When Tara walked out of Romeo’s, she flagged down the only taxi available that was about to take off and quickly hopped in. “Just drive. Go, go, go!” She pointed forward. The cute Mexican taxi driver with a goatee and his short slicked black hair felt her urgency to leave and pushed down on the gas pedal, speeding off and made a quick right turn.
Tara turned her attention to the man sitting next to her, and just when she thought she couldn’t feel any worse, life proved her wrong. “Rick? What are you doing in here?”
“Going home until you unexpectedly jumped in. Are you okay?” Rick carefully took in her facial expression: her mouth vaguely forming a frown, the emptiness and sadness in her red eyes, the little wrinkle on her forehead that appeared every time she was stressed.
“No, I’m far from okay. Seriously though, what are you doing in a cab in front of Romeo’s?”
“I was going to head in for a drink, but I saw you and decided maybe I should just go home.” He confessed.
“Are we still heading to your desired destination, sir?" The taxi driver glanced at the two through his rear view mirror.
“You seem to be in a rush, did you need to be somewhere?” Rick discreetly checked her out as she stared down to her knees and thought how stunning she still looked even with sad eyes.
“I’m fine. I’ll wait my turn.” She sighed, holding in her tears.
“Yes, to my apartment, please.” Rick confirmed with the taxi driver, who shrugged and continued to drive to the address Rick had given him.
“What do you mean you didn’t go in because of me?” Tara pushed for an answer.
“Nothing, just forget about it.” He shrugged her off.
“No Rick, tell me.” She kept pushing for that answer he was refusing to cough up.
“It’s nothing. I had a long day and just want to go home and relax.” Rick stared out the window, trying not to let the feelings he still harbored for her slip out.
“Don’t you dare look away from me.” She gently tugged on his jacket to grab his attention. “I know you way too well, Rick. Something’s eating at you. Whatever it is you could…”
It was now or never Rick thought to himself. He still loved Tara and had to let her know. He turned back to face her, cupped her face with both hands and pulled her in for a kiss. Tara was completely taken aback for a second and didn’t respond to the warmth of his soft lips, but then she remembered all the times she fantasized about kissing him again for the four years that they had been apart, so she finally moved her lips to his tender pace.
He gave her everything he had in that kiss. His love, his regret, his heart, and Tara tried to do the same. It was everything she imagined the kiss would be except it was missing the key ingredient. Before they broke up, their love was burning hot and every kiss was like their first, but she was now finding it difficult to get the sparks flowing. Four years of fantasizing about another kiss with Rick was now replaced with the fantasy of kissing Ryan.
She pulled away from his sensuous kiss and snapped out of the forced intimacy she tried to feel again but failed and rested her forehead on his as his hands moved down to her arms. “Wow.”
“What?” He desperately needed to know what she felt.
“Nothing.” She whispered.
“No, tell me.”
“Nothing…I feel nothing.”
Rick felt his heart sink down the deepest ocean. “Tara, I still love you. You’re the one, you’ll always be the one. Letting you slip away is the biggest regret of my life.”
Tears started streaming down her cheeks knowing that he loves her the way she loves Ryan, and it broke her heart knowing that they both wouldn’t be able to get what their heart desires. “I love you, Rick. When you fall in love with someone the love will always be there, it never goes away. You were my first love and you’ll always hold a special place in my heart but I’m in love with someone else.”
“Yeah, I know. Of course I know. I was just hoping I was wrong.” He pulled away to stare into her eyes. “Ryan, right?”
She nodded, not knowing how he knew but didn’t bother asking. She figured that he heard the conversation between her and Ryan at the police station or that Lilah had filled him in. “Let’s just stop beating around the bush, Rick. I know about you and Lilah.”
“Tara, I didn’t mean…”
“Don’t! Save it for someone who cares, I just need to know one thing. I don’t need to know how and why it happened.” She gulped and looked deep into his eyes for the answer that was going to kill her inside. “Do you love her?”
Rick ran his hands down his face, feeling ashamed for keeping it a secret, for going behind the love of his life’s back to be with her best friend. “She’s great…I can potentially see myself lasting with her…but I’m not in love with her the way I’m in love with you. You’ll always be the one, Tara.”
Tara shut her eyes, not able to comprehend that this nightmare was really happening. More than anything, she wished that she would wake up and that Ryan never left, Lilah never sneaked behind her back and Shane was never in her life. “And Ryan will always be the one for me. I’ve wanted you back for years and now that I've moved, on you come back into my life and cause a mess. I’ve lost my best friend because of you, I can’t look at her the same way knowing that she broke the Girl Code.”
“Girl code?” He raised a curious eyebrow.
“It’s like the Bro Code but for girls. She knew I loved you and that I wasn’t over you, and she still defied me and went through great lengths to cover it up. Maybe if you guys would have consulted with me first before anything happened, then perhaps this situation would be different, but it’s not. You guys decided to go about this in the worst possible way, but despite that I realized that I have gotten over you and I can thank Ryan for that. I love him but he’s gone now and this…what’s going on between you and my supposedly best friend…I don’t need this right now.”
“We’re here, sir.” The taxi driver informed as he parked in front of Rick’s apartment complex.
“You should get out.” Tara looked forward and crossed her arms, not wanting to waste another minute on him.
He sat there for a moment, hesitating to get out, but knew that there was nothing left to say to make his situation better and didn’t want to make matters worse. “I’m sorry, Tara.” He heavily sighed and stepped out of the taxi. “Make sure she gets home safe.” Rick paid his cab fare through the driver’s window and threw in extra for Tara’s fare.
