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Excerpt for The Rekindling (The Romance Stories, Book 1) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

© 2018 Stellan Galt

All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except as permitted by U.S. copyright law.




THE REKINDLING






CHAPTER ONE



As Nathan strolled through the outdoor bakeries to pick up some bread for dinner and some of Selena's favorite sweets, a woman caught his eye.  She was a fair distance away, down the street, but there was something so familiar, so ”home-like” about her.  Dark hair, although shorter than he remembered; lovely smile, small, athletic build.  Could it really be her? Without even giving it conscious thought, he quickly paid for his items and began walking closer to where the woman was shopping.  As he drew near, he was almost positive. It was her, or if not, her absolute twin.  

 

Soon, he was right before her, and he knew.  She looked up from her shopping basket and met his eyes.  Immense surprise, instant recognition.  ”Nathan?  Oh, my God!  Is, is it really you?”

 

“Christina! I knew that was you. I passed you by but I was sure-“ His words were interrupted by a tight hug.


“What are you doing in Italy?”


“I’m visiting for a couple of months. Here on business.”  

 

“I'm living here now, actually.  Doing some commentary, a little ballet coaching, even a little modeling, how about that, Nate!”

 

“Oh, I can believe that!  You were always model material, Chrissy.  You look great.”  ”You do too, Nathan, you really do.  I know it's been a rough time for you-”

 “Yeah,” he replied softly, looking down at the ground.  ”Well, Chrissy, you know...”  ”Yeah, I know,” she murmured, placing a hand on his arm.

 

She paid for her things and they decided to go to a bistro and have a snack. She had no obligations that day and he didn't need to be back at his temporary apartment for a few hours; Selena and her tutor would be hard at work on her school assignments.

 

They talked easily, as old friends are apt to do.  She asked him about his painful divorce from Trisha.  He admitted that it was still fairly raw, having been only a year.  

 

It had hit him kind of out of left field one day when she came home from a travel assignment and told him she was in love with someone else.  ”You are in love with someone else, so it's over? “ he remembered thinking.  ”That's rich.”  After everything he'd done for her.  After breaking a heart that was like the other half of his own heart...

 

She didn't even fight him over Selena, although prepared for battle, he was.  She loved her daughter and was a good mom.  Good enough to realize that her “out of a suitcase” lifestyle was not the best for “Sellie,” as she insisted on calling her.  She was going to have her for visits when she was at home in Chicago, and for summer vacations.  They would probably alternate holidays; it was still a bit of a “work in progress,” Nathan explained to Christina, who was listening sympathetically.  ”I just hated it so badly for you Nate, when I heard that she left you.  I just couldn't believe it.  I mean you had already been through- well, you know.  You've had more than your fair share, Sweetie, I'll say that,” she said with a catch in her voice that meant the world to Nathan.  At least this was one relationship in his life that had been repaired.


“So we’ve talked a lot about me. What about you? Are you and Steve…?”  


“We’ve been out of touch for a couple of years now. Maybe it was never meant to be.”

  

“Yeah, I know,” he squeezed her hand gently.  She didn't let go.  ”I really thought you guys would make it, though, Chrissy.”

 

“Well, sometimes love isn't enough, right, Nate?  Do you see her, talk to her at all?”

 

“No,” he sighed heavily.  ”We sort of keep up with each other a little bit through the families, you know.  I thought she may get in touch when she heard about the divorce, but I haven't heard from her.  She told Cassandra to tell me she's very sorry.  That's it; that's all I've heard in months.   My mom told me on the phone the other day that she's taken a sabbatical to do some writing somewhere here in Europe.  I'm not even sure where she is, Chrissy.  Do you know how unnatural that feels?”

 

His words coupled with his pained expression made her heart skip a beat.  Oh, Nathan.


He must have seen the look on her face because he quickly said, “You’d understand more than anyone, right?”


“I do, Nathan.”

 

“You know, Christina, it's the biggest regret of my life.  I think about her every day.  I always will.”

  

“Nathan-” she started to say something, but thought better of it.  She shook her head quickly and stood up to go.  ”I guess we should say good-bye for now, but I want to see a lot of you while you're here.  I want to see Selena!  God, she was a newborn the last time I saw her!”

 

“Oh, I would love that, Christina!  We've been a little lonely here.  It's so good to see a familiar face,” he said as he pulled her in for a tight hug.  They exchanged phones to put in contact information, and hugged again.  When they pulled apart, they both had misty eyes.  They promised to call soon and set something up.

 

Christina walked the short distance to her apartment with a bit of a heavy heart.  Should she say anything?  Should she wait?  ”No,” she thought firmly, “no more waiting.”

 

That was partly what was wrong with all of them now.  Waiting, suppressing, regretting.  It was a vicious cycle, and had been for years.  It may be too late for her and Steve, but if she could do anything for Dawn and Nathan- well she had to try.

 

When she opened the door of her flat, she immediately called out, before she even saw her.  ”Dawn?  You'll never believe who I just saw!”

 

 

 



CHAPTER TWO

  


 

“Christina, no.  You know I can't see him.  You know why.  I can't believe you even told me you saw him, but since you did, I'll make arrangements and leave town.  I can move on to Venice or Florence and come back here later-”

 

“Dawn Markson!  Do you hear yourself?   Don't you dare leave!  You just got here!  

 

“Christina, I don't want to keep you from seeing him, but I just can't do it,” Dawn said softly, taking off her readers and rubbing her eyes.  There were so many books, papers, and pictures around her that her tiny body was barely visible in the middle of Christina's guest room bed.  She closed her lap top, put it aside, and leaned back onto her pillows.  

 

She looked so lost.  Christina recognized the look- she had just seen an identical one on the face of one Nathan.

 

Damn their stubbornness! Christina thought to herself as she moved Dawn's things over enough to make a place to sit down.  

 

“Dawn, honey.  Talk to me.  You say I know why you won't see him, but I really don't, not all of it.  What can be so bad that there's no hope?”

 

Her friend looked at her a little sideways at that question, raising an eyebrow.

 

“Okay, okay, fair enough, but we're talking about your ridiculous love life right now.  We'll do mine later.”

 

With that, she finally got a small smile.  

