.”

They’re not talking about food.

It’s not the best of choices. But she learned to separate sex from feeling when it came to him a long time ago. Liz and Montgomery are not friends. But they did keep the benefits. And right now, Liz needs…the benefits, since Travis is long gone. And Montgomery has always been excellent at providing them.

.

.

March

“Did you read the script?”

“Yeah.”

“Well?”

“I did this last year. It still has warlocks in it.”

“They’re called Orcs, Travis. A warlock is a male witch.”

“Same difference. Not interested in the sequel.”

His agent sighs. “Look, you did the first one and it made money. This will pay you twice as much. You want the coin or not?”

“Fine, I’ll do it.”

It’s a weekday and he’s on his own. None of his fish are biting tonight, so he goes out into the city. Lights and music from a nearby bar draw his attention and he wanders in and bellies up. Midway through his third beer, there’s a tap on the shoulder. He turns.

“Hey, stranger!”

Kelli. Liz’s sister. Travis smiles at her.

“Hey, didn’t think you’d pop up again. You’re…still here?”

She nods. “I’ll be here most of the year. Doing two semesters at Royal College. Why are you weeknight drinking? Who does that?”

“Apparently me,” he tells her. “Are you alone?”

“Nah. With some friends. But we’re in our 20’s. You are older than my sister.  No excuse. AND you’re by yourself. It reeks of desperation.” Kelli’s looking at him arms crossed, mirroring the same expression and stance Liz used on him when he invited her and Kelli to dinner.

When not with Liz, Kelli’s got a mouth on her, Travis thinks. The little smart ass. Still, this is as close to her sister as he’s getting so…

“How is Liz?” He tries to make it sound casual. But he can tell, by Kelli’s raised eyebrow, it doesn’t exactly come out that way.

She shrugs. “Doing her thing. Working. You… haven’t talked to her?”

The way she looks at him makes him feel…guilty. Travis shifts a bit on his feet.

“No. It’s been busy.”

“Well, she’s been busy too. Bye Felix.” It’s brusque and Kelli flounces off, spotting her friends.

“Who the fuck is Felix?” The reference goes over his head, but Kelli doesn’t turn around and he goes back to drinking alone by the bar. Once done with the beer, he takes out his cell phone and scrolls through the numbers. Ugh. Not this one. But at this stage, he’s just trying to get Liz out of his head. So he gives it a try.

“Hello?” Female. A bite.

“Hey, I’m in the city tonight. Up for anything?”

“Come on over.”

So he goes to her place. It’s just a temporary fix. And he leaves right after, deciding it’s better to make the hour long trip to his place than to sleep over. She’s not the one he wants beside him anyway. But in the morning when he wakes up, he’s trying to figure out why everything feels off. The answer comes as soon as he sees his phone.

You miss Liz. --Kelli

.

.

“Considering this your monthly check in call. How’s it going?”

“It’s actually going really well. I’m on a project team and we’re about to start looking into protease enzymes as a possible treatment for HIV and AIDS.”

Biochem majors.

“How are YOU doing?” Kelli kicks her feet up on the coffee table.

“Busy,” Liz tells her. “It’s the usual. It won’t calm down until next month.” The Georgia assembly is being especially belligerent this year, with Republicans in-fighting among themselves, Democrats twiddling their thumbs and the entire process beginning to fly off the rails. Her news team is getting a flood of requests for interviews from other stations and national and the amount of copy is…ridiculous. Everyone wants something. They’re feeding their own beast and that of eight other broadcast outlets across the state.

It’s the busiest time, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. The political intrigue, back-room wrangling. It’s what she lives for. A political junkie and she’s getting her fix.

“Sounds interesting, not really.” Kelli says. “Guess who I ran into again?”

“Who?”

“Travis. He was at a bar drinking by himself.”

“Sounds fun.”

“He didn’t look like he was having any.  Anyway, I told him to call you.”

“Why?”

“Why not?”

“You do know I haven’t spoken to him since December, right? Three months ago?”

“Yeah. I caught that memo. I’m starting to think you both like being miserable.” Kelli isn’t having it. Every time she’s broached Travis, Liz has skirted the subject. And while she’s not there to physically see her sister, she already knows her tone. Hard. Set. It’s the voice Liz uses when she’s trying to excise something. And Kelli gets it…sort of. Honestly, she was in Liz’s corner….until she saw Travis again. And even though her sister wants to deny it, Kelli knows. Hell, she barely saw Liz for two months when he was in Atlanta. So this whole “I don’t care about him routine…” yeah….no.

Liz sighs. “Sister, believe me when I say, that is over and done. It was really just a fling. He’s a nice guy, but nothing more than that. Now, you keep doing you, and have fun.”

“Alright sib, love you.”

“Love you, too.”

Kelli hangs up, feeling frustrated.  There’s no reason why Travis was drinking by himself at a bar in the middle of the week. And she doesn’t buy Liz’s nonchalant attitude for one minute. Something has to give here. And she’s determined that it will.

 

April

Travis’ phone starts buzzing in the middle of a scene. He forgot he had it on him.

“Cut!”

 The director calls a break and he fishes it out of his pocket, looking. A text:

Liz’s birthday is today.

Kelli.

 It’s been a month since he ran into her at the bar, and he hadn’t called Liz despite her urging. Filming this season has been a trainwreck. The weather is shit, and all manner of things have been going wrong on set. The latest has been a fire that took down their shipyard.

Travis doesn’t respond to the message, just like he didn’t to her last one, but once filming is done for the day and he gets back to his cabin, he weighs it, and, deciding…makes a call.

One ring.

Two rings.

Three rings.

He’s about to hang up when there’s an answer.

 “Hello?”

“Hey…Liz?”

It gets quiet. Maybe she doesn’t recognize him?  “It’s Travis.”

“I know who you are.” It comes out soft. The sound of her voice never ceases to amaze him—how it can go from high and clear, to husky and low. Right now it’s somewhere in the middle—perched on the edge.

Hearing it only makes the regret feel worse. There are no excuses. He can’t even claim to be busy.

“I just wanted to tell you happy birthday. I’ve missed you.”

 “Thank you,” Her voice changes, and it tilts toward the lower range. Less professional. More personal. But she doesn’t acknowledge the last part.

“Are you doing anything special?”

“Just having dinner with a friend,” she tells him.

But the way she says ‘friend’ makes him feel as if her date isn’t just a regular acquaintance.

“Man or woman?” It comes out low. A lot more territorial than he meant it.

“Does it matter?” She meets his terseness with her own and hearing it, he backs up and switches the subject.

“I keep running into your sister,” Travis says and this time, Liz laughs, a welcome sound right about now. Something to break up the tension, the awkwardness. “Yes, I know. Kelli has told me.”

“She said she’s here through the Fall?”

“Yes. Her program runs long. She’s doing research on vaccines and prevention.”

The idea is half-formed but he goes with it. Because he’s screwed up twice now. San Diego and Atlanta. But listening to Liz’s voice is only making the urge to see her again more pressing.

 “Can I treat you to a trip up here? For your birthday?”

At that though, there’s hesitation. “Um… I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

“Why not? You can see and hang out with your sister. I’m sure she’d enjoy it.”

“And you would too, right?” The edge is back. This time, there’s no mistaking it. She’s defensive. He doesn’t blame her.

“It’s not about me. You don’t have to see me if you don’t want to. Let me pay for your flight, at least?”

“I can pay for it on my own. I don’t need you to do it.”

“I get that, but…it’s a fucking birthday present, woman.” This time, it’s his turn to be forceful with her, and it comes out frustrated because he feels a circular argument coming on. Liz’s end of the line falls silent and he thinks she’s hung up and is about to do the same when she speaks again.

“Okay. But it will have to be next month. I’m slammed at work right now. I’ll circle back to Kelli with some dates and, if you’re serious, we can work it out later,” it gets muffled and in the background he hears the sound of something knocking.  A man’s voice seeps through. Low. Words are exchanged. She comes back. “I have to go now. My friend is here.” She hangs up, leaving him to look at the phone.

Friend.

That word again. For a moment, Travis debates whether to press Kelli for information, but decides against it. It’s not Liz’s fault. They made no guarantees or promises or commitments to one another when he left. He knows he can’t get mad. Hell, he’s not been a saint either. But still…

Fuck her friend.

.

.

When she gets off the phone she looks at it.

The call was completely out of the blue and she doesn’t quite know what to make of it. What to make of Travis calling after going dark for four months, or his invitation to Ireland.

Montgomery stands before her, flowers in hand.

“Hey Miss.” He says, walking through and putting the arrangement on her table before sweeping her into a hug.

His mouth is warm on hers, but when his hands decide to go for an exploration trip, this time her body doesn’t comply. Liz plays it off by telling him she’s feeling ill.  It’s not a lie.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

May

She steps off the plane to be greeted by a sheet of rain. The airport is crowded and it takes more than an hour to make it through customs. But she manages and when she gets to baggage claim, she sees Kelli waiting for her.

“Liz!”

Her sister waves and comes over to give hear a bear hug. She hugs back.

“So, where am I staying?”

“With me. I’ve got a spot with two roommates, if you don’t mind sharing a bed.”

“No problem.”

Travis was true to his word and bought her ticket once she had coordinated dates with Kelli.  That was last month and done through a brief text message exchange. She hasn’t heard from him again, but she makes a note to call and tell him ‘thank you.’ It’s was a very kind gesture.

Kelli introduces Liz to her roommates and when she’s settled, her sister announces they’re going out.

“Now?”

“Yes, so get changed.

“I JUST got off an eight-hour flight!”

“All the more reason to enjoy every minute here. Come, you’ll love it.”

It’s 9 o’clock at night but grudgingly, Liz showers and changes into a pair of skinny jeans and ankle boots, and white v-neck express tee.  

“Since you’re hosting, you’re buying,” she tells Kelli as they make their way into downtown.

“No problem.” They weave between streets until they get to a spot that bright and loud. The two women walk into the bar.

It’s festive, for sure. There are a few pool tables lined up on one end, the bar on the other and stools and high tops situated around. Music pumps out the system and the atmosphere is jovial. A few of the men stare openly at them. But it’s not leering, more like…appraising.

“I think we’re the darkest things in here,” Liz comments.

“Shut up and have fun.” Kelli steers them to the bar where there are a few guys seated and when they get close, one stands up and turns to face them.

Travis.

“Hey, Liz.”

 She looks up in surprise, momentarily stunned. It takes her a moment to fully process that it’s him. That he’s here. Travis looks different. His head is shaved and he’s…broader, now. What she feels is a multitude of things, and Liz can’t decide whether she wants to jump him, kiss him or slap his ass into yesterday. But when she glances at Kelli her sister is standing there grinning, and she knows it’s a set up. Still, it buys her enough time to regain her composure. Liz turns back to Travis.

“Hi. Didn’t think I’d see you. Thanks for the birthday present. I really appreciated that.”

He takes a step toward her hesitantly, a hopeful look on his face. A bottle comes sliding down toward them and he catches it and hands it to her.

“Thanks,” she says, taking a sip. It’s good. Really good. “What is this?”

“House brew,” he tells her, beckoning to the seat next to him. She takes it.

“I’m glad to see you, Liz. You look good.” His eyes take in the curve of her neck, the tight jeans, long legs, and he subtly adjusts himself as they talk.

“You do, too,” she tells him, taking her own appraisal. What she wants is to touch, but resists the urge. He’s dressed in black jeans and a short-sleeved button up shirt that fits him perfectly. Travis’s lips are slightly chapped, and his beard is longer, thicker. She bites her bottom lip and clenches her thighs together.  

They sit in tense silence and she’s grateful when someone puts some change into the jukebox. Something to fill the quiet between them.

Liz sips her beer and Travis sips his. After a while she looks up around her.

“Where’d my sister go?”

 “I think she stranded you,” Travis says softly, watching Liz look around her in puzzlement. She gets up to walk around the bar, searching. But when she comes back, she’s indignant.

“I can’t believe she did that. I don’t know how to get back to her place.”

Travis gets up from his perch at the bar and comes over to her, laying a hand on her arm.  “I don’t think she intended for you to go back there.”

Liz’s eyes go wide and meet his and when she speaks, it’s gentle. No anger. “You two set this up, didn’t you?”

“Yes. I asked her to,” because he recognized on her birthday how tiny the window of opportunity was and he grabbed it before it could slam shut.

“Come with me? Please? If not, I can get you back to your sister’s.” He’s hoping she says yes. He really wants her to say yes. Otherwise, all his efforts would be wasted.

Liz shakes her head. “Doesn’t seem like I get much of a choice, here.”

“You always have a choice. I don’t want to force you. Only if you want to.”

They start walking. The rain stopped hours ago, but there are puddles and she maneuvers around them carefully and follows Travis into a hotel and to a room.

“So, how’d your birthday dinner go?” He asks, settling down into the chair by the desk. Immediately, Liz becomes defensive. She frowns at him. “It was fine.”

He catches it and throws it back. “I take it he was good. Birthday present?” It slips—traces of jealously he hadn’t meant to let get through. All evening his eyes have been on Liz, drawn to the large stones in her ears. Diamonds. Big and sparkly. Expensive. At her angry glare though, he backpedals. Travis gets up from the chair and comes to stand in front of her. She’s seated on the edge of the bed. When he speaks again, it’s gentle.

“You don’t have to spare my feelings, Liz. It’s been five months, and I know you’re mad at me. If I were you, I’d be mad at me, too.”

Their bodies are close, but not touching, and she looks him in the eyes. “I take it you haven’t exactly been riding the celibacy bus, yourself. And yes. These ARE my birthday presents. From me. TO me.”

Travis puts his hands in his pockets and looks away. “Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t have.”

“I didn’t mean that the way it came out.”

“Yes, you did. What are you trying to accomplish by inviting me here?”

The hotel room lights are dimmed, but she can see the creases on his forehead, the roughness of his skin. There are bags under his light blue eyes, wrinkles at the corners.  For the first time, she notices he looks…tired. But what fully captures her attention is his beard. She reaches up to touch it, fingering the streaks of gray. They’ve always been there, but only now is she really noticing them. In the moment, Travis looks every bit his nearly 37 years.

He closes his eyes at her touch and exhales, realizing in the moment just how much he’s missed this. Liz’s face is impassive, but her eyes, dark and wide, stare into his.

“I want to finish what we started in Atlanta. We got shortchanged,” he comes closer, looking down at her and wrapping his arms around her waist. “Your sister gave me an opportunity and I had to take it,” he whispers, resting his forehead on hers. Their noses touch.

“We only have six days,” Liz is hesitant, acutely aware of where his hands are on her body.

“I know.” His head comes down, lips drawing across her neck until he reaches her mouth and kisses her. The tingling going on in her has now grown into a throb between her legs.  “But I have to try, because I don’t want to lose you again, and I know I won’t get another shot after this.”

“What makes you think you have a shot now?” It’s a whisper. She puts her hands against his chest, pushing him back slightly, but his arms are still around her and he’s not letting go. She doesn’t push very hard.

“Because you came,” he tells her, kissing her again and laying her down on the bed, his rough hands slipping under her shirt to raise it up while he starts to work his way down.  “Despite being mad at me.”

.

.

She wakes up later in the night to a warm, hard body behind her, and a firm cock pressed against her ass.

Travis.

Liz stirs and he pulls her against him, mouth on the back of her neck. His beard tickles against her skin.

“I’m not the type to call you every day. Or want to talk every day,” she yawns, stretching against his body, feeling it jump in reaction to the movement.

“I’m shit at relationships,” he whispers into her ear.

She snuggles back into his body. They’re both naked, and the hotel room is cold. But Travis is like a furnace, keeping her warm. She wiggles a bit and he relaxes his grip on her. “What do you want from me, really?”

“I’m tired of dating. I’m tired of single nights. I’m tired of relationships that don’t go anywhere,” he tells her. One hand slides up her thigh, across her hip, to her belly and finally up to her breast, cupping one gently, yet firmly. ”But I want to try, Liz. If you’ll let me.”

She turns to face him, burrowing into his chest, tilting her face to his. Their lips meet.

.

.

“Where the hell have you been? I’ve been calling for hours!” Kelli says when Liz finally answers the phone. Travis is in the bathroom.

“I’m with Travis, but you knew that,” Liz says, sitting up and looking around the room for her bra. She spots it by the desk and next starts searching for her panties.

“Still? It’s 2 in the afternoon.”

“And you’re point would be? You left me at the bar, or did you forget?”

“I figured you’d be back in the morning.”

“Well, I need to come anyway. I need clothes. Are you going to be there for the next hour at least?”

“Yeah, I’m here. Write down the address.” Liz grabs a pen.

When Travis comes out the bathroom stark naked, she’s dressed. Mostly.

“I can’t find my panties.”  He shrugs. “They’ll turn up. What’re you dressed for?”

“I need to go to Kelly’s for clothes.”

“k. Give me a minute.”

Liz grabs the desk chair and sits, watching him get dressed. He bends over to get his pants, giving her a lovely view.  Nice ass, nice thighs…nice chest…nice everything really. It wasn’t her imagination. He’s gained more muscle weight. She felt that last night/this morning. He’s heavier, and I felt really good.  When he finally turns to face her, he catches her oogling and laughs.

“Were you just sitting there staring at me?”

“I’m only doing to you what you did to me,” she says with her own smirk. “Turnabout is fair play.”

“Fair enough,” he smirks, slipping a hand into his pocket. Her panties are in there, and he’s not giving them back.  “Let’s get to your sister’s place. Do you want to just grab your bags and come back with me?”

“Sure.”

They arrive and she walks through the door, Travis behind her. Kelli and her roommates are sitting on the couch and they look up when the two of them enter. Liz goes to the room leaving Kelli and Travis in the living room.

“I texted your dumb ass too,” she glares at him, still pissed off. “One of ya’ll could have responded.”

“We were…busy,” he says, eyes following in the direction Liz went.

Kelli looks at Travis, her face becoming serious. “I did you a favor. You owe me. Don’t fuck it up. I know Liz can be a hard ass, but I will put my foot in yours if you hurt my sister.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, Kels.”

“books or tuition?”

Liz comes back. “Are you sure you didn’t want me to stay?”

Kelli rolls her eyes. “Please. You didn’t really come here for me, anyway. Have fun.”

The door closes behind them and Kelli turns to see her roommates staring at her open-mouthed.

“What?”

“Was that Travis Fimmel standing there?”

“Yeah.”

They both immediately start asking questions and she closes her eyes, understanding Liz’s frustration when she begged for that damn poster at comic con and dragged her sister to the taping in Atlanta. Funny how Kelli had been her roommates a year ago. Liz was right. Thirsty is not a good look.

.

.

“This is work?” Liz asks as he guides her around the set. He’s off today but there is a taping and they hang back, watching the crews work. It’s her first time on a television set like this one, and it’s impressive. They’ve built an actual medieval village. Liz makes a note to go back and watch a few episodes.

“What? You’re actually here on your day off?”

They turn at the female voice behind them.  Travis makes the introduction.

“Liz, Katheryn. Katheryn, Liz.”

“Nice to meet you,” Katheryn shakes her hand warmly. “I play his ex-wife on the show,” she says, elbowing him in the side. He jumps at the jab and Katheryn laughs before turning back to Liz.

“So how do you know Travis?” She asks.

“We met in Atlanta,” Liz says, seeing Katheryn give Travis side eye. He ignores it.

“Ah. So you’re Atlanta,” it’s said with a certain degree of understanding. Liz doesn’t quite understand what Katheryn is getting at. But, “I’ve got to hit wardrobe, really glad to have met you, Liz. When do you leave?”

“This upcoming weekend.” For a moment, Katheryn looks…disappointed? But it goes away just as quickly when she grabs Liz’s hands. “Then we definitely need to go for drinks before you leave.” She turns to Travis, “I’ll get with the guys and let you know.” Before he can say yes or no, Katheryn trots off, waving at them with a smile.

“She’s nice,” Liz says when they’re alone again.

“Yeah,” he says. “She’s a good friend.” But the way he says it makes her think Katheryn was likely more than that. Seeing her look, he shakes his head.

“It didn’t work out. We’re way too much alike. Besides, she beat me.”

At that, Liz laughs and he keeps the tour going.

That night, he takes her to the lake.

“Wow, its lovely out here,” she says, taking in the view. He comes up behind her, pulling her into a back hug.

“I know. It’s why I stay here. Quiet. Peaceful. Do you want to stay out, or go inside? You’re choice. We can do either.”

“I want to stay out.”

Because the night is clear and cool. And it’s dry.

Travis goes to put her bag in the cabin and comes back out with camping gear.

In 20 minutes, he’s got it set up and is moving sleeping bags inside the tent. This one is far smaller than hers. And there’s no air mattress, just the sleeping bags. A lot…cozier.  Liz settles down in the opening of the tent while Travis goes around to the back of the cabin and comes back with firewood. Another few minutes, and a fire is going. A few more trips and there’s a stash of wood next to them.

“This one only sleeps two,” he tells her, and she laughs, scooting closer to the fire that’s starting to roar in front of them. The sound of crickets and other night bugs fill the air, and when she looks up, the sky twinkles. It reminds her of Lake Lanier. Of Arkansas. No light pollution. No people pollution. The air is better too.

“Sometimes, I just like sleeping outside,” he explains, coming to sit next to her. She leans her head on his shoulder and doesn’t speak, enjoying the silence between them, and the night sounds—the chirping of crickets, the lapping of the lake water and the crackle of the fire.

.

.

In the morning she wakes up alone and goes outside the tent, spotting him by the side of the cabin, pissing. Liz laughs as he comes walking back.

“Outdoor bathroom?”

“There’s not one in the cabin,” he explains. At that, she frowns.

“Wait—what?”

“I usually shower on the set.”

“uh…”

Maybe she should have looked before she leapt on this one. Travis comes to hug her and she shies away.

“Oh no! You did NOT wash your hands!”

At that, he laughs and promptly reaches for her again. She screams and scoots away. And it’s how they end up chasing each other around the cabin, with Travis being the faster of them and tackling her to the ground. They’re cracking up and she’s too exhausted to really protest when he kisses her.

Good thing she got her hair braided with extensions before this trip. At least he can’t mess it up this time.

When he finally lets her up he tells her he has to work.

“How long does taping usually last?”

“It’s a battle scene. We probably won’t be done until late. Do you want to come, or maybe go with your sister? You’ll probably get bored. These things are pretty droll,” he says.

“I’ll come. And if I get bored, I’ll call Kelli,” she says.

“There’s a bathroom in my dressing room.”

They end up taking a boat across the lake and are on set in about 15 minutes. She’s got her clothes with her and Travis guides her to his dressing room, where a bathroom and shower await. She makes a beeline for it, and when finished, turns on the hot water and strips down and climbing in. He walks in a moment later.

“What?”

“More efficient this way,” he says pressing her back against the shower wall with his body.

“But… this is basically your office!”

“And?”

She wraps her arms around his neck and shoulders as he picks her up, bracing their bodies together. Liz knows exactly what he wants to do. There is zero subtlety.

“Travis…” It’s a warning. “Do you have anything on you?”

He shakes his head, mouth already in motion on her breast.

“Then we can’t.”

“I’ll pull out.”

Oh no. he will not. She knows that game already. And it’s not about pulling out anyway.

“Stop.” Firmer this time. He looks at her, confused.

“Why?”

“You KNOW why.”

At that, he releases her, lowering her legs to the floor.

“You’ve seriously not let that story go,” he says.

“We’ve never done it without one. And that’s only part of it.”

“Then what’s the problem? We’re in the shower Liz, condoms don’t work in water.”

“Travis, you’ve had other partners. I have too. No.”

He rolls his eyes. “It’s not like I’ve been rooting raw.”

“I don’t need that visual, and you’re not about to start now.”

Never has a man looked so disappointed and he gives her the most begging eyes she’s ever seen. There’s a damn good reason he’s an actor, and despite her efforts to keep up a firm face, Liz laughs, and hugs him. He still doesn’t get any, though.

.

.

Liz leaves the set around noon as the cast breaks for lunch.

“I’m having an Uber take me to Kelli’s,” she tells him as he comes over. “Okay. I’ll come get you when we wrap,” he tells her, taking her hand and briefly and lacing their fingers together, before letting go. He sees her off to the cab and watches as it drives away.

 “Where’d Liz go?” Katheryn asks, coming up to Travis and resting her chin on his shoulder.

“She’s with her sister,” he says, still looking in the direction the car drove off in. Neither he nor Katheryn move.

 “You look so much happier now.” It’s a probing observation. Katheryn always does this. Reads him. Better than anybody really.

“I am.”

“So are you going to tell her?  How you feel?”

“I’m not sure how I feel.” It doesn’t sound like the truth, even to his ears, and he knows he’s not fooling her either.

“Travis…” It’s a warning. Katheryn moves from his back to his front to face him, her eyes searching his. He holds her stare, saying nothing. But he doesn’t have to. They learned a long time ago how to tell exactly what the other is thinking and feeling.

“Take the chance on her. If you don’t, you’ll regret it, just like you did earlier. I don’t want what happened between us to happen to you again. You’re too good a guy and I don’t want to see you end up alone because you’re scared.”

Soft lips touch his cheek. She doesn’t say anything else, just runs her hand down his forearm. It’s not sexual. More comforting, really.  Katheryn knows when to push, and when to back off. And she thinks Travis just needs a gentle shove.

.

.

“So, you finally emerge from under Travis,” Kelli says as they walk around downtown, exploring the stores. “What do you think? Where’s it going?”

“Don’t know. Trying something different, I suppose.”

“How are you feeling?” Kelli’s admiring a shirt in the window of a store and they go in.

Three days she’s been here. Four more left.

She’s enjoyed his company, their night under the stars. They’ve not had sex since that first day. But what’s better is the intimacy. She didn’t realize how badly she had missed his touch until she felt him again. And they’ve fallen quickly into the rhythm they had back in Atlanta. Easy. Familiar.

 “Content.” Liz says. “I like it. It’s a different pace.”

“That’s good. So, what about when you go home?”

At that, she sighs. “Don’t know. Guess that’s a conversation for tonight, or tomorrow.”

Her phone rings around 11 that night.

“Just wrapped. Do you want me to come get you?”

She and Kelli are on the couch, watching movies. All her clothes are at Travis’ but she’s tired. Liz is about to say she’ll see him tomorrow, but Kelli eyes her and shakes her head.

“Sure, if it’s not too much.”

 “Be there in an hour.” Sure enough, he is and Liz grabs her purse and with a hug to her sister, leaves.

They ride back to the lake quietly and it’s past 1 in the morning by the time they arrive. She hadn’t realized the distance.

“No wonder you live so close,” Liz says with a yawn.  Travis takes off his shirt and pants and she removes her pants and bra. They crawl under his blankets, inside the cabin this time, and fall asleep.

In the morning, she wakes to the smell of bacon.

“mmm….”

Travis is at the tiny kitchenette, skillet going.

“How many strips?”

“Three,” she says, yawning and stretching before coming up to wrap her arms around him in a hug.

“Morning.”

“Morning.”

It’s so domestic, what they’re doing. There’s a glass of orange juice on the counter beside the tiny stove and he hands it to her.

“Thanks.”

A few more minutes and he has made two plates with bacon and avocado toast. Where he got Avacados in Ireland, she’s got no idea. But it works.

After food, she’s in need of the bathroom and he points to the door.  But when she opens it, she’s hit by a blast of cold air.

After freezing her way back inside and a quick washing of hands, she goes straight back to the bed and wraps herself under the covers. He comes too, sidling in next to her.

“So what happens when I go home? It’s pretty clear neither of us prefer long talks over the phone.”

There’s no beating around the bush. Her flight leaves tomorrow at noon.

“I promise to call,” he says, rolling onto his back. She turns over to her side, a hand on his chest, her leg on his.

“Then we leave it unfinished again,” Liz says feeling something akin to…disappointment. She’s not ready to really say they’re in a relationship. But they’re also not “just friends” and there’s a gray area between the two they are circling.

He’s thinking about Atlanta, about what Katheryn told him. He remembers how he felt out at Lake Lanier. And having her curled against him now reminds him of exactly how good that time in Atlanta with her had been. Travis looks down at Liz, laying on his chest and looking up at him. 

She reaches up and strokes his beard with her fingers and the sensation fills him with warmth. This is good. Her beside him like this, on him like this, feels good. All of this week has felt good, just like it did in Atlanta. He hasn’t been drinking since she’s been here.  And he hasn’t smoked either and neither vice has been missed.

“We wrap up here in August,” he tells her.  “And my new movie starts filming later that month.”

“Where at and for how long?”

“Four months in Canada, then I’m heading home to Australia before coming back here.”

“You don’t get a break, do you?”

“Not this year, no.” He’s trying to make and save as much money as possible. 

Liz sighs, the disappointment growing. They just reconnected, and now, they’re about to be broken apart again. “So, what do we do?”

Because if they go forward, they’ll have to work around his schedule. All of these projects had been lined up before he met Liz.  “Maybe we don’t fight it?” Travis says, turning his body to face her. He touches her arm, feeling her skin, smooth and soft. They touch noses. His lips brush hers.

“I’m not willing to give up, yet.” He tells her. “And I’ve no intention on losing you again. So…Maybe, we check in…periodically. See where we are. Work it out as we go?”

It’s rewarded by a small smile. Liz feels her body tingle a bit, at the thought.

“I’ve got a ton of vacation time…” She says slowly, thinking about it. “Maybe. Maybe it could work.”

“I can do ‘maybe’.” Travis pulls her close, rolls her on top of him and she straddles his waist. ‘Maybe’ gets rewarded with kisses.

.

.

Later, they drive back into Dublin.

“Where to?” She asks, curious about where he’s taking her. They pull up into a tiny air field.

“I figured we’d do something fun,” he says. But the way it comes out is laced with deviousness, and Liz eyes him. But he’s looking straight ahead, face impassive.

Actors.

She still doesn’t quite get it until they climb out of the truck and start walking to a hangar. The doors open and a helicopter comes wheeling out. Travis walks up to the pilot and the two men talk a few minutes before he comes back to Liz and takes her hand.

“Come on.”

She follows and he helps her in before walking over to the other side and climbing into the cockpit.

“Where did the pilot go?”

This time, Travis looks at her as he fastens his helmet on.

“I’m the pilot.”

“What?!” At that she quickly takes off her harness and makes for the door, but he grabs her and pulls her back, laughing.

“What’s wrong? You don’t trust me?”

“Hell no! I will not allow you to kill me!” Because she absolutely doesn’t buy that Travis can fly this thing. And while she’s okay with planes, it’s her first time on a helicopter and there’s nowhere near as much material holding them in.

Travis is laughing so hard as Liz squirms in his arms trying to get away. He keeps her in as he flips the controls and the blades begin to spin. Once the helicopter is fully on, he releases her and she yelps, clinging to the chair and quickly getting back into her harness as the machine rocks a bit and gradually wobbles up into the air. After a moment, they begin to turn and fly off. The rocking slows and she calms down as they fly low, looking out the window at the green landscape beneath them.  

“Are you going to tell me where we’re going?!” Liz yells over the noise of the blades and the air.

“It’s a surprise! Now shut up, you impatient woman!” He yells back, leaning over to give her a quick kiss on the cheek before focusing on the landing. They land in a large field. Off in the distance she saw a bridge. And when they exit the helicopter, there are three people waiting for them on the ground.

With ropes.

 Travis takes one and tosses it over his shoulder.

“Come on, Liz.”

She’s been following him all day and STILL he’s not said a damn thing about what they’re doing. However, as their small group starts walking in the direction of the bridge and it gets closer…

“Oh HELL NO.” Liz turns to start walking back to the helicopter once it’s clear EXACTLY what Travis’ idea of “fun” and “surprise” is.

This time, he catches her from the back and straight up tackles her to the ground, turning her around to face him.

“Oh no, you don’t.”

“Damn right, I don’t. And WON’T.”

He’s on top staring down at her, a smile playing on his lips. Travis has Liz pinned and she knows it. There’s no escape unless and until he lets her up.

“Trust me, it’ll be fun.”

“Black people do NOT jump off bridges. It’s called self-preservation. Which apparently, YOU have no sense of.”

“I know all about Darwin, love. Survival of the fittest. I swear, it’s safe.” He gives her three little kisses on the lips.

“The hell it is. How old is that bridge? What if the ropes break?”

“The ropes can hold 10 of us. They won’t break. And if they do, I’ll catch you.” He’s grinning now and gets to his feet, pulling Liz up with him. She’s absolutely not buying it, but he takes her hand any way and pulls her reluctantly to the bridge.

“Here. I’ll jump first. You watch. Okay?”

She thinks about it a moment, then agrees. “As long as you don’t force me to go over.”

Travis climbs into his gear and Liz feels a tap on her shoulder. One of crew comes over with another harness.

“Oh, that’s not necessary. I’m not jumping.”

“Sorry, but if you’re going to be on the bridge, you have to wear one, just in case,” he says. With a sigh, she takes it and climbs in, not realizing the rope attached to it is already tethered.

Travis walks backward to the edge.

“Are you sure you don’t want to jump with me?” He asks, still smiling. She looks down at the drop. The river below is just a reflective line from the distance. “Um…no. Have fun with that.”

He rolls his eyes and effortlessly leans back…

And disappears over the side.

“Travis!”

Her heart drops down to her stomach and Liz rushes to the edge in time to see him flipping as he goes down and when he comes back up his laughter is wild.

“Go again?” The instructor asks as Travis climbs back up to the bridge and walks up toward them.

“Yep.” He says, watching Liz. Her face is still wearing the expression of shock—the wide eyes open mouth and he figures…if he’s ever going to get her…

He takes off at a run this time and Liz doesn’t have time to move before he grabs her and pulls her against his chest tightly and takes them both over the edge.

A string of the vilest curses come out of her mouth as they fall.

All are aimed at Travis.

.

.

The bar is crowded, and they’re seated in the back, Liz on his lap, with Gustav, Katheryn, Clive and Alex with them. Katheryn was serious about drinks, and wouldn’t let him out of it, but…he doesn’t really mind. No one has commented on the fact it’s the first time Travis has ever allowed them to meet one of his… girlfriends? But they all recognize the occasion for what it is.

 A damn miracle.

Because the only other person he has ever brought into the circle was already in it. Katheryn.

“So what do you do?” She asks Liz, taking a sip of her beer. A pilsner. Something light.

“I’m a news director in Atlanta. Public Broadcasting.”

“Oh—like the CBC, here?”

“Yep. We do a lot of work with them on the news side, and we pull “Q” too.”

“I like Q!” Alex says. “That stuff with Jian Ghomeshi was wild, though.”

Liz chuckles. “I know. Remember what went down at the BBC?”

 2014 was a rough year for public radio. “So how did you get into it?” Clive is leaning over, failing to even remotely hide his interest. So she is Atlanta. Travis’s lost  “fish”.

“Well, I always liked to read and write—poetry, short stories, you name it, I did it. And my mom always said I talked too much and was too nosey for my own good. I knew this is what I wanted to do back in elementary school. My mom wanted me to be a doctor though. She said I was destined to be broke and journalists don’t make money.”

They all laugh at that one.

“Hell, neither do actors,” Gustav says, getting an elbow from Katheryn.

“True that. But it worked out. I went to an HBCU instead of an Ivy league, racked up student loans but landed my first job right after graduation and I’ve been working my up ever since.”

“You sound determined,” Katheryn tells her, recognizing a bit of herself in Liz.

“I suppose. I just knew what I wanted—and pardon my language here, but, I’ll be damned if I let anyone stand in the way of what I want. I’m good at what I do. There’s a saying: “never let someone else determine your worth And I know what mine is.”

Hers is her currency.

Katheryn gets up and claps.

“I love you!!” She says, walking over and giving Liz a hug.

“Travis, how the hell did you manage to get her?” Alex says cracking up. “She’s above your pay grade, man.”  Travis shrugs. “I told a very bad story at Comic Con and then stalked her back to her hotel room.”

They all laugh, and Katheryn looks at Liz again….

“Wait…hey! You were the woman in the line! I KNEW you looked familiar.”

Huh?

“Yeah….Travis was looking at your ass when you walked away.”

At that, a round of laughs. Travis shakes his head and rubs his hand down his face. Leave it to Katheryn to put him on blast.

Eventually, the guys walk off to go play pool, leaving Katheryn and Liz alone.

“He really likes you, you know,” she tells Liz. “I haven’t seen him this happy in a while.” The hour is growing later, and the volume in the bar has started to die down.

“I like him too.”

“Yes, but…” She pauses a moment, weighing just how much to reveal.

“But what?” Now Liz is looking at her strangely.  “What are you trying to tell me, Katheryn?”

Katheryn trails the ring around her glass with a finger, thinking through her response before speaking again.

“You’re the first woman he’s brought around us. That’s all.” She decides against the rest. And when the guys come back to the table, they drop the conversation. Later though, Liz and Katheryn exchange phone numbers.

.

.

“Did you have fun today?”

They’re laying in a bed. In a hotel room, with a functional bathroom and Liz is tired. It’s been a long day. She’s using Travis as her body pillow.

“mmm hmmm.” It’s muffled and she yawns.

He’s got his arms around her, and they are both basking in each others’ warmth. The bar didn’t close until 2 and it would be too late to drive all the way back to the cabin. He’d had several beers and so did she and so here they are: back in the same hotel where they spent the first night.

“What were you and Katheryn talking about?” Travis had watched them, deep in conversation, from his spot by the pool table. And he’d struggled with trying to assess how he felt about his ex-girlfriend speaking so intimately with his current…girlfriend? Friend? Lover? Benefits Partner?. Likely about him. He didn’t know what Katheryn had told her, if anything, but ultimately he’d decided that whatever she said wouldn’t be bad. He knew Katheryn and had just decided to trust she wouldn’t set him up to fail.

Liz is half asleep and it’s through her haze, that she responds.

“She thinks you like me.”

He brushes a braid away from her face, feeling relieved that Katheryn hadn’t set him up too badly.  “I do like you Liz.”

A gentle snort is his response and he smiles.

“I more than like you.” It’s a whisper. She can’t hear it though. Liz is already asleep.

.

.

He takes her to the airport the next day.  Travis parks and they walk inside together going as far as the checkpoint where he can’t come. It’s here he pulls her into a long, tight hug. While he knows he has to let her go, he’s not really willing. And it makes her heart skip, the way he presses against her, holds her as if he doesn’t want her to leave, and she doesn’t either.

 This time is different. It doesn’t feel like goodbye. It doesn’t feel like she’ll never see him again. And when her plane lands, he gets a notification on his phone.

And as Liz climbs into bed in her apartment, her phone rings. She sees the number and smiles.

“Hey, you.”

“I told you I would call,” Travis says and she laughs. “Then I owe you one as well.”

The laughter fades a bit though as she inhales the scent of her sheets. Gain fabric softener. “I miss you already.”

“I miss you too,” he tells her. “Night, love.”

It brings a smile to her face.

“Goodnight.”

It’s not until later, while laying in bed that it hits. His sheets smell like her. Vanilla and cocoa butter.  Like the sex they made. Like the love they made.

Liz.

The first time they parted, his feelings were nebulous at best. The second time, it was staring him in the face and he couldn’t take it. Now, she’s gone again but it’s different this time. Because he’s already counting down the days until he can go to her and be with her again.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10

June

Kelli comes home at the end of the month for a three-day weekend and the sister’s embrace and drive to their mother’s house.

Rose greets them at the door, still as saucy as ever.

“I know I said I wanted my space, but damn! Neither of you call in two months? And I haven’t seen you, Liz, in four?”

They laugh and go inside.

“So, tell me, what have I missed?”

Kelli tells her mother about her time in Ireland.

“And Liz met up with a man,” her sister says.

“Oh?” Rose is definitely interested in this one. She looks at her eldest daughter. “No more Montgomery?”

Liz rolls her eyes.

“It’s the guy who was here last year. He flew me out as a birthday present.”

“Then I say ditch Montgomery and go with this one!” Rose says.

The women descend into a long and extended conversation for the rest of the night. While she’s not comfortable telling Kelli certain things, Liz has no qualms about speaking to her mother about it. And when her sister slips off to the kitchen to make drinks, she uses the time to slowly explain her complicated love life since last October, waiting to see what her mom will say.

“Sometimes, you have to shed old things to allow room for new ones in your life,” Rose tells her. “And it’s long past time you shed Montgomery. Now, as far as Travis is concerned…he sounds like a good person. But I would be concerned about the distance between you.”

“What do you mean?” Liz looks at her mom.

Rose shakes her head. “You know exactly what I mean.” Liz goes quiet. She does. She also knows neither she nor Travis were riding the celibacy bus. But they also weren’t in a relationship. And while this time, they did make promises…they still didn’t make any commitments.

“Did you two talk about it?” Her mother asks. She shakes her head. “No, we haven’t. We just said we’d try to make the time. Steal it when we can.”

“Then I suggest you two really discuss that. You don’t want to be on one page, and him another. And if this thing is serious, and you feel it is, then you have to consider that, because we all have needs. And they will be met in some way. If he travels the way you said he does, and he’s gone for months and weeks at a time…then what will you do? YOU have needs too—and they’re not all sexual. People in relationships need to see each other, be with each other. That’s what builds trust. Keeps the foundation tight. Secure. It’s about intimacy, Elizabeth. Intimacy, trust and love. And distance…well…that breeds loneliness. And loneliness fosters jealously.”

Kelli comes back into the bedroom, drooping down onto their mother’s King size bed and handing the two of them a drink, keeping one for herself.

“So mom, do you want to see Travis?” She asks, completely oblivious to the conversation that just took place.

“Alright, let me see him.” At that, Kelli turns on the TV and quickly maneuvers to HULU.

“Finally! I’ve been telling you two to watch this show for months!” She exclaims, starting up the first episode of “Vikings”. The three women lay back on the bed and watch.

“THAT’s him?” Rose says, pointing to a shirtless Travis standing next to a half-naked Katheryn. They’re in their characters. Acting.

Kelli nods with a smirk. “Yup.”

Rose turns to Liz with a raised eyebrow. “Hmm…”

“Mother!”

“Just saying. Remember to have that conversation. I take it you’ve been feeding him, right?”

Liz laughs. “Yes, mom. I fed him when he was here.”

.

.

 “Hey Miss.”

“Montgomery, we need to talk.”

She’s in her apartment on the couch, legs tucked under her. It’s been two weeks since she’s been home and in that time, she and Travis have spoken twice. It’s far better than what they were doing before, which wasn’t at all.

Now feels like as good a time as any to do a clean sweep and start fresh. Because she knows what she wants. And it’s not Montgomery.  Rose had called it.

She and Montgomery have been going in circles now for three years. And it’s time to end it. For real.

“What’s wrong? Why does it sound like I’m not going to like what you’re about to tell me?”

“Because you won’t. But I think it’s time we stopped this.”

 “I don’t want it to stop, Liz.”

“I know you don’t. But I need to move on. We do it because it’s convenient. And because it’s easy. But we don’t love each other.”

Montgomery sniffs and scoffs. “No. YOU don’t love me. I’ve loved you from the beginning.”

“Yeah, you showed me exactly how much you loved me. That was not love. It was possession. And I am not some trophy for your collection.”

“That was YOUR decision.”

“YOU took that choice FROM me! You tried to ruin me.”

The hurt and the anger come forward fast and furious and her hand goes to her belly, remembering how it felt. All she got was a local anesthetic that she knows didn’t do a damn thing. And afterward she had driven home alone and wobbled up the stairs by herself.

It’s only confirmation that the decision she’s making now is the right one.

“Goodbye.”

.

.

July

A text comes in.

Don’t forget your boyfriend’s birthday. -Kelli

She checks the date. July 15. He hadn’t told her when his birthday was, and she’d been left to surmise it. Actually, she’d just googled it. And hopefully, his present will be arriving today, if she timed it right.

 It had taken some thought, and a little bit of consultation with her grandfather.  

There’s a pretty significant time difference between Dublin and Atlanta and so she does send him a text to make note of the day.

“Congratulations on another year of living.”

A few hours later, one comes back for her.

“Thanks. Talk tonight?”

And so they do. He calls her.

“Where are you?”

“My cabin.”

“No going out? No celebrating with friends?”

“I was over that by 30. They brought a cake on set today and it ended up in my face,” Travis says with a chuckle. “They called it ‘karma’.”

“I’ve heard about your on-set antics. Serves you right for torturing those poor people.” She smiles into the phone, enjoying the sound of his voice, the accent.

What she wants to tell him is that she misses him already, but she doesn’t. It’s too sentimental, and she’s not a mushy person.

