Monster 11-20

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Chapter Eleven

Melanie walked into the pub, looking for Max, being careful to make sure Nick was nowhere nearby, still furious with him from the night before. After she and Mike left her would be rescuer, they tried to pick up where they started, but quickly realized the moment was gone so they called it a night. Melanie doubted she would see Mike again; her real concerns were over why Nick barged in as he did. She knew he wasn’t happy with her date but she had no idea his jealousy could conjure up a predicament where she would need rescuing. Even more troubling was Melanie came to Nick’s own defense about his outlandish actions when Mike called him crazy. Whether Nick was a lunatic or not, and Melanie couldn’t believe he really was, the least she could do was let Mike know Nick had saved her life for real over in France. Her date really didn’t care and she barely remembered saying goodbye to him.

While deep in thought, she nearly ran into Stephanie, “Have you seen your boyfriend?”

The girl blushed and shook her head no. “This is his morning off.”

Tempted to walk out, Melanie glanced at Stephanie who was on her laptop, altering a presentation. “What are you working on?”

“A presentation I should have finished last night, it’s due today,” she answered absently.

“Like waiting until the last minute?”

Sighing, Stephanie shook her head, “I just got it yesterday but I would have been done with it last night, however, Chelsea called upset and I had to go help her.”

Melanie rolled her eyes, everything made Chelsea upset. “What was it this time? She lost an earring?”

Stephanie looked at her seriously, “No, she found out last night her grandmother has cancer.”

“Oh.” Melanie didn’t know how to respond. “Sorry to hear that.”

Stephanie shrugged and kept working. The two sat in silence. Melanie argued internally with herself over whether she should bring up Nick’s behavior from the night before. Was this like him? Before she could, two girls walked over.

“Hi Stephanie!”

Stephanie looked up, appearing not to recognize them. Eventually she remembered, “Oh, hey. Um, Melanie, this is Joanie and April. They are in my sorority.”

“You belong to a sorority?” Melanie asked, really not interested. Joanie and April took her question to be an invitation and sat down with them. They immediately began rambling on and on about how much fun it was and they had always dreamed of being in a sorority. Finally, they asked, “Have you girls seen Chelsea?”

Melanie grimaced at hearing her nemesis’ name. Honestly, does the whole world revolve around her? Stephanie told them she wouldn’t be around much at the pub and the girls looked disappointed.

April glanced at Stephanie, “Did she say anything about us?”

Stephanie looked at them puzzled. “Um, no.”

Joanie smacked April in the side and then they both got up and headed to the bar. Melanie didn’t notice much but Stephanie was rather confused. “That was weird.”

“Weird how? Isn’t that how seventeen year olds act?”

“No, about Chelsea. As far as I know, they barely know her. What were they expecting from Chelsea?”

How about a headache? “Are you guys officers or something?”

“No, we aren’t. Actually, we almost got kicked out, thanks to the Ford business.”

Melanie looked up, surprised these two goodie goodies would get into trouble. “Ford business? Did you steal a car or something?”

Stephanie glanced at Melanie, shaking her head. “No, no, he was a guy who was notorious around campus for…um, taking advantage of his dates.”

This got Melanie’s attention. Did Chelsea have a run in with him? Would that be why Nick could have misunderstood things? “Really? What happened?”

“I really don’t want to talk about it, Melanie, if that’s ok.”

Disappointed, Melanie thought about going over to the other girls to find out what they knew, but seeing them gossiping, she realized her best bet would be to just ask Stephanie outright. “Look, Stephanie, I’m sorry to ask, but I’m curious. The reason is Nick barged in on my date last night. And I mean that literally. Mike and I were, um, in his car and Nick showed up out of nowhere while dragging him out into the street.”

Stephanie’s jaw dropped. “What? When?”

“Last night. I was furious with him. I told him to leave me alone from now on. After hearing about this guy Ford, I wonder if maybe, there are reasons for him to go off like that instead of simply believing him to be a crazy person.”

Stephanie turned to look at the bar where she and Chelsea had been sitting the day before and she became quite suspicious. “I saw Nick last night. He seemed fine. He was irritated with Chelsea but that’s to be expected. You say he just came out of nowhere? Where were you?”

“Um, parked behind a restaurant here. Not the pub, somewhere else.”

Stephanie saved her work and closed the laptop, finally finished. She appeared deep in thought, so Melanie waited for a few minutes as patiently as she could but her curiosity finally got the better of her. “So…you know why Nick would do something like that?”

“He did something similar once before he and Chelsea dated. She was nearly raped by someone they both worked with. Nick showing up when he did kept anything from happening, but that’s how it went down, in the car. But that guy was a known sleaze and Nick had no doubt what he was up to.”

Melanie didn’t know what to think. “I don’t know Mike Davis very well, but I don’t think Nick did either. I swear, it felt like he had been looking for us.”

Sighing, Stephanie shook her head. “Nick does have this thing with wanting to rescue women in trouble. But he would have had to believe you were in trouble and didn’t he already know about your date beforehand? Why not say something then?”

“Yea, Chelsea had told him that.” Melanie began to think about the connection as well. Chelsea.

Stephanie seemed to be thinking the same thing, and she looked over at the girls who were still sitting at the bar. She excused herself to speak to them.

Melanie watched as they perked up at Stephanie approaching them. She couldn’t hear exactly what Stephanie asked, but she could tell the girls looked very uncomfortable. They looked at each other and then stopped making eye contact. Finally, Stephanie got them to speak up and her face changed. Melanie had never seen Stephanie look so angry before.

Marching back to her, Stephanie got her purse and laptop. She attempted to open her mouth to tell Melanie, but her anger was making it difficult. Finally she got a hold of herself, “Apparently Chelsea arranged for ‘Rose and Blanche’ up there to inform Nick about Mike having a big reputation around town. They insist they thought Chelsea was speaking the truth so they had no problems passing information along. This came right at the time they saw Mike through the window, apparently they were quite thorough and looked up his picture on Facebook. Anyway, he must have been with you because they said he was on a date. Knowing Nick and how things happened in the past with Rebert and Ford and I suppose Claude too, Nick probably would have looked for you two all night.”