 

“I mean, Dawn, you and I, we were estranged for almost three years ourselves, and we forgave each other.  Nathan, I mean, Nathan was- is- your other half.  You have to stop this because you need each other.  He needs you so much, Dawn.  You should have seen his face when I talked about you.  I felt so sorry for him, I almost told him then and there-”

 

“But you didn't, right!?  You said you didn't, Christina!”

 

“Dawn, please.  No I didn't.  But I'm going to.  This is stupid.  Talk to me.”

 

With that, her friend simply burst into tears and answered, sounding  very small, “Okay, I'll tell you everything.”

 

 

***

 

“Daddy!”  Almost seven-year-old Selena jumped up from her seat and wrapped her little body around Nathan as soon as he came in the door.

 

“I'm sorry, Signora Rosa,” Nathan sheepishly addressed Selena's tutor as he picked up his little girl and gave her a tight hug.

 

“Oh, never mind, we are almost done for the day, anyway, right, Bambino?”  Selena nodded and placed a kiss to Nathan's cheek, melting both adults instantly.  ”I missed you, Daddy,” she said tenderly, her hands on either side of Nathan's face.

 

“I missed you, Princess.  Go say 'Good night' to Signora Rosa.”  The little blonde leaped obediently from Nathan's arms and gave her teacher a hug.  ”See you tomorrow, Maestra.”


 ”Isn't my Italian getting good, Daddy?” she quickly added in her father's direction.

 

“It is, Baby, it is.  I'm proud of you.”  

 

God, Dawn would love to hear her, he couldn't help thinking to himself.  Dawn's affinity for all things Italian had begun when she was not much older than Selena is now.  

 

Rosa left, giving Nathan a motherly pat on the shoulder as she went out the door.  ”Thank you, Rosa,” Nathan said.  

 

Signora Rosa Bianchi, the Italian retired teacher that Selena's school had put him in contact with to work with Selena while they were in Rome, had been a God-send.  She was wonderfully nurturing, and Nathan and his little girl were quickly growing to love her in the three weeks they had known her.

 

“How was your day, Daddy?” Selena sweetly asked.  

 

“Not too bad, Sellie.  I saw an old friend, actually.”

 

“Oh Daddy, was it her?”

 

“No,” Nathan replied sadly, “it wasn't her, Sweetie, not this time.”

 

“Well, Daddy, I think we're going to see her soon.  I have a feeling,” Selena replied, showing her snaggle-toothed grin that Nathan just couldn't resist.

 

“Oh you do, do you!”  he replied,  quickly throwing her on the sofa and beginning to tickle her senseless.

 

After a quick dinner, bath, and story time, Nathan began to put Selena down for the night.  He sat her on his lap and brushed her long, straight hair.  She had Trisha's straight blonde hair and cute nose, but other than that, she was Nathan- she had his blue eyes and face shape.  The perfect blend of the two of them, her parents had always said.  She was beautiful, everyone said so.

 

“Daddy, tell me a Dawn Selena story, please.”  It had been awhile since he had told her one.  ”Okay, Princess, snuggle in, and I will.”

 

He helped her into her bed and lay down beside her, softly stroking her hair.  ”Once upon a time, my best friend Dawn Selena, and I were dance champions...” he began.

 

***


“Well,” Dawn began to tell her story as Christina listened patiently.  ”You know what happened at the championship- you're one of very few who do, right?”

 

“You and Nathan won the trophy, and made love, yeah,” Christina replied matter-of-factly.  

 

“Um, yeah, I’m sure.  Apparently it meant more to me than it did to him, I guess,” Dawn said quietly.

 

They were referring to an incident that had been wrapped in secrecy for almost ten years now.  

 

They hadn't meant to do it, but the night they won the trophy, they were just so emotional, so intertwined.  They couldn't completely blame it on the celebratory alcohol they had consumed, although that probably did play a role.

 

They had been in her room- she had a room to herself-and they just couldn't leave each other.  It had started with him simply kissing her good night, and ended in her bed with them breathless and both in tears.  Hers were out of love.  She was never sure if his were too, or if they were out of guilt.

 

“Dawn, this meant the world to me, and I do love you, but you know, Trisha and me-” he had begun as he held her in his arms while she wept.

 

“Please don't, Nathan, it's okay; please just don't. ”  She probably said it a little more harshly than she meant to; he looked physically struck.

 

She recovered enough to say, “I love you, too, Silly; it's okay.”  

 

They agreed it was bound to happen, eventually.  They agreed it was special.  They agreed they had no regrets about the act itself, but maybe the timing...

 

They agreed to tell no one, ever.  

 

She had broken down and told Christina after all, during a drunken night right before Nathan got married.  She didn't know if he ever told anyone or not.  She suspected maybe Trevor Young, if anyone.  He was probably Nathan's closest friend.  After her, of course.  Now, maybe instead of her.

 

“Well,” Dawn continued, “what you don't know is what happened two years later, on Nathan's wedding day.”


***

Ten years ago

 

Trisha couldn't believe it when Nathan told her he was going to the dance studio with Dawn on the morning of their wedding.

 

“Nathan, it's our wedding day!  Can I not even have you the whole day on our wedding day”?

 

He wanted to tell her that she was probably hormonal, but thought better of it.   No one knew but them, and Dawn, of course; he still told her everything, but Trisha was newly pregnant, the baby due in December.  Their wedding had been planned for now anyway, but the pregnancy was unplanned.  

 

The baby had really set it in stone, though.  For Nathan, anyway.  No way out now.  Not that he wanted out.  Not really.

 

“Trisha, the wedding isn't until 5:00 P.M.   It's 7:00 A.M.; I think we'll be okay.  It's how I relax, okay.  I need it.”

 

She agreed, telling him he was right, she was sorry.  ”You mean you need her,” she thought sadly as he went out the door.

 

At the empty dance floor, Dawn was already waiting for him.  He watched her as she did a perfect pirouette.  He almost physically ached to be with her on the dance floor, and began putting on his shoes as quickly as he could.

 

They had formally announced their retirement at the beginning of that year, dancing their last dances together at a function in their honor that had been held at the association premises.  They had intended to do the occasional performance later, after they both finished grad school, after the baby came.  

 

They thought they would have time later to come back to it.  Back to each other.