-Ten Minutes Later-
“We are here, miss.” The taxi driver stared at Tara, who was quietly sobbing to herself through his rear view mirror.
“Oh…thanks. How much do I owe you?” She questioned, wiping her tears away on her long sleeve shirt.
“The gentleman paid for your fare. Also, you might need this.” The driver bent over and pulled out a small travel sized bottle of Hennessy Cognac, the kind that are sold at liquor stores behind the counter. “To help ease the heartbreak.”
Tara felt uneasy as she accepted the small bottle of liquor. “You don’t drink and drive, do you?” She questioned, worried that he might have been under the influence while driving and didn’t want anyone on the road to get hurt.
“No.” The man responded almost too quickly.
“Okay…well thanks.” She hopped out and walked into her home.
When she opened the door to the house she saw Shane super glued to Sports News on their flat screen, so she let him be and went upstairs to pack her belongings in peace. She laid her biggest suitcase and started packing the necessities only and what she couldn’t live without. As she went through her clothes she came across Ryan’s black overcoat that he lent her Christmas Eve night. Tara couldn’t resist the intoxicating scent that emitted from it and buried her nose in his coat, smelling her favorite cologne that she only ever smelled on Ryan, ‘Silver Shadow’. She didn’t want to start crying again, so she wiped away the one tear that escaped, packed his coat in and then walked back downstairs with the suitcase ready in her hand.
“Hey baby, where are you going?” Shane walked over to her when Sports News went on commercial break.
“Shane, I’m sorry but I can’t be with you.” Tara finally came clean with what she had been hiding so long.
Shane smirked, rubbing the back of his head and knew that it had to be a joke. “Ha, good one, baby. Seriously though, where are you going?”
“You had to have known this was coming.” She sternly stared into his brown eyes. “We haven’t been working out and we never will. We are complete opposites and I have no doubt in my mind that you are cheating on me. I can’t live like this. Thank you for everything but it’s over. I can’t continue to be blind and force myself to be with you because I’m afraid of being alone.” Tara made her way to the front door but Shane quickly ran over and blocked her way out.
“No, no, no, no. You and I being opposite is not the real reason why you’re leaving me. Its Ryan isn’t it? You’re leaving me for him? What the hell does he have that I don’t?”
“No, I’m not leaving you for Ryan. He’s long gone. I just need to ride solo. I thought you were the answer but you’re not. Please Shane, don’t make this harder than what it is already and just let me go.”
“Baby no!” Shane forced the suitcase out of her hand. “What do you want from me? I’m trying to give you everything but it’s still not enough and I’m not cheating on you. How many times do I have to tell you that? I only have eyes for you and-”
“That’s not what Ryan told me.” Tara quickly covered her mouth with both hands. She didn’t mean to let that slip out and didn’t want him to know that the man he got in a bar fight with was Ryan all along.
Shane quickly put two and two together and clenched his jaw tight, feeling his anger bubbling up. “That jackass I got in a fight with…that’s Ryan, isn’t it? That’s why you begged me not to press charges against him.” He raised his voice, causing her to jerk back. “Are you fucking kidding me? You are leaving me for him!”
“No, I’m not!” She yelled back. “I’m not leaving you for anyone, I’m leaving you because what we have is a total joke. There’s no love and no trust, hell, I don’t even feel safe around you half the time. We’re over, Shane. Grow a pair and handle this like a man!” She grabbed her suitcase and gently pushed him away from the door.
“Tara, don’t go.” Shane grabbed her left wrist and pulled her back from the door.
“Let go!” She struggled to get out of his strong grip.
“Just listen, we can work things out.”
“No, let go of me!”
“Tara, please.” His free hand gripped her shirt as the hand gripping her wrist grew stronger.
“Stop, you’re hurting me!”
“Baby, you’re not giving me a choice. Just listen to me!” Shane wrapped his hand on the back of her neck to pull her away from the door with his other hand still crushing her wrist
Tara backhanded Shane across the cheek as hard as she could, which caused him to break his hold on her. She quickly grabbed her suitcase and dipped outside, never looking back. She didn’t mean to slap him, she’s never had to hurt anyone before and felt bad for doing it, but she had to. Shane was stubborn and would have crushed her wrist if he held on any tighter and knew that it was the only way to escape.
-Two Weeks Later-
When Tara explained her situation to Jeff, he welcomed her into his townhouse for as long as she needed to. She was thankful that Jeff opened up his home to her until she got back on her feet but the only difficult situation from living with him was that his townhouse was clear across town from Charming Elementary. After Shane took the car he bought Tara and everything that was rightfully his, she didn’t have transportation to get to work. At times when Jeff’s schedule permitted he would take her to and from school, but when he couldn’t she had to take public transportation.
Tara went to buy a new phone with the very little money she had left saved up and changed her number in the process. The man who sold her the phone explained to her that he could restore all her contacts and everything else she had on her last phone by simply downloading the app she used to back up her previous phone and sync the information over to the new one but she refused. If she had Ryan’s number on her phone, then she would be tempted to call him up and beg for him to sweep her away and she couldn’t have that. She didn’t want to screw up his life with her issues and insecurities, she was glad that she didn’t memorize his number either or she probably would have called him already.
It was a new phone number, which meant a new beginning. She was glad that Lilah and Rick didn’t have her number as well and that she didn’t have theirs. Since that night Tara walked out of Romeo’s, she hadn’t bothered contacting Lilah, there was no point anymore. Lilah betrayed her trust and she didn’t want to be around the emotional chaos of having
to see her best friend with the man she used to love more than anyone.
