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New York - Later That Night 4 страница



"It's ten in the morning and it's Saturday. I thought I'd come to the mountain since you can't be bothered to answer calls." He folded his arms over his chest and tried to look intimidating. "Who's your friend?"

"Stop it, Al. We're not six anymore and I don't need protecting." She stood up and held her hand out to Briar. "This is Briar Kilston. Briar, my brother Alan."

They shook hands and Briar almost laughed when the guy just glared at her like he'd caught her having sex with his under aged sister. "Nice to meet you, Alan. Why don't you two talk while I run up the way and get a cup of coffee."

"You don't drink coffee," said Megan moving closer to Briar and lowering her voice.

"I like the smell. Don't ask. It's in the same vein that I love a good cigar."

"You don't ever light them."

"There you go. Enjoy your vices but only in moderation," said Briar laughing.

"You don't have to leave you know."

"Don't worry, I promise I'm not going far. If you need reinforcements you have my cell number." She squeezed Megan's hand and just caught herself before she bent down and placed a kiss on her forehead. "Alan, it was nice meeting you."

The site of his sister lying so close to someone who wasn't his best friend for some reason made Alan really angry so he just glared at her again and didn't answer her. He didn't take his eyes off of her until she reached the end of the dock and headed for the path up the levee.

"Why not beat your chest while you're out there to complete the full ape man routine you have going," said Megan as she picked Mac up so they could head back to her place.

"I come over here expecting to find you locked in some serious grieving self-pity, but instead you're making time with the neighbor. What the hell is that?"

"The thing you should really be asking yourself is when in the hell did you appoint yourself my keeper? First you want me to move in with you and your wife because you're worried I'm not getting out enough. Now I make a new friend and I'm some sort of slut." She walked past him sounding more and more disgusted. "Make up your mind, Alan, because you can't have it both ways."

"She hasn't been gone that long."

Megan stopped walking and turned back to face him. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"You didn't let me finish. Vivian hasn't been gone that long so I don't want some idiot coming in here and taking advantage of you while you're not at your best." He put his hands out to his sides in an act of surrender. "I'm just worried about you and mom keeps calling me and asking about you. I don't know what to tell her half the time."



"Mom could damn well get in her car and come down here if she's so worried about me. Or better yet, she could pick up the phone and ask me herself." Her relationship with their mother had become strained after she found out Megan's life wasn't going to turn out like she'd planned from the time she was still in diapers. "The best option to go with though, is telling her I'm still gay. That should limit your conversations to what a great son you are and what a disappointment I turned out to be."

"Meg, I'm not the enemy here. I'm worried about you and I miss you. Just because Vivian died doesn't mean our relationship should as well."

"I'm sorry. It's been a weird time for me and I don't mean to take it out on you."

They went inside and she laughed when Mac went to lie by the door as if waiting for someone to come home. It's how he spent most of his time now that Briar had come into their lives. As contentious as their morning had started, they quickly fell back into a more friendly exchange catching up on their lives.

Alan had taken over the boat and had started to put Vivian's share into a trust for his sister. He knew she wouldn't take it, so he was saving it for her future. It had taken weeks for him to be able to take the vessel out without his eyes watering not seeing Vivian behind the wheel, but life had gotten easier with time for him as it had for Megan.

"So tell me about your new friend," he said.

"Briar's just here on an extended vacation and we've been doing some stuff together."

He nodded and looked at the sad dog by the door. "The way I found the two of you this morning makes me believe there's more to it than that."

"She likes doing some of the same things I do, she's a good listener and she doesn't push for more than I'm willing to give. Right now, that's a godsend to me."

"What's in it for her?"

The question reminded her of flaky pastry. If you took your fork to it, you could peal it away in layers. "Just to be my friend I guess. Briar doesn't strike me as the kind of person with a big hidden agenda."

"Just be careful okay?"

Not wanting to pry anymore, Alan spent the rest of the morning enjoying his sister's company. Before he left there was a knock on the door and he opened it to the mailman. He signed for the envelope and couldn't help looking at the return address and name. The organ transplant organization's logo was distinct and popped right off the page, and he saw how Megan's hands shook as he handed it to her.

"You want me to go?" he asked.

She shook her head and went to sit on the sofa. He sat across from her as she tore it open and pulled out the sealed envelope it contained. Attached to it was a sticky note explaining it was from the recipient of Vivian's heart.