“Sooo…my birthday?” Travis says, his voice taking on a cheeky tone.

“Yeesss?” She knows he’s working up to something and leans in. “Did you get your present?”

At that, he laughs—a deep, hearty laugh.

“I did. Thank you. I think I’ll break in the waders this weekend.”

She smirks, having seen the myriad of fishing poles in the cabin. “So, do I get another present?”

“Like what?”

“I think…usually, there’s birthday sex in order,” he tells her, and she grins.

“But you’re in Ireland and I’m in Georgia. How is that supposed to work?”

“Phone sex?” It’s a deep rumble that cuts straight through the distance and the technology and she feels a rush of heat in her lower belly. It’s another reminder.

“Can you hold out for me? I’d rather give you your gift in person,” she says her own voice dropping low to match his. It gets a lighthearted, but still quite frustrated groan.

“Maybe…I could give you a piece of it now,” Liz shifts on her bed, lowering one hand between her legs.

“Yes, please.” It comes out like a growl.

That night, he discovers something new about Liz Dubek. How absolutely filthy her mouth can be.

“I’m holding you to that when I come back,” he tells her, once his breathing returns to normal. 

“Is that a promise or a threat?”

“Both.”

.

.

August

South Georgia in August is the worst. It’s humid, and hot. To compensate and protect her hair, she’s allowed it to fully revert to its natural state and is wearing large two-strand twists. Presently she’s  standing in a wide field filled with fresh strawberries and her farmer-guide is pointing out brown spots on the fruit. A new, invasive bug killing the plants and threatening to destroy the crop. It’s a cousin to Citrus canker in Florida and has Georgia’s fruit farmers on edge.

 Afterward, sitting in her car, she checks her phone. There’s a text and she opens it, reading.

“I’ve got a week-long gap before filming. Should I come to Atlanta?”

It’s Travis.  She smiles.

“Yes.”

“Hotel?”

“No. Stay with me.”

“Be there next Friday.”

He’s coming. A week only, but they agreed to steal the time when they could get it, and this, she thinks, is a heist.

.

.

 “Ooh….flowers!” Tanya is leaning on Liz’s office door, admiring the display. The all white arrangement arrived a few minutes ago with a card.

“See you soon.”

Never has time gone by so slowly, Thank God it’s Friday.

 Liz smiles.

The dinner she prepped last night, so that all she has to do is pop it into the oven.

And the rest of it…

He’s said not to pick him up, that he’ll just come straight to the apartment, and his plane is landing at Five this evening. It’ll be at least an hour before he clears customs. That makes it to 6. She will be just arriving home. He’ll have to go through baggage claim and get to her place, which means an arrival closer to 7:30 or 8 p.m.

She’s still grinning, thinking about her plans when Tanya pipes back up. “So, who are they from?” she asks, coming over to sniff the arrangement.

“A…friend.”

“The same friend from last year?” Her assignment editor asks, taking a seat in one of the two chairs in front of Liz’s desk.

“Yes.”

“Is this the person you went to see this summer? In Ireland?”

“Yes.”

“What kind of work does he do?”

“He travels a lot.”

“What kind of work?”

“He works in the tv and film industry.”

“What sort of productions?”

Liz looks up to see Tanya grinning at her. She knows exactly where her friend is going with this. They’re both seasoned reporters and Tanya’s fishing for information.

“I think this interview is over,” Liz tells her and Tanya laughs. “At least your hair is in twists, so you don’t have to worry about sweating out that silk press. When does he come through?”

“Tonight.”

“Then…let’s get to work so you can get out of here and prepare for…whatever it is you’re going to prepare for.” Liz hums to herself and Tanya smirks at her.

The phone buzzes right as she’s heading home.

“Just touched down.”

She pulls into the parking garage and turns off the car.

“I’ll be waiting,” she texts back.

Liz is damn near skipping into her condo. The first thing she does is take the chicken out of the refrigerator, add in the carrots and potatoes and pop it into the oven. It’ll cook slowly, be tender.

While that’s going, she takes the time to inspect her hair, hands untwisting and re-twisting it carefully, conditioning and allowing them to set under her silk cap. A quick glance at the time: 6:30.

Her phone buzzes again.

“Waiting on bags.”

She smiles and starts running a bath, slipping inside and closing her eyes, exhaling to try and clear out the butterflies that have been fluttering with increased intensity all day.

It takes forever for his luggage to come and by the time he hauls them down to the exits he’s beyond irritated. Not irritated, really…just…in a bit of a rush. Because he knows what’s waiting when he gets to where he’s going.

His phone beeps.

“Door is unlocked. Come on in.”

Finally, his Uber arrives and he jumps in. It’s a 20 minute ride to Liz’s place.

He knocks, before opening the door. The first thing that hits is the smell…food. And whatever she’s cooking smells wonderful.

“Liz?”

“In my room. Come on back.”

He drops the bags at the door and locks it before walking down the hall.

“Liz?”

When he gets into the room, he smiles. Because she’s perched on the bed wearing nothing but a grin as she beckons to him with a finger.

“Happy belated Birthday,” she breathes when they’re finally finished. He’s got her tucked close, her head resting on his shoulder, fingers playing across his chest. Travis kisses her forehead.

“I didn’t realize how badly I needed that.”

Liz giggles. “Me either. I missed you.”

They’re both naked. Blankets, sheets, clothes and pillows are now scattered across the floor. It’s hot in the room. Humid.

“I missed you too.” And he did. May feels like forever ago and there’s only so much a hand can do. Not to mention the pull of temptation, but he’s been good, resisting that as well. He’s also trying hard not to fuck it up again.

The silence between them is warm, filling the room and soon something else does too. His stomach rumbles.

“Hungry?” Liz looks up at him and he nods.

She detangles herself from his arms and pulls on a silk robe, walking out the room. He gets up, slipping on his pants, and follows her to the kitchen.

Travis is hovering as she bends down to take the chicken out of the oven and puts it on the stove. It’s perfect. The timing was perfect. The bird is a golden brown and when she takes a fork, the meat starts falling off. She spears a piece and blows on it gently before turning around and feeding it to him.

“It’s sooo good…” That look of utter contentment on his face makes her flush with warmth.

“Do you like it?”

“I don’t think there’s anything you can cook that I won’t eat…including you, love.” He wraps arms around her waist and pulls her close, face into her neck in a warm nuzzle.

Food, Travis,” a gentle reminder. “Can you cut the chicken?” He nods and releases her to get the plates. She puts them on the counter and lets him make them while she moves off to the refrigerator, coming out with a bottle of Modelo and chilled white wine.

He glances up, surprised at the choices.

“Is that one mine?” He points to the beer and she nods. It gets a smile. Rarely has a woman paid so much attention to him and he remembers what she told him at the lake.

I’m listening when you think I’m not.

Liz gets his tastes, gets him. Gets him in a way no one else really does. And damn if every time he’s near her he becomes more and more attached. Like now. She’s got him spoiled. Taking care of all of him—his body. His stomach. His heart.

“Table or couch?”

“Table,” she points and he goes, Liz following. Soon, dinner is consumed and she takes his plate. “More?”

“Maybe later.” He’s eyeing her, a quiet, studious expression on his face, and when he reaches for her, she allows him to pull her onto his lap and untie her robe.

Travis’s face is between her breasts and she’s wrapped her arms around his neck, her lips on his head. “I’m so happy you have hair again,” she says, running her fingers through it. It’s so thick. Soft. It gives her something to grab on to.

“If you keep pulling I’ll be bald again.” It’s muffled. His lips tickle against her skin.

“You still remind me of a big cat,” she tells him, looking down at the top of his head. “I should name you.”

 They feel good to each other. Right to each other and in the moment, they’re both floating on the same wavelength. He’s making her reconsider certain choices, certain decisions, and for the first time, Liz contemplates a different sort of life. The thought momentarily excites and frightens her. Because it requires sacrificing something she’s worked to get for nearly a decade, and it requires allowing something else to happen that she doesn’t know if she’s ready for. The relinquishment of control.

He picks her up and carries her to the bedroom, laying her down and starting at her toes. She’s like the present he’s been wanting for years, and the only pause is to slip on a condom and keep going.

Liz moans, her legs coming up around his head.

“Look at me,” he commands and she does and shudders. Because the way he’s watching her as he uses his tongue to pleasure her is only amplifying what’s going on inside her body and she can’t help but moan again, her hips shaking.

“Liz…”

Her heart is racing and words start failing as her hips move against his mouth and she feels the start of it beginning…oh god this man’s mouth…

He can tell she’s nearly there but he doesn’t want her to come yet. In a single movement he’s up and on her and Liz cries out when he gets between her legs and goes in.

It’s far different from the other times. Her legs come up around his waist but he takes her hands and pins them over her head as he takes his time, watching her face as he gives her everything. She trembles and moans, breathing ragged and uneven.  But he doesn’t let her go because he is singularly focused on what he’s doing now and there is absolutely NO stopping—he keeps going through her first orgasm…and her second…never breaking the agonizingly slow pace, just deepening it.

Probing her…touching her.

“Liz…” a groan. His this time as he feels his own end approaching. He lets go of her hands and they come around his neck, pulling him down against her body.

This time isn’t like the others. And he’s got her heart racing and her body reacting on its own. She can’t control it, and doesn’t want to, because every single part of her feels like it’s been set on fire and all she can do is hold on to him as he whispers in her ear, his thrusts growing in both depth and intensity.

Liz’s legs are weak and thoughts scattered and when Travis starts to rotate between her thighs when she can’t take any more and arches back, screaming his name.

They come together, then promptly fall asleep.

.

.

It’s not until she wakes up later to the bathroom that she realizes something went horribly wrong. Because it’s way too wet down there. And creamy. And she’s not ovulating, which only means…

Panic. Liz takes a few deep breaths to try and calm down, but her hands are shaking as she goes back to bed and gently shakes Travis.

“Please wake up,” she whispers, urgently. He snorts and rolls over onto his back, eyes gradually flitting open.

“Huh?” He’s groggy, and it’s dark. It takes a minute to come too, but when he does, he sees her face, streaked with a look of absolute terror. He sits up immediately. Concerned. “What’s wrong?”

Her bottom lip trembles.

“I think…I think it broke,” she whispers and he finally takes a look. Sure enough, it did. He takes it off and throws what’s left of it away in the trash can. And when he comes back to bed, Liz is sitting, legs drawn. She looks frightened and it’s an expression he’s never seen her wear before. There’s a sinking feeling that he just can’t shake as he pulls her down into the bed and into his arms. She curls up there.

“Talk to me. Tell me what’s wrong, love.”

She has never had unprotected sex before. Never. Not even with Montgomery and he’d gotten her pregnant. And she’s terrified because she doesn’t know when in their congress it happened, or even how…all she knows is it did.

It’s sentimental bullshit and when he asks what’s wrong she really doesn’t know how to tell him. But Travis is insisting, and when she looks at him there is both worry and love in his eyes.

“I’m sorry. I know I’m freaking out over nothing.”

He shakes his head. The fact she’s freaking out lets him know it’s a lot more than nothing. “You’re not telling me the truth,” he says gently, playing with the twists in her hair, wrapping them gently around his fingers. They’re soft. Spongey. Springy.

“Let’s go back to sleep. I shouldn’t have woke you.” Now Liz is deflecting and he pulls her close.

“I can’t go to sleep knowing you’re upset. Liz…tell me what’s wrong. I’m not going to run again. I promise.”

Because he thinks that’s the reason she won’t tell him. Liz buries her face into his chest.

“Did we...do you know when it broke?” He leans in close to hear her. It’s muffled.

He thinks about it carefully. “Somewhere toward the end, I think?” He knows what it feels like with and without. “Likely at the end.” Because he definitely could not have lasted as long without.

Her body relaxes. Liz exhales. “Okay.” It makes her feel a little better. That they were still protected, despite the breaking. At least…the other part she can deal with. Travis runs his hand up and down her arm, gently.

“Does that make it better?” She nods and he kisses the top of her head, considering how hard to press.

“Is the thought of me really that bad to you?”

Liz looks up at him, raising a hand to his cheek. She doesn’t want him to think that. “No!” No…It’s not you.”

Travis rolls his eyes. “Love, I’ve been around a long time. I’ve heard that a lot.” He moves to get up but Liz reaches for him.

“Please, don’t go.” It’s a whisper. He stops and turns, looking at her.

“Well, what do you want me to do?  You tell me it’s not me, but you won’t say what the problem is. So what conclusion am I supposed to draw?”

“I’ve never had unprotected sex. And I don’t want to get pregnant.”

It tumbles out fast and he goes silent, trying to process what she just said.

So that’s why she’s refused him. He didn’t get it before, but he does now. Liz has been nothing but resolute about them using protection from the start and he’d honestly believed it was because of the STD incident. Now, he knows it’s not something so trivial.

“Come here,” Travis pulls her close again as they lay back down. He checks the time on his phone: 3 a.m.

She dozes off, but he doesn’t. Instead, he stays awake, watching her, and thinking about what she just said. Liz moans softly in her sleep and turns over onto her stomach. The sheets slip down to her waist allowing him a beautiful view of her back. Long, hard fingers trail down soft skin, following the curve of her spine. The moonlight shines through the sheer drapes on the window, and his eyes have long since adjusted to the semi-darkness. He can see well, and now is the time that he studies Liz’s back, taking note of the tattoo here, on the left lower side, near her butt. Roman numerals:

III XII XIII

They are slightly raised, dark and bold against her skin.  He first saw them the morning after they were first together, but hadn’t paid it much attention, too busy admiring the rest of her. And since then…well…he’s had her on her back most of the time. But he wants to know what it means. Yet another mystery to unlock about Liz Dubek.

It’s past six before he finally goes down too, but not before a final thought flits across his mind.

When he wakes up, the place next to him is warm, but empty. But the smell of bacon lures him out of bed.

“You’re up.”

Liz is in the kitchen, dressed in his shirt, busy cooking. He takes a minute to just admire her, liking the way she looks in it, liking all of it really. The simple domesticity of it all. He knows he could easily slip into this life. Stay in this life, what they’re doing right now. Playing house. Because it fits him far better the one he’s presently leading, and he’s been tired of it for a while now.

But there’s still so much more work left to do….

Travis yawns and walks over to her slowly, wrapping his arms around her waist.

She turns and puts a piece of bacon in his mouth, followed by a kiss.

.

.

It’s two days later when they finally leave the apartment. And the thing that lures them out is communal hunger.

“Next time, I’ll buy more groceries,” she teases, tickling Travis under his chin. He crosses his eyes and sticks his tongue out at her, making her laugh.

“Uh uh. I know where that tongue’s been. Not buying it. You ate everything in my refrigerator.” And cleared out most of the freezer too. Not to mention the half gallon of Neapolitan ice cream that’s disappeared. She shakes her head still chuckling as they stroll down the street.

“I didn’t eat everything,” he defends. “There’s still the brussel sprouts left.”

“Yes. And I’m surprised you didn’t eat those too.”

He thought about it—but she was out of everything to go with them.

“A mess you are.” A round of the corner and they’re standing in front of Metro Deli. He opens the door for her and follows her in. They take the first table on the left. The same one they were seated at for their lunch date.

It’s Monday. And she’s presently laughing at the spoon on his nose when a shadow falls over them both. Liz looks up and her good mood suddenly goes dark.

“Elizabeth.”

Montgomery. He’s standing in front of their table, ignoring Travis and looking right at her, with an expression of extreme disapproval and contempt. She knows exactly what it is, and she locks eyes with him, holding her own ground.

“Montgomery.”

Travis looks at her, seeing the hardened expression her face. He then looks at the man standing in front of their table.

“Hello, mate.” He extends a hand but Montgomery just looks at it and him with disgust and turns back to Liz.

“Really, Liz?” He scoffs at her, eyes going to Travis and back. “Betraying the cause, I see.” But she doesn’t give.

“And your point would be?” She dares him to say it. To go there. Liz knows exactly what the issue is. And it’s NOT the fact she’s with another man. It’s the fact she’s with a white man.

“Is there a problem?” Travis asks, getting up to stand between Montgomery and Liz. He’s absolutely not backing down and whatever the hell this is, it’s about to end right now. Travis reaches for Liz’s hand and she takes it, standing up. He pulls her close against him and gives her a long kiss, one hand snaking down her back to grab her ass.

She looks at him. “Not anymore there’s not.” They lace fingers together and, without a second glance at Montgomery, walk around him, pay their bill and head out the door. Once outside, Liz exhales and shivers.

They don’t speak to each other until they’re back at her condo, and once in, he steers her to the couch and sits her down.

“Explain. That’s who you spent your birthday with, isn’t it?” Travis is standing in front of her, arms crossed. Liz leans back into the couch, sighing heavily.

“Yes. He’s my ex.”

“Is he always such a whacker?”

She doesn’t know the word, but there’s enough to understand the context. “It’s complicated.”

“These things usually are.”

Liz isn’t quite sure what to say. But he’s looking at her with those damn eyes, lips in a frown.

“What do you want me to tell you? I’m not dating him. We are not together. I think that much was obvious.”

“And yet you have history. He clearly isn’t impressed by your choice in men.”

“Yes, well…welcome to the South, Travis. It’s great for them but if we step out the box, everyone acts like judge and jury. They’d be executioner too, if you let them.”

“So he’s mad you’re with an…Australian? Seems there’s a lot of that going around here. Aussie’s can’t get a break.” But he says it with a tiny curl of his lips and it’s infectious. Liz chuckles.

The chuckle turns into full blown laughter when he starts tickling her. They wrestle—until she’s screaming because he’s got her feet and he’s yelling because she’s targeted his sides.

Eventually, they calm down and slip into companionable quiet. Travis is leaning back against the arm of the couch, Liz against him, two sets of legs outstretched. It’s nice, just listening to each other breathe.

“He tried to trap me,” she’s speaking quietly, fingers idly picking at a loose thread on the couch pillows.

“How?” He asks, shifting a bit to get a little more comfortable.

“He was putting holes in the condoms we used, and I got pregnant.”

Pregnant. He’s silent now. And still, listening as he speaks. Not wanting her to stop talking. This is important, he knows. It’s the slow way she speaks. The hardness behind the words. The trace of sadness. Hurt. It’s all there.

Liz closes her eyes, remembering how she’d felt. There was no joy in it. No celebration. Only fear. And it was the fear that had her throwing up, not morning sickness.

“When I told Montgomery about it, he was so happy. But I wasn’t. And then I heard him talking to someone, one day about it—a friend of his. And I heard him say I was pregnant, then laugh…talking about how he did it.”

It was a late night, and she’d come to his office. He’d buzzed her in and let her up, but forgot his door was cracked as he finished the conversation.

“I was pissed. Livid. I confronted him. We fought. He didn’t deny it, and told me he did it because he loved me. I was at 10 weeks. It took another one to find a provider. And I went by myself, because he refused. He told me I was selfish. I’d go to hell. And maybe I will. But at the end of the day, no matter what—we’re the ones who raise children. The responsibility is always on us. And I wasn’t ready to be a mother, nor was I ready to have a child with a man who would stoop so low as to do that to me. It showed me who Montgomery was. Is. A selfish, entitled asshole.”

“So why…why did you still sleep with him, then?”  

 “Because he was …familiar.”

Familiar.

It’s the same reason he slept with someone he didn’t really care for, too. Just something to knock the edge off. Because she wasn’t there either.  They share a soft kiss, and she snuggles back into his arms.

“Do you want to have kids, Liz?”

She shakes her head. “No. Because I don’t want to be a single mom. I don’t want to go it alone. And I’m not willing to make the sacrifices that come with it.” Like her job. Her career. She tells him this. Tells him how hard she had to work. “Ten times better and harder to get half as much.” The time spent on overnight shifts, the murder scenes, having to argue for stories because her superiors thought she couldn’t do them because, “you’re just a girl.” At 24, 25, 26—still being called “girl.”

So she found a beat. Politics. Healthcare. Education. Quickly jumped in it. A one-woman machine covering what others wouldn’t. “I made myself invaluable. Indispensable.” And the climb started. The awards came. Stringer. Reporter. Producer. Assignment Editor. Assistant News Director.

“When I started, I made $28,000 a year with $40,000 in student loans,” she says. “Now, I make six figures, I own my condo and my car outright, I have no debt, and the only person I owe is myself. I didn’t have help. Support, yes, from my family. But not help. There’s a difference.” Because her mother raised her children to be independent and self-reliant. How to hustle. “There is no guarantee your family will always be around to help you.” Rose had said.

They fall back into silence, and Travis is still, working through all the things she’s told him. But the one that stands out the most is children. She doesn’t want them. Doesn’t want them because she thinks she has to do it alone. Because she thinks she’d have to give up too much.

The sacrifice. Is this what he’d asked of Katheryn, too? To give up what she worked for? He didn’t understand her rejection at the time, but seeing through Liz’s eyes, Travis starts to get it.

He takes a closer look around and where they are. Liz’s condo is large. They’re up on a higher floor and she’s got a great view of the city. This sort of place isn’t cheap.  Why did he think she just rented? Maybe because it’s really all he’s done. He’s never bought anything outright, except his parent’s house and his beat up old truck. He never stayed any place long enough to consider ownership.

But Liz…

Even her earrings—the ones he thought someone else had bought for her. Real.

And her car…he’d just assumed it was leased. Now he knows it’s not. And that sort of ride isn’t cheap either.

What would he do if the roles were reversed? If he was asked to drop everything, give up everything.

“I worked hard too,” he tells her, holding her a bit tighter. “But I failed a lot.”

Failed TV pilots. Failed movies. Failed shows. One episode. A guest appearance here. A small credit there. “I came here to be an actor. I ended up being a prostitute.”

That’s what it felt like. Like he’d whore’d himself when they offered him a six-figure deal with the condition being that he’d have to model in his underwear…or, if he’s real with himself, nothing at all. Even now, the photos live in infamy online and it’s never been something he’s proud of.

“But it got me a visa and let me stay longer.”

He was naïve when he came, but he learned quickly. The leering advances of women. But the men were worse. God was he grateful when he landed that first film. It got him out of modeling, but got him in bed with another set of sharks. Trading one type of hell for another. Still he stuck it out because by that point he’d already failed at too many things—failed in college (a drop out), failed at football (broken leg), and bartending—well, he knew he couldn’t do that forever.

“Now I feel like this…it’s my last shot. And if I don’t do anything with it, then I’m just….” A failure. And THAT’s his fear. Of not doing anything worthwhile or notable with his life. It’s not about fame, it’s about proving himself worthy of something other than the mostly shit end of the stick he’s been given. The money has always come, but not in ways that have always allowed him to feel pleased with himself.  

“That’s the difference between you and me,” Liz says quietly, gently, her fingers laced through his.  “You had the luxury of failing. Failure, for me, is not an option. Failure to me, is ruin.”

“This show is the first time I can honestly look in the mirror and be okay with what I do,” he tells her.  “So I’m doing everything I can before it slips away.” Because he knows himself. Knows what he is and isn’t capable of. He’s working so he can stop and finally get some enjoyment—some peace. And it’s close. A few more jobs, another year or two…he’s almost there. But that’s just the half of it.

“I know you don’t want kids, Liz, but…I do.”

She stops breathing a moment. Feeling…uncertain. All this time Travis has been talking and she’s just been listening, taking it all in, hearing the regret, the frustration the yearning...all these things, she understands, empathizes with. She had thought him somewhat entitled…but they’re far more alike than what she’d initially believed. But this…this is where they diverge.

“I loved Katheryn,” he starts slowly, the emotion starting to seep through. His voice becomes lower. More gritty.  “I loved her, and I thought she loved me. I told her I wanted to marry her, start a family. She told me no…she loved her work more.”

 “It hurt. Screwed with my head. I just figured…doing that again, it wasn’t worth it.”

Rejection and failure. The thing he’s most afraid of.

Both people have to be willing to make sacrifices,” she says, looking at the wall in front of them. “Not just one. I just don’t want to be by myself. I want a real partner. A real friend. I don’t want equality. I want equity. And no, they’re not the same.”

It’s quiet in the apartment. She’s leaning against his chest, his arms around her. What had felt so simple just days ago is now so much more complicated.

.

.

Liz is asleep when he slips out of bed and walks to the kitchen naked. This is how she ran out of groceries so quickly. He’s a night eater. The fridge has been re-stocked and he’s presently rooting through it when the front door opens, startling him. He drops the pickles and they shatter on Liz’s tiled floor. The lights come on and Kelli comes through the door and looks at him.

And screams.

Liz hears the sound of something shattering coupled with a scream from the living room and scrambles into a robe, tying it around her body as she makes her way into the hall.

“What the—“

She comes to a stop when she sees her sister standing by the front door.

Kelli? What the hell are you doing here at 11 o’clock at night?”

Liz is glaring at her sister, but Kelli isn’t really paying attention, more focused on something in the kitchen. Liz follows her line of sight to see…

Travis…presently hiding behind the refrigerator door. Butt naked.

Kelli looks from him to her sister, to Travis and back to Liz again, mouth open in shock. Because she can’t really un-see what she just saw and…well…what she saw was pretty fucking fantastic.

“Kelli Dubek! What the HELL are you doing here?’ Liz draws her attention back and Kelli sees her sister is absolutely livid, her arms folded across her chest. Finally, Kelli tears her eyes away from Travis and the kitchen and looks at Liz, sheepishly.

“I’ve been calling you all day but you didn’t answer the phone,” she says, trying not to laugh. “I needed a dress for tonight.”

“And you decided that 11 was a good time to come get one?”

“I figured you weren’t home!”

“Well, clearly I’m here.”

“Yeah. And so is he.” Kelli points to the kitchen where Travis is still behind the open door of the refrigerator.

Liz rolls her eyes.

“Kelli, turn around and shut your eyes. Travis, come out from behind the refrigerator, please.”

She does and he does-- quickly ducking into her room.

“You can turn around now.”

Kelli does and goes to her sister. “Sooo….?” She’s looking at Liz, noting her sister is naked under her robe.

“So, what?” Liz isn’t giving. She’s still pissed about all this.

Travis comes plodding back to the living room in shorts, acting completely unfazed where five minutes before, he’d been hiding behind the open refrigerator door.

“Hi Kelli.” He smirks at her, though.

“Hey Travis.” Kelli laughs and goes to the bedroom, taking a deep breath before she enters it.

The covers are on the floor and it’s hot. Humid. She laughs to herself, going through Liz’s closet quickly and finding what she wants. When she comes back out, Travis is standing behind her sister, pulling Liz against him, and they’re kissing, quietly.

“Bye sis, Bye Travis. It was great seeing all of you.” 

Liz shakes her head as Kelli leaves.

“What were you doing in the kitchen, anyway?” She asks.

 He shrugs.

“A snack, but…” his eyes wander over Liz and his hands carefully undo the belt on her robe. The garment slips off her shoulders and down to the floor.

“I think I’m in the mood for something else, now.” He picks her up and carries her to the kitchen standing her back down and turning her around.

“You’ll do,” Travis tells Liz, his tongue trailing up her back. Eyes fall on the tattoo here. He traces it, now understanding exactly what it means. And swearing to himself that she’ll never be in that position again.

Chapter Text

Chapter 12

August Continued

“I promise I’ll call you when I land,” he says. They’re at the international terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson, and she’s gone with him inside. But it’s at the security point that she has to stay back. Travis pulls her close and hugs her placing a gentle kiss on her lips.

“I’m going to miss you,” he says, nuzzling her neck and inhaling her scent. He knows it well by now. Vanilla and cocoa butter. So sweet.

“I’m going to miss you too,” Liz tells him, her face in his chest. She looks up at him.

Travis has on an orange beanie hat, his hair is short, still growing out from the shave sticking out underneath and she knows he didn’t comb it. The jacket is black and fitted. But of course, the jeans are old and he’s got on a pair of beat up Vans that have clearly seen better years. Still, it doesn’t diminish what Liz sees, and what she sees is his smile, the one that makes his eyes crease and twinkle.

She stokes his beard.

“You know I love it when you do that,” he puts his head down into her shoulder, still holding her. They had sex that morning, but already he’s craving her again.

“I better go before you’re naked in the concourse.”

She laughs and gets another kiss before they finally detangle themselves from each other. He bends down to grab his backpack, throwing it over his shoulder before stealing a final smooch from Liz’s lips.

She taps him on the chest watching as he walks off.

Kelli calls her while she’s on the way back from the airport.

“On my way to your place,” her sister says. “I need to give you back your clothes.”

The sisters pull up at the same time and Kelli follows her inside, putting a stack of clothes on Liz’s couch.

“I got them all dry cleaned,” she says, explaining.

“Thanks.”

Liz is still pissed at Kelli’s drop-in visit two nights ago. Damn near hostile, really.

“You don’t have to be such a bitch about it. I’m sorry, okay? I called—you didn’t answer and you AWLAYS answer. WHAT was I supposed to think?” Kelli’s sitting on the couch, arms crossed. Reluctantly, Liz gives. Kelli is right about that. She does always answer the phone. She sits next to her sister.

“So…miss him yet?”

Liz nods, quietly.

“I bet you do. Your entire apartment reeks of sex.” At that, Liz jumps up from the couch and opens up all the windows and the balcony door, allowing fresh air to waft through. Kelli laughs.

 “I’m JUST messing with you sis, God, you’re such a prude. And you totally didn’t say he was a hoodie!!! Hell, I’m surprised I didn’t see any condoms in your trash can the other night.”

At that, Liz pauses mid-movement.

Oh holy hell…she had meant to go to the CVS after the breakage but forgot …that was…six days ago….

“I gotta go.”

Liz is grabbing for her purse and keys and is almost running out the door. Kelli follows, confused as all get out. “Wait for me!”

 They quickly walk the two blocks and enter the CVS on the corner where Liz makes a beeline for the pharmacy section. She comes back with two green and purple boxes shrouded in a hard plastic container.

Kelli doesn’t say a word. And she stays quiet when they get back to her sister’s place and she watches Liz rip the boxes open and pop the pill.

“There’s only one in here?” Liz laments, before ripping the second box open and downing that pill too.

“Um…sis…”

“What?” She snaps at Kelli, reaching for a bottle of water and chasing the pills down. Kelli is watching and grinning.

“I don’t think two will really change anything for you. What the hell did you two DO?”

But it’s not funny. Liz has already read the label, and she’s just hoping that 72 hours times two pills will become 144 hours which would cover the six days its been since the condom broke.

Her cycle is due in another two weeks and she’s praying hard for it to come.

.

.

September

“Hey, I’m here,” she’s curled up on her couch, leaning in to the sound of Travis’ voice on the other end of the line.

“How’s it going?”

He laughs. “Well, wardrobe is pissed at me,” he tells her.

“Why?”

“Because apparently I gained weight.”

At that, Liz snorts. “I TOLD you you were eating me out of house and home.”

“I could get used to that. Being fed every day.”

She grins. “Oh stop, Mufa. You act like you’ve been starved. What’s your schedule looking like?”

He laughs at her nickname for him. When he asked what it meant she’d told him it was short for  “Mufasa.” The Lion King.

“We’re going straight through. I probably won’t get much time until sometime around November. Most of the cast is American though, so seems like they want…what do you call it? Thanksgiving?”

Her heart jumps. A break. In November. “We’re going to Arkansas for Thanksgiving. Do you want to come?” She knows he’d love it. And maybe then would be a good time to introduce Travis to her family. If they’re serious about this thing, she knows it will have to be done. And at this stage of the game, it’s been more than a year they first met.

He thinks about it. Liz has told him a lot about Arkansas and he thinks it’s something he’d like to see.

“Would I get to meet your family?” He asks.

“Yes. But I warn you, they’re loud, and have no filter.”

He laughs. “I like honest people.”

She smiles to herself.

“So, how are you, love?” At that, the smile fades.

“I’ve got a doctor’s appointment tomorrow,” she tells him. There must have been something in her voice. His drops a little lower. It’s just a 10 minute break on set and he’s got to be back in three.

“Something to discuss tonight? Is there a problem?”

“No! No…just a checkup,” Liz says. But it’s a little too quick and Travis frowns, not buying that for a moment. It’s definitely something to talk about that night.

“I’ll call you back when we wrap up, okay?”

 “Please don’t worry. It’s fine. I’ll talk to you later, alright?”

She hangs up and he goes back to the reading session. Paula looks over at him.

“Everything okay? You look…pensive,” she says. He shakes it off. “Nothing. I’m good.” It’s not like he’s going to tell her. While they got close during the first movie, a lot has changed since then. Before, he was rebounding from Katheryn. She was rebounding from Robin. But their relationship was never more than physical. And he’s not one to discuss things that are personal. And Liz…well….she’s personal.

Liz is laying in bed when her phone rings. Travis.

 “Tell me what’s wrong. And please don’t lie to me.”

Because it’s the one thing he absolutely hates—people lying and keeping things from him.  There’s no playfulness in his voice and Liz understands immediately. And so, she tells him.

“I’m late.”

“For what?”

There it is, that momentary obliviousness. She exhales and rephrases. “My cycle is a few days late. It hasn’t come.”

It’s a moment before Travis speaks again. This time, he’s more careful with his words.

“Um…” Silence. “How many days has it been?”

“A week.”

“Oh,” Shit. He’s trying to figure out what next. “Have you taken any tests?”

 “Several. They were inconclusive.” The lines failed. The checkmarks failed. Even the yes/no failed. All were duds.

He can tell she’s a little annoyed with his questions. But truth be told…this isn’t unwelcome. To be honest, now that he’s gotten it out of her, it’s got his imagination going…if she was, he wouldn’t mind it. Actually…its’ already flitted across his head more than once. He just hasn’t said anything to her…

“Alright, let’s see what happens. Can you call me when you’re done?”

“Yes.”

“Liz…”

“Goodnight, Travis.”

She hangs up and rolls over in her bed, trying and failing to control her growing anxiety. She was terse with him, slightly angry but in truth, it’s really not his fault. They did everything correctly, it was an accident. Intellectually, she understands this. But…it’s the ‘what if?’ that’s got her mind racing and she realizes in the moment that she’s absolutely terrified of getting a positive. She’s not ready. Nowhere near ready for that. She wasn’t ready three years ago and she’s still not ready now. The idea of it is terrifying.

But the thoughts keep coming and chase her into a restless sleep.

.

.

It’s Tanya who catches her heaving out her breakfast in the women’s restroom.

“Liz! Oh shit. Are you okay?”

She waves Tanya off, reaching for a paper towel and wets it, to wipe her face.

“I’m fine. I think I’m coming down with something.”

“Then you should go to the doctor.” Tanya is worried. She walks Liz out of the bathroom and back to her office, helping her down in the chair and closing the doors.

 Once alone, Tanya waits as Liz gets herself together. After a few deep, shaky breaths, she looks at her friend. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. Now, the doctor.”

“I’ve got an appointment in a few hours.”

“Good. I hope you’re not contagious. You’ll get the whole office sick.”

At that, Liz chuckles, the laughter momentarily overriding the anxiety. “I don’t think it’s that kind of sick,” she says before realizing the words are out of her mouth. She covers her lips with her hands but it’s too late. Tanya has caught it.

“Now wait one motherfuckin’ minute,” Tanya says, taking a long, hard look at Liz. She’s counting backward, recalling the arrival of the flowers, and Liz’s week-long “vacation”. Three weeks.

“Are you?”

Liz shakes her head. “I don’t know. That’s why the appointment.”

How don’t you know? There’s tests for this stuff, Liz. You’re acting blonde.”

“Tanya,” Liz grits her teeth. “I tried them. Some say yes, some say no. So there.”

 “And what about him? Does he know?”

I don’t even know. So no, he doesn’t. He knows I’m going to the doctor, though.”

Tanya sighs, looking at Liz. She really wants to know who this guy is. Aside from catching a glimpse of him last year, Liz has been cagey as hell. But this—this is so far out of character for her friend. Liz is careful. Contemplative. She doesn’t make a move until she’s near certain how it’s going to end up. And so for her to end up in this predicament…Tanya isn’t quite sure now whether she likes this new guy or hates him. At least with Montgomery, Liz had never lost her cool. Now though, the cracks are starting to come through. Not that anyone else would notice. She is still put together as always. But she’s caught her boss daydreaming way too much. And the throwing up in the bathroom is on a whole new level.. Extended lunches…Vacations—not that Liz doesn’t have the time, but she’s never used it before. So either this guy is real or he’s a fraud and Tanya is wary.

“Liz…who is he? Because, no offense, but you haven’t been you in months. And I’m getting worried.”

.

.

It’s noon, and she’s in the paper thin gown, waiting on something definitive. Yes, or no. She’s really hoping it’s no, because that way, she won’t have to tell Travis anything tonight and they can go on and move on and it’ll all be good. Tanya is with her, sitting in the guest chair and reading a book. She had relented when her friend insisted. And it’s better than having Kelli or Rose here. Her sister, she knows, would have ratted to Travis already and she knows Rose would be looking at her in silent judgement. Neither are welcome.

Dr. Taylor comes back in.

“It’s been a long time, Elizabeth,” he says with a smile. He’s their family OBGYN. Her mother’s doctor, he had delivered Kelli and Liz has gone to him for years.

“Yes. I know. I’ve been negligent.”

He smiles, gently. “That’s alright. We’ve sent you off for lab work, but there is something I’d like to discuss with you.”

Oh no. It can’t be good. She’s nervous now and casts a glance at Tanya.

“Do you want me to leave?” Her friend asks. “Liz shakes her head and takes a breath. “No. Okay, Dr. Taylor. Tell me. Am I pregnant or not?”

He nods. “Technically yes.”

Her leg is shaking on the pedestal that’s attached to the bed. “What does that mean?” It’s quiet. He takes a seat in front of her. Talking slowly, clearly so that she understands each word.

“So, there’s an egg there. And it’s fertilized,” Dr. Taylor says. “But there’s nothing in it. No fetus. Nothing is developing. We call it a blighted ovum.”

She’s terrified. “Does that mean I’m miscarrying?” It’s near panic. A scenario she never imagined. Tanya comes over and rubs her back, quietly.

“Your body will get rid of it naturally,” he says. “It happens frequently during the first trimester. Most women don’t even notice, they just think it’s part of their natural cycle. Your body will expel it soon on its own.”

She thinks on it, feeling torn. There’s relief—because she knows she wasn’t ready. But she also wasn’t ready for this and Liz can’t help but feel…

“Is this my fault? Because of the abortion? Did I do it to myself?”

But Dr. Taylor shakes his head. “It has nothing to do with that,” he tells her, reassuringly. “It happens all the time. Nearly 1-in-4 pregnancies, and up to 50 percent of first trimester miscarriages. This isn’t your fault, Elizabeth.”

But it doesn’t ease the guilt. And she also doesn’t want to tell Travis.

Tanya looks at her.

“You need to go home. I’ve got the office. Come on, Liz.” Quietly she gets up and dresses, and Tanya follows her home, making sure she gets into bed.

.

.

“Liz?”

“Hey.”

It’s wrong. Everything about this is wrong. Liz sounds upset. Like she’s been crying, or trying not to.

Her normally clear voice is hoarse. Deep. He doesn’t like it.

“What’s wrong, love?”

As soon as he says it, he hears a choked sob. And when she speaks, it’s jumbled. He catches a few words. But not the ones he wanted to hear.

Bloody hell.

“I’m on the way.”

Travis gets to Atlanta in record time. He knocks before using the key she gave him last time.

“Liz?” It’s quiet and he puts his bag down by the door before walking down the hall to her room. He knocks gently again and goes in. She’s asleep on the bed and he settles down next to her. Touching her gently. She stirs, and blinks groggily.

“Travis?”

“Hey, I’m here.”

Liz sits up, looking at him, confused. She’s not fully awake and is trying to figure out whether she’s dreaming.

“Travis?”

“Yes, love.” He kisses her cheek and when he does, the tears she’s been trying not to drop start falling.

He doesn’t say anything, just hugs her and holds her as she weeps silently.

.

.

Her cycle comes a few days later. It’s a lot more painful than usual, but not enough to stop her from going to work. So she does. It’s a miserable week, but she makes it through. Liz and Travis haven’t talked since the night he came. He’d left a day later, at her insistence, though she knows, he hadn’t wanted to go.

When he calls, she exhales slowly before picking up the phone.

“Liz…”

“Travis.”

“Stop it.”

“Stop what?”

“Jesus….” He runs his hands through his hair. He knows damn well Liz isn’t okay. He knew it when he left her but she’d kicked him out and he’s been trying to just give her space to breathe.

“Look, are you off for Columbus day?”

She nods, then, realizing he can’t see her, speaks. “Yes.”

“Can you come out here?” Because he wants to take care of her, and he can’t. The only way is to bring Liz to him. If she’ll come.

“Come on, love.” He goes for the soft approach. Slightly cajoling. “I miss you.”

She misses him too. She just…doesn’t really want to see him right now.

“Let me think about it.”

Think about it.

What the hell?  He’s still thinking about it the next day when Paula walks up to him on set.

“Hey. What the hell happened to you? You don’t like me anymore?” She’s smiling as she says it, still decked out in green body paint.  And right about now, it’s not a matter of like. He’s fucking frustrated. With Liz. With the situation. If she doesn’t care, then why should he?”

“nah,” He gives Paula a grin, slipping an arm around her waist. “I still like you. Wanna know how much?”

She laughs and pushes him back.

“I do…later tonight?”

“Sure.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 12

 “Who is Liz?”

At that, his eyes open and he looks right at Paula who is staring at him.

Not Liz. Paula… He sits on the edge of the bed, head down, trying to get his shit together. Stave off the guilt that’s just rolling off him in waves. Trying to justify what the hell he was about to do. He can’t blame it on alcohol. Can’t blame it on drugs. Can’t blame it on anything but himself.

He and Liz didn’t commit. There’s no formal arrangement between them. They just promised to meet up. She’s not his girlfriend. He’s not her boyfriend…

It’s all so very weak. A weak ass excuse where he has absolutely none.

 “Who. Is. Liz?” Paula is up now too, putting her clothes back on. And he can tell, she’s pissed at him. Livid really.

But he’s not going to answer that. All he tells her is “sorry.”

She rolls her eyes, disgusted as she storms out, slamming the door.

He tries to call Liz. But she doesn’t pick up. Instead, he gets a text.

“I need to deal with this on my own.”

So she’s not coming.

He falls back on the bed, just staring at the ceiling. None of this was supposed to happen. They were careful…rather, SHE was careful. The condom wasn’t supposed to break. Liz wasn’t supposed to get pregnant. She definitely wasn’t supposed to miscarry.

Did he do something wrong to deserve this sort of pain? They didn’t commit. No spoken promises except for one…to try. They were trying, not dating…and he didn’t do it…so WHY does he feel so guilty?

Fuck.

Travis strongly doubts Liz is the type of woman to forgive and forget. Maybe she’ll never know. And he will NEVER tell. He will take night to the grave with him.

But if she finds out…if she asks…he won’t lie to her.

It’s a catch-22. He’s stuck.

There really is no choice but to suck it up. He knows it’s not Liz’s fault. It’s no one’s fault. It just…happened. But it doesn’t make it any better. Because a loss is a loss. No matter how hard he tries to justify it.

Real men don’t cry.

 

 

October

It’s been a month. He’s called once a week for the past four. Enough to let her know he’s still here, but not enough to overwhelm her.  He’s been trying to give her space. Each time, the phone has gone to voicemail.  Today, it doesn’t. She finally answers. 

“Hey, Liz.”

“Hi, Mufa.”

Mufa. He’s Mufa again. At the sound of her voice, he exhales a month’s worth of tension, and smiles.

 “How are you, Lovie?”

“Better. It’s just…I needed some time.”

Time. What she has, and he doesn’t.  “Do you have a day or two, soon?”

Liz shifts in her sofa chair, legs tucked under her.  “Yes. I can take off a few days here, soon.” She didn’t come last month when he asked. It was too much, too soon after. But she’s okay now, having made peace with it. There wasn’t a baby. What her body expelled, it wasn’t that, just an empty sack. It had taken a bit to try to wrap her head around what happened, but after doing a bit more research, that knowledge alone has made her feel better. Like she didn’t miss her last chance. That she didn’t blow it.  

Travis offers to pay for the flight, but she declines. She doesn’t want him paying for everything. And he did treat her to Ireland. She can get Canada.

Tanya drops her off at the airport a few days later.

“Canada?” Tanya asks, eyebrow raised.

“Yes. I’ll be back Sunday night. Turnaround trip.”

Tanya shakes her head. “First Ireland. Now Canada. And he works in tv and/or film….do you need me to pick you up?”