It was Thursday morning and she had to take the bus to school but made a quick stop in between to the nearest store to pick up a pregnancy test. She was a little worried that her period was two weeks late and needed to know if it was one of her rare periods that were a week or so late that she had a few times before or if it was the unthinkable. Since that stop to the store was a last minute decision she was running a little late to class, so she quickly took the test at school, wrapped it in a paper towel and put it in her shoulder bag, deciding not to check the results until after school was over.
If she was pregnant then she knew exactly when it happened. The last time she was intimate with Shane was a month and two weeks ago and it was only out of pity. It was Thanksgiving Day and they both tried to have a nice dinner alone, trying to solve their relationship issues. They were in completely different worlds which resulted in them hardly ever having sex anymore, so when Shane brought up the issue they both started drinking, especially Tara. She was highly intoxicated to ease the fact that he wanted to be intimate with her that night, and out of pity and manipulation from his sweet words that he didn’t mean, they slept together. Tara couldn’t remember much of what happened that night, but she remembered that she almost screamed out Ryan’s name a few times during. Picturing Ryan on top and making love to her was the only way she could get through the night.
When Tara released her students, she pulled out the pregnancy test from her shoulder bag and unwrapped the paper towel. She closed her eyes and tapped her index finger on her desk, too nervous to take that look down, knowing that in a second her life could take a drastic turn.
“Okay, I can do this.” She whispered to herself, took a deep breath and checked the results. Her eyes widened, mouth agape, heart drumming out of her chest and her airway was suddenly blocked by the shock. She dropped her head on the desk and started crying, not able to get a grip on herself. How could I bring a new life into this world when I can’t even get my life together?
Tara quickly sat up, wiped her tears away and cleared her throat. “Yes… come in.” She quickly pulled herself together, remembering that she was still at school and had to remain professional. As her vision focused she noticed Rebecca and Celeste standing by the door and felt ashamed that she accidentally let her student Celeste see her cry on school grounds.
“Celeste, honey, could you wait outside for a minute?” Rebecca shooed Celeste out the door and walked over to Tara. “Honey, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Tara stood up. It was a little odd for her to see Rebecca because she had never picked up Celeste before. It was always Ryan and since he left for L.A it was Daniel who picked up Celeste but never stepped a foot in her classroom. “I’m fine. Dang these allergies, you know?”
“What’s really going on, Tara?”
Rebecca stared at Tara with nothing but compassion, sympathy and patience, the look only a mother could give. Staring into her hazel eyes made Tara feel safe, that she could trust her with her problems. “I’m such a loser!” She broke out. “I broke up with Shane, my best friend is sleeping with my ex and lied to me about it and Ry…” She stopped herself from continuing. The thought of speaking Ryan’s name out loud would just make her want to cry again.
“You really love Ryan, don’t you?” Rebecca knew how Ryan felt for Tara and knew that Tara felt the same, she just didn’t know why they completely stopped talking to each other. Ryan never explained to her what happened, she only knew that he didn’t want to talk about her anymore.
“I…” Tara hesitated and looked down to the carpeted floor. “It doesn’t matter now.”
“Yes it does, I know for a fact that he…”
“It doesn’t matter anymore because I’m pregnant.” She blurted out. “I left Shane because he’s a complete asshole and now I’m pregnant with his child…that’s why it doesn’t matter anymore. Ryan ditched a bullet. He deserves someone better than me. Look at me! I’m a mess. I’m barely managing on my own and now I found out I’m pregnant. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Rebecca didn’t know how to handle the news that was released to her, but knew that Tara needed a friend more than ever to help her get through this delicate and problematic situation. “Let me take you out for lunch. You need someone to confide in and I’m here for you like you were there for me and Celeste.”
-Later That Night- Seven forty-seven P.M.-
“Hey booger, what have you been up to?” Ryan had Celeste on speaker as he sat in the studio after everyone had left to work on a new song he was trying to finish.
“Daddy took me to Chuck E. Cheese and I got a bunch of tickets and got the biggest prize! It’s a mini piano that plays in different tones. I’m going to learn how to play it so I can be just like you.” Celeste eagerly told him the highlight of her day and was ecstatic to hear his voice.
“Oh really? That’s great! Maybe when I go on tour you could be my backup on piano.” Celeste started giggling which made Ryan miss his niece but smiled that they at least had ways to keep in contact. “How are Rebecca and Daniel doing?”
“Good. Daddy’s at work and Mommy went out with Tara.”
“Mommy did what?” Ryan put down his pen and stared at his cell phone in front of him.
“Mommy picked me up after school and we saw Tara crying so Mommy took her out to lunch.”
Ryan gulped down the hard lump in his throat. Hearing that Tara was crying ripped his heart out. For the first week when he left for Los Angeles, he tried contacting Tara any way he could but nothing worked. He knew that she had erased him out her life so he buried himself in work to distract himself from his shattered soul, but working wasn’t enough to distract him. He pictured what she was doing without him and imagined her in a much better state than he was in. She was probably still with Shane and moving forward with her life, so when Celeste mentioned that she saw Tara crying it painted a whole new image in his head. Even though she broke his heart, he didn’t want her to suffer the way he was without her. “Do you know why Tara was crying?”
“No, but since you left she looks sad all the time.”
“Celeste, go to your room and start reading. I’ll be there in a minute.” Rebecca had walked into the living room where Celeste was talking to Ryan and grabbed her phone back out of her daughter's hand. “Ryan, how are you doing?”
“You took Tara to lunch?” Ryan jumped straight to his burning question.
