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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
There's always someone
Haunting someone
Haunting someone
Like an echo in the wind leaves, unreconciled -
Waiting to be picked up and bounced down again
On listeners' ears

There's always someone
Haunting someone
Haunting someone
And you know who I am
Though I never leave my name or number
I'm locked inside of you
So it doesn't matter
- Carly Simon
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It's not a date.

He would say that to himself each time they went out, knowing in his heart it was true. She was such a sweet, smart woman, and she helped ease his loneliness so well that it was hard for him to stay away from her for long.

He sought her company, and she his.

As her relationship had ended with Stuart, and Doug came back from Chicago more conflicted than ever, theirs grew into a deeper friendship. They did a great many things together after his Milwaukee trip. They went to the movies every chance they could, then ventured off to eat at one of the seafood restaurants around town. They sought each other at work, forming private jokes and quiet confidences. At first, tongues wagged, but after a while, it became evident to most that they were not lovers; they were simply good friends. Between themselves was an acknowledgment that they were two people who shared a sad, common bond of loneliness and hurt.

It wasn't any more than that, he would assure himself.

Doug observed Beth with a kind of detached interest. He found her to be a brilliant and efficient lawyer, which only added to her attractiveness. At business functions, though her appearance was conservative, heads would turn as she walked past. She was fit, yet curvy, so no matter how demurely she dressed, anyone who cared to could see her soft roundness underneath her clothes. She never flirted at work, or at parties, or in meetings, yet it seemed that men always noticed. He'd watch as they approached, as they made their interest in her known, felt the warmth of her smile, and then were left in the dust by her before they knew what had happened.

What Doug couldn't figure out was that she generally came across as being so very proper, yet she'd propositioned him on their first business trip. Since that night, he'd never seen her drunk, never seen her consume more than one drink at a sitting. She had been drunk in Tulsa, though. Perhaps that was the reason she'd lost her composure. He concluded that her behavior was an anomaly. But, what about the other time, after being on Stuart's boat, when she literally had to move out of her living room, away from him? She hadn't been seductive, but she brought it up again, with some provocation from him, and had discussed her sexual attraction for him. Even if she hadn't discussed it, he saw it plainly there, that evening.

For a woman who was so chaste, sparks flew from her. And it disturbed Doug that he'd even noticed.

*****

The entire department had been invited to attend a dinner conference given by a newly merged pharmaceutical company. It was directed to HMO's and hospitals run by HMOs. Beth had been having trouble with her car all week and had dropped it at the dealership, so Doug said he'd pick her up and drop her off home.

He got to her house as she was locking her door. She turned and waved, then walked to his car.

Opening the door, she flashed a brilliant smile. "Hey, thanks for picking me up."

"My pleasure. What's the word on your car?"

Beth closed the door and buckled her seat belt. "He thinks it's some computer chip, but he can't get the part until tomorrow." Beth pulled the sunshade down and applied her lipstick, looking one way, then the other, into the vanity mirror.

He eyed her surreptitiously. "D'ya need a ride to work, or to the dealer tomorrow?"

Adjusting the sunshade back up, she turned to him. "Yeah, that'd be great. To work at least. If they don't have my car ready by tomorrow, I'm asking for a loaner."

They were on their way to the hotel for a cocktail party and dinner hosted by Matthers Pharmaceuticals. Doug generally disliked these things, basically because he hated the constant sales pitch. But, his boss asked him to attend this one because Doug could carry the information back to the pediatric staff throughout the country when he visited other hospitals.

They arrived and Doug pulled up, giving his car keys to the valet. As they walked in, he saw two of their colleagues: Alan Biske, head of Human Resources, a man in his early forties with thick black hair and a perfectly groomed mustache, and Mitchell Provo, a young lawyer from Beth's department with copper-colored hair and brown eyes.

"Doug, Beth," Mitchell greeted them. "Ready for the four-star treatment?"

Doug grinned and shook hands with each of them. "As long as somebody else is buying, I can't complain."

"Hey, Beth," the men said, almost in unison.

"Good to see you," she replied warmly.

"After you." Mitchell held the door for them and they walked in, looking for directions.

"Matthers Pharmaceuticals, Ballroom B," Alan read aloud.

"I'll meet you in there, I need to stop at the ladies' room," Beth said. She walked to the restroom as Doug and the other two men went to the ballroom.

It was crowded, as several different hospitals and HMO's were invited to attend. They walked to the bar to get a drink.

Doug ordered a Manhattan, Alan a vodka sour, and Mitchell had a Rolling Rock.

"So, busy in Pediatrics?" Alan asked.

"Yeah, I've kept busy," Doug answered.

Alan nodded. "Good, glad to hear it's working out."

"It is," Doug replied.

