Be strong enough to stand alone,
smart enough to know when you need help,
and brave enough to ask for it.”
Willow Creek Taste of Florence Fine Italian Dining Restaurant
Almost a week after the abruptly ended stint in the woods, Vivien smiled up at the man across the dinner table as he excused himself from the table when almost instantly someone else from seemingly out of nowhere suddenly plopped down in her date’s seat.
“I am sorry, this seat is … oh my god, Liam!”
“In the flesh. Fancy meeting you here, Miss Vatore, didn’t even realize you were in town again. Or still. I see our Dr. Abuse’s offer was just too irresistible to you after all. You actually called him. Tssk!”
“What are YOU doing here?! And also, Gary’s name is Geruse and you damn well know it. And yes, we are on a date, which means two people is the limit. So goodbye Liam. For your info though, Gary is very nice, a true gentleman. You may want to look that word up, it’s pretty big. Almost as big as your head, but not even remotely as huge as your ego. Then again, few things are, none come to mind.”
“I got a word for you to look up: bed-warmer. That’s what you are to him. You don’t think he’s serious about you? He’s probably texting all his doctor friends that he has been nailing the world-famous singer ViVa. Should make him an instant celebrity in his backwoods clinic, and probably the village he’s from too.”
“For your information, he has not nailed me, nor does he know who I really am. To him I am simply Vivien and he hasn’t pressed the issue. He is, as I said, a gentleman.”
Liam snorted a laugh. Vivien was instantly rubbed wrong.
“If you are suffocating, gargling, or whatever that disrespectful noise was supposed to be, can you do that elsewhere, you Neanderthal? I would like to enjoy myself tonight.”
“If you are looking for a relaxing good time, a date with Dr. Morose is not gonna be it. Ever thought the reason he doesn’t push to know more about you could be that he simply doesn’t care, because all he ultimately wants is in your pants?! It was a long shot for someone like him to get the attention of a woman like you, but you bit and now he is all hot and bothered for more, still unable to comprehend his sheer luck that you seem interested. Be careful not to get into something you are not wanting to be in, Vivien. Then again, should be no problem for you considering how you are used to running, by now you’d probably put a Hussein Bolt to shame. Even in heels.” Liam told her, unamused.
“Ah yeah? Well, if you could behave like a person, not a caveman, people might stick around longer. Nobody needs your sarcasm – and cynicism isn’t such a good look on you either.” Vivien’s tone was pointy.
“Strange, considering that until recently you kept harassing me to talk. Now I am here trying to talk to you and you want me to leave. You don’t even know what you want. Seems a common theme with you. I am downright flabbergasted you are still here and I am not left looking at another dust cloud settling in your wake after you ran – AGAIN.”
“Harassing you? You are so full of yourself!” Vivien said a little too loud and shrill, glaring at Liam, while tears tried to come, but she suppressed them. She wanted to seem strong and unfazed, not realizing everything about her screamed otherwise. Liam looked around to make sure they weren’t creating a scene.
“Let’s get out of here before Dr. Verbose comes back. You do not need to be on a date with that tool.” he suggested.
“Not in a million years would I even dream of ditching Gary in the middle of a date! What do you take me for?!” Vivien hissed across the table, trying to not draw attention again.
“Vivien, his intentions aren’t good. He plans to nail you and that is all there is to it. I’d have a lot of money on him even being married with kids. The fact he chose this place and that particular wine – I think this was your third bottle – of which he had the lion share, tells me that will be tonight. Liquid courage for him and delicious anesthesia – and in his book probably also aphrodisiac – for you. In case you haven’t noticed, he has been in the bathroom for an eternity. That bitch is probably spraying deodorant in places you don’t want to think about, while throwing in some blue pills, making sure they work before he comes back out here. You sure you are ready for that? Cos I am not sure you will have too much of a choice, if I am reading him right. I really don’t think you are THAT desperate to get laid to be this dressed up only to end up with that medical snot rag behind some bushes knocking dem boots.”
“What’s it to you? And don’t just be so arrogant to assume all men are pigs like you!”