“Gee, I’m doing great, thanks for asking. Yes, I did.” Rebecca smartly replied.
“Sorry. How are you and Daniel doing?”
“We’re doing great. Ryan, listen, Tara isn’t doing so hot. She left Shane and literally has nothing to her name. She’s…”
“Why are you telling me this? I tried to call her, tried contacting her through Lilah and Jeff, I’ve even called the school to see if they could put me through to her along with the emails and messages I left on her Facebook and nothing. It’s pretty clear she doesn’t want anything to do with me. I’ve even been tempted to take a drive over there, but I don’t have any free time. I’m swamped with work right now to the point where I can’t even breathe trying to meet my deadlines.”
“Ryan, she loves you. She confided in me and told me everything. She left the way she did because she didn’t want to drag you down with her issues. She said that you should be with someone better than her, that she’s not worthy of you and if she could change back time then she would have the courage to dump Shane and do things differently with you.”
Hearing what Rebecca just said motivated him to drop everything he had in front of him and drive back to Charming for her.
“Ryan?” Zach walked into the studio. “How’s the song coming along?”
Ryan picked up his phone and turned the speaker off. Rebecca sighed and knew she shouldn’t tell Ryan about Tara’s pregnancy, but she thought that he had the right to know considering the fact that he needed to know everything to make a clear and rational decision if he wanted to ever come back for her. “Ryan, there’s something else you should probably know. Tara’s…”
“Look, I can’t talk about this right now.” Ryan interrupted. “I’ll call you later.” He hung up and looked over to Zach. “It’s coming along. We were totally right about the melody that Timbaland wanted for this song, it doesn’t fit. Not with the message we’re trying to convey to the world. I tried to make it work but it doesn’t sound like us, it doesn’t sound like OneRepublic.”
“Drew has an idea, he wanted to run it by you tomorrow.” Zach informed.
“Yeah, um…l trust his judgment so go with his idea.” Ryan stood up and grabbed his car keys that rested on the empty chair next to him. “I need to head out for awhile. A day, two tops.”
“Where are you goin’?” Zach questioned.
“I need to go back to Charming.” Ryan admitted.
“No!” Zach denied Ryan the right. “You are not going back for Tara. She’s history, man. Look at what she’s doing to you. You’re too distracted and you are going to make us fall behind on our insane deadline. She walked out, leave it be.” He knew Ryan was distracted by the exigency of making amends with Tara and he tried to keep him busy, to keep his mind clear from her, but he always failed. Zach was afraid that if Ryan went back in the high hopes of a happy ending, it would tumble down and bury him beneath the wreckage of all the damage she caused. He didn’t resent Tara, he knew that she didn’t mean any harm, but wished that she never bumped into Ryan’s life.
“Look, I’m tired of hearing what you’re saying out of everyone’s mouth. I see your concern, I hear all the voices telling me to move on, but I can’t and I won’t. I need to go back. I can’t let things end the way it did. I know we’re on a deadline but I’m managing my time perfectly. I have time to go back for a day or two, so I’m going.” Ryan walked out the door, ready to take that five hour drive in hopes that he would find Tara and mend fences. He silently prayed that after all that’s said and done, he could call her his girl.
---- ---- ---- ----
That same moment Ryan decided to take that drive to the city of Charming, Tara took the bus to her favorite park for the clarity she was desperately seeking. She sat on the ground and leaned her back against the tree, the same tree where she and Ryan had written the letters to each other and buried, the tree with the letters T + R carved right into it. Everything that had damaged her over the past month, Ryan leaving and never speaking to him again, the end of her friendship with her best friend Lilah, finally leaving Shane, the fact that she didn’t have a car, a place to call home, the fact that she was now pregnant with Shane’s baby and didn’t know if she should tell him or not was pushed to the back of her mind as she tried to meditate.
A half hour had passed when she finally thought to herself that she couldn’t wait to read Ryan’s letter anymore. She knew that he would never come back anyways, so waiting five years to read the letter would be pointless now. Tara got on her knees and started digging up the dirt with her hands, wanting nothing than to replace the dirt with that piece of paper.
Her fingernails finally scratched the top of the brown and gold box, so she pulled it out, sat back down and leaned against the tree as she pulled out his letter to her. Taking a deep breath, she unfolded the piece of paper, pulling out her phone for light as she exhaled and began to read.
“God forbid if anything tragic happens to me where I don’t live as long as I wish I could or before I can tell you how I really feel about you, then you have this letter to know where my heart stands. I’ve only known you for a few months and I have completely fallen in love with you. Your stunning smile, honey brown eyes, your smooth silky skin, the long eyelashes that make your eyes pop, the soft hair that smells like a tropical rain forest, the music in your laughter, your loveable, quirky personality with a heart of gold. You are simply the most perfect woman I have ever had the privilege to know. You may point out the flaws within yourself, but it’s those imperfections you hold that make you perfectly imperfect and I wouldn’t picture you any other way. If you could only see yourself through my eyes, then you’d realize how crazy I am about you.
My only wish is that whatever happens, it leads to us both being truly happy and I hope it’s with each other. I’m not perfect, I’m not rich, I make mistakes, but if I’m lucky enough to ever call you my girl I would reach for the stars to bring you the moon. I can only hope that you think about me every night the way I do for you, that you feel that spark wanting to start a fire with every lingering glance, that you catch yourself smile out of the blue because you realized you were thinking of me. You make me feel like I can see the whole world, feel emotions that I only feel when I’m listening to and writing love songs, you make me feel like music. I hope that in five years when you read this letter I’m by your side, holding your lovely hand with a smile, but until that day comes, I’ll be patiently waiting by your side.”