Clearing his throat, Alan moved closer to the group, a slight frown on his face. "Say, Doug, what's up with you and Beth? Are you seeing each other?"

Doug sipped his drink, feeling a bit uneasy. Was there some company rule that Alan thought they were violating, or did he have other interests? "No, no, not at all. We're friends, we're not dating."

"Nah," Mitchell interjected, "she's seeing some real estate guy. He's loaded from what I hear."

Doug stayed quiet, not wishing to share what he knew.

"Really? Too bad," Alan said.

"Why, you interested?" Mitchell asked.

"Maybe." Alan smiled.

So much for worrying about company policy, Doug thought.

Beth walked in and scanned the room. The three men watched her. More precisely, Doug watched them watch her. She was dressed in a brown linen dress which had a modest neckline. She wore a matching waist-length jacket over it. The dress was cut just above the knee, barely showing off her legs. She looked business-like, but there was no hiding her beauty. Her hair was full, shiny, high above her neck, leaving her creamy skin exposed. Although she was too far away to notice, Doug knew her blue eyes were sparkling beneath her dark lashes. He remained attentive as the men continued their conversation.

"You ever ask her out?" Alan asked Mitchell.

Mitchell laughed good-naturedly. "Nah, not me. Some of the guys have, though. No go. Maybe she's just picky. Or maybe she likes 'em rich."

"Or she's some kind of ice queen," Alan added.

Mitchell countered, "Nothing icy about that."

"You know her, Doug, what's she like?" Alan probed.

"Uh, she's great. She's a...smart woman, fun."

"So, is she serious with this real estate guy?"

"You know, I don't really know. I can't...help you there, sorry." Alan, Doug noticed, couldn't take his eyes off her. Likewise, Mitchell. Doug, who in his day could undress a woman with his eyes from fifty feet away, and could persuade her to let him do it for real within an hour's time, did not like this focus on Beth. Maybe he felt protective, or perhaps he felt the guys were violating something. He wasn't sure why, but it bothered him.

They watched her make her way around the room, stopping a moment to talk to Melinda Browne, CEO of the Seattle-based hospital connected with the HMO. Doug smiled. Beth was so polished. He liked that about her. Femininity and professionalism meshed into the perfect package.

Doug excused himself, wanting to join her before she chose her seat. He tracked her movements and attempted to intercept her. She said goodbye to Melinda, then walked about ten feet, then he saw her stop suddenly.

The smile fell from her face. Doug continued making his way toward her, but slowed down a bit.

A tall, handsome man, no more than three feet in front of her, put his arms out, took her hands in his and drew her close to him. He kissed her cheek and obscured Doug's view of her face momentarily. When the man pulled back, Doug could see her expression had not changed at all.

Who was he? Doug didn't recognize him. Maybe another guy from the hospital, or maybe from the drug company.

Doug moved over to the side of the room, never losing sight of her. Beth wasn't saying much, and the man had let go of her hands. She nodded, then raked her hand though her hair.

She's nervous, he thought.

"Dr. Ross! Come sit with us!"

Doug turned around and saw his assistant, Patti, and three other women from the department seated at a table. "Hey, guys. I was just...."

"We saved a seat for you. C'mon!" Patti insisted.

"Sure, okay." He sat down, positioning his chair so he'd have a clear view of the room. He searched for Beth again and finally found her. She was led to a table by the man and it appeared she was being introduced to the others, a bunch of executives that Doug didn't recognize. Patti was engaged in an animated conversation with the others at the table and just as Doug was about to give them his attention, Beth looked over at him. Her eyes spoke to him and he understood that she was very shaken by something.

Dinner was served, and Doug ate and chatted with the women, giving advice about ear infections and laughing at Patti's jokes. While coffee was being poured, an older woman took the podium and introduced herself as Joan Mantos, vice president and hospitals liaison for Matthers. Doug prepared to be bored with the forthcoming dog and pony show, and his mind drifted until he heard the next introduction. The man at the podium was introduced, causing Doug's head to jerk up in response. He turned to Beth immediately, and although her expression didn't change, she eyed him and nodded slightly.

"Ladies and gentleman, good evening. I'm Glenn Lasko, Vice President of Marketing for Matthers Pharmaceuticals. I can't tell you how happy I am to see so many Seattle-area HMOs represented this evening. It's my pleasure to come to Seattle to discuss how the Matthers is poised to create a partnership between our company and your hospital organizations, and to show you how together we can save money and improve patient outcomes in this era of managed care...."

Watching him, Doug could scarcely pay attention. He was shocked that this seemingly pleasant, smooth-talking man was the same man who'd caused such pain for Beth. After hearing the stories Beth divulged, bit by bit, knowing the heartache she'd experienced, and the conflict she'd endured, the mental image he had created just didn't match up. It was nothing like this man at the podium.