From the moment Stephanie started to explain, Melanie realized where this was going but hearing the words out loud, she grew madder and madder. She hated Chelsea before, but now loathing didn’t even cover it. “I don’t care what she thinks of me, Stephanie, but how could she put Nick through that? Did she not know how I would react to him? And the look on his face…he was just humiliated.”

Stephanie had her keys in hand, “I bet he was. I apologize on Nick’s behalf. And on my behalf too. That was…so irresponsible of her. She’s pulled some stunts before but…”

Taking a moment, Stephanie blinked back tears in her eyes. Melanie wondered why Stephanie was taking it so hard. “I’m sorry, Melanie. I take this kind of thing very seriously…and Chelsea knows that…”

Then it dawned on Melanie. Her words to her in France about Claude possibly raping her…the incident with Ford…and how much this affects her; clearly Stephanie was a victim. Worried about Stephanie’s shaking hands and getting in a car, she asked, “Where are you going?”

“Oh, I’m headed to the Kiriakis house. Chelsea is staying there and she is probably home. Believe me, she’s going to get an earful.”

“Well, let me drive you then, you are too upset. Plus, I have some things I have to say if that’s ok?” But Stephanie had already handed the keys to Melanie and headed for the door with Melanie chasing after her.

Chapter Twelve

“I just…I still can’t believe it. We just got past Dad’s illness, and now Kate!”

Chelsea sat on the patio talking to Nick who had stopped by. She didn’t expect him, she had left messages for Nick about her grandmother, but given the status of their relationship she hardly expected him to bother. She was so glad he did, just seeing him was enough to give her hope, and when he touched her like the small hug when he came in, or now as he patted her hand, it was like instant relief.

More relief from Nick than Daniel. Chelsea told her inner voice to hush. Last night when Daniel called her to come into the hospital, she wondered what was going on, and her concern grew upon seeing Lucas, Chloe who he was currently dating, and Philip all present. She had plenty of support with her two uncles and doctor boyfriend, but she felt so empty and really alone. She felt alone last night even when Stephanie sweetly came by to sit with her. It wasn’t until seeing Nick where she finally felt some confidence; she could really face this and be there for her grandmother.

“Thank you so much for coming, Nick,” she said shyly.

“Of course, Chelsea. It’s the least I could do, I never thanked you for coming and helping out in France.”

She blushed, wondering why. She and Nick held each other’s gaze for a moment, and it was like the last few months never happened. She smiled which made Nick smile. Then Philip came in.

“Hello, Nick.” He said.

“I thought you were at the hospital.” Chelsea said, irritated at the interruption. “Did you leave her alone?”

Obviously not like taking orders from his niece, Philip gave her a look and firmly said, “No, Lucas and Chloe came by.”

“Kate doesn’t like Chloe.”

Philip walked over to the bar where orange juice was sitting. Pouring him a glass he said, “No, but she stayed outside talking to Daniel while Kate and Lucas visited.”

Chelsea nodded her head at that, realizing she felt nothing upon hearing Daniel’s name. She decided she needed to get something to drink too. “Nick, do you want anything?”

“Yes, but I can get it,” he said, about to jump up.

Chelsea smiled. “No, I can get you a glass, and stop jumping around like that. You’re still injured.”

Philip stopped drinking, and turned to Nick, “Oh that’s right. I forgot about your shooting. How are you feeling?”

“I’m ok. I took my first pain pill last night.”

“What did they give you?”

“Honazine.”

Philip shook his head, “Sorry, don’t know that one. That’s not what they gave me when I was shot, but I guess Europe wouldn’t necessarily use the same drugs as the U. S., huh?”

Nick just nodded, while Chelsea brought him his drink. He mouthed the words “thank you” and she felt her heart swell. She missed moments like this with him. Philip excused himself, so Chelsea turned to pour her glass too.

Thinking on what the two men were talking about, Chelsea was curious, “Nick, you took a pain pill last night? Why? Were you hurting?”

“Yes.”

Concerned, Chelsea said, “We should take you back to the doctor then, it shouldn’t be hurting so badly after all this time…”

“Well, it would if I did anything strenuous.”

“Nick, what did you do?” Chelsea asked irritated.

“Pulled a man out of a car and hit him in the face.” He said it so matter of factly, it took Chelsea a beat to digest it.

“You did what?”

He laughed then, but it was obvious he was upset. “You don’t have to worry about my relationship with Melanie, I pretty much put an end to that last night by hitting her date.”

Chelsea nearly dropped her drink, but managed to catch it. However some of the juice got on her clothes. Nick reached over but she told him to remain seated, and she jumped up to get napkins from the bar.

“What happened?” She purposely turned her back to him, so he couldn’t see her expression as she already suspected what happened. As he explained, Chelsea’s mind went to the day before.

What do you need Chelsea?” Joanie asked eagerly.

Chelsea bit back a smile. She didn’t realize how truly helpful having freshman who lived to please would be. “I need your help. It’s about a friend of mine.”

The girls had devoted attention to her, so Chelsea went on. “Do you girls know who Professor Fallon is?”

Their eyes lit up. “Oh yes. He’s the cutest professor on campus.”

Chelsea smiled proudly. They were right. “Well, I need you to pass some information to him for me…”

Chelsea felt herself cringe when she realized the girls took it too far. She just wanted them to imply that Mike only dated a certain kind of girl, thus Melanie was the skank. But now, they must have misunderstood and because she left in a hurry to head to the hospital over Kate, she didn’t notice they were taking things wrong.

Turning around, she saw Nick, for the first time realizing he was miserable. Why didn’t she notice that when he first walked in? Because you were only thinking about yourself.

Walking over to him, she took his hands. “Nick, listen, I have something to tell you…”

“I told you so? Of course, Melanie wasn’t interested in me, and I made a big fool of myself with her. Not that’s anything new.”

Chelsea shook her head, “This isn’t your fault because…”

“It is though! I listened to gossip from girls who obviously didn’t know any better. I shouldn’t have been so naïve but the truth is I wanted to believe Mike was a bad guy. God, you should have seen the way Melanie looked at me. I’ll be lucky if she ever speaks to me again.”

Cringing, Chelsea kept staring at Nick’s hands, daring not to make eye contact. She knew once she told him the truth, he would be furious and right now she needed him to sit here with her. But he was suffering and beating himself up, she couldn’t let him go on.