Her warm tears rolled down her cheeks, leaving a black trail of her makeup in the path by reading Ryan’s heart filled letter. She had never felt more alone than what she was feeling right now. She couldn’t let the silence she caused tear them away any longer and knew she had to contact him, to let him know how much she loves him, how badly she regrets letting him slip out of her fingers.
“Tara.” Shane crept up from behind the tree.
Tara quickly turned her back, tucking Ryan’s letter and her letter to him inside her shirt and zipped her jacket up higher. “Shane? What are you doing here?”
“I had to follow you.” Shane deeply sighed and stared at the carving ‘T + R’ on the tree and again, he put two and two together.
“How long were you following me?” She stood up on both feet.
“It doesn’t matter. I’ve been working up the courage to talk to you.” Shane slurred, not wanting to admit that he had been following her for the past week. His heartbreak of losing Tara was slowly turning into obsession, the thought of her being with Ryan or any another man infuriated him to the point where he had to drink constantly to help him sleep at night.
Tara knew that this was going to take a turn for the worse. His bloodshot eyes, an occasional hiccup and how he slouched forward as if he was on the verge of falling were only the other obvious clues that he was wasted besides the strong odor of liquor on his breath. “Look, I have to go.”
“Baby, I miss you.” He stepped forward to stop her from leaving. “You and I apart is the biggest mistake you could ever make. I want you back.” He tried pulling her in to his embrace but she took a couple of steps back.
“You’re drunk, please don’t do this. Did you drive here?” She didn’t care for the safety of his well being, she was only concerned for the safety of others on the road.
“Baby, you’re not listening. I need you back. You are the only one who understands me, the only one who I want to be inside of.” He firmly gripped her arms and tried to stick his tongue down her throat.
“Let go of me!” Tara tried to escape but he overpowered her. “Stop!” She started to freak out and out of instinct, she kneed him in the family jewels and for a split second she was out of his hold. He released her arms and as she turned to run away, he quickly wrapped his arms around her waist, turned her to face him and lifted her up over his shoulder, carrying her to his car.
She tried everything in her power to escape by kicking, punching, hair pulling and even tried to bite him, but when Shane is drunk he has a very high tolerance for pain and nothing worked. He pushed her into his car through the driver side, then slid in after her, locking the doors as he put his key in the ignition. Tara tried opening the passenger door but it was jammed, as if Shane had already had this planned out and blocked her escape.
“Shane, open the door!” She screeched.
“Baby, can’t you see that you and I are meant to be? I’m going to take you back home where you belong. I can take care of you, you just need to let me. I love you.”
“This is not love! This…”
“Just shut the fuck up!” He snapped and caved his strong fingers into her shoulder, making her squirm down in pain. “I don’t want to hurt you, I really don’t but if I need to, I won’t hesitate.” He let go of her after a few seconds to turn the car on. “What the fuck does Ryan have that I don’t? I can’t stop picturing you with him and I can’t handle it anymore! That little prick isn’t half the man I am! I love you, Tara! Why can’t you see that?” He sped off and hit the main roads going twenty-five miles over the forty mile speed limit.
“Okay!” Tara fastened her seatbelt and submitted in hopes that if she would say what he wanted to hear, then he’d calm down and she would be able to make her escape. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking. I want you back.”
“I don’t believe you. Prove it! Prove to me that you want me as much as I want you.”
“Shane, slow down, you’re going too fast. Pull over and let me dri…”
“Fuck!” Shane punched his stereo as hard as he could. “Are you always going to nag at me?” He grabbed a handful of her hair with his right hand, making her yelp in pain and pulled her closer to him, taking his eyes off the road.
“No, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” She panted.
“I hate hurting you, baby. Don’t make me do it.” He leaned in for a kiss.
Tara screamed and Shane quickly drew his eyes back to the road and was able to swerve out of the way of the oncoming car when he crossed over the double yellow solid lines.
“Shut up! I can’t concentrate with you screaming and nagging!” He slammed his big hand down on the steering wheel.
“I…I’m sorry.” She quietly sobbed.
“Stop crying!” He raised his right hand, forming a fist. Tara knew what was coming to her, and out of desperation, she accidentally let her newly discovered secret slip out of her mouth. “Stop, I’m pregnant!” She winced back, trying to block her face away from the punch he was about to throw.
“What?” He gasped, taking his eyes off the road.
“Look out!” Tara pointed forward and screamed by how close an oncoming truck was.
Shane turned his attention to the speeding truck ahead of him, unaware that he had swerved past the double solid yellow lines again and tried to gain control of the wheel, but it was too late. The last image Tara saw as she was screaming was the bright high beams of the oncoming truck that crashed straight into Shane’s car, shattering all windows, and with the velocity Shane was driving caused the whole front of the car to cave in and flip over.
Shane was slipping in and out of consciousness for a minute, then finally managed to keep his eyes open. He was laying face first on the car roof and realized at that point that the car was flipped over. He wiped his bleeding nose with his jacket sleeve and looked up to Tara. “Tara.” He coughed and leaned her way.
Tara had her seatbelt on and was leaning down, the seatbelt securing her in the upside down seat and was bleeding profusely from a two inch gash on her forehead. “Tara, wake up!” He unbuckled the seatbelt and tried to catch her before she fell hard on the roof of the car. With his index and middle finger he checked for a pulse on her neck. He found it but it seemed to be slowly fading. “Tara, please wake up!” Shane shook her, desperately trying to wake her but he knew she wasn’t going to, so he climbed out the window and hit the pavement.