“Me, a pig? Not in the slightest! I am always very clear and upfront with my intentions, if a girl goes along with that, that’s on her. But okay, Viv, you do you, I just don’t want you to run into something you may not want, considering your delicate mental state.”
“My mental state is excellent, thank you very much! Which is why I am leaving! I can feel my IQ dropping just talking to you!”
Vivien was apparently fuming, jumped up.
“And there she goes again, ready to run. Surprised you lasted this long, bet your feet have been itching this entire time. Anyway, if I am right about Dr. Overdose, call me. If you still have my number that is.”
“Does it matter? You never pick up anyway.”
“I would tonight.” Liam’s tone was different, calming Vivien’s anger slightly.
“Yeah, right. Don’t wait up for my call though, I will probably be too busy having a wonderful date with a wonderful, accomplished man.”
“Who is twice your age and about as attractive as a rhino’s butthole. And about as thrilling.”
“A wonderful mature man, with a career that is important to him, a meaningful career saving lives. And unlike YOU, I am not so shallow to only look at the outside of people.”
Vivien turned around and stomped off.
San Myshuno Senator Suites Apartments - Penthouse
Some hours later the tables had turned, when after a frantic call from a state park bathroom, in which Vivien had locked herself trying to get away from Dr. Geruse’s intoxicated advances, who then in turn just left her there, stranded, Liam had broken speed limits to find her, then taken her back to his penthouse, where she just got out of the shower mostly to wash off the scare, since luckily nothing serious had happened. When she saw one of Liam’s shirts laid out for her she pulled it up to her face and deeply inhaled the scent of the man she loved so much, before slipping it on. The fact that he had been in the room while she was in the shower gave her goosebumps. Once upon a time he wouldn’t have resisted joining her … Vivien! she reprimanded herself.
She went downstairs, and as expected, found him in the kitchen, the delicious, homely scent of coffee in the air, warming Vivien from the inside by just smelling it. Home … she thought.
“Only a Cameron would think to make coffee in the middle of the night …” she smiled as she stepped off the last step.
“… and only a Vatore would drink a cup. Feel better now?” he turned to smile at her, his tone was soft and caring, felt like medicine to Vivien.
“Yes, thank you, but I think I still need something stronger than coffee.”
“All right, I can make that happen. How much stronger? Wine? Liqueur? Or the real hard stuff?”
“Strongest you got.”
“Coming up. Let’s get you on the couch. Want a blanket?”
She shook her head, then Vivien took their coffee cups over to the couch while Liam went to get the alcohol, returning with two glasses and the bottle of the Bourbon he liked. One sip of it felt like hot lava down Vivien’s throat, but it did help calm her, so she chugged down two glasses till Liam cut her off.
“Let’s pump the brakes for a moment, no use drinking this like a fish inhales ocean water. Have some coffee instead.”
“Sorry. This is now the second time in my life that I almost got raped trying to spite you. Still feels every bit as bad. And I feel like a fool.”
“Don’t feel bad. Dr. Screwloose should feel like a fool, and I assure you, he will, once he gets mail from my law firm. My letter will make him shit broken toys. Say what you will, Vivien, but I am not gonna stand for letting this fly under the radar. Think of his patients. Who knows what he has been up to with them.”
“You’re right. He needs to be held responsible. And by that I mean I want him skinned alive. It was so bad. He just drove into the countryside until there was nothing but trees, then he parked and got all pushy and grabby and … urgh. Luckily Caelan taught me a few things. Our Dr. Abuse will not be eating right for days, so much is certain. I was lucky there was one of those nasty public restrooms nearby. And that my cell phone had coverage to call you. Thank you for picking up this time, too. And for … everything.”
“No need to thank me. I said I would. Also, cheers to Caelan for teaching you whatever he did. And to your bravery and quick thinking.”
“Undeserved. If I thought at all I would have listened to you. Or at least I would not have gotten in his car. He was clearly intoxicated. This one is on me, at least partially. The rest is him being a nasty swine.”
With a loud sigh Liam stretched out next to her, then rubbed his face with both hands, before he spoke.
“So, let’s talk. You have been wanting to talk, but I wasn’t ready yet. Ready now, unless it’s too late now.”
“I don’t know. It may be too late. So much has happened. You already replaced me anyway …”
His head snapped around to her.
