Disclaimer: No, I don’t own Gary, Marissa, Emma, Marco, or the cat. I think y’all know who they belong to by now. No profit is being made from this story.
A great big thank you to Mary Hobson and Tracy Miller for beta reading for me. Feedback is welcome and appreciated.
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The Emma Dilemma
Gary paced his hotel room, locked in an internal struggle that had his stomach in knots. For the first time since his divorce from Marcia, he had dared to risk his heart to a woman. Emma. The first time he saw her at the art museum, he'd noticed she was beautiful, but it was her phone message that melted his heart. It took a lot of guts for her to call every G. Hobson in the book, and leave a message asking him to dinner in that sweet, awkward way of hers. He couldn't help but respond. Then there was the way she forgave him for missing their first date, taking the blame herself when they both knew who was at fault.
She'd had trouble risking her heart as well. Still mourning the death of her first love, Marco, she had tried pushing Gary away at first. He remembered the scene from the park when he convinced her to take a chance with him. They'd held each other tightly, both feeling vulnerable. Now he wondered if he would've been better off letting her go that day.
He thought back on his conversation with Chuck yesterday. He had decided to tell Emma about the paper, he just had to figure out how.
Well, the paper itself had solved that dilemma. When he read the headline this morning saying Emma and Marco were to be reunited at the opera tonight, his heart dropped into his stomach. He felt physically ill.
He knew she wasn't completely over Marco. He was like a ghost that haunted their relationship; the way his name slipped in and out of their conversations, a certain look in her eyes when memories of Marco assaulted her. He wanted to believe that in time the ghost of Marco would be put to rest. Now, he was more than a ghost. He was a man, flesh and blood. A man who, according to the paper, still loved Emma.
Could Gary interfere with a love that strong? He wanted to be selfish for once, believing that he would eventually replace Marco in Emma's heart.
Marissa's words from earlier came back to him. "Gary, you get the paper everyday and you change it, so change this."
What if he did? He thought about it. He could make her happy. He knew he could, but would it be fair asking her to share his life with the paper? And what if she ran into Marco in the future, after his heart was more fully invested? Could he bear it if she chose Marco over him? He remembered the pain of Marcia's rejection. He never wanted to experience that again.
The paper had demanded many things from him. It led, he followed, if somewhat resentfully. But never had it asked him to tear his heart in two--until now. Or was it? Maybe the paper was warning him and he could change it just like Marissa suggested. She was always more sure of these things anyway. Maybe she was right. Maybe.
Here he was, trying to guess what the paper wanted again. Sometimes he wished the cat would just come right out and tell him. After all, was a talking cat any more far-fetched then tomorrow's newspaper arriving a day early?
He thought of Lucius Snow's words. "Live your life". It sounded so simple. Were those the words Snow had lived by, or were they given as advice from a lonely man whose only companions were a cat, a paper, and regret? Gary didn't want to spend the rest of his life alone, living in a hotel room. If he gave up Emma, would there be another chance at happiness? For once he wished he could see further into the future then just the mere glimpse tomorrow's newspaper gave him. He laughed at that ironic thought. It was a harsh, bitter laugh, and the sound of it startled him out of his reverie.
He looked at his watch. It was time to start getting ready or he would be late picking up Emma. The opera had been her idea, and she'd even opted for the cheap seats. He wondered if it had anything to do with Marco.
He put on his tux, struggling with the bow tie. He fought with it as if it was the cause of all his troubles, taking his frustration out in yanks and twists. He hated ties. Finally getting it straight, he headed out the door, still no closer to knowing what he was going to do.
When he saw Emma, his heart skipped a beat. She was so beautiful. She was wearing a red dress that looked . . . . . .well, now it was not just his heart, but his hormones telling him not to let her go. Marissa's words echoed through his head like a record needle stuck in a groove, "so change this, so change this, so change this."
They arrived at the opera. He could feel his chest tighten as the moment of truth drew near. They sipped expensive champagne that Gary barely tasted for the turmoil in his heart. Then, she smiled at him and he knew. He couldn't, wouldn't give her up. Marissa was right. He would change this. Besides, what kind of man was Marco anyway? People change. How could Gary be sure Marco hadn't turned into some kind of monster. It was possible he was doing Emma a favor, sparing her future pain.
With that thought, he grabbed Emma's hand, pulling her toward the exit. They would take a dinner cruise instead. At his suggestion, she gave him a sweet, confused smile that only served to confirm his resolve. He was doing the right thing, he knew it!
