As Alexis packed for her week at the beach, she gave more thought to the clothes she'd take than she usually did. She'd always considered her wardrobe to be clearly split between her clothes for work related activities, and clothes for everything else. She was glad Dave had seen her at the library now. He hadn't found her plain or baby-faced. Outside of Toria, Alexis had never felt sure anyone would accept her for herself. All these thoughts went around in her mind and she now wondered if she really even knew who she was. She loved her job. Books had been important to her as a child and she liked to share their stories with the children that came to the library. Still, she did really enjoying looking at men and bantering with them. It just wasn't the most important thing in her life. The odd thing was, she only cared now for Dave's attention, not general male attention. Through their chats and emails in the month since she had met him, she felt she had gotten to know him well. She felt his complete acceptance of her now that he'd gotten to know her. It was freeing, but sort of scary, too. She'd played roles for so long. He mattered so much to her. Alexis had felt very drawn to Dave. It might just have been appreciating a handsome and sexy man at first, but now she knew he was bright and witty and caring too. She might just be falling in love with him. She sure hoped he would be understanding when he heard Toria's explanation of her link to Will. If Dave thought Toria was crazy, it would hurt Alexis so much. Will might be hurt, too. Boy, this was complicated. Alexis believed it because Toria believed it. Toria wasn't just her best friend. Toria was the one person who knew everything about her. Even though Toria's mom was more a mother to Alexis than Alexis' own mother and had allowed Alexis to come live with them, she didn't know the whole story. Well, that was something she really didn't want to think about. Thinking about Dave was much better. She smiled. He'd almost kissed her before Will and Toria returned last time. When he came to town they hadn't had any private moments. They just walked a couple blocks from the library to a cafe for lunch. He did hold her hand on the way back, but that was all they could do. That first kiss wouldn't be long now and how she wanted it. The phone rang, jarring her from her musings.
"Hello?" she said into the phone.
"Hi Alex," said Toria. "Are you all packed?"
"Just about. I'll be by at 8 in the morning for you."
"OK. I'm so nervous, Alex. I have to tell Will, don't I?"
"Toria, you already told him you figured things out. You can't go back on that, and you couldn't tell a lie to save your life."
"Right. I'll have the box with the letters and journal along."
"He felt something too, you know. I don't think he'll need proof."
"Are you going to tell Dave, Alex?"
"If you want me to, I will. I'm not sure I should be the one to tell him though."
"I think you should, while I tell Will. Then, when we all get together again, we can discuss it."
"OK. Toria, I've got a long distance beep I need to answer."
"I'll just say good night then and see you in the morning."
"Good night Toria." Alex pressed the link button on the phone. "Hello."
"Hello, Alexis," said the male voice on the other end.
"Good night, Alexis. I'll see you tomorrow."
"I'll be there. Good night, Dave."
The plan was for Alexis and Toria to meet Dave and Will at the same beach where they'd first met. The couples would split up so that Toria could tell Will what she had discovered and Alexis would tell Dave about it. They'd meet back to share the picnic lunch Toria had packed on the beach and then Toria and Alexis would go check in at the cottage they had arranged to rent. It was one of a group of small rental cottages within walking distance of the beach where they had stayed the last couple of years.
Alexis was pleased to see Dave and Will standing by Will's car when she pulled into the beach parking lot. She looked over at Toria, who had a white-knuckle grip on the small wooden box.
"It's going to be OK, Toria. I know it."
Alexis shut off the engine and opened her door just as Dave reached it.
"Hello, Alexis," he said, offering her a hand to help her out.
Will had similarly arrived on the other side of the car to help Toria. He couldn't help noticing how tense she was. She had said she had answers to their questions but wanted to wait to tell him in person. Now he wasn't so sure he wanted to hear them.What did it really matter anyway? They met and something very real was growing between them.
"Hello, Will," said Toria.
When Toria stood beside Will, she asked, "Walk with me?"
"I'd like that." They walked down the boardwalk in silence. "Are you alright, Toria?"
"I think so," replied Toria with a half-smile.
"You don't have to tell me anything."
"I do." After a few minutes of silence, she added, "It's all sort of weird, but still ..."
"I believe it. Let's sit on that grassy spot up ahead."
When they'd reach the spot, Toria had sat down and placed the small wooden box beside her. She drew her knees up under her chin and wrapped her arms around her legs. Will sat cross-legged across from her by mere inches and watched her.
"When we met, I told you your name was familiar."
"I remembered why."
"One of the last things my grandmother ever said to me was that I should ask my mother for 'the old box' when I met my William Neville. Strange, huh?"
"I'd say interesting."
Toria smiled at him. "The box holds a couple of letters and a journal. You may read them if you like after I tell you the story."