A commotion in the house got their attention. Chelsea heard women’s voices coming through. Suddenly, Melanie and Stephanie emerged out on the patio. Both of them looked furious.

Nick stood up seeing Melanie. “Melanie..I didn’t know you would be here…” he continued rambling on. Chelsea noted Melanie’s face softened when she saw Nick, which made her grit her teeth. Then she glanced over at Stephanie, making eye contact. Chelsea gulped, realizing that her best friend knew exactly what happened and was furious about it.

Chapter Thirteen

On their way, Stephanie didn’t say much other then giving Melanie directions to the Kiriakis mansion. She was too busy thinking of what Chelsea did and what she would say to her.

Now Stephanie stood before her best friend, and wondered if Chelsea was a true friend to anyone at all. Was she so hell bent on keeping Nick from Melanie she would hurt him in such a way as well as possibly ruining a man’s reputation? And didn’t Chelsea know what Stephanie would think? False accusations of any kind were wrong, but to take something as serious as this…

“Stephanie, maybe you and I should talk inside.”

“Daring to leave me alone with Nick, Chelsea? Aren’t you afraid I might attack him or something?”

Chelsea looked quickly to Melanie, then to Nick who was obviously confused, then back to her. Was that shame on her face? Could Chelsea actually feel guilty over something she did? Stephanie doubted it.

“I can’t believe you, Chelsea. I can’t believe you would do something like that.”

Nick had enough, “What are you talking about?”

Melanie answered him quickly, “Apparently Chelsea is the reason you went off on your adventure last night to rescue me. It was she that put those girls up to lying to you about my date.”

“What? She wouldn’t do that,” Nick turned and looked at Chelsea. To her credit, Stephanie noted, she looked absolutely sorry, but she knew far too well that’s where you got into trouble. Believing she was sorry.

“Nick, I was going to tell you, I never meant for them to go in that direction…”

“What?” Nick’s fury showed through. “You set me up?”

Shaking her head, she walked over to him, trying to take his hand. “No, no, that isn’t what I wanted at all. Or expected to happen.”

Stephanie snorted, that was hard to believe. “Oh, come on, Chelsea. You tell Nick that a girl he likes is dating a slime who will take advantage of her, and he won’t rest…”

“That isn’t what I wanted! I…” Chelsea stammered, glancing at Melanie. “I just wanted them to imply that Mike only dated a certain kind of girl…”

“A certain kind of girl?” Melanie repeated. “Do we live in the 1950s? Are you going to say I get too ‘fresh’ with a boy too soon as well?”

“Well, don’t you?”

This finally pushed Melanie too far, and she took steps towards Chelsea but Nick walked in between them. “No, no, let Chelsea finish. What did you expect to happen? Let me hear your version. What did you think would happen?”

“I…I…” again Chelsea stammered and dared to look at her friend for help. Stephanie crossed her arms, making it clear Chelsea was on her own.

“We’re waiting,” Melanie said.

“I figured you would talk to Melanie directly. About what you heard. And she would get defensive since that’s all she is really. The whole thing would be embarrassing and I figured it would be enough to keep you two from hanging out together.”

Both Nick and Melanie stood open mouthed. Melanie then laughed, “I see. That’s the most pathetic thing I heard…”

“Look, I didn’t really plan it out. And I found out during the middle of it about my grandmother and I had to get to the hospital. Honestly I forgot I spoke to them last night until Nick mentioned it…”

“YOU FORGOT?” Stephanie said. “How could you forget something like that? I was over here, Chelsea. While you were crying about Kate, you must have called Nick a half a dozen times. Yet you forgot you put a plan in motion that was designed at best to humiliate him and a girl he liked, while at worst could actually backfire and wind up getting everyone in a heap of trouble.”

Chelsea started to say something, but she stopped. She looked back at Nick who was still silent. Melanie decided to throw in her own opinion, “That’s because Chelsea only thinks 100% of herself. Isn’t that right, Nick?”

Again, silence followed while Chelsea didn’t take her eyes off of Nick. Stephanie looked at him, but it was anyone’s guess on what he was thinking. His face was a mixture of anger but something else. Her guess would be betrayal and emotional pain.

“They were right.” He said it so softly he had to repeat it. “They were right. Everyone told me that Chelsea Brady was a brat and only thought of herself. I thought I knew better. I thought you weren’t, that you could be something different, if just given the chance. I believed it for awhile…”

Chelsea walked towards him, “Nick, please…”

“Please what? Please let me accept this outrageous act you committed? One that was designed to HURT ME?”

“I didn’t mean to hurt you…”

“Newsflash, Chelsea. Humiliating someone, even if you call it only an embarrassment, is hurting that person. I can’t believe I felt bad for missing your calls last night…”

He was walking away now, not towards anyone, just away from Chelsea. She followed, crying by now. Her tears just seemed to make him angrier. “Chelsea, I didn’t think it was possible that you could hurt me anymore after you dumped me for Daniel. I didn’t think you would want to, you had your perfect man now.”

“Nick, please look at me.”

He turned fast then, the sudden move having her jump back. He began moving towards her as he was speaking, stopping only until he got a few inches from her face. “Ok. Look at me, Chelsea. Right now. I want to be crystal clear so you understand what I’m saying because this time there won’t be any misunderstandings. This is it. You and I are over. We aren’t friends. We aren’t acquaintances. I want nothing more to do with you, as far as I’m concerned, you are a stranger to me. And actually, you always have been.”

Chelsea reached out shaking her head, she was sobbing now, “Nick, please. Don’t say that, I’m so sorry…”

But he meant it. He calmly brushed her arms away and walked over to the table to get his keys. He was leaving, but Melanie stopped him, taking one look at Stephanie. “If its ok, Stephanie, I’m gonna get a ride with Nick and leave. I’m sure you want to talk to Chelsea alone.”

After they left, Stephanie continued looking at Chelsea who was shaking. She finally turned around to come face to face with her friend, “He didn’t mean it. He’s just mad and once he calms down…”

“He did mean it, Chelsea. Nick is not going to have anything else to do with you. Why should he? You make his life miserable.”

“Stephanie, I really don’t want to hear…”

“Oh, no, you’re going hear it. It’s time you heard some clear truths, Chelsea. I’ve wanted to say this for a long time. The reason I supported you breaking it off with Nick wasn’t because I thought you and Daniel were a match. It was because I was tired of watching you treat Nick like dirt. He deserved better. He deserves better than you, and I was sure at least this break up would stick.”