He turned to find Beth. Seeing that her seat was empty, he eased his chair out from underneath the table, excusing himself. Walking out of the room, he saw her in the lobby by the large plate glass windows. She was staring out at the traffic.

"Beth?"

Turning toward his voice, she smiled slightly. "Hi."

He approached slowly, hands in his pockets. "You okay?"

Nodding, she answered, "I'm okay. Can we go home, please? Can you take me home?"

"Sure. Sure, let's go." They walked outside together and waited for his car. When it was driven around, she settled into it and closed her eyes.

Doug waited for her to talk, but she didn't, so he asked, "I guess you weren't counting on seeing him, were you?"

"No. No, I was...floored," she answered honestly.

"You get to talk about anything?"

"No. I mean, he talked. I think I just sputtered."

"How long will he be here?"

"I don't know," Beth sighed. "He can't leave soon enough."

He glanced over and his heart went out to her. Her face was full of sadness. What could he say to lift her mood? Nothing, he decided. They rode in silence the rest of the way. When he dropped her off, she thanked him and opened the car door without looking back.

"Beth? I'll be home if you need to talk." He saw her nod. "I'll pick you up tomorrow for work okay?" he called after her.

"Okay. Goodnight."

Doug drove home and wondered about her. If she was feeling the same things for Glenn that he felt for Carol. If the emptiness ate at her during the night as it did him.

*****

When he arrived at her place the next day, she seemed sunny and pleasant. Doug didn't press her any further, and she seemed relieved that she didn't have to talk about personal matters. They walked in together and went their separate ways.

It ended up being the kind of day that Doug hated, a day full of meetings and planning sessions. When he finally cut loose, he strolled by her door, but she wasn't there. He went into his office and began flipping through e-mail when Beth came in.

"Hey, I was lookin' for you," he said with a lopsided grin.

"You're not the only one. Seems Glenn's been calling all day."

"Really? Avoiding his calls?" Doug asked, curious.

Beth returned the smile and was about to answer her when her secretary, Sharon, walked in and interrupted them. "Beth? Glenn Lasko on line three - again."

Sighing, she looked at him, exasperated. "I'll take it in here, thanks," Beth answered. Doug looked surprised. She leaned across his desk, picked up the phone, and touched the blinking light. "Hello? Hi." Pause. "Well, I was tired, so.... Um, I don't know. Tonight? Yes, I think so. No, that'll be fine, I know where it is. Okay. Eight. Bye." She hung up and remained motionless.

"What was that about?" Doug asked quietly.

Beth sighed, walking away from him, leaning against the wall. "Glenn. He wants to have dinner with me tonight."

Doug leaned way back in his chair and tried to read her face, but couldn't. Her eyes were clouded over. "You're going to, huh?"

"I told him I would, yes," she nodded automatically.

"Okay." Doug shuffled some papers on his desk. "I...I hope you know what you're doing, Beth."

Looking past him, out the window, she smiled. "I have no idea what I'm doing."

She turned and left, and he didn't see her the rest of the afternoon. Doug stayed late to finish his Milwaukee report and saw her walk toward the elevators at around 7:30. She looked nice, like she'd reapplied her makeup and fluffed her hair.

Beth knew he was watching from his office and smirked at him. "I'll see you."

"Hey, have a good time."

"I will." The elevator opened and she stepped in.

"I'll be home if you need to talk," he yelled after her, but he wasn't sure she'd heard.

Doug turned to watch out the window and saw her cross the street and hail a cab. He wondered why she was doing this, since she'd been so distressed last night when she saw him again. But, he realized that he really did know why. Just as he knew why he drove from Milwaukee to Chicago. When you are in love with someone, you do things you might not ordinarily do.

Because you hope that the one you love might still love you.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
There's always someone
Haunting someone
Haunting someone
And you know who I am
Though I never leave my name or number
I'm locked inside of you
So it doesn't matter
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Across town, Glenn Lasko stepped out of the shower, rushing. He was looking forward to seeing her again. He'd left so many messages for her, he was certain she would refuse to see him. When she took his call, he was thrilled that she'd agreed to have dinner with him. Taking out his electric razor, he shaved, then combed his hair and dressed. It had been wonderful to see her again. Last year, he'd been stunned that she'd left New York so abruptly, and had missed her terribly since then. He couldn't blame her for leaving, honestly, knowing how much his infidelity had hurt her, but he never thought she'd leave.

He had made his mistake with Susanne. He'd never allowed another woman into their home, but Susanne knew Beth's schedule, and complained that she wanted to see his house, make love in his bed. Despite the warning bells going off in his head, he acquiesced, taking her to their house when Beth was out of town. He was in bed with her when he heard the bedroom door open and saw Beth standing there, crying.