Liz nods. “Can you? My flight gets back at 10.”

“Sure thing. Be safe, girl.”

Three hours later and she’s walking out of customs. Travis is there, waiting for her by baggage claim. And as soon as he sees her, he scoops her into his arms.

She burrows her face into his chest, inhaling.

He’s still furry, his hair much longer and completely wild. The beard, too.

Gently, he brushes a wisp of curls away from her face to study her closely. Liz’s hair is different again, a head full of silky, curly ringlets. He pulls one down, then releases it, watching it bounce. A different style. She’s like a chameleon when it comes to her hair. He loves that.

People rush past them, coming and going. But they are still, holding on to each other until someone bumps Travis and pushes him against Liz.

“Let’s get out of the way,” he says, placing a hand against her back and walking them toward the exit. A car pulls up and they climb in and begin driving away from the airport. After 20 or so minute ride out of the city a large, white building starts to rise and as the car draws closer, Liz begins to see rows and rows of Winnebagos and trailers surrounding it. Travis directs the driver through the maze and the car comes to a stop in front of one. They climb out the car and Liz follows him as he unlocks the door and steps inside.

She takes a look around. It’s nice in here. The trailer is surprisingly spacious, and unexpectedly luxurious, with wood floors, separate bedroom, kitchen and living spaces and--she’s relieved to see—a real bathroom with a shower. Once the door closes, Travis takes Liz in his arms again.

It’s like heaven.

Neither realized how much they missed the other. Until their clothes come off, and he’s kissing all over Liz’s body, seeking both deliverance and forgiveness between her legs.

It’s a lot more intense. More intense than anything she’s ever felt before. He’s rougher with her, hand around her neck, pulling on her hair…teeth on her skin…

They’re bent over on the bed, and he’s taking her from behind. All she can do is scream from the force, and try to keep up. Travis isn’t gentle. And the orgasm that hits is so strong he collapses on her back, breathing hard in her ear, mouth still on her and pushing gently, still coming.

“I’m so glad you came,” he breathes.

Only when she comes down from her climax does she feel something wet on her cheeks. Tears. He manages to slip off her and pull Liz close, taking the time to gently wipe them away.

.

.

They lay together quietly, enjoying the post-sex high. She’s curled against his body one hand idly massaging his balls. He flinches and grabs her hand when a finger slides down a bit lower though.

“Liz!”

She snickers and gives him innocent eyes. “I didn’t do anything.”

His lips press against her forehead. “Sure you didn’t.” Travis exhales, feeling fully relaxed for the first time in weeks. He squeezes her to him. “I missed you.”

A smile. “I bet you did.”

He looks at her out of the corner of his eye.

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yes.” Liz props herself up on her arm, looking down at him, hand on his chest.  “I didn’t mean to disappear on you. I just had to deal with it on my own.”

“I’m sorry too. I let you go too easily. I shouldn’t have.”

She traces his lips, his nose, his cheeks with her finger. “You look terrible,” Liz says quietly before kissing him. He’s been brooding. It’s in the bags under his eyes. Travis looks like something’s weighing on him. He looks older. Exhausted.

She sits up and he does too.

“What’s wrong?” By now, she knows him. Knows his temperament, his moods. And he knows hers. They can both tell when something is off. And her intuition is screaming right now that something is very off. He looks away.

 “I know how you feel about kids. But, I was sort of hoping...” His quiet reply stops her and Liz freezes a bit at his confession.

“I want a baby, Liz. And I want one with you.”

This is what has been eating at him the past few weeks. That fact Liz abandoned him to deal with her grief privately and leaving him alone to cope with his. And he did it badly.

“Travis,” she sighs, pulling the blankets around her chest.  She knows what he wants. He’s told her. But only now is she realizing the depths of it. She knows he feels like he’s running out of time. But… “I don’t want a rush, nor do I want to be rushed,” she says, looking down into his face, as he looks up into his.

 “We weren’t ready. this time. I wasn’t ready.” Liz tells him, putting a soft kiss on his lips. Their fingers lace together.

At that, he draws a breath and rests his head against her chest so she can’t see the hurt look in his eyes. But she raises his face back to hers.

“It’s not no,” Liz kisses him again. “But I want us to be ready. To be settled. To know for sure where we’re going…what we’re doing. I don’t even know what we are to each other.”  

They kiss again, and she lets him deepen it. And when he lowers her onto her back, and gets between her legs, she bites her lip and embraces him, because he’s everything she didn’t ask for, what she wanted, but didn’t really know she needed until he showed up.

This time, he’s gentle. Tender.

These are the things that make or break couples. And they’re both grateful and relieved that they bent... but didn’t break.

.

.

The next morning they finally leave his trailer and as they’re walking to the sound stage they bump right into Paula.

“Hey Travis,” she says with a husky drawl. He pulls Liz against his side and she looks at him, surprised by the movement. His body has gone from relaxed to tense.

“I don’t think I’ve met you,” Paula says looking at her with a smile that Liz doesn’t quite buy. When she met Katheryn, the woman had radiated warmth, realness…but Paula… she extends a hand to Liz. And Liz shakes it.  

 “Elizabeth Dubek.”

“Oh! Are you a fan of Travis’s? He loves his fans.”

It’s said with something that makes her bristle, and she’s about to say something when he steps in.

“No. She’s not my fan,” he tells Paula, his voice hard. “Liz is my girlfriend.”

Liz looks up at him, surprised. It’s the first time he’s called her that. The first time there’s been a label on what they are.

At that, Paula looks at him, also surprised. “Since when? The last two weeks?” They stare at each other, and Liz looks between the two of them, trying to gauge exactly what’s going on.

“Liz?” Paula starts laughing, looking at her again. “So you’re Liz. Oh girl…I hope you know where he’s been.”

“What the hell was that about?” She asks once he’s got them alone. But he won’t answer her.

“Travis?”

“We fooled around a few times,” he tells her quickly, watching Liz’s face. “It was when we shot the first movie.”

“And how about recently?” She’s not dumb. “The last two weeks?”

He shakes his head quickly looking around them.

“Can we talk about this…elsewhere?”

She’s already dreading it. They walk back to his trailer and when the door closes, she turns on him.

“What the hell did you do?”

“Liz…”

“Oh no…” She shakes her head, already backing up from him as if he has the plague. Travis is blocking the door not allowing her to leave.

“Let me explain.”

“I’d love to see you try.” It’s biting. Accusatory.  Liz is now sitting on the couch staring at him, her face completely blank, arms crossed. Legs too. And he’s quickly brought back to dinner night in Atlanta—when she’d given him the same look as he basically begged her for a second shot. Now, he’s begging for more than that.

 “I know what it sounds like. And I know what it looks like. Liz, I swear I committed to you. And I’m with you. I need you to believe that. To believe me.”

They stare at each other. And it’s a moment before Travis starts talking again.

“I’ve not been the most responsible person or exercised the best choices, and Paula’s not the first woman nor will she be the last that you’re likely to run into. It’s just like you and Montgomery, remember that?”

She does. And Travis stood up for her then, and now.  

“So what does this mean? What are we?”

“I’m yours, if you’ll have me,” he tells her. “And I want you to be mine.”

“Travis…” she looks at him long and hard.

“I don’t do cheating. I don’t do open relationships. If you’re serious. Then be serious. But if you’re not, we might as well quit now.”

.

.

Paula’s not speaking to him outside of their shared scenes, but that’s fine. It’s not like she’s on his list of favorite people and while he knows he was wrong for what he did, she didn’t have to go after Liz. That was foul. And what it revealed to him was a side of her he won’t soon forget. It’s not they were in a relationship.

“You know what’s funny?” Liz says as she lays in bed, talking to him on the phone. It’s been a few weeks since she left Canada and there are a few more until Thanksgiving.

“What?” He asks, laying on his back on the floor of the camper, staring at the ceiling. He fell off a horse today, and right now, his body is still reeling from the impact. The icy hot is starting to work its magic. He’s really getting too old for this shit.

“I’m not the type to call everyday,” she says repeating what she once told him.

At that, Travis chuckles, low.

“And I’m shit at relationships.”

Liz giggles.

They’ve talked nearly every day since May—aside from those couple of weeks. And they’ve definitely been in a relationship—one that’s now much more solidified. He knows her secrets. She knows his. Their fears. Their hopes. Once separate…but starting to blend together.

“I forgot to ask you…any special food requests? For Thanksgiving?”

“Anything is good.”

“We can do that.”

“So…where am I flying into?”

She thinks on it. “Well, two choices. Little Rock is closer, but Memphis is cheaper.”

“Whichever gets me to you the fastest.”

Liz grins. “And, you’re staying at the house with the rest of us. But remember. My family is big. And Loud. And they have no filters. Are you sure you still want to go through with this?”

It’s a big step for them both. The only other man who ever met her family was her high school boyfriend. That was 14 years ago. She’s never brought a man home.

“Yes,” Travis tells her. “I need to know what you’ll look like in another 30 years.”

“Only 30?”

“Well the average life span of an Australian man is 82.”

It’s the first time he’s tested these waters.

Hmm… Liz fake-ponders it. And when she replies, it’s cheeky. “So what will you do for the last 16?”

“Well, I did say that was the average.”

She laughs. He does too.

Chapter Text

November

The drive from Little Rock to Liz’s grandparents’ house takes about an hour and carries them out of the city, and into the country. Stately mansions transform into suburban bungalows, and the bungalows become brick houses. The houses slowly begin to turn into trailers…newer…and the new ones slowly become more and more dilapidated.

The fields are large, and wide…heavy farm equipment and giant tractors lay still among fallow grasses. It’s winter. Planting will start again in the Spring, harvests in the fall.

Population numbers dwindle the further they get out… 260,000. 100,000. 50,000. 10,000. 3,000. 825.

Cows are lazy. That at least, is something that never changes. They wander and graze. Sit complacently or walk casually across the land. Ad as they make a turn onto a dirt road, he notices the change.

“Are we in the mountains?”

“Technically,” Liz says as they bumble down the road. “This is where the Ozarks meet the Mississippi Delta.”

They pass a trailer on the left side with a burned out car out front and a Rebel flag across the front door. She sees him looking.

“They consider it heritage. My grandparents have never had any problems though.”

It’s all she says about that.

“The property line starts here.” Liz points to the creek beneath them as they cross over a small, one lane bridge and continue up the hill. “That too.” She points to the land on the left as the SUV rounds the corner. Another quarter mile and he sees a large, sprawling ranch house coming into view on the right.. Liz turns into the driveway, which is lined on either side by large vines.

“My grandpa’s hybrid grapes,” she says. “He’s still pissed that the raccoons got to them this year before he did.”

They stop and Travis gets out, taking a look around. They must be sitting on at least 50 acres, and that’s just what he can see around him. There’s a large garage  stand alone garage a few feet away and a swimming pool too. The back patio has an outdoor grill and three cars sit under a shed that’s been built out from the garage. The door opens and a light-skinned, older woman comes out with open arms.

“There’s my granddaughter! We’ve been calling you for the past half hour. Thought you got lost on your way back,” she says hugging Liz, then turning her attention to Travis.

“So you’re our new addition. Come here!” He gets pulled into a tight hug and hugs her back.

“I’m Ann.”

“Sal!!!” Her yell is loud and makes his ears ring. An older, slightly shorter man steps down, dressed in work boots, dirty jeans and a plaid shirt.

“Hey there. You must be Travis.” He says clasping Travis’s hand. The men shake. And Travis looks down at Sal’s hand.

“Strong grip,” the older man says approvingly. “Glad Liz didn’t choose a pussy.” He cackles and Travis laughs too, feeling instantly set at ease.

“Well, its getting cold. We got the fire started and the rest of them are in the house now,” Ann says waving them in.

Travis dips into the car again to get his bag and Liz takes his hand, guiding him into the house.

He’d thought it was large from the outside but when he steps in…

He’s hit with something unexpected. Homesickness. It reminds him of his home, back in Australia.

The house is well-built with wood paneling, and exposed wood beams on the ceiling. They walk into a foyer area with a pottery wheel and a table stacked with clay and sculpture in various stage of completion. And from the foyer, into a large kitchen surrounded with wooden cabinets. The house smells like wood and fire and pine and Earth. It’s a welcoming smell that stirs something deep within him and he fake coughs a moment—trying to choke back the absolutely raw emotions that rise fast.

If he could built a home for himself…it would be this. He’s not a religious man but the moment feels deeply spiritual. Like it did out at Lake Lanier.

They turn from the kitchen and step down into the den, where Travis first spots Kelli, seated on a dark leather sofa by the window. She jumps up when she sees him and comes running over, leaping on him.

“Travis!!!”

The force of Kelli’s pounce takes him to the ground and he laughs as she climbs off him but wraps him in a hug. Never has he been so happy to see her.

“Where the fuck have you been! You STILL owe me from Ireland and I’m collecting right now!”

He laughs as she lets him go.

“Books only, though. I’m not rich enough to afford your tuition.”

“That’s fine. I take PayPal, Cash App, direct transfer or cash. I don’t trust you with checks though.”

But she’s grinning and elbowing him.

When he looks up again, he sees Liz walking toward him. He blinks. But it’s not Liz. Rather, a slightly older version of her with a head full of silvery gray curls.

“Hi, I’m Rose,” she says coming and greeting him with a hug.

Rose. Liz’s mother. “So you’re the great Travis Frimmel. Welcome to the family.”

.

.

They get settled soon enough and Sal slips a beer into Travis’ hand. “Ann hates it, but hell, if we can’t drink what the hell can we do?” He grumbles. “Damn women like to control everything but you know what they say. Happy Wife, Happy Life.”

It’s a new expression to Travis. He takes a drink of his beer and sighs with absolute contentment. Liz had taken him on a short tour. The den, the formal living room with walls adorned with artwork and music festival posters. But his favorite spot had to be Sal’s library.

Artwork and carvings, antiques and collectibles from various countries. The four walls lined with shelves and books…the music…the record players…CD players…computers…photo albums, everything.

“I see why Liz loves it here,” he says. “I love it here. How many acres is this place?”

He and Sal are outside, seated on the steps leading to the pool which Travis has just discovered, is now home to exotic fish. Sal has converted it into a large fishtank. The old man throws some food in it and a group of large Coy swim up and start eating excitedly, their faces breaking the water.

“About 55 acres,” he says casually, then points.

“They’re selling that lot over there. But Ann is already bitching about mowing the front. She says we don’t need more but hell…God ain’t making more of it. Might as well get it while we can, the way I see it.”

He likes that.

The air is getting cool and the sun is starting to set across the horizon. They stare off into the backfield, and Travis can tell it’s in need of a bush hogging.

“Got a tractor?” He asks, casually.

“Yep. In the back of the shed there.”

“I can bush hog that, if you need me too,” He offers, hoping Sal will take him up on it. It’s been nearly two years since he went home to Australia and being here, right now…all he wants to do is take off and run into the back field and kiss the ground.

“Hey, I’ll never turn down free labor!” Sal grins and gives Travis a slap on the back and the two slip into quiet. After a while, Travis speaks.

“Liz said it was beautiful.” It comes out longing. This is his dream, manifested. This is what he’s working his ass off for. To be where her grandparents are now. Just a piece of land, and a home to call his own.

“It is,” Sal says, taking a swing of beer.

“Makes you marvel at the things God can do.”

.

.

They’re given the antique room and Travis settles down into the soft bed and promptly sinks. It’s very soft.

“A feather bed,” Liz explains. This frame used to belong to Huey Newton. He and my grandfather were friends.”

“Who was that?” He sounds important.

And so, Liz settles next to him, and starts to tell him the story. She tells him how her great grandparents all left the South and moved to California to raise their children. How her grandparents were members of the Black Panther Party. How she grew up in Oakland, California and, that when her great grandparents got older, they decided to come back home. And her grandparents followed. And so did she and her mom—when her father died.

“Do you still have family there? In California?”

Liz nods. “Yes. My other grandpa. My aunts.”

“Tell me more.”

So she does.

.

.

He’s out in the backfield on the tractor plowing away when he spots Liz walking up to him. Travis kills the engine and climbs down.

“Grandpa put you to work?” She says, smiling, arms crossed. He comes over and kisses her passionately. “Nah. This isn’t work. This is fun.” Liz laughs, grabbing his hand. “Well, my uncles just pulled in. Come meet them.”

So he follows her back up to the house. As soon as they walk in the noise level amps up significantly. The sound of loud laughter, the screams of little kids, the chatter… More of Liz’s family. Rose’s two brothers, their wives and a horde of children.

The little ones clamor for attention from their parents and as soon as Travis enters the smallest ones turn to him and run up to his legs, draping themselves onto him. He kneels to give them hugs, not wanting to leave them out of the circus.

Liz yells above the fray.

“Hey ya’ll!!! This is Travis!”

All at once, they turn to him and he’s swamped by arms. The brothers. The wives. The older kids.

“Nice to meet you, man. Hope you’re taking care of my niece, right.”

“You better not get her knocked up. Not ‘till there’s a ring on it.”

But there’s laughter and he grins.

“I’m doing the best I can. She’s a handful.”

He can’t help but notice the differences between everyone here. Robert, he learns, is the older brother. And his wife, Manaia is Samoan. “You gotta come visit the island,” Robert says. “The people, the food…the women…” He catches himself, looking at Liz. “Nix that last one. But the food is fantastic. It’s so peaceful. No gun violence, none of the crap you put up with here in the states. Everyone is kind.”

“Until they start drinking,” Rose says drily, walking up to her brother. “Stop trying to corrupt them.” She looks at Liz and Travis. “If you’re good with giant bugs and not getting a plane for weeks, then by all means. Have at it.”

They all laugh.

“Hey, Travis!” Andrews’s wife, Maureen, walks up giving him an elbow to the side. “Glad to see my ranks are growing.”

Andrew laughs. “Told you, Rose.” Liz’s mom rolls her eyes. “It’s not official yet. They’re not married.”

“What are they talking about?” Travis asks Liz. She rolls her eyes. “A longstanding family bet on the type of guy I’d marry. It’s a long story.”

The second day grows even later than the last, with the men slipping off to the patio, the women on the front porch and the kids in the den.

“So, Liz?” Ann looks at her granddaughter. “Travis seems like he’s getting along well. I think Sal just made a new friend.”

She shakes her head. “I think I’m now in competition with grandpa,” she says to a round of laughs.

“So, how long have you two been seeing each other?” Maureen asks.

“Um…well…we met last Summer in San Diego, and sort of lost touch.”

“I found him in Atlanta,” Kelli says grinning.

“And we reconnected again, but he left to go film. I didn’t hear from him for a few months but…”

“I found him again!”

Liz laughs. “Yes. Kelli was bound and determined. She set us up. I went to Ireland in May and well…we sort of decided to give this thing a try.”

“And it’s working out? Long distance is difficult,” Manaia says, eyeing her. She’s the quietest of the group, and speaks slowly, carefully.

Liz fiddles with the drink in her hand.

“It’s been…hard,” she says. “We had a few mishaps.”

At that, Kelli and Rose look at her.

“What…sort…of mishaps?” Her mother asks. The women grow quiet, waiting on Liz. She’s not certain she really wants to say it.

“Elizabeth…” Her grandmother nudges, softly, yet firmly. “Out with it.”

“We had an…accident when he came to visit in August. Um…we…got pregnant, but…it didn’t work out.”

At that, there’s silence. It’s so quiet the sound of cicadas and crickets grows even louder.

“Hmmm….” Ann leans back in the rocking chair, eyes closed, rocking gently. Rose comes over and Kelli does too, giving Liz a hug.

“It’s fine. Really. We’re okay. I’m okay.”

Kelli has tears in her eyes. “Sis, I’m sorry.”

Liz feels slightly uncomfortable. “You guys, please. We’re good. We know what we are and aren’t ready for. We’re just trying to take it slow. It was an accident. A mishap. We stopped using Durex after that.”

It’s a joke. Maureen is the first to catch it and starts laughing and slowly the others do too. But Ann notices as Liz talks her hand floats down to her stomach. And she recalls how happy Travis looked to be surrounded by the kids. She stays silent on that one, though. It’ll come when it comes.

“Well, at least I know you two are being smart about it,” her mother says.

.

.

“So, what do you do?” Andrew asks him as they all sit out on the patio. There’s a small fire going in the little pit, its heat countering the steadily dropping temperature. The beers in their hands are also helping. All are slightly buzzed off of Sal’s extremely potent home brew, except for the man himself.

“It’ll put hair on your chest.” He’d said.

“I think we all have enough of it dad,” Robert choked out on the first sip. They’re all smart enough to go slow. Except Sal, who is on his third one.

“I’m an actor.”

“That seems like an odd occupation for you,” Sal says, eyeing him. “Seems like you’re more at home here than on some television.”

Travis nods. “Yeah. I’m just trying to stay in the game long enough to get out of it.”

“Well, what do you want out of it?” Andrew asks.

Travis looks around at them. “I want this.” He motions around them.

“Just some land in the country, something of my own. A wife. Babies.”

“Hmm…” Sal thinks on it a bit. “And yet you’re trying for a Dubek,” he says. The men laugh. Travis doesn’t get it.

“It’s a tall order,” Andrew tells him, lighting a cigarette. Robert nods in agreement. “Yep.”

But Sal grins.

“Keep goin’ son. She’ll come eventually…if she hasn’t already.” He winks at the joke and there’s snickers all around.

.

.

The next morning, Travis wakes up alone, but the smell of something cooking makes his stomach growl. He gets up, throwing on a shirt, and comes plodding down the hall barefoot.

The women are all in the kitchen talking quietly, and working around an assortment of pots and pans. There are ingredients on the counter and something—he doesn’t know what—is already in the oven. Liz is first to spot him.

“Hey Mufa. Did we wake you?”

She wraps her arms around him and stands on tip toes for a kiss. He gives her one.

“Food woke me,” he says. “What are you all doing?”

Rose smiles at him. “Cooking. Early start.”

“But isn’t Thanksgiving tomorrow?”

Ann laughs. “It’s sweet you know nothing. This is tradition, Travis. Do you want some coffee? Breakfast is almost done.”

He nods and Liz goes to a cabinet and pulls down a cup.

“Better get yours before grandpa wakes and kills us all,” she says.

Maureen shakes her head. “That black crude he makes is disgusting.”

Travis takes his coffee and sort of stands, unsure of what to do or where to go next.

“Can I help?”

They all look at him.

“Hmm…actually, if you want to…Sal forgot to get the greens last night,” Ann says. “Can you go to the green house and pull about six bushels? And if you’re into it, I think the guys were talking about trying to go hunting, today.”

He goes back to the room and trades his shorts for jeans and throws on a jacket and boots before walking outside. The hour is early and its still dark—5:30 a.m. But the greenhouse is glowing, casting a faint light and illuminating the way. He fiddles with the door, trying to figure out how Sal’s got it rigged and eventually opens it.

Here, there are cactuses and pineapple trees in tubs. Various plants that Sal has moved inside for the winter. In the back he finds four rows of large collard plants, their leaves thick and lush and stretching up and wide.

He pulls six and carries the armful back into the house. By the time he gets in, the rest of the men are awake.

Robert and Andrew hover over their wives, touching on them and Sal is busy trying to pinch Ann’s butt. She swats his hand away and he growls at her. Liz’s grandparents must be in their 70’s but its so clear, they’ve got the sort of love that’s rooted in something deep. Ann feeds Sal a bite of the casserole that’s just come out of the oven. Liz grabs a fork and stabs it, coming over to Travis.

He opens his mouth for it.

“mmm…”

There’s eggs and potatoes and sausage and onions…

“Plate?”

He nods and she goes and comes back to him with one. Maureen and Manaia make ones for Robert and Andrew, and Ann fixes Sal’s. The men move off with their food to the dining room, leaving the women to work.

“Are you a hunting man?” Sal asks between bites. Travis nods.

“What do you prefer? Gun or bow?”

“I can use either. I prefer a gun though.”

“Good. I’ve got some deer up there in the back field. Sons of bitches keep eating my fig trees. Need to scare ‘em. Show ‘em who’s dominant. They’ve gotten too comfortable. This isn’t some ‘all you can eat’ buffet.”

They laugh. After food, he comes back to kiss Liz on the cheek. “I’m going hunting.”

She smiles, putting a hand to his cheek. “Have fun. Just please, do it humanely, alright?”

He nods and steals another from her lips before loping off with Sal, Robert and Andrew.

Her aunts, mother, grandmother and sister all look at her.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Kelli says, going back to peeling sweet potatoes.

The rest just smile and keep working.

.

.

There’s a loud “bang!” from outside several hours later, interrupting the silence in the kitchen and making them all jump. Their cousin, Wade, had also come up from down the hill and joined in the hunt.

A secondary bang! Follows a few moments later.

“I think they got something,” Maureen says.

Sure enough, Andrew comes back in the house.

“Got a nice sized buck!” He says grinning.

“Good! Get him dressed. Put the meat in the freezer and cut me some cubes so I can start the dressing,” Ann tells him as he goes back outside.

They don’t come in until the sun is starting to set, and Liz sees Travis, covered in dirt. Sal is grinning with his arm around her boyfriend’s shoulder.

“He’s a damn good spotter!” Her grandpa proclaims. Travis is grinning, coming to scoop Liz into his arms, kissing her neck.

“You’re filthy,” she says turning around to face him and leaning away.

“Yeah. It got a little…nature-y.”

She wrinkles her nose. “You smell like it.”

Ann and Rose watch them out of the corner of their eyes. Rose looks at her mother and motions with her head ever so slightly. Ann nods and Rose goes to her daughter, whispering into her ear.

“You know…the Jacuzzi tub is in the back,” she says. “Travis might like it. You might be able to…help him.”

She walks off, giving Liz a bump with her hip and laughing to herself.

They all know. It’s been obvious all week. Liz and Travis still have that “new” look. And he’s also been…hovering around her. It’s cute. The poor thing. But they’ve also both been very respectful and their room has been quiet at night. Liz knows the rules—only bathrooms and bedrooms occupied by married folks get locked.

Liz flushes a bit. The men are oblivious, and Travis is rooting around in the refrigerator, coming out with a carrot.

“Hey, come on.” She takes his and guides him out of the kitchen and down the hall.

“Where are they going?” Sal asks Ann. She nudges him. “To the tub.”

“Why do both of them have to go to the tub? You can only wash one ass at a time.”

Ann looks at him incredulously and he gets it.

“Oh.”

Then grins. “oh!”

“Shhh! Sal. Leave them be. Travis has worked hard all week for you. For FREE. Let the boy get a break. He should get something for his troubles.”

.

.

The Jacuzzi tub is huge, an oval shape. Liz starts it going, the water on hot. Slowly it starts to fill. When it gets to about halfway, she pours a few salts in. The jets get going, wirring to life and bubbles begin to form.

He’s quiet, watching as she works, pulling out towels, and changing the lights, leaving on only the ones plugged into the outlet. They cast a soft glow about the bathroom.

She comes up to him, piling her hair on top of her head and securing it with a band before slowly kneeling down to take off his shoes, his socks, his shirt and his pants. When she goes for his underwear and pulls them down, he springs free, his cock coming to face level with Liz. She’s on her knees before him looking up at him before taking his erection in her hand and starting to stroke.

A moan escapes.

Shit…

“Liz…”

“Shhh…” She replaces the hand with her mouth and at the heat of her, he groans, head back, his hand wrapping around the back of her head... “Oh God…” He’s teetering dangerously on the edge and what she’s doing with her mouth her tongue…still…his girlfriend is full of surprises. Layers. Because she has NEVER done this to him before.

Another groan…it’s becoming almost unbearable and he pulls back, slipping his arms under hers and pulling her to her feet. This time, it’s his turn and he takes his time undressing her. She’s in a knee-length dress and he slides the strings off her shoulders letting it fall to the ground. There’s no wearing a bra and he gets to his knees, face between her legs as he pulls her panties down and off.

 Liz’s hands rest on his shoulders as he kisses her here, taking the time to go deep between her thighs inside…where he knows she likes it. She’s never been able to stand that for very long and sure enough her legs start to wobble and he knows she’s close.

“Ahh…” It’s soft…breathy, and he keeps going, adding a finger for extra stimulation. Another moan, huskier, breathier as her hips jerk…he catches Liz before she falls and gets to his feet, holding her up as she breathes heavily.

Carefully, he walks them to the tub, stepping in and bringing Liz down on his lap. She rests there, kissing his neck, his shoulders as her hips grind on him, his cock slipping between the lips between her legs.

He catches her mouth with his own, tasting the both of them. It enables him to stifle the groans that are  coming with what she’s doing to him.

“Liz....do you trust me?”

Because he wants this, right now. Yet he also knows she’s never had unprotected sex before.

She bites her lip, looking unsure. But her hips stay in motion on him, more urgent. She moans at the sensation and he bites his lip, fighting the urge to just take her.

“Say you trust me. Trust me, Liz…”

He feels so good against her body and she’s wet and wanting…Travis lit the fire and only he can put it out and each time she moves against his cock she feels another tremor inside her.

“I trust you.”

God yes. His hands slip under her thighs, lifting her slightly and setting her back down on him. They both cry out and her movements still as she feels something completely new…all of him. Every crest every ridge…

When she starts to move again it’s slow. The water rolls and bubbles around them, the white tufts masking what’s going on beneath the surface…Liz is giving him the ride of his life and the pace they’re going at is agonizing….

 He slides down the wall bending his knees for a better angle…Their breathing is hitched and as they go her hair falls down, dipping into the water, draping across her shoulders. Liz’s head is back, eyes closed, lips parted and her breasts hover in front of his face. He takes one in his mouth. Then the other.

She rocks faster and arches back, reaching behind her to slide a hand between his legs, massaging his balls. The sensation makes him buck into her and she screams. He sits up quick, stilling them, mouth on hers to muffle her cries and give them a moment to catch their breaths, before turning her around and sitting her back down on his lap. Liz balances on his legs, her palms on the tub floor as she starts to grind on him. He holds her hips as she starts to moan, loudly, the intensity of the sounds only matched by the intensity of actions…

“Oh shit …”

He feels it coming…feels her coming too and he doesn’t want to pull out until she gets hers but its taking everything in him not to just…

“Travis!” She shouts and he pulls out fast,  wrapping a hand around himself as she comes, barely making it.

Exhausted, he rests his head back against the tub wall as she turns around to sit on his lap again, laying her head on his shoulder. Her chest against his. They’re so far gone, breathing hard and the water is cold by the time they wake up again and quietly slip down the hall to their room.

.

.

She comes to in the morning slowly. And it takes a moment for her to realize exactly what position she’s in… she feels Travis, hard, against her ass. His lips on the back of her neck and he’s pushing against her. Liz wiggles a bit and he slips an arm around her, and another between her legs, lifting one. 

The intent is clear, and she lets him in, her breath hitching a bit at the penetration. It’s still something to get used to.

“Morning, Lovie.” His beard tickles against her skin and when he starts to thrust she grabs a pillow and breathes into it, to muffle her moans. Travis’ hands are the devil and what they’re doing between her legs is only adding to the intensity of what he’s doing inside her and it’s a struggle to be quiet.

That, and the damn bed is starting to make noises to.

A grunt, and a low growl, as he picks up the pace.

She turns her head to receive his mouth and they kiss, moaning together.

He grips her tighter on the hip. Her hands tangle in his hair…

“Fuck!”

He pulls out quick, holding her close as he comes.

They lay, quiet again and close, as their breathing slowly returns to normal.

It’s still early, and dark outside.

Eventually, they fall back asleep, and when Liz wakes up again, the space next to her is still warm, but empty.

Travis is likely outside, working on one of her grandfather’s many projects. He’s been out early all week. She smiles to herself, happy to see him so totally in his element. It’s really where he belongs, she thinks. With a yawn, Liz gets up too, heading to the bathroom to clean herself up. Afterward she goes back to the room, slipping on a dress and surveying the bed. The sheets are tangled around each other and so she just bundles them together and carries them to the laundry room, throwing them into the wash and starting it, before heading to the kitchen.

 “Well hello there, dear sister….” Kelli is already there, spoon in hand, stirring the dressing in the slow cookers. They’re the first two awake.

“Hello to you too.” She washes her hands and moves to the refridgerator to start taking out all the covered dishes. Most of the food was prepped last night. Today, this morning rather, is for cooking.

Kelli starts singing softly. Beyonce.

“I fill the tub up halfway Then ride it with my surfboard, surfboard…”

Liz turns, eyes narrowing. “Shut up.” But Kelli doesn’t stop, turning to her while dancing, singing into the spoon.

Grainin' on that wood
Grainin'-grainin' on that wood
I'm swervin' on that, swervin'-swervin' on that
Big body been servin' all this
Swerve, surfin' all in this good-good”

Kelli’s doing a body roll and Liz just shakes her head, absolutely refusing to give. But there’s a smile on her face and she’s still smiling when her mom and her aunts and grandmother and cousins start coming to help unload all the food and fire up the ovens and the stove. Thank goodness her grandparents have a large kitchen.

As the food gets cooking, the rest of the men start to wake up and drift in.

The phone rings and Ann answers it.

“Hello?” A few seconds of silence. Liz watches as her grandmother rolls her eyes but she’s smiling when she hangs up.

“Wade and Jackie and the kids will be up in an hour. Everyone hide your valuables!”

They all laugh. Travis comes walking into the house in the middle of it.

“Hide our valuables?” He asks, coming up behind Liz and giving her a hug and a kiss on the shoulder.  “You’re about to meet the ‘black sheep’ side of the family,” she says turning her head slightly to meet his lips. He looks a bit worried at that. “Wade seems like a good guy.”

“Oh yes. It’s his …partner and her kids that are the issue.”

He doesn’t get it. Doesn’t get it until Wade comes in the house with what has to be the absolutely worst looking woman he’s ever seen….

“Liz…she has no teeth.” He tries, and fails to whisper.

Liz laughs.

“Shh….you haven’t seen the rest of it yet.”

The “kids” follow. Well, mostly adults, likely around Kelli’s age, teenagers and younger adults.  She sees Travis looking and taps him gently. “Stop staring. Go with the guys. Food is coming.”

They all sit down to the tables around noon. And before him is what can only be described as a feast. There are two turkeys, deer steaks from yesterday’s kill, dressing, candied yams, a yam soufflé, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, green beans, a large salad…and that’s not to mention the sweet potato pies, chocolate cake, strawberry cheesecake, strawberry shortcake and some jello creation Wade’s girlfriend brought over that now line the counters in the kitchen.

He absolutely cannot believe there is this much food.

“This is thanksgiving?”

He’s been to similar gatherings, but never one this large and the amount of food has got to be double the number of people.

Rose needles him gently. “Trust me, it will disappear faster than you think.”

Sal stands bringing the entire family to the main dining room. “Everybody here and accounted for?” He takes a look around, counting. Twenty people. Satisfied, he begins.

“Alright, let’s get grace out the way.”

Liz takes Travis’ hand. He takes Rose’s, Rose gets Kelli’s…and they go like that, all around the table.

He bows respectfully as Sal says the prayer.

“And Lord we also give thanks for our friends who join us, Travis—who’s handy on a tractor and took down that back field cause Lord, you know those damn deer have been giving me hell…”

There are chuckles all around and finally, after what feels like forever, the ‘Amens’ come. And they all move in with plates.

Rose proves correct. The food does disappear fast, and he’s laying on the library floor staring up at the ceiling, so full it hurts to even breathe.

Two little faces come and hover over his. Travis opens his eyes. It’s the twins, Andrew’s kids. Robin and Marcus. The same two that wrapped themselves around his legs when they first saw him. They’re both adorable with heads full of tawny ringlets, and gray-green eyes. “Unca Twawis?”

“Hmm?”

“We’re sleepy.” It’s mid-afternoon. Everyone has started to peel off into separate areas. The teens are in the den, the adults still seated in the formal dining room, Kelli and her cousins are on the front porch. He’s too full to even turn over, and when he speaks, it comes out more like a grunt.

“Well, come to sleep then.” Two little bodies climb on him and he exhales sharply.

“Oof.” They land hard, but since they’re so small, they don’t weigh that much. He shifts a bit to let them get comfortable and slowly fades off into food-induced sleep.

Travis and the babies are knocked out when Liz looks up and realizes he’s missing. She excuses herself from the main dining room table and gets up to start looking for him, trying to figure out when he even slipped off. 

Where did he go? He’s not in the bedroom, not outside, or the living room or dining room. Liz walks by the library when she stops, peering in.

Found him.

Sound asleep, with a toddler under each arm.

Rose comes walking up behind her.

“Oh now that’s just adorable,” she says. Liz smiles. It is. Too adorable, really. She bites her lip feeling the tell-tale tingle in her lower belly.

 Her mom looks at her.

“Don’t.” Liz says.

“I didn’t say anything,” Rose tells her. “That’s all you, dear.”

.

.

It’s the day before he flies out, and Travis is sitting on the back porch, looking out over the pool, the backfield in the distance, cigarette in one hand, beer in the other. The door opens and closes and Sal comes out sitting down next to him.

The sun has already set, and there’s just a glimmer of light left on the horizon. The night creatures are starting to wake up. He exhales a cloud of smoke.

“Those things fuck with your swimmers,” Sal says, taking a sip of beer. “I got something better, if you want it.”

The old man pulls out a pipe and lights it, and Travis knows immediately, it’s not tobacco he’s smoking.

“Yes, please.” He puts his cigarette out, accepting the pipe.

 The two men sit in silence.

“Hope you enjoyed yourself. It was good having a younger man around. I’m not as spry as I used to be. These old bones can’t move like they used to,” Sal says.

“Thanks for having me. I really like it here,” Travis says taking another inhale of his pipe. “Can I ask you a question, Sal?”

“Shoot, son.”

“How’d you do it? Manage all this?” He asks.

“Hm…” Sal chuckles. “I worked construction in California, before I killed my back,” he says. “My daddy taught me everything. Ann and I lived simply. Bought the cheapest house on the block. Five people, two bedrooms. I added to that house. Built a second floor.

Bought another cheap house. Built on to that too—if you know how to do it yourself, lots of things are cheaper.

The kids grew up, and when Rose was in college, I threw out my back. But we had five houses between San Francisco, Oakland and Berkley. Remember what I said earlier? God ain’t making any more land? not fast enough to replenish what’s already taken up. Be smart with your money, Travis. Anyone can buy ‘stuff’. Rich people buy ‘stuff’. But wealthy people build legacies.”

“I’m trying,” Travis says, watching as what light remains begin to fade, and the stars start to appear in the sky.  “But what’s a legacy when there’s no one to pass it on to?”

“Is there not?” Sal looks at him. “Maybe not now. But it seems to me, you’ve got someone in mind to help you build it. Catching a Dubek woman ain’t easy. Took me five years to get Ann to say yes. All my people are still in California, but where am I? In Arkansas, because Ann followed her parents, and I wasn’t about to let my wife go alone.”

“Liz isn’t my wife.”

“Not yet. But I’ve been around a long time, and no offense here, but you’re what? Close to 40? 38? I had three kids at or near college when I was your age. So you either want it, or you don’t. And I think you do, and I also think you won’t settle for just any woman. Liz wasn’t raised to settle for just any man, either. She’s good alone—my granddaughters are set for life, financially speaking.  But a life isn’t worth living if it’s done alone.”

Travis nods slowly in acknowledgement of the words. At one point, these weren’t his priorities. But Sal is right—he’s nearing the point to where there are more years behind him than in front.

“I feel like I’m running out of time. Out of chances. Out of opportunities. And I’m also waiting for the right moment.”

Sal looks at him. “Has she drooled on you, yet?”

“What?”

The old man chuckles. “If you’re going for the 50-year plan, you’ll know when the time is right. She’s gotta drool on you…an accidental fart aint bad either. They hate it when you needle them on it. Oh, and if she hold your dick when you pee…yep. Then it’s the right time.”

Because…Sal. They both laugh together and Travis takes another hit from the pipe—he’d suspected that those bushes growing in the greenhouse weren’t regular “flowers”.

.

.

Sal has pulled out his records, and the house is filled with music. Jazz, soul. Travis watches as Liz, Kelli and two of their cousins perform Ike and Tina’s “Nutbush.”

The teens start showing them the latest in urban.

And Liz discovers Travis isn’t perfect. “Oh wow…” she says, watching as he tries to manage rhythmic movement. It doesn’t work. “Mufa, just stop. Please.”

But she’s laughing and he’s grinning. “What? Am I embarrassing you?”

“Yes,” she says as he pulls her close and talks low into her ear.

“I have rhythm when it matters.”

 Otis Redding’s “Come to me” starts playing and they sway, slowly. It’s his song. Their song. The one he first recited to her way back when.

“Are you still lonely, Mufa?”

They dance. He lowers his face to her neck, kissing her there and nuzzling her. She smells like cocoa butter and vanilla. So very, very sweet.

“I love you, Liz.”

“I love you, too.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 14

January

“Are you coming tonight?” After the last four months, being back in Ireland is welcome. No more Paula. No more Warcraft. The only thing that would make it better is if Liz were here, but the situation is already improved. At least this time, he knows where they stand. And he also knows what he has to look forward to when she comes to visit next month. That knowledge alone, is fairly sustaining.

Clive is waiting on an answer and he nods. “Sure. The usual spot?”

“Of course, my friend. Gustaf, Katheryn and Alex, me and you.”

The last time they were all together at the bar, Liz had been with him. Now he’s alone, but he’s not lonely.

“So, how was the break for you guys?” Alex asks drinking his beer.

A new movie for Katheryn. A new show for Clive. Gustav did some stage work. They all look to Travis.

“Finished Warcraft 2,” he says, and leaves it at that. There’s a somewhat awkward silence and Clive, Gustav and Alex excuse themselves to go to the pool table, leaving him and Katheryn.

“And what else?” She prompts when they’re alone.

“That’s it.”

“What about Liz?” At the sound of her name, he can’t help the small smile that appears. Katheryn looks at him appraisingly.

“You look good. Rested.”

“Yeah. It was great. Really great.” And it was. Thanksgiving was fantastic, and taking Liz home to Australia was the best decision he could have made. The few days with her at home and the river were amazing. They’d dropped anchor and pretty much stayed on the boat for the night—making love under the stars, with the movement of the water rocking them into sleep afterward. His parents loved her. His brothers did too—he thinks largely because she’s the first woman he’s ever brought for a visit and comes as they were all beginning to give up on him.

There had been only one incident at a local bar—something that, if it was two years ago he probably wouldn’t have even thought was problematic—but being with her had alerted him to more than a few things, like when ignorance collided with blatant racism. That had ended in a fight and the loss of person he considered a friend. But oh well.

Katheryn is beyond pleased, watching Travis. There are no bags under his eyes, he looks happier, healthier than she’s seen him in a while and his calm, easy going personality is back in full force.

“So, what are you thinking, hm?”

“I’m thinking…” he looks at Katheryn, scooting over closer to her in the booth. “I’m thinking I owe you.”

“Why?”

He kisses her gently on the forehead. “Because you knew what I needed, when I didn’t.” He tells her.

 And, before she can say anything else, he kisses her again. “Can you do me two favors?”

Valentine’s Day is coming up.

 

February

White flowers arrive at the office, and Michelle, the secretary, just puts them on Liz’s desk, not even bothering to look at the card this time.

They’re there when Liz walks through the door, surprised.

Usually, he only sends flowers when he’s coming to her. But this time, she’s going to Ireland again. A few minutes later, Tanya walks in.

“Oh. Mystery guy coming for a visit?”

“No. I’m going to Ireland this weekend,” she says taking the card and opening it…and immediately closing it again. What’s written is VERY not safe for work.

Tanya looks at her with suspicion. She’s been thinking about this one a while now, piecing together the few clues Liz has dropped. The locations help a lot. And she’s figured out already that he’s probably an actor, or a producer.  “He’s ‘working’ again?”

“Yes.”

“Liz, WHY won’t you just tell me who he is? When do I get to meet him? Hell, you said you met his friends. Has he met any of yours?”

At that Liz has the good sense to look slightly chastised. “I’m sorry Tanya. When he comes, I promise you’ll get to meet him.”

Still, Tanya frowns and goes to close the door. When she comes back, she’s serious. “Liz, people are starting to talk.”

“About what?”

“About you. All your ‘trips’. All your ‘vacations’.”

She gets defensive. “It’s not like I don’t have the time. Hell, they’ve been trying to get me to take it for years!”