Chelsea looked flabbergasted at her friend. Stephanie went on, “But no, of course, you can’t really walk away. God forbid Nick should move on with life, he should be forever your, well whatever he is to you. I guess he’s your placeholder, someone to hang on to until something better comes along. Of course, that new guy never treats you as well as Nick did, you’ll run back to him, expecting him to wait for you everytime.

“Stephanie, I wish I could undo last night and not…”

“I’ll tell you what I wish, Chelsea. I wish I hadn’t called you after Nick got shot. It invited you back into his life, a life which seems happier without you.”

Chelsea walked over to Stephanie, angry now. Stephanie was expecting it, her friend never could take hearing the truth.

The brunette said, “I don’t know why you are so angry. I didn’t do anything to you.”

“You didn’t do anything…Oh God Chelsea. Do you not realize what happened? Those girls allowed Nick to believe Mike would actually hurt Melanie. He dragged Mike out of the car, a car parked near the same spot Rebert was with you! Did you know that? What if Mike had hit Nick back? His shoulder could have been permanently damaged, not to mention Mike could have had a gun…and felt compelled to use it against a stranger attacking him in his own car.”

Chelsea blinked at her, taking it all in. “No, I hadn’t thought…”

“And I can’t believe you could be so nonchalant about rape. You’ve been nearly raped TWICE Chelsea, how could you treat it so obtusely?”

“Stephanie, I would never treat rape…”

“Maybe it’s different for me since I did experience it. Or do I not count since I was drugged and didn’t remember immediately? Let me assure you, I remember it 100% now.” Stephanie didn’t realize she was crying until then. She stopped to get a hold of herself. She hadn’t meant to get this emotional. Chelsea ran over to her but she walked away.

“How about my mother, Chelsea? Does she count? She was raped. So was my Aunt Adrienne, by her own father! It’s because of false accusations are so common that so many men get away with it.”

Stephanie knew she had to leave then. She was becoming unglued and it dawned on her finally she was in the Kiriakis mansion and not somewhere more private. She grabbed the car keys Melanie had left, and headed for the door. Chelsea asked her to stay, but Stephanie shook her head. “I can’t.”

As she ran through the open patio door, she nearly ran over Philip. How long had he been there? Stephanie didn’t know, she could barely look at him. What he must think of her storming out in tears. No wonder he thought of her as a child. Stephanie ran for the door and then her car, tearing out the driveway as fast as she could go.

Chapter Fourteen

Nick unlocked his apartment door, allowing Melanie to walk in first. He was so angry with Chelsea, he barely gave any notice to the fact Melanie accompanied him back to his apartment. Watching her walk in should have made him excited or at least nervous, but instead he was just so angry.

He knew Chelsea to pull some stunts before but attempting to humiliate him and Melanie to keep them from each other’s company was something he never thought she would try. Especially now that they were no longer dating, after all, she was the one who broke up with him. Why should she care if he wanted to see somebody else?

“Do you have anything to drink?” Melanie asked.

He knew she really was asking for alcohol that honestly he could use right now himself, but he didn’t have any on hand. He smiled weakly and said, “I just have bottled water and some soft drinks. Is that ok?”

She nodded, showing no signs of disappointment so he went over to the refrigerator. “I wasn’t expecting company at all, so I apologize for not having more selections.”

“Nick, you have nothing to apologize for.”

He shook his head, “No, I should be better at keeping things stocked. But being out of town until now, I’ve not had time…”

She stopped him by placing her hand on his, forcing Nick to stop speaking and turn to her. With a serious expression, she squeezed his hand, “You have nothing to apologize for.”

Realizing what she was talking about, Nick flushed. “Thank you.”

She let it go, and he opened the cabinet for glasses. Since he still hadn’t ran the dishwasher lately, all the clean glasses were on the top shelf. Reaching up, he strained his shoulder, the pain shooting down his arm and Nick cursed.

“You ok?”

He rubbed his arm, embarrassed to let the pain affect him strongly, “Yea. Sometimes it takes me by surprise.”

Melanie noticed his pills on the counter, “Are these your pain pills?”

“Yea, I finally took one last night. I wasn’t going to take anymore but…”

She cut him off, “Isn’t that what they are there for?” She handed him the pills. Deciding she was right, he got out two. Getting their glasses, he fixed their drinks. Nick took his medication while Melanie walked over to the couch. He soon followed sitting besides her.

He was watching Melanie now, aware of how pretty she looked, and he was grateful to have the drink in hand so she couldn’t see them shake. Melanie cleared her throat; she obviously had something she wanted to ask. He could almost bet what it would be. “Go ahead, Melanie, you’ve been wanting to ask it all night.”

With relief, Melanie said, “What did you see in Chelsea?”

He had to smile, in spite of the anger and pain, he could still remember those earlier times with fondness. He was sure though, Melanie wouldn’t exactly understand. He wasn’t sure he could even explain it verbally.

“She was the first girl I loved. I had crushes before, but when I met Chelsea, it was different. And when we dated, it felt so right. At least it did to me.”

“I just can’t believe she dumped you, you’re too good for her.”

He laughed at that. “It wasn’t always that way. A couple of years ago I was hardly the ‘geek’ god you see now.”

She grinned, “That’s hard to believe.”

“No, Chelsea didn’t think I was her ideal man in any way. The problem was I didn’t think I was her ideal man either, so there were a lot of problems in the beginning. Both of us screwed up a lot back then but I thought we had gotten past that. Between her family going missing in a plane crash to her father nearly dying from a rare disease…I just thought we were strong enough to weather all that.”

“You weren’t?” Melanie sounded so interested it made it easy to go on.

“Not when Dr. Fantas-I mean Dr. Daniel Jonas showed up. He was the guy who was going to save her father and suddenly I was back to being the man on the outside.”

She was quiet at that; he knew she was considering her words very carefully. “I’ve seen him. He was at the pub one day. Max pointed him out.”

Nick steeled himself for the inevitable gushing but she surprised him. “He’s a lot older then I thought. And very…tan. But not in a good way, or at least not for me.”

“He does a lot of surfing, apparently a sport Chelsea had some hidden obsession about.”