Oh, the fighting, the arguments, then. Glenn had foolishly told her that while he still loved her, he loved Susanne, too. That he needed some time, he was sure he'd get over it and that he'd go for counseling. Beth would have none of it. She later told him that once she'd heard he loved another woman, that was it. She moved out, hired a lawyer, and left him behind.

For Glenn, it had been a sobering experience. Once Beth left him, he realized how foolish he had been. Susanne was thrilled, and pressed him to marry her when the divorce was final, but Glenn really hadn't wanted to. But the day came when she had figured a way around that dilemma as well. In November, right as his divorce from Beth became final and she'd moved to Seattle, Susanne told him she had "forgotten" to take her birth control pill and was pregnant. Glenn was furious, and Susanne accused him of playing with her heart. He'd refused to marry her at first, not wanting to feel trapped, but finally, in March, when she was four months pregnant, he did. Susanne quit work almost immediately, and looked forward to her life as Mrs. Glenn Lasko, expectant mother.

And now Glenn felt trapped inside his marriage and miserable without Beth. As he was choosing a shirt and tie, he glanced at the clock. He'd see her soon.

*****

Promptly at eight, she stepped into the hotel lobby, feeling unsure of herself, unsteady. She looked around and, not seeing him, found a phone. "Yes, Glenn Lasko, please? L-A-S-K-O. Thanks."

Just as the phone rang in his room, she felt a hand on her shoulder. She knew who it was before she turned around.

"Hi, Beth. I'm sorry I'm late."

Beth hung up the phone and faced him. There he stood. "I just got here, Glenn."

Glenn bent down and brushed her cheek, giving her a gentle kiss. "Well, hi, then. You look gorgeous."

"You, too." He did. His green eyes were still clear, the color of the Caribbean, she'd always thought. The dark blonde hair was just as thick, but was cut much shorter than she'd ever seen it. It gave him a more appealing look. His slim frame, always so perfect, was complemented by the usual Brooks Brothers suit. This one was gray, perfectly made, perfectly draped. She was aware of his eyes appraising her as well.

"I'm glad you could make it, Beth. Can we have a drink? Before dinner?" His voice was warm.

"Sure," she replied.

Glenn led her into the bar and they found a corner table. He pulled the chair out for her, then seated himself.

"You look beautiful, Beth. When did you cut your hair?"

"Pretty soon after I moved here. How were your meetings today?"

"Good, they were okay. How are your folks?"

"Fine, Dad's doing fine," she assured him.

"Great," he smiled.

Beth looked down quickly at his hand. No wedding band. Not that she expected to see the one she had given him, but there wasn't one from the new wife, either. "Yours?"

"They're great."

"Good."

A waiter stopped by to take their drink order. Before Beth could speak, Glenn caught his eye. "Two dry martinis, please, no olives."

"Yes, sir."

She eyed him, but stayed quiet. Ordering for her, always knowing what she wanted. Never asking to be sure. "How are things in New York?" she asked.

Glenn smiled and looked down at the table, noticing her hands were busy folding her napkin. "They're good. Very good. How's life in Seattle?"

"It's good. I like my job, the people are friendly, and the company is wonderful. It's been great."

"That's great."

An uneasy silence threatened them. Glenn started to talk, but Beth interrupted him. "So, no more Bouche, International, huh? All part of Matthers now. I see you survived the merger."

He looked oddly uncomfortable. "I did, I...Jim Bern from Matthers was packaged. I've taken over his job."

"Oh, well, that sounds typical of Matthers. Why keep the old V.P., the one who made you successful, when you can dump him and get someone new? Kinda the story of your life, too, isn't it Glenn? Replace and move on." She looked at him directly.

He sighed. "Look, I didn't ask you to dinner so we could fight."

Shifting slightly in her chair, she asked, "Why did you call me?"

"Beth...really, we...I haven't seen you in a long time. I...you don't spend so many years of your life with someone and then not think about them. I asked to come here to Seattle, I asked for this because I knew you were here, I knew you worked for the HMO. Then, I debated. I wasn't going to call you after I saw you last night, but I wanted to see you again. Talk more, see how you were getting along." He reached for her hand, but she backed away from him.

"I'm fine, Glenn."

He smiled, nodding. "I'm glad to see that. I was worried about you."

Beth shook her head and spoke with restrained anger. "Don't, Glenn, don't sit here and pull this with me. Really. When did you ever worry about me?"

"I did. I do. I know it was very hard for you, I know it was."

"What is this really about?"

Glenn looked puzzled. "What do you mean?"

"This. Why did you call me? You know she'd go ballistic if she even knew you'd seen me."

"Let's not talk about Susanne, Beth. Let's just...I just really wanted to see you."