“Replaced you?! How could I replace you?”
“The girl from the cabin. And … Lana.”
“Vivien, I told you, Lana is a friend. I respect her greatly, on many levels, even admire her. But I do not sleep with her. Nor does she want that anymore. Her asking me to help with the baby thing was just an act of desperation, spoken out of frustration. Not something to be taken serious and logic dictates that it wouldn’t have worked anyway, considering she and the old Bagley are both blond, I am obviously not and I also obviously carry some dominant gene or I wouldn’t have been born as the only dark haired kid to a blond and a light-brown haired parent, among two blonde siblings, meaning if I ever procreate, you can set your watch that the child will be dark haired for sure. As for the girl at the cabin, well, what can I say. I was single, I like sex and a lot of it. Seemed like a good fit at the time.”
“So back to your old ways?”
“That was the idea, but I think I have outgrown that. Wasn’t working for me. For what it’s worth, nothing happened that night with Sybil. I realized in time that I need something steady. Someone reliable. Not random flings. Guess I am maturing.”
“You mean you want someone who doesn’t run. And someone to have a baby with.” saying the last part stung terribly.
“I am not looking for someone to have a baby with, Vivien. You are missing the point by a mile. I do not want a baby. I wanted a baby with YOU. Big difference, but not something I will discuss now. You are right about the other thing though. I need someone who doesn’t drop everything and run at the slightest sign of adversity. That is awful, you really hurt me with that. But not even remotely as much as you did by throwing the ring in my face. That was the very last straw.”
“I know. I know you said you don’t want and don’t care about apologies, but I would really like to tell you I quickly realized what a terrible thing that was. I didn’t mean to do that. You did not deserve that. I am VERY sorry I did that. More than I can find words for.”
“Thank you, that actually does mean something to hear you say that.”
“Well, as long as we are honest, and you are receptive, I would also like to say that I miss you terribly. I still love you and …”
“Vivien, don’t!” Liam warned, there was something final in his tone.
“So, only a little truth? Convenient truth?”
“No. Only so much truth as we both can handle. Look, this isn’t and has never been about loving each other. I know we both love each other. But sometimes, that just isn’t enough. I cannot trust you, Vivien. A relationship, ANY serious relationship I would want to be in would have to be stable, reliable. To me, relationships are optional, not mandatory, I am perfectly fine on my own, god knows I am busy enough at work. Being with someone to me is a choice, which, if made, has to be a sound one. I cannot constantly live with the worry that whenever I would need you the most, you’d just be gone, run away. Just leave me when I wanted to depend on you the most. In a relationship worth considering for me, we would have to be able to talk, even about the uncomfortable and unpleasant topics, and even argue every once in a while. Relationships aren’t fairytales. Especially not the more serious and the older they get. There will be good times and there will be discord. A healthy relationship needs to be able to handle both. Especially should there ever be a child. Which leads to the next sore subject and unsurmountable issue.”
“Leads to another apology I feel I owe you, whether you want it or not. I am sorry I overreacted about the baby topic. I wasn’t listening to your words, felt cornered and lashed out. That was wrong. I am sorry.”
“Well, we were both wrong. We should have talked about that before we ever got serious. If one wants a child and marriage and the other doesn’t, any relationship is doomed from the start. One of them would have the end up with the full weight of a compromise. That’s just not right or fair.”
“Except I am not so sure anymore that I do NOT want a child … maybe it was just the timing that scared me. Maybe it all scared me. Maybe it still does. But I want you to know that there was a moment while I was touring that I honestly thought I was pregnant with your child, Liam. Truly and honestly thought that and I was fine with it. Maybe even a little excited and happy. Until I confirmed I wasn’t, then I totally fell apart, it all turned out just to be a virus and my appendix. I was devastated. If you do not believe me, ask my dad. He was there for it all, start to finish, including the pregnancy test. He was the one who actually bought it for me, his idea too, when it didn’t even occur to me that all the puking I was doing could have been a pregnancy. Dad was also the one who talked me off the ledge when I freaked out after realizing I wasn’t pregnant at all, even though I never wanted to be, or at least I thought so. Confused yet? Well, join the club. Maybe my dad was right and I need therapy to sort out my noggin, cos if I can’t even make sense of it all anymore …”
Liam was quietly processing her words, before he finally spoke, softly.