“I know that. You know that. Even the reporters know that. And it’s not them, it’s management. Look, all I’m saying is, watch your back. You know as well as I do what jealous people will do. Because you keep climbing, and even though folks smile in your face, they also want you to fail. And beware of Michelle. She’s been keeping tabs on you.”

Liz sighs heavily, leaning back in her chair, thinking deeply about how she’s spent the past year. And for the first time, beginning to consider what she wants her second act to be. Because she knows that she cannot do this forever. Her own wants and needs, are changing.

That night, when she gets home, she opens her laptop, and for the first time in years, starts to write.

.

.

When she steps off the plane, Travis is at the airport waiting for her.

“Mufa!” She’s damn-near running to the gate and trying not to leap on him. His head is shaved. Her lion has been shorn again.

Liz reaches up to rub it, seeing the faded marks. “What are those?”

“This?” He reaches up to touch.

“Oh. The tattoos. They’ve been on all week. Usually takes a few washes to get all the ink off.”

They’re in the fourth season. And he can’t wait to tell Liz the news. But that’s for later. For now, they walk to baggage claim, get her suitcase and head out the doors.

The ride back is filled with anticipation, the feeling of reunification after an extended absence, and once he gets them inside his cabin he turns to Liz and starts unwrapping the layers of clothes she’s got on. She reaches for his pants and their actions are hurried, rushed…it’s been six weeks but it feels like six months and when he finally gets inside Liz he groans at the tightness, the heat. The moisture.

“Did you miss me, Travis?” She’s riding him, her fingers laced through his.

“God yes,” he manages to groan out releasing her hands to sit up and grab her waist to go deeper.

“Oh!” She screams, and he grins, pulling her to his chest and rolling them over. Him on top.

“Did you miss me, Liz?”

She replies by raking her fingernails down his back, and the pain just serves as incentive to go all in. So he does, until Liz is crying his name as he goes as hard as he can, as deep as he can and as fast as he can to satisfy them both. She’s already coming and he manages to pull out right before his own hits—all over her stomach and her chest.

He watches in pure fascination as she reaches down and takes his sex on her finger and raises it to her tongue, tasting it.

Travis looks down at himself, still good and hard, then back at Liz, who’s smirking at him, eyes low.

“I take it you want round two, Mufa…”

“Umm hmm…” He kisses her, tasting himself in her mouth.

He knows what changed. Commitment. Sex is always better with love.

.

.

“What’s bothering you?”

They’re walking around the streets of Dublin, in search of somewhere to eat. While sex was amazing, she’s been quiet ever since. Contemplative.

 “How long are we going to keep doing this?” He notes he’s no longer Mufa. This is a serious conversation.

“Doing what?”

“This.” She motions with her hands. “Back and forth, back and forth. I come to you. You come to me. It’s becoming…”

Exhausting. Expensive.

For the first time in years, her checking account has dropped below five figures. It’s uncomfortable. That, coupled with what Tanya told her before she left, has Liz on edge. Travis knows what she’s getting at. He can count, and it’s starting to affect him, too.

They spent nearly $17,000 on flights alone to Australia because he’d insisted she couldn’t do a 30 hour ride in economy.  Each trip stateside has been between $500-$800 for him. Her sojourn to Canada was $500. This recent flight to Ireland was $2,200. He paid for the first one. Nearly $26,000 on travel in two years. Thank God they each have a place…but it matters. The money is starting to add up. But that’s only part of it.

Liz and Travis duck into a small eatery and take seats in the back. It’s a weekday, relatively early and they’re the only two people there.

“It won’t be very much longer,” he tells her.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean…this is my last season. I wrap up in April.”

Liz looks at him a moment. “You got…fired?”

At that, Travis laughs. “Something like that. More like, written out. My story line is done.” The director, Michael Hirst, had brought him in as soon as he got back, and showed him the scripts. They’d had a long talk about it, one of many over the years, and since then, he’s been hard at work writing and re-writing certain scenes. If his beloved Ragnar has to go out, it’s going to be on Ragnar’s terms.  The writing has been a mental exercise—he’s done a little bit of it on the show, but the work he’s been putting in these last few weeks has been really rewarding. And he’s also been working on something apart from that. But he’s not yet sure enough for it to see the light of day.

“It’s good, though,” he tells Liz. “I’m getting a few producer credits this season. And I’m still being paid. What it means, though, is that I get a longer break.”

Travis watches Liz’s face closely as he talks, reaching for her hands across the table. She gives them to him while trying not to get too excited about what he’s telling her.

“How long?”

“My next project doesn’t start until September, and it’s only six weeks. So…I may go back home.”

“Australia?” At that, her heart sinks. That’s another $10,000 flight.  But he shakes his head. “No. California. Los Angeles.”

L.A. That’s a lot better. But still…

It must be in the way she looks. He knows, she’s not happy.

“Liz.”

She looks up into his face, those light blue eyes stare back at her.

“Yes?”

“Do you want me to come home…to you?”

It’s exactly what she was hoping for, but afraid to ask or say out loud. “Yes.” It’s a whisper, and he gets up and comes to sit next to her. She puts her head on his shoulder as he reaches into his pocket.

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Lovie.”

Liz looks up at him again as she brings his arms around her shoulders, fastening something around her neck. She fingers it, looking down.

 A single, heart-shaped diamond solitaire, on a necklace.

.

.

March

“Liz, John wants to see you in his office.” It’s Michelle. At the front desk. John is her boss. The station general manager. She’s been back two weeks now, and since then, it’s been relatively uneventful. But this…she’s never been called to the GM’s office.

“Sure thing.”

She gets up and walks across the hall, pointedly not looking at Michelle.

“You wanted to see me?” She asks, sticking her head in John’s office. He’s the one who hired her away from Florida and they’ve maintained a relatively easy relationship in the five years she’s been here. He stays largely out of the newsroom, and she makes sure to keep him informed of what projects they’re working on. Their relationship has always been professional. Respectful. But right now, he’s frowning.

“Come on in. Can you close the door?”

She does and takes a seat across from his desk, crossing her ankles, not her legs. Too many women make that mistake. She’s not one of them.

“So what’s this about?”

Why beat around the bush, she thinks. If there’s a problem, better get it out now.

“Liz, you’ve been a great news director,” he starts. But she cuts him off right there. “Let me guess. There have been concerns about the amount of time I’ve taken recently.” He nods.

“And may I ask WHO has raised these concerns?”

“I can’t tell you that.”

“Then tell me, from your perspective, has my job performance suffered? Have I been anything but professional?”

“Well…no…”

“AND you did tell me to use the time or lose it. So forgive me if I don’t quite get what the issue is here, John.”

“At issue, Liz, is that you have people who feel as if you’re no longer pulling your weight.”

“And yet your station won three national awards last year, two of which included my reporting and the third I edited. And that was the first time that has ever happened here. I did what you hired me to do.”

He dismisses it. “It’s about perception Liz. “

“WHOSE perception?”

She knows she’s making John uncomfortable, but at this stage, she doesn’t care.

“Would you like to fire me now, or later, and pay me out the remaining 420 vacation hours plus the additional 600 hours in sick leave?”

“Liz, it’s not like that. As your direct manager, I’m just telling you there have been concerns.”

“And yet you won’t tell me what they are or who they’re from.” Isn’t it always like this? She’s seen it happen to others many times.

He sighs. “Just consider this a warning, Elizabeth.”

She nods. “I understand.”

The writing is on the wall. And she’s never been one to miss the signs. Liz goes back to the newsroom and pulls out her personal computer and begins type. She still has connections to other stations across the country. And it’s been five years here. Probably time for something new.

.

.

April

White flowers arrive at the station and when they come in the door, Liz just so happens to be walking into the lobby. But she pauses, as Michelle signs for them and opens the card.

What the hell?

At that, Liz walks out and Michelle looks up quickly.

“I think these are for you.”

But she’s been caught, and Liz crosses her arms. “Yeah. Likely.”

She takes the flowers then looks at Michelle. “I think you have something else that’s mine.”

At that, the clerk flushes and gives her the card. “Sorry about that. We check most envelopes for pledges and donations and stuff.”

“Oh, ones attached to flowers?” It comes out hard and accusing. Michelle gets defensive. “What’s your problem, Liz?”

“What’s yours, Michelle?” At that, she leaves, taking her flowers with her. Once in her office, she sets the bouquet on her desk and opens the card.

“See you Friday, Lovie.”

Despite her annoyance at Michelle, Liz smiles. Friday. Two more days and he’ll be here. It doesn’t feel real. It likely won’t until Travis is standing in front of her. They’ve talked about it at length and have decided that yes, he will stay with her while he gets re-established in California. It’ll be at least two months. The second longest amount they’ve been in each other’s company, and definitely the longest amount of time they will have shared under one roof. She’s both excited and nervous. Excited because, finally, they get the time they’ve craved and nervous because, well, she knows what it is.

A test run.

“Flowers…hmm….”  Tanya comes walking by, sticking her head in and despite herself, Liz smiles.

“He’ll be here Friday.”

“Just for a visit?”

“No. Not a visit, this time.”

 Tanya grins. “That’s a big step for you. Are you sure you’re ready to share?”

Liz chuckles. Tanya knows how much she values her privacy and her space. “I don’t really know, but I’m going to try.”

 “I still want to meet him. I haven’t forgotten about that. You’re killing me with all the mystery.”

With that, they get serious. The Georgia legislative assembly is back. And it’s the political season again. That means long hours.

.

.

April

For the past few months, he’s been shipping stuff stateside, sending the bulk of it back to L.A., to his agent to put in storage. So when Travis steps off the plane in Atlanta, all he’s got is his backpack and a large, orange duffel bag. Pretty much all his possessions, in two bags.

Liz gave him a key to her apartment last year, and he goes there first to drop off his stuff and jump into the shower. When he gets out, he gets dressed again, and combs his hair. The plan is to surprise her at work.

All he told Liz is that he would be arriving Friday, and, as usual, not to pick him up from the airport. But he did call the office to check whether she was there, and sure enough, she was.

Travis knows it’s risky. She will either love it or hate it, and he’s hoping for the former. Her flowers, he knows, arrived two days ago. And for her, and her only, does he actually take a little more time on his appearance: choosing a long-sleeved tailored button up with dark jeans and a pair of loafers. It’s a news station so hopefully, he won’t draw too much attention. But he still dons a cap—a go-to for his own nervousness. And yes, he IS nervous. He’s never taken a risk like this—one where he could really be recognized.

Another call and when he walks down to Liz’s lobby and out the doors, his Uber is waiting. Another few minutes, and he’s walking up the stairs to her office. He’s only been here once before—when he walked her back from lunch. And feels like another lifetime. But Liz is forever, and he wants to make a good impression so, with a long exhale, Travis opens the door and walks inside the lobby of the WGPU studios to hopefully, surprise his girlfriend and earn some brownie points in the process. He’s trying to close the distance.

.

.

She’s watching a committee hearing from her desk, recording the audio directly into Adobe for playback and splicing later. It’s a dull one. She’s already talked to the lobbyists and to several lawmakers on the panel so this is really just for the public comment so she can start putting together her piece. It’s a slow day which is the only reason she’s actually in the office. This is the only committee hearing scheduled and it’s what she needs to stem her own fidgetiness—today is Friday, after all. Travis arrives today.

“So, today is the day.” Tanya is sitting in Liz’s office, in the chair in front of her boss’s desk. She takes off her headphones.

“Hopefully he’ll be there by the time I get home.”

“Excited much?”

At that, Liz absently fingers her necklace. Tanya noticed it when she first got back from Ireland, but didn’t say anything. She does now, though.

“Was that Valentine’s Day?”

Liz nods quietly, still smiling.

“Hey Liz…,” Michelle’s voice comes through on the system. “You have a… guest in the lobby.”

She leans over, to speak directly into the phone. “Who is it? I wasn’t expecting anyone today.”

“Maybe you should come out and see for yourself. Michelle says, laughing.  “His name starts with Travis.” The comm beeps off.

Tanya raises an eyebrow watching Liz. Her friend looks completely flustered, and tries but fails to hide the excited look on her face. It’s not working. Her hands are trembling. A giveaway.

“Is…that him?”

Liz nods, too shocked at the moment for words. She’s had butterflies all day but they start fluttering faster as she gets up from her desk grabbing her purse and keys, Tanya follows. “I want to see this,” she says.

They turn the corner and Liz spots Travis in the lobby, looking at the station’s radio collection. His back is to her, and he’s dressed in dark, relaxed fit jeans, loafers and a tailored button-down shirt that fits perfectly across his broad shoulders and chest.

Her heart races faster.

Tanya looks through the clear glass of the door, watching as the only other person in the lobby besides Michelle turns around and comes fully into view…

What. The. Fuck.

Before Liz can go out the door, Tanya comes around and blocks it with her body, grabbing Liz’s arm and dragging her back down the hall and into an editing booth. The door closes and as soon as she hears it click, she jumps.

“Is Travis Fimmel standing in our lobby right now?” Tanya demands, glaring at her boss. Because the pieces are quickly falling into place…

Liz turns. “You know him?”

“You KNOW I watch ‘Vikings’. Tanya looks at her, squinting hard.  “HE’S IRELAND!”

At that Liz tries to play it down, but really can’t. So she stays quiet. But Tanya doesn’t. “HE is Mr. ‘Extra-long lunch date’, Mr. ‘make you late to work’, Mr. ‘sweat out your hair’, Mr. Ireland, Mr. Canada, Mr. Australia…THAT is your baby daddy. I cannot believe you!”

Liz sighs. “Tanya, please. Just…don’t tell anyone, okay?”

Tanya scoffs at her, arms crossed. “Liz, for God’s sake…you trusted me to come with you to the doctor’s office. I stayed with you during the incident…I’m just…so out done right now. I can’t believe with everything we’ve been through together, that you wouldn’t trust me with THIS. And HE is in OUR lobby, so its not ME you have to worry about telling people—discretion just got tossed out the window.”

Chastised. She feels bad for that, because as usual, Tanya is correct. “I know. And I’m sorry….I just…I didn’t want anyone really knowing. He’s private, and you know I am too. I didn’t think he’d just show up here, like this. I need … I need to get him out of here.”

Travis is still in the lobby, and Liz is near certain that if Tanya recognized him, others will too.

Tanya sighs. “I’ve got your back. Let’s go.”

They leave the booth but as soon as they turn the corner to go into the lobby they both stop. Because now Travis has drawn a small crowd and he’s in the thick of it, taking pictures with a few of the other staffers and even some of her reporters.

“Oh God…”  It’s the worst-case scenario. Because Liz knows as soon as she goes out there, it’s over. Everyone will know exactly why she’s been traveling so damn much. And when she sees her general manager walk out, she definitely knows its game over. Exposure. The one thing she absolutely did not want. Whatever was private, likely isn’t. Not anymore.

“Liz…what are you going to do? This is going to be all over the press corps and in the politics blogs if it’s not up already,” Tanya looks at her, face filled with worry. What was a happy surprise is now turning into anything but. She’s trying to breathe. To think. To figure a way out of this. But she can’t. All she can do is try to look as neutral as possible. Her purse and car keys are in hand. But the happy butterflies in her stomach are now wasps and there’s a sinking feeling in her stomach.

“I don’t know,” Liz says. Still looking out the glass doors that separate her from Travis. For a moment, she considers running, but knows that will only make it worse.

“Go out there. Get him. Come on, I’ll come with you.”

They walk out together and Travis spots her and comes over.  She stands there, stiffly and gives him a very formal greeting.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

He knows immediately this was likely a wrong move. It’s in her face.

The rest of the crowd falls back.

“John, Michelle, I’m out for the rest of the day,” Liz says turning toward the back entrance where the cars are parked. He follows her, silently.

“No problem, Liz!” Michelle calls, almost gleefully. “Have fun this weekend!” The laughter follows them out the door.

Once Travis and Liz are gone, the group assembled in the lobby starts talking to one another excitedly.

“No wonder she’s been gone!”

“Hell, if I were her, I would be too.”

“Why even be here if she’s just going to leave all the time?”

“I STILL can’t believe that. LIZ? Of all people?”

“I got a picture with Travis Fimmel!”

“Oh YES, definitely tweeting this.”

“PEOPLE!” John’s voice breaks through the noise. ‘Back to work!”

At that, they all disperse, until only Tanya and Michelle remain behind. Michelle crosses her arms. “That was tacky of Liz. If I were her, I’d never bring my famous boyfriend to the office. I thought she was better than that.”

Tanya snaps at her. “Shut the fuck up, Michelle, and stop hating and running your mouth about shit you know nothing about.”

But the words are wasted. Because the damage is done.

Mixing business with pleasure, and work with leisure, is a big no-no.

.

Chapter Text

Chapter 15

April Continued…

He never imagined his first night in Atlanta would end up with the biggest fight he’s ever had with a woman. Especially one he’s trying to impress, and hopefully, to keep.

“Do you even have a fucking CLUE what you did?” Liz is yelling at him, pacing back-and-forth in her living room. She’s livid, trying hard not to let the angry tears flow.

“No! I was just trying to surprise you. I didn’t know that would happen.”

“Oh, come ON. YOU yourself HIDE on the daily. How did you NOT know? You EMBARRASSED me, Travis. In front of my entire office. You talk so much about how you value your privacy but you don’t think TWICE about violating mine!”

“Liz, I didn’t mean to do that! I swear I just wanted to make you happy! You never let me DO anything for you. I have to fight you on paying for flights. You do everything yourself, and I the one time I try, you go off on me. What the hell?”

He’s defensive. Growing both angry and frustrated with her.

They glare at each other and she goes absolutely silent, storming down the hall. He follows her, blocking the bedroom door right as she tries to slam it in his face. He pushes it back open and walks in and up to her.

“WHAT exactly, is the fucking problem? And do not tell me it’s because you’re embarrassed. You’ve met all my co-workers. And I know they told you I never bring anyone around. I wasn’t ashamed or embarrassed to be with you, but you tell me you don’t want to be seen with me? Is that how you really feel? Am I novelty to you, Liz? Is this the way you really are?”

Travis looks down at her, feeling deeply hurt. Liz turns away, sitting down on her bed, her hair falling over her face and not looking at him. He’s got a point. Travis hasn’t tried to hide her. Not with his friends, nor with his family, nor with is co-workers. All he’s done is defend her in public and love on her in private. This is her hang-up, not his.

And maybe, if he’d come to her station back in December…or even in January…she likely would have run into his arms and kissed him in the lobby happily in front of everyone but that was then and this is now and now…

“I’m about to be fired, Travis.”

.

.

She isn’t fired.

But when she goes to work the next Monday, the room falls silent when she enters. No one dares say anything to her face, but they don’t have to. Liz knew, when she saw Travis standing in the lobby, that it would become the talk in the circles she runs in, and sure enough, over the weekend it has. A few of her colleagues at other outlets have asked her about it—most with innocent curiosity, but now, it’s in the politics blogs, a picture someone took of her and Travis looking at each other. The line was small—just a note about how WGPU’s News Director has a famous boyfriend—but it makes her look stupid. Just like all those women she has long criticized for sleeping with lobbyists and lawmakers and powerful men to gain or just to be close to power. That’s exactly what it looks like. What it reads like. What it feels like.

Because all she has is her name and her reputation. It’s her currency and her capital. And Liz fears it will soon start to fall.

 

May

It’s been three weeks of sleeping by himself in the spare room of his girlfriend’s apartment. This is yet another late night. Travis sits on the couch, idly flipping through channels, trying to find something to occupy his mind. But it’s not working. He switches to the online streaming services. Nothing there, either. This is not what he came to Atlanta, for.

“Got the flight booked.”

The text comes through on his phone. He sees it, and sighs. They’ve barely spoken to each other since the fight, and it’s like living with a ghost. A stranger. She’s so caught up in her own issues she’s just neglecting him.  Liz isn’ Liz. She’s not Lovie. She’s Elizabeth. And Travis is starting to find he doesn’t like Elizabeth very much.

There is “hello.”

There is “goodnight.”

And there’s a lot of, “’I’m not in the mood’ or ‘not tonight’.”

He’s maybe gotten one complete sentence from her despite trying nearly every night for the past three weeks to get her to talk to him.  Most are yes, no answers. And he’s been left to fend for himself, finding ways to spend his time. Like at the bottom of several bottles of Jamison, not to mention the dozen packs of Marlboro’s he’s gone through so far. Travis is beyond done trying with her. Trying has gotten him nowhere.

 When he wakes in the mornings, Liz is already gone—not coming home until 10, 11 even past midnight. There’s been at least three days in a row so far when he didn’t see her at all because she came in after he fell asleep on the couch, and left before he woke up on the couch the next morning. It’s been an absolute disaster. And it’s difficult not to take all of this personally.

It’s 9:30 on a Thursday night when he hears the key in the lock and the knob slowly turn. Liz walks in. She looks absolutely exhausted. It radiates off of her. He’s always been sensitive to the vibes from other people and right now, she just screams sadness. Was this why she pushed him away last year after the miscarriage? Is this what he didn’t get to see?

She’s walking slowly and doesn’t even look his way and Travis wonders if she even sees him sitting here. Not likely.

There’s a line to the refrigerator and he hears her pop the top on a beer, then straggle off.

He doesn’t like this. It’s like watching someone on auto pilot.

“Liz.”

She doesn’t respond, just starts walking down the hall to the room. He gets up and follows her as she starts undressing and moves off into the bathroom. There’s no waiting for the water to go hot, she just puts the beer down and climbs in.

This is not good.

With a sigh, he takes off his clothes and goes in after her, wrapping his arms around her. It seems to snap her out of whatever she’s in, and Liz finally turns to him, looking up.

“Travis…” a hand touches his face, and for the first time, now that he’s this close, he can tell she’s been…crying. It’s been a long three weeks, and he had been near the point of just leaving, but now, he knows he can’t. And his anger toward her slowly starts to seep away, chased down the drain by the water that presently beats down on them.

“I’m here.”

At that, she breaks down and sobs into his chest.

He lets her cry it out and after a while she starts to quiet, and stops trembling.

Later, they lay in bed, Liz tucked into his chest. She’s sound asleep.

“Lovie?”

It gets no answer. But after a moment, he realizes she is drooping on him, and he also realizes, he doesn’t mind. If she wants to drool on him, she can. He’s just happy he’s in a place to allow it. If he’d done as he’d contemplated—simply up and left, he would have missed this moment—when she finally let go and allowed him to do what he’s supposed to do—to comfort her when she needed it.

.

.

The next morning is when she finally talks and she tells him what’s been going on.

“I’m a joke. Everyone is talking. I can’t get call backs, and I’m being blackballed, left and right.”

Her currency. Her capital. Ruined. She knows exactly what’s being said.

Gold-digger. Whore.

He’s concerned.

“Is there anything I can do? Have you tried looking elsewhere for other opportunities?”

She shakes her head.

“I did. When you told me you were coming back, I sent out my resume, tapped my connects…” And nothing. She hasn’t heard anything from anyone. Never has she been in this position. And that, on top of becoming “that woman” is taking a toll. It’s hard wearing a brave face every day, acting as if it doesn’t bother her, that it doesn’t matter. It does. When she goes to work it matters, when she goes to the Capitol it certainly matters. When she started at WGPU she made it a point to know everybody and everything and because she’s so visible, made herself visible, it’s like she set herself up for the fall. And she’s still falling.

“I have to go to the black caucus gala tonight. I don’t want to.”

The Gala. She has gone each and every year. When she worked in Florida, she went. And she goes to these, as well. It’s for the job. On the list of appearances, and it’s not to mingle, but to network.

“Can someone go in your place?” He asks.

“No. It’s my job.”

“Then…can I go with you?”

He doesn’t want to leave her hanging. He wants to support her, needs to support her, to be there. And if this is what she’s dealing with…

She bites her lip. “I don’t think it would be a good idea. It already looks like I’m using you.”

“But you aren’t using me.”

“But no one knows that. And it doesn’t matter—it’s about perception.” Which is exactly what John, her general manager, had told her months ago. And she’d blasted him for it.

“Let me go with you, Liz.”

She has two tickets.

“I feel like that would only make it worse.”

“Then if it makes it worse, you will know whether this is a place you are, or aren’t meant to be.”

Later, they dress quietly.

Liz just stares at her reflection in the mirror. Her dress is an off shoulder, black mermaid gown, the top done in black lace. Her hair is down, cascading in waves around her face, and her makeup is flawless: a dark brown lip, instead of a bright color, her eyes in shades of golds and bronze and brown. It only enhances her natural beauty, Travis thinks.

Around her neck is his necklace, which she’s worn since he placed it there in February. And in her ears are her usual earrings, two sets of diamonds, the larger ones in the bottom holes, the smaller in the top. The right hand hosts a large, diamond snake ring. It’s the first time he’s seen it. The ring wraps around her middle finger, the head of the snake stopping at the joint. Its eyes are two small rubies, and it sparkles like crazy. “Why that one?” Travis knows it’s real. She can’t wear fake jewelry. Skin allergies. Which is why she wears only 14-karat gold and above. White gold or platinum. No exceptions.

She looks at him. He’s got on a dark navy suit, carefully tailored to his body, and a white dress shirt, skinny tie. Travis’ hair is growing back, and it’s still short. Her Mufa cleans up well.

 “Because at this stage, Travis. I’m starting not to give a fuck.”

Uh oh. He gets up and comes to stand behind her, hands on her waist, looking at their reflections in the mirror. A kiss to her bare shoulder, entranced by the way her soft skin glows against his.

“You look wonderful, lovie. It’ll be okay. I’ve got you.” His hands slide up, across her belly up to her breasts. She leans back into his touch and closes her eyes, exhaling, feeling him, erect against her butt. It’s been three weeks since he got here and this is the most intimate touch between them now since February. It’s the start of May. 

Her hands still his. But she’s wearing a smile. The first one he’s seen since arriving.

“Thank you, Mufa.”

He kisses her on the neck, loving it when she calls him that.

.

.

Every year the Black Caucus Gala is held at the Westin and this year is no exception. Liz gives their tickets to the hostesses and they slip in. She finds her table and takes a seat. There’s a jazz band playing light riffs, and people are milling about. Even though it’s called the black caucus gala, there’s diverse attendance. Everyone wants to be associated with scholarships for minority youth.

A waiter comes to their table.

“Can I get you anything?”

“A water with lemon, thank you.” She has never drank at these events. Liz has seen too much. She knows what happens when people get drunk—and in a crowd like this, appearance is everything. Travis orders a beer, and stays next to her.

“It’s not too bad,” he says, looking around them.

No. It’s not. And she begins to relax. Having his fingers laced through hers helps and eventually their table begins to fill with more people. Fellow reporters, thank goodness. And some she knows well. These are good people. Mark Baum from the Associated Press and his wife; Jennifer Tilly and her partner Amy with the Atlanta Journal Constitution; and Carmen Alexander, the network anchor for FOX Five.  They greet Liz with warm smiles and handshakes, and she allows Travis to introduce himself. Mark leans over to her.

“Sorry to see what you’re going through,” he tells her. “It’s complete bullshit, by the way. He slips her his card. “If you need anything, let me know. You know the AP has bureau’s everywhere, and if it gets too crazy, their loss. Not yours.”

“Thanks Mark.” He winks at her and she slips the card into her purse.

Carmen talks to Travis. “I love your show,” she says. “But I have to say, I had no idea you were Australian.” He laughs. “That actually makes me feel better. I’m terrible at accents.”

“Well, I suppose it makes sense, she says. The Vikings didn’t get down that far. So, Liz,” Carmen turns to her. “How did you two meet?”

It’s Travis who speaks for them. “I chased her down a dark alley,” he jokes to a round of laughter. “No, we met two years ago in San Diego. I had to convince her I wasn’t stalking her.”

“Oh, so you…pursued Liz?” Jennifer, this time, looking surprised. “He nods. She wouldn’t give me the time of day. I didn’t get her real phone number for four months.”

More laughs. It’s Jennifer’s partner who asks the inevitable question. “Do you mind if I get a picture with you?”

He grins at her. “Sure.” Eventually, it’s decided that they all take a group shot and Mark taps a man at the table behind theirs.

“Hey Craig, can you take a picture of all of us?”

Craig looks up and blinks a few times, seeing first Liz…and the person she’s with. He’s a lobbyist. And so, he too, knows exactly what’s been going around. But it’s the first time he’s seeing it in front of him.

“Sure.”

He turns and they all get around Travis and Liz and smile.

Craig gives the phone back to Mark and promptly whispers to his business partner. It’s how it starts.

“I think I need to move around,” Liz says. She and Travis stand.

“We’re going for a stroll,” he tells the table, before placing his hand on Liz’s back and guiding them off.

“Wow, I’m glad to see Liz came tonight,” Jennifer says to Mark. He nods. “Yeah. I have to admit, they’ve been really unfair to her. I heard she’s catching hell at WGPU and I also know for a fact she’s getting blackballed. She’s too nice for that shit. It’s bad.”

“I’m glad he came with her tonight,” Carmen says, watching them slip off into the crowd. “That’s a good PR move. I think some of it is jealousy.”

“Oh come on, Carmen. You know it’s not just ‘some’ of it.” Marks wife. “You know exactly what it is.”

What it is, is that Liz is beautiful and maybe slightly haughty, good at her job and one of only five female reporters working he beat.  And brown and beautiful and female aren’t often correlated with smart and talented. And a reporter bold enough to challenge the system…its political payback. Because Liz has snatched more than her fair share of wigs over the years. Getting folks fired, putting others on blast for offenses and crimes and they’ve done to themselves…she’s gotten several lawmakers to resign. She’s a damn good reporter and she’s made a lot of friends, but more than a few enemies.  They all have. It’s part of the job. But now is the test.

There are a few dozen couples on the dance floor, so there they go. Travis holds on to Liz as they sway. “Maybe I should stand arms-length away from you? Hands three fingers away from your hips…the other on your shoulder? He starts to move stiffly. Back and forth, like an elementary school boy at his first dance. Liz laughs, and he pulls her close again.

“I think this will do,” she says, smiling up at him.

He’s been the perfect gentleman all night. Protective enough, but not overbearing. Supportive, without smothering. He’s kept her calm.

 But it all fades when there’s a tap on her shoulder and she turns.

Montgomery.

And he’s smiling at her. Beside him is a woman she recognizes. Another lobbyist. Short blond hair, even shorter dress. One of those women. The kind of woman she’s being made out to be.

“Elizabeth. I’m surprised to see you here tonight. You look…well.” Montgomery is pointedly not looking at Travis.

“Thank you. And I don’t know why you would be surprised,” she says in a voice that’s reinforced with steel. “I’m still standing.” This is round two.

“Well, with everything that’s been going on lately with you.  It’s sad to see how far you’ve fallen.”

“Seriously?” It’s Travis who speaks, drawing Montgomery’s attention away from his ex and to her current boyfriend. "

“That’s funny. I consider myself an upgrade.” He places a small kiss at the top of Liz’s head, and shoots Montgomery’s companion his deadliest smile. The one he knows can make most women melt. It works. She shifts on her feet.

“I don’t think we ever formally met,” Travis says to Montgomery. “I’m your replacement.”

“I KNOW who you are, and frankly, I don’t give a fuck.”

Liz’s eyes go wide. She can tell Montgomery is pissed. It’s in the throbbing vein in his neck. And his hand is curled in a fist. It gets quiet all around them. He’s practically yelled at them. Now people are looking, waiting and watching for the conflict to begin. But neither Travis nor Liz provide that outcome. 

“Clearly you didn’t, and I did. Thank you for the gift. Much appreciated, mate.” Travis says, taking Liz and casually walking away, leaving the crowd to puzzle over the context.

It puts Montgomery in an awkward spot. His date starts to distance herself from him.

“Um…I have to go to the bathroom,” she says, walking away quickly.

When masks come off, people get exposed for what and who they are. 

.

.

“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” Liz says when they step into the condo. The first thing she does is remove her shoes. These are four hour heels, and the fourth hour expired 45 minutes ago.

“See? And you were worried.”

“If I would have come alone, it would have been awful. Thank you,” she says as he kicks off his hard bottoms and comes over, wrapping his arms around her waist and lowering his head to kiss her neck. She wraps her arms around his, enjoying the touch.

“mmm hmmm…”

Travis’s hands slide down her back and wrap around her butt. He squeezes and she laughs quietly. His lips are traveling slowly down the back of her ear, coming to nibble at the base of her shoulder.  And when he pushes their bodies together she absolutely knows what his intent is.

“I LOVE this dress,” he tells her, the words coming out in a low, rolling rumble that feels more like a vibration. “But you know what I love even more?”

“What?” she breathes, head back as his mouth trails across her collarbone.

“You out of it.” His hand find the zipper, pulling it down and allowing it to fall, leaving Liz in a black strapless bra and matching lace panties.

Her hands go to the zipper of his slacks and pull it down and pulling him out. It’s heavy and warm in her hand. Thick.

It gets quiet as they back down the hall and he lays her down onto the bed, stopping briefly to take off his shirt and remove his pants, before lowering his body to hers, and removing her bra and panties.

He nuzzles, spreading Liz’s legs and lowering himself between them.

A soft hitch of breath as he enters, and stills himself, feeling the initial rush of pleasure. She’s tight. A feeling he still hasn’t quite adjusted too and each time is like discovering this all over again. It takes a moment to gather himself and he distracts by kissing Liz, her forehead, her cheeks, her nose, her lips…any and every available piece of skin he puts his mouth on. Slowly, he starts to move.

“Ohhh….” A moan, and her grip around his neck tightens, pulling him even closer.

“Look at me, lovie.”

Her eyes flutter open and he feels her shudder against his body. Her sex clenches around his, making him moan against her mouth. He keeps his pace, though, carefully removing her arms from around his neck, and bringing them over her head, pinning her body under his.

 This is what he likes.

To be in control of her pleasure. To guide their lovemaking. To have her and own her and be in charge of this. Here, she submits to him.

.

.

Travis is first to wake up. The sun hits his eyes and he winces at it, and yawns. There’s a weight on his chest, and when he looks down, he smiles. Liz.

 She’s draped across his body, hair fanned out across the pillows.  The blankets and sheets are on the floor. The mattress pad has rolled off on the bottom right side.

He uses a finger to brush her hair away from her face, so he can see her fully. She hasn’t stirred and he stays still, careful not to wake her and resisting the urge to just squeeze her.

Last night…when he closes his eyes, their lovemaking is on repeat. The look of passion in her face. Her soft whimpers in his ears, the husky cries as she came…as he came…they came. Together.

Travis opens his eyes at that one and looks down at his sleeping girlfriend. He cannot remember how many times he was in Liz last night. But he knows damn well he didn’t pull out for any of them.

Chapter Text

Chapter xx

June

Rose is throwing a barbeque for friends.  They arrive by 11 and she comes down the steps to greet Liz and Travis with hugs.

“Come on in. The food is just getting off the grille.”

Inside the smell of barbeque permeates, and Travis makes a beeline for the kitchen, taking the stairs two at a time. Rose laughs.

“Did you feed him this morning?”

“Yes! I swear!” Liz says, chuckling as they walk together.

 “Hmm…”Rose says, looking as Travis finds the paper plates and begins appraising the food. “Perhaps you need to feed him more. That’s ridiculous.”

All Liz can do is shake her head as her boyfriend piles a plate high with grilled chicken and steaks and the veggie salad Rose made. She knows that’s only Round One. Where he puts it all, she has no idea. But she knows it goes somewhere and she’s got the grocery bill to prove it. Last month it was more than $500. Before Travis moved in, it was $150.

 “Oh, Cassandra should be coming soon, too. You know she and Bishop had the baby.”

Cassandra. Her childhood bestie and one of many of Rose’s “adopted” kids. Liz stops at the bottom of the stairs.

“They had a baby? I thought Bishop didn’t want any?”

“Yes, well, Cass wore him down, apparently,” her mother tells her. “That was a big issue for them, what with the age difference.”

Bishop is 12 years older than Cass, and when they got married, his kids were all teenagers. Liz remembers the early days when her friend would call, sad.

“But why did you marry him knowing he didn’t want kids?”

 “Because I love him,” Cass told her. Liz didn’t understand it at the time. But that was seven years ago and she was in an entirely different place. Now, she thinks she understands her friend’s logic a lot more now. There’s a lot someone will put up with, for love.

The doorbell chimes and Liz answers it, seeing Cass.

They squeal and hug each other, hard.

“It’s a damn shame we live in the same city and NEVER see each other,” her friend says, walking inside with a baby in her arms.

“Oh wow! You DID have a baby!”

“Um hmmm. I sent you a shower invitation but you never responded. Where the hell have you been for the past year?”

At that, Liz cringes. “I was…occupied.”

“Oh yeah…” Cass grins. “With your new beau? Kelli told me about him. Is he here? I want to meet him!”

“And I want to meet him,” Liz says pointing and holding out her arms. “May I?”

Cassandra hands her the baby. He’s swaddled tight and Liz moves the blanket to reveal two big brown eyes blinking at her from a small, brown face. There’s a mess of black curls on his head.

“Oh,” she breathes, “He’s so pretty.”

That feeling again. The one she felt at Thanksgiving. It’s back.

“I KNOW, right? A total baby model,” Cass laughs, watching Liz hold her son. “So. I showed you mine. Now, you show me yours,” she says. Liz walks up the stairs, baby in arms, and heads to the back patio and outside. Travis is at the table with some of Rose’s friends, presently holding court on fishing.

“Mufa.”

He looks up to see her smiling at him, and he moves quickly to come and kiss her. It’s then he spots what’s in her arms.

“Hey…?”

He looks down to a tiny face and a toothless grin.

 “Heyyy there, little fella.” Travis leans down closer, and two tiny hands reach out for his face, clasping his beard. He laughs and tickles the baby and it coos at him.

“I think you made a friend,” Liz says, rocking the baby a bit in her arms.

“Psst…” Cass. She looks at her friend.

“Oh! Travis, this is my friend Cassandra, Cass, this is my boyfriend, Travis.”

The two shake hands. “Nice to meet you, Kelli has told me a lot.” He laughs. “I think she’s told everyone a lot. I have to get her to lower people’s expectations about me.”

Cass smiles. “Nah. You’re good. If you haven’t heard it yet, welcome to the family where no one ever leaves.” All three of them chuckle at that one. Rose just keeps adding more and more people. Even most of Liz, Cass and Kelli’s ex-boyfriends still come by to say hello to their mother.

“So, who is the little one?” Travis asks, taking a glance back at Liz. She’s presently smiling at the baby, whispering to him and laughing when a little hand reaches out to her. She gives him a finger and five tiny ones wrap around it.

He feels the familiar pang in his chest. Except, its more visceral now as he watches his girlfriend with an infant in her arms. For a moment, he thinks about what could have been…had their “accident” actually succeeded. Travis counts the months.

Liz would be having his baby right now. And she looks amazing with one in her arms.

“That’s my son, Alexander. He’s four months old. Still fresh.”

Travis leans down again and inhales. The baby smells like milk and powder. He is still fresh. New. 

“He’s cute.” Little arms reach for his face and clasp his cheeks. He crosses his eyes at the baby and gets a toothless grin in return.

Liz looks at him and smiles and he comes behind her.  Their bodies are close, and he wraps her in a back hug, leaning to whisper words meant only for her ears.

“I want to put one in you.”

It makes her flush, and tingle in her belly that’s been there since taking Alex is now a deep throb.  When his lips find hers in a soft kiss, it makes her shiver. They both look at the baby.

“Sooo…I’m gonna find Rose…” Cass says slowly, watching them swoon. It’s so obvious. If she didn’t know Liz well, she might get worried they’d kidnap Alex. He starts to whimper and Cass reaches for him. “Lunchtime,” she explains. Liz hands him over, looking wistful. Travis sees it and grabs her hand.

“Let’s go somewhere for a minute,” he says quietly. She looks up and him and nods, taking him in the house and going downstairs to the den. It’s empty. She closes the door to the room and locks it, and walks them to the back bedroom, closing that door and locking it too.

Travis undresses her carefully, as she unbuttons his shirt, then his pants. He kicks off his sandals and picks her up, carrying her to the bed and sitting her down at the edge, spreading her legs, before kneeling down and kissing her between them.

She moans, hands on his shoulders, head back as he nibbles on the inside of her thighs and starts working his way back up her body, bringing them both further onto the bed.

Liz knows what he’s feeling. She’s feeling it too, and when he looks at her, she nods quietly, giving him permission.

And when she comes with a shout he holds her tight as she trembles and clenches all around him, drawing his sex and his seed into her body. It’s no longer a question of maybe. It’s a want…a need.

.

.

 “That man is fine,” Cass says, giving Liz side eye as she walks into the living room and settles down on the couch across from her.

Cass isn’t stupid. She’d watched them go downstairs and could hear very clearly what was going on. Liz must have forgotten that the downstairs bedroom is directly under the living room. She winces a bit. Baby Alex is greedy today.

“Can you pass me a blanket out of that bag?”

“Sure.” Liz hands one to her and Cassandra drapes it over her shoulder and across Alex.

“So, I take it that’s where you’ve been the past year,” she says. “I don’t blame you, one bit.” Liz crosses her legs and has the decency to look embarrassed. Cass laughs.

“Fix your hair. And by the way, Rose is looking for you.”

.

.

 “So, what’s been going on with you, daughter? This is the first I’m seeing of you since Travis got back. Are you two…good?”

“Yes. We’re fine.”

“Are YOU good?” Rose is probing and at that, Liz looks away from her mother, toward the patio where there’s a round of loud, raucous laughter. The beers are out, and three bottles are empty in front of Travis. Liz already knows how he is when drunk. It takes a while to get him there, but when he is…he’s nothing but trouble. In a fun, mischievous way.

“I’m….” She’s been better. Not as bad as it was, but nowhere near as good as it was, either.

Rose knows her daughter. Liz has never been the type to go weeping on her parents’ shoulder nor has she ever asked for help. She’s a Dubek, and they raised women to be strong. Sometimes, too strong for their own good. And she can see in Liz’s face that she’s struggling with something.

“Follow me,” she says walking down the hall to the master bedroom. The doors close and Rose takes a seat on the bed, Liz on the floor in front of her.

“Out with it.”

“I’m confused.”

She waits, already having more than an inkling on what Liz is confused about.

“I feel like I’m at a crossroads. That I can go left or right, forward or back. And I’ve got no idea where to go.”

“Where do you WANT to go?”

“It’s not about what I want.”

“Oh, why not? Because you’re trying to apply logic where there isn’t any, Elizabeth. And THAT’s why you’re confused. You knew the answer to your own question back in November. And you know the answer to it now. I suggest ignoring what your head says and listening to your heart. Because the heart wants what it wants and there’s no changing its mind.” Rose looks at her daughter, long and hard.

“It seems like you really have two choices—shit, or get off the pot. The only thing stopping you…is you.”

.

.

Later, Travis and Liz are snuggled up together in bed. He’s spooning her, hard, as usual, but not pressing.

“You friend’s son is adorable,” he whispers, running a hand down her arm and putting it on her belly. Liz feels that familiar tingle again, and shifts a bit, clenching her legs together.

“Liz…”

“Yes, Travis?”

He pulls her tight against him, weighing whether now is the right time to ask the question. What is there to lose? Everything. But what is there to gain? Forever. And he wants Liz as his forever. He’s been thinking of the baby all day, wanting more than ever now, to make one—with her. To build a family and a future with her…if she’ll have him.

“Do you still not want kids?”

She’s quiet, and he feels the all-too familiar burn of disappointment starting. He tries to swallow it down. But after several minutes, Liz is still silent, and he knows that’s her answer.

“Then I guess it’s no.”

Rejection. Again. Another lost cause. More time wasted. He should have known better than this. It's his curse. Always drawn to the same type of woman and each time, hoping for a different outcome. The definition of insanity. It will never happen for him. He just has to accept that the fantasy he holds in his head and his heart is exactly that. A fantasy. Maybe everyone was right. That he's asking too much. Wanting too much. Travis starts to get up when Liz rolls over to look at him, bringing him back down. He’s never been able to resist when her hands touch his cheek.

“Mufa.”

He looks at her, those big brown eyes drawing him in, searching, probing. Her lips meet his in a soft kiss.

After the abortion she swore to herself she’d never have another; that if a pregnancy came to pass, she would carry—that she would never put her body or her soul through that again. But she also swore to herself that she would never be in that position again. The miscarriage made her realize that her own time was ticking…it was a loss that hurt unexpectedly. Arkansas made her think that maybe…if it were to happen, she could be okay with it. But now...

“The only babies I want are yours.”

“Is that yes?”

She smiles. “Only with you. Only for you.”