I woke up last night from a bad dream and found my heart beating noticeably when I sat up in bed. A year ago I wouldn't have given it another thought. I'd have rolled over and gone back to sleep, but now I give thanks even for bad dreams.

Why you ask? Because even bad dreams are something I thought I'd never have again. My life has been filled with good and bad experiences that come with time, but that I have a life at all is what's important to me now. That is a gift I owe to you and your family.

A few months ago I felt invincible. I had a job I loved and a life I was comfortable with, but one morning I came so close to losing all of it because of a heart attack. Waking up in a hospital room with the news that your chance for survival is bleak puts things in perspective like nothing you'll ever experience.

Life is a fragile thing that I had taken for granted too many times before that day. It's a mistake I won't repeat in the future, especially knowing the sacrifice your loved one made so that I can have a future.

I promise more than anything that for the rest of my days, whether they are limited or many, your loved one will be in my thoughts. There isn't a picture of their smile, no memory of their laugh or an inkling of what they loved, but a big part of what made them unique is now a part of me and I promise to take care of it.

When I was asked to write this to you, I wondered how I could ever express my sympathies for your loss. I can't. Not in anyway that will be meaningful to you because you have to face the future without the person you love. I am sorry though.

Our paths will most probably never cross, and because of the rules of the organization, we will never meet, so my words here will have to suffice. Just know that if you need to find meaning in what has happened, it comes in the lives your loved one touched with the gifts they made.

To me it is the true meaning of generosity, and for that I thank you.

Alan watched as she read the pages a few times before she brought them to her chest. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine. I just need a minute." Megan pulled them away again and read them one more time. "I thought this wasn't necessary when they asked me the day I signed the papers so they could harvest the organs, but I'm glad I checked the yes box on the form. This person is right. Vivian was generous to a fault when she was alive and now that she's gone, her legacy will keep going." She'd asked Vivian for a sign that it was all right to go on with her life and Megan chose to believe she was holding it in her hand.

He took the letter from her when she offered and read the words. "Maybe they're right."

"About what?"

"Viv's gone, but there's more than one person out there that has a chance at a normal life. What happened wasn't fair, but I'm glad she was able to help people who had no chance at all."

Megan moved to the arm of the chair he was sitting on and put her arms around him. "I just hope you're right and this gets easier with time. That's why I want you to cut Briar some slack. You might not like me making new friends you don't know, but she's helped me with all this."

After Megan made them both breakfast, Alan left her to get ready for the day finding Briar sitting outside again reading a magazine. She was attractive and seemed friendly enough but he decided to err on the side of caution. "My sister seems to like you."

"Is this like passing me a note in homeroom?" asked Briar not raising her eyes from the page she was reading. "You can save the big brother routine. I don't want anything from your sister except to help her in anyway I can."

"Hurt her and I'll feed you to the crabs out here."

She rubbed her scar and smiled confident he couldn't see her. "I'll keep that in mind on the off chance I get the urge to do something stupid."

"I'm serious, just remember that."

Twenty minutes later Megan came back dressed in an old pair of shorts and a t-shirt. She sat on the chaise lounge with Briar and folded her hands over her knee. "I'm sorry about this morning." She'd cried some more in the shower after Alan had left, but the letter while unexpected had brought her some peace.

"Sorry you came over here and shared the morning with me, or sorry you think your brother ran me off?"

"I'm sorry about Alan. He still feels the need to treat me like I'm in the second grade, and everything that's happened has sent that into overdrive."

"Uh huh," said Briar putting her hand on her chin. "I know how you can make this most egregious of offenses up to me."

Megan laughed and leaned back into Briar's legs. "I'm sure it's something like washing the jeep for you so let's hear it."

"Remember that For Art's Sake Night you told me about?"

They'd been in the modern art museum when Megan had mentioned an event that was held in August as a sort of farewell to summer that also raised money for local artists. She'd read about it often but had never attended the social event that took place on Magazine Street from one in to the other in all the galleries. There was wine and drinks along the way and most of the places had a catered spread for anyone wandering in from the street.

"I remember," said Megan.

"I was hoping you'd go with me, then have dinner at Emeril's when you get tired of walking." She smiled when Megan accepted her hand. With a little encouragement they were back in the same position before Alan had interrupted them. "As added incentive to say yes, I have a surprise for you."

"What is it?"

Briar pulled her closer and enjoyed the scent of Megan's perfume. "The only option for you here is yes or no. What is it, isn't a choice."