 

When they danced, people had wept.  In truth, they could barely do it without weeping themselves.

  

“Hey Dawn, do we have to dance to this?” he had said.  ”You know it makes me sad.” 

 

She had simply shrugged and smiled, “Well, it's our song now.”

 

He had taken her in his arms and they did all their favorite moves, continuing long after the song ended, neither having the will to stop.

 

Finally, spent, they simply started moving around the floor, hand in hand.

 

They started trying to talk about their lives together, and how much it had all meant, how they would never forget any of it, ever.

 

She started trying to tell him that she was proud of him; it was his wedding day, after all, that's a big deal in anyone's life.

 

He started trying to tell her that he was so happy to have her beside him- she was his “Best Woman”- they knew it was unconventional, but they didn't give a damn.  Being a bridesmaid just didn't feel right.  She was his best friend, his right arm, not Trisha's.

 

They had both become teary and couldn't really form complete thoughts anymore.  He had pulled her into a tight hug; they stood swaying on the floor.

 

Soon, he began kissing her face and whispering her name.

 
She began to grip his shirt tightly in her hands, their breaths quickening.

 

Their lips met; it wasn't intentional.  It was instinctual.

 

When they pulled apart, tears streaming down both their faces, he immediately began to apologize.

 

She didn't want to hear that; that was the last thing she wanted to hear, damn it.

 

She became angry, pulling away.  ”Don't Nathan, just don't.”

 

“Dawn, please.  I do love you.  It's just not that simple.  Especially now, the baby- but - but, you are my best friend.  You will always be my best fr-”

 

“I don't want to be your friend!”

 

She cut him off with a shrill scream that echoed throughout the studio, with more anger than she had ever directed at him in their entire lives.  Tears were still streaming down her face.

 

He was still crying too, and looked as if she had slapped him across the face.

 

He wished she would have.

 

“What?  What do you mean, Dawn?”

 

God, men were idiots.  

 

“Nathan!  I love you!  I am in love with you!  I can't be just a friend anymore.  It hurts too much!”

 

He could see that she was in real pain.  He was hurting, too.  He didn't know what to do.  In his mind, there was no solution for them.

 

“Dawn, I- I'm so sorry, Baby.  I don't know what to do.”  He hung his head like a little boy and sobbed.

 

She had wanted to comfort him; it had been like breathing to comfort him for the last ten years of her life.

 

She just couldn't do it anymore.

 

She walked away, thinking how they didn't quite make twenty years together; she had really hoped they would make twenty.

 

“I'm sorry, too, Nathan,” she called over her shoulder.  ”I'll see you at the wedding; I'll be there for you, but after that, I can't see you, at least not for awhile.  I'm sorry.  I love you.”

 

“I love you, too.”  He said it so softly she barely heard him.

 

They had never danced together again.

 

True to her word, she was there for him at his wedding, standing stoically beside him, even managing to look happy for him.  

 

As for Nathan, he felt in a daze, going through the motions.  He was wracked with guilt, not for kissing Dawn at the dance studio, but for doing this.  And that thought made him guilty too.  He was guilty for what he felt guilty for.  How screwed up was that?

 

He was marrying a woman he loved, but wasn't in love with.  He couldn't believe he had become this person.  

 

He knew, he now regretfully knew, that he should have broken up with Trisha after the championship.   What had seemed so muddled then, now seemed so clear.

 

But there was an innocent little life for which he was now responsible, and he now thought that this had to be the way.  What else could he do?

 

After the honeymoon, he started trying to call Dawn; he wanted to see her; wanted to somehow make it right, or at least some form of right.

 

She would never agree to see him; just kept telling him good-bye every time they talked.  Finally, broken-hearted, he stopped calling.

  

***

 

“Oh, Dawn, I'm so sorry,” Christina said, shaking her head as Dawn finished her story.  I had no idea.  At the wedding you were perfect; looking back, I can see that Nathan was a little 'off,' though.”

 

“Well,” quipped Dawn through her tears.  ”I was always better at acting.”

 

Christina laughed softly, “Oh, Dawn.  You know what?  He told me it's his greatest regret.  He also told me he thinks about you every single day.”

 

“He did?” Dawn asked, sounding like a little girl.  She was softening, Christina could tell.  ”I miss him so much, Christina.”

 

“Chrissy, how did he look?” she asked tentatively.

 

“Good.  He looks really good, Dawn.”

 

 

***

 

 

After putting Selena to sleep, Nathan settled on the sofa with a good, stiff drink.  He needed it tonight.

 

Seeing Christina earlier coupled with telling his little girl that championship story had been draining.

 

Selena loved to hear those stories.  He had begun telling her about Dawn from the time she was an infant; he wanted her know his best friend, even if he had screwed up so badly that Selena may never meet her.  

 

As he drank, his mind went back in time to that day, the last day he had laid eyes on Dawn.  His wedding day.  He couldn't believe it had been so long.  

 

He missed her all the time, but sometimes it was worse than others.

 

Sometimes it actually physically hurt.  Like his heart was being crushed in two. 

 

It's your own fault, he thought to himself.  No one else's.

 

“I miss you, Dawn,” Nathan whispered softly to himself, the tears beginning to pool in his eyes.  ”I miss you so damn much.”

 

 



 CHAPTER THREE



Nathan stood in his bedroom, towel around his waist, hair dripping wet, speaking to Selena's tutor on the phone.  ”No, Signora Rosa, please don't worry; it's not your fault... Get down, now, Selena!... sorry, she's jumping on my bed...”

 

“Daddy, your hair is soaking wet and your towel is slipping; I can almost see your bottom!” giggled Selena as she jumped down.  

 

“Selena, go to your room, please!”

 

She scampered away, laughing, “Silly Daddy!  Silly naked Daddy!”

 

Nathan was having a rather “frazzled” morning.  For some reason his alarm hadn't gone off, and if his little girl hadn't jumped on top of him at 7:00 on the dot, he would have been running even later than he already was.

 

Now Rosa was explaining that she had a stomach bug and wouldn't be able to come in to have school with Selena today.  He had two very important meetings; it was the Tuesday of what would be Thanksgiving week in America, and his Italian bosses had graciously given him Thurs. and Friday off, but that meant there was no time to reschedule, although he had managed to move his 8:30 to 9:30, which gave him a little more time to get himself together.