“I think I was too pushy too about a topic that had just never come up before, so I probably contributed to your confusion. I wanted to know how you really felt about it, the naked truth, so I pushed and probably pushed too far. That wasn’t right either. Once I noticed how it caught you off-guard, I should have waited for a better time to discuss it calmly, rather than hit you over the head with it like an anvil. I … just really needed to know. And then I …”
He was interrupted by his cell phone ringing, the sound unnaturally loud in the silence of the darkened room making them both wince. Liam got up, pulled his phone from the back pocket of his jeans to check the caller ID, then answered.
“Hey. Nah, I figured it would be one of you guys at this hour. Yeah, she’s here with me. Guess her phone died or something. Wanna talk to her? Okay … no, she’s fine. Had a little trouble with a failed date, called me to come get her. No, none of that, just some entitled dumbass getting cheeky, she handled herself well, otherwise she’s unharmed, not even a scratch. Nothing a hot shower, some Cameron-strength coffee, maybe a little strong booze and a good night’s rest couldn’t fix. No, no tears, she’s a trooper.” Liam spoke, slightly turned away from Vivien.
“Who is that?” she asked.
“Your dad. Says to tell you hi and he loves you.”
“Oh!” Vivien couldn’t have been more surprised.
“Yeah, I agree, makes no sense to be driving out to Windenburg tonight, last ferry over to the isle is long gone now anyway, she can stay here in the guest room. I’ll ask. Viv, are you okay staying here with me overnight? Or do you want us to find you a hotel? We cannot get you back over to Rett & Maeve’s place tonight, unless you felt like swimming.” Liam offered into the conversation.
“No staying here would be … nice, if it’s all the same to you.”
“She’s good with it. Yeah, of course, no problem. She’ll check in with you guys tomorrow. Thanks for letting them know. Bye Blaine.” Liam disconnected the call, slipped the phone back into his pocket.
“Why did my dad call YOU?”
“Guess you didn’t pick up your phone? Old habits? Maybe he already woke up the rest of the family and I was the only one left. Who knows?”
“Oh, crap. I left my phone in the pile of clothes I left in your bathroom. Sorry. And thanks. For … literally everything.”
“Yeah, no problem. Your grandparents got worried when you didn’t come home on the last ferry, so they called your dad. I am just glad you’re all right. Let’s turn in. We both could probably use some rest. Bet after that booze you’ll sleep like a baby anyway.”
Quietly they walked up the stairs together, her hand on the door handle of the guest room, Vivien halted, to watch Liam go into his bedroom, but saw he hesitated as well.
“I am glad you … are … okay, Vivien.” he mumbled without turning around, then opened the door and disappeared in his room quickly.
“I am glad you are talking to me in a civil way again at least … I really missed you more than you will ever know, Liam. I wish you could see yourself through my eyes, you’d be shocked what an amazing man you really are.” Vivien mumbled so quiet only she could hear, before she went into the guest room.
That night she slept better than she had in a long time, telling herself it was the booze, when she knew it wasn’t. It was because she felt like home here at Liam’s penthouse. Even if only in separate bedrooms.
Uncomfortable was her return to her grandparents the next morning, whom she had been staying with. Somehow it all felt like the walk of shame, even though there was no reason to feel that way. Nothing had happened between her and Liam. Or with Gary – luckily.
Before her return to her grandparents’ home, Vivien and Liam had breakfast together, like they used to, then Liam insisted on driving her over to Windenburg to drop her off at the dock for the very first ferry over to the Windenburg Isle, while he had to rush back to San Myshuno for an early work meeting. No kisses, no hugs, and most definitely nothing more.
Once Vivien walked into Rett and Maeve’s place, they were at breakfast, her grandpa was filled with jokes about her ending up at Liam’s after a date with someone else, while Maeve just wasn’t buying the ‘nothing happened’ spiel and continued drilling Vivien for clues she and Liam were back together.
They weren’t … sadly.
But at least he had been nice to her again … finally.