She laughed at that, “Oh well that explains it. I don’t care for surfers. I met a good many in France and usually they are…well, that wouldn’t apply to this guy since he’s a successful surgeon.”

Nick looked at her, “Thanks, you don’t have to say this. Every woman under the age of 30 has told me he’s very hot and gorgeous. Morgan, she’s a friend of ours who recently moved away, would go on and on, and I’ve heard Stephanie mention him a bit too. And even before that, while visiting the hospital earlier this year, the nurses gossiped about him in the halls. It’s hard to ignore that, especially when you’re the guy nobody notices.”

Melanie shook her head, “I’m not lying, Nick. Yes, Daniel Jonas is good looking, and he’s probably in great shape too if he’s a surfer. However, when I see him, I don’t see a potential date, I see a man in his forties and it surprises me he would want to date Chelsea. What do they have in common?”

Nick shook his head, he didn’t know either. Melanie wasn’t done however, “As for you not being noticed, you have your good physical points, making you very attractive.”

He blushed which allowed her to go on. “See? That right there. That blushing is so cute. I know, guys don’t like to be called cute but it’s amazing how attractive a humble guy is over one who isn’t. I’ve spent a fair share of time around conceited men and it’s very refreshing to find one like you.”

He looked at her, afraid she wouldn’t continue. When Chelsea paid him compliments, it usually felt like she was saying it to receive one in return or as an after thought. Like it was something she knew, as his girlfriend, was obligated every so often.

“You also have great lips. They accentuate that smile of yours perfectly. You have a terrific smile.” Melanie’s eyes drew up to his, and for a second they held the gaze. She started, “And your eyes…”

Nick waited, but she never finished. He leaned in, his voice had gotten lower, “What about my eyes?”

“They’re so green.” Nick was confused as how that would be a compliment, but that’s when she started kissing him, and his interest in hearing about his eyes diminished.

The kiss deepened, Nick heard her moan which quickened the pace of his heart. Running his hands up and down her body, he felt her shiver against him. He adjusted himself so he could maneuver better, but it was difficult to concentrate with her scent and softness.

He didn’t know how long they had been kissing when he felt Melanie’s hands move from his back to the front of his jeans. There was no mistaking what she was doing, and it took all his strength to break free and hold her hands while sitting up, getting away from her.

“Why are you stopping?” she asked. She was breathing fairly hard and Nick had to tear his eyes away or he might ask that same question.

“Because we shouldn’t be doing this.” He closed his eyes to imagine baseball or Grandma Alice pulling out hairs on her chin.

“Why the hell not? I know you want this as much as me, in fact, I felt you did…” she leaned in and Nick slid further down the couch.

“Melanie, I’m not…I don’t just sleep around.”

She looked amused, “No, I know you don’t. But I’m not exactly a stranger here…”

“Kind of. And it’s not like we are dating or anything.”

She bit her lip, obviously planning something and Nick wasn’t sure if he could hold off for much longer. He debated about bolting to the bedroom and locking himself in, but figured that wasn’t exactly the manly thing to do.

“Nick, I do like you. I didn’t realize how much until last night. I was upset all day today about what went down. Finding out about Chelsea, though it made me very mad, was also a relief in a way. It meant we could still be friends and maybe, something more.”

Nick was trying hard to think of an excuse. They had spent a good deal of time together in the last month as well as there were times Nick allowed himself to fantasize being with her. And it was clear she wanted him too.

While he was debating internally, Melanie came closer, wrapping her arm around his side. She nuzzled his ear and Nick groaned. She whispered, “Please, kiss me again. One more time.”

Turning his head, he complied.

Chapter Fifteen

Melanie slowly opened her eyes, realizing she was alone in bed. For one brief moment, Melanie wondered if Nick had bolted, something she experienced far too often. Lifting her head, aroma filled her nostrils: coffee and cinnamon rolls. Smiling, she criticized herself for thinking Nick was anything like that, of course he would still be here, making her breakfast. Sitting up, she looked around the very tidy room, her eyes resting on her clothes all folded and sitting on the dresser. She smiled knowing since she didn’t leave them that way, but of course Nick was considerate enough to pick them up for her.

That’s not all he’s considerate at. Melanie surprised herself by blushing, usually remembering sex didn’t do that to her, at least not anymore. But last night had been different, especially since she didn’t intend for things to get physical at all. When she went home with Nick, it was in hopes to be friends again, and to agree to hate Chelsea together. Melanie was upset for Nick’s sake that his former girlfriend would do such a thing, and she knew he was very hurt by it. She wanted to sit with him for a while, but she never planned on taking things in this direction.

The kiss she gave him surprised her as much as it did him, those green eyes had quite an effect at such close range. Melanie wasn’t used to losing control like that, she prided herself on keeping a cool head, but Nick wasn’t like any guy she had been with before.

Ignoring her clothes, Melanie pulled out a drawer and found a t shirt with the periodic table on it. Grinning, she slipped it on and headed into the bathroom. Inside she found a brand new toothbrush sitting on the counter along with toothpaste. She shook her head, immediately imagining Nick placing it there.

After she had freshened up, she walked into the living room. Nick looked up at her from the kitchen and did a double take at what she was wearing, something she hoped he would do. However, she noted he was wearing a t-shirt, disappointing her. Last night, Melanie had learned Nick’s slim build actually was quite impressive, clearly he did sit ups and swam to keep himself up, though probably not since they returned. She had expected to gaze at him, and hopefully make that adorable face blush more.

“Hey, there.” She said brightly.

“Hi yourself.” He said while fixing the rolls with icing. Handing a couple over to her, he warned, “Careful, they’re hot.”

“So are you.” As expected, Nick blushed. Melanie wondered if the pleasure of creating such embarrassment in Nick would ever wear off.

“Coffee?” He asked and she nodded her head.

Sitting in silence, they ate their food for a few minutes, both shyly peeking at each other and grinning. Melanie was pleased to see how happy Nick seemed.

However, too quickly Nick’s manner changed. He looked determined and Melanie wondered if she would like what would be coming. “Melanie, last night was…it was great.”

Relieved, she nodded, “Yea. Maybe even better than great.”

He didn’t blush at that, and he looked down. “Um, yes, but..I have to tell you. I’m not someone who just does that.”