She tipped her head up and looked into Briar's eyes. They were as pale blue a color as you could get without it being light gray, and the most interesting she'd ever seen. She wondered if anyone ever said no to Briar about anything. Bathing in the compassion she could see so clearly in those blue eyes she thought how very easy it would be to spend a lifetime giving the only answer that slipped so easily off her lips.

"Yes."

************************************************************************

At around five that afternoon, the expected knock on her door made Megan's heart beat faster. Something had changed between them that morning and she was actually looking forward to seeing if it grew into something more as the night progressed.

Briar was always attentive, but throughout the morning and during lunch they very seldom were more than two feet away from each other and more often than not were either holding hands or touching in some way. It had been torture to separate so they could get ready for their date, and in Megan's mind that's what it was.

"Coming," she called out taking the time to take one more glance in the mirror to make sure her hair was still in the twist she'd put it in. The one dress Briar had yet to see had been her choice for the evening. The deep blue silk dress was something she'd picked up on a whim and had never worn.

The door held her up after she opened it, leaning against it taking in how incredible Briar looked. That seersucker suit they'd seen in the window the afternoon they'd walked to lunch draped beautifully from the broad shoulders, and the white shirt appeared even more so against the tanned skin.

"You look like you should be sipping a drink on a veranda somewhere," said Megan.

"Too southern for you?"

"I'm from the south, so no. You actually look great, but you won't get much use out of that suit now so I should've insisted you get it earlier." She stepped back and had her ego boosted with the way Briar's eyes raked from her head down to her feet and back again.

"I'm merely mediocre compared to you," she took Megan's hands and turned her around to see the dress from all sides. "You look incredible."

Megan could feel her ears getting hot and just knew the compliment had colored her cheeks in a blush. It didn't matter though, because the way Briar couldn't tear her eyes away told her she was sincere. "Thank you."

She picked up her purse and accepted Briar's hand after Mac had gotten his conciliatory talk from his new best friend before they left. As they made their way down the dock, Rueben waved to them letting out a wolf whistle for the good looking couple.

Confident Briar was learning her way around town, Megan sat almost sideways on the way downtown wanting to just take Briar in. They didn't talk about anything important along the way and whenever they had to come to a stop, Briar would turn her head and give Megan her undivided attention. After their time together it was something she'd come to expect and Briar never disappointed her.

They walked the galleries and Megan noticed how people deferred to Briar whenever they walked into someplace new. There was something about her that exuded power and something else she couldn't quite figure but enjoyed the detailed explanations they got on certain pieces that they liked as they explored.

"Ready to take a little break?" asked Briar.

"If I say yes, will you feed me?"

"If you say yes, I'll give you whatever you desire, pretty lady." They bypassed the line at Emeril's and were shown to their table. Most of the people waiting hadn't thought to make a reservation, or they didn't have the ever-efficient Shelia working for them.

Dinner was excellent and they laughed their way through four courses and a dessert before they were ready to hit a few more places before they went home. In the second gallery across the street from the restaurant they found a few more pieces by the artist that had painted the small dots on the blank canvas on display at the Lowe Museum.

"If you'd like to meet the artist he's here," said the owner after they'd stopped in front of the guy's newest work. It was still a blank canvas but now instead of circles there were triangles and squares adorning limited space.

"We'd love to," said Briar.

"Please tell me you're going to behave," warned Megan. She gladly moved closer when Briar put her arm around her waist and smiled down at her.

"Of course I'm going to behave. How else am I going to get the deep meaning behind these works of creative genius?"

Megan placed her hand on Briar's stomach and waited as if there were a punch line coming. "You think this guy's a genius?"

"If he can get anyone to pay that price for what amounts to an ounce of paint at most, I say yes." She wiggled her brows making Megan laugh. "What though pray tell will happen to me if I decide not to behave?"

"Oh there are so many possibilities it's mind boggling." She moved her hand higher up Briar's chest until it rested over her heart.

"I think that we need to get out of here and discuss it in detail then." Slowly so that Megan would have every chance to stop her, she lifted the hand on her chest and kissed the palm. When her lips pressed against the soft surface, Briar enjoyed the way Megan almost fell against her.

"I think that's a fabulous idea."

For the first time since arriving Briar longed for the car and driver she had in New York. The jeep was great but with the console in the middle it prevented her from pulling Megan as close as she wanted. As they got closer to the lake the feelings of fear also came back.