As they waited to board the boat, she began to speak of the opera. Gary tried to focus on her words, but his mind was still wrestling with his decision, until suddenly he heard her speak that name. Marco! It fell on his heart like a stone. She had been to the same opera with Marco, and they had sat in the cheap seats. It was too much for his heart to bear and he knew he had to let her go. She didn't really belong to him anyway, and never would. All his feeble arguments lay at his feet in a crumbled heap.
He grabbed her hand again, pulling her back toward the opera. When they reached the staircase, he gave her a lame excuse about needing to make a phone call, then he told her she looked beautiful and kissed her one last time. As he watched her climb the stairs and turn the corner, he saw that she was smiling---unaware that she carried a piece of his broken heart with her.
Gary sat up in bed, jolted awake by an unfamiliar . . . . . . . . .something. He wasn't sure if it was a sound or a feeling or maybe a dream. He glanced at the clock, it was 4:13am. What had awakened him? He looked around the room for clues, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. His clothes lay in a discarded heap on the floor where he'd left them only a few hours before. He stumbled over them as he made his way into the kitchen, the faint glow of the alarm clock the only light in the large loft.
Taking a glass from the shelf, he turned on the water, letting it run for a minute. The sound was strangely soothing to his taut nerves, but the feeling didn't last. He filled the glass and drank it all down in one swallow. It did nothing to erase the creepy sensations written across his soul. Why did people always think a glass of water was the answer to every crisis? he wondered.
Still stumbling around in the dark, he crossed the loft to the bathroom. He flipped the light switch on and immediately regretted it. He groaned and covered his eyes as the light momentarily blinded him. When his eyes had adjusted, he noted that everything in the bathroom was as usual.
Strange! He still couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. Trouble hovered in the air, thickening the atmosphere. He took it into his lungs with every breath, the heaviness settling in his chest.
He sank onto the couch and flipped on the tv, trying to dispel the eeriness. He knew he wouldn't be getting any more sleep tonight anyway. He began channel surfing. Amazing, he thought, sixty-some channels and still nothing good on. He finally settled on a 24 hour news program, watching disinterestedly and lightly dozing now and then, until one particular story captured his attention. It was the breaking story of the assault of an unidentified woman.
He sat up straighter, increasing the volume as he did. He knew, inexplicably, that he was about to get an answer to what had awakened him, and probably a lot more questions. The time at the bottom of the screen indicated it was nearing 6:00am. The newswoman spoke briefly, revealing nothing, but promising more details after the commercial break. He stood and paced impatiently, his thoughts in turmoil, trying to grasp why this story seemed so important to him.
Finally, the commercials ended, and the newswoman reappeared. Gary stopped his pacing, his attention focused intently on the television screen. "Early this morning, an unidentified woman was found wandering through a park in a suburban Indiana town. The woman appears to have been severely beaten and is suffering from amnesia. She has been taken to a local hospital. Police officials have released this photo and are asking for any information. If you know this woman or have any information, please call this number . . . . ."
When Gary saw the picture, he grew pale and sank back again onto the couch. His eyes were wide with shock. There staring back at him from the tv screen like a spectre from the past was none other than Emma Shaw.
Gary continued to stare in shock at the tv screen, unable to believe his eyes. It was Emma. Her hair was cut differently now and she had several bruises on her face, but it was definitely Emma.
He'd only thought of her occasionally in the last few years, but now, seeing her picture brought back a flood of memories, both good and bad. It'd been painful giving her up for Marco, and his heart had not recovered quickly.
He wondered now what had happened to her. What kind of person would beat a sweet woman like Emma? Was it Marco? He once suspected that Marco may have changed from the man Emma had loved so completely. He hoped not. The thought of Gary sending Emma into the arms of the man who beat her sent waves of guilt through him. Please, don't let it be true!, he thought.
He knew he had to help her somehow, but how deeply should he get involved? He didn't want to risk his heart again, but he knew he couldn't let her suffer alone. He picked up the phone to dial the number from the newscast. Just then, he heard the thunk of the paper and the cat outside the door. Momentarily distracted, he set the phone down and rose to get the paper, hoping there would be something in it to shed some light on this Emma situation.
He scanned the headlines. There was nothing concerning Emma. There were only about four or five stories that needed his attention. The most serious was that of an unidentified man who was going to be knifed in an alley. Doesn't anyone carry id anymore? he thought irritably.
Gary skimmed over the article, the time and location of the incident his only concern. It was to take place around 5:45 that evening, giving him plenty of time to worry about Emma.