Because she does love him. She loved him from the first time she held his hands in hers. That’s when Liz fell for Travis. It was why she was so mad when he didn’t call for months. Why she’d been so standoffish at the dinner in Atlanta, yet so ready and willing to let him into her home, in between her legs. He’s different. Quiet, where others are loud, bold where others are weak, soft where others are hard, hard where others are soft .He’s her grandfather and her father rolled up into one—the best of all the good men she’s ever known and it must be kismet that in the end, she ends up with him.

Maybe there really is something to the saying that women are drawn to men like their fathers.

Travis smiles, relief. Love. Happiness. All those things, felt before, but never all at once. He feels too full, and it takes him a moment before he can open his mouth to speak again.

“Can I ask you another question?”

They are side by side, face to face, open and bare to each other, physically and emotionally.  She's said yes once, and maybe...she'll say yes again. He presses his luck, deciding to put it all out there.

 “Marry me.”

Rose had put it rather indelicately, but Liz knows exactly what her mother was getting at. She’s been straddling this fence for way too long. But when she gives him her answer, she knows it’s the right one to make. That if they’re ever going to be anything more, it has to happen now. This is their window of opportunity—and she has to get through it before it closes.

She answers him with a kiss.

He takes it.

"Yes."

Chapter Text

Two and a half years ago she stood in line trying to get an autograph from Travis Fimmel for her sister.

Two and a half years ago he misspelled Kelli’s name, then told the absolute worst story he could have to an audience of people that included Liz Dubek.

Two and a half years ago they went for drinks, then dinner…and two and a half years ago they lost, then found each other again.

Their happiness is entirely their own. And they choose to keep it that way until they decide how and who to inform first. Travis doesn’t do social media, and all of Liz’s profiles on twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn are related to work—she puts absolutely NO personal information in them. So there is absolutely no way anyone will find out until they’re good and ready to let others know. Including their families.

It’s determined that will happen after Travis gets back from Los Angeles.

“I’ve got a few meetings I have to go to,” he told her the night before. “A few things I’ve been working on for a while.”

“When will you be back?”

“It should only be a few days. Likely by Monday at the latest.”

She’s been wearing her engagement ring, but it’s upside down, the stone hidden under her finger, leaving only the slender band visible. And no one has been the wiser of it.

These past several weeks have been absolutely blissful for them. And that morning, Liz had woken with her future husband still inside her. It was intimate, almost spiritual in its strength and for only the second time in her now six years at WGPU, she’s late to work. Her hair is a mess, too. And she didn’t shower, so she knows she smells like sex.  In fact, the fact she doesn’t care what she looks or smells like, nor does she care she’s late to a job she doesn’t like, lets her know exactly what her next move will be.

“Hey….Liz?” Tanya looks up at her as she strolls into the newsroom, late to her own meeting.

“So, what’s the rundown?” Liz says, yawning and turning on her computer to watch the hundreds of emails begin to populate in her Outlook.

“You look…rested.” Tanya tells her, wryly.

“If that’s code for ‘well fucked’, then the answer is yes,” Liz says casually.

At that, Tanya arches an eyebrow and damn near spits her coffee. “Language, much?”

Liz laughs dismissively. “Who cares?  I’m tired of pretending. I’ve been pretending for the last two months.”

Pretending that she’s fine. That the talk doesn’t bother her. That being blackballed hasn’t bothered her. That becoming ‘that woman’ hasn’t bothered her. Now though, she’s no longer pretending. It doesn’t. She’s beyond over it. And for a very good reason.

Tanya is speechless, trying to understand Liz’s IDGAF attitude. She’s been worried, watching her friend and boss stress out over the situation and work herself nearly to the point of exhaustion. Liz has been in the office earlier than any of them and stayed far later too—working, working. Like she has something to prove. Most of the reporters have been worried, but none have been brave enough to say anything, letting the task fall to Tanya. But Liz had brushed off her concerns and just kept going—almost like a robot.  

Still, for the last few weeks, it seems like something has shifted. Liz has been back to working her normal hours. Coming in at 8 and leaving at 5, not 6 anymore. And while she has remained a bit standoffish—today, there’s a smile on her face. And that, coupled with her messy hair and a swish in her walk…well…Tanya has a good idea what’s contributing to THAT. Not to mention there’s a red mark on her chest, barely covered by the top she’s got on. A bite mark.

“Travis is still here?”

Liz shakes her head. “He left this morning.”

“Where’d he go?”

“L.A. he said he had business. He’ll be back by Monday.”

“You know, it’s been a while since we had a sleepover,” Tanya says. “And since you’re single for the next few days, how about Friday?”

Liz grins. “That would be great. We haven’t talked in a few weeks. We’ve got some catching up to do.”

Tanya leaves and Liz opens Word, and starts writing, having reached her decision that morning.

Once that task is done, she takes out the card Mark gave her at the gala, and opens her private email, sending a letter attached to her resume to the address.

.

.

Friday arrives and by the time the day is over, both Liz and Tanya are in desperate need of liquor. Courtesy of Travis, Liz’s bar is now stocked. He’s still in Los Angeles negotiating another movie, and had called earlier in the day to say it would take another few days. She’d been disappointed. It means she’ll be alone a little while longer, and she doesn’t want to be.

They’ve been playing house now for two months, and his imprint is everywhere -- toothbrush in her bathroom, clothes in her closet. His smell on her sheets. Her pillows. Her couch. Not to mention the grocery bill.

Until him, she’d never thought much of marriage. Or even of domesticity, and had largely mocked other women who held such things as dreams. It wasn’t practical or pragmatic. But these past three years have taught her that love isn’t a practical or pragmatic thing. And Liz loves it. What she and Travis share. Their intimacy. Their simple domesticity. The easy routine they’ve fallen into with each other. She likes going to sleep with him and waking up to him…morning breath and all. Which is why she’s presently missing him like crazy and growing increasingly horny. The whisky and coke she’s now mixing and drinking is making it that much worse, and the more Liz drinks the drunker she gets.

“Today was my last day,” she tells Tanya, passing her friend a cup as they settle on the couch. “As of 5 p.m. I am no longer employed with WGPU.”

“What? You QUIT?” Tanya is shocked. This isn’t quite the way she thought their evening would start off. “WHY would you do that? You worked so hard, Liz! For them, for us…for yourself…”

“Yeah. But I worked hard for people who don’t appreciate it. So I quit. I don’t need all the shit I’ve put up with these past two months. It’s ridiculous. Who I choose to fuck and suck is my business and no one else’s. And its bullshit the way I’m being treated. Like I’m some gold digger. So fuck them. It’s WGPU’s loss.”

Tanya gives her an open-mouthed stare. It’s a bit too much of a visual. This MUST be the dark liquor talking, because Liz is too proper for that. But apparently that prim and proper Liz is taking a back seat to the ‘don’t give a damn’ Liz who is beginning to emerge.

She reared her head earlier in the week. Lady Liz is starting to disappear.

“So where are you going?”

“I don’t know yet. But I do know it’s not here. So, what’s new?” They both drink some more, and Tanya shows her the new meme going around. Liz cracks up at Gabrielle Union’s version of it.

“I feel her on that one,” she comments. Tanya cracks up. “So what would YOU do for the dick, Liz?” She asks, slyly.

Liz smirks and turns on her iPhone, hooking it to the wireless speaker. Soon, the beat begins to the fill the living room. She takes another sip of her drink and leans back into the seat

“I quit my job for the D---.

He made me climb the walls with the D---.

Flew to Cali for the D…Ireland, Canada, and Australia for the D---.

I said ‘I love you’ for the D---.

I let him hit it raw for the D---.

I’ll be his freak for the D--- /9-to-5, straight-laced, midnight ho for the D----.”

Liz starts laughing when she finishes, and Tanya is shaking so hard she’s crying. It takes her a moment to collect herself and when she does, she looks at Liz, who’s presently reclined on the couch, still, eyes closed and a smile on her face.

“Damn, girl. He’s that good?”

It’s the dark liquor talking. By now, the red cup is empty and she made their drinks strong. At the moment, Liz is more than a bit buzzed.  

“Yes, he is.” Without prompting, she slips in another verse.

“I might have his baby for the D… maybe move to Cali let him wife me for the D…”

The last few words come a lot slower, slightly slurred, and its then that Tanya catches the glint of something on Liz’s finger. Her friend goes quiet and she takes another sip of her drink and looks at Liz’s hands. She sees something there she hasn’t quite noticed before. In the midst of playing around, the ring that’s been hiding under the palm has turned, and now rests sideways on top of the left ring finger.

Tanya looks at Liz, now passed out on the couch, and down again at the finger.

What she’s looking at is a large round diamond solitaire, with two baguettes on the side. It’s gorgeous. Expensive. Beautiful and really, really sparkly.

That’s a few thousand dollars right there. No wonder Liz has looked so de-stressed these past few weeks. It’s obvious why she doesn’t give a flying fuck right now. Tanya knows and she cannot fault Liz for it either. Her friend checked out of WGPU a while ago. Mentally, and emotionally, Liz’s priorities are now elsewhere.

Tanya laughs quietly for herself. Amazing the power of dark liquor. A truth serum if there ever was one.

She drifts off to sleep on the other side of the couch only to be awakened a few hours later by the sound of a key and the creaking of the front door. She sits up to see a man walk in with a duffel bag in hand. He’s a little on the tall side, a black beanie on his head, with hair sticking out from under it. Dark but faded jeans, flip flops and a hoodie complete the look. Sharp, light blue eyes look her way, surprised.

“You must be Travis,” she says quietly, standing to stretch then going to shake his hand. “I’m Tanya. I don’t think we ever got formally introduced.” Now that he’s close, she has a chance to give him an independent appraisal. He takes off the hat, and she smiles, seeing his hair, thick and uncombed. His beard is long too. He’s…furry, for sure, but really handsome as well. His brow furrows a bit and she sees the fine lines around his eyes, and his lips.

“You’re older than they make you look on TV,” she tells him, extending her hand. He takes it. “You’re Tanya,” he says, looking at her. “Nice to finally meet you. Liz talks about you a lot.” They’re speaking in low, hushed voices. Liz is fast asleep on the couch. Travis looks at his fiancé then at Tanya. “What happened to her?”

“Whiskey and coke,” she says smiling. “She got ahold of your Jameson.”

“She’s a featherweight,” he agrees, walking over and observing the rise and fall of Liz’s chest. “I was trying to surprise her. Guess it’ll wait for tomorrow.”

“She’s going to be happy. She’s been missing you. But don’t tell her I told you that. She’ll be pissed.”

Travis laughs again. “I know. That woman is stubborn.”

“That, she is, about a lot of things.” Tanya grabs her purse and keys and heads out the door. “Nice meeting you, Travis.” 

When she’s gone, he goes to Liz and gets to his knees beside her by the couch. She looks so peaceful, and he brushes the hair from her face. She stirs a bit and he smiles. This woman. This incredibly difficult, stubborn, sexy, smart, beautiful woman.

His woman.

He scoops her into his arms. She moans a bit but doesn’t wake as he carries her into the room and puts her to bed before climbing in next to her. All she does is roll closer to him and put an arm across his chest, using him as her pillow. That, he doesn’t mind.

This…their “playing house” he’s enjoyed. But he doesn’t want to play anymore. He’s ready to make it permanent. And he’s already found the house.

The trip out to California was for a meeting—technically, not a lie. But he was meeting with a realtor. Santa Clarita has good schools. A nice suburb, stores, doctor’s offices and clinics.  It’s close enough to Los Angeles without having to be in the thick of it. Fifteen acres with a house: three bedrooms, two bathrooms. They can raise kids and live quietly. She could commute to Culver City, where he knows there’s a public radio station and that way she won’t have to give up her career—he knows that’s important to her. For her. To maintain some independence.  

What he’s trying to do is make a home for her. A home for himself. A home for them. For the family he’s hoping they’ll have…soon.

It’s going to take a lot to talk her into it. He knows this is her greatest fear. Losing control. Losing herself. Submitting. They’ve been silently battling over who is in control for most of their relationship and even though she’s said yes to marriage, and yes to babies…he also knows Liz well enough to see that as soon as it gets close, starts getting real, she’s highly likely to freeze.

But it’s time. He turns 39 next month.

.

.

When she wakes up the next morning, she rolls over and bumps into a warm, firm body. Liz’s eyes flit open and she gasps when she sees Travis, grinning at her.

“Surprise,” he says softly, moving her hair away from her face.

“Mufa!” Liz pounces on him, straddling his lap and kissing his face. He laughs.

“Happy to see me?”

Liz smirks, lowering her forehead to his. “I missed you.” She looks at him. “Want to see how much?”

Oh hell yes, he does.

Afterward, she tells him what she did.

“I quit yesterday.”

He looks at her, surprised. “You …what?”

“I quit. Friday was my last day. As of now, I am unemployed for the first time in my adult life.”

Whoa.

Travis studies Liz. She’s wearing a tiny smile and doesn’t seem to be in any distress, but… he puts his hand to her head. Her cheek.

“What are you doing?”

“Checking to see if you’re sick,” he says. “Are you serious? You love your job.”

“Yes, but it didn’t love me. And I refuse to work in conditions like that. I told you last month at the gala that I was starting not to give a fuck and I realized the day after you left that I was done trying to play nice and get along. It’s not worth it. It’s not like I live paycheck-to-paycheck. And it was never about the money, only my personal satisfaction. And I stopped feeling that. So it was time.”

“Liz,” he tells her seriously, “I can help you pay the bills. I’ve been freeloading for the past two months. I can help.”

 At that, she laughs at him. It sounds like bells to his ears, and he looks at her, confused. “Why are you laughing at me?”

“I’m not laughing at you, Mufa. It’s sweet. And thank you. You can if you want, but it’s not necessary.”

“But you’re not working…”

“Travis,” she says more firmly, climbing out of bed naked and going for his shirt. “Money is a non-issue.”

“How is that possible, Liz? Hell, it’s an issue to and for me, how can it not be for you? I don’t get it.”

He’s sitting up now, watching as she goes to the living room and comes back with her computer. Quietly she pulls up her checking and savings accounts and he looks at the figures.

“Oh.”

‘Yeah.”

“How?” He’s curious. Her net worth is only slightly less than his own, and he’s an actor and she’s a…journalist. Not trying to be funny, but…even at six figures a year…he still makes more than Liz. It doesn’t really add up and Travis is puzzled. There’s no insecurity, it’s just…he honestly can’t figure out how she did it seemingly with no effort while he’s been slaving his life away for the past 10 years.

“Didn’t grandpa give you the ‘rich vs. wealthy’ lecture?” Liz asks. Travis nods. “Yeah, but…”

“I bought my first place when I was still in college,” she says. “I managed to go FHA, and it was a foreclosure. It was the only condo available in a quad at the time. I snapped it up for about $5,000 down and was able to pay $500 a month. It was a 2/2 so I got a roommate and charged her $550. Eventually, the other units came up for sale, and I saved every dime I earned, and was able to buy those too---I owned the whole thing by the time I graduated and rented the rest of the units out. From that money, I bought two townhouses—both were in foreclosure. I rehabbed them, and rented those out too. Now, that was at the low point of the market. 10 years ago. Today, there’s a lot of equity and they’re all income-producing.”

“So…you basically own six properties?” He asks. She nods. “Yes. All are in Florida. Seven, if you include this one. The income from those is more than enough to pay my present obligations. So I basically live for free, and that allows me to save most of the money I’ve made at WGPU for the past six years. I just got vested, so I keep everything in my company IRA, too.”

Holy shit. Liz is very much her grandfather’s progeny. It’s exactly what Sal told him he’d done when Travis asked about how the old man did it.

“Work smarter, not harder,” he says largely to himself. Travis is impressed. He wonders if any of her colleagues know about it and asks. She shakes her head, no. “It’s no one’s business to be in my purse, my bedroom or my vagina,” Liz tells him. “And too many people right now are trying to be in all three.”

This is his Liz.

At that he smiles and scoots close, resting his head on her thigh and looking up at her with big eyes.

“But if they only knew what was going on in your bedroom and your vagina, though…”

Liz giggles as he gets up and pulls her off the bed, and against the wall.

.

.

The first person they call with the news is Kelli, who is in Miami doing medical rotations.

“WHEN is the wedding?” Her sister demands. “Please don’t do that ‘year wait’ thing. That’s such bullshit.”

Liz and Travis laugh. It’s actually something they’ve spoken briefly about. He’s got Comic Con in July, and a movie premiere in August and he’ll start filming his new movie in September. But he has said it will go quickly so they’ve decided to get married in November.

Liz tells Kelli the date.

“Oh! And where?”

“We’re still looking,” Travis says. The where is a lot trickier. Their families are split between two countries and multiple states. Georgia, Arkansas, California and Victoria, Australia.

The next call is to Rose and Travis’ mom. Both are thrilled, and the final call goes to Ann and Sal.

“About damn time! Sal proclaims. “Now Travis, follow my advice here. You need to stop drinking and smoking for the next couple months. Keep your swimmers strong. That way you get it in and Boom! Babies, guaranteed. If you get lucky, you’ll get a bo-go!”

“Sal!” Liz can hear her grandmother’s mortification over the phone, and laughs. Neither she nor Travis directly respond to Sal but Travis looks at his fiancé and she leans against him.

Quietly…they’ve already started trying. Or rather, he’s trying and she’s letting him.

Chapter Text

 

July

“Mufa, you’re getting fat.”

It’s the first time she’s noticed it. And it comes when he rolls over on top of her and she can’t breathe.

Travis starts laughing. “Well, I mean…it IS your fault.”

“HOW is it my fault?” Liz places a hand on his belly and pokes. He flinches away and she laughs at him, knowing damn well he’s ticklish to a fault.

“See? That’s at least three months, hun.”

“Well, I’ve been here for the last three months sooo….” A side-eye her way. “You’re the one feeding me.”

“So I’ve been over-feeding you? Is that it? Fine.” Liz climbs out of bed and dodges when he tries to grab her.

“Where are you going?”

 “To make breakfast.” That gets a big grin. She grins, too, knowing the one thing her fiancé loves more than beer and whisky is food. And sex…but if he had to choose between food and sex…well…she knows which one would be on the losing end. Sex.

When he comes in a few minutes later, Travis frowns.

“What’s that?”

She gives him a plate.

“Egg whites, spinach, roasted tomato salsa with swiss cheese and black beans.”

“Um…” he looks at the omelet, then at Liz. “No bacon?”

“Nope. You have Comic Con, a movie premiere AND a movie coming up between now and September and you’re not going to any of them fat. And speaking of that,” she leans in to kiss him, trying to not snicker at the sad face he’s presently wearing… you need a trim. You’re looking more like a wildebeest than a lion. Time to clean up.”

It gets a groan, but Liz doesn’t back down. Instead, she forces his lazy ass into the gym.

.

.

She’s been closely following the Harvey Weinstein case, and is surprised by the number of people who have stepped forward. While Liz has heard anecdotal reports during her years and interviews with actresses, she’s never seen anything on this scale.

 So one day, she asks Travis about it.

He brushes her off. But the curt response only makes her ask again.

“This really bothers, you, doesn’t it?”

She can tell. It’s by the way he goes straight to the Jameson, skipping the Modelos. It’s in the way he doesn’t even bother with a glass, just drinks from the bottle.

“Travis?”

He’s still not talking and she opts to let it go.

It’s only later that he tells her, and he’s clear on one point. “We will NEVER discuss this again.” When he finishes the story, Liz feels…she can’t even really put it into words. There are only just tears.

“I never said I was perfect.” He tells her, wiping them away with a thumb. “Do you still want to marry me? Knowing what you do?”

Because he’s never told another living soul about it, and he never will again.

She’s quiet, doesn’t answer. Just hugs him.

Much later, she tells him her secret. Something she’s never told anyone else. Not Rose. Not Ann. No one.

“I had just turned 17,” she says. “But the cops said because I was a legal adult in the state of Georgia, there was nothing they could do…even though it started when I was 15…and he was 37. How can a 15-year-old consent? I know what I did. What I thought, but...can a 15-year-old really consent?”

.

.

She comes with him to Comic Con, and when they meet Clive, Alex, Gustaf and Katheryn for dinner, Katheryn is first to notice the ring.

She grabs Liz’s hand, bringing it close to her face.

“You two didn’t say anything?” She looks at them, slightly hurt.

“We wanted to surprise you guys.”

“Well consider us surprised! Gustaf says. Alex laughs. “Not really though. Clive, you win the bet.”

“What bet?” Travis asks, as Alex and Gustaf hand Clive $400. He grins. “I bet them you would propose to Liz.”

Katheryn laughs. “Clive, give them their money back. You cheated!”

At that they look at her. “What do you mean, he cheated?” Alex asks. She just smiles. “Clive caught me at the jewelry store looking at rings.”

Liz smiles and leans over to hug Katheryn, “Travis told me he enlisted your help,” she says, wiggling her fingers to make the ring sparkle like crazy. “You have great taste.”

“Hey! I still paid for it!” Travis pouts. It gets him a kiss from his Lovie. “I know you did, Mufa. And I love you for it. But you HAVE to pick out the wedding bands.”

“Mufa?” Alex asks. “She named you?”

Liz nods. “Yes. It’s short for Mufasa.”

“The Lion King? Katheryn says.

Alex lets out a high-pitched laugh and they all crack up. They have fun together. It’s a different perspective this time around.

Three years ago, she’d been the other side, just a spectator really, there to report and observe. Now, she’s taking it in from another angle. Travis, Katheryn, Clive, Gustaf and Alex are shuttled by their handlers from appearance-to-appearance. It’s all carefully timed and curated. She’s decided to hang back, allowing her fiancé to work. Which is exactly how he’d described it. “Work.”

But there is one perk, at least. Passes to pretty much everything, allowing Liz to indulge her inner child. And she does, heading to the writer’s workshop. She’s brought her manuscript with her, and as the speaker talks, Liz scribbles notes, flipping through her own work and jotting down suggestions and possible changes in the margins. This is something she’s worked on off and on for years. But it’s only been recently that she’s dusted it off and actually finished it. Her first novel. Written under a pen name.

A black, female protagonist in a science-fiction story.

It’s part of her new life. Or rather, her second act—and this time, she has absolutely nothing to prove to anyone but herself. This time, it’s about what she wants, and not trying to live up to an impossible ideal of what others think she should be. She spent 33 years doing that—trying to break the stereotype, going beyond the expectation and the perception. Now, she’s free to be her. And all that entails. Including returning to her first love. Writing.

After the panel, Liz heads off to watch Travis do his Warcraft 2 promotion. She walks to the front of the line and shows her pass and is allowed in, taking a seat near the middle of the room. Some place where she can watch, but not distract him.

The hall begins to fill up and there’s a big cheer when the cast is introduced and walks out.

 Travis comes first, and there’s a big cheer for him. Paula comes next and gets several whistles from the audience. The rest get cheers and applause as well.

It’s a fun panel, even though Travis does his usual mumble routine into the mic, chiming in on occasion with a wise crack or somewhat sly/suggestive joke, but any question involving him and Paula—Liz notes the deflection. But while Travis plays it down, Paula doesn’t.

“So what about that sex scene that got edited?” An audience member asks. “Travis, Paula…did that bring back…memories?”

There are snickers and a few cat calls. Travis settles back in his seat, arms crossed, but Paula leans into the mic, looking at him with a smirk.

“Let’s just say he’s really good with his…sword,” she says to cheers and more than a few whistles.

His eyes dart to hers, and the look that passes between them is unmistakable: at least to Liz. Travis looks like he could murder Paula on the spot and Paula looks completely satisfied—like she knew exactly how and where to hit.

But Travis isn’t going to let her get away with it. He leans forward.

“Don’t worry folks, there won’t be any more of those,” he drawls, the words slow, but crystal clear. And when he looks at Paula again, it’s with ice in his eyes, and sugar in the words.

“Those teeth pose a bit of a problem in certain areas. She’s got a hard time swallowing.”

At that, there’s an audible gasp from the audience coupled with some nervous laughter. Paula flips her hair and looks away and the moderator quickly jumps in and steers the conversation away. But Liz has seen and heard enough. When it’s over, she goes backstage to find Travis speaking to his male co-stars. He sees her and beckons her over, slipping is hand into hers.

“This is Liz,” he tells them, making introductions. She smiles politely and shakes their hands, and everyone exchanges greetings. Afterward, the two of them start to wander off when the devil walks up.

Paula.

“You’re an asshole,” she hisses to Travis. He just smiles. “And you’re a cunt. So we’re even.”

Her eyes narrow at him, then go to Liz, looking her up and down, her eyes pausing at the ring on her finger. She laughs.

“How many of his hoes did you have to ignore to get that?” She asks Liz.

Her reply is swift and biting. “Only you.”

At that, Travis’s hand goes to her back, steering her away and down a service hall. He stops them and takes a quick look around before speaking.

“Liz…”

She silences him with a finger and just kisses him.

“I know. It was two years ago. We moved on. And we will not go backward.”

He rests his head against hers, and just holds her.

.

.

The next day, he leaves the hotel early.  “I’ll be back. I have to go meet with my agent,” he tells a half-asleep Liz.

“Okay,” she breathes, burrowing further under the white blankets. He smiles, running a hand down the covered outline of her body. Fiance. Soon-to-be wife. It’s shiny and new still and he likes this. Loves it really. To have someone to hold and kiss, and cuddle and keep warm, to comfort and to give it all as well. Sleeping alone is really for the birds. This, though. Is permanence. Commitment. A REAL relationship, not one of those temporary things he was doing before.

This is finality.

“You’re late, as usual.”

Kevin, his agent, gets up and gives him a man-hug.

“Long time, no see. Seems like you just up and disappeared, leaving me with all your shit. Where’ve you been, man?”

Travis shrugs, taking a chair in front of the desk.

“Busy,” he says.

“Bullshit. That woman in Atlanta? You’re still playing house?”

Yeah. He’s forgotten that he has made mention of Liz, before.

“Yeah. And speaking of that woman in Atlanta…I’m gonna marry her.”

Kevin blinks a few times, trying to fully wrap his head around what just came out of Travis’ mouth.

“Is she pregnant? You know you don’t have to marry them, right? What does she want? We can probably strike a deal with her people, if you want to keep it—Are you sure it’s yours?”

Travis holds up a hand.

“If I were you, I would stop while you’re  behind,” he says, the words coming out low. Threatening. Kevin sees the look, and has the sense enough to know when to stop talking.

“She’s not pregnant. Yet.”

“Then no offense, Travis, but…why is she marrying YOU?”

“Wow,” he rolls his eyes and shifts, draping one leg over the other. “That’s how much faith you got in me, mate? Because no one wants me, right?”

“That’s not exactly what I was getting at. All I’m trying to say is, protect yourself. Get a pre-nup.”

“Not happening.”

“Oh, come on, Travis. Contrary to how you like to play it, you and me both know you’re not dumb. I don’t know your woman, and I’m sure she’s a good girl,”—Kevin makes air quotes— “but you know better than anyone how these women are and you have to protect yourself—you’ve worked to hard to go all sentimental over a woman who could—not saying she will but—screw you outside the sheets.”

At that, it’s conversation over.

“Thanks for the advice, but I think I’ll leave it, considering the source,” Travis says drily. “I just need you to do what I need you to do. Are we clear on that?”

Kevin looks at him and just shakes his head.

“Yeah. We’re clear. Just…before you go skipping down the isle—think about your career. You’re hot right now and can get pussies wet and cocks hard. You’re less marketable with a ring on your hand. It’ll make it harder for you to get jobs once you take yourself off market. Sex still sells. And yours is a hot commodity.”

.

.

When he gets back to the hotel two hours later, Liz is still burrowed under the sheets. Travis is still smarting from his conversation with Kevin but at the sight of her, his annoyance level starts to drop and he smiles, a wicked, mischievous smile.

“Good morning Sunshine!” The black-out shades are drawn back quickly and the light strikes Liz’s eyes. That, coupled with Travis’s booming voice jolts her awake. And not two seconds later does he grab the blankets and strip them away from her.

She yelps, as he jumps on the bed, grabbing her and pulling her close as she shivers, the cold room air a shock to her system which had been comfortably warm only moments before.

“Wake up, Lovie,” he says, smiling at the pretty woman in his arms. Liz yawns in his face, and he scrunches his nose.

“Oh girl,” he says and Liz swats at him, wiggling a bit to get him to release her.

“Stay with me,” he gives her eyes and she smiles and kisses his chin.

“I have to pee.” At that, he lets her go and she slips into the bathroom. A moment later, he hears the shower going and considers joining her there, but he’s got a busy day planned for them, so he nixes it. That, plus, maybe if she likes his other ‘surprise’, it’ll be all the better tonight.

When Liz finally emerges from the bathroom naked, Travis is sitting on the bed, grinning at her.

“What?” She asks, bending over to reach into her open suitcase and pull out a bra and panties.

He comes behind her.

“You don’t have to wear that, you know.”

Liz laughs, turning to face him. Travis lowers his head to her neck, nuzzling her, the whiskers scratchy against her skin. He’s trimmed his beard, and its rougher when it’s short. Still, his lips taste and feel wonderful as always, and she runs her fingers through his hair, shorter also, but still thick and unkempt.

“Why don’t you ever brush this,” she murmurs against his mouth.

“I thought you liked my mane?” He says. She chuckles. “I do. No more shaved head. Stay furry. I love it.”

If he had his choice, Liz would be naked, but in the end, she insists on putting on clothes. A dress though, and he’s won his bid for no panties. But she doesn’t cave on the bra.

The drive takes nearly three hours, and for most of that time, she’s been asking, and he’s been deflecting.

Eventually, a sign reading “Santa Clarita” comes into view and they end up taking the first exit, driving through the town and further out, into a less populated area. The houses become fewer and further between and Travis starts driving them up a hill, eventually coming to a stop in front of a gray, stucco ranch house. Liz climbs out the car and follows him. There’s another vehicle already parked and the door is unlocked. They walk in and a tall, red-headed woman comes to greet them.

“Travis, glad to see you made it.” She says, shaking his hand.

“Thanks for doing this, Amelia.”  He says. “This is my fiancé Liz.” She shakes Amelia’s hand.

“Well, I’ll be outside. You two take your time. Let me know what you want to do,” Amelia says, walking out the door.

Liz turns to him. “What is this?” She asks, taking a closer look at her surroundings. The house wasn’t much from outside. In fact, it’s downright comely with its stucco, gray walls, flat façade and metal roof. But inside…is another matter. The foyer they’re standing in has a polished, brick floor, the walls wood paneled. There’s a lot of that. And as she starts to wander around the house, she’s hit with a sense of…nostalgia. It feels like her grandparents’ home in Arkansas. That same warmth. The familiarity, the comfort.

The house has a library, three bedrooms, and the kitchen has a tiled floor, real wood cabinets, with Spanish tile countertops and terracotta backsplashes. It’s large and open and Liz ends up stepping down into a den with an antique, wood-burning cast iron furnace against one wall. It’s beautiful and she fingers it.

“Does this work?” She asks as Travis comes walking in.

“Yeah. I think so.”

It’s lovely, adding to the rustic feel of the house.

“Mufa…what IS this?”

He comes behind her pulling her against him. “If you like it,” he tells her, “it’s our new home.”

Our home. Their home.

“Do you, Lovie?”

She smiles as he kisses her neck. “I love it.”

“Then…” his hands trail down her body and undo the button on her pants, allowing on hand to slip between her legs. She shudders at the touch as his fingers find her clit. “Shall we…seal the deal with some trying?”

Their new kitchen is quickly…inaugurated.

The realtor comes back in right as Travis is zipping up his pants and Liz is pulling down her shirt.

“Oh!” Amelia gasps, looking between them, more than a bit flustered. “Um….”

“We’re good for closing,” he tells her, laying on the charm. “And whatever fixes it needs, we’re good with that too.” Travis looks at Liz and she smiles, coming up to him and holding his arm. “I figure there’s some stuff you may want to change.”

She nods. “Yes. Those bathrooms have to go. And we need a bigger tub, too.”

 At that, Travis gives her the biggest grin, showing off his dimples. “Can we have a Jacuzzi tub?”

.

.

Later, at the hotel, they talk about it some more.

“Is it really our home?” She asks, curled up under his arm.

“Yes. Ours. Together.”

“Then I need to put money into it as well.”

Travis rolls onto his side and props his head on his hand, looking down at Liz.

“You don’t have to. It’s taken care of.”

But Liz shakes her head.

“If it’s our home, then yes, I have to.  Whose name is on the paperwork?”

“Both of ours.”

“Then let it BE both of ours. If we’re getting married, and we’re buying a house, then we do it together. We both go into this thing.”

“Why won’t you let me do anything for you?”

“YOU do things for me all the time. The flights. This necklace. But Travis, this is a half-million dollar HOUSE, we’re talking about. Not to mention we’re about to do another $50,000-$100,000 in remodel work and I’m not comfortable letting you finance all of that by yourself. I’m your partner. I’m about to be your wife. And we’re going to be tied together for the foreseeable future so we may as well start now. Please?”

But Liz’s argument isn’t quite working and he’s frowning at her.

“I KNEW you’d do this.”

“Do what?” Her eyes narrow at him.

“Not allow me to take care of you, fully. The way I’m supposed to. I’m supposed to be your protector and your provider. To keep you, Liz.”

“Travis, STOP being a caveman. I don’t want to be ‘kept’. I’m not a pet. I’m a woman. Another human being, and I don’t need anyone to take care of me. What I need is for you to just love me. Can you please, just love me?”

Her slender hand finds his, lacing their fingers together. He looks down on where they’re joined, loving the way his tanned skin looks against her soft brown color.

“Our baby is going to be beautiful,” Travis tells Liz, brushing her hair away from her face, and kissing her on her forehead.

“And I do love you. And whether you like it or not, you’ll also be taken care of. It's my job. Get used to it. But, I will allow you to contribute to the house. Compromise?”

She smiles as he lays back down on the bed, and she climbs on top of him, running her hands through the hair on his chest.

“It’s a deal. Now…are we trying…again?”

.

.

When they get home to Atlanta, Liz goes to see her financial planner.

 But when she tells him what she’s doing, and how much she’s withdrawing, he frowns at her.

“Have you considered a prenuptial agreement?” He asks, weighing the words carefully.

She looks at him.

“Um, no. We hadn’t, actually.” The thought never entered her mind.

Her agent crunches numbers. “You’ve got nearly $500,000 in raw property alone,” he says. “And that’s not including your condo. Right now, there’s another $250,000 sitting in the IRA and some $400,000 in the 403B. There’s also the mutual fund your grandparents transferred to you. I think it would be wise of you to consider a prenuptial agreement."

“But he’s an actor, and his net worth is almost equal to mine,” she argues. “Is it really necessary?”

“Where are you two getting married?”

“California.”

“Then yes—California is a no fault state that has a communal property law. Even if you don’t want a prenuptial agreement for yourself, I would still suggest getting one to protect him in case something happens. In the event you two got divorced, you would be entitled to half the assets—which means, unless there are a certain extenuating circumstances, you would likely come out with more than you came in with—and he would come out with less.”

.

.

She tries to approach the subject with Travis, but he’s not hearing it.

“What do we need it for?” He asks agitated and pacing the living room.

“We need it in case anything were to happen.”

“Like what? What’s going to happen? Liz, I’m not getting divorced, and neither are you, so what’s the point. We’re in this thing together.”

“I know, but what if—“

“There ARE no ‘what if’s,” Travis says coming to sit next to her and taking her face gently in his hands.

“Elizabeth. I’m NOT getting divorced. One we’re married, that’s it. There is NO need for a pre-nup, or anything else, understand?”

Because his great-grandparents stayed married, his grandparents too. And his parents have been together more than 50 years at this point and there has never been a divorce in his family and never will be. He’s not about to be the first, which is why it’s taken so damn long to find his wife.

Liz looks at Travis, understanding the passion with which he tells her this, and the urgency and seriousness in his face.

“We won’t get divorced,” she says softly.

Because her grandparents are still married, and if her dad didn’t die, her mother would still be too.

“Sickness and health,” Travis says.

“Till death do us part.” She says as he kisses her.

“That’s a long time, Mufa.”

He smiles.

“The average life span of an Aussie man is--"

“82,” Liz says with a grin. “That gives us at least 42 years before you get there.”

Chapter Text

 

July continued…

 

Her cell phone rings as she’s in the middle of dropping a load of their clothes into the laundry. With Travis living with her, everything is doubled.

“Liz Dubek, please?”

“This is she?”

“Hi Ms. Dubek, I’m Crystal Murphrey from the Associated Press. Do you have a moment?”

She feels her chest tighten. This is unexpected. She’d sent off her resume and her letter on half hope and very little prayer, never really expecting to hear anything back, despite Mark’s suggestion. That was back in May. Two months ago.

“Yes. I’m free.”

“Good. We got your resume and we’ve read your work. We’ve got a position opening in our Los Angeles bureau and wanted to know if you’re still available and interested in interviewing for it.”

A job. Out in L.A.

She tries to curb her enthusiasm. “I am still interested. What is the position?”

Crystal tells her. “Well, we saw you’re present beats are healthcare, politics and education, but we’re really looking for someone who can cover business. Given this is Los Angeles, it would require some coverage of the film industry. Would you be able to handle that?”

At the last part, she feels her heart sink.

“Um..I may have a conflict of interest with part of that.” Better to disclose it now, than later. She’s already learned that trying to keep certain secrets can backfire.

“And what is that?”

“My fiancé is an actor. Would that be a problem?”

“It would only be a problem if you’re reporting on something he’s directly involved with. But for the most part, it shouldn’t interfere--we’re largely focused on the business side of the industry. So, could you come out say Wednesday of next week? We’ll pay for it, of course.”

Liz agrees. And when Travis comes through the door of her condo, she’s grinning.

“What’s got you in a good mood?”

“I have an interview next week,” she tells him. “With the Associated Press. In Los Angeles.”

At that, Travis gives her a hug.

“I’m happy for you Lovie. You’ll get it. You’re too good for them not to see that.”

She hugs him back. “Thank you, Mufa.”

.

.

They got back from San Diego last week and now she’s back in California.   It’s been a long time since she had a job interview, and the last time, she was making the jump to News Director. This time, she’s going back to being a regular reporter.

 It’s not a downgrade, Liz tells herself. it’s an opportunity—a chance to be where she wants with who she wants, doing what she likes to do.

The Associated Press’ office looks like a 1970’s modernist bunker—which is a nice way of saying ugly ass building. It’s a five story gray non-descript office space a few miles away from downtown L.A. She’s a bit worried about the commute though. The office is about 35 miles away from her new home, but it’s an hour-long drive…and that’s a good day estimate via google. Still, whether she’ll be making it depends largely on whether she gets this job. And she does want it.

For the interview, she’s chosen skinny Ponte pants with a nude heel, a flowered tailored shirt and over it, and a rose-colored button-up. Professional, yet still stylish.

The drive to the building had been…rough, and parking, even more difficult and yet she still manages to arrive about 10 minutes early. That allows her to get lost on the way to the room and by the time she makes it there, she is right on time. A receptionist greets her.

“Hi, you must be Liz. Come on in.”

She’s guided to a large conference room where a man and woman come to greet her.

“Hi, I’m Crystal we spoke over the phone. And this is Bob Beckworth, L.A. Bureau Chief.”

Liz shakes their hands and they all take seats.

“So, we got your letter and your resume. And we did call Mark Baum. He strongly recommends you. Tell us, why do you want to go from being a News Director in a major market to a reporter again? Isn’t that sort of …going backward?”

Damn. Right out the gate. She chooses her words carefully, unsure of what Mark told them.

“I’m getting married in November. And my husband’s work is in Los Angeles. It felt like the time was right to make this sort of move.”

“So tell us about the last big story you covered. What were you most pleased with? And explain your reporting process.”

So she does. “I believe in forming and maintaining relationships,” Liz tells them. “I don’t believe the relationship between reporter and source has to be adversarial, unless someone makes it that way. I believe people are people and everyone is worthy of respect and I try to maintain that with everyone. That being said, I don’t like it when people lie to me, and so when that happens, I call them on it. It’s landed me a few enemies, but it’s gotten more than a few of them tossed,” she says with a smile.

Bob and Crystal laugh.

“Tell us more.”

“Well, for example. I was interviewing the head of the so-called “Department of Economic Opportunity”. He’d just come to the job from the private sector and proceeded to tell me about all the reforms they were making to unemployment benefits. New work requirements, etc. And in the midst of the interview he tells me how he was able to collect unemployment and took his family on a three-week vacation to Italy! And so, I wrote about it. Needless to say, he had the shortest tenure of any state agency head in Florida history.”

And there are more stories like that.

The DCF Secretary who she caught steering children to his privately-owned group homes—basically getting kickbacks from the system.

The state lawmaker she caught watching pornography on the House floor.

 The one who decided he was black one night and thought it was a good idea to call his colleagues, “my ni---s.”

They talk about what could possibly be her new beat, ask whether she is familiar with business.

“No. However, I have covered the business angle before—the health insurance industry, the private school industry, charter schools. The business of school choice…. “So I know where to look for stories. And reporting, I believe, is an art and a science. You need a combination of both to be successful.”

Crystal looks at her.

“So, I want to circle back to that potential conflict of interest,” she starts.

At that Liz shifts a bit, but stills her hands.

“Yes. I said earlier my fiancé is an actor.”

“Does he do film, television?”

“Television and Film,” she says, trying not to reveal too much.

“Is he a working actor, or…”

“Um…” She thinks on it, trying to figure out how exactly to describe Travis.

“I would consider him as such. He just finished wrapping Vikings.”

“What’s his name?”

She fiddles with the ring on her finger. Crystal’s eyes go to it.

“Travis.”

“Fimmel?”

Liz nods. Bob raises an eyebrow and he and Crystal talk between themselves for a few minutes.

“Well, I think it shouldn’t be too much of a problem…if it’s a production he’s working on or a studio he’s involved with…well…you wouldn’t be able to cover that, and would have to hand the story to someone else. But Hollywood is a business like any other, and it’s very large. I’m sure you know all about the ethics rules. And thanks for disclosing this early.”

They both rise to stand and Liz gets up too, feeling…disappointed. She knows she didn’t get the job. And it’s a first. And this time, she likely would have if she wasn’t about to marry Travis.

God. It feels like if she’s going to be with him, she really will have to give up everything. Because no one is ever going to take her seriously once they discover she’s dating an actor. Her Mufa is quickly becoming kryptonite.

Crystal comes over to her.

“When were you planning to be out here?”

“Well, we’re getting married in November.”

“Would you be able to start around the first of September? We would be able to pay your moving expenses, of course.”

September. That’s a month and a half away.

At that, Liz smiles, shaking Crystal and Bob’s hands. “I can do that”, she tells them.

They sit back down and begin discussing salary, and hours.

That night, she calls Travis.

“Hey Lovie.”

He sounds as if he was asleep. She looks at the time. 6 p.m. her time. 9 o’clock his. It’s likely he was asleep. Her Mufa tends to go down for ‘naps’.

“So…I got the job.”

At that, he sounds more awake now.

“See? I knew they’d love you. You’re perfect.”

She laughs. “Only to you. But they want me to start in September.”

“That’s two months away. Is that enough time?” He asks. They’re closing on the house in a few weeks and that’s also when Travis starts filming his movie.  

“It’s going to have to be,” Liz says. “They’re going to pay my moving expenses, so that’s helpful. And it gives me a little time to get the condo on the market.”

.

.

When her plane lands, Travis is there waiting for her by baggage claim. With flowers and a sign.

“Welcome home, Mrs.”

It makes her laugh. He’s dressed in a black beanie, faded jeans, a thin t-shirt and flip flops. His hair is sticking out from under the hat, and he’s still bearded.

People give them strange looks, trying to figure out why the pretty woman is hugging the quite-possibly homeless, man. They walk outside into the warm night air and into a waiting Uber that carries them home.

As soon as the door closes, he pounces on her, bringing them down to the floor.

“Are we trying tonight?” He breathes, kissing her face. Liz giggles, kicking her shoes off. “Yes. We’re trying.”

They’ve been trying now for two months.  

.

.

“So, you’re for real moving?”

Liz and Tanya are downtown, enjoying lunch together. She hasn’t seen her friend in a few weeks, though they’ve talked off and on.

“Yeah. I’m going to be working out of the AP’s Los Angeles Bureau covering business.”

“Wow. That’s great! I knew you’d land somewhere. That’s a good shop, by the way, another major market.” Tanya says. Liz nods. “Yes. And I need to send Mark Baum a thank you note. He vouched for me.”