Megan was different than all the other women in Briar's life. The feelings missing for so long with people like Claire raged in her when it came to Megan. With her, the urge to drop to one knee and declare her devotion was something she had to fight on a constant basis, and that's what scared her. It was one thing to desire someone in your life, but she hadn't considered that the feelings may not be reciprocated. Not that Megan didn't appear interested, but was she only a bridge to help her over her pain?

They walked slowly to the end of the dock to Megan's place and went up to the sundeck. It was almost the end of August and the nights were still warm, but the wind was starting to change direction making standing outside bearable.

Megan stood facing the water with her hands on the railing and sighed when Briar came to stand behind her. There was plenty of light from the full moon to see clearly the big hands came to rest next to hers when Briar moved in closer.

She went willingly when Briar turned her around and placed her hand so lovingly on the side of her face. "You are so beautiful," said Briar.

"I almost believe you when you say it looking at me like that."

"Megan…honey, if no one has ever told you that and meant it, then you've been seriously cheated in this life." Briar ran her thumb along the smooth skin catching the tear that had escaped the bright eyes. She just knew the tears came not from sorrow, grief or pain, but from happiness. The fact that she could create that feeling in Megan made her own eyes water.

Briar bent her head and kissed her as slowly as she had in the gallery when she kissed Megan's hand. The moan that escaped her couldn't be helped when she felt Megan's mouth let her in.

"I've been waiting for you to do that for days," said Megan as she rested her head against Briar's chest when they pulled apart. "You've awaken something in me, and for once in my life, I want to be selfish and ask for more."

"When we want the same things, and it's something that makes you happy, then you're not being selfish." Briar put her arms around her and held Megan so close that she could feel every inch of her. "I realize how hard losing Vivian has been for you, and I don't want to push you, but I've come to cherish our time together."

"You never push, Briar. It's one of the things that's so special about you." She kept her cheek pressed against Briar's chest using the warm surface to find the strength to finish what she had to say. "I want you to know before we go any further that I'll always miss Vivian. We spent years together and I loved her. I don't know why she was taken away so soon, but I have to think that she'd be happy for me that I found you. You've helped me more than anyone in seeing that there is a future for me." She turned her face up and smiled when Briar released her hair from the pins holding it up. "A future that I hope you are going to be a big part of if that makes you happy in return."

"I just want a chance."

"And I just want you to hold me," said Megan. The arms around her waist tightened just enough to make her feet come off the ground. "Let's go inside where it's more comfortable."

Briar kissed her one more time before turning her around and pointing her in the direction of the stairs. When Megan opened the door Mac was sitting there waiting for them, running directly for Briar once he spotted her. She shed her jacket and tossed it over a chair before stooping to pick him up and pet him.

"Since you have company for the moment, I'm going to change into something more comfortable," said Megan as she scratched under Mac's chin. "I bought some new flavored water for you. It's in the fridge if you want one. I promise I won't be long."

The pictures on the refrigerator door had been thinned considerably in the summer months, as Megan began putting them away in albums to preserve the memories. It was all that white space that made the new addition being held up with a magnet from the bank that made Briar stop before pulling the door open. If someone had punched her in the gut it wouldn't have made the air come rushing out as fast.

"This can't be happening to me." She pulled the envelope off and took the letter out. It was stupid to check but she had to know for sure that it was her own handwriting she'd find inside.

Her mother was right. If her new heart carried old memories from the donor its what had brought her here. What she knew for sure though, was that the feelings she had for Megan were hers alone and not something left over from Vivian. Once Megan found out exactly how she was connected to her dead lover, she was also sure that her feelings would change.

"I love her, Mac, and I'm going to lose her over something I had no control over."

She put the letter back where she found it and put Mac back down on his bed. He licked her hand before she could move away as if trying to comfort her because he'd understood what she said.

"Did you say something?" said Megan. She had put on an old pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and had brushed out her hair.

"Just talking to the dog. Listen, honey, it's getting late and I don't want to keep you up."

"Are you all right? You look exhausted all of a sudden." Enjoying her newfound freedom to touch Briar, she put her hand on her neck when she moved closer.

"Just a little bit. If you give me a rain check on tonight, I promise I'll take you out to breakfast first thing in the morning."

They kissed at the door and Briar couldn't help but think this would be the last time Megan was so open with her. The last time she'd want to be held like this from the one person who had benefited so much from Vivian's death.