It all became clear to Beth, then. Her voice was strained, quiet. "Have you had the baby? Has Susanne had the baby?"

Glenn nodded. "Yes, it was a girl. We have a little girl. Four weeks premature, but she's fine."

Beth swallowed hard and tried to breathe. Her dream, the one thing that might have kept her with him, even through all the hurt and deceit. The one thing he changed his mind about. Here Susanne had everything that Beth wanted: Glenn and his baby. But, she'd gotten it by breaking the rules.

Pausing to hold back the tears that threatened to overtake her, she was relieved that the waiter brought their drinks at that precise moment. She took a sip and looked up. "What's her name?"

"Catherine. Catherine Anne."

"That's beautiful," Beth acknowledged. "Do you have a picture?"

"Yes, I do." Glenn reached for his wallet and drew out a picture of the baby.

So tiny, so perfect. She looked exactly like him. Beth's eyes almost glazed over. "She's adorable. Congratulations, Glenn."

"Thanks," he said stiffly. He was aware of her sadness and wondered if his own sense of dismay was evident. For he couldn't admit to her that he felt so little love for his own child, that Susanne had changed so drastically that he hated going home.

Conversation was a bit stilted after that, but they talked mostly about business, the growing threat of managed care and what it meant to the pharmaceutical industry. They decided after a while to stay at the hotel and eat dinner there and moved to the restaurant. He told her all about the merger, how he'd been prepared for a buy-out, but had started getting some information that Matthers wanted to keep him in the new organization. She listened, smiling, knowing how important rank was to him. He must be doing well for himself, she thought.

By 10 o'clock, she was feeling tired. She offered to pay her share of the check, but he refused to let her, and they got up from the table and walked back into the lobby.

"I'm going to call for a cab, Glenn, my car is in the shop."

"I can drive you home, Beth, I have a rental car."

"No, really, I couldn't impose...."

"No imposition," Glenn smiled. "I'd love to see your townhouse."

She thought about it for a moment. "Okay. That'd be fine. Where are you parked?"

"In the back. Let's go."

They walked to the car and he opened the door for her. Driving in silence, Beth realized how normal it seemed to be with him. They'd spent countless hours in the car, Glenn driving, Beth looking out the window. She was exhausted, though she had to stay alert enough to give him directions. Before she knew it, they were in front of her house.

"Beth? You okay? You've been awfully quiet."

"Umm, yeah. I'm sorry, I'm tired. I've had a long day. Thanks, Glenn. I appreciate the ride, dinner. I'm glad things are going so well for you." Beth looked over at him and smiled.

Glenn reached over and took Beth's hand within his, making her breath catch in her throat. Although she tried to withdraw it, he held on.

"Don't, Glenn."

He stroked it softly.

"I'm not comfortable with this," she warned him.

He smiled. "C'mon, Beth, don't be...."

She interrupted him. "You're a married man."

Glenn shook his head. "Beth, you were my wife, my lover. How could I make you uncomfortable?" Letting go of her hand, he reached out to her and caressed her cheek. "Maybe it sounds ridiculous, but I loved that, Beth. Being your first."

Her eyes were big as she spoke. "Not just my first, Glenn."

Hearing this, his heart soared. He'd always felt territorial about her, always wanted her for himself, even while he was unfaithful. She'd not slept with anyone since she left him, he knew now.

He leaned over and kissed her softly. She did not back away, but accepted his kiss and closed her eyes. He pulled her to him, and smiled inwardly as she melted into his arms.

*****

It's not like they hadn't done this before.

That's what they told themselves. Waiting for her, anticipating every part of her, he could not help but remember the first time, how sweet she had been on their wedding night. Hadn't she been worth his wait, hadn't she been lovely? Isn't she now, he realized. So soft and yielding, she brought him to her bed and undressed in front of him, to his mounting excitement. Her body was lovely, her breasts round, her nipples large upon them. They were accentuated by her small waist, by the curves of her hips.

He held his arms out and she came to him, allowing him free access to her beauty. When he entered her, she moaned his name softly, and then she clung to him as he made love to her, whimpering only slightly when she climaxed. Glenn delighted in her. He always had. Though he had strayed, spending time with other women during their marriage, he found that after the first time with a new woman, after that initial rush of excitement, he was bored quickly. Beth was, in the end, more exciting than any of them had been.

Here, now, he was in Beth's arms again and he felt a peace and a happiness that he had not known since she left. She held him so tightly, and when he moved to get up afterward, she pushed him down, sat astride him, and made love to him again.

He had known that she wouldn't refuse him. She was the one woman who would always be his.

