Eric sat on the side of her bed, listening to her breathe in the darkness surrounding them, the moon providing a dim light so that her face was visible in shadow. She was so beautiful, although her face showed how troubled she was. He’d heard someone once say that one’s true face could be seen while asleep, and the many times he’d watched Stephanie sleep over the years had proved that statement true.
Thinking back to their evening together, his hurt returned as he remembered reaching out to touch her face only to draw his hand back in fear of her reaction.
Eric stood up, sighing as he moved to the table and began to clear it. The plates and silverware stacked to be carried to the kitchen, he looked up at Stephanie and shook his head. Reaching out to touch her face, he saw the look in her eyes, and dropped his hand. Swallowing down his tears, he gave up the notion of taking the dishes to the kitchen. “I’m going to bed,” he whispered. “Goodnight, Stephanie.” He barely heard her return the sentiment before he disappeared up the stairs for another lonely night in his bedroom.
Never before in all of their years together or apart had he ever been afraid to touch her, but tonight he had been. After everything she’d said, and the look she’d given him, he’d known that she would jerk in response to his touch. How had they come to this point?
Coming back to the present, Eric reached out, gently tracing the soft contours of his love’s face, no fear in his movements now. Seeing the lines soften on her forehead, he continued his caress, tears filling his eyes when his name trembled from her lips. He knew she was still asleep, which meant she had to be dreaming. But what could she be dreaming of? She couldn’t be dreaming of them, she’d told him that part of her life, their life, was over. Hearing his name once again, he realized that she had to be dreaming of what had happened earlier.
Watching her brow crease, he saw the look of sadness cross her face. “My god, Stephanie,” he whispered as he gently resumed his caress, her face relaxing once again. “Were you lying to me? Was I so blind that I didn’t see it?”
The answer to his questions broke his heart.
Yes, she’d been lying.
Yes, he’d been too blind to see it.
It all went back to her cancer, just as he’d suspected.
Why had he believed her when she’d denied it?
Shaking his head, he bent over, placing a feathery kiss to her lips before carefully standing up and making his way to the door. Taking one last look at the woman he loved more than he had the words to convey, he quietly slipped out of her bedroom, closing the door behind him.
Stephanie opened her eyes, knowing instinctively that she’d had a visitor in the night. His presence was still there, even though the man himself was probably already at work. She sat up and yawned, her head hanging down as she swung her feet over the side of the bed. Reaching over, she pulled out the bottom drawer of her nightstand and lifted out the box containing Eric’s gift from dinner. Lifting the lid, she moved away the tissue paper and fingered the soft garment hidden inside.
Tears rolling down her cheeks, she smiled sadly. Black lace and satin…Eric had always loved her in that. She could still see the hurt in his eyes when she rejected the gift – rejected him. She hated herself for it, had wanted so badly to call out his name and stop him from going upstairs, but she couldn’t. She just couldn’t. She didn’t know why. Didn’t understand it herself. All she knew was that the very thought of being touched intimately made her skin crawl.
She knew she had hurt Eric, the man she loved more than life itself. Knew she had hurt him so deeply that she was sure she’d lost him. She frowned when she remembered that he’d been in her room the night before. She wasn’t sure how she knew, maybe it was because he’d left behind a faint whiff of his cologne. She shook her head. No, that wasn’t it. It was simply that she knew when he’d been near her. Too many years spent with him not to know.
But what did his being in her room mean? Had he been simply saying goodbye in the only way he could after the way things had gone during dinner? She touched her lips, he’d kissed her. She was sure of that. Her tears returned. She knew it had been a soft kiss, a kiss like he’d given her many times down through the years when she was sick or sad or hurting.
And she was all of those things.
Sick with cancer ravaging her body, her mind, her very soul. Fighting a battle she couldn’t control and very possibly couldn’t win.
Sad because she missed being with the man she loved in every way that he wanted. Every way that she’d always wanted.
Hurting because she’d hurt him.
Placing the negligee back in the tissue paper, she replaced the lid, then put the box back in the drawer. Standing up and stretching, she grabbed her robe and pulled it on, slipping her feet into her slippers. She needed to get a start on this day, although she had no idea why. She rolled her eyes as she walked to the door, gasping in surprise when she opened it and found a breakfast tray sitting in the hall just outside her room.
Bending over, she lifted the tray, her eyes taking in the beautiful peace rose lying across the top with a note. Moving to her bed, she set the tray down and lifted the note. Eric’s handwriting. Her heart pounded as she unfolded the paper, her eyes swimming with tears as she read the words.
My darling, I’m sorry. I love you.
Short, but full of meaning to Stephanie as she held the note to her heart, her eyes closing, tears rolling down her cheeks.
He loved her. He hadn’t left her. He was apologizing when it was she who should be making the apologies.
Sniffing as she wiped at her eyes, she reached for the phone by her bed, dialing his office number. Getting his secretary and being told that he’d taken the day off, she frowned. Was he still home? Shaking her head, she hung up, shrugging her shoulders as she turned her attention to the meal Eric had prepared for her. All of her favorite things, fixed just as she liked them. Lifting the rose, she held it to her nose, inhaling its gentle fragrance as she thought about the man that had given it to her.
For so many years she loved him. For some of those years, her love had been one sided. Now it seemed that her love was one sided again, although in a different way. She loved him as she always had, only differently. His love seemed to be one sided as well. He loved her as she’d always wanted him to, but she couldn’t give him what he needed.
What a mess they were in.
Eric heard her bedroom door open then close and smiled. She’d have read his note by now, and probably called his office to talk to him only to find he’d taken the day off. Then she’d hang up and pick up the rose and hold it to her nose, slowly taking in the fragrance. She’d wonder if he was still home but decide against coming down to find out. Of course when she did come down, he wouldn’t be home.
He’d made up his mind that he was going to spend some time thinking. He needed time to understand what was happening in their lives. Time to come to terms with the fact that Stephanie felt uncomfortable around him.
He needed time to prepare himself to love her no matter what. To prepare himself for what may well be his greatest struggle yet.
He, Eric Forrester was going to woo Stephanie back. But not in his usual way. And to do what he planned he had to clear his mind of all of the thoughts of hurt and anger and neglect.
Picking up his keys, he quietly slipped out the front door. He’d show her. In the silence that seemed to surround them now, he’d prove that he loved her as he always should have.