She knew what he meant but she didn’t really want to hear it. “Having great sex?”

“Melanie, you know what I mean.”

It was her turn to look down. “I guess I do.”

Taking her hand, he said, “I think we have something really good here, but if you’re just in it to have a good time for a week and then head back to Europe, I just…I think it’s probably best if we stopped now.”

She didn’t want to stop, but she didn’t want to let things get too serious either. “Nick, I’m not like other girls. I don’t ‘do’ relationships. Plus, Salem isn’t exactly a place I would call home.”

“You don’t know that. You haven’t even tried.”

Sighing, she got up, walking into the living room. She knew she enjoyed her current lifestyle, she didn’t want that to change. But it would if she stayed here. “I know enough that Salem isn’t like Marseilles.”

“Ok, maybe not,” he followed, stepping around to force her to face him. “But can you really go back to the way things were? After Claude?”

She wanted to tell him she could, but honestly she herself had doubts. It’s why she was so eager to get to Salem to begin with, and why she made no plans to leave yet. “Ok, Marseilles is out then, but there are so many other cities I would rather go. Salem just can’t give me the life I want.”

“Maybe you should try a different kind of life.” He said it so quietly; she had to strain to hear him.

“I wouldn’t be happy.”

“Melanie,” Nick said, while looking up to the sky as if asking for help, “you don’t know that. You’re 21 or 22. How do you know this is the life you want? Why not give something else a try?”

“Nick…” she attempted to counter but he walked very close to her, his intense eyes looking straight through her. It was those eyes that she got lost in the night before.

“I’m not asking for marriage or a contract. Just, give it a little time. Say a month. If you stay in Salem for a month and you’re still missing your old life, then I’ll step back and no hard feelings.”

Her mouth was dry, making it tough to speak. How did he get to her like this? Was she really considering changing her entire life just for this professor in a local university? “I don’t know…”

“Ok, two weeks. That would put you in time for the fall in Paris or Milan or wherever fall fashions are, and you can go watch the unveiling.”

She had to chuckle at Nick trying, she forgot how he listened to her. She wasn’t used to that. What was so wrong with it? Two weeks would be over before she knew it, and maybe she could talk Nick into heading to Europe with her.

She agreed, “Ok.”

Happiness overcame him, and he grabbed her and pulled into a bear hug. She laughed at his energy. Walking back to the kitchen bar, she noted he was rubbing his arm but didn’t say anything.

“So, I guess I can tell my dad the good news.” Melanie said happily; now she could spend more time with her father. Nick’s face changed but he tried to cover. She wasn’t fooled. “Nick, I know you listened to what Max said about Trent but he isn’t that bad.”

“Melanie, I make up my own mind about people. I had heard of Trent by his reputation so I was very much looking forward to his arrival to our school, hopefully learning while working along side him. Max kept his issues about his father a secret so I didn’t know what his problem was, but upon seeing how Trent treated people, especially students, it really bothered me. And after finding out how obtuse he is about you…”

“Nick,” Melanie said getting angry. “You don’t know him ok? You don’t know what kind of life he’s had or where we came from. So don’t make judgments until you know everything, ok?”

“Ok,” Nick said quietly. “I guess that’s fair. You know, you haven’t really talked about your early life, especially that of your mother.”

Hearing mention of her mother, Melanie looked away. “That’s because I don’t talk about her.”

“Why? Did she leave you?”

“Oh, no, nothing like that. No, it’s just she died when I was really young. I have no memory of her, and…well…”

“Melanie, it’s ok.” Nick took her hand. Those damn eyes got to her again, she could tell him just about anything.

“It’s just sad for me to know so little about her. She died in a fire. And Trent doesn’t like to talk about it. Once, when he had drank too much, he brought her up and began crying. He didn’t make much sense but I remember it made me sad. Apparently I look a great deal like her and it’s tough on him.”

Nick listened as she went on. Her mother, Molly, had been a librarian at a local university where Trent taught. She was killed in a fire inside the library. A thunderstorm had happened just before, and because of the drought that year they felt lightening struck the building and it went up so fast there was no way she could escape. Melanie didn’t have many other details except it happened in Memphis. Her mother had no other family so it had just been she and her dad ever since.

When she was done, Nick squeezed her hand. “Thanks for telling me. I’m sorry you didn’t get to know your mother.”

Shrugging it off, she shook his hand away and stood up, “It’s ok. Not a big deal really. What’s that saying? Can’t miss what you never knew or something? Anyway, I should go change. I have some things to do if I’m gonna stay in town longer then expected.”

She ran off much faster then needed but she was afraid she would cry in front of him. She didn’t like to cry in front of people.

A little while later, she came out of his bedroom while he was cleaning up. Walking up behind him, she put her arms around squeezed his sides. She was going to have to get him out of those clothes very soon.

Nick turned around and walked her to the door. Opening it, he leaned on the doorframe and thanked her.

“Why are you thanking me?” she asked. “You’re the one who was a perfect host.”

Leaning in, he gave her a kiss that made her toes curl. Pulling back, she realized she was breathless and had to take a minute. “Well, if you’re trying to get me to stay, you’re doing a fabulous job.”

He smiled with that blush again. “So, shall I take you out on the town tonight?”

“No, I think we could just stay in like last night. You know how to show a girl a good time!”

“Well, maybe, but we’re definitely going out to dinner. Dress up, we can have dinner at my aunt’s restaurant.”

“And then drinks back at your place,” she giggled. “I’m more then happy to be a cheap date for you, Mr. Fallon.”

“That’s Professor Fallon,” Nick said, making her laugh.

Melanie then walked away as Nick closed his door. Neither was aware of a brunette with large doe eyes silently witnessing the entire scene.

Chapter Sixteen

What a miserable day, Chelsea thought. After witnessing the spectacle at Nick’s apartment, Chelsea went to work, where she had difficulty with Theo. Usually she did better with him but for some reason, she had a hard time concentrating on her training in dealing with autistic children.

It’s not like I spent the day imaging how Nick and Melanie spent the previous evening. Chelsea gripped the steering wheel tightly. She was not going to dwell on such negative thoughts. Sure, she had some setbacks personally; Nick shacking up with a whore and Stephanie not returning her calls would bother anyone. But things were looking up, especially for tonight.