He picked up the phone again and dialed the number from the tv. After giving his name, he told the woman at the other end of the line what he knew; that her name was Emma Shaw, that he'd last seen her over three years ago, and that he thought she might have married a man named Marco Sanchez. He asked if he could see her, but was informed that only immediate family would be permitted.
He hung up the phone and ran his hands through his hair in frustration. He felt helpless. He thought of Emma lying in a hospital bed with no memory. He tried to imagine what it would be like not to know who he was, to have no memories of the past and no hope for the future, to be completely alone---every face a strangers. The thought was terrifying and only served to increase his worry for her. It also gave him fresh appreciation for the people in his life: Marissa, Chuck, his parents. He silently vowed to tell them more often what they meant to him.
He showered and dressed, donning his black turtleneck sweater and his usual jeans. The weariness was creeping up on him. Hoping some caffeine would ward off his exhaustion, he headed downstairs for coffee with Marissa, knowing she would sense his turmoil immediately. For a blind woman, she had amazing vision. She always could see right into his soul. For once, he welcomed her interference.
Marissa was in the kitchen pouring him a cup of coffee. He took it from her hand and kissed her lightly on the cheek, noting the shock that registered on her face.
"Good morning", he said, his voice scratchy with fatigue.
"Good morning to you too. What was that all about?" she asked, hand to her cheek where he'd kissed her.
"What?" he asked innocently, knowing full well to what she was referring.
"Gary, what's wrong? You sound exhausted."
They sat down at their usual table in the bar and he unburdened himself, feeling a small measure of relief. Marissa was a good listener, and usually a well-spring of sound advice. His relief was short-lived, however, as apparently the well had dried up.
"Oh Gary, that's terrible! Poor Emma. She must be so frightened. You have to go to her Gary, you have to help her."
"What am I supposed to do? The police aren't allowing visitors unless they're immediate family." As he spoke, he ran his hand over the back of his neck, a sure sign of his frustration. "Besides, I've still got this to take care of." He slapped the paper down on the table between them.
"Is there anything in there about Emma?" she asked.
"Nothing! Believe me, I already checked." He looked at his watch, realizing it was time to go make his first save of the day. He glanced at Marissa, about to tell her, when she interrupted him.
"Yeah, I know Gary. You gotta go. Be careful."
He grabbed up the paper and headed out the door, wondering how it was Marissa could read him so well. It wasn't long though, before Emma once again consumed his thoughts.
Emma awoke feeling confused and disoriented. She looked around the room at the unfamiliar surroundings. It was a hospital, that much she knew.
In fact, it was the only thing she knew. Her mind was empty of everything except fear and uncertainty, and a vague recollection of being brought here the night before. She couldn't even remember her own name.
Her body ached, but the source of the pain was another mystery. She only knew that it felt unfamiliar and she took a small amount of comfort in that fact. She looked at the identification bracelet on her wrist. It read Jane Doe. Apparently, no one else knew who she was either. She felt the full weight of hopelessness crashing down upon her. The tears began to rain down her cheeks, turning into a storm of sobs that grew louder and more intense until she was choking and coughing. She wondered if it was possible to choke to death on grief. She almost hoped it was.
Her crying drew the attention of one of the nurses, who came in and tried to calm her. As she quieted, she asked tremulously, "What happened to me?"
"Well", replied the nurse, "we're not exactly sure. It appears you were beaten. A police officer found you wandering in a park. Trauma, like you've suffered, often causes memory loss. In most cases the memory returns in time. Try to get some rest." She patted Emma's hand as if she were a child and left the room.
Emma tried to reach into the deepest recesses of her mind for some clue to her identity. There was nothing. Nothing! It was like a dense fog had settled over her memory and her only hope was that the fog would soon lift. Don't I have any family or friends? she wondered. Isn't there someone who wants to claim me? The tears threatened to spill over again. This time she let them fall quietly, not wishing to alert that patronizing nurse. It wasn't long before she cried herself to sleep.
Gary rushed into the street trying to flag down a taxi. He had to get across town in 20 minutes or there would be a dead man with a knife wound lying in an alley. He'd tried all day not to think of Emma. It would've been easier trying to stop the wind from blowing off the lake. His distraction had cost him precious time, and now as usual, he was running late for a save.
Finally, after trying the full-proof Chuck method, he was successful. He climbed into the cab, promising the driver an extra $20 if he could get him to the alley on time. They sped off, reaching the alley with only minutes to spare. Gary threw the money at the cabbie and jumped out. The sounds of men scuffling echoed toward him. He ran in the direction of the noise, spotting two men beating a third. Then suddenly, he caught the gleam of a knife.