************************************************************************

Briar sat outside in the dark brooding over what she saw as the unfairness of life as she twirled a small piece of rope Mac had left behind. When she heard the soft footsteps behind her she didn't turn around since she knew it wasn't Megan.

"Didn't have a good time tonight?" Rueben took the seat next to her and put his feet up on the chaise she was using. "It's a shame if you didn't since you two make such a good looking couple."

"We had a great time, that's not the problem."

"So there is a problem. Sometimes it's best to just spit it out and get it behind you. I'm a good listener if you want to go that route." She looked at him with so much anguish on her face that he reached for her hand. "Please tell me and let me help you with some of that weight."

"In March of this year I had a massive heart attack," she started with no hesitation. It was a good way to work up to telling Megan, and she had to tell her. There was no way for her to hide the scar on her chest forever.

Briar told him the whole story from the surgery to the recovery, ending with finding the letter she'd written to the family of the donor. All the while the words were coming out in a monotonous tone, she started to work the rope in different loops and knots not really thinking about what she was doing. He never interrupted her and sighed heavily when she was done.

"Vivian was a really nice girl," he paused as if trying to choose his words carefully. "She was crazy about Megan and I think overall they were really happy."

"Should I get up and fetch a big stick for you to beat me with while you tell me this story?"

"Let me finish. I thought they were happy, and from what they could see, they probably thought they were happy too. Since you came here though, I've been watching Megan and how she is when she's with you. Vivian was her first love, but I think you're who she's been waiting for." He leaned over and put his hand over her heart. "Vivian made it possible for you to survive in here, but you're the one who's brought Megan's heart to life."

"And if I tell her the story I just told you?"

He leaned back and closed his eyes. The same frustration he felt when one of his students asked him a question he couldn't answer came back to him. "I can't answer that for you, Briar, but you have to tell her. You two can't have a future built on a lie of omission."

"I can trade in the millions and never break a sweat, but I have to say having that conversation with her terrifies me."

"Do you care about her?" asked Rueben.

Briar looked him in the eye and smiled. "I love her and I don't think I wanted to admit that to myself until tonight."

"Then you owe her the truth."

"Thanks for listening." She walked him to the dock and waved him goodnight. Before going in she picked up the suit jacket and went to put Mac's simple toy down. It was then she noticed what she'd done to it. Instead of dropping it on the deck where Mac would find it, she slipped it into the jacket pocket and went to bed.

Not much into praying, she hoped that Megan would listen to her in the morning and be able to look past what their reality was. It was all she had. What she didn't know was if it was enough?

************************************************************************

"You should've slept in, baby. You still look tired." Megan put her hands on Briar's shoulders the next morning and almost laughed at how pleased Briar seemed at the use of the endearment.

"I am a little bit, but I wanted to be awake when you came over this morning."

"Miss me?" She stood on her tiptoes and kissed Briar's cheek.

"I sure did. Sit with me a minute?"

Megan did as she asked and sat so they were facing each other joining Briar on her chaise. "Do you regret last night? The things we admitted to each other?" It was as if suddenly the fear of the unknown wrapped its hands around her throat and was choking the good feelings out of her.

"I want nothing more than to be with you, so no, I have no regrets. I just have something to say and I need you to listen." To be fair so Megan wouldn't be put in the position to have to pull away from her, Briar let go of her hands. "I'm the person who received Vivian's heart." After all the ways she'd practiced it, the blunt truth was the best way she could think to deliver the news. The approach had worked well for her in business.

"What did you say?"

She'd been right in that Megan pulled away from her leaning back as if in horror, but she didn't get up. Not yet anyway. "The letter on your refrigerator is from me. You have to believe me when I tell you that I didn't know when I came here and got to know you. I hope this doesn't change anything between us, but when I saw that envelope last night, I had to tell you."

It took a long while for the shock to sink in and Megan just sat there curling and uncurling her fingers. Finally she put her hands on the collar of Briar's shirt and pulled it apart a little. It was enough for her to see the scar and face the reality of her words.

Without saying anything else, she stood up and shook her head when Briar went to follow. She walked back to her place and slammed the door behind her. Mac just stood on the dock swiveling his head from one floating home to the other not knowing what to do.

As tempted as he was to go to Briar who was sitting with her head in her hands, he finally moved to go through the doggy door and back to Megan. There was no angry exchange but the finality of the situation hung in the air just as clearly as if there had been. What had started as something promising had ended like the soft waves that came to shore on the lake.





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