A man pulled over when he passed by the wreckage to see if he could be of any help. His wife and son stayed in the car as he started running over to Shane. “Hey mister, are you alright?”
“Call 911!” Shane yelled out, then bellowed in agony as he looked down at his hands and felt the stinging of the glass that pierced deep into his skin when he fell out.
As the man pulled his cell phone out, there was only one thing Shane should have done. He should have gone over and tried to pull Tara out, hold her close until help arrived and check to see if the people in the truck that he crashed into were okay, but he took the coward way out.
When the man who was calling for help turned his back to Shane, he got on both feet and limped away from the scene. He knew that if he stayed they would have locked him up and jail was not an option for him. He knew it was selfish and cowardly and that karma would come around and strike him down tenfold, but he knew that Tara would never forgive him whether he stayed or left, so he left.
---- ---- ---- ----
It was after midnight when Ryan made a pit stop at Bravo Farms. He had seen signs for the past few miles advertising the place saying to stop for the great food, merchandise, gas, rest stop and the incredible atmosphere. After he found the restroom he walked around the place to check out what all the hype was about. Bravo Farms seemed like it would be a blast during the day, but since it was late it was pretty quiet but everything seemed to remain open.
Ryan walked into the small gift shop to see if anything caught his eye to surprise Tara with and came across a medium sized stuffed Dalmatian doll and smiled. He remembered how much Tara loves Dalmatians, so when he picked it up and felt how soft it was he smiled, knowing that it would bring a smile to her face as well. Ryan went up to the lady at the register and laid in on the counter.
“Did you find everything alright, sir?” She flirtatiously smiled.
“Yeah, this is a cool little place you guys got here.” He pulled out his wallet, not noticing the flirty smiles from the cashier.
“Yeah, I love working here. So many cool people from all over seem to stop here. Are you buying this for your girlfriend?” She tried to see if he’d correct her or say yes to figure out if he was single or not.
“Yeah, no…I, uh...” Ryan didn’t know how to answer her question. “She’s… well…” He handed her his credit card. “I’m hoping she’ll be my girlfriend.”
“Oh.” The lady was slightly disappointed. She found him to be very attractive and really wanted to make a move on him, but respectfully stepped down and swiped his card through the machine. “Well, hopefully when you give her this doll, she will.” She slightly smiled, handing the card back.
“Thanks. I’m driving five hours late at night just to see her so I really hope so. Have a good night.” He picked up the doll and started walking away.
“Hey.” The lady picked up a single rose that they sold from a vase on the counter behind her and walked over to Ryan. “That doll and a rose, there’s no way she’d be able to say no to you. Go get her.”
Ryan accepted the rose and gently smiled. “Thank you.”
As Ryan walked over to his car he started feeling anxious. He was less than an hour away from her and couldn’t wait to see Tara's beautiful face again. Before he reached his car, he felt his phone vibrate so he pulled it out of his back pocket and answered. “Hello.”
“Ryan?” Lilah’s scratchy voice sounded through his phone.
“Lilah?” Ryan was surprised to hear from her and wondered what the purpose of her calling him was. It’s not like she would call just to say hello and was ultimately a little worried hearing her voice.
“I don’t really know how to tell you this.” Lilah’s voice started cutting off.
“What? I can’t hear you too well, can you say that again?” Ryan checked the bars on his phone and noticed he didn’t have the best service where he was at.
“Tara was in a car accident… she’s not doing so well.”
Ryan froze in his tracks, completely paralyzed as his life abruptly stopped. He could no longer control his hands, shaking with fear as the color drained from his face and his heart beating in an odd rhythm. This couldn’t happen, not her, not now, not ever. “What hospital is she in?” His unsteady voice cracked with each word.
“Saint Agnes Hospital.”
“I’m on my way.” He hung up and ran to his car. As he sat down, he tried to slide his key in the ignition but it took him a few tries as his hands continued to shake. His whole body felt like it was shutting down, his mind spinning causing him to feel lightheaded, but he pushed himself to hold it together. This was not the right time to start breaking down and there was definitely no time to cry.
-Saint Agnes Medical Hospital-
“How is she? Is she alright?” Ryan stepped out of the elevator and raced over to Lilah, who was pacing back and forth in the waiting room.
Lilah stopped and stared into his weary eyes. “We’re not too sure yet. I couldn’t go in to see her since I’m not blood related, but Rick’s seen her. ”
Ryan’s eyes shifted to the right and noticed Rick sitting down on the waiting room chair in his police uniform. “Wh-what happened? How’d th…this happen?”
Rick stood up and made his way over to Ryan. “She was in a two car collision. No one saw how it happened, but a Good Samaritan who pulled over and tried to help said a man crawled out of driver’s side and left the scene with Tara strapped in the passenger side. Their car was flipped over, it…it was...” He cleared his throat to keep his voice from cracking under the vivid images swirling in his head. “The car registration belongs to Shane Walsh, so he is our prime suspect.”
Ryan clenched his jaw tight, trying to control the anger bubbling from within him.
“Her head took most of the damage. She has a two inch gash that was stitched up on her forehead, sprained ankle and shoulder, along with minor cuts and bruises throughout her body.” Rick continued. “We won’t know how damaged she is until she wakes up. I called Lilah so she could call you. I figured you may have wanted to know since you two are close.” He patted Ryan on the shoulder, empathizing with the man.
Ryan approached the nurse who passed by and Rick couldn’t help but glare at him with envy. It was a dagger to the heart knowing Tara would never be in his arms again and was ultimately jealous of Ryan for winning her heart. Due to the fact that he felt guilty for secretly starting a relationship with Lilah, he knew he had to back down and let them be. That was Rick's reason for calling Lilah, to tell her to call Ryan, because if he was in Ryan’s shoes he’d want to know.