"Hey!" he yelled, "I've already called the police." He hoped the bluff would be enough to scare them away, because he didn't have a plan B.
The sound of Gary's voice arrested their attention. The two thugs
stared down the alley at him, as if deliberating his fate. Then
suddenly they turned and ran around the corner, disappearing from sight. The third man was leaning against the side of the building, doubled over. Gary reached him and offered his hand, helping him to his feet.
"You all right?" he asked. The man's face seemed vaguely familiar. He was almost as tall as Gary, with brown eyes and hair, and a smooth olive complexion. His clothes, although a little tattered from the fight, were clearly expensive. He glanced nervously over Gary's shoulder, his eyes filled with fear.
"Yes, I'm fine. Thank you." And with that he ran down the
alley without a backward glance, leaving a stunned Gary behind.
"You're welcome." Gary spoke the words to himself while running his hand over the back of his neck. He should be used to people just running off like that by now, but he wasn't. He glanced around the alley. It was creepy, and he decided to follow the other man's example. As he ran out of the alley, he felt the shadows chasing him, reaching toward him with menacing fingers. When he reached the street, he slowed, comforted by the sight of everyday people going about their everyday lives.
Later, back at McGinty's, Gary sat down at the bar with Marissa. She'd kept an ear on the news all day, but there was no new word on Emma. She tried to comfort him with the old cliche---"No news is good news, right?" It was a feeble attempt and she knew it , but the right words, if there were such things, eluded her.
He responded with a grunt. It was more telling that anything he could've said. She knew him so well. He wore his worry like a second skin that only she could see.
"Gary, maybe you should try calling the police again. Maybe they've got some new information."
It was a long-shot, but he decided to give it a try. Anything was better than sitting around worrying.
Gary and Emma were standing in the park in the same spot where he'd convinced her to give him a chance several years before. People were all around, moving as if they were in fast-forward. He reached out to here again, just like before, and she collapsed in his arms as if her reservoir of strength had just been drained. It felt so good to touch her. He vowed he'd never let anyone hurt her again. Suddenly, the sky went black and it started raining as if the heavens were in a hurry to empty themselves. Gary tried desperately to shelter Emma from the rain, but the more he tried pulling her close, the further away she got. Hands that didn't seem to be attached to anything were tearing her out of his arms. He reached for her again, realizing then that it was not rain, but Emma's tears that fell from the sky. Her cries tore at his heart, but he was helpless against the strength of those disembodied arms. He screamed her name, but she was gone and he was left standing alone in the storm of her tears.
Gary awoke from the dream shaking and sweat-soaked. After his pointless phone call to the police the evening before, he had given himself a stern lecture, managing to convince himself that at least Emma was safe now, and that his worry was only causing added problems. Despite his resolve, he'd spent the night tossing and turning. He had finally fallen asleep sometime after 3am, only to be awakened by the nightmare a few hours later.
He climbed into the shower, letting the water wash away the remnants of the dream along with his sweat. He knew he had to get a grip on his emotions or God knows what would happen. Distractions were a liability when it came to dealing with the paper.
Not especially eager to start the day, he stayed in the shower longer than usual. Finally, he emerged, feeling only slightly better. He poured himself a bowl of cereal, leaving the milk out for the cat's impending presence. The alarm went off, heralding the arrival of the paper and it's feline deliverer.
Once again, the paper was silent on the issue of Emma. There were several saves to be made again. It was all the usual stuff; a child getting injured on a playground, a grill fire at a local fast food joint, etc. A story about a man drowning after being thrown into Lake Michigan caught his eye. According to the article it was going to happen around 6:30pm, just after dark. He hated these kinds of saves the most. It was always difficult to formulate a plan for stopping something that wasn't an accident. In fact, he usually just jumped in with no plan of action.
The doctor came into Emma's room that morning smiling and whistling. His constant cheeriness did nothing to raise her spirits. In fact, it had the opposite effect. She turned away from him, but he seemed not to notice. He looked into her eyes with his penlight and asked how she was feeling. She almost laughed in his face at that question, wondering how he would react if she answered him truthfully. After a few moments, he dropped a bombshell, telling her that physically she was well enough to be released. They couldn't justify keeping her any longer. Her release was scheduled for the next morning.
She'd hated being in the hospital, but now the thought of going out into the unknown world was more terrifying. Where did they expect her to go, she wondered. What was she to do? Her tiny, ugly little hospital room suddenly seemed like heaven on earth.
