Steve stood looking out the window, allowing Kayla to digest everything he had told her. They had come back to his hotel room for the privacy it offered. He would have loved to see Stephanie but knew that was asking too much given the circumstances. He had taken a risk and told her everything. It felt like an albatross had been removed from his body and soul. He was not sure Kayla was as relieved as he was.
He raked his fingers through his hair, something he had done repeatedly while they talked. He turned to face her, determined not to be any more of a coward then he already had been. She was staring at the empty glass in her hand, having emptied it of its contents while he was not looking. He had not brought her to his room with the intention of getting her drunk but sometime during his story the mini-bar his room offered had appealed to both of them.
She had chosen a small bottle of white zinfandel wine while he had gone straight to the hard stuff, whiskey with a little bit of water to lessen its potency. He needed to keep his head about him, his mind clear. Oddly, it was being near her again that tempted him to drink again. He had abstained from alcohol and any other vices that might take his mind off his job. The tension could be cut with a knife it was so thick.
"Why did you come back?"
"I read about your mom and I had to come."
"But what about all of the other times we've needed help? What about leaving me with an infant to take care of by myself?"
"I did it for you and for Stephanie. I've avoided reading anything about Salem. It's the only way I could do it."
She ran a fingertip along the rim of her glass apparently thinking over his words. "And you just expect to pick back up where we left off?"
"No, Sweetness. A man can hope that his wife would take him back no matter what, but I know it's too much to ask under these circumstances."
"What do you want then?"
"I'd like to see our daughter."
"And just leave again? I can't do that to her, Steve. I don't think she would recover from finding out you're alive only to lose you again."
"I don't have to leave again. I've done more than what I was recruited to do. I've worked like a dog for them. Besides, it's the DiMira's I want to get my hands on."
"And that's supposed to ease my mind? I won't let you do it, Steve. I won't let you come back into my life, enter Stephanie's with a grudge on your shoulder like when we first met."
"That was different."
"Was it?" Her eyes met his. She was refusing to back down.
He had come to Salem for revenge against Bo. He wanted DiMira in an entirely different way, revenge was not a factor. At least not a large one. People had tried for years to bring that family down. Steve just wanted the pain and suffering to stop, particularly for those in Salem. For those he loved.
"I was a different man then."
"Since then. Of course I have. You changed me."
"No, since you left. I see it in your eye."
"I don't know that I've changed. I'm the same man who left here, I don't love you any less. If anything I love you more."
"Don't say that."
"It's the truth."
"If you loved me so much you would not, could not, have walked away."
"I was willing to sacrifice my happiness, to know you might remarry and have more children to keep you safe. If that's not love, what is? I was given a job I could not turn down, Kayla. I've done a lot of good. Saved lives of girls not much older than Stephanie from unthinkable situations."
"And you didn't think I had a say in things? That maybe I'd have let you do your job."
"Not under the circumstances. If I took the job and died it wouldn't matter. I was already dead as far as the people I cared most about knew. I had assurances you would be safe. But if you knew I was still alive you would have been a weakness. Someone could have found out about you and used that information against me."
"Meanwhile, the rest of my family has been raked over the coals."
"That's not my fault."
She sighed heavily, placing her empty glass on the nightstand next to the bed. "I know it's not. It's late and this is a lot for me to accept."
"Can I see her? Even without her seeing me or knowing I'm here?"
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She was thinking about it. It was better than a straight no. "You can come over for dinner tomorrow night. If I call you tomorrow and cancel you have to honor that. She's a teenaged girl I can't guarantee I'll get the chance to talk to her."
"Does she do well in school?"
"Yes," Kayla said simply, though Steve could hear the pride in his wife's voice.
"Will there be someone else there?"
"Who else would be there?"
He shrugged slightly. "A husband?"
"I'm not married. I never could. I came close once but couldn't do it."
He stepped toward her, cupping her face with the palm of his hand. He caught a tear with the pad of his thumb as it slid down her cheek. "I'm sorry."
"Don't," she whispered, her lower lip trembled as if she was fighting the urge to cry harder. "I know you are. That's what makes this so hard. Don't you see?"
He never claimed to have a good knowledge of women beyond the bedroom. He did not understand what she was trying to say. He shook his head afraid he would say the wrong thing if he spoke.
"I know the man you became before you died. Left," she shook her head, freeing herself of his tender hold. He let his hand drop to his side, disappointed not to be able to touch her. "I know you didn't do anything to hurt me. Or Stephanie. That's the hardest part of this. I believe you thought you were doing the right thing. And I can understand the safety thing. My brothers are cops after all so I understand the risks. I'm not sure Stephanie will understand all of this, though. All she knows is that she grew up without a father. We lived in California until recently so Bo and Roman being cops never overlapped into her world or posed a threat to her."
"Why did you move back?"
"Is he okay?"
She shrugged. "Besides being heartbroken you mean? He's lost without Mom." She wiped the tears from her cheeks and took a deep breath. "Listen, I need to get home to Stephanie. You can come to dinner tomorrow night, but call first to make sure I've had the chance to tell her."
"Okay, I need your number, though."
She picked up the ballpoint pen and pad of paper next to the bedside phone and wrote her number down. He watched her amazed at the way she was taking this. Maybe she was not taking it so well and that was the reason she wanted to get away from him. To breakdown away from him. He had to let her have the space she needed. Tomorrow, though, he would start with the full court press to get her to accept him back into her life permanently.
"I'll see you tomorrow then." She gathered her coat and draped it over her arm, walking to the door. She was leaving and he had to let her do that as much as he hated it.
"Can I bring anything?"
She smiled then, regarding him. He let her look her fill. He was glad he had not let himself go over the years like so many other men in the Bureau had. "No, just yourself." There was a warning in her eyes he read loud and clear. If he did not show up she would see to it personally that his next funeral was real.
"See you then. Good night."
"Good night, Steve."
And just like that she was gone and his world seemed suddenly less bright than it had a moment ago. He sat on the bed, the indentation from where she sat still fresh and warm. He picked up the phone then and dialed a number he knew by heart.
"Director Gooding, please. This is Agent Hutchins, Badge number 5206835."
"Anthony, what can I do for you today? I thought you were on vacation, though I had to visit your office to verify you were really gone. Knock me over with a feather when I got that request on my desk."
"Yes, I'm really on vacation. That's why I'm calling."
"Okay, what's up?"
"Can you turn that vacation into my resignation?"
"Any way I can talk you out of it? We need you out there, Anthony. You're my top agent in your area. I've left you in so long because of that. If you're burnt out and just need time, we can arrange for that. Take all the time you need."
"No, I don't need time. I need my life back."
"This is kind of sudden, isn't it, Anthony? Why don't you take forty-eight and think it over. If you still feel this way in a few days, call me back."
Steve pinched the bridge of his nose, shutting his eyes. "I don't think I'll change my mind, but yeah I can call back."
"Really think about it, Anthony. It would be a shame to lose you. I'd feel better if I knew this wasn't a rash decision."
"Thank you, sir."
"I hope to hear a different tune at the end of the week."
"Yes, sir," he said and hung up the phone. He turned to lie on the bed then, kicking off his leather loafers and letting them drop to the floor in an unorganized heap. He reclined, resting his head against the flimsy hotel pillow. "I'm not going back," he whispered as his eyes drifted closed.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com