“Mark is a good guy.”

They nod.

“So, what else is new?” Tanya takes a forkful of salad.

“Wow, it really has been a while, huh?” At the question, Liz thinks about it. A lot has happened since she left WGPU.

“We bought a house—it’s in Santa Clarita. We just closed.”

“Wait—you two bought a house?”

“Liz nods. Yeah. And we set a date for the wedding. November.”

Which brings her to the reason they’re meeting today for lunch.

“I want you to be the maid of honor.”

Tanya grins and comes around the table to hug Liz. “I was totally waiting for you to ask that.”

Because now she has a house to remodel, a wedding to coordinate and a move to orchestrate within the next few weeks.

“So, who else is in the party? Tanya asks, sitting back down. And where are we throwing this thing at?”

“Well, now we’ve switched to Los Angeles, since that’s where we’ll be. It’ll be downtown at this place called loft SEVEN. And we’re trying to keep the wedding party small. So, I figured, you, Kelli, Katheryn and my friend Cassandra for bridesmaids. And Travis gets four, too.”

“Wow. So you’re going to try and pull off a wedding across the county in three months.”

Liz nods. “That’s the plan. So, how has the office been since I left?”

Tanya smiles at her. “Well, half the newsroom has quit in protest, and the other half, including me, is presently searching.”

“Oh wow.”

She actually feels bad, but Tanya shakes her head. “Don’t feel bad. We were all pissed at the way you were treated. I’m interim news director right now, but…it’s not something I’m trying to keep. If you know of anything open on the West coast, I love Cali.”

 

August

They’re both running around, starting to go a bit crazy. Travis has been on the phone non-stop since closing on the house, trying to coordinate the remodel from Atlanta. But whatever is happening with the contractor…Liz gets the feeling it’s not going well. And she gets that from the string of curses that fall from his mouth. It’s very un-Travis. Normally, her Mufa is quite mellow, but the sudden shift of everything beneath them has disturbed his normally laid-back bearing. And he’s tense and grouchy and becoming increasingly cranky.

“Mufa, stop.”

He’s presently mumbling angrily to himself and pacing in her living room, or, what’s left of it. There are boxes starting to pile up and many of the small, personalized things have been put away. She’s started clearing out the kitchen as well and that means no cooking for the past few days. Liz thinks that may have something to do with Travis’ displeasure. That, and the boxes are starting to make the apartment cluttered, and she knows clutter makes stress.

“Sorry Lovie. I just don’t get these wankers. They act like they can’t understand the drawings I sent.”

She had seen them, Travis’ plans for the two bathrooms. The master was to be extended another three feet to create a bathroom suite for them—moving the closets from the bedroom into the bathroom and creating one for him and one for her.

The second bathroom is to feature double sinks, and a separate tub and shower. When he was working on the drawings she was unsure, until she saw his vision come to life before her, and was reminded that  During his brief spate at university, his major was engineering.

“Mufa, don’t worry about it. I’ll be there in a few weeks. I can oversee the work and it’ll be done when you get home.”

Home. At that, he groans and drops to the couch, propping his legs up on her coffee table.

“I hope this goes quick,” he says. “I don’t want to be out there any longer than I have to be.”

 There, is Colorado. The movie premiere and film festival.

“Well, at least we get to spend a little time in our house before you go.”

“Yeah. Alongside the sheet rock dust, and nails, and I swear if someone has pissed in the toilet…”

“Travis…”

“What?”

He looks over at her and Liz climbs into his lap, straddling him and playing with his hair.

“You worry too much.” She laughs, kissing him.  He smiles. “Are you going to help me relax?”

Large hands slide down her back, into her pants and grab her butt. She leans down, letting her tongue trail behind his ear and down his neck.

“I know a few ways to do that…yes.”

.

.

Moving day.

 Her mom and sister drop them both off at the airport.

Kelli and Rose come to the gates and bid them goodbye.

“Are you two sure you’re okay without me?” Liz asks, slightly nervous. It’s been 20 years since she lived in California and back then, she was still a child with her parents. Even when she was in Florida, it was only ever a few hours drive back home. This drive is a few days.

Kelli grins at her. “We’re fine, and we’ll see you in a few weeks. Now get your ass on that plane so you two can meet your moving truck. And call when you land! We still have to finalize your wedding stuff.”

Rose comes to hug her daughter. “I’m proud of you. Remember, live for you and no one else.”

“I will.” Liz says.

She and Travis walk toward the gates, leaving Rose and Kelli behind. Kelli turns to her mom. “How long do you think before we get a baby?”

Rose laughs. “I’ve got $100 that it happens the wedding night.”

.

.

They get to the house and it is definitely a construction zone. When they walk in, there’s dust everywhere, and Liz is almost afraid to look into the bedrooms. A construction crew keeps working as they stroll through, trying to figure out what exactly, to do. Liz starts work in three days, and Travis leaves for Missouri in a week.

The moving truck is slated to arrive tomorrow.

“Well,” she says, trying to be optimistic about the whole thing. “All we really need is a functioning toilet.”

Travis scoffs, quietly furious. The work was supposed to be completed last week, and it’s far from done. He drops her hand and stomps off, looking for the foreman. Liz goes to the master bedroom.

The floor is stripped, waiting to be replaced and the bathroom has been gutted down to the studs.

She cringes, and goes to the other bathroom where absolutely nothing remains. There’s no flooring in any of the bedrooms, but the walls, at least, have been primed for paint.

After a while, Travis comes back inside.

“In a minute,” he says through gritted teeth, “they’ll be paying me.”

Liz backs away, listening with shock at the language Travis uses as he threatens the construction company. She makes a note of that.

It’s a hotel for the night. And the next day when they come back to the house to meet the truck, there is carpet in all bedrooms except the master, the walls have been painted a light gray, and the dust has been cleaned up.

The truck arrives and they are able to set up the living room, at least. A second truck arrives with Travis’ things from storage. And they quickly find themselves trying to figure out where to put everything with a limited amount of usable space. Ultimately, his fishing gear, motor bikes, regular bikes, diving equipment, surfboards and everything “man-coded” ends up in the garage. Liz’s nearly two dozen book boxes end up in the library, and what remains ends up in their den. The formal dining room plays host to her small table and it’s obvious that they will have to buy some new things.

The beds stay wrapped and are moved into the formal living room for the time being.

Another night in the hotel. Travis leaves in two days, and she starts work tomorrow.

.

.

“Welcome to the Los Angeles, AP Bureau, glad you could join us Liz.”

Crystal is there to greet her on her first day. Thankfully, it is mostly tours and paperwork. She shows Liz up to the fifth floor and to her office.

“And here’s where you are.”

Liz takes a look around. She’s in a small corner office, but it does have a great view. She can see straight to downtown and below her, traffic and people bustle back-and-forth. It’s a lot smaller than her old space, but so are her responsibilities here. There’s a door and it closes, affording her privacy. And she notes the phone has been set up for recording as well. Plus, she still has her own equipment. So that helps, too.

They walk the hall and Crystal begins to introduce her to new people.

“Liz is our new business reporter,” she says. There are a lot of “pleased to meet you’s” and it carries on until they head down to the third floor, to Human Resources.

“And here’s where I leave you. Come back up when you’re done,” Crystal says.

“Thank you. Will do.” She walks into HR and is immediately ushered into a chair where a stack of paperwork greets her. Liz reads her employment contract and signs it—a three-year deal with the option to renew.

She’s also given the benefits packages. Health, Dental, Vision, Cancer, Disability Insurance, Retirement…

“Do you mind if I take these home with me?”

“No problem. You have 90 days.”

And finally, after heading to the basement for her photo ID, she’s sent back upstairs.

Crystal looks up from her desk in the middle of the room.

“You’re still alive!” She says, with a smile. Liz smiles too. Yes. I think I just signed away my first-born.”

They laugh.

“Bob has finally made it in. He’s in his office. I’ll take you there.”

Bob’s office is at the other end of the wall, with a similar view as hers, but it’s far larger. He stands from behind his desk and extends his hand as she comes in. Liz shakes it in greeting and takes a seat across from him.

“How are you settling in? I hope the move went okay?”

She laughs at that. “Well, our house is still under construction, we have no bathrooms and are presently in a hotel, and my fiancé leaves tomorrow for Colorado, so…I guess it’s up to me to finish that task eventually.”

He shakes his head. “So sorry about that. But at least you got here, right?”

“Right.”

“And we’re really glad to have you. I know today is your first day, but do you have any story ideas?”

Liz reaches into her purse and pulls out a notebook. “Actually, I did have a few I wanted to run by you…”

.

.

Travis has been out at the house all day. After yelling at the contractor yet again, the bathrooms are finally nearing completion—something that should have been done weeks ago. He’s making sure they don’t skimp on the work—that everything is level and flush, and that the materials he and Liz picked out are actually what are being installed. Every day the job has run over has resulted in money back in their pocket and out of the contractor’s. And now that it has started to cost them, the company is moving fast.

He knows what they were trying to do—to screw him, thinking he knew nothing about contracting or construction. But a life spent on a farm gave him more than a few lessons and he’s always loved engineering. They thought they got an idiot. They’re just now realizing Travis is a shark.

The cell phone rings and he picks it up.

“Hey Lovie.”

“Hey Mufa. Has my car arrived yet?”

Her car. It is being shipped from Atlanta. “Not yet.”

“Okay. I gave them your number and mine. It should be there soon. And I’m on my way.”

She’s in a rental, he’s in his old 1980’s GMC sidestep. It’s been stored at a friend’s house and lovingly taken care of.

“Alright.”

He can’t wait to show her they have a functioning bathroom. Maybe he can get one night in his house with her before he has to leave tomorrow.

Liz pulls up nearly two hours later.

“Oh my god…and I thought Atlanta traffic was bad…that was a nightmare.”

He shrugs. “Yeah. That’s the bad part.”

She sighs. “Well, on the upside, the only time I have to be in the office is for the Monday meeting. I can work remotely.”

“Hey, that’s good!” He says, hugging her. “Yeah. I feel like I got lucky.”

“Well, then you’ll feel really lucky. Come on. Let me show you.”

He guides Liz in the house and toward the backroom and when she steps in, she smiles.

“They finished our bathroom!!!”

“Yes. We have plumbing!” the corners of his lips turn up watching as Liz walks into the bathroom. A very high, feminine squeal follows.

“I LOVE it!!!”

He laughs and comes in behind her. The space is exactly what he planned out. A long, double vanity against one wall, and a large Jacuzzi tub on the other side. Next to it, a private toilet room and a clear, glass walk-in shower with multiple spray functions. That one, he added in a little later, a design made for…fun.

Liz squeals again when she sees their closets. Yet another late design change. Instead of two, there is one large space, separated by an island with drawers on either side—his and hers.

It’s a modern-traditional design, allowing it to stay within the overall design of the house.

And both the bedroom and the bathroom are spotless. Which means…

“Shall we stay home, tonight?” Travis asks, watching Liz. She grins.

“YES!!!”

They drag their mattress and box spring into the room, laying them on the floor, not bothering to set up the actual bed. All they need are their linens and Travis grabs a sheet and the comforter.

It’s how they spend their first night in their new home.

“I feel like I’m in college again,” she laughs, rolling over to look at him. “All we need is to put this on some cinderblocks.”

He laughs. “It feels like my first 10 years in L.A. when my mattress was on the floor.”

 They smile together. This is the place they’ll call home for the foreseeable future.

.

.

The next day, Liz is up early and Travis is too. She’s taking him to the airport, and then it’s off to work.

They’re spending these last few moments having sex.

Or as Travis likes to say, “making love.” She calls it what it is.

They’re fucking in the shower.

“I’m so glad I had these built,” Travis says as he sits on the bench, momentarily winded. Liz is sitting on his lap. She rubs her nose against his. “I figured you designed this thing for a reason. You’re terrible.”

“I know.”

A few hours later, they kiss again, as she bids him farewell.

“I’ll call you when I land.”

He heads off to catch his plane, and for the first time since moving to Los Angeles, Liz is alone with her new job, and her new home.

Chapter Text

 

September

“We’re here!”

Kelli and Rose come running to Liz in baggage claim and she embraces her mother and her sister. The trio hug each other tightly.

“God I need you,” she tells them on the hour-long drive back to the house.

Travis is gone and she’s struggling to navigate her new job, her new house and their upcoming nuptials. “Were the invitations sent out? And who has RSVP’d so far?”

“Yes, the invites are out, and so far you’ve gotten back 55 of them,” her mother tells her. Both families are confirmed—Travis’ parents, his brothers and their wives, Liz’s grandparents, her uncles and Aunts and her dad’s side—her other grandfather, and aunts there, too. They decided to keep kids away from the wedding—it would be too difficult to manage all of them. The only baby she knows is coming is Cassandra’s son Alex, and that’s because Cass is still breastfeeding.

“What about Clive, Katheryn, Alex and Gustaf?” Liz asks.

“I have Katheryn’s,” Kelli says. At that, Liz frowns. “What about the rest? Did the invites get returned?”

“No,” Rose says. “Just relax, Liz. Everyone has another few days. They’ll be here.”

She exhales, hands on the steering wheel. “I know. I’m just starting to get...”

Overwhelmed,” Kelli says, looking at her sister. “I can tell. That’s why we’re here.”

Because most of the house remains unpacked, and she hasn’t had the time to go dress shopping. Liz  knows damn well Travis hasn’t done anything for clothes, and right now, the wedding party will be in their birthday suits. They have the venue—and most of the guests, but nothing else. And they’re eight weeks out. Travis will get home just a few days before they jump the broom.

“WHY did I think this was a good idea?” Liz groans as they pull up at the house.

Rose and Kelli step out, observing for a moment.

“Well…it’s certainly…modern.” Rose says, trying to be diplomatic about it. They’ve done nothing to the outside of the house except put a new roof on it and at best, its lipstick on a pig.

Kelli is blunter. “This is ugly.” Because they’re up in the hills where the climate is dry, and there are just a few trees and shrubs around. The yard is mostly dirt and it’s dusty—Travis’ outdoor shed is off to the side of the house, where he’s got his motorbikes stored and his truck parked. He’s promised her a garage for her car.

Liz laughs.

“I know. I had the same thought when he first brought me here, but look.” She opens the door and Rose and Kelli gasp when they step inside.

“Oh my god…it’s like you two managed to move Arkansas to California!” Rose says, grinning.

The inside of the house is finally complete. She lets her mom and sister roam around and they take it all in—the formal living and dining rooms, the library, the den.

“And the kitchen!” Rose says fingering the Spanish tile counters. “We can have so much fun in here! Have you broken it in, yet?”

Liz shakes her head. “Not yet. I was waiting for Travis to come home.”

“And you still haven’t finished unpacking,” Kelli says, noting the mountains of boxes all around.

“Well it IS just me,” Liz says defensively. “And it’s kind of hard to work, plan a wedding and unpack a house all at the same time.” Her wedding has quickly slid down the priority list.

“Well,” Rose claps her hands together. “That’s why we’re here. Come on.”

The trio goes first to the library where Kelli breaks open the book boxes and starts putting everything on the shelves. In about an hour, that’s done and the empty boxes are put outside. Rose tackles the living room, re-arranging the shelves and the furniture and unpacking the seven or so boxes filled with odds and ends. And Liz takes the rest of the kitchen, putting up the pots and pans, utensils and cutlery, and dishes into their respective places. After a few hours of work, there are far fewer boxes and those that remain are placed in one of the spare bedrooms, for later.

“Oh God, thank you!” She’s relieved, having started to feel a bit overwhelmed. It’s still early in the afternoon and as they take a break, Kelli breaks out her tablet.

“So back to the wedding. What all is there left to do?”

“Tasting and food,” Liz says automatically. “The linens, too. I need colors. Oh, and outfits for the bridesmaids, groomsmen and me and Travis.”

“Wait—“Rose looks at her daughter. “You…haven’t picked a dress, yet? Elizabeth! You’re getting married next month! That’s something you should have done five months ago!”

“Well…” She’s got nothing. Both Rose and Kelli look at her, worried.

“Okay,” Kelli says, quickly googling. “Stop right there. We’re about to do this. Right Now.”

At that, they get back into Liz’s car and start driving into the city.

“Turn left up here,” Kelli directs.

“A right here, and park.” They do. And get out the car.

“Where are we going?” Liz asks. She hasn’t been in Los Angeles long enough to know where anything is. “Dress shopping,” Kelli says. “This is the best place for that, according to google. Let’s see what they’ve got. Because even though I’m sure Travis would have no complaints, you cannot walk down the aisle naked. You’re not a Betazoid.”

At that, Liz laughs. Her sister has spoken to her Star Trek geek.

They walk into the shop and she stops laughing, feeling instantly besieged by the rows and rows of fabric and fluff. It’s a lovely store, with high, white walls, a chandelier, and plush carpeting. But the rest is just daunting and her first instinct is to run.

 “NOPE.” Rose says, eyeing her oldest daughter. “Don’t even. Focus on the task at hand. Sit down. Let your sister and I work.”

The task at hand, the task at hand…

A woman comes up to greet them.

“How can we help you?” She says with a smile that looks plastered on. Liz knows. The woman works in sales and she’s trying to determine whether they are window shoppers or real ones. Her mother speaks for her.

“This is my daughter,” Rose says pointing. “And she’s getting married in a month.”

“Oh WOW…” the sales lady looks at Liz with wide eyes. “That’s…”

“Impossible,” Rose says. “I know. Can you do it or not?”

“Um…may I ask what your budget is?” The woman stammers, still more than a bit shocked and mentally going through her inventory to figure out what can be done.

“Whatever she likes is what we’re buying.”

“Well, I’ll tell you know, it’ll have to be something off the floor. It’s too late to special order.”

“That’s fine,” Kelli says. “Let’s get to work.”

And they do.

“Have you thought about what you want?” The saleswoman asks Liz.

“Um…no. I haven’t had…time.”

“Okay…do you know what you like?”

“Not really, but I know what I don’t.”

“Okay…how about this?” She pulls a gown off the rack and all Liz sees is fabric and tulle and ruffles. She scrunches her nose. “Absolutely not.”

It’s put back and another comes down. Less fabric, but equally fluffy. And…sparkly. “No.”

It too goes back and another comes forward. Shorter, but still sparkly. “I don’t want to be a walking disco ball.”

Rose and Kelli laugh. It’s Rose who comes to help.

“Do you have anything structured? Simple? Elegant and fitted. That’s what we’re looking for. No ruffles, but she will do pleats. And no embellishments, but embroidery is acceptable.”

The sales woman looks relieved. “Okay. I think I know where we’re going. Follow me.”

 They do and soon, Liz is ushered into the dressing room, a stack of dresses in front of her. Try them on. And come out when you’re done.”

Slowly she removes her clothes and starts climbing into the gowns, one by one. They’re so heavy! At this, she’s shocked that a piece of clothing could possibly weigh so much. The first one comes off immediately. She wants to be comfortable.

The next comes on, and she gets it zipped about halfway before it’s stuck.

“It’s stuck.” She calls. The sales woman comes in. “Lift your arms,” she commands and Liz does. The zipper goes up, but she starts gasping, clutching her ribs. “Oh my god, let me out!!!”

The zipper comes down and she leans against the wall to catch her breath. “What the hell?”

“Well, it IS a corset and you DID want structure,” the woman offers.

They move on to the next.

And another.

And another.

“Anything yet?” Kelli calls from outside the fitting room.

“Um…maybe?”

Liz looks at herself in the mirror. It’s not bad…

“Well, come on. Let’s see it.” Rose, this time.

Hesitantly, she emerges from the dressing room. Kelli and Rose study her carefully then speak at the same time.

“NO.”

Fuck.

At that, Liz does something completely out of character. It’s been a long two months. Her commute is ridiculous. She’s been struggling to manage the house and work and wedding all alone. It’s the first time in five months she’s been sleeping alone, her fiancé is still away and she’s just…just…

She bursts into tears.

That’s it for wedding dress shopping for the day.

.

.

Kelli calls the venue to discuss food and set up a tasting and finalize linens. But runs into a roadblock.

“I’m sorry, we can’t on short notice.”

“Look, my sister is getting married next month. We really need to get this done.”

“Well, these things are usually done a lot earlier.” The voice on the other end of the line says with a hint of rudeness. And Kelli snaps.

“LOOK. This is the Dubek-Fimmel wedding and I’m going to give you five minutes to do a google search on WHO that Fimmel might be.”

There’s silence and soon the woman comes back. “Um…yes. We can get you guys in tomorrow. My apologies.”

“Thanks.” Kelli says sarcastically, and hangs up. She didn’t mean to go there, but in times of crises, you gotta do what you gotta do. Thank goodness it works. Still though…she makes a note not to tell Travis she name-dropped.

“Did you get it?” Liz asks from her perch on the couch. She’s nursing a Jameson and Coke, looking completely exhausted.

“Yep. We need to be there tomorrow at 10.”

At the worn look in her sister’s face, Kelli softens a bit. “Don’t look so sad,” she tells Liz. “You’re getting married!”

“Yeah.” Liz picks at an imaginary string on her pants. “Married. We should have just gone to the courthouse.” But that’s not what Travis wanted. He wanted a larger wedding, something traditional to make it “official.” For a man not religious, her fiancé is very old-fashioned about more than a few things.

She swears, if she makes it to the wedding date, she will NEVER get married again. She doesn’t need this type of stress.

.

.

Saturday comes, and she’s in a better mood than yesterday, but that’s not saying much. Rose drives them into the city and they navigate to the venue, right smack in the heart of downtown L.A. They decide to just valet park the car and climb out.

The only shred of anything original on the building is its entrance, marked HAAS. It’s stone and granite, gleaming white against an otherwise slate gray background, but inside, it is all marble and modern.

“Hi, I’m here for the Dubek-Fimmel wedding,” she tells the concierge. He nods and goes and comes back with a tall, slender man in tow.

“Hello Ms. Dubek, I’m Marty Wiseman. Right this way.”

The women follow him to a set of elevators and they climb on and up. The lift opens onto the roof. It’s the first time Liz has actually seen her wedding venue and the view is breathtaking. Skyscrapers gleam all around them and the area is dotted with cocktail tables arranged with various colors and dressings.

“We’re having a wedding and reception this evening,” he tells her. “So you can use this to see how yours might look.”

There are two sides with ten chairs on five rows, the setup is presently for about 100 people and her wedding will likely be somewhat smaller. But it’s gorgeous, and for the first time, throughout this whole ordeal, Liz starts to feel a bit better.

She nods approvingly.

“This is lovely.”

“And at night the lights will come on,” Marty says pointing above them to the intersecting strands of lights that drop almost like magic, from the sky.

“Oh, this is going to be gorgeous,” Kelli says with a smile.

“I’m glad you approve. Now, here,” he guides them over to the tables, “are our color choices. You can pick two, and there’s a bit of an extra charge for more.”

 The table linens are made of a shimmering fabric, stretching as if a tight skirt and Liz, Kelli and Rose study them carefully.

“Did you have a theme in mind, Liz?” Kelli asks.

She considers it. The invitations they had sent were simple, plain—not something to really waste money on as no one ever keeps invitations. But if she had her pick…

She chooses.

“I really love this bold teal-blue color,” she says pointing. And perhaps that champagne as a neutral...” She has always loved deep, jewel-tones. 

The linens are chosen and it’s decided. Champagne will adorn the chairs for the ceremony and for the reception, the chairs and tables will be done in alternating versions of both colors.

Next comes food.

The women go back downstairs and into a private room at the back of the attached restaurant, where there’s a mini feast waiting for them.

“You can choose between plated and buffet,” their host tells them. “Plated.” Rose. “Plated.” Kelli. “Plated.” Liz.

It goes quickly. Next, the menu: Steak, chicken or seafood.

Liz picks the steak and seafood option, knowing that Travis will definitely want the cow. And finally, it’s time to decide on the cake.

Flavors.

It’s a lot harder to make this decision and they go through several different incarnations until they begin to suffer from a sugar overdose.

“Can I choose multiples?” Liz asks. A three-layer version, perhaps? Or can I do something different?”

Because the red velvet was fabulous, but so was the strawberry, but she knows for a fact that the buttercream frosting is definitely in.

“What do you have in mind?”

“Well, is it possible for your kitchen to do a cupcake-cake? One on top that supports the wedding topper, but the rest are various cupcakes with different flavors?”

He nods, thinking on it. ‘Yes. That’s certainly doable.”

 “Then let’s do it. And here are the colors for the frosting.”

.

.

“Feeling better, sis?”

It’s past noon by the time they finally leave the hotel and Liz smiles her first one in weeks. “Yes. A lot better.”

“Great. Do you want to try again with dresses?” Rose asks, gently. At that, her smile fades. But she sighs in resignation. “I suppose. Any ideas?”

“Well, the official wedding store was a bust…how about somewhere like Neiman Marcus or Sacks or Nordstrom?” Her mother suggests.

“Sure.”

They navigate themselves to Beverley Hills.

“Oh God…this is too…fake,” Liz comments as they step out of her car. At least it manages to blend into the crowd.

‘Come on, don’t worry about that. We’re dress shopping, Kelli says, focused on the mission at hand. They walk into the store and ignore the myriad of designer labels all around. Gucci, Prada, Giuseppe, Louis Vuitton. Up the elevators they go and toward the back of the store, where it’s far quieter.

They end up being the only people in the formal section.

“May I help you?”

A saleswoman walks up to them, extending her hand with a warm smile. “I’m Margeret.”

“Hi, I’m Liz,” she shakes the lady’s hand. “And my sister Kelli and my mom Rose. I’m getting married next month and I can’t go in naked.”

At that, Margeret laughs. “Well, we don’t really do bridal here…”

“I know. At this stage, I just need clothes.”

Margeret takes a long look at Liz, considering. “Okay. Have a seat, and I’ll pull a few things for you. Can I get you all anything to drink?” She asks.

“Water, please if you have it.”

“Sure thing.”

Margeret walks off and they take seats on a plush sofa. The waters come first.

“This is much better than the bridal store,” Rose says, watching Margeret stroll through the displays of gowns.

She comes back to ask a question.

“Do you want a white dress, or color?”

“Well…maybe not exactly white,” Liz says. “I think that would be a bit dishonest.” Margeret laughs. “Sure thing. So an ivory, or champagne, cream or gold?”

“Yes,” Liz breathes. “Exactly!”

“Okay. I have something you might like,” Margeret comes back with exactly one dress in her hands. She hands it to Liz.

“Only one?” The relief she felt just moments ago is now quickly being replaced with dread. There is absolutely NO WAY in a store like this, surrounded by thousands of dresses, that there could just be one…

“Go try it on,” Margeret says gently, watching as Liz’s eyes begin to fill with tears. “And don’t worry. Just try.”

Rose and Kelli look at each other, worriedly. Never has Liz cried so much. And its…odd, to say the least.

“Elizabeth,” Rose says quietly yet firmly. “Go try on the damn dress, and man up.”

At those words, Liz’s face straightens quickly and she takes an exhale. “Thanks for the encouragement.”

“Go.” Rose directs.

So she does.

“Seriously?” Kelli leans over to whisper to Rose. “All these damned tears. Is she pregnant, already?”

Rose shakes her head. “Nope. I would know. I haven’t sensed anything. And there’ve been no fish.”

It’s a family thing. If someone in the family is pregnant, there’s usually a fish dream ahead of the announcement.  

The dressing room is locked and Liz climbs out of her jeans and top, and steps into the dress.

First…she can actually just step into it. There are none of the miles of buttons, disguised clasps or hidden zippers like the ones at the wedding store. It’s just a dress. And…she can breathe. And move. She smooths the front, giving it a critical look. A high, halter neckline, and sleeveless…a combination of Poly and Esther…and light. Very light. Like a regular dress. It’s a column cut, glancing off her curves softly. But what makes her smile is when she turns around to look at the back. It’s cut low, completely backless and she wonders for a moment if it’s too low—she can see the tattoo on the lower right side.

“Are you finished?”

It’s Margeret.

“Yes.”

“Well…come on out.” Rose.

Liz opens the door and steps out of the dressing room.

Margeret, Rose and Kelli break into smiles.

“Ohh…it’s perfect,” Rose breathes.

“You think so?” She’s still unsure.

“Turn around.” She does. “Is the back too low?”

Kelli grins. “I don’t think so. Makes it easier for Travis to take it off you.”

“Kelli Anne Dubek!” But Rose is grinning as she needles her youngest.

“You look beautiful, Elizabeth.”

Margeret nods. “You look better than the model,” she says. “It’s a Badgley Mischka. Here.” And comes over with what looks like a white and gold sash. She places it around Liz’s neck and adjusts it in the back, allowing it to fall. Now go look.”

So, Liz does. She steps up to the three-fold mirror and looks again. It’s a beaded loop sash heavily embroidered in gold and it drapes down her back. It’s perfect.

“WOW…” Kelli breathes.

And when she looks back at her mom and sister, they’re grinning wide.

“I think we got it,” Rose says. And before Liz can try to pay for it, her mother cuts her off. “And I’VE got it.”

.

.

They decide that Kelli and Cassandra will be in purple and Tanya and Katheryn will be in red. Margeret does a store-to-store lookup. “I’ve got the dresses in Atlanta,” she says. Kelli calls Cassandra and Tanya and gives them the pickup instructions. And she calls Kathryn for her size. And by the time they leave Neiman’s Liz has her dress, her earrings and her shoes. And her bridesmaids have been fitted as well.

 

October

“I can’t wait to see it,” Travis tells her when she calls him a few days later. It’s part of why she’s been so damn emotional lately. It’s been more than a month since he left and the longest she’s been by herself since April. She wants her fiancé back. Sleeping alone is no longer satisfying, and she misses Mufa.

She tells him exactly that.

“I miss you too, Lovie.”

And he does. Celibacy is not exactly his strong suit, and he really, REALLY wants to go home. This movie has been a royal pain-in-the ass. Well, not the movie itself really, but his co-workers have. If there is one thing he despises about his job, its egos, and this project has them in spades. He’s not the sort of guy who preens for the camera, nor is he the sort to be in character ALL THE FUCKING TIME, but he’s surrounded by so-called “method” actors, which really means, people with a stick up their asses. There is absolutely NO fun. And he HATES going to set every day. So he does his scenes and gets out of there as quickly as possible. There’s no mingling.

He’s much more at home among the crew than with the cast and that’s where he’s chosen to spend his time, only to get haughty stares and sneers from his cast mates. At one point, his female co-lead called him a straight up hick, and he’d maybe said something back about the shitty blow-job she gave her then-husband on camera in a film that was universally panned. She hasn’t spoken to him since, but he really doesn’t care. All he wants is to be DONE.

A few more weeks and he will be free.

“So how have you been occupying your time?” he asks Liz, laying down in his bed. It comes out suggestive, and he means it just that way. Because it’s been a month since he had sex with someone other than himself and right about now…he just needs his ego and something else, stroked.

She indulges him.

“Well,” Liz says, her voice dropping to match his, “For one…since you’re not here, I’ve had to find other ways to scratch certain itches.”

He smiles, his hand down his pants wrapped around his cock.

“Tell me,” he breathes. “And I’ll tell you how I’ve been getting along.”

She knows exactly where this is heading and gets comfortable too. Kelli and Rose left the day before. One hand goes between her legs.

“For starters,” she tells him. “My fingers are where I wish your mouth was right now.”

.

.

November

She’s waiting anxiously at home, nervous and jittery. She hasn’t felt like this since her first crush in middle school, but this isn’t that.

The doorbell rings and the knob begins to turn.

This is it.

The first thing she spots is an orange beanie and she grins, quickly rushing up to it and throwing her arms around Travis. But then blanches at what she sees and stumbles back.

The man in front of her is Not Travis. Someone else entirely.

 “What’s wrong, Lovie, you don’t recognize me?” At the look on Liz’s face, Travis starts laughing.

She squints a moment, looking. “Mufa?” It comes out confused, uncertain.

He’s grinning at her.

“The flesh.”

“Travis! What happened to your beard?”

Because she’s never seen him completely shaven and it’s thrown her totally off. He looks so different. So…young and old at the same time, it’s disorienting and Liz blinks a few times trying to decide whether she likes it or not…

Not.

“I had to shave it for the movie,” he explains.

“They lightened your eyebrows and your hair,” she says slowly, removing the beanie and looking at his very blonde hair.

“You don’t like it.”

She shakes her head. “You look…strange. I want my lion back.”

He laughs again burying his face in her neck, still holding her by the waist.

“You got him.” Travis gives her a growl and pinches her ass. Liz yelps and runs off toward the back bedroom and he drops his bags on the floor and chases her, catching his fiancé right as she hits the door and backing her quickly up to the bed.

Clothes, shoes…everything disappears quickly as they fall into each other. Her legs part for him like magic and he absolutely cannot wait to…

“Liz!”

Bloody hell.

He’s laying on her, trying to catch his breath.

“Travis did you just…?”

“Let’s not talk about it.”

Liz starts cracking up, laughing at him. “I think that’s a record, Mufa.”

He rolls off her, ego bruised. “Just give me a minute. I can redeem myself.”

Less than a minute.

.

.

He does, indeed redeem himself.

The sounds of her moans in his ears let him know exactly how redeeming it really is. That, and the way she’s pulling his hair as he eats her out. Two fingers slide in and she cries out, tugging even more. What it does is only further encourage him and keeps going until the sheets are wet, his face is too, and Liz is trembling and spasming and coming hard.

Travis smiles against her clit. Now is the absolute perfect time to test the waters…see how far he can push her…one finger slides out and slips down a little further….

Liz’s eyes open wide and she jumps when she feels where the hell his finger just went.

“Travis!”

He gives her an absolutely filthy grin before replacing that finger with his tongue and making her scream.

“You’re marrying me. I think it’s about time you knew what all I was into.”

Oh DEAR GOD…

The things she THOUGHT she knew….Good girls aren’t supposed to like dirty things.

Maybe she’s not that good a girl. Because she really, really likes what he’s doing back there.

.

.

Chapater xx

It’s the night before the wedding and everyone is downtown at the InterContinental. It’s close to the wedding venue and the place they’ve chosen for both families to stay. Travis is out with his brothers and his friends, and Liz is finishing her makeup, about to head out with Katheryn, Tanya, Cassandra and Kelli.

“Ready for your last night as a free woman?” Her sister asks.

Liz laughs. “I’m not longer about that life.””

“Oh please, you were NEVER ‘bout that life,” Cass says and they all laugh.

“So, where are we going? She asks.

“To party!” Tanya says, excitedly. “You’re last night as a single lady. Say goodbye to random penises! Are you sure you’re really ready to be tied down to just one?”

At that Katheryn shoots Liz a look and the two women lock eyes, and laugh.

“I mean, if you saw the penis she’s about to be attached to, though…” says Kelli and at that one, Liz looks at her sister, surprised.

“What? You forgot I saw him naked at your condo!”

Katheryn laughs. Raise your hands IF you’ve seen Travis with clothes. Only Cass and Tanya do. “You don’t know what you’re missing,” she says to chuckles.

That gets a round of laughter and they leave the hotel room and dip into the waiting limo outside.

“Liz, do your ‘For the D’ rhyme,” Tanya says laughing.

“Oh, hell NO! I’m NOT drunk enough for that yet,” she says grinning, yet already thinking of a few new lines to add. But…that would definitely be TMI. And she doesn’t want to spill ALL their tea. Certain things just need to stay on the low.

.

.

“So, you’re really doing it, little brother?”

Travis nods, taking a drink of beer.

“Yeah. And it only took what…39 years?” You know your nephews are about to graduate high school. You’re dragging,” his other brother tells him.

“Yeah, well…I’m on the ‘making up for lost time’ train.”

“So when are you two getting pregnant? Or is she pregnant already?” Clive asks.

“Not yet, I don’t think. Unless a miracle happened while I was gone. But we’re…working on that.” He says, smiling into his beer.

“You know, fatherhood is the best.” Clive again. Travis’s brothers nod in agreement.

“Yeah. You’re kids teach you a lot. Children are wise.”

“Yeah. Like little assholes sometimes too.”

“All of that. But it’s a beautiful thing. And even better when you’ve got the right woman to share it with. You finally caught the right fish, man.”

They toast together and proceed to get wasted.

.

.

It’s real. It’s 100 percent absolutely real. And she knows it’s real when she wakes up the next morning and promptly starts throwing up from the anxiety that has taken over her body.

“Is she okay?” Katheryn asks, ear to the door only to get the sound of retching.

“Liz?” Rose and Ann knock.

It opens for them and they enter to see Liz, seated on the edge of the tub, in tears.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” she says tearfully. “I gave up my career for him. I gave up my life for him. Did I give up too much?”

She’s shaking all over and mother and grandmother go to either side to comfort her. Liz lays on Rose’s shoulder as Ann rubs her back.

“It’s a life-change,” her grandmother says. “But I think it’s one you’re ready for. You wouldn’t have quit your job and moved all the way out here, if you weren’t.”

“But what if I’m being stupid? What if this is all a mistake? What do I have to fall back on?”

“One, it’s NOT a mistake, and if you keep thinking like that, you’ll create a self-fulfilling prophecy,” her mom says. “Two…there’s a man upstairs who loves you and is waiting for you. You can be perfectly bad by yourself, Elizabeth. But when you find your soulmate…you two can live and love and grow together. You have a lifelong friend in Travis, and he has one in you.”

She sniffles.

“I’m being an idiot,” she says, wiping her tears.

“You’re trying to find excuses to run from something you’ve been running from the past three years,” Ann says lovingly. “Stop running and let that man love you. And let yourself love him fully and completely in the way we all know you do.”

.

.

Michael Franks’ “popsicle toes” is the song they chose for Liz to walk down the aisle. And both of her grandfathers are there to give her away.

“Take care of her, Travis,” Sal tells him.

“You break her heart, we break your balls,” Jezrel, Liz’s other grandfather tells him.

Both are said with smiles but Liz looks at them slightly aghast.

“We’re just ensuring your eternal happiness,” they tell her placing a kiss on both cheeks before handing her off to her soon-to-be husband.

“You are so beautiful, right now,” Travis says, admiringly. Liz’s hair is down, large barrel curls framing her face, and her dress is simple, elegant, he thinks, like she is. His lovie is glowing, radiant.  Or maybe it’s the dimming sun in his eyes.

Liz smiles at him, resting a hand on his chest.

“You look wonderful, Mufa.”

He’s got on a classic black suit, white dress shirt. And his hair has grown out, lighter blond beginning to fade and the darker coming through again. His beard is short, neatly trimmed, and he looks more like himself than he did when he first got back. Like her lion.

They turn to the justice of the peace.

“Does anyone have any reason why these two should not be wed? Speak now or forever hold your peace.”

Alex stands up and sits down quickly to a round of laughs, and after it all dies down, Liz and Travis get to say their vows.

“Sickness and health,” she whispers, looking up at him.

“Till death do us part,” he tells her, his fingers laced through hers.

“I DO.”

The cameras flash and flicker as they exchange rings, and there’s a big cheer when Travis plants a long, wet kiss on Liz’s lips.

“Hi Mrs. Fimmel.”

She grins as they rub noses.

“Hi Mr. Fimmel.”

The party rages on the rooftop of Loft Seven in downtown Los Angeles for the rest of the night. It goes until nearly everyone is either drunk or passed out or a combination of both.

And when Liz wakes up in the morning in their hotel room, she’s still in her wedding gown, Travis is still in his suit, the shirt half buttoned, and they’re curled up together on the couch.

So much for the wedding night.

Chapter Text

 

December

They’ve been actively trying now for seven months.

“What do you want for Christmas, Mufa?” Liz asks as they cuddle by the wood-burning stove in the den. It’s nice and warm here, on the floor.

“Well, I got one of my gifts last month,” Travis says, kissing Liz on the back of the neck. One hand slides around her waist to touch her belly, still flat.

“But I’m hoping maybe the stork will pay us a visit, soon.”

She smiles.

 

January

She’s super sick in January. Throwing up, complete with chills and a fever.

“Do you think?” Travis asks, tucking Liz into bed.

“I don’t know,” she tells him truthfully.

When she feels better, she goes to the store and picks up two tests.

They come back negative.

Travis comes home.

Liz shakes her head.

“Okay. Then it’s likely the flu, then.” At that, she laughs. He does too. It is funny.

 

February

Sexy lingerie.

A romantic dinner.

Camping outside, under the stars.

She gives him what she knows he wants. What he likes, and when they finish, they lay together naked under the blankets, looking up at the sky.

“Elizabeth Joy Fimmel.”

She laughs. “I like it. But I can’t change my byline, though. How about Travis Franklin Dubek?”

He laughs. “How progressive you are. I like the first one.”

“You would, cave man.”

He rolls over to face her. “I’m not that bad. At least you’re not barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen…”

“Yet.” She says.

“Yet,” he says, kissing his pretty wife.

 

March

“I have Irish in my family, I will have you know.”

“Right. Irish-Australian? How does that work?”

“Same way African-European-Indian-Samoan-German-Irish work with you guys.”

She grins. “I don’t have Irish in me.”

He moves between her legs. “You will now. How about Irish cream?”

“You are dirty.”

“Only with you.”

 

April

Her cycle coincides with her birthday. And the cramps are so bad Liz panics, afraid. She’s only felt this sort of pain once before…and that was two years ago when she and Travis miscarried.

“Where are you going?” Travis asks, watching Liz struggle out of bed, and put on her clothes.

“I need to go to the doctor,” she says. He frets and worries.

“Let me take you.”

She nods mutely and just tries to breathe through the cramps.

“Ohhh…”

Travis is worried. He’s never seen his wife in this much pain and so they go. He holds her as they wait in the office and are eventually called back.

Tests are run. Several of them, including one for pregnancy.

“You’re not pregnant,” the doctor tells them. “But if the pain gets worse, we want you to come back. This may just be an anomaly, but we could put you on a birth control regimen…”

At that, Liz and Travis look at him and she shakes her head.

“No. We’re…trying.”

 

May

Warcraft 2 premiers tonight.

She’s getting dressed, and so is he. When Liz finally steps out of the room Travis stands, just staring at her. The way he’s looking makes her nervous.

“Is it wrong? Am I not dressed right?”

She’s wearing a bronze-colored sleeveless gown with a deep V that plunges down. The dress has an empire waist with flowing skirt, and a thigh high side split that only shows when she walks. Her favorite thick gold bangle and gold drop earrings complete the look, and she’s piled her spiral curls on top of her head in a messy updo. Slender, strappy gold sandals are on her feet, and her toes are painted gold too.

Travis takes a good, long appraisal of his wife. Six months in, whenever he thinks or speaks the word it gives him a thrill. Wife. He did not think she could possibly be more beautiful, but this…she looks like a goddess, and he could not be prouder to have her on his arm tonight. Her skin is radiant, damn near the color of the dress and is she wearing makeup? He really can’t tell. What he does know, is that she belongs to him.

It’s the single best decision he has ever made. It was game over the day he met her. Every single step they’ve taken has only made them stronger together. The pregnancy. The miscarriage. The three years of long-distance, continent and country-hopping. Her firing. His commitment.

“God, you’re perfect,” Travis tells her. Liz smiles, giving him an appraisal too.

“You look good too, Mufa.”

He does. Really, Travis cleans up beautifully. His hair is in its usual messy state, but he has cleaned up his beard, and is dressed in a black, three-piece Dolce and Gabbana suit. Everything fits beautifully on his body-- the pants, relaxed, the shoes polished.

He laughs. “My stylist and agent conspired against me.”

“They did a good job.”

They kiss. He extends an arm she takes it and they leave the room, stroll through the lobby and climb into the car waiting for them. As they get closer to the venue, Liz starts to see the lights. Slowly, the crowd comes into view. And then the flash of cameras. There are a lot of people there, and she’s beginning to get nervous.

“Shh, love.” Travis tells her in her ear. “I’ve got you.” They’re holding hands, their rings overlapping.

Liz bites her lip, looking out the tinted windows. Their car gets in line. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

He laughs. “I have to do this. But you don’t. I can take you to the back, if you want.”  She shakes her head and takes a shaky breath. “No. I’m coming with you. It’ll happen eventually. I want it to be on my terms.” Because she’s not famous, but he is, and she knows what she signed up for at the beginning. And this is part of it. The good and the ugly.

Travis climbs out first and the flashes begin going off with intensity. He reaches down and extends his hand and she takes it, climbing out.

“Focus on me. “He tells her. She nods. They walk.

“Travis! Travis! You got married recently?”

“Excuse me, Miss?

“Miss?”

They stop and he keeps her close, arm around her waist.