The police had informed her that they had only received one response from all the news broadcasts. It was from a man named Gary Hobson. He'd said her name was Emma Shaw, and from that information, the police had discovered she was married to a man named Marco Sanchez, who was missing. The hospital personnel had begun calling her Emma. She'd clung to the name like a lifeline, hoping it was the beginning of discovering herself, although none of the information had sparked her memory.
Tomorrow morning loomed frighteningly before her. She began to formulate a plan of action. It was the only thing that would keep her from going insane.
Gary ran toward the water's edge where three men were struggling.
The situation was eerily similar to last night's save in the alley.
He was about to find out just how similar. He shouted out once again,
and all three faces turned in his direction. As Gary faced them down,
he realized that they were the same three men from last night. Well,
Gar, you've got their attention, now what? he thought. Just
then a couple strolling hand in hand came into view. The two men loosened
their hold on their victim and took off again, the prospect of more witnesses
scaring them off. Gary breathed a prayer of relief and took a few steps
toward the third man, feeling that same sense of vague recognition he'd felt the night before.
He helped the man to his feet, keeping his hand firmly around the man's arm. He wasn't letting this guy get away this time, at least not without some answers first.
Marissa sensed Gary coming into the bar, and she knew he wasn't alone. She turned in his direction expectantly.
"Yeah Marissa, it's me. This is . . . ." He suddenly realized he hadn't gotten the man's name.
"Just call me Joe", the man answered.
"Nice to meet you, Joe." It was clear to both Marissa and Gary that this guy was hiding something and that Joe wasn't his real name. He glanced around the room warily, like a caged animal.
Gary hadn't gotten much out of him on the way back to McGinty's, but it was obvious that he was in trouble. When he'd suggested calling the police, "Joe" had panicked. He would have taken off again if Gary hadn't promised not to call them. If Marissa found out that little piece of information, she'd have his head. As it was, he wasn't too pleased with himself, but his curiosity and desire to help had overwhelmed his better judgment. He'd promised "Joe" a place to stay for the night.
Gary led the way up the stairs to his loft, a battle-weary "Joe" straggling behind. As soon as they came through the door, Joe pushed past Gary and crashed on the couch. He fell asleep almost immediately. Gary wondered when the last time was that the man had a full night's rest. He had the urge to follow suit and crash on the bed, but he knew he should get back downstairs and help out Marissa in the bar. Besides, he knew she was waiting for some explanation about Joe, and if he didn't get down there, she'd only come upstairs after him.
The next morning, Gary was awakened by the alarm. After his talk with Marissa, he had gone upstairs and collapsed, sleeping soundly for the first time in days. Physical exhaustion had finally conquered mental turmoil. He stumbled toward the door and retrieved the paper, when he noticed that Joe was gone. Running his hand over the back of his neck in frustration, he stared at the couch intently, as if by staring he could produce the now vanished Joe.
Scanning the headlines, a picture of Joe caught his eye. The article stated that the police were seeking the man, Marco Sanchez, for questioning. There were no words to describe the shock that went through Gary at the sudden realization that only last night he'd harbored Marco, Emma's husband, and that he'd saved his life twice. He sank down on the couch, his mind a jumble of questions and confusion.
A half hour later, Gary emerged from the shower. Aside from the
article on Marco, the paper was strangely silent. He couldn't remember
the last time he'd had a day off. Too bad he couldn't enjoy it.
He was determined to find Marco and get to the bottom of this whole mess.
As he was contemplating where to start, a knock sounded on his door. There's
Marissa here to lecture me some more about not calling the police last night,
he thought. He'd been right about her reaction to that decision.
Her lectures were born out of her concern for him, so he tried not to resent
them too much. Still, he'd felt like a child being
scolded by his mother.
He opened the door, prepared for the sight of Marissa, cane in hand. Instead, there stood Emma, looking lost and slightly hopeful. His heart nearly pounded out of his chest at the sight of her. He just stood there staring at the fading bruises on her beautiful face, unsure what to say.
"Are you Gary Hobson?" she asked. There was no recognition in her eyes when she said his name. In her grasp she clutched a page that she'd torn from the phone book, which listed all the G. Hobsons in Chicago.
After a brief pause, Gary realized that she'd asked him a question.
"Uh, yeah, I'm Gary." He was still staring like a deer caught in headlights.
"Do you know me?" she asked, her voice tinged with hope.
"Yes, Emma." Her name came out barely above a whisper. He carefully gauged her reaction when he spoke it. She seemed relieved to hear it, and yet a little wary, as if he were a stranger, which in a way, he was.