Toria then told him about her grandmother and her great-great-grandmother.
Back at the parking lot, Alexis had anxiously watched her friend walk off with Will. Dave put an arm around her shoulder.
"They'll be alright," he whispered in her ear.
Alexis looked up at him and smiled. "I know."
"Do you want to tell me about it?"
"I do. I did think Toria should, as it's her story, but she said it would be alright for me to tell you. Let's go sit on that bench over there." Alexis pointed down the boardwalk in the opposite direction to which Toria and Will had gone.
As Toria had told the story to Will he had moved closer to her until he sat next to her with one arm over her shoulder, pulling her so that she was leaning into him when she finished.
"I know it sounds crazy, but I believe it. I brought the box for you to see."
"I believe it, too, Toria. I would like to read the letters and journal sometime, but I don't need to read them."
"Really?" She looked up at his face, so very close to hers.
"Really," he averred just before bending his head to kiss her lips. When he ended the kiss, Will asked, "Should we go back to Dave and Alexis?"
"I guess so," said Toria, although she was sure Alexis would understand if they didn't hurry back. "One more kiss first?"
Will laughed, but granted her request before standing up and helping Toria to her feet. As they walked back to the parking lot, Will said, "This solves another riddle, too."
"I always wondered why Grandfather named his sailboat Vicky," he said with a smile.
At the other end of the beach, Alexis had told Dave the story and was waiting for his reaction.
"Wow," he said. Alexis found that very ambiguous.
"I know it sounds strange, but Toria is more than a friend to me-"
"It's OK," Dave interrupted. "You don't need to defend her. It does explain things."
"I can tell Toria is important to you."
"It might sound melodramatic, but she saved me."
Alexis looked toward the parking lot and saw Will and Toria nearing her car.
"I better go open the trunk," she said as she rose from the bench. Dave grabbed her hand.
"Will you ever tell me?"
Although tempted to say she had no idea what he was referring to, Alexis just said, very softly, "Not yet."
After their picnic on the beach, the women went to settle in to their cottage and the men spent the afternoon out on Will's grandfather's sailboat. They met together again at the Chinese buffet for supper and returned to the lake for sunset.
Will and Toria sat on a bench on the boardwalk to watch the sunset huddled close together. Dave accompanied Alexis as she wandered the beach getting pictures from different angles and locations. As she was putting her camera away, Dave asked, half joking, "Do you think you took enough?"
Alexis smiled at him. "I think so. One of the joys of a digital camera. You really needn't limit yourself."
"Are you going to have enough memory space for the whole week?"
"I brought my laptop. I'll download tonight or tomorrow morning."
"Thank you." Alexis smiled at him. He'd gotten so very close.
Alexis felt she knew his unvoiced question. At least she hoped she did. She stepped closer and laid her hand on his chest lightly. Looking directly in his eyes in the soft evening light, she replied, "Yes."
As his lips touched hers, Alexis' first thought was Finally! but soon sensation took over and she could no longer think. Her arms wound around his neck and his wrapped around her waist. Each tried to pull the other closer. When it did end Alex had another thought ... Perfect!
Sunday Alexis and Toria spent at Will's cottage. The afternoon was spent sailing. Then the men cooked dinner. There was a lot of talk and laughter. At dinner, Will had shared his plan to commute to work from the cottage each day. He thought he might be able to finish early some days, too. Dave revealed he was sort of on holidays. After dinner, Toria and Will insisted on doing the cleanup, so Dave and Alexis went for a walk along the shoreline.
"I think they just wanted to get rid of us," said Dave.
They walked hand in hand.
"What did you mean when you said you are sort of on holidays?"
"I'm between jobs."
"The business I was on when I visited you ..."
"It was a job interview."
"Yep. I know it seems odd now, but I had applied before I even met you."
"By the time of the interview, I wanted it more than ever."
"And did you get it?"
Alexis squeezed his hand. "Congratulations!"
Dave pulled her into a hug. "Thank you."
"So you'll be moving?"
"I will. I start in 2 weeks. I thought I'd relax here this week and move next week."
"You have a place?"
"The company has helped me find a sublet apartment. I'll look at other options later."
Dave stopped abruptly and whispered, "Over there."
Alexis looked, smiled at Dave, and reached into her ever-present camera bag. She got a couple of shots before the heron realized they were near and flew off.
"Thank you!" Alexis impulsively hugged him.
"You are getting to know me, aren't you?"
"I think so. I want to get to know all about you, Alexis."
"Do you?" Alex had meant the question to be playful, but it had come out serious.
"Yes. When you are ready."