*****

Not one to generally worry, he was now concerned. It was late. He thought about calling, but knew it absolutely wasn't his place to do so. He went to bed half expecting to be awakened by the phone, but it didn't happen. When he called her house the next morning, there was no answer, but Doug didn't leave a message. He decided to drive by her home on his way to work, to see if she needed a ride, see if she was okay.

He pulled up and noticed that her car wasn't there. Maybe she wasn't home, maybe she...she probably just didn't get a chance to pick her car up last night, he reasoned. Doug went to her door and rang the bell. She answered after his second ring.

Beth was still in her robe and looked as though she'd been crying. "Doug, hi. What's up?"

"Hey, I tried to call, I was worried. You okay?"

She held a guilty look on her face. "I'm fine."

"You...you've been crying...are you okay?"

"Yes, I'm just...this isn't a good time."

Doug looked down, his foot playing with a small stone on the ground. "Well, I'll get out of your hair, then."

Beth, still hugging the door, couldn't look him in the eye. "Thanks. I'm not coming into work today. I'll call you tomorrow."

He backed away, feeling uneasy, and she closed it without looking at him. Doug knew, then. He knew. Glenn was there.

*****

All day at work he thought about her. He resisted the impulse to call and see if she was okay, knowing she'd reach out to him when she was ready. The day passed without a word from her.

It rained that evening. Doug got home late after playing two games of ball at the gym and stopping at the grocery store for some bacon and eggs for the next morning. As he approached his apartment door, he heard the phone ringing inside and rushed to answer it.

"Hello?"

"Doug? It's me. Beth."

"Hey, Beth." He heard muffled cries.

"Can you come over? Please?" she asked meekly.

"I'll be right there."

Flying through the wet streets, he made it in record time. He knocked softly, and she answered immediately.

"Hi. C'mon in." She was a mess.

Doug entered and perched on the arm of the couch, crossing his arms and taking a deep breath. "Was he here? This morning?"

"Yeah." She was pacing.

"Mm hmm. You wanna tell me about it?"

She faced him. "Did you...you said - you said that you cheated on Carol, earlier in your relationship, right?"

"Mm hmm," he admitted.

"Did you...have you ever slept with a married woman?"

Doug shook his head. "No. I never have. I mean, not that I know of."

"Hmm."

Doug looked at her in the dim light. She was devastated. "What have you done, Beth? Is that what happened, you slept with him?"

Beth nodded and hid her face in her hands. "I'm no better than all the other women he slept with. No better than his wife was. How I let this happen, I don't know. It just...God, I love him. I love him." She burst into tears.

Doug stood up and held his arms out to her. "Hey, hey, c'mere. Come here." She turned around and let him hold her. He was at a loss, knowing nothing he said would make her feel any better.

"I gave up too soon," she admitted. "I was angry and hurt and I let my emotions make my decision for me. I shouldn't have given up on our marriage. He offered to go to counseling, he did, but when he told me that he loved her, I was so angry."

She stepped away from him and laid on the couch, motioning toward the chair for him to sit, and Doug did. "He had a baby girl four weeks ago. He showed me a picture."

Doug waited.

"She's very beautiful, the baby. After Glenn and I had been married a few years, I started to talk about having a baby. Before we got married, we'd agreed to have two children once we were set financially. Well, Glenn balked. He said he'd thought about it and decided that children would 'cramp his style.'

"I found out about his baby in Tulsa, when you and I were there on business. I got back to my room and I called...I had called my voice mail at home. There was a message from Glenn. He said he wanted me to know that his -- Susanne was four months pregnant and that they'd gotten married over the weekend. I came to you, your room, that night because I was hurt. I was so hurt...." She began crying again, but waved him off as he moved to comfort her. "He had told me when we were married that he didn't want any children, then he ends up with her being pregnant and he marries this...." Beth shook her head. "She would call me at work, act so sweetly and suck up to me when I was married to Glenn, then I find her in bed with my husband when I came back sick, early from a business trip. I just wanted to die.

"In Tulsa, I wasn't thinking straight. I knew you were right next door. I wanted to...take advantage of your hurt, while I was drunk and...use you, I guess, Doug. Close my eyes and pretend you were Glenn, pretend that he still loved me, that he still wanted me. That someone would want me."

She dabbed at her tears, then looked up at the ceiling while she continued talking. "I needed to be in someone's arms that night. I needed to feel...to feel desirable again. I wanted you to get rid of the memories, clear Glenn from my mind, and when you said 'no,' even for all the right reasons -- I mean, I was drunk out of my mind, I'm your co-worker, you...you were such a gentleman, you were so hurt over Carol. Even though it was for all the right reasons, when you turned me down, you hurt me, too. So if you think I've been acting like a psycho, well, now you know why." Beth laid on her side and curled up, hugging herself. "Doug, I don't know what I would have done without you these past few months. You're a wonderful friend. You've helped me so much. You have." She looked over at him warmly.