He was still standing there looking at her, longing to pull her into his arms, when he came to his senses. He gave himself a mental kick, and invited her in. She entered and sat down on the couch stiffly, like she was ready to bolt at any moment.
"Shouldn't you be in the hospital?" he asked, concern evident in his eyes.
"They released me this morning. The police wanted to take me to a halfway house, but I refused. I came here instead. I ........was hoping .............I don't know what I was hoping, but you're the only one who gave any information on me. I can't remember anything. I wouldn't even know my own name if you hadn't called the police. Do you know my husband also? They said he was missing." Her words came out in a rush, as if she couldn't say them fast enough.
Oh boy! Gary thought. He wasn't sure how much he should tell her, or where he should even start. She looked so lost and vulnerable, he was having a hard time taming his wildly beating heart and his straying thoughts. He stood and started pacing, running his hand over the back of his neck.
The gesture sent a brief flash of memory through Emma. It seemed so sweetly familiar to her. Like a child trying to capture a bird, she tried to hold onto it, but it flew away on swift wings.
She continued to watch him as he paced. From the moment he'd spoken to her about being in the hospital, she'd known she could trust him. How could anyone with eyes like that not be trustworthy. She wondered if they had known each other romantically. The thought made her blush.
Finally, Gary stopped his pacing and sat down. He decided he would just tell her everything. If he were in her shoes, he would want to know.
Some time later, Emma stood and walked to the window, staring out at the world but not really seeing. The story Gary had just told her was overwhelming. He'd sort of glossed over the part where they'd dated, but she could see in his eyes that he'd been hurt deeply when she'd gone back to Marco.
She wondered what kind of man Marco must be that he would cause her to leave Gary. She couldn't imagine anyone that special. Even in this brief time she felt a strange connection to this man with the puppy dog eyes. She was fighting a strong desire to throw herself into his arms and never let go.
The thought that the stranger that everyone referred to as her husband had been in this very room only hours before was somewhat unsettling. The prospect of meeting him was frightening, especially considering that he was in some kind of trouble. Did that trouble involve her? Was he the one who had beaten her? She wrapped her arms around herself, shivering, but not from cold. The fragile thread of her sanity began to unravel. Before she could stop them, the tears started to fall again.
Gary had sat quietly watching her, wondering what was going through her mind. When she started crying, it was more than he could bear. Without a second thought, he stood and put his hands on her shoulders, turning her towards him. She collapsed willingly into his arms, her body shaking with sobs. He held her tightly, his heart breaking at the sound of her sorrow.
Emma awoke to find herself on Gary's couch. She looked around the loft, but he wasn't there. Wandering back toward the window, she saw darkness descending over the city. She felt as if she were witnessing a metaphor of her life the last few days. Her eyes felt swollen from all their crying and her stomach growled, reminding her that she hadn't eaten all day.
Just then, Gary entered carrying a sandwich and a glass of milk for her. She smiled shyly, suddenly feeling embarrassed at how she'd thrown herself into his arms earlier and how good it felt. She sat down to eat, thinking how sweet he was, among other things. Her face flushed at the turn of her thoughts.
Gary was feeling a little awkward himself. He'd just come from talking to Marissa. She wasn't surprised that he offered to let Emma stay with him. She was glad Emma was safe, but she was worried about Gary's heart getting broken. She was quick to remind him that Emma was married. As if he needed reminding, after all, Marco had slept on his couch only the night before.
When he told Marissa that "Joe" had turned out to be Marco, her jaw had dropped and she was rendered speechless for a moment. Then she had repeated her lecture of the night before about how he should've called the police.
"Gary?" Emma's voice broke into his thoughts.
"Thank you ........for everything", she said, shyly placing her hand over his.
"You're welcome", he whispered, meeting her eyes with his, his hand tingling from the contact.
Marco peered through the dingy curtains of his sleazy motel room. There was no one lurking outside, so he allowed himself to relax for a few minutes. He sank down on the bed and closed his eyes, wondering if he'd ever see Emma again. He'd wanted so badly to go to her in the hospital, but she was safer without him.
Sleep eluded him, so instead of counting sheep, he began to count his regrets, which were many. He regretted letting greed take control of his life. He regretted faking his death eleven years ago. At the time, he'd thought that it was better for Emma to think him dead, than to know the truth. And it would've been, if only he'd stayed dead. He regretted going to the opera almost four years ago where he'd run into her again. He should've walked away from her that night, but once again, he'd been greedy, greedy for her love, greedy for her touch. Now he also regretted getting her embroiled in the mess that his life had become. He never could live up to the image she had of him anyway. She'd built him up in her mind so much when she'd thought he was dead, but he always fell short of her ideal. It was just one more thing to regret.