The week sped by. Alexis sometimes felt a bit of guilt over the amount of time she was spending with Dave, but Toria had encouraged her. All four ate together every night at Will's cottage with cooking and cleanup duties rotating. It was Friday night, Toria and Alexis' last night at the lake. At dinner, Will and Toria had announced their engagement. They planned to have a small wedding at the beach on the Saturday of Labour Day weekend. Alexis' was so happy for her friend.
As had become their routine, Toria and Will remained on the deck to watch the sunset while Dave and Alexis went down to the shore to view it. Toria had whispered something to Alexis as she left which Alexis now shared with Dave.
"Toria is going to stay with Will tonight."
"Oh. That's what she whispered to you?"
"Yes. Will that be awkward for you?"
"A little, but the cottage isn't that small."
"Right. Would you prefer to come back with me?"
Dave tried to look in Alexis' eyes, but she was looking down at the rocks.
"Alexis, look at me."
She still looked at the rocks.
"The living area has a futon."
"I see. You are just offering a place so I won't feel awkward."
"I don't really want to drive back alone."
"I see. Anything else?"
"I promised I'd talk to you and tomorrow I leave the lake. Maybe we could talk."
"If you are ready."
After the sun finished setting, Dave and Alexis said their goodnights to Toria and Will. Toria had taken Alexis to one side before they left.
"Alex, I'm sorry! I wasn't thinking when I told you I was staying with Will tonight. You don't have to-"
"I want to, Toria. Dave and I need to talk. It's OK."
"Alright. I hope it works out for you, Alex, and that you can be as happy as I am."
"You and Will were meant for each other." Alexis smiled at her friend and hugged her.
"We were," agreed Toria. "Maybe you and Dave are, too."
"I'm so happy for you and I'm going to really talk to Dave tonight."
"I think he loves you, Alex."
"I hope so, because I love him so much."
"I know you do."
Dave sat on the futon watching Alexis pace. "You don't have to tell me anything," he said, although he really felt like this was something she needed to talk about.
Alexis stopped and looked at him. She loved him. She wanted him to know all about her. She sat on the rug in front of the futon next to where Dave sat on it, leaning her back against it, and staring straight ahead.
"I don't want secrets between us," she started.
"I think I have told you Toria is more than a friend. She's my sister in a sense. Her family took me in."
"It's a bit funny. They moved to town when we were both about 10. I was very outgoing then and took her under my wing to get her involved in everything. We became good friends. Later when I needed a home, her family welcomed me."
"You have no family?"
"I must have had a father but I've no idea who he is. I doubt my mother knew, either. Men floated in and out of her life and, in a way, my life. Many of them I found very creepy. The more activities and projects I got involved with at school the less I was home or thinking about home. When I was 11, I start to develop very quickly. My mother, who had expressed her disgust in having such a plain daughter so many times, was thrilled to see I wouldn't be flat chested at least. She declared I needed to show them off, draw attention away from my chubby, baby-face. She took a real interest in me for the first time and I was so flattered, if uncomfortable, that I allowed her to makeup my face and wore the tight, low cut clothes she bought me. I got attention that I didn't like, but Mama was so pleased with me that I went along with it. Boys started asking me out when I was 13 and she encouraged me to bring them home. When they came to the house, she flirted with them and encouraged me to as well. She said it was innocent fun and I went along with it. And some of it was. I never really dated any of them, but she didn't know that. I never wanted to be alone with them. One day, I think I was 14, I came home and one of the guys was already there with my mother who had turned and rushed to her room when I entered. I thought her blouse was undone, but that seemed absurd, so I dismissed the idea. Then one day, as I arrived home, she was kissing a boy at the door, wearing only a silk robe. I remembered her doing much the same with so many men over the years. I threw up in the bushes by the porch. I confided in Toria. She told me the stories going round."
Alexis paused. Dave slid down on the floor next to her and put his arm around her shoulder.
"I was bait of a sort. My mother used me to get younger men, boys really, into her bed. I wanted to run away. I wanted to cover myself from head to foot. I didn't want anyone to know. Since they did, I felt the best thing, for my own pride, was that they not know I knew, so I continued on as before pretty much, though I stopped asking any boys to my house. I did like the flirting and attention and wondered at times if I was just like Mama. But I didn't actually date at all. I suppose that's difficult to believe."
"I believe you, Alexis."
"Thank you Dave. Mama asked why I wasn't bringing boys to meet her and I made excuses. Over the years Mama had had fewer men visitors. That wasn't the worst of it."
Alex paused. "This is painful for you."
"It is. One day, when I was out, I came across one of Mama's men friends ... one I thought especially creepy. He'd been a regular visitor for years, but not for a quite a while. The way he eyed me made my skin crawl."
She shuddered from the memory and Dave tightened his hold on her.