Doug smiled and shrugged. "I don't know. This is only really the second time I've just been...friends with a woman, I mean, besides Carol, but we'd...we had a such a long history together. I don't have much...maybe I'm not too good at this." He chuckled, feeling self-conscious.

"You're real good at it," she smiled. "I just wish you were in a position to help me forget him, really. I just need to get over him, and I can't. I just can't. Kinda like you with Carol, huh?"

Doug sighed, agreeing with her. "Beth, am I an idiot for not moving on with my life? I've been here almost six months. I've talked to Carol twice, once when I moved here, and the other when she told me she was pregnant. Sometimes I feel like I'm being faithful to a ghost. At least you...I know how you feel about Glenn, but you tried to move on. You've dated, dated Stuart for a while." He studied his hands, contemplating this.

Beth wrinkled her nose. "Stuart...I dunno. He never really seemed too long-term to me. But you...you...I'm still trying to figure it out with you. Here you and I are, playing this little game."

Doug raised his eyes to her. "What game?"

"You know, Doug, you're a wonderful man. Handsome, smart, fun. Single. What we're doing, you know, what I'm doing is...I'm biding my time with you. Waiting. Waiting until you need someone to fill the void, the emptiness left behind when you left Carol. Hoping you'll be the man to make me forget Glenn. Funny, it hasn't worked, has it?" she asked rhetorically.

He looked away.

"Doug, I think, for me, it's too hard...not to want there to be more. Even if you don't feel the same way."

This was a solemn time between them, and he knew what he had to say might hurt her. But he also knew that he should be as honest as possible.

"Beth, the more I spend time with you, the more I'm...I'm having to convince myself that it's okay, that I'm not doing anything wrong. That I'm not being unfaithful to Carol. In a way, I am. I'm spending time with you that I should be spending with her. Allowing...thoughts of...." He stopped, shaking his head. "I came very close, last month, very close to doing something I never want to do. I came to your house and I was ready to throw everything away because I thought I needed to forget her. I don't know how to be away from her, I don't know how I'm supposed to...survive away from her.

"I want to be faithful to Carol, even though I'm not with her right now, because, like the ass that I am, I think I might somehow be a part of her life again. Right now, I'm afraid to even call her. I'm afraid she'll tell me I can't see the baby. That she'll never forgive me, that I've ruined her life. But, I'm going to wait. I was patient once before, with Carol. I'll be patient this time, give her some time, some space."

Beth understood. "It's obvious...I mean, I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't attracted to you," Beth revealed, embarrassed. "But I know you love her. And I hope and pray it works out for you, somehow."

"It has to. I want it to. It's not...it's not the way I want my life to be. It's not right that I'm not with her. She's the only woman I've ever loved. I just can't...I can't stop loving her," he said softly.

"I know the feeling," Beth whispered. "It's how I feel about Glenn."

They stayed there for a long time, listening to the silence.

*****

That night, he went home and for some reason his soul felt clear and unburdened. Maybe it was his conversation with Beth; it helped to talk about Carol with her, helped that she understood just how he felt. Entering the bedroom, he shucked his clothes and walked to his nightstand. He took the picture of Carol that he kept there and gazed at it. She was so beautiful. He wanted to go see her, to visit her. He wanted to do it right this time, to call, state his case. He would not take no for an answer, but he'd wait, do things on her terms.

If only his heart could stand her rejection.

Doug fell into bed, exhausted. Closing his eyes, he traced her body in his mind, he conjured up the smell of her perfume. He was hard, then, aroused thinking about her, but by that point, he was close to drifting off to sleep.

He heard her in the bedroom, putting her things away, undressing. As he walked in, she was there, in the far corner, brushing her hair. She sensed his presence and turned. The sight of her took his breath away.

Her hair was shining and full, her face, devoid of any makeup, looked angelic. Serene. Her maternity clothes lay on the floor where she shed them; the only garment she wore now was her robe, which shrouded her body from his eyes.

His heart pounded in his chest, he ached for her so much. Doug waited patiently, hoping she would reveal herself to him, but she hesitated. She needed encouragement, he realized. His eyes were deep, dark. Pursuing hers.

She stepped forward, nearer to him.

Her cheeks were flushed, her gaze was clear and resplendent, with just a hint of timidity there. Carol loosened the tie and the robe fell off her shoulders. She couldn't look at him at first, but when she did, there was great uncertainty in her expression.

Doug simply stared.