Starting from the night Bertolli had sent one of his goons to steal a painting that Emma was working on, trouble had been Marco's constant companion. God knows what would've happened to Emma that night, if it weren't for Gary Hobson's interference. Ironically, that's what made him decide to see her again at the opera, his jealousy of Hobson.
All he wanted to do now was go straight, for his sake as well as Emma's, but Mr. Bertolli wasn't about to let him off the hook. He couldn't take the risk of letting Marco go to the authorities, so he'd sent his two goons. First they'd beaten Emma and dropped her off miles away. It was a warning meant to keep Marco in line, but instead it had the opposite effect. He was more determined than ever to escape his life of crime. He just had to figure out a way do it without further endangering Emma.
His thoughts drifted toward Gary Hobson, the man who saved Emma and his own life twice. The irony of the situation was not lost on him. Emma had spoken of Gary often at first, until she realized that Marco resented it. Now he owed Gary his life. If it weren't for his selfishness, Emma would probably be with Gary right now, happily married with two or three children. The thought sent a stab of pain through his heart. He still loved her so much.
If ever there was a man who wished to go back in time and change the course of his life, it was Marco. If he could, he'd never get involved with Leonard "Lenny" Bertolli. He'd never take bribes for authenticating forged art. He'd never fake his death. And most of all, he'd never do anything to hurt Emma. He felt like such a fool for being taken in by Mr. Bertolli all those years ago. He'd looked up to him as a "father-figure". That thought made him laugh bitterly. His "father-figure" now wanted him dead.
All these thoughts sent a desperate longing through him to see Emma. He knew he had to get out of her life for good, but he at least wanted to say goodbye first, even if she couldn't remember him.
Gary turned off the alarm, hoping it hadn't awakened Emma. He'd hardly slept at all knowing she was right across the room. He'd loaned her one of his flannel shirts to sleep in and when she'd come out of the bathroom wearing it, he nearly swallowed his tongue. The image had imprinted itself on his mind. He had to keep repeating the name Marco like a mantra or he'd be crossing lines with Emma that would only hurt them both in the long run.
He crossed the room quietly, opened the door, and picked up the paper. The cat trotted in, headed straight for the couch, and curled up next to Emma. Gary stood and stared for a moment. It was the first time he ever felt jealous of a cat.
Distracted by the vision of Emma's peaceful repose, he set the paper down without a glance and headed for the shower. When he emerged, wearing his jeans and his beige turtle neck sweater, Emma was standing in his kitchen making coffee. He swallowed hard again, willing his mind not to stray. It wasn't working.
"Good morning", she said with a smile, holding out a cup of coffee for him. She found herself wondering what it would be like to wake up with this man every morning. He smelled fresh, and his hair was still damp from the shower. The urge to run her fingers through it made her blush.
Oh boy! Gary thought. She looked entirely too right standing in his kitchen, wearing his shirt, making him coffee. He swallowed hard again.
"G-Good morning". His voice cracked on the word morning, causing him to blush. He took the proffered coffee, his fingers brushing hers. An electric current went zinging through him at the contact. His blush deepened.
He cleared his throat and asked, "d-did you sleep alright?"
"Yes, I did, thank you." She averted her eyes, embarrassed by her runaway thoughts.
They sipped their coffee in awkward silence for a moment, until the cat pushed the paper off the bed where Gary had left it, drawing their attention.
While Gary gathered up the scattered pages of his newspaper, Emma gathered up her clothes and headed for the shower. She smiled at his obvious aggravation with the cat. He's so cute when he's grumpy, she thought, then quickly reminded herself that she was married, married to a guy she couldn't even remember. It was a sobering thought.
Gary had all the pages except one section upon which the cat was sitting. "Yeah, yeah, I get the message", Gary mumbled, pulling the pages out from under the cat's rump. The headline screamed out at him: ART THEFT AND FORGERY RING BROKEN---THREE ARRESTED. Under the headline was a picture of Marco and the two thugs from the alley and the lake.
Marco stood outside the hospital entrance, surreptitiously glancing around. He was pretty sure he hadn't been followed. He'd gotten Emma's room number by calling the hospital the day after she'd been admitted. All he had to do now was find her room. He knew he was being selfish, but he was determined to see Emma one last time before disappearing forever.
As the elevator carried him up to the third floor, he contemplated what he would say to her. The fact of her amnesia complicated the issue. On the one hand, he was relieved she couldn't remember him. It would spare him a lengthy explanation and cause her less pain. At the same time, he knew he would feel hurt when she looked at him as if he were a stranger.