 

He quickly ended the call with Rosa, wishing her a speedy recovery and reassuring her not to worry.  The kind woman knew he had no one to look after Selena here in Rome, and felt truly horrible about the situation.

 

I'll just have to take her in to work with me.  I don't have a choice.  They'll just have to deal...

 

He was brought out of his reverie by his phone ringing again.

 

Christina.

 

He hadn't heard from her since running into her a few days before.

 

“Hey, Chrissy, what's up?” he asked as he held the phone with one hand and began trying to dress with the other.  ”Sorry, I'm running late here.”

 

“Oh, I'm sorry, Nathan.  I won't keep you.  I just wanted to invite you and Selena over for Thanksgiving dinner.”

 

“Um, Christina, you never celebrate thanksgiving, hon.”

 

“I know, I know, but Nathan always did... I don't know, I just got used to celebrating it, I guess.  So can you guys come?  Please?

 

“Of course,” he laughed, “we'd love to, actually.  I was going to start looking up some Internet recipes tonight, or maybe call my mom and see if there was anything I actually thought I could pull off.”

 

“Oh Lord, Nate I'm just in time, then!”  Nathan's cooking skills (or lack thereof, was more like it) had been notorious among the other dancers back in the day.

 

“Show up around 4:00, and don't bring anything.  We'll do it all.”

 

“Okay, thank you so much, Chrissy.  Hey, we?”

 

Damn it.  

 

“Oh, I'm just having another friend over.  She likes to cook.  No biggie, Nathan.”

 

“Okay- hold on- Selena, get dressed.  You have to go to work with me today.” 

 

“Oh Daddy, No!  It’s boring!”

 

“Now, Selena.  Not up for discussion.  Sorry, Christina, we're having some dysfunction this morning.  Her tutor is sick.”

 

“Oh Nathan, let me take her for you.  I mean, I know she doesn't know me, but if you think she'd be okay- I mean, is she shy?”

 

“No, not really- but Christina, I couldn't ask you to do that.”

 

“You didn't ask.  I'm teaching at the ballet studio today.  She'd probably love it.  She dances, right?”

 

“Yes.  She's getting pretty good, actually.  She would love it-if you're sure?”

 

“Of course!  I'll fetch her in about 20 minutes?”

 

“Perfect!  Thank you so much, Christina.  I really appreciate this!”

 

Nathan ended the call and went into his daughter's room.  She had put on her pink and purple outfit, her favorite.  She was struggling to put her hair in a braid the way her mother always did it.

 

“Hey, Princess, want some help?”

 

She nodded and he sat on her bed.  She crawled onto his lap and he began braiding her hair.  He could almost do it as well as Trisha now.  He had had a lot of practice in the last few months.

 

“There, okay?  Almost as good as Mommy?”

 

“Just as good, Daddy,” she said, planting a kiss on his cheek.  ”I'm sorry I was sort of bad this morning,” she continued,  looking into his eyes.  

 

Their eyes were so similar, it was like he was looking into a mirror at his own eyes.

 

“No, Sellie, I'm sorry.  Daddy is a little frustrated this morning.  Your teacher isn't feeling well-”  

 

“So I have to go to boring old work, I know.”

 

“Well, actually, another option has presented itself, if you're interested.”

 

Boy, was she ever!  As soon as he began explaining, she was already jumping up and down.   It was true she didn't really know Christina, but her parents had mentioned the woman all of her life and she had seen pictures and even a couple of videos, so she wasn't the least bit afraid to go with her.  Like her father, she was friendly and always up for new adventures.

 

“Oh, Daddy, do you think she'll let me dance?  Do you?  Can I take my ballet shoes and see, at least!”

 

God, he loved seeing her excited.  Her little braid was bobbing up and down as she jumped around the room gathering her things.

 

“Yeah, you can take them, but you do exactly as Christina says, I mean it.”

 

“Okay, Daddy.  I'll be really good, I promise!”

 

As she jumped into his arms to hug him, the doorbell rang.

 

“It's her!”

 

Selena ran to the door, Nathan trailing behind.

 

Christina stood to greet them in a dark green leotard, matching costume skirt and wine-colored sweater.  She had a butterscotch-colored scarf tied fashionably around her neck.  

 

Nathan was suddenly taken back to training days long ago at their old dance studio.  

It was Christina standing there, but that's not who he saw.

 

In his mind he saw her.  A sudden pang tore at his heart.  Dawn.

 

It was so funny how the simplest thing could make him think of her.  He felt ridiculous right now; seeing Christina in dance clothes made him think of Dawn.  

 

Sure, that made sense.

 

Selena broke the awkward silence.  ”You're Christina Lee, my daddy and mommy's old friend.  I'm Selena Trisha McCarthy.  Pleased to meet you.”

 

Christina was enchanted.  ”Well, aren't you just precious?”

 

“That's what my Grandma Dorothy calls me,” smirked the little girl, grabbing Christina by the hand.  ”Are you ready?  I have my shoes.  Daddy said I could bring them, as long as I mind you, okay?”

 

“Yes, absolutely okay,” answered Christina as she looked wide-eyed at a beaming Nathan.

 

“Wow, she's something, Nathan.”

 

“I know.  She really is.  Hey, okay if I come get her around 4:00?  I've been wanting to check out the dance studio here anyway.”

 

“Sure, that's fine, and don't worry about her!”  They gave each other a quick hug and Christina and Selena took off.

 

As Nathan shut the door, he caught sight of a photo on the couch.  Selena must have been looking at it in here.  It was normally in his bedroom on his dresser. 

 

It was a picture that someone had taken of him and Dawn at the dance studio on the morning of his wedding when he and Dawn danced together that last time.  They were in the middle of the room in each other's arms.  In reality, it was a dance move, but they appeared to be hugging.  


There was just something about it he had always loved.  Partly because outside of wedding photos, it was the last picture taken of him and Dawn together.

 

He sat on the couch and took the frame in his hands.  

 

He was immediately carried back to that morning on the dance floor, with her.  On the dance floor with Dawn had always been his favorite place to be.  Where he felt most at home.  Most alive.

 

  

They had danced to their last performance song, and it had felt exceedingly sad.  They had become so emotional that they cried and clung to one another.  