Parking the car, Chelsea looked up at Daniel’s building. He had the whole night free, and she planned on making the most of it. Checking herself in the visor mirror, she got out of the car, walking through the lobby. Nick and Melanie are the farthest things from my mind.

She arrived at his door but before she knocked, he had already opened it. The doorman must have let him know she was on her way. He had a great smile, and wearing a white pressed shirt that showed off his male form along with pressed gray slacks.

“You look great,” he smiled as she walked in.

“So do you.”

“Well, dinner is ready, I hope you like white wine, it goes best with fish which is my specialty and…” Chelsea lost track of what he was saying. Images of Nick kissing Melanie at the door flashed through her mind. She couldn’t remember the last time he gave her such a kiss when she would leave him in the morning.

That’s because you stopped spending the night. Chelsea shook her mind away and tried to concentrate on what Daniel was saying. He did look really nice, and he obviously put a lot of work into the meal. An idea struck her, she could be just as spontaneous as her former boyfriend. She grabbed Daniel and pulled him into a hot kiss.

He was a bit surprised and really didn’t respond but Chelsea threw herself into it. She knew that kissing him he would eventually succumb like those early kisses. His reaction was slow so she tried to drag him to the couch but she forgot her high heels and wound up slipping in them.

“Ow,” she cried, luckily he caught her.

“You ok?” he asked.

Not to be undone, she pulled him to the couch, “You bet I am. Come here.”

Again she threw herself on him and he went with it. Not that passionately really, Chelsea realized. Maybe she needed to readjust herself, just let him cradle her. Using her knee to lean into his lap, she misjudged the space.

Now it was his turn to yell in pain.

“Oh, damn. I’m sorry. Was that your…?” she didn’t have to finish the sentence. She could tell by the way he held himself she did accidentally kneed him in the groin. Turning herself around, she turned the nearby lamp on and looked at him. Not sure what to do, she asked, “Should I get some ice?”

“No, no, I’m ok.” He said. Eventually he relaxed and then looked at her.

She began to lean into him again, but this time he put his arms up. “Chelsea, what’s going on?”

“What do you mean? I was being passionate.”

The look he gave her was unreadable. She felt a little irritated, is this not what they wanted to do? He finally said, “Well, there is no reason to rush. What’s the hurry?”

Flashes of Nick and Melanie kissing again popped in her mind. Glaring at Daniel, she got up to head to the table, “No, hurry, I just remember we could hardly keep our hands off each other when we first started dating.”

No, it was you who couldn’t, he kept putting you off. Daniel got up and pulled out the chair for her. Sitting down, he asked her if she knew of the wine he had opened.

“Um, no, I really know very little of wine.”

“Well, let me get you started…” Daniel began what sounded like a rehearsed lecture. Chelsea tried to listen. Thoughts of Nick began popping up again, but this time it was in previous dinners they used to share. It wouldn’t take long for him to talk of science, and want to try to teach her something. If it was something he got especially excited about, that enthusiasm would appear so adorable she would give off a signal for them to leave the restaurant or head to the couch and she would start to nibble on his ear and that was all it would take. She couldn’t help but wonder if that’s what got Melanie’s attention last night.

“Chelsea, are you listening to me?”

“Um, yea. Sorry. What was that?” She cringed at how badly that came out.

“Chelsea,” was all Daniel said. She knew what he wanted to say. She waited and realized, she wanted him to say it. “This isn’t working.”

She stared at him for a beat; her body felt like a weight had come off. Looking down at the delicious food, Chelsea wondered how she got so far with the wrong man. “No, it’s not. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize.”

“No, I should. I’m the one who chased you around town, insisted you and I had something magical. I really was convinced…the circumstances in meeting you, and why you came to Salem, it just seemed like destiny. Sounds stupid saying it outloud.”

He was quiet then. Kindly, he said, “Not stupid. Just…young.”

“Yea.”

They went ahead and ate dinner. Chelsea felt relaxed now, but nothing stopped her thoughts returning to Nick and Melanie. If she hadn’t been so confused about her feelings for Daniel, she would still be with Nick now.

When dinner was over, Chelsea helped him clean up. Daniel said, “Chelsea, I have to make a confession. I shouldn’t tell you this, maybe it will make you feel worse about things, but I really do think you are so much like my first wife, Rebecca. That scared me because I haven’t been seriously involved with anyone since she died.”

“It’s not surprising. Victor told me that a few months ago, that I was a bit like Rebecca who he got to meet once or twice early on. Of course, I mistook that to mean we were even more meant to be together. I wound up breaking up with Nick and losing him forever over this confusion.”

Now it was Daniel’s turn to frown. “Um, yea.”

Chelsea could tell his mood changed. “What?”

“Well, I just figured I was the excuse to let you break up with Nick. I mean, he was so into you, and you so weren’t into him.”

Now Chelsea felt a surge of anger. “If you’re suggesting I didn’t love Nick, that’s not true at all.”

“Oh Chelsea, I knew you for over a month before you finally brought up the fact you were dating someone. And you hardly paid any attention to him after your surgery. He spent so much time up there at the hospital, most of it while you were sleeping. I thought he was going overboard, if you slept he would hold that old bear he brought you…”

“That bear was something from his own childhood. He wanted to give it to me for the surgery. He said he had it when he had his tonsils out and how he felt safe with it there besides him…” Chelsea remembered that day clearly. She still had the bear at home. After they broke up she knew she should have returned it to him, but the memory of him bringing it to was something she really cherished.

“Then why did you toss it aside when I would come in?”

“I didn’t do that.” Chelsea said. Daniel shook his head at her, and then she remembered. “Well, it didn’t mean anything. I just didn’t want you to think I was young enough I needed a toy.”

“Well it crushed him. He walked in and picked it up off the floor. You don’t remember that? I guess not, you were fairly high on the medication.”

Daniel turned to grab more plates while Chelsea thought of that time. Nick never said anything. Did he really notice? He didn’t seem himself in the hospital after her surgery, she wondered why. It never occurred to her he could sense her crush on Daniel, and how that would make him feel.

“Daniel, it wasn’t easy for me to break up with Nick. You make it sound like I couldn’t wait to get away from him.”

“Chelsea,” he said, “I don’t know what to say. You’re sounding like you still love him, but when you two were together, you didn’t seem like you ever wanted to be around him.”