The elevator doors opened directly across from the nurses station. The nurse on duty looked up as he exited. He ducked his head and hurried his steps toward room 307. The nurse watched him turn the corner, then picked up the phone to call the police. In her hands was a copy of today's Chicago Sun Times.
Gary sat down on the bed and read the article. It stated that Marco Sanchez, Victor Cameron, and Danny Duvall were arrested yesterday morning around 9:45 outside an Indiana hospital in connection with an ongoing investigation into fraud, theft and art forgery. Arraignment was scheduled for the following morning. Leonard "Lenny" Bertolli was also being sought for questioning in connection with the case.
Gary looked at his watch, it was already going on 8:00am. He'd never make it there in time to stop Marco's arrest, even if he wanted to, which he didn't. It wasn't like Marco was going to get killed. Still, it bothered him that Emma would have to find out about her husband this way.
Marco stepped into room 307 and discovered two empty beds. He looked around in confusion. It never occurred to him that Emma may have been discharged already. He stepped back out into the hall and went quickly back to the elevator. As he passed the nurse again, she eyed him with suspicion. This was a bad idea, he thought. Keeping his eye on the nurse, he stepped in to the elevator and right into the clutches of Bertolli's two thugs.
The three men sauntered out the front door of the hospital as if nothing were amiss. Marco stood between the two, a gun in his back. He glanced around for a way of escape, but saw nothing. Where's Gary Hobson now, he thought wryly.
They crossed the parking lot toward a dark blue sedan when suddenly the shrieking sound of sirens filled the air. A quick exchange of panicked looks passed between Bertolli's goons, but there was nowhere for them to run. Marco, on the other hand, felt an immense sense of relief. His running had finally come to an end.
Gary paced just outside the door where Emma was closeted with her husband and an officer who stood guard. His thoughts were racing. Telling her about Marco's arrest hadn't been easy. She'd been distressed, and a little confused about how Gary obtained all this information. He glossed over that part by mumbling something about a friend and a police scanner, hoping she wouldn't persist with her questions. It seemed to work.
He stopped his pacing and looked at his watch. She'd been in there an awfully long time. He wondered what they were talking about. He wondered how much Emma would tell Marco about the last few days. He wondered if seeing Marco again had brought back her memory. He wondered.
Inside the little room, Emma sat across from a stranger, a stranger that was holding her hands and apologizing to her for things she knew nothing about. She tried to feel something for this man, but her thoughts kept drifting toward Gary Hobson.
A few minutes later she came out of the room, a slip of paper in her hand and tears in her eyes.
"Are you okay?" Gary asked, unconciously reaching out and gently wiping away a stray tear from her face. She placed her hand over his when it touched her face.
"Yes", she whispered with a watery smile. "He wants to see you now."
"Me? What for?" A million questions flooded his mind along with the sudden guilt of his feelings for this man's wife. When she didn't answer, he swallowed hard and went in to face the husband of the woman he loved.
Gary sat down across from Marco. The two men just eyed each other for a moment. Finally, Marco spoke.
"I wanted to thank you for saving my life, and especially for watching out for Emma. I know it may seem hard to believe, but I really do love her. I just made a lot of bad choices." He lowered his head in shame for a moment, then lifted it again and looked Gary directly in the eye.
"I've already told her I'd agree to a divorce. She deserves someone better. Someone who'll protect her, put her first. She deserves someone like you. I know she has feelings for you, she always has. Please, take care of her for me."
Gary sat there stunned. It was the last thing he'd expected Marco to say.
A few days later, Gary and Emma stood together at the gate where her flight was about to depart. Marco had told her about her family in San Francisco, and she'd been in contact with them the last few days. They were eager to see her again, and had sent her money for a ticket. She still had not regained her memory.
She went into Gary's arms and they held each other for a few moments. It was hard leaving him, but she needed to pick up the pieces of her life and move on.
His arms tightened around her. He couldn't believe that he was about to watch her walk out of his life again. His heart was breaking, but he knew she had to do what was right for her.
The final boarding call for her flight was called. She looked up into his eyes and tried to smile through her tears.
"I'd like to say I'll never forget you, but .........." Her lame attempt at humor fell flat as the tears started to fall.
Gary cupped her face in his hands and gently wiped her tears with his thumbs, then he leaned down and kissed her one last time. As he watched her walk away, she turned and smiled, this time fully aware that she carried a piece of his heart with her.
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