 

They had been overwhelmed by memories that day.  They had been through so much, accomplished so much.

 

They had done it all together, always.

 

This, they couldn't do together.  He was marrying someone else.  

 

Now it felt to him that it was like they subconsciously knew  that this would really be the end.

 

He hated himself for having let it get that far, for letting her be hurt like that, putting her heart out on the dance floor before him to be crushed.  By him.  Again.

 

The one person he never wanted to let go of, ever.

 

He had gone over and over it in his mind a million times over the years.

 

What he could have said, or not said.

 

What he could have done differently.

 

It haunted him.  He suspected it always would.

 

Even as he sat here all these years later, in another damn country, no less, he just could not wrap his head around it.  

 

They weren't meant to say goodbye.

 

They weren't ever meant to say goodbye.

  

He suddenly was brought back into reality by the alarm on his phone.  9:00.

 

Damn it.

 

If he hurried, he would have just enough time to get to the office, look over his notes, and conduct the 9:30 meeting.

 

***


As Nathan muddled through his day, Selena soared through hers.  She loved being at the dance studio and took to Christina right away; they were like family by 10:00 in the morning.

 

After eating lunch with Christina in the break room, little Selena was struck by an image on the other side of the large glass window separating the break room from the front desk area.

 

She would know that face anywhere.

 

It was her daddy's best friend.

 

It was Dawn Selena.  

 

She was real, and she was right there.

 

The little girl began tugging at Christina's sleeve.

 

Christina was poring over tape of her students from that morning and wasn't really paying attention.

 

“Christina, Christina!  It's her.”

 

“Huh?  Who, Angel?”

 

Just then, Dawn came through the break room door, and a staring contest ensued.

 

Dawn could not believe her eyes.

 

She would know whose child this was anywhere.

 

Nathan.

 

Selena jumped from her seat and went straight to Dawn, hugging her tightly.

 

“You're Dawn Selena Markson.  You were my daddy's best friend.  I'm Selena Trisha McCarthy.  I'm my daddy's little girl, and I'm named after you.  You and my mommy.”

 

Dawn's eyes suddenly filled with tears.  So her mom had been right all along.

 

 ”No, Momma.  They just like the name”... she remembered saying all those years ago, as Cassandra insisted that the Selena was for her.

 

Dawn bent down to look more closely at Selena, getting right on her level.

 

“Well, I'm honored that we share a name, and I'm so happy to finally meet you.  You're beautiful, Selena.”

 

“So are you.  My daddy thinks so, too.  He always says so when he tells me Dawn Selena stories.”

 

Dawn felt her belly flip a little.

 

“Dawn Selena stories?” she stammered.

 

“Yes.  I love them.  He tells me them at night sometimes.  So I can know you.  He said he wanted me to know you even if I never got to see you, but I always told him I would one day.  I knew it, and here you are!”

 

She threw her arms around Dawn's neck and hugged her tightly.  Tears streamed down Dawn's face, as well as Christina's.  

 

When they pulled apart, Selena began wiping Dawn's tears with her hands.  ”Don't cry, Dawn Selena.  It's not sad anymore, it's happy now!”

 

“You're right!” Dawn said standing up and sniffling. “It's a very happy thing to meet you!”

 

From that point on, they were fast friends, racing around on the polished dance floor and playing all afternoon while Christina finished her lessons.

 

Dawn was struck by how fast Selena liked to go.  Just like Nathan, she thought.

 

When they sat down to take a rest, Selena placed a little hand on Dawn's cheek and pulled her head down close to her own.

 

“Can I tell you a secret?”

 

“Of course, Selena.”

 

“Sometimes my daddy looks at pictures of you late at night when he thinks I'm asleep, and he cries.  He's here in Rome with me.  Maybe if you talk to him and be his best friend again, he won't cry anymore.  I love my daddy.  I don't want him to be sad.”

 

She gave Dawn a quick kiss on the cheek and jumped up, shouting, “Thanks!” before running off.

 

As she placed a hand on her cheek where the little girl had kissed her, her eyes spilled over with a fresh batch of tears and she was overcome with memories of him.

 

Nathan.

 

She buried her head in her lap and let her tears overtake her.  

 

She could see him, feel him, hear him; it almost seemed that she could smell him, her sense memory was so strong.

 

She was silently weeping into her lap when an arm suddenly draped over her shoulders and pulled her close.  

 

She froze and stiffened briefly before collapsing into the side of the person holding her.

 

She didn't need to see.  She knew.

 

It was the most familiar arm in the world, and her head was buried into the crook of the most familiar neck in the world.

 

It felt so right.

 

It was home.

 

She opened her eyes and turned to look up into the most familiar blue eyes in the world, so like the eyes she had been staring into all afternoon.

 

“Nathan.”

 

“Don't cry, Dawn.  I could never stand to see you cry.”

 





CHAPTER FOUR


 

Thank God Christina had called to warn him.  If he had strolled into this dance studio to pick up his daughter and seen Dawn out of the blue, Nathan probably would have had a heart attack.  By the time he got the full story out of Christina- that Dawn had arrived in Rome two days before he and Christina had run into each other- he was a little put out with her.  

 

“Why didn't you tell me right away, Chrissy, why?” he had asked on the phone, reeling from the fact that Dawn was at the dance studio at that very moment, dancing with his very own child.

 

“Nathan, she would have killed me.  More importantly, she would have left and you wouldn't have had this opportunity, so lay off me!”

 

“Okay, okay, I'm sorry,” he sighed loosening his tie and running a hand through his hair.

 

“And when you get here Nathan, try to act, you know, don't be so...”

 

“So what, Christina?”

 

“Nathan, she still really loves you, don't fuck up, okay?”

 

Oh.

 

“She does?  Okay...okay, I'll try to be, you know-”

 

“And Nathan, I know you still love her too.  I could tell that day we ran into each other.  You didn't say it in so many words, but I knew it.”

 

“I know.  I do.  I really do, Christina, I always have.  I was just a moron-”

 

“You weren't.  You were you.  Doing the right thing practically seeps from your veins.  You didn't mean to hurt her.  You just couldn't see another way at the time.  You probably also thought you'd both get over each other eventually.  Now that bit was moronic.”