"I was shocked to find him waiting with Mama for me one day after school. He'd told Mama he wanted to have sex with both of us and she had agreed to it. I said no and he slapped me. He told Mama to help tie me to the headboard. She helped him undress me and watched when he ..."
Dave pulled her onto his lap and cradled her in his arms gently rocking her and telling her softly she didn't have to say anymore. Alexis sobbed and held onto him. In time she continued.
"I laid there, crying from physical pain as well as emotional pain, and heard him have sex with Mama. I heard him talk money with Mama and give her the agreed extra because I had been a virgin. He left and she untied me. She said if I had cooperated it wouldn't have hurt so much and that I might have enjoyed it. I never said a word to her. I got dressed and went to Toria's. She was shocked, but never asked what happened, only asked what I needed. I told her I was never going home again and wanted to take a bath. She gave me a robe to wear after the bath and left me. I guess she talked to her parents. There's a lot of details I don't know, but somehow they got my mom to give them guardianship and brought my clothes and books. I never told them what happened. I know they saw the mark on my face from the slap and the marks on my wrists from being tied. Maybe they figured it out. I stayed out of school for two weeks till things had healed. Toria brought home schoolwork. Her parents told the school I was ill. It was true in a way. I didn't want to go back to the makeup and clothes my mother had bought me to show off my 'best feature,' but I didn't want anyone to see the change in me. I think I have always continued to think of myself as needing the makeup and sexy clothes."
When Alexis paused, Dave asked, "You never reported it?"
"No. I was too ashamed. I should have."
"It's OK, Alexis. You did nothing wrong. You were the victim."
"I know. My own mother ... "
"Shhh. She was a mother in the biological sense only. You could still have them charged."
"No. He died a few years ago. I have never seen my mother since that night and I don't want to see her. Dave ..."
"I think you have the wrong impression of me."
"When we met, you saw the public me. Flirting, ogling, bantering."
"You are the librarian I met when I visited?"
"Pretty much. It's just when I go to the beach or out other places that I ... you know. But I don't date."
"No. I guess it's the safety in numbers thing. I can do that in a crowd. And I do like men. I just haven't been alone with one till you."
"You trust me?"
"I'm honoured. I won't misuse your trust."
"I would like to sleep beside you tonight, to just be there, to hold you."
"I'd like that."
Alexis and Dave sat on the glider on the deck of Will's cottage watching the sunset. Alexis had declared herself too tired to go down to the shore and contented herself with taking only a few pictures. Now she snuggled up close to Dave.
"Toria was a beautiful bride, wasn't she?" Alexis asked idly.
"Yes, she was," agreed Dave. "But not as beautiful as her maid of honour."
"Not true, but thank you. The vintage dresses were so feminine. Those tuxes you and Will found fit right in with Toria's Edwardian theme."
"I'm glad she didn't make us grow muttonchop sideburns as she first suggested."
Alexis laughed. "I know, but you would have been so handsome."
At the look Dave gave her, Alexis added, "You are very handsome without them, too."
"Thank you. I think they'll be very happy together."
"They will. They were destined to be together," Alex stated confidently. "It was nice of them to let us have the cottage while they are off on their honeymoon."
"It's too bad we need to be back to work on Tuesday."
"True, but it's only Saturday night."
"What can one do on a Saturday night up at the lake after sunset?" asked Dave.
"We could watch television or get out a boardgame," suggested Alexis.
"We could, but I'm enjoying just sitting here holding you."
"This is nice."
"A holiday wedding was nice. Although it wasn't big, everyone they wanted there was able to make it."
"Alexis, would you like a holiday wedding?"
Dave knelt on the deck in front of Alexis. "Alexis, although I misjudged you at first, I quickly learnt what a unique and wonderful woman you are. I think you stole my heart that first weekend I met you. The time since has confirmed it. I love you and if you'd marry me on Thanksgiving weekend, I'll be the most thankful of men."
"You mean it?"
"Oh, Dave." Alexis wiped away a tear. "You are the best man."
"Well, I was this afternoon." He grinned at her. "Now I want to be the groom."
Alexis gave him a playful punch. "You are always the best. I love you so much."
Alexis cheeks were wet with tears, but she was smiling. "Is that a yes?"
Dave stood up and pulled Alexis up to kiss her. He kissed her mouth, her damp cheeks, her eyelids, her throat and returned to her mouth.
"Let's go inside," said Alexis. "I've an idea on how to spend a Saturday night."
She pulled Dave by the hand toward the bedrooms. Dave had been very careful over the weeks of dating to never push Alexis when it came to intimacy. In a very real way, she was so innocent. He knew she enjoyed the kisses and had grown to enjoy some touching. He had to ask. "Alexis? What do you want?"
"I want you, Dave. I love you."
It was the smile that convinced him and he followed her into the bedroom. He was already extremely thankful.
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