Here was a man who thought he had seen everything, done everything. He'd been with countless women. A lover who had always been self-assured, confident, but now, seeing her like this, his face had a quiet, almost fragile reverence. He could not help but study her; her body had changed so over the months. He was full of wonderment, of admiration. She looked nothing at all like the lean, lithe woman he'd left behind in the frigid Chicago winter. Her breasts were fuller. Voluptuous. Her nipples had darkened considerably against her pale skin. Her belly, once so flat, was high and round. He drank her in, his eyes sweeping over her lush figure again and again. He was mesmerized.

Carol felt vulnerable, mistaking his awe for aversion.

He searched for words, but was at a loss. The emotion was so strong within him and although he knew innately that she needed some reassurance, he simply could not speak.

She looked down, playing with her ring, holding her breath. Was she unattractive to him now?

No. To him, she was exquisite. His eyes searched hers. She could not read him, she'd never seen him look like this. Doug was hesitant, reserved, almost afraid to touch her.

Carol approached him, waiting in front of him, withstanding his tender scrutiny.

His hand reached out tentatively. He caressed her cheek gently, rubbing her lips with his thumb, then skimmed his fingertips down her jaw to her neck. Slowly, carefully then, he cupped her breast, holding her gently. His thumb brushed against her nipple and he watched as it immediately wrinkled and hardened.

She pulled back, and as she did, his hand shrank away quickly; he felt uneasy and chastised.

Carol smiled and took hold of his hands, putting them on either side of her stomach. He touched her shyly, fingers slightly splayed, the palms of his hands encompassing her, holding his breath, straining to feel the life within.

And then he felt movement. All of the love and tenderness he felt for her, that he'd held back for months crashed, flooding him. He swept her up into his arms with the knowledge that he might never be able to let go.

Carol cleaved to him. Her hands reached up and she pulled his face close, and he kissed her, surrounding her with his arms. She led him to the bed and undressed him slowly, kissing his warm body, her lips sucking on his skin, hands trailing across his chest, down his stomach.

His fingertips stroked her, feeling the changes in her body, loving her for them, and then he was making love to her, holding himself above her, ever careful not to hurt her. What he'd been denied, the joy of being in her arms, surrounded by her softness, he had, finally.

*****

When he awoke the following day, he showered, straightened up his apartment, and rummaged through his desk for his checkbook, a pad of paper, and a pen. He then spent the better part of the morning reviewing his finances. Listing everything: His rent, living expenses including food, gas and electric, gasoline, medical school loans, entertainment and car loan. Doug sighed when he realized he might not be able to provide as much as he wanted to for Carol. The medical school loans were as much as a mortgage payment.

Looking back, he began crossing items off to further reduce his expenses. He talked aloud as he made adjustments. "Get rid of cable, that's $42 a month; the car loan...okay, reduce that by paying it off early...use money from savings. That's...that's $350. Quit the gym, save about $40...."

It's not going to be easy, he knew. But it's very necessary.

By the time he was through, he found that he'd be able to send half of his take-home pay to her, maybe even more. That was assuming she'd accept it. He looked further in the desk and found the letter he'd written to her in May. Reading through it, he was happy he hadn't sent it. It was written in anger, and that was the last thing he felt for her right now. Doug imagined she was trying hard to be strong, to move on without him. But he knew her and he knew she must be anguished to be alone. This wasn't how they'd planned it. He sighed.

And then, little snippets of the dream he'd had last night came back to him. Enough pieces that his passion for her felt real and tangible and good. It's not about anger. It's about love, he realized. It's about sustaining his love for her, even if it was painful to do so.

Ripping the top page off the pad, he began writing anew.

Dear Carol,

I'm writing hoping you're doing well and feeling okay. I'm sure you are. I've been thinking about you and although I want things to be different, I understand you feel you don't want to see me. I want to do whatever will make you happy, what you want.

I can imagine that things might be getting tight financially, that your expenses are beginning to pile up and I want to help in any way I can. There are two different ways I can do it: I can send you a check each month for child support, or if you'd rather I didn't, I'll create a joint bank account here or in Chicago where I can deposit money for you to use as you see fit. Please let me know what you would prefer.

I would like to come see you if you don't mind. I was in Chicago a few weeks ago on business and stopped by, but you must have been away. It looked like you were gone. If you want to talk about things in person, let me know and I'll fly out. If not, if you want to talk on the phone, call me or e-mail and I'll call you whenever you want. If you don't want to see me, or talk to me, I understand, Carol, and I'll respect your decision.

I love you, Carol. I will always love you. Please don't forget that.

Doug

And then, always doubting himself, afraid he'd forsaken the love and the trust that she'd given him, he tossed it aside and sipped his coffee watching as the rain spattered the living room window.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
There's always someone
Haunting someone
Haunting someone
And I can't sleep easy
'Cause I'm afraid of dreaming
And then the memory
Of the dream
There's always someone
Haunting someone
Haunting someone
Haunting someone
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The end