 

“Thanks, Buddy, really.  No, I mean it, thanks for this call, for warning me, really, so I can have time to, to you know, not be so-”  

 

“Yeah, I know.  See you when you get here, Nathan.”

 

***

 

When he opened the door of the dance studio, the first thing he heard was Selena's laughter.  It warmed his heart like no other sound in the world.  When he got close enough, he could see her on the floor between the young dance team Christina was working with, holding both their hands as they all three swayed and spun on the polished floor.  He didn't see Christina; she must be in the office.  At first he didn't see Dawn either.  

 

When he did, he thought his heart would break.  She was in a seat, her head down, her shoulders slumped and shaking.  She looked so small.  She was crying.

 

Instinct took over.  He moved to her and put his arm around her without any conscious thought whatsoever.  

 

“Don't cry, Dawn.  I could never stand to see you cry.”

 

At once, she nestled close to him and buried her head in the crook of his neck.  After a moment, she looked up at him and his breath caught in his throat.

 

God, she was still so beautiful.  Even now, no make-up, hair a little disheveled, and tears streaming down her face, she just killed him.

 

Dawn's beauty had always had an ethereal quality to Nathan.  He used to say that dumb pick-up line to her all the time as an inside joke.  ”Did it hurt?”  ”What?”   she would say coyly.  ”When you fell from the sky...”  

 

He almost said it to her now, as he smoothed her hair and began tucking it behind her ears.  She was his angel.  She had always been.  Her beautiful spirit had gripped him tightly in their years apart.  She had never let him go.

 

“Nathan,” she said simply, looking up at him with same wonder he was feeling in his own heart.

 

“Yeah, it's me.”  His voice was so soft; he was almost whispering.

 

She was becoming mesmerized by the feel of his fingers.  So familiar, yet so new.  She could feel the little hairs on her body standing straight up with every touch.  God, he made her crazy.  Even now, even after all these years.

 

For a moment, they just stared at each other.  The world was fading away and they were becoming lost.  It was amazing how seeing each other face-to-face so suddenly like this just evaporated all of the regret and pain they had been feeling.  There was nothing left but the love.  

 

Dawn was reminded of what people had said about her and Nathan.

 

“Daddy!  Daddy!  Watch me!  Watch me, Daddy!”

 

They were jolted back into reality by Selena's happy yell.

 

Dawn laughed and moved over slightly, waving at the little girl as Nathan stood and went to the benches.

 

“I'm watching, Baby!  Go for it!”

 

Selena, with an assist from Christina's students, stretched her arms out, still in between them holding their hands and went into a rather impressive spin.  

 

“Now let go!”  she cried, and they did, staying close in case she wobbled.  But she didn't, and her pose was pretty good, thank you,  if Nathan did say so himself.

 

“That's beautiful, Selena!  I love it, baby!”

 

She beamed back at him and stopped in the middle of the dance floor to bow.

 

Right then, Christina came out and joined them.

 

“Well, I see everything is acceptable here, yes?”

 

“Yes, Chrissy, we're fine,” said Dawn shyly.

 

“Just beginning to get reacquainted,” Nathan said, as the three dancers made their way to the benches.

 


Christina introduced Dante and Gabriella to Nathan as Selena jumped into his arms and began peppering his cheeks with kisses.

 

He juggled her around in his arms in order to shake their hands.

 

“Pleased to meet you both.  Thanks for letting my little one here hang out with you today.”

 

“Oh she is the sweetest!” exclaimed the young red head, her darkly handsome partner shaking his head in agreement.

 

“Yes sir, Selena is welcome here with us, anytime.”

 

Nathan was impressed with their English and their nice manners.

 

Christina released them for the day as Dawn joined them at the benches.  

 

She tentatively came close to Nathan and Selena turned her body so that she could touch Dawn's shoulder.

 

“Look, Daddy.  She's here.  She's real!”

 

Nathan blushed deeply.  ”Of course she's real, Silly!”  

 

Christina and Dawn shared a glance and then looked at the floor, trying not to laugh.

 

“But I've heard you Daddy.  I've heard you ask her picture if she was ever real.  I think it's because you missed her so much and you kind of forgot if she was or not.”

 

Dawn continued looking at the floor, but this time it was so the others wouldn't see the fresh tears pooling in her eyes, threatening to spill over.

 

Out of the mouths of babes.  Oh Nathan.   

 

“Yeah, you're right, Princess, I guess I did.    I'm so glad you two got to meet each other today.”

 

“Me too, Daddy.  I need to go to the bathroom, okay?”  She whispered the last part, pulling his head close to her little mouth.

 

This broke the tension and they all laughed as he set her down.

 

“Okay, Honey.  Do you need anyone to go with you?”

 

“Nope, it's not far, I'm good!”  She slipped on her shoes and scooted off, leaving the three adults alone.

 

Dawn turned to Nathan and put her hand on his shoulder.  ”Oh Nathan, she is so, so beautiful.  I can see you and Trisha both.”  

 

That was so sweet of her, to include Trisha, so like Dawn.

 

“Thanks, Dawn.  She's incredible.  We're blessed.”

 

“You know, she told me- she-”  Dawn began, but suddenly grew shy as Nathan searched her eyes.

 

Christina, ever perceptive, suddenly said, “Hey you two, you must be in shock seeing each other again after...after everything... why don't you let me take Selena for awhile so you can have some time alone?  I'll get her dinner, maybe some gelato, and I'll bring her back for her bedtime.  Okay, Nathan?”

 

“Nathan?”  

 

He and Dawn were still staring at each other.  Christina could only wonder at the silent communication that was taking place.  Those two could always do that, that weird, disjointed combination of talking and mental telepathy.  She and Steve always did too, but not like “Dawn-” they  had it down to an art.  Used to freak everyone else out, but Christina always secretly thought it was the height of romance.  

 

“Nathan!” she repeated a little louder.

 

“Y-yeah, Christina, okay.  If it's okay with Dawn, I mean, and if Selena wants to.”

 

“If Selena wants to what?”  the little girl asked sweetly as she rejoined them.  ”Chrissy wants to take you out, just you and her.  What do you think?” asked her dad.

 

“Okay!  I'd love to!”  She grabbed Christina's hand and began pulling her away as all three adults laughed.  She had them all wrapped around her little finger.