“Let me kiss you,” he whispers.

“Okay.”

And he does. A soft, gentle kiss. And she kisses him back. Nothing inappropriate. But it makes her smile at him.

The flashes continue.

“Travis is that your wife?”

“When did you two get married?”

“Are you happy?”

“Are you guys going to have a baby?”

“Oh God, this is a madhouse,” Liz remarks once they’re done walking the gauntlet and are safely inside the auditorium. There are hostesses waiting and take them to their seats. But as soon as they get to the aisle, Travis starts scowling, eyes narrowing. Liz looks in the direction to see…

Paula. Staring at them. If looks could kill she doesn’t know who would die first—Travis or Paula.

“Mufa…”

Her gentle voice breaks him out of it, and he looks down at his wife, and gives her a nod. “I’m good.”

“It’s over and done with. Let it go.”

“If she says anything to you…”

“It doesn’t matter what she says,” Liz tells him, holding up her hand. The diamond sparkles off the lighting, making it dance like a mini-disco ball. It gets Travis to pull her hand to his lips, kissing it.

“Come on.” They take their seats. Liz is next to Paula.

“Hello.”

“Hello.”

They greet each other politely. Travis doesn’t say anything at all. Liz holds his hand in her lap.

Paula looks down and sees their rings, then she looks back at them. Liz and Travis are leaning into each other and she’s tickling him under the chin. His eyes are closed and there’s a closed lip smile on his face. Eventually, she stops and he kisses her. They rub noses gently.

“I saw you two got married a few months ago. Congratulations.”

“Thank you.” Liz turns to her and Paula leans forward.

“Travis,” she says.

“Yeah?”

“Congrats to you, too. You all look great together. Stay that way. Don’t let anyone or anything break up your marriage.”

The words are unexpected, especially coming from Paula, of all people.

“Thanks. We’re going to try.”

 

.

.

They sit for the movie, and when it’s done, it’s time to leave.

 “Is that all? Or is there more?” Liz asks. Travis shakes his head. “There are a few parties, if you want to go to some.”

But she’s tired. And all she really wants is to go lay down with her husband.

“I’d rather spend the rest of the night with you,” she tells him and he grins. “I can definitely make that happen. Ready to walk the gauntlet again?”

“Do we have to?”

“Yep.” He grins and pinches her butt, making her jump. She rolls her eyes, but smiles. Because the way Travis is looking at her at the moment lets her know exactly what’s on his mind. Her husband is, at times, very transparent. The exit goes a lot faster than the entrance. And he’s whispering extremely dirty things in her ear, making her laugh. Suddenly, he stops them and pulls her close, giving her a really long, really suggestive kiss…right in front of the drop down banners and in front of all the cameras.

“Seriously? Did you have to stick your tongue down my throat?” She asks when he lets her up for air.

He grins, looking down at her. “Lovie…I’m putting my tongue in a lot of places tonight.”

If she were lighter, she’s sure everyone would see her blush.

“Mine.” He whispers. Thankfully, the car is there and waiting and they climb in. And by the time they get to the hotel and the elevator doors close, he’s on her, hands under her dress, feeling up her thighs.

“Travis!”

“What?”

 Because his mouth is on her chest, licking the bare skin between her breasts and before they even make it to the door, she’s naked from the waist up and his mouth is wrapped around her nipple. It’s a small grace the hallways is empty, but she strongly doubts even the presence of others would stop him at this point. Travis picks her up and braces her against the door.

“Okay, now stop! Seriously. We’re in the hallway…”

“So what?”

He slips the card key out of his pocket and, still keeping her there, unlocks the door, and carries her in. The door shuts and Liz yelps as he raises her higher, her thighs on his shoulders. She braces her hands on the ceiling to keep her balance, shuddering the whole time, because he knows she absolutely cannot stand what the hell he’s doing to her for very long.

Sure enough…

“Oh!” She tilts too far backward and falls. But Travis catches her and settles them on the couch, Liz on his lap, mouth now going back to her breasts.

“ooohhh…” She arches into his touch, slowly grinding against him. One hand goes to his pants, wrapping her hand around it. She can feel him, through the fabric, rock hard.

“What do you want?” He mummers against her skin, slipping a hand between them and unzipping his pants, before moving her panties to the side, and brushing his cock between the lips of her pussy. The sensation sends her body into spasms, and her head drops to his shoulder.

“I want you,” she moans readjusting herself to slide him in.

“Where do you want me?” He asks, groaning at the feel of his wife’s sex.

She lowers her face to his, their lips and noses and foreheads touching.

“Everywhere,” she breathes.

It’s the green light. She’s activated his freak and there is no turning it off. They absolutely do not make love tonight.

Instead, Travis fucks Liz all night long.

Chapter Text

 

June

They’ve been trying now for nearly a year-- one year and two months to be exact-- and still, no success.

Travis has started drinking and smoking heavily. It’s to the point he’s starting to smell like an ashtray. And while she’s always loved his kisses...she can taste it on his lips. In his mouth, and when he comes in for hugs she turns away. Not because she doesn’t want to its just…she absolutely cannot stand it.

He knows better than to smoke inside and since he’s at nearly a pack every other day—most of his recent downtime has been spent outdoors. And that’s where she finds him when the sun goes down. Outside, in the shed, working on his motor bike.

Liz walks in and comes up behind him, draping her arms across his shoulders and kissing his neck. But he turns his head and brushes her away, continuing to work on his mini-project.

“Not now, love.”

She looks at him, hurt.

“Then when?”

Because he hasn’t touched her since last month. And she knows her husband. He loves sex. So the fact he’s not interested at the moment is a red flag. That, coupled with the increased smoking and the empty bottles of Jameson that are scattered around.

Travis is brooding.

“Mufa.”

“What.” It comes out dry, and he doesn’t stop what he’s doing. He hasn’t even turned in her direction.

Liz just looks at the back of his head and shakes hers, electing to just walks away for the sake of peace in their home. “Never mind. I’ve got work to do. I’ll leave you to yours.”

Later, he comes to her as she sits at the dining room table, working on a story.

“I’m sorry, Lovie.”

She turns around and sees her husband, standing behind her, hands in pockets, shoulders hunched, looking guilty. His head is lowered and looks like a chastised child. It gets her every time, and despite herself, she smiles, the hostility melting.

“I know.”

Liz gets up and hugs him around the waist, laying her head on his chest. Travis wraps his arms around her shoulders and kisses her forehead before resting his chin on her head. It’s a reminder, that even when he’s at his worst, Liz is there. And he doesn’t want her to go. The fact she accepts his apology so readily is a comfort. Because he knows he hasn’t been himself lately.  

 “I just thought we’d be further along than we are,” he tells her softly, looking down at the top of her head and wrapping the curls around his fingers, feeling the silkiness of her hair. “That maybe we’d have a baby by now, or you’d at least be pregnant.”

She did too. And Liz can’t figure out what’s wrong. She didn’t think they’d have to try for so long. Hell, it happened by accident the first time—and they were using protection, too.

 

July

The doctor shakes his head.

“Are you sure?” She asks.

“There’s nothing wrong with you, Mrs. Fimmel. You’re perfectly healthy.”

“But my husband and I have been trying for more than a year now.” At that, her doctor looks concerned and makes a note.

“Sometimes, when couples are older, it takes longer.”

Older. Longer.

“I’m 34. That’s NOT old.”

“Well, a woman is at her peak fertility in her 20’s. And right now, each year past 31, your chance of conceiving drops by about 3 percent a year. So as of now, you have an 85 percent chance of getting pregnant. However, if you’ve been trying more than a year…” his voice trails off at the thought and he switches to another question. “How old is your husband?”

 “He’ll be 40, in a few days.”

“Well, it does get more difficult for men over 40. Does he smoke?”

“Occasionally.” She thinks about it. The way Travis has been lately…

“Sometimes more than occasional.”

“Does he drink alcohol?”

“Yes.”

At this, the doctor looks straight at her and he doesn’t mince words.

“Right now, if you do get conceive, it will be considered a high-risk pregnancy.  Your age, coupled with your husband’s age, put you two at greater risk of having a child with birth defects. And there is a chance you might not be able to get pregnant at all, especially if you’ve been trying longer than a year. I’m going to need your husband to come in.”

Liz just looks at him, shocked to the point she has absolutely no response. This isn’t what she wanted to hear, and something she never considered…all she can do is shake her head, refusing to believe it.

She’s still in shock on the drive home, and when she pulls up to the house, the light in the shed is on and she knows where Travis is.

It’s a good thing, really, because it’s the space that’s needed in order for her to attempt to come to some sort of understanding about all this. All she really knows is that she’s fine. That it’s not on her end. Which means…

It means nothing. Absolutely nothing. Maybe they’re both perfectly fine and it’s just as the doctor said—that because they’re older, it’s just taking longer. So she goes with that, because she has too. Because that’s what she needs to tell Travis that he needs go in as well…It’s what she needs in order to continue to ignore her husband’s drinking. And his smoking.

This is routine. Just a check.

 Nothing to worry about.

But she waits until after his birthday to tell him. And when Travis comes to bed and asks her how it went, all she says is one word: “fine.”

August

In the end, all Liz manages to do is postpone the inevitable. Their first fight.

“There’s nothing wrong with me, Liz.” “I’m NOT saying there’s anything wrong with you, Mufa.”

“Do NOT ‘Mufa’ me. Explain. WHY does he want to see me? And WHY did you wait two weeks to tell me this? When you came home and I asked, you said everything was ‘fine’. Obviously, you lied to me. And you KNOW how I feel about people lying to me.” It’s defensive, and those damn eyes squint at her. But she holds her ground, arms crossed.

“Because the doctor wants to see both of us, I told you this before!” But he just shakes his head and she sighs heavily, coming to lean on the kitchen counter. She weighs the next few words carefully. Liz hasn’t told him exactly what the doctor said. She didn’t want to freak him out but she really, really needs him to go and…another deep breath. An exhale. She braces herself, knowing it’s about to be ugly.

“Travis,” it’s even. Calm, but her pulse is racing. She closes her eyes and opens them and when she does, he’s right there. Standing in front of her, arms crossed and looking down. Liz raises his face to his.  “He says we might not be able to have a baby.” It comes out almost as a whisper, and as she watches, he closes his eyes and turns, walking away.

The front door slams shut. And then there’s silence. Liz just stands there a moment, trying to stop the tremble from her bottom lip.

She goes to the couch in the den and sits, head in hands. Liz knows his anger isn’t directed at her. She knows he’s scared. And rarely does anything scare him. So she tries hard not to take it personally. But he’s not the only one afraid. Only now is she starting to consider the real possibility that they may not have children. That she waited too long. Threw away her first opportunity and lost the second.

A single tear rolls down her cheek.

She tries to wait for him to come home.

But when the clock reads past 3 a.m., Liz knows it’s pointless and goes down the hall, stripping off her clothes in their bedroom and climbing under the blankets. When she wakes up the next morning, the space beside her is empty, and she finds Travis draped across the bed in one of their spare rooms, fully clothed, and smelling like a bar.

.

.

“Did everything go okay?” Her eyes follow him as he walks in and brushes past her, going straight to the refrigerator.  “I have to stop drinking and smoking.”

Travis reaches in, and pulls out a beer.

One blink.

Two.

Three…

Liz goes mute, watching him pop the top and drink it down. She swallows down the biting comment that’s right there on the tip of her tongue…desperate to avoid another fight—another scene. Never have they fought so much in so short amount of time.

Later, she overhears Travis talking to her grandfather.

“I told you that shit was bad for your swimmers,” Sal says. They’re on speaker phone. Liz tips down the hall and back to the bedroom. It’s exactly what she didn’t want to hear, but she feels worse…for her husband. Because no man takes this sort of thing in stride—and certainly not one that’s as Alpha male as hers.

Travis comes in later to find his wife naked, in bed.

She beckons to him with a finger and he takes off his clothes and comes to her.

In her. 

Again.

And again.

And again.

Because Liz knows what to do to make him feel better. And he does feel better. Sex always makes him feel better.

If only for the moment.

But as his wife sleeps, he doesn’t. He just stares at the ceiling, watching. Contemplating what was previously unfathomable. The likelihood of no children. It wasn’t a “no.” That’s not what the doctor said. But after the lab tests were done, what he did say—about the booze and the cigarettes and his age... well…it may as well have been no, or about as close to it as one can get without saying the word.

Travis doesn’t really recall the full conversation—it was one-sided anyway, the doctor lecturing and him just looking at the man, face schooled into the default blank/bored look he often deploys. But the full magnitude of it all hit afterward and the only man he really knew to talk to was Sal. Not even his own father because having to admit that this…situation….might be of his own making….just…no.

He waited years to find his wife. And for the most part, he was careful… but he’s already lost two opportunities and now he’s faced with the reality that he could have waited too long…it’s  just…devastating. And how to convey that, how to even process it—he has no clue.

But real men don’t cry.

A tear falls down his face. He doesn’t notice it, though.

 

September

Their truce lasts only a little while.

Liz still isn’t pregnant. And “trying” stopped being exciting a while ago. Now, it’s just work. Stressful work.

They’ve done everything. She’s been tracking her ovulation cycles, consulting with online blogs about the best positions to encourage conception. Travis is growing bored of missionary sex and doggy style.

Pillows under hips.

She just lets him work. They’re just going through the motions.

It’s not sexy. It’s not fun.  

And he’s not stopped drinking. Or smoking. Travis has just been smart enough not to do it when Liz is around. And he’s good about making sure he disguises the evidence, the smell. Mouthwash. Showers. Fresh clothes. Hiding the liquor bottles in the shed, the cigarette packs in the closet, on his side, in the very bottom drawer way in the back, under some clothes.

 In truth he’s smoking like a damn chimney.

And he’s smoking out back while constructing a ramp for his motor bikes the day Liz comes home early from work.

 “Really, Travis?!”

He turns around quick, having not heard her pull up. The cigarette falls out his mouth onto the ground and he stamps it out with his boot.

Liz looks disgusted and stomps off.. Travis follows her into the house.

“Lovie, it was just one, I swear.”

She scoffs, turning on him. They’re in the kitchen, facing off.

“Right. You smell like a fucking ashtray.” She glares at him and brushes past, bumping his arm as she moves quickly away and toward the door.

“Where are you going?” He asks, following her out the door and to his shed. She goes in and quickly starts tearing through all his tools on the work table.

“Liz!”

She’s searching…searching…a tug on a drawer handle of the work rack reveals it. A half-empty bottle of Jameson.

He manages to duck as it comes perilously near his head.

“Just one? Fuck you!” It shatters against the side of his truck.

“You already did.”

Travis moves to grab her, but Liz swings on him. He dodges the first blow, the second grazes his chin as he finally gets his arms around hers, pinning them to her sides so Liz can’t hit him again.

“I’m sorry. It’s hard, okay?” But she’s struggling against him and it’s becoming increasingly harder to hold on to her. Liz is pissed, and its like a volcano boiling over.

“You promised to quit!”

“It’s not that easy, Liz.”

“I can’t get pregnant because of YOU! All of this is your fault! You said it yourself—the girls, the guys…HOW many people were you with before me? How do you know you didn’t catch more than the clap? And now the one thing you have to do, you won’t!  You’re sabotaging us and I’m tired! I don’t want to try anymore. I quit!”

Travis releases her and when she looks at him, Liz knows she hit low.

His jaw twitches, his lips are a thin line. And the vein in his neck pulses. But what’s worse is the pain and the hurt in his eyes.

One step. Two. He advances on her, backing her into a corner, his hands slamming the wall on either side of her head as he glares down at his wife.

“Oh yeah? What about you, Liz? That hasn’t stopped YOU from jumping on my cock. That abortion? How do you know you didn’t screw yourself? That you didn’t mess up a few things down there, huh?  If you did it once, did you do it again? Did you lie to me about the miscarriage? Did you kill our baby, too? Is that what you did? This isn’t all on me!”

At that, Travis backs off and grabs his keys off the table. The door slams and there’s the squeal of tires on gravel as he takes off in a cloud of dust.

Liz slumps to the ground, gasping and trembling, the sheer anger and burning in her chest overwhelming and overriding anything else she may feel.

She went low. He went lower.

Chapter Text

 

September continued...

Week #1 Post-fight

She HATES that motherfucker.

Hates him more than she ever hated Montgomery. She’s fuming as she snatches the clothes off the hooks in the closet, and marches them down the hall, dumping them on the bed in the spare room.

Liz goes back, yanking open the drawers in their custom-built closet divider and snatching out his things. Underwear. T-shirts. Socks. The pile on the floor starts growing.

On to the bottom left drawer.

It too is thrown open and she’s making the pile bigger when she gets to the back of it...and pulls out another pack of cigarettes.

“Are you fucking kidding my life?!” An exasperated yell, and the pack hits the side wall. She goes to them, picks them up and begins flushing them down the toilet, one-by-one.

“You absolutely do not give a damn, do you?”

Now he’s got her talking to herself as she makes another trip to the closet, grabs the pile, walks down the hall and dumps it onto the bed with the rest.

 One more trip. Toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, shaving cream, razors, trimmers…all of it straight to the guest bed.

Next stop: shed. Item: power drill. And she’s just finished changing the lock on the bedroom door when Travis walks into the bedroom.

“WHAT THE FUCK?”

At that—it’s off four round two and he’s yelling and cursing and so is she and they’re going at it in the bedroom. Liz manages to back him up and out the door—slamming it in his face and when he realizes he can’t get back in…

“Open the door!”

“No!”

“Open the damn door!”

“Go fuck yourself.”

One bang.

Two bangs.

Three—the door flies off his bottom hinge, pieces of wood in splinters at the knob with Travis breathing heavily. It’s the final straw. Liz grabs her purse and her car keys brushing past him in the door. He follows.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“AWAY FROM YOU!”

It’s her turn to take off out of the driveway, tires spinning and kicking up dust as he stands in the doorway trying to figure out how it all went to shit so quickly.

.

.

Week #2 Post fight

Travis paces. It’s about all he can do—he’s trying not to go for the liquor nor the cigarettes—the two things that got him into this shit in the first place. But he’s craving the nicotine and what he really needs is just one little shot to take the edge off…

No. No. He can’t. He won’t.

But it’s so fucking hard, and harder still because he’s a stranger in his own home, relegated to lurking in the shadows or staying in the guest room or outside in the shed. What he really needs is a job right now—something to do, some place to go-- a distraction to take his mind off the growing problem that seems like it won’t end—an angry wife. But he took the first year of their marriage off from work so that he could concentrate on his wife, and his marriage and the plan was to have a baby.

Now he's got a very pissed off wife, a crumbling marriage and absolutely nothing to show for the time and as far as the baby thing...he shakes his head, trying to block out the tightening of his chest and the heat behind his eyes.

It’s 10:45 p.m. on a Wednesday.

He’s called Liz five times in the past two hours and no answer. She’s not home. And he knows full well she’s not at work. She didn’t come home last night either, to the best of his knowledge and it’s the third night she’s been gone.

The house is quiet, leaving him to his troubled thoughts…growing increasingly darker by the moment. He’s called the hospitals—no Fimmel. The police departments—no Fimmel. And he’s also tried many of the hotels in the area to no avail—wherever the hell she is....he can’t figure out whether he’s pissed or worried—and it’s really somewhere in-between because he loves Elizabeth Joy Fimmel with everything his is and the longer she’s gone the more anxious he’s getting….

The front door opens.

“Liz?”

He goes and sure enough, she’s there.

“Hi.”

He stops.

Hi? You’ve been gone three days…all you have to say is ‘hi?’” Travis knows what it sounds like but at the moment he doesn’t give a shit. She’s alive, at least but… “Where the fuck have you been? You didn’t think to call or answer the phone, I’ve been worried about you!”

“Oh really? I’m surprised you gave a damn.” At that, she takes off her blazer and puts her purse down on the floor. “You’ve been so worried, but you didn’t give a crap about us, now did you? So why worry now when you weren’t worried before—you didn’t care about how I felt at all!”

Oh man…he can see the fight starting back up. Liz can too.

“You know what? Never mind. I’m just here for some stuff.” She dips past him and makes her way down the hall and he follows, not losing sight of her. They go into their bedroom, the door now leaning against the wall—an unfriendly reminder of what happened just days ago.

She goes into the closet and comes out with a bag and starts putting items in it.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m leaving. What does it look like?”

“What? For a trip or something?”

Liz just exhales and keeps packing and he realizes its not for a trip.

“Liz…” No answer.

“Liz!”

“WHAT DO YOU WANT, TRAVIS?!  WHAT THE HELL DO YOU WANT FROM ME?”

At that—the volcano erupts and she’s standing there, and he’s standing there across from one another and she’s looking at him—those pretty eyes of hers wet with unshed tears and he already knows what he looks like—pathetic with his arms out trying to get her to come back to him, but she shakes her head and runs out of the room and out the door and jumps back into her car and speeds off into the darkness…leaving him alone, again, like a fool. Standing outside the door confused, and hurt and frustrated because Liz won’t come home and he’s trying not to think about what’s happening…and he keeps repeating to himself that it’s just a fight…that it’ll blow over…that they’ll get through it…and that at least she’s alive and how much of a bitch she is for making him worry for three fucking days and how it’s all HER fault anyway and how he didn’t do anything wrong, because its easier to shift blame than to accept it--to be angry rather than hurt and--

It goes to shit when the phone rings and it’s his mom…and because she birthed him she knows him better than anyone…

And he has no choice but to tell her what happened because she hears it in his voice; And to confess WHY it happened…and to bow his head in shame when his mother flat out tells him that he was wrong and that when a woman’s fed up…there’s absolutely nothing he can do about it but pray.

 

October

Week #3 post-fight

After Travis kicked the door down, she knew what she had to do. But it had taken going to her grandfather’s house in San Jose for several days to make up her mind. Liz had moved to California because Travis’ work was in California, and she had come because she loved him—loved him to the point that she said yes to marriage, yes to children, yes to a $500,000 house and 15 acres in 100-plus degree heat in a city that was perpetually in a drought. She had said yes to all this, yes to quitting her job, yes to taking what amounted to a demotion, yes to leaving most of her family—being days and hours away from the closest relative…her sacrifice--for him.

And in return what has it gotten her? A broken door and a broken heart. Because three weeks into this, Liz knows what her husband loves more than her—his cigarettes and his liquor. And she will not compete with his vices for attention, nor for his love. And this baby thing….

At that, her chest clenches and she can feel the heat rising—the emotion…she swallows it back. Chokes it down. They lost the first one, and he doesn’t even want to try for the second. She feels like she’s been working alone and for nothing. Liz knows she will never have a child by another man. And that means she just has to get used to the idea that she won’t have kids…right as she got used to the idea and actually started hoping she would. That they would.

.

.

It was by accident that she answers the phone only to have her mother on the other end.

“Have you two even tried to work it out? I can’t see you giving up on four years over one fight.” Rose doesn’t even bother with hello.

“Who told you we were fighting?” She asks, suspicious.

“Travis’s mother called me.” Of course, she did. That only serves to piss her off even more. The last thing she wants is family meddling into their private affairs.

“I’m not doing this. Not now. I love you, mom. But please don’t.” Liz just hangs up.

Work is a reprieve.  The hour long drive into the AP offices is the daily escape. Even Crystal comments on her increased presence.

“Wow, three weeks in a row, you’ve been here every day.”

And she has. Getting in early, staying late. A model over-achiever. This is her safe-space.

Another day. Another late night.

The phone rings and she picks it up absently, not looking at the number that flashes across the screen.

“Elizabeth Joy.”

It’s her grandmother. Ann.

“Hello, grandmother. Let me guess. Mother called you.”

“Do not grandmother me.”

Crap.

“Hi grandma.”

“That’s better. Now, do you want to explain what’s going on?”

“Going on with what?” She plays dumb.

“Liz,” Ann’s voice comes out gentle. “Sal’s been talking to Travis. And I know you two are fighting. Want to talk to me about it?”

At that, she grows angry at her husband all over again. “Not really.”

“Fine. Start talking then.”

“I’m tired, gram. I wish I didn’t get married. I should have listened to myself and called it off.” There. It’s out now. What she’s feeling, what she’s going through. “I gave up my career for him. I gave up my life for him. My independence for him, and I feel like I’m the only one trying in this thing, and it’s not fair. I’m doing this for Travis and he acts like everything is MY fault. And I refuse to be his emotional punching bag. I can hit harder and that’s EXACTLY what I’m doing. He can cry to grandpa and mom and you and his mom and his friends all he wants. I’m finished and I mean that.”

“Liz, you know men are sensitive about their penises. And you know you have to stroke their egos.”

“He can stroke the damn thing himself. It’s not my fault he broke it!”

“ELIZABETH!”

At that one, she calms a bit. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. I’m just so frustrated.” The past part comes out with shaky breath. Her lower lip trembles. Liz has yet to cry throughout this whole ordeal but…

“First child—you two are older and it’s harder. But it’s NOT impossible and I don’t care WHAT the doctor told you. Sal and I got Rose when we were 43 and 44. So just ignore that one a moment. Next, sex is supposed to be fun. And loving. It’s meant to bring and hold two people together. And if it’s no longer fun for either of you, stop doing it.  Babies don’t come when you’re both stressed out and angry at each other. Third, remember your vows. They’re there for a reason. Sickness and health. Till DEATH do you part—not ‘he hurt my feelings and I’m mad.’ You think it’s been easy for Sal and I? We’ve had our share of struggles and fights, and you two will have them as well. So stop putting so much pressure on each other to do this thing. THAT’s what it really comes down to, isn’t it? You’re not just doing this for Travis. You want a baby too. But if you accept what’s meant to be, it will be. You cannot allow this to ruin your marriage. Travis loves you. You love Travis. And you both need to let this thing go.”

A lone tear falls.

“But grandma…you don’t know the things he said to me. He accused me of killing our baby.”

“Oh yes, I do. He told Sal, and he got cussed out for that. And I also know what you said to him, and I’m yelling at you for that, because he told you something deeply personal and private and you turned that into a weapon against him. You were BOTH wrong. And two wrongs don’t make a right. If your marriage is worth it, you’ll fix it. But that’s for you two to decide. Sometimes, it’s cheaper to fix what’s damaged before it’s broken. Now, I’m done lecturing. Goodnight granddaughter.”

“Goodnight, grandma.”

A sniffle. She wipes her face and exhales deeply and keeps working long into the night.

The next morning, Liz goes straight to the attorney’s office. And when she comes out, she prepares herself for the long conversation that’s about to follow. Her past week has been spent in a hotel. But checkout is tomorrow. And it’s been nearly a month since she’s been home.

Chapter Text

 

October continued...

Week #4 Post-Fight

 

It’s been a month from hell.

He can barely live in his own house. And at this stage of it, Travis is only catching glimpses of his wife. When he sees her. And it’s not often.

Every time he walks past the master bedroom, the broken door is a reminder of just how far down they’ve gone. The replacement has been ordered, but it hasn’t arrived yet. Their bed sits empty. He’s not in it, nor is she—and it’s exactly the way Liz left it, neatly made, and waiting—on what, he doesn’t know.

The first week after the fight, he’d been just as pissed off as she was—and for everything Liz did to him he matched with equal vitriol—deliberately staying out late, not coming home till the early morning hours and maybe…maybe he’d contemplated not coming home at all. Until he realized she was doing the same damn thing. The three day absence had made him near crazy, frantic with worry to find her and all he really wanted was to hold Liz and tell her he was sorry…but apologies have never come easy and after the shit she pulled…sorry was out the window.

The second week he’d brooded in his shed just tinkering with…stuff. Nothing in particular. He’d changed the oil in the truck, built little things with leftover parts… and just…blew time. And ultimately, when his mom called to check on them… well…he’d told her a little of it. And she’d called Ann and Sal, forcing him to tell more of it—and one thing led to another…

The third week, still no wife, and him wandering around downtown, aimless, driving out into the desert to just sit. A few of his friends had called and he’d gone with them for a night or two—just to be away for a moment, but they had their wives and everyone wanted to know where Liz was. He couldn’t really tell them: just said she was ‘working’ and they’d had the decency to leave it at that, though he’d caught more than a few pity glances his way.

Now it’s week four. And he’s trying to resist going to the liquor store or lighting a cigarette because he hasn’t had either for the past month. But the problem is…he’s presently standing in his kitchen in complete shock holding divorce papers in his hands.

It’s the unthinkable. The unfathomable.

Now a hundred percent real. She’s really trying to divorce him.

And Travis is more determined than ever now that it will not happen. Divorce is NOT an option.

 

 Week #5 Post-fight

It’s completely dark by the time she pulls up to the house. Travis’s truck is parked under the shed and she pulls in next to it and climbs out. The light in the master is on, but the rest of the house is dark from outside.

She sighs, and walks up to the door, unlocking it, and going in.

It’s quiet. Silently, Liz makes her way into the kitchen, pulling down a wine glass, and using her cell phone to light the way to the wine rack on the counter. She plucks a Cabernet from the stack and pours herself a glass, taking the first sip and exhaling, licking her lips.

Sooo good.

The conversation with her grandmother hasn’t left. And she’s still angry. But even worse than the anger is the hurt. That’s always been the bigger problem. The hurt is what’s fueling the anger. Never, at the worst with Montgomery, was it this bad. And she’s angry that she has allowed herself to love Travis to the point that he could hurt her so much. If she didn’t love him, it wouldn’t be this bad.

Carefully, Liz makes her way to the den and as she steps down, she draws a breath and stops.

“It’s past 1.”

The devil himself.

Her husband is standing by the window, the light from the moon casting him only in silhouette. She sees the shape of him, but can’t see his face. And it’s still dark in here, so she knows he can’t see hers. That’s probably a good thing because her chest is heavy and her eyes are hot with unshed tears and she cannot decide whether she wants to slap Travis into next Wednesday or cry into his arms.

“I just got home.”

“Yeah. I saw that. Where have you been, wife?”

It’s instinct. She gets defensive.

“Goodnight, Travis.”

Liz turns and starts walking off, but he comes up behind her and grabs her arm. She yanks it away and he grabs it back, but the touch is gentle. And so is his voice when he speaks.

“Stop.” It’s not a request. It’s a commandment. Now that they’re close, she can see him. Her eyes have long since adjusted to the dark. Travis is looking down at her, his face unreadable. But in his free hand are the papers.

“Look. We can use the same attorney. It’ll make it easier. We can re-divide our assets, you leave with what you came in with, I leave with mine. I don’t want anything from you. We can keep it civil,” Liz says, her eyes not meeting his. She’s trying to look elsewhere, trying to ignore him standing there, trying to focus on something other than his smell, other than his heat, other than him…because it’s so much easier to be mad when he’s not there…

“Liz, look at me.”

She shakes her head, and he puts a hand on her chin, tilting her head up to face him. It’s the worse thing in the world. All he sees in her face is hurt and sadness and grief and pain and…and that last thing—that thing that he knows so well…because he feels it too and he can read Liz better than anyone and he knows she can read him and it’s like looking in the mirror…

“I’m your husband. You’re my wife. We signed on the dotted line. There’s no going back.” He takes the papers and rips them in half, right in front of her. They flutter to the ground.

All their accounts have been merged. Checking. Savings. 401k and IRA’s. Her name is on his money. His name is on hers. The house. The cars, the insurance plans. The marriage certificate. The stocks, bonds. Health insurance, life insurance. Her driver’s license. Her social security card. She’s not Dubek anymore. “It’ll take a while to detangle your finances,” the attorney had said. “Are you sure you don’t just want to go for half? It would be easier.” But she’d said no. All she wanted was what was hers, and hers alone.

“Mrs. Fimmel.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“Fine. My wife. Partner. Friend. Lover….” He pauses a moment, and the next comes out softer as he wraps an arm around her waist and pulls her to his body, feeling her tremble.  His breath is warm in her ear. “Mother.”

“I’m not a mom.” She tries to push him away, but Travis just holds her tighter.

“But you want to be. And I want you to be.”

“Then why have you been so awful? Why have you been so hurtful? How can you accuse me of killing our baby? Is that what you thought? What you think? Is that why you were with Paula?”

A sharp intake of breath. His. They’re dragging up old things.

“I tried to be there for you, but you wouldn’t let me,” he tells her. “I came and you pushed me away. I know it hurt you. It hurt me too. All I wanted was to help.” He pauses, remembering what he thought and felt those weeks he tried to reach her to no avail. “Liz, that shit hurt.” The nights he lay awake, wondering what could have been. The memories it brought up. “It wasn’t the first time for me,” he says quietly. My ex…she had an abortion. I wanted it, she didn’t. And with you…I just…it made me wonder—trying to figure out where and how I failed again.”

Another truth. How the past impacts the present. How certain things are never quite forgotten. It’s something she’s never heard him say before.

“Why didn’t you tell me that? Travis…I would NEVER do that to you!”

“I know. But after you told me what happened with you and Montgomery…I…”

It gave him pause. Made him doubt. Question. “But I knew you wouldn’t and so I forced it down. Swallowed it. I knew you were telling the truth and I wanted to let it go so I did because I love you—I just wanted to be there, is all.”

They’ve never talked about the miscarriage before, not like this.  She’d elected to let it go, feeling like he did too, but Liz now knows exactly what she did—how she hurt him. Not by the loss, but by failing to recognize that he was hurting too. She’d ignored Travis, focusing on her own grief, and neglecting him and his too.

So caught up is she, that she almost misses the question he asks her. “Is that how you felt? When I told you about what happened? Is that really how you see me?” It’s quiet. Low. But she does catch it. And instantly, she feels ashamed. Liz knows what he’s talking about. It’s now about what SHE said to him. And she can’t bring herself to face him at the moment.

“I’m sorry.”

“You’re not answering me.”

No. She’s not. Because she can’t. She remembers that night—them together, confiding in each other, telling each other their worst secrets, their most private things. She remembers how she felt when he said it—uncomfortable. Afraid. Questioning…and said…how even as she had told herself she wouldn’t judge she did—and how she, like him, had elected to force it down, ignore it, because she loved him but…

“I didn’t know what to think. When you said it I just—I can’t imagine it…I still…can’t.”

“It was only once. You know that. You know the how of it, the why of it. And you know exactly how I feel about it.” Because it was something that was only meant to be said once. And here it is again.

Still, Travis reaches and brushes a stray hair away from his wife’s face. She’s hiding in his chest and he’s still got her. They’re having this conversation, and they’re having it now. No matter miserable and painful it is. He knows what he wants. And he wants the forever he signed up for. With her.

“Elizabeth,” it’s quiet, yet firm. Gentle, yet forceful. “I married YOU. And I want YOU.”

“No. You wanted babies.” At that, her voice breaks on the word. The tears start flowing again. She wanted them too. And there’s real pain that comes with the knowledge that right as she’s willing, after years of resisting the idea…they now they may not be able to do so. That it’s likely not to happen for them.

They hold on to each other, clinging to one another. “That’s not true, and you know it. And I know you want you want kids, too. I want to give them to you, Liz… please…” He’s trying, pleading with this wife on this, to stay with him, to not give up on them. She turns her face away.

He lowers his head to hers, burying his face in her hair and wrapping his other arm around her in a hug. Liz twists, trying to break his grip but he’s not letting her go, just pulling her tighter.

 “Lovie…if we can’t…,” he exhales, getting caught on the thought. Even now, the realization that it’s a real possibility just stabs at his heart. A lifetime of poor decision making come full circle, now, biting him in the ass.  But he’s come to accept it as the reality of the situation. It is his fault. His fault for being irresponsible with his body, and with his health. The booze and the cigarettes.  “Then we can’t. And I have to accept that. But what I will not accept, is losing my wife over it.”

Losing Liz.  That’s what both his mother and Sal told him he’s gotten perilously close to doing. And when he got the papers earlier that day he’d just cried, feeling like a complete bitch for doing so. At least she wasn’t there to see it.

It’s been more than a month since their fight. And in that time Liz had steadily withdrawn from him. Still, pride wouldn’t allow him to admit he was wrong. And she was just as stubborn. So the anger and hurt between them was allowed to take root. To fester. To grow and spread, contaminating everything they’d worked for years to build.

 It took Sal cussing him out to get him back right.

There’s something wet and warm on his chest. Travis looks down and realizes Liz is crying. He doesn’t realize he’s crying too.

She wraps her arms around him, feeling her husband. So solid. So sure. So…safe. He smells good. Like Irish Spring soap.

“I want my husband back. I want my marriage back.” The words are muffled against his chest.

“Lovie, I’m here.” He strokes her hair.

Lovie. He called her Lovie.

“Mufa…”

She finally tilts her head up to look at him again and for the first time she sees him cry. And she’s never seen Travis cry. She has seen him laugh and be silly, seen him angry. Seen him frustrated, even said. But she's never seen him shed tears and whatever last pieces of fight within her drain away, and all she wants is to hold on to him.

They’re quiet.

“I’m sorry, Liz.” His voice breaks with the emotion as he lowers his head to hers.

Soft lips meet rough ones.

They kiss.

“I’m sorry, Travis.”

Tears wash away anger. Forgiveness blooms like a rainbow after the storm.

Chapter Text

November

There is no more trying. No more pressure.

“I missed your farts.”

He laughs at that one. “Sorry. It’s been takeout the last few weeks.”

Liz snuggles closer under the blankets and pokes at him. “I can tell. You’re developing dad bod.”

Travis rolls over on his back and rubs his belly. “What? I’m too sexy for the gym.” At that, she cracks up and her grabs her, pulling her on top of him and kissing her lips.

“Oh, lovie…” he scrunches his nose afterward. “Morning breath.”

“You’re one to talk! On second thought, don’t,” Liz says, giggling.

 It’s all they’ve been doing for the past few days anyway. Wake up, have sex, eat, have more sex, sleep. Repeat. But they’re also going on day three and…

“We should at least get a shower and wash the sheets.”

“Why? They’re just going to get messed up anyway.”

“Yeah but…” Liz looks at her husband, reaching up and ruffling his hair. “You make a mess.”

He pulls her down against his chest, running his hand down her back and grabbing her ass. She shifts to straddle him as he pushes her hips down and thrusts up. Eyes slip closed and she moans low. Travis grins, watching his wife start to enjoy herself on his cock.

“I’m not the only one, love,” he tells Liz as she starts to rotate on his lap. He sits up and tilts her backwards, mouth on her breasts, one hand sliding between them to finger her clit.

“Let’s see how many times I can make you squirt. I love it when you do that.”

The last thought she has before he actually does it is that they really, really should change he sheets.

.

.

Liz is at work. Today’s appointment is a follow-up. He never told her he made it, and he’s been contemplating whether even to go. But he does. He’s nervous as shit, though.

“Mr. Fimmel?”

The nurse calls him back. She hands him a cup and points to the bathroom and he has to stifle the cringe and swallow some of his pride.

When he comes out of the bathroom he gives the nurse the cup and she guides him to the exam room where he waits. He elects to do it on his back, eyes closed, half-asleep.

“Alright.”

At the sound of the voice, he sits up quick. His doctor has walked in, looking down at his chart.

“So, you stopped smoking, I see.”

“Yeah. Um…it’s been about six weeks.”

“No liquor either?”

Travis shakes his head and finally, the doctor looks at him.

“Well, the numbers are definitely up”

At that, Travis perks up. “So…does that mean I’m not screwed?”

“Well, sperm does rejuvenate itself 70 to 90 days. As long as you stay off the cigarettes and the alcohol your body will continue to repair itself.”

“So…what does that mean for…the other situation?”

The other situation—him and Liz. Their chances for a baby. He’s not talked about it since the fight—not wanting to mess it up again. But the yearning is still there, and it hasn’t gone away. A part of him just refuses to give up on it, or let it go. He still believes it’s possible for them.   

“What it means is that your chances are increasing. And if you stay on this path, it’ll continue to go up. However, the one thing that’s still not in your favor Mr. Fimmel is your age.”

Age. He shakes his head.

“Bloody Clooney had a baby and he was older than 50!”

“That was in-vitro,” his doctor says drily. “And that was actually something I wanted to run by you and your wife. If you two are still trying—perhaps either IUI or IVF could work.”

“What’s IUI?” While he’s familiar with the latter, having heard it before, he has no clue what the first is.

‘Intrauterine Insemination.  It’s when the sperm is placed in her—rather than having to go the hard way,” the doctor tells him. It’s usually recommended for couples who are older.

Dammit, that word again.

At that, Travis shifts a bit. Slightly uncomfortable. “Um…I don’t know…”

“That’s fine if you don’t. It’s just an option. Something for you and wife to discuss, perhaps. But other than that, it looks good and we’ll see you next month.”

Next month.

He gets up, shakes the doctor’s hand, and heads out.

In truth, he’d much rather make their baby the old fashioned way, and if it’s possible to do that…then…it’s the preferred way to go. And he’ll keep trying, until he’s convinced otherwise. He knows his wife. And while she hasn’t mentioned it either, Travis knows because she told him a long time ago: the only babies she’ll ever carry are his. And he took that to heart.

.

.

“I have to go to Cannes.”

“France?”

“Yes.”

“But…our anniversary.” It’s drowsy.

Travis smiles. Liz is curled up in his arms, pressed against his chest…eyes closed. They’re naked, enjoying the post-sex afterglow.

“Let’s spend it in France. We never really got a honeymoon. And the production company is paying for the flight and the hotel. All we need is an extra ticket. And you’re my plus one.”

Big brown eyes look up at him and her long eyelashes remind him of butterfly wings. She gives him a half-lidded, and lazy smile, running a leg against his.

“I’ve never been to France.”

Rose calls a few days later.

“We’re going to France,” Liz tells her mom.

“Oh. Well…the family will miss you guys this Thanksgiving.” She can tell Rose is disappointed. “We’ll be there for Christmas.”

It’s in France that she starts feeling terribly. And shortly after they clear the red carpet, the nausea hits.

 

December

“The flu, again. It’s the second time this year,” Liz laments after she finishes throwing up in the toilet.

“Can you get a vaccine?” Travis asks, bringing her a cup of water.

“It’s too late. You’re supposed to do that before you get the flu,” she tells him, laying back down on the bed. The covers are thrown off. It’s hot.

“My poor wife.” He lays down beside her, and she rolls over to get close.

Travis sniffs, and moves away a bit, trying to be discreet.

“Where are you going?” Liz’s eyes are red, but from the force of vomiting, not because of tears. She reaches out for him, looking adorably pitiful.

“I love you,” he tells her. “But you need a mint, Lovie.”

She laughs and throws her pillow at him.

“You’re a fine one to talk.”

Three days later though, and she’s still throwing up. And she can’t keep anything down.

He’s got a sneaking suspicion, but… “Maybe, you should go to the doctor,” he tells her. But Liz is stubborn.

“I’m fine.”

“The hell you are. Let’s go.” He pulls her up and out of bed, and grudgingly, she gets dressed.

Travis ends up forcing her into the truck. Literally. Liz clings to the door, like a cat, and its so funny. He cannot help but to laugh at her.

.

.

“And when did the symptoms start?”

Travis and Liz are sitting in the exam room. Never in his life has he spent so much time in a doctor’s office than he has the past year, he thinks to himself. Liz is propped up on the table, in a gown.

“Well, I felt a bit sick in France, and I started getting hot flashes a few weeks ago, when we came back from,” she tells the physician. “But the nausea didn’t start until a week ago.”

The doctor jots something down in his notepad.

“Breathe deep for me,” he instructs, stethoscope in his ears.

A breath for the front. One for the back.

“Your chest is clear.”

A good thing.

“When was your last menses?”

At that, Liz is momentarily stumped.

“Um…”

She thinks about it. It’s late November. Her cycle normally comes around the first of the month but…

Not this month.

October? They were fighting in October. Yes. She had one in October.

“October.”

He writes.

“Alright. Hold on a minute.”

So she does. After about 20 of them, he comes back.

“Well, it’s not the flu,” he tells them.

“Then what is it?” Because at this state, she’s barely holding down water. Saltines and applesauce are about as much as she can muster.

Her doctor peers at her over the top of his spectacles, then looks at Travis. They share the same physician and when he speaks again, he’s smiling a bit.

“Mrs. Fimmel, you’re pregnant.”

“What?!” Travis gets up quick and they both yell in unison.

She cannot believe it. It’s from left field.

“It’s impossible. I mean…we tried and…”

The doctor shakes his head.

“Well, unless it was Immaculate Conception-- which I strongly doubt--I can only tell you what the results say. And they say that you are pregnant. Probably around six weeks, would be my guess, just based on your symptoms.”

Six weeks. Six weeks. What were they doing six weeks ago?