“Miss.” Ryan captured the nurse’s attention. “Tara Figueroa, could I see her?”
“Like I told your friend over there, only family members are permitted to see her.” The nurse informed him as she was shuffling through the pack of papers in her yellow folder.
“He’s her husband.” Rick intervened.
“Oh, I’m sorry about that sir. I’ll check to see if she’s cleared for visitation.” The nurse walked through the doors to the Intensive Care Unit.
“You didn’t have to lie.” Ryan glanced over at Rick.
“I know, but if I were in your position I’d be thankful that someone lied to get me through to see her.”
Thank you.” Ryan murmured.
“No problem.” Rick turned his attention to Lilah and sat next to her.
The elevator sounded and out popped Jeff with his black skinny jeans and his tan Java Lounge collared work shirt. “Oh, thank goodness! I was starting to suspect you didn’t get my messages.” Lilah sprinted over to Jeff.
“Boss had me keep the coffee shop open late.” Jeff explained. “Once I clocked off I checked my phone, saw your messages and jammed over here. I can’t believe this. What’s going to happen to the baby?”
“What?” Lilah’s eyes widened as did Rick’s and Ryan’s.
“Oh, dear.” Jeff started fanning himself with his hands, trying to relieve the instant heat that burned upon his face, knowing that he shouldn’t have said anything. “Well, when she came home earlier today she started throwing up, so I asked her if she was sick. She told me that she just had lunch with a friend and that maybe it was something she ate, so I didn’t think anything of it until I couldn’t find my rewards card for Rite Aid. I asked her if I could borrow hers because I wanted a discount on the tub of ice cream I wanted to buy. With her permission, I went through her shoulder bag where she keeps her wallet and saw a pregnancy test. I know I shouldn’t have checked, but being the curious little daisy that I am, I looked and saw two pink lines indicating that she’s pregnant.”
“Nurse!” Rick ran over to another nurse who was walking away to inform them of the information he just received about Tara. He wanted to make sure she wasn’t getting any drugs that could potentially hurt the baby.
At this point, the roller coaster of emotions running through Ryan’s entire body was now set to anger mode. He started thinking where Shane was through all of this and knew that everything was on him. Tara was in Shane’s car, so that meant he was driving, but why he bailed and left Tara helpless after the crash was troubling Ryan. Did Shane know she was pregnant? Why did he bail? Why was she in his car if Rebecca had told him that she broke up with him? That and many more questions started pilling up and he couldn’t keep calm anymore.
“That fucking asshole!” Ryan started walking towards the elevators.
“Ryan, where are you going?” Lilah called out.
“I’m going to find that poor excuse of a man!” Ryan kept pushing the button to the elevator as if pushing it multiple times would make it open faster.
“Ryan, I have my men out looking for him. You-” Rick jogged over to stop Ryan from leaving.
“How’s that coming along?” Ryan stepped a foot back from Rick. “Shane is responsible for all of this and he’s out there while she’s in here? Tell me how that’s fair? He left his pregnant ex fiancé helpless and he takes off like a fucking coward and you have your men looking for him? No offense but the whole Charming police department is a joke! You guys couldn’t catch a criminal even if you wanted to.”
“Sir?” The nurse who Rick informed about Tara’s pregnancy walked over to them. “I’m going to have to ask you to keep it down.”
Ryan ran his hands through his hair, seeing nothing but red dots and not able to control himself at this point.
“Are you going to go out and do your job or am I going to have to do it for you?” Ryan continued.
“Don’t "Ryan" me!” He forcefully pushed forward and punched the wall behind Rick, physically taking his frustration out and left a medium sized dent on the wall.
Rick had no choice but to spin Ryan around, pull his cuffs out and cuff him. “Let’s go.” Rick pushed him forward and headed out of the hospital with Ryan slightly resisting the whole way.
“You need to calm down.” Rick let him go as they stepped outside into the cold night. “Tara wouldn’t want you to resort to this level. Shane Walsh is a lowlife scumbag who messed up her life for way too long. I will find and send his ass to jail, but right now you need to remain calm or I will have to take you downtown. I feel your pain, I really do, but she needs you to be here for her and not kicked out for inappropriate behavior.” He stepped behind Ryan, pulled out his key and uncuffed him. Ryan shook his wrists free and glared at Rick, but knew that he was absolutely right. “Stay out here for a few minutes, breathe, then come back inside.”
Lilah, Rick and Jeff had left after three A.M. due to the early shifts they all had in the morning, but Ryan stayed in the waiting room the whole night. Since it was late and the doctors were monitoring her all night, he had to wait until visitation hours came around to see Tara. He laid across the four chairs by the wall of the waiting room, using the Dalmatian doll he grabbed out of his car as a pillow and the single rose resting on top of his chest.
“Sir?” A nurse gently gripped his shoulder. “You can see your wife now.”
Ryan cracked his eyes open, forgetting where he was for a brief moment. "I can see her?” He licked his dry lips.
“I’m terribly sorry for the wait, but yes, you can see her now.”
He jumped to his feet, not giving his body enough time to wake up completely. As he followed the nurse into the ICU, he became light head, almost to the point where he was about to collapse.
The nurse walked into the private room Tara resided in and checked up on her. As Ryan glanced over to Tara laying on the hospital bed with a white hospital gown and a beige blanket covering her waist, he couldn’t help but want to cry. He shut his eyes tight and ran his hand down his face, trying to get a grip on himself, holding it in as the nurse did her job.