 

Selena suddenly stopped midway and swung around to face Dawn and Nathan.  

 

“You two better not kiss without me.  I want to be there for that!”

 

“Oh my, come on, Girlie!”  Christina quickly picked her up and started running, much to the little girl's delight.  ”I mean it, Daddy!” she called from Christina's arms as they bounded through the lobby doors.

 

Dawn was playing with her hair and Nathan had his hands in his pockets, both of them staring at the floor, both wondering who was the brighter shade of red.

 

“I- I don't know why she would say that.  She-” Nathan began trying to explain, but Dawn just laughed, putting him at ease.

 

“It's okay, Nathan.  She's adorable.  I love her.  Already.”   She added the final word very softly.

 

“She loves you, too.  She's been taught to.”

 

“I know Nathan, she told me.”

 

“She did?”

 

They had made their way back to the seats.  Dawn twisted her hair and brought it over her right shoulder as she spoke.   

 

“That's what I was going to say before.  She told me that you tell her 'Dawn Selena' stories for bedtime sometimes.  That's amazing, Nathan.  That you would do that.  That you would work so hard to make sure she knows me and loves me, even after how we left things.   After what I said to you.”

 

“I don't want to be your friend!”    It was burnt into his memory.  Into his soul.  

 

“It's okay, Dawn.  I drove you to it.  I should have done things diff-”

 

 ”I didn't mean it, you know.”  She stopped him, placing the palm of her hand on his cheek.  ”Being your friend is the same as breathing to me.  I could never stop.”

 

“I know Dawn.  I knew then that you didn't mean it.  If I don't know another damn thing in this world, I know we're friends.  Always.  I knew it when we cried together at the dance studio the morning of my wedding.  I knew it when I spoke my vows.  I knew it every time we tried to talk on the phone and you would only end up in tears and hang up on me.   I knew it when I got divorced, even though you didn't call me.   If I had never laid eyes on you again in my whole life I would have still known it, Dawn.  You can't do what we've done together and not be, at the very least, friends.”

 

God, he took her breath away.

 

“Nathan- I “  He grabbed both of her hands in his, cutting her off.  ”Dawn, will you dance with me?”  

 

“Dance, what?”

 

“Come on, I know you have your shoes with you,” he said with a grin.

 

“In my rental car, but-”  ”Yeah, me too!  Old habits, and all that.  Please Dawn.  It won't feel really real until we dance.”

 

She suddenly got it.  He was right.  They had to dance.  

 

Her smile lit up her whole face.  ”I'll race you!” she cried running off while he was still sitting there.

 

***

  

They were hand-in-hand just circling the dance floor.  It was natural, but still a little awkward.  It had been many years, after all.

 

“Do you dance much?” he asked, stroking her thumb with his.

 

“Not a whole lot.  After you, I just...  it kind of makes me sad to, I guess.”

 

“Yeah, I know.  Me too.  I only do it when Selena begs me to.”

 

“It feels good to do it with you, Nathan.  It feels better than I dreamed, even.”  She let him lead her to the middle of the dance floor.

 

“You've dreamed about it?”  he asked softly, stopping her in the middle of the dance floor and turning her to face him.

 

She was embarrassed. Why did I say that out loud?

 

She decided to just be tough and say it.

 

 ”I have.  I just... I hate how we left things, Nathan.  I've dreamed of dancing with you, holding you.  I've dreamed of a lot of things.”

 

“Me too. Dawn.  I dream of you all the time.  I- sometimes at night, I just think of you and I get so-” He was crying softly and she reached up to brush away his tears.

 

“I know, Nathan.  Selena told me.  That's what I was really going to say earlier.  She told me that you look at pictures and cry.  I do that too.  I have for years.  I can't believe all this time you've felt the same way-” Tears were suddenly choking her.  She hadn't even known she was crying.  She couldn't go on.

 

“Dawn- please-”  Suddenly they were clutching at each other and hugging so tightly that they could feel each other's hearts beating through their skin.  

 

It was as if her heart beat through his own chest and his beat through hers.

 

“Please, I want, I need-” and his lips were on hers, and time stopped.

 

It should have been too soon; they had just seen each other again, but it didn't feel too soon, it felt almost too late.  Like if they didn't, they wouldn't be able to breathe much longer.

 

When they finally stopped for air, Dawn smirked, “Selena's going to be mad.”

 

Nathan laughed.  ”Don't tell her, okay, I'll never hear the end.”

 

They were both still crying a little, and holding on to each other.  

 

“Nathan, I'm not mad at you anymore.  I understand.  You did the best you could at the time.”

 

“No, I was wrong.  I just couldn't face the truth.  Well, it was even worse than that, actually, I did know it, I just didn't want to know it.  I was a coward.  I've been so ashamed Dawn, all these years.  I could have done better by you and Trisha, both.”

 

“Nathan, no, stop, I won't have that.  You were not a coward.  You were human.  You had a baby on the way.  You wanted her with both parents.  You were trying to be unselfish towards your child.  I get it, I do.”

 

“Dawn, thank you.  Thank you for saying that.”  He kissed her softly again, parting her lips with his tongue and making her moan.

 

“I'm not mad at you anymore either, Dawn.  I understand too.  I get why you felt like you needed a clean break.  Even though it hurt like hell, you were right.  We had to.”

 

“Nathan, I don't know.  That's what I regret.  I should have stayed around and been a freaking grown-up, for God's sake.  When I think about how I didn't even know your child until today- that shames me, Nathan.  I'm so sorry.”

 

He chuckled softly.  ”I can't believe you still say freaking,' for God's sake.”  She punched his arm.

 

“No, don't beat yourself up about Selena; she has you now.  You did what you felt you had to at the time, just like I did.  We've got to forgive and move on.”

 

“I forgive you for everything, Nathan.”  

 

“I forgive you, too, Dawn, and I bless you for letting me kiss you twice already!  Damn, you've gotten easy in your old age, girl!”  

 

“Nathan McCarthy, you take that back!”  She sprinted after him as he suddenly took off towards the benches

 

They couldn't believe how easy it all was; how emotionally in sync they felt, how their bodies fit together, how kissing felt like breathing, how quickly the forgiveness and understanding came. 