As it clicks, she gasps.

Oh…

Liz knows what they were doing six weeks ago. What they’ve been doing the past month, really.

They’ve been busy making up.

And apparently, while making up, they were making a baby too.

She looks at Travis whose standing there grinning at her, looking like he’s about to jump out of his skin, and she moves to hug him. It’s all the cue he really needs to scoop his wife off the table into his arms, twirling her around.

They laugh. They laugh until they cry and they cry until they start laughing again. He kisses her all over. Her hair, her face, her lips.

“Mufa…” She looks at him once he finally puts her down, and brings his forehead down to hers. Another kiss, soft, and sweet.

“We’re going to have a baby,” he tells her. Hugging her close again, rocking Liz. It’s a whisper. A wish fulfilled. “A baby.”

The second he repeats to himself, confirming that it’s real.

.

.

 “Remember what you said you wanted last Christmas?” Liz looks at him. They’re nose-to-nose curled up in bed together. At that, he feels a surge of energy and excitement, but tries to stay neutral.

“Yes.”

“Well…”

She takes his hand and puts it on her belly.

“I guess the stork was late…but I’m glad he made it.”

.

.

Travis is excited. Liz is too. It’s their first visit to the OBGYN’s office and he’s not the only guy there. There are a couple others, sitting with their heavily pregnant partners.

“Elizabeth Fimmel?”

 They get the call back and they go. She undresses and puts on the gown and settles back on the bed, legs propped in the stirrups.

The ultrasound technician wheels the machine over.

“Can you undo the front?” She asks. Liz does.

The gel is cold against her skin and makes her flinch.

“I’m going to apply a little pressure here, but it won’t hurt. We just need to get a clear shot to see how far along you are.”

The machine whirrs to life, and Liz and Travis watch as the tech places the cold metal onto her belly. Soon, an image comes to view. Black and white, really, and there’s not much to see until….

“Ah! There it is! See?”

She points and they look to see a tiny, circular…sack? With a ring around it. It’s attached to the shaded gray area.

“What is that?” Travis asks, leaning in and squinting at the monitor.

“That,” the tech tells him, “Is your baby.”

His eyes go wide and the smile that comes across his face is huge. He looks at Liz and she raises her arms. He gets up and comes to hug her.

Later, they sit on their sofa, quietly marveling at the picture in their hands.

 “I can’t believe it,” Travis says. “It’s like a dream.” One of his large hands is gently rubbing her stomach. Liz shifts, enjoying his touch. “If it’s not real, then let’s just stay in our dream,” she tells him, turning slightly to kiss his lips, her fingers ruffling his hair.

He deepens it, Sliding an arm around her waist and lowering her backward.

She giggles, already knowing where this is headed. He’s lifted her shirt, and is already halfway down. She lets him take off her pants and wraps her legs around his head.

.

.

They’re trying to wait until week 12 to break the news to their families. But it’s hard to keep secrets when her husband is constantly hovering and touching and kissing and cuddling and treating her like she’s fragile glass.

Arkansas is cold, but the house is warm and everyone is gathered in the den, seated on or near the fireplace. Sal’s got it raging and he throws another log that sparks and crackles. Liz and Travis are cuddled on the chaise lounge off to the side. She’s resting in his lap, blankets around them both. There’s a heated dice game going on at the card table set up in the middle of the room with Kelli, Rose, Ann and Sal playing to the death.

Travis’s hands rub on Liz’s belly and he kisses her on the side of her neck. She leans back into the touch, eyes closed.

“mmm….”

“Hey now, no one wants to see all that.” They look at Kelli, who’s grinning over at them.

“Shut up. We’re not doing anything.” Liz tells her. Travis raises his hands in mock surrender.

“Right…. I saw those hands under the blankets. Ya’ll ain’t slick.”

Rose and Ann titter. Sal takes a drink of beer and rolls his dice.

“Should we tell them?” Travis whispers, hands slipping back under the blankets and around Liz’s waist.  

“We still have three weeks to go.” She whispers back. Three weeks until they’ve cleared the first trimester. Liz wants to wait—in case anything happens. She hasn’t forgotten the first time.

“Nothing is going to happen, Lovie. You’ll be fine.” He hasn’t forgotten either, but he’s absolutely certain that this is it. This one is for real.

“But the doctor said…”

“I know what he said. But here. Feel.” Travis takes her hand and puts it on her stomach. It’s still mostly flat…but it does feel…fuller. “See? A baby. Don’t be afraid. It’s okay for you to tell them.”

“What are you two conspiring about over there?” Sal looks up from the table, and misses it when Ann swipes his dice and takes a roll.

“Hey! I had another go!”

“Shoulda been faster, hun.”

At that, they all laugh.

“Then…can I tell them?” Travis whispers, squeezing Liz to him. She sighs and leans back, bringing the blanket up. Still uncertain. But her husband is now nibbling on her neck. The beard tickles, making her laugh quietly.

“Take it to the back, please,” Rose calls, not bothering to look up as she concentrates on the dice in front of her.

“We’re NOT doing anything!” Liz is exasperated.

“Told you we should tell them.”

“Shut up!”

This time, it’s loud enough and Sal, Ann, Rose and Kelli stop their game and look at them.  Travis is laughing.

“Alright. Out with it.” Ann demands. “You two are over there just tittering away. The rest of us want to know, too.”

Liz turns her face into his chest, feeling the rumble when he speaks.

“She’s up the duff.” It comes out in that distractingly charming Aussie accent which—judging upon the interpretation, is either very sweet or incredibly randy and judging from the way he’s looking down at her and grinning and wagging his eyebrows, she knows he meant it the randy way.

“Travis!”

Kelli lets out a squeal so loud they all cringe.

“I KNEW it!” Rose declares smiling at them. “Um hmm.” Ann nods.

“Hey! Hey! Well, I guess they work after all.” Sal holds up his beer in mock toast, and now it’s Liz’s turn to laugh at her husband, whose facial expression is frozen between a cringe and a half-smile.

“Gotcha.” she says, simply.

He lowers his head to kiss her on the top of hers.

“So….when is my grand-baby getting here?” Ann asks, leading the group hug.

“We don’t know that. We’re only at week nine.” Liz says. “But the doctor says it could be anywhere between June and August.”

“OOhhh…pregnant in the summer.” Rose looks at her daughter with sympathy. “That’ll be rough. You’ll be huge by then.”

“Thanks, mother.”

For New Year’s Liz toasts with sparking apple juice.  Travis toasts with her. Also with apple juice.

Chapter Text

January

The nausea stops shortly after they clear the first trimester, and for the first time in several weeks, Liz can FINALLY hold down real food. And she wants ALL of it.

“I don’t know why I’m so hungry,” she tells Travis, settling down on their couch with a half-gallon of ice cream and a single spoon. He looks at it, then at his wife and raises an eyebrow, but wisely, says nothing. Because the next day she’s complaining that her stomach hurts.

“Well…you should have shared with me instead of being greedy,” he tells her.

That earns him a punch on the arm.

“Ow! Woman! When did you get abusive?”

“You’re picking at me.”

He is. He totally, definitely is. Travis pulls Liz close, hugging her. “I can’t help it. You’re so sexy when you’re pregnant and mad.”

 

February

This year, she makes it special. Travis called a few minutes before to tell her he was about 30 minutes out. There have been meetings in the city all day. But there’s good news.

“They’re picking it up!” He says.

The manuscript he’s been plugging away at for more than 18 months. “Sinners.” The heads-up gives Liz just enough time to add the finishing touches to their dinner.

 And when Travis he walks through the door and comes into the kitchen, he stops. And smiles.

There’s his wife.

Wearing nothing but an apron. Liz wiggles her toes. She’s barefoot.

And pregnant.

He comes up to her and pulls her close, feeling her.

“You’re growing, lovie.”

She smiles and tilts her head up for a kiss.

“I knew you’d like it. A dream come true?”

Travis laughs. “Well, I did get you pregnant and barefoot in my kitchen.”

“Our kitchen,” Liz corrects. Another kiss.

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Mufa.”

 

March

“Six weeks?”

Liz looks at him, then down at her belly, now protruding, and back at her husband.

“Maybe four, if it goes fast. But no longer than eight at the most.” He’s shifting, looking uncomfortable.

It must be the hormones. Definitely the hormones. She feels her eyes water.

“Oh no…” He comes to embrace her. “Lovie, please don’t…”

Too late.

The first tear falls. Then the second. Then the third. It’s like they’re being pulled straight from his heart.

“Lovie,” he says gently, bringing a finger to her cheek and catching the ones he can. “You know I can’t take it when you cry. It’s just for a little bit.”

“I know. But…”

“It was scheduled before we got pregnant.”

“I KNOW.”

“Then what’s the matter?”

A sniffle. Liz wraps her arms around his waist. “We don’t want you to go.”

At the word we, he feels a poke against his belly and looks at his wife. “What was that?”

“The baby. It’s moving.”

Moving.

He puts his hand down there and sure enough, feels another poke.

Oh man…

Leaving just got that much harder.

“Six weeks.” Travis says firmly, kissing Liz.

It’s the quickest he’s ever filmed anything. But he rides the director like a jockey and he really doesn’t care whether he’s pissed off the rest of the cast. There’s someplace he REALLY needs to be. And that’s back home.

He’s home again in five weeks, and is shocked when he sees her.

“Oh wow…”

The first place he goes is to his knees to get as close to her belly as possible, putting an ear up to it, and his hands as well.

“He’s big!” Liz has grown more since he was gone, and the belly is now nice and firm and definitely noticeable. He can touch it and rub it and when he puts his hand on her side, he feels a poke—stronger than the last and he knows it’s his baby.

“Daddy’s home,” he whispers to the little one inside.

She smiles down at him, fingers in his hair.

“It’s a she, actually,” Liz says.

“A girl?” Travis looks up at her.

“A girl.” She confirms.

Holy Crap…

It just got really real.

He’s going to have a daughter.

“She’ll never date.” He says simply. “And I’m good with an axe, sword and gun.”

“Don’t forget your bow, Mufa.”

He laughs, then gets serious. “She’s going to be beautiful. Just like her mother.”

 

April

“So who’s planning the baby shower?”

“Not Liz. She almost didn’t have a wedding.”

“LOL.” J

“We should make a list.”

“There has to be at least one thing for Travis. You know he gets in his feelings if he’s left out.”

And it’s how Kelli and Katheryn come together and conspire to plan out a baby shower.

 

May

“What about me? Don’t I get something, too?” Travis eyes the pile of boxes and bags, draped in pastel shades of yellow, gray, pink…blues, purples. They’re in the living room, and he’s the only man there—the rest are women. His mother and sisters-in-law, Liz’s mother, Ann and Kelli, Katheryn, Tanya, Cassandra, Crystal from Liz’s office…and of course, his now very pregnant wife.

He goes to help Liz stand and she takes a few waddling steps to get close. It makes him smile with pride at that one—that he’s got her waddling.

“Well…it’s not for me, either,” she says, kissing his cheek. “It’s for the baby.”

“Yeah, but…does she need ALL of this?” The mound of packages is huge, and nothing has been unwrapped so far. “I mean…she’s not even here, yet.”

At that, all the women laugh and Kelli brings him a small box. She gives it to him and then speaks directly to Katheryn. “You totally called that.” They both laugh.

“Called what?” Tanya asks.

“That Travis would be mad he didn’t get anything,” Katheryn tells her.

There’s a group laugh at his expense.

“I tried to warn you, Mufa, but you didn’t listen.” Liz tut-tuts at him before waddling back to her chair in the middle of all the packages.

“Well, I didn’t think it was going to be like this,” he huffs, retreating to the back with his present in hand. There’s a football game on. And he’s going to watch it, and leave the living room to the ladies.

“Now, that he’s gone,” Rose says… “let’s see what’s in the boxes.”

The gifts have come from all around. New Zealand, Australia, New York…while Liz and Travis managed to keep their engagement, and later their marriage under wraps for months, he has not been as shy about her pregnancy-telling quite literally everyone AND their grandmother.

There was even a mention of it on TMZ.

Liz opens a small box to reveal a small, pink peplum fur jacket.

“To Liz and Travis from Calvin,” she reads the card aloud. “I know she’ll be gorgeous. Can’t WAIT to sign her!”

It gets a chuckle. “Is that REAL fur?” Travis’s mother asks, feeling it. “It’s so soft!”

And as they inspect further they realize… it is. Rabbit.

 “Well,” Liz says, “I suppose she can wear it in Arkansas or Georgia. Neither Echuca nor L.A. get cold enough.”

Rose hands her another box and she takes her time opening it.

“Get ready to join the club!”-Clive.

She pulls out a gray tool box, with pink ribbon on it. “Daddy’s Diaper Changing Tool Box” say the pink letters pasted to it. Inside, there are little diapers wrapped with pink ribbons, and baby ointment, butt cream, powder, a purple rubber ducky and a several fancy cloth diapers. It’s too cute, and they all laugh at it. The toolbox gets set aside just for Travis.

His mother hands her one of the bigger boxes.

“It’s the family gift,” she explains.

It’s heavy, and Liz has to stand in order to try and figure out how to get it open. The wrapping comes off easy enough, but the rest of it…

“Raki!” His mom yells down the hall. “Come out here!”

He does, plodding barefoot back into the den.

“I think you may want to open this one, too,” she says.

Travis eyes the box. It’s large and rectangular and comes nearly waist-high. “What’s in it?”

“Well, you need to open it to see,” she tells him. He bends to try and pick it up and puts it right back down. “It’s heavy.”

“Open the damn box, Mufa.” Now Liz.

“Fine! Hold on.” A quick trip outside, then back in, with a boxcutter in hand.

“Be careful,” his mother warns.

The women look on as Travis takes apart the box. And when its contents are finally revealed, he takes a step back, in shock.

“You shipped this all the way here?”

Because inside is the cradle that his grandfather hand-made for him when he was a baby.

Liz runs a finger across the smooth, dark wood. “It’s so pretty,” she says softly, appraising it. Inside is a new cradle pad and on it is a hand-stitched quilt.

“The quilt is from your grandmother,” his mom says, standing to hug her son.

Liz looks at her husband, seeing the tears that haven’t fallen.

“Oh, Mufa.”

He hugs his wife, then his mother. “Thanks, mom.” She grins. “No. Thank YOU. Now, tell my granddaughter to hurry up!”

Another round of laughter.

 

June

It’s 103 degrees today. And it’s a Monday. It’s been three months since the last time she saw her own feet. They’re swollen. So are her ankles.  And she’s pretty damned sure her vagina looks like a forest. She’s surprised her husband hasn’t gotten lost down there, yet.

Furthermore, Liz is waddling, and she’s fat, and she’s hot, and tired, and even just getting to the kitchen is a struggle, and…

“Good morning, Lovie.”

That’s really all it takes to send her straight into tears.

Travis looks down, shocked.

“Liz! What’s wrong?”

She’s crying hard as she stands in their kitchen, barefoot with only her shirt on—and its maternity, billowing out in front of her like a fucking tent.

“I hate you so much right now…” She manages through choked sobs and a sudden onset of hiccups. “I’m fat and It’s all your fault!”

At that, he cannot help but to laugh. He laughs until his sides hurt and it only makes Liz cry harder.

“Aw, Lovie, come here.” Travis tries to wrap his arms around her, but…only manages to get halfway there. Liz looks down and just breaks down completely.

“You’re laughing at me and you don’t get it! I’m hot and I’m tired! And my boobs hurt!”

“And you’re perfect and beautiful, and sexy,” he tells her, kissing her forehead. “And I love you. It’s just a little longer.”

A little longer.

The date is right around the corner. Mid-July,” the doctor said. Probably around the 10th.

Four more weeks.

They’ve been through parenting classes, breast-feeding classes, what-to-expect in labor classes, and even one where Liz was presented with a wide range of different medications she could get to ease labor pains.

“Is that really Fentanyl?” Travis had asked, raising an eyebrow.  The drug course had made his wife nervous though.

“I don’t want any of it,” she’d said. But when they had to watch the real-labor video, well…Travis couldn’t keep his mouth closed, and Liz had simply shuddered. It had really scared her when the doctor started talking about tearing and episiotomies. That was a week ago and she’s been an emotional mess ever since.

“I don’t want to do this, anymore,” she tells Travis, sniffling into his chest. They’re still in the kitchen and he holds her…the best he can anyway. There’s a very large belly between them.

“Shh…we’re almost there, love. It’s alright,” he tells her gently, stroking her hair. “You won’t be pregnant much longer.”

Eventually, she calms down.

“I’m sorry. It’s just…hormones,” Liz says with a rueful smile.

“I know. I don’t take it personally…anymore,” he tells her with a quick kiss to the forehead, and then, dipping down, another to her belly.

“We’re waiting for you, little one,” He tells his daughter. There’s a little bump to his hand and he looks up at his wife. Liz ruffles his hair.

.

.

“Oh wow, Liz…” Crystal steps from around her desk when she sees Liz struggling to get out of the elevator. “Um…when does your maternity leave start?”

“Two weeks,” she huffs, waddling her way down the hall. The temperature outside has climbed to 107 by now and still rising, and it’s barely 9 in the morning. She really doesn’t know how much more of this she can take. Every step is uncomfortable, and what she wants is to just be naked in front of a fan.

“Do you think you’re going to make it?” Crystal asks as Liz settles into one of the chairs around the conference table and leans back.

“I honestly don’t know,” she tells her.

Bob comes walking in. “Hi Crystal, Hi—Oh…” he says, voice trailing off as he sees Liz. Her legs are now propped up on an empty chair.

“Um, Liz? When does your maternity leave start?” He asks, trying to be diplomatic about it.

“Two more weeks,” she says through gritted teeth. She gets it. Apparently her discomfort is making everyone around her uncomfortable.

 “You know…you can take it earlier if you’d like,” Bob says. He tries to make the words sound encouraging but it comes out patronizing to her ears. Liz pulls herself up.

“I have a few projects to finish, then I’ll be out.” She says. “And I am FINE. I’m pregnant, not wilting.”

Of course, by the time she gets back into her car and is driving home…she IS wilting, even with the air conditioning on.

And when Travis comes home that night, he finds his wife curled up, naked in bed, with the covers on the floor and the ceiling fan going at full speed.

For the first time in her pregnancy, he actually feels a bit guilty for knocking her up.

She’s still sexy though. Belly and all. He takes off his clothes and climbs in in back of her. It’s about the only position that she’s comfortable in and well…he’s got a pregnancy kink.

.

.

July

“No.”

“But, Lovie…” He’s begging. Giving her eyes. She shifts, struggling to even roll over. Travis has to help her.

“I said no.”

He gives her a few pokes from behind.

“Please?”

Liz sighs. “You can try. But I’m going to sleep.”

Because she’s entirely too pregnant and it’s June 6 and she just really wants this baby to get here. ASAP.

Travis is happily humping away.

“How does it feel, love?” It’s a groan. A pant.

“Love?”

“Liz?”

He stops and raises himself up on his side to look…

She seriously went to sleep.

He drops back down to the bed.

It’s June 6th. He REALLY wants their daughter to get here. ASAP. Never has his wife fallen asleep during sex.

.

.

Travis is outside, working on building a greenhouse when he hears a yelp come from the house. He turns and bolts toward it and comes to a stop, seeing Liz in the doorway.

“What happened?”

She looks at him, eyes wide. It’s then he notices the ground beneath her is wet.

“I think my water just broke.”

“It what?”

It takes a moment for it to sink in. And it only does when he sees her grimace and touch her belly.

“Oh!” Quickly he comes to her side and maneuvers Liz to the SUV and hits the push start. He turns on the air for her.

“I’ll be right back. Going to get the bags.” One for him, one for her, and the car seat. Because when they come back, it will be with the baby.

By the time they get to the hospital, Liz is panting, trying to remember her breathing exercises.

“Do you want me to carry you?”

She shakes her head, holding up a hand to stop him.

“No. No…Just…give me a moment.”

Travis comes around the passenger side and opens the door, helping her down. She leans on him as they had to the maternity ward. By the time they get there, she’s moaning as another contraction comes.  

The nurses come in a flurry around them, and take them down the hall where Liz is stripped of her clothes and a gown put on her. She lays down on the bed, and he just sits, completely clueless and just watching as the attendants fuss over his wife.

“Travis, did you call our moms?” Liz asks, flinching as a needle is inserted into her hand. Her vitals are taken and the doctor comes in.

“Hello Mrs. Fimmel, this is just a quick check to see where we’re at. Can you lift your legs for me?”

Liz does and the doctor peeps between them, reaching up to feel her.

“Ohh…” She moans in discomfort and Travis takes her hand, rubbing it gently. “It’s okay, Lovie.”

“Alright,” the doctor says, coming back up and taking off the latex glove. “Looks like a while to go. You’re only about three centimeters dilated and we need to get to 10. So, just try to relax and get comfortable.”

Relax.

Get comfortable.

All the things she cannot do right now.

While the nurses continue fussing over Liz, Travis makes the calls. First to Rose.

“On the way!” She says.

And then to Ann. “En-route, tell her to close her legs. No one’s coming out until we get there!”

And finally, to his mother, who has the longest trip to make.

“See you in about 40 hours.”

Eventually, the medical team filters out until only Liz and Travis remain. She looks at him.

“Mufa?”

“Hm…” He’s still holding her hand.

“I want you to hold me.”

She manages to scoot over in the hospital bed and he comes in with her, careful not to disturb any of the machinery or the IV’s.

It’s the early stage. The longest one.

“How are you doing, Lovie?”

“Just cramps,” she tells him, breathing through yet another contraction. “But, bad cramps.”

“Try to rest, love.” He tells her. They know the stages. He closes his eyes and she follows, her breathing starting to even out as he strokes her hair.

 

.

.

By the time Ann and Rose arrive early the next morning, Liz is in active labor and Travis is trying to help her get comfortable. It’s not really working.

“You can do it, Liz…I’ve got you.”

“YOU got me into this in the first place!” She hisses through gritted teeth.

Travis flinches but lets it slide. He remembers from classes—this is a more intense stage, and so is her pain. He’s trying to be a good support partner for her. Instead of responding to that, he starts to just massage her, rubbing her back, her feet, anything to keep his wife relaxed and as calm as possible.

When Rose and Ann walk in, it’s a bit of a relief.

He comes to hug them and they walk over to Liz, hugging her too.

“I’m SO glad you two are here,” she says, then grimaces as another contraction comes rolling through, more intense than the last. “AHHHHH…..”

“Aw, poor thing. It’ll be alright, just breathe,” Rose says, touching Liz’s forehead.

The doctor comes back to check on them.

“We’re doing good,” he says. “You’re about 7 centimeters, now. Keep it up. We’re going to move you to the delivery room.”

Keep it up…keep it up… Travis kneels by the bed, kissing her hand and massaging her arms.

“Almost there, Liz. You’ve got this.”

She ignores him. “When do I get my epidural?” Liz asks.

Because she is absolutely not doing this without drugs.

.

.

“Okay, hold on…we need you to stop pushing!”

She’s in labor, and it’s coming fast and hard. All she wants is to push…every part of her body is screaming push…and the doctor’s is telling her not to…

“I can’t!” She cries, starting to sob.

Travis springs into action. “LOOK at me, Liz. Follow me,” he tells her, holding her face and looking directly into her eyes. “Blow with me.”

He pants and blows rhythmically and she follows, holding his eyes as the doctor works down below. She’s partly numb but not in the right areas—only her legs. Her pelvis and back are on fire —the sensation oddly disorienting. And there’s still pain. A LOT of it.

“Uh uh…stay with me, Lovie.” Travis says, seeing her eyes go wide and her breathing start to pick up. He can tell she’s frightened. Don’t panic. I’ve still got you.”

Her hands are gripping his arms, but he’s still holding her face, and she keeps following him.

“There!” The doctor says, “now on my mark…. Push!”

Liz’s head goes down and she pushes with everything.

“Again!”

Another push that makes her scream, right into Travis’ ear.

“Come on, push!”

“I’m pushing goddammit!!”

“Keep going!”

“AAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!”

And, they go like that…until with a final strain, she feels something pop, and drops back, exhausted and trembling, onto the bed.

The next sounds she hears are like magic.

A tiny, shrill wail.

Travis looks up when he hears it too.

“Oh wow…Lovie…look…” he tells her. She opens her eyes as the nurse puts her baby in her arms and pulls back the blankets.

They both peer over.

“There she is,” Travis whispers, touching the sleek wisps of black hair that adorn their daughter’s head.

“Liz…she’s perfect.”

And she is. Their baby girl.

She cannot help it. She starts to laugh…and then cry at the same time, the joy coming over her in waves. Because the doctor told her it was unlikely, but their daughter proves that wrong.

The baby yawns and opens its eyes briefly and they look into soft gray ones.

He’s too happy. Too full. Travis looks from his wife, hair plastered to her face, her skin glowing with perspiration, to the new life that just emerged from her. Soft, and delicate, and perfect, and he knows there will never be anyone or anything more important in his life than these two people.

His family. His tiny, but perfect family.

“Do you want to cut the cord?” The doctor asks Travis. He swallows and nods, mutely, taking the scissors and following the instructions carefully. It’s what seperates the baby from its mother and he takes a look at Liz, whose watching him, smiling.

“There!” It’s cut and Liz hands the baby to Travis who takes her carefully, inhaling her scent. He can’t really place it, but when he touches her, he feels the soft, delicate skin and fingers the fragile wisps of hair on her head. Her eyes are closed again but she’s warm against his chest and the surge of love he feels toward her almost knocks him down. Instead, he comes to take a seat next to the bed.

“Hi Sunshine,” he tells her. “Daddy’s here.”

The nurse comes back to them. “It’ll only be a moment,” she says. “We need to get her weight, and we need to get you cleaned up. We’re just going to put her right over there,” she says, pointing to the little clear plastic cubicle on wheels that’s set up beside the bed.

Travis nods, reluctantly giving his daughter back. Liz closes her eyes, letting the nurses work on her. Eventually, she drifts off to sleep. “We’re going to take her to the NICCU,” the nurse tells him. “Let your wife rest a bit.”

.

.

When Ann and Rose finally come back, Travis’s mom is with them, and Liz is sitting up in bed, breastfeeding.

They come and settle down around the room.

“So, what’s her name?” Travis’ mom asks, watching with a soft smile on her face. Her son is kissing his wife’s forehead, while the baby nurses hungrily.

“Sophia.” He says looking down at his daughter. There is no getting over this. Sophie and Liz are precious to him.

Sophia. The mothers ponder it.

“Sophia, what?” Rose asks.

“Sophia Isobelle.”

“I like it,” Ann tells them.

Liz looks at Travis, and smiles up at him, softly.

“Happy birthday, Mufa.”

Today is July 15. Daughter and daddy share the same birthday.

Sophia Isobelle Fimmel weighs 6 lbs. 11 ounces and she’s 19 inches long.

Travis takes another look at his wife, and new baby.

The chase lost its thrill six years ago.

Mortality began creeping on him.

He'd been about ready to accept his fate five years ago, ago when he met a different sort of woman—Elizabeth Joy Fimmel—who forced him to reconsider something he gave up on a while ago. Love.

And he’s so glad he did. Because he finally got everything he had been hoping for.

He’s 41 today. With a happy wife. And a happy life.

“We can have more,” he tells Liz, touching Sophie’s head.

“I want more,” she tells him as they kiss.

The third act of her life started today. Today, she became a mother.

Chapter Text

 

 

Travis and Liz’s Adventures In Parenthood

 

The first few weeks are pure joy. Largely because they have three moms hovering over them both, in addition to Sophie. But neither Travis nor Liz are complaining. The delivery went smoothly, but Liz did tear a little, and is still healing.  Rose and Ann won’t allow her to move much, and when she has to get a shower, they are there to assist. While she’s being bathed, Travis’ mom instructs him on how to thaw the breast milk and warm it, and prepare the bottle for Sophie.

By the time she’s out of the shower, Travis and his mom are side by side, and Sophie’s swaddled in his arms as he feeds her.

“Take a rest,” Rose says, helping Liz to the bedroom and into bed. As she sleeps, it’s Travis’ job to feed and change.

And that’s when he gets the shock of his life.

“Oh my God!” He exclaims, scrunching is nose and turning his head, trying not to gag.

“Sunshine! What did you eat?!” Because he’s pulled the diaper back and there is shit, quite literally everywhere. And it’s AWFUL and it’s a strange yellow-green color and he doesn’t want to touch it, and his mom and Liz’s mom and her grandmother are all laughing at him.

“Welcome to the parenthood,” Rose tells him. “Want a wipe?”

“Do I have to?’

“Oh yes,” his mom tells him. “You were a shitty little thing too. Consider this, karma.”

He manages, gagging the entire time. Sophie just looks at him with her gray eyes, clearly unimpressed with her daddy.

.

.

“Yeay, Sunshine! Yeay Sunshine!” Travis is laying on his back, on the floor, his baby girl on his chest. He’s lifting her up and down, carefully.

She looks at him with wide eyes, and suddenly, a smile appears on her face.

“Aw…you love me too, don’t—“

She promptly throws up. In his mouth.

“Ahhhh !!! Lizz!!!!”

.

.

Sleep. What is that? Some mysterious form of respite that they barely remember. A faint impression a dream…

“WHHHAAAA!!!”

“Your turn,” he tells his wife, rolling over in the bed and putting a pillow over his head. In the bassinet beside them, Sophie cries. Liz looks down at Travis’s back and rolls her eyes, reaching for the baby.

“Come here, daughter,” she says quietly, softly, unbuttoning her gown and letting Sophie latch on to a boob.

She winces.

Next to them, Travis snores.

“How do you think he’s doing?” Liz asks. Gray-green eyes blink up at her in answer and she laughs. After a while, Sophie’s full, and Liz gently burps her and puts her back in the bassinet before laying back down to sleep for another two hours.

.

.

“I have to go into the city, today,” Liz says, pulling on pants and buttoning her top.

Travis looks up at her.

“For what? You’re still on maternity leave.”

“I know, but there’s a mandatory meeting and I have to be there.”

“Bullshit you do. You’re just trying to escape. I have a meeting today too.”

Liz stops and looks at him.

“But we can’t leave Sophie alone. You’ll have to take her with you.”

Travis blinks. “Um…what? No…Sophie needs to go with you, Liz.”

“How long is your meeting?”

“About an hour. Yours?”

“Likely two. You’ll be out for less time, so take the baby, Travis. Here.”

Liz hands him the wearable baby carrier contraption thing. He just looks at it. “I’m not wearing that.”

“Fine. Then keep her in her carrier. She’ll likely sleep through most of it anyway,” Liz kisses him on the cheek and slips into her shoes.

“The bottles are in the bag and the milk is in the cooler compartment. I’ll be back. Love you!”

 With that, his wife is out the door leaving Travis and Sophie together. The baby is already dressed in a pink tutu and onesie outfit with a sparkly shawl and ruffled socks. She looks up at him and gives him a little toothless grin.

He can’t help it—he grins back.

“I guess it’s you and me, little one,” he tells Sophie, leaning down and blowing on her belly, making her squirm and squee a bit.

“Don’t move,” he tells her, leaving the bedroom and coming back with her carrier. He puts her in it and takes the whole thing, reaching for his keys and loading Sophie into the passenger side seat of the truck, facing backward. They ride into the city together and the baby sleeps most of the way. She’s still asleep as he parks and gets out. Travis covers the carrier with a blanket and takes it off the base, walking into the office building, baby in tow.

“Hi Mr. Fimmel,” the receptionist greets him and then, seeing what he’s got with him, her eyes go wide.

“Ohhh, you two had the baby! Can I see?”

So, he peels the blanket back and the woman peers in at the sleeping Sophie.

“Oh my goodness, she’s gorgeous.”

“Thank you.”

“How old is she?”

“Twelve weeks.”

The receptionist smiles at him putting a hand on his arm. “Congratulations. Babies look good on you,” she winks.

By the time he gets to his agent’s office, two more women have approached, seeking Sophie.

“Babies are a chick magnet, man.” Kevin says, taking a seat in his desk chair. Travis puts Sophie’s carrier down next to him, rocking it with his foot.

“No shit. I’m starting to see that.”

“And the ring is no deterrent either, just so you know. In fact, you’re double dangerous right now. So, how’s the parenthood going?”

At that, Travis yawns sinking into a chair.

“No complaints except for lack of sleep,” he says, and then thinking on it a moment, “and no sex, either.”

“Oh yeah, that’s a thing.” Kevin looks at him with sympathy. “But once it all goes back to the way it was…” He whistles low. “It’s amazing. Like fucking a virgin.”

“Sooo…what ya got for me?”

There’s a muffled little mew coming from the carrier and Travis bends down and takes a peek. Sophie eyes look at him, and he unstraps her, and takes her out, laying her in the crook of his arm.

Kevin comes over to take a look. Nodding approvingly.

“Damn. You did good, man. Hope you got a gun.”

Travis laughs. “Guns, knives, swords, bows and axes.”

“When do you think you’ll be ready to work? HISTORY wants to meet soon to discuss “Sinners,” and there’s interest in starting to film soon.”

“Do they have a place? I don’t want to have to go to Siberia,” he says.

At that, Kevin smiles. “You might like this one—they’re thinking about making this production local. You won’t have to move anywhere, as long as you don’t mind a daily drive to the city.”

He thinks about it. That could work. It could work very, very well.

“I take that as yes?” Kevin asks. Travis nods.

“Good. I’ll draw up the papers, send them over to the network, call you when they come back. Now the next thing.”

“What next thing?” Sophie is starting to move in her carrier and he can hear the little grunts and sighs as she wakes …it’s feeding time. He pulls her from the carrier and tucks her into his arm. Liz has prepared the bottles and he reaches for the bag, and gets one, popping the top and popping it into Sophie’s mouth. She starts sucking hungrily.

“Damn. You really are turning pro at this,” Kevin says, watching. “So, since you wouldn’t let me do anything for the wedding…I was thinking we could do something for the baby? Sophie’s intro? I mean, come on… you have a hot wife, a cute kid and your over 40—definitely Men’s Health or GQ, right?”

At that, Travis rolls his eyes at him.

“I’m leaving as soon as she’s done eating.” He tells Kevin. “No to both of those.”

“Man, you’re being selfish as hell. You’ve been out of the public eye for more than a year now—you don’t want folks to forget you and in this business, you know better than anybody that memories are short.”

“I get that, but I’m not prostituting my family,” he’s firm with it.

“Just—talk to your wife. See what she says. You’ve got a new baby. You’ve got the wife and the house and none of those things are cheap, Travis. Not to mention all your damn hobbies—that shit’s expensive. You NEED to work—and I’m talking about more than just producing Sinners.”

.

.

Liz is back by the time he gets home and comes out to the car. Instead of going for him though, she goes for Sophie.

“Hey baby girl! Did you miss Mommy?”

Mom and daughter touch noses and Liz takes her inside, leaving Travis standing there with his arms open.

“What about me?” He pouts, watching his wife and daughter snuggle together. It’s the first time he starts to feel something other than love…

Jealously.

Liz looks at him and beckons him over.

“Come on.”

.

.

They’re all together, in bed. Liz is laying on her side, nursing Sophie, and he’s behind his wife, pressed against the curve of her ass, lips on the back of her neck.

“Stop it, Mufa.”

A hand runs up her thigh around to her belly. Liz shifts, uncomfortably.

“Not tonight. I’m not…”

He rolls onto his back, frustrated.

“I know. In the mood.”

She hasn’t been in the mood since before the baby got here. Four months.

.

.


“So how is parenthood?” Cassandra asks, with Alex giggling happily in the background.

“It’s…okay. It’s work, but it’s a good kind of work,” Liz tells her, shifting Sophie in her arms and balancing the phone between her ear and her shoulder. “I’m exhausted though. And I go back to work next month.”

“Oh wow, you’re seriously going back? Daycare is expensive and it’s hard to place babies but…I suppose you two can afford it. Where are you putting her?” Cass tells her.

“I don’t know yet. I’ve had to reschedule a few visits because I want Travis to come but…”

But he keeps saying he’s ‘busy’. The first time it happened, she understood it—she had booked and then asked him later about it, but the last few times, she’s made sure to schedule around his time, and yet, he’s blown off the last three site visits.

“Hm. I think he’s quietly trying to tell you something,” Cass says. “Bishop did the same thing.”

“But why? I don’t get it. Travis knows I go back to work next month.”

“Probably because he’s trying to get you to stay home,” her friend says.

Liz shakes her head. “That’s a no-go. I need to go to work.”

“Hey, I’m not the one you have to convince. So sabotage aside, how’s he doing.”

“He’s doing well,” she says, making kissy noises at Sophie. “He keeps trying to sneak me in the middle of the night, but other than that, he’s behaving and having fun with his daughter.”

Cass laughs. “You still haven’t had sex with him, yet? Liz! That’s so wrong.”

She sniffs. “I’m REALLY not in the mood. My vagina is still sore and…”

And the other thing. Her body hasn’t snapped back the way she thought it would. She did EVERYTHING right during the pregnancy—keeping her belly moisturized, staying hydrated. And while breastfeeding has helped her shed most of the weight from Sophie, there’s now a pooch on her lower belly where there wasn’t one before and she’s got stretch marks on her ass that no amount of fading and stretch body cream are making go away.

“Yeah but…I mean…you HAVE to break him off eventually, sis. Sophie is five months old! And I understand completely the soreness, I tore too. BUT just make him be gentle, guide him. And eventually it’ll start feeling better. Has he at least seen you naked since the birth?”

“No.”

“Girl…look. Get over it. And forget that feminist shit for a minute. I know we expect men to be all supportive and loyal and to respect “no”, and most of the time, it works. But as your oldest friend who has been married A LOT longer than you, let me fill you in on something. You absolutely DO NOT WANT that sexy ass husband of yours wandering the streets of Los Angeles horny and hard up. Stroke him, Suck him, fuck him, peg him--whatever it takes, just get him off. Trust—he’ll be attached to you more than ever. Plus…post-baby sex is THE BEST. And if he sees your body and is upset with it…well he’ll just have to get over it.”

“But…”

“But what?”

“But I REALLY don’t want to have sex with him.”

“That’s because you have a baby attached to your boob. Very few of us want to have sex, but we do it because we know it has to be done. I mean…isn’t that how she got here?”

At that, Liz laughs and Sophie coos at her mother.

“That IS how you got here, mama,” Liz says, brushing her cheek against her baby’s. The door opens and she hears the heavy footsteps of her husband.

“I’ll give it consideration,” she tells Cass.

“You can always use the sex to get him to come with you to the daycare centers,” she says, chuckling. “Bye girl.”

Liz manages to hang up the phone right as Travis comes over to wrap his arms around her waist and nuzzle her neck, pressing against her.

Yup. Still horny.

“How are my lovelies?” He asks, admiring his wife and daughter.

“We’re fine,” she tells him, turning her head to meet his lips for a kiss.  Liz thinks about what Cass told her, and decides to give it a try.

“You know, we really need to go to some of these daycare centers,” she starts. At that though, he rolls his eyes and groans.

“Liz, I don’t that’s necessary.”

“But it is! I go back to work next month. That’s always been the plan. Who is going to care for Sophie? I can’t take her with me. Unless you’re going to be a stay-at-home dad.”

Travis scoffs. “Why can’t you stay home?”

“Why can’t you?” Liz narrows her eyes. Sensing a change, Sophie starts to squirm and sniffle.

“Oh no…it’s okay Sunshine…” He comes over, reaching for her. Liz gives him the baby. “Mommy and daddy are just talking…don’t cry.”

Their tones change to soft, comforting and sweet, but it doesn’t end the argument.

“Liz, you know I have to work. We start filming the series soon.”

“And I have to work too.”

“You don’t HAVE to work, you choose to work. I told you before we got married that you wouldn’t have to do work, ever.”

“And I told YOU before we got married, that that was a no-go.”

“Liz, you’re my wife. And you’re a mother now. Certain things should change.” Travis is sincere, but Liz just looks at him and shakes her head, trying her hardest not to curse at him.

He sighs and goes to sit on the stairs at the entrance to the den.

“Am I really wrong for not trusting some strangers with my daughter?”

“Is that what the problem is?” She asks. “Would you rather have a nanny? That’s expensive too, you know.”

“I mean—either way, it’s going to cost us. The question is, how much. I would rather have a nanny than a stranger.”

“The nanny is going to be a stranger too.”

Travis shakes his head. “I asked around. There’s an agency that caters to high-profile clients. They’re pretty reputable. Maybe…” he looks at Liz, “maybe we could give it a try? That way she won’t have to be around a bunch of snot-nosed carpet grubs.”

He’s so serious when he says it, but the last part makes Liz laugh.

“What?”

“Nothing, Mufa. We’ll try it your way. But…” she bites her lip.

“What?”

“Well… I was sort of hoping...” she goes for the coy approach. “That if Sophie was in a daycare…it would give us a day or two of some…alone time.”

At that, Travis’ face lights up with a giant smile. “Or…,” he says, coming to wrap her back into a hug. “We can just keep the nanny overnight and go somewhere.”

.

.

They end up keeping the nanny overnight and going somewhere. But it’s also the first time without their daughter beside them, and Travis is trying his best to keep his wife from worrying and focus her attention…elsewhere.

It’s not working.

“Lovie,  Sophie’s alright. Here. Do you want to call?”

She nods and they do, getting the nanny on facetime. After that, Liz seems to relax.

“I love Sophie,” Travis says, pulling his wife close and kissing her forehead. “But I’ve missed just having you to myself. I’m selfish.”

“I know you are,” she tells him. “You’ve been spoiled.”

“Want to spoil me more?”

Liz smiles a soft smile and he takes that as a green light. But when he goes to pull her pants off, she wiggles out of his grip.

“I’m sorry hun. I just…can’t.” Because she’s nervous and feeling incredibly vulnerable and highly insecure and not having sex has been a protective blanket against having to face those feelings and right now her husband is trying to take it away.

“Liz…” He is trying to be patient. “The entire reason we left tonight is to have some ‘alone’ time.”

“I know, but…” She bites her lip and looks away.

“But what? Why won’t you let me touch you and love you and see you? Why do you keep hiding from me?”

He knows that’s exactly what she’s been doing. She keeps locking the door when she’s in the bathroom and she’s sleeping in pajamas and nightgowns when she used to sleep naked and…

“Because my body isn’t the same as it was and..” he stops her talking when he kisses her.

“Liz, I watched Sophie emerge, remember? And trust me on this…I still think you’re sexy, dragon vagina and all.”

He makes her laugh and she swats at him.

“Ow! Such violence!”

But it’s an opportunity to go for Liz and he tickles her, making her laugh. They roll and they run and chase each other until they collapse back on the bed, laughing.

He kisses Liz again and she smiles at him.

“Can I have another?”

A little nod, and he gets another.

And another.

He kisses his wife until she starts to warm up to him, and whimper at his touch.

It’s this he uses as distraction to undress her, until finally, after months, he gets to see her naked for the first time.

“You’re beautiful.”

And she is.

Her belly is flat again, with a little pooch left over which he touches and kisses, and when he rolls her over onto her back, he sees a few slender lines that weren’t there before, but they’re not unattractive.

“Grrr..” he growls at her, tracing them with his fingers and it’s this that makes her laugh again and finally, fully relax for her husband.

“Whoa…”

Holy crap Kevin was right… it’s the most amazing thing he’s ever felt…every woman he’d ever been with wasn’t exactly virginal so he can only imagine that this is what it’s like. Liz has always been tight but this…he’s going slow, careful not to hurt her but what he really wants is to go straight to pound town and bury himself between her legs because he’s very near certain he’s going to…

“Shit.”

Too late.

“Mufa?”

She looks at him, resting on her chest, breathing deeply.

“Just…give me a moment,” he says, gasping.

At that, Liz starts to laugh.

“No rush,” she tells him. ‘We’ve got all night.”

.

.

Travis is ecstatic when he sees the sonogram.

 “Look lovie, there’s two.”

Liz can’t believe it.

“I thought it was impossible to get pregnant when you’re still breastfeeding,” she tells the technician. But Travis isn’t having any of it.

“I told you I wanted more,” he says.

“Well, count these as your more, she tells him. “Because after this, this uterus is no longer accepting new customers.”

He laughs.

“We’ll see about that.”

Because it’s now been 16 months since he last drank or smoked. And there’s no desire for either vice. He’s got enough with Sophie, Liz and the new babies that will be coming soon. But the thought of even more does get him kind of excited. Maybe…maybe they do like Pitt and Jolie and adopt—until he’s got enough for a starting line up.