“She’s hooked up to an arterial line to monitor the blood pressure, EKG to record her heart’s electrical activity and Nasogastric tube that goes through the nose into her stomach to remove stomach acids and for short term feeding.” The nurse informed Ryan of the machines she was hooked up to as she checked Tara’s chart that rested on the end of her bed. “She seems to be breathing on her own now, which is good considering the fact that she wasn’t when they brought her in. She took a big blow to the head and we won’t really know how much damage her brain endured until she wakes up.”
“When will she wake up?”
The nurse struggled to find the right way to say what needed to be said. “I don’t know. She could wake up in a few minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or maybe she won’t. I suggest talking to her, in some cases while in a comatose state they could hear you. I’m truly sorry; I know it’s difficult to see her like this. Let’s just pray she pulls through quick.” She sincerely looked into his eyes and then left the room, gently closing the door behind her.
He slowly made his way over to the side of her bed, pulled up the chair beside the table, sitting down as he laid the doll and rose on the table, desperately trying to keep it together. He observed her condition, the two inch gash that was stitched up on the side of her forehead directly above her right eyebrow, a small cut under the left side of her bottom lip, the purplish shade of color on her right cheek, a few dark bruises on her arms and small cuts on her delicate hands.
His eyes squinted, fighting to keep them open as his lips quivered and formed a frown. He laid his sore right hand from when he hit the wall over hers. As he gently squeezed her limp hand, a wave of his emotions knocked him down entirely. His head dropped down, his forehead pushing down his hand over hers, silently letting his emotions roll down and dissolved into tears. He’s never had to beg God for help, but then again, he’s never felt more vulnerable in his life before, like a diminutive undeserving speck hiding from God's light. He cried out to the big man upstairs to help her pull through, to have another chance to talk to her, to look into her glossy chestnut eyes again and beg for forgiveness, to proclaim to her his true love once and for all.
“Please Tara, come out of this.” He sobbed. “Wake up…just wake up.” He lifted his head and dried her hand with the blanket, not wanting to drip anymore tears on her pale skin. “I brought you something.” He wheezed, followed by a cough, trying to clear his airway. “So you need to wake up so you could see it, I know it’ll bring a smile to your face.”
As he was about to reach for the doll, he noticed two folded up pieces of papers next to her wallet and keys and reached for that instead. As he opened and read the first line, he realized it was the letter he wrote for her. He couldn’t believe it, she had read what he wrote and he wasn’t even there to see her face while reading. Ryan folded it back up and unfolded the letter she wrote to him.
“I’m finding it quite difficult trying to figure out what to write. We’ve known each other for a few months now and you have been an amazing and supportive friend. I could go along the lines as to say how awesome you are and how I wish we could continue our friendship till the end of time, but then I’d be lying because I don’t want us to be just friends. Things aren’t looking so bright for me right now, I stand a little confused but also more certain on what I want. I deny the obvious between you and I because it’s easier for me, because I don’t know how to get out of this triangle without anyone getting hurt. That’s one of my greatest flaws, I try to make everyone happy and I forget what I really want and what I really want is to be with you.
Since we’ve known each other we’ve only gone two days without talking, and those were the two worst days of my life because I didn’t hear from the man I’ve fallen hard for. I’m so blessed that I accidentally dragged you into the restroom at Java Lounge after I spilled our drinks or we probably wouldn’t have been here now, we probably would have still been strangers to each other, two ships passing by in the night. I can only tell you that I am truly sorry for the wait, I don’t know how you manage to be so patient with me.
I hope when you make it big and you are performing on the grandest stages around the world that you don’t forget about me and when you finally read this letter that I’m right next to you, waiting for you to finish reading this so I could slip into your warm embrace for a kiss. Ryan Tedder, I love you and I can’t wait to say it for the first time.”
The hot, salty tears continued to drip down Ryan’s cheeks, falling off his chin and onto the paper. His body convulsed as he threw the papers across the room, and in one swift movement he swung his arms, throwing everything off the table and wailed in pain. “Why are you doing this?!?” He cried out to God. “Why her? Why?” He ran both hands over his face, ridding himself of the tears. “Why didn’t you just take me instead, or even that monster Shane? What’s your reason, your unjust plan for taking her?!? Bring her back!” He paced around the room, then leaned his head back, looking up to the white lights in the ceiling. “I’m losing faith here, man, just give me something! Wake her up.”
He walked back over to Tara, sat down and locked hands with her. “I love you, please wake up. Give me a sign, baby, anything to let me know that you’re here, that you’re listening and that you’re going to pull through.”
He sat there, holding her hand and waited for a sign, but after a moment of waiting he knew it was hopeless. God never answers when you need him and Ryan was starting to lose his religion as his tears had come to a halt and he started coughing. His eyes were now too swollen to continue on and the buildup of phlegm was starting to make it difficult to breathe. “Tara, I love you. I’m not going to leave your side. I’ll stay here as long as you’re here. I promise.” He sighed.
As Ryan was about to rest his head on the bed, he felt a sudden light squeeze on his hand. He looked down at her hand, giving her a squeeze back, and with his squeeze she returned another, just a little bit stronger than the first. His lips curved, forming the smallest smile on his tired face as he squeezed her hand again. He knew that it was a sign that she’ll pull through, that soon enough she’ll wake up, and he wasn’t going anywhere. With his hand still holding her's, he leaned forward and rested his head on the bed, closing his eyes for a moments rest. As he was slowly drifting off, he was awoken from the sound of his name.