 

As she caught up to him and he took her in his arms again, both breathless and laughing, Dawn was suddenly reminded of something their dance instructor Taylor used to say about them all the time- ”Two souls that are one.”

 

That's what they were.  That's what they would always be.  Neither time nor distance nor grief nor regret had changed it.  Nothing would ever change it.

 

***

 

He took her to a lovely dinner at a small neighborhood restaurant and then back to his apartment to wait for Christina and Selena.  They were sitting on his sofa, drinking wine and looking at Selena's baby photo album.  He could tell Dawn still felt badly about missing her birth and early years, and he wanted her to see it all so she would feel closer to her namesake.

 

As she turned the pages, she suddenly thought of that.  ”I can't believe you named her after me, Nathan.  That Trisha would go along with it-”

 

 ”Well, to be honest, she didn't have a choice, actually,” he answered.  

 

“Huh?  She didn't have a choice about naming her own baby?”

 

“She and I had an agreement- she would get final name choice if it was a boy and I would get final say if it was a girl.  The day we found out her sex, I told Trisha what her name would be.  I won't lie to you- she wasn't thrilled.  She usually calls her 'Sellie' to this day, but I have no regrets about it at all.  I wanted my daughter to be a part of you, and for you to be a part of her, and that's the best way I could think to do it.   Besides, it's a beautiful name.  Win-win, I've always thought.”

 

“Win-win, indeed,” Dawn concurred, kissing him lightly on the cheek.  He set down their glasses and took her in his arms.  She laid her head on his shoulder and he began running his fingers through her hair.  


“Thanks for keeping your hair long, by the way; you know I love it.”

 

“Back at ya.  When Trisha made you get that fricking haircut after the championship, I hated it,” Dawn said.

 

“I know.  You told me.  Often.”

 

“Yours could actually be a little longer, even,” Dawn breathed as she knotted her fingers in his curls and brought his head close to hers so she could kiss his lips.

 

“Um, I'll work on it for you, Baby,” he answered.  

 

Just then, there was a sharp knock at the door.  ”Remember,” Nathan cautioned as he moved to open it, “we have not kissed!”  

 

“Yes, sir,” she replied with a salute.

 

Christina and Selena bounded in, full of stories about the Make-Your-Own Pizza place they had been to, and the delicious gelato they'd had.  

 

Christina could tell they had indeed been kissing from Nathan's disheveled curls and the flush in Dawn's cheeks, but thankfully Selena was clueless.

 

After Christina left, Selena wanted Dawn to help with her bath and tell her a story, which touched Dawn deeply.  She blissfully complied with the little girl's wishes as Nathan looked on, grinning broadly.

 

“Tell me about my daddy when he was a little boy dancer.”

 

“Oh, okay, I have a lot of those stories,” Dawn replied, as they settled onto Selena's bed.

 

She told her about the first time she and her dad had danced together, about how shy they were around each other and about how fast Nathan liked to go, and how he made her like it too.  They had become the best dancers in the world.  No one had ever matched their beauty and poise. 

 

Nathan stood in the doorway just out of sight and listened.  His heart soared as he was taken back in time.  What a life he had had with this woman.  What a life still awaited them, if all went as he hoped.

 

When he could tell that Selena was near sleep and Dawn was winding up her story, he came in to kiss his little girl good-night.  'Night Daddy, love you,” she sighed as her little eyes fluttered.  She was almost gone.  ”Sleep well, my sweetie,” her daddy said, placing one more kiss on her forehead and pulling her covers up close.

 

He and Dawn left the room hand-in-hand and he called her a cab.  While they waited for it, he hugged her tightly.  ”I don't really want to let you go.  This isn't a dream, right?”

 

She kissed his lips.  ”Um, no, definitely not a dream,” she teased.

 

“Hey, have breakfast with me tomorrow?  I don't have to be at the office until 10:00.”

 

“Okay, but let me bring it here for all three of us,” she proposed.

 

“You're on,” he answered, kissing her sweetly.

 

***

 

That night, they lay in bed texting each other until the wee hours.  A bunch of nothing, but necessary, meaningful nothing.  They loved it, just being able to do it, after all they had been through.

 

As they drifted off to sleep, holding each other close in thought, neither knew exactly what was ahead, but they had the morning to look forward to, and they would go from there.

 

 Together.





CHAPTER FIVE


 

Dawn awoke in Christina's pretty yellow guest room before her alarm. She had slept fitfully, but not with worry, with excitement.  


Nathan.  


He was the last thing on her mind as she drifted off to sleep after a marathon late-night texting session that ranged from the best dancers in the world to how Downton Abbey had ended.  ”Your opinion on this does not matter!  You barely watched it Nathan.  That was my show!”

 

She could feel her face spread into a ridiculous grin as Christina bounded in.  ”So... tell me everything, and don't leave anything out!”  What commenced was “girl talk” at its best- blushing - “God, Christina, can he ever kiss!”- squealing, laughing, and even a few tears - I'm so happy for you both, Dawn.  Promise me you will make the most of this second chance.”


The two friends left at the same time, Christina for the studio and a session, and Dawn for breakfast with Selena and Nathan.  ”You look beautiful, honey.  He's going to love it,” beamed Christina as they hugged goodbye outside her front door.  ”Thanks!” Dawn answered smoothing her black skirt with nervous, shaking hands.  How on Earth could he still make her so damn nervous, she wondered, grateful for Christina's encouraging words.  


The truly beautiful never know how beautiful they really are, and Dawn was no exception.  Her black skirt was simple, but elegant, and she had paired it with an emerald colored sweater that brought out the green flecks that occasionally showed up in her eyes.  Her hair was loose and wavy, thrown over one shoulder in her trade-mark style.  Beautiful Italian-made leather boots finished off her look.  She had splurged on them the very day she arrived in Rome and had hardly worn anything else since she had been there.


As soon as she got in her rental car, she almost called Nathan, but decided to give him some uninterrupted time with Selena.  She bought cappuccino, hot chocolate, and a variety of croissants at Christina's favorite shop.  On her way to Nathan's, she wanted to call her mom, but figured her parents would not appreciate a middle-of-the-night call, even if it was about something as epic as seeing Nathan again.  She sighed, and decided to wait.  She would tell her mom everything later.


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