Her mouth dropped at that. “Actually, I loved being around him. I just got used to him being there. I always knew he would be there for me and it would be fun. Or he would give me a shoulder to cry on. Or he would distract me with some arcane piece of knowledge. It had grown comfortable and I just thought…”

“He’d always be there?”

Chelsea didn’t answer. Daniel went back to grabbing dishes while Chelsea thought about those last few weeks dating Nick. Daniel was wrong if he thought she didn’t love Nick, but she realized from another’s point of view, how it would seem so one sided. Did Nick feel that way? The thought scared her.

Chapter Seventeen

Nick walked into the Java Café, feeling everyone knew why he was smiling. He and Melanie had another great night together, though this time they managed to actually get out and have dinner. He wasn’t ready to call it love yet, he certainly didn’t want to scare her away, especially since she wasn’t that big on commitment, but he did feel like this could have potential.

Plus, it’s nice she wants to be with me. That fact alone was worth smiling. Melanie wanted him. And this time, she knew enough about men that it went a long way to feed his ego. Nick’s own limited experience in dating only triumphed Chelsea’s, at least when it came to physical relations. Being dumped over and over had Nick questioning what was wrong with him. Melanie proved the answer was nothing.

After receiving his order, he reached into his pocket and felt his pills. He had taken some that morning after Melanie left, not sure why, he really didn’t need them but they sure made a difference in the pain and his attitude. He was going to have to be careful though, he didn’t want to become dependant on them.

As he turned to walk out Nick came face to face with Chelsea, their eyes locking. Almost immediately, Nick’s positive energy began falling, so he steeled himself. He meant what he said to her the other day, and no matter what she said or how hurt she looked, he was going to stick by it.

“Hi, Nick.” She said. He noted she looked terrible. It doesn’t matter, you don’t care anymore.

“Chelsea.” That was all he was going to say. He stepped aside to let her walk by but of course, she didn’t do that.

“Nick, I wanted to apologize again for…”

“I meant what I said, Chelsea. Don’t make me repeat it.”

She stared at him for what seemed like forever. Nick was proud he could at least appear he was unmoved by those sad eyes. She finally broke the gaze and looked down, saying, “I wanted to let you know Daniel and I broke up.”

That honestly didn’t surprise him. “Well, I suppose that explains it then.”

She looked surprised. “Explains what?”

“Why you didn’t like me hanging around Melanie. You wanted your default boyfriend around because things weren’t working with your doctor.”

To her credit, she looked shocked at his words. “Nick, that’s not true…I don’t see you…”

“I don’t care, Chelsea. I told you it’s really over which means we aren’t even friends. I know you said you wanted to be and I thought it was possible but it obviously isn’t. I wish you luck, Chelsea, I do. But it’s time we moved on.”

There they are, those damn tears. Nick began to feel his self-control slip away. He had no choice, he had to get away from her.

“Have a nice life.” I hope she didn’t hear my voice cracking.

Outside, Nick leaned on a parking meter. That was much harder then he thought. He stood for a moment; he knew he shouldn’t look back in. He was just about to anyway, but a voice got his attention. “Mr. Fallon.”

It was Trent. Nick hadn’t really talked to him at all since returning back from France. He remembered Melanie pleading with him giving her father another chance, but just the fact that Trent hadn’t made any effort to explain what the hell he was doing sending Claude to see his own daughter made Nick’s blood run cold.

Trying to sound aloof, Nick said, “Trent.”

“Are we on a first name basis now?”

“I think I earned the right.” Nick then touched his shoulder, the touch sent shivers of pain through it.

“Oh right, the shooting. Look, thanks for helping Melanie get out of that…”

“Who was that Claude guy?”

Trent shrugged but obviously was annoyed with the question, “He was a friend of a friend. I swear. I would never put Melanie directly in danger.”

“Just indirectly, then.” Nick couldn’t help his tone. The guy rubbed him the wrong way.

“You know, Nick, I don’t think I have to answer to you about my parenting skills. Seems like you are fond of Melanie, so I must be doing something right.”

Nick almost laughed at that. “Melanie is very charming and personable. She must get it from her mother.”

Trent’s eyes narrowed at that. “Look, Nick, I just thought I would stop and say hello. Remember, you’re dating my little girl.”

“I haven’t. And for Melanie’s sake I do want to get along with you. She worships you, for some reason. And you are the only parent she has.”

Trent looked around, “Yes, I am. Don’t forget that.”

Trent then turned to walk into the café but Nick felt a sudden surge of anger. “What happened to her mother?”

Trent turned, now face in a definite scowl. “Excuse me?”

“Melanie said she died in a fire in Memphis while you were teaching there. Must have been terrible. I can only imagine…”

“You can’t imagine anything, Nick. And don’t you dare bring up Celia again. She was a long time ago, and it’s probably for the best she did die, God knows how Melanie would have turned out otherwise.”

With that, Trent did go inside. Nick smiled. He got what he needed. Melanie hadn’t said her mother’s name and Nick didn’t want to ask directly. He wanted to surprise her with information on what she never knew but the only other person who could tell him anything would be Trent. Now he had a name along with Trent’s past history. Hopefully there weren’t many Celia’s that worked in Memphis at the same college Trent did back during that time.

Chapter Eighteen

“So that was a good lunch,” Melanie said, hopping up on one of the stools at the Brady pub.

“Yes, it was. Too bad I have to get to work now.” Max got behind the counter, putting on an apron.

“You could play hooky. You’re always working.”

Max turned to look at her, “I have to. I have a lot of debt in my life and I’m lucky Ma gives me plenty of hours to help take care of it.”

Melanie nodded her head, not wanting to hear Max go back into his life story how he lost his garage thanks to some scheme he got caught up in. She felt for her brother, and there was some guilt that she hadn’t had the same struggles he experienced simply because their father chose to remain in her life. But one could only hear him complain for so long.

The door opened and the reaction on Max’s face told her who it was. “Stephanie walk in?”

“Yea,” Max sighed. “I have some boxes in the back to take care of.”

“You know, it seems really insensitive of her to keep showing up where you work so often.”

He shook his head, “It’s her family’s pub too.”

The reminder on Stephanie being a Brady made Melanie grimace. “I still don’t how you dated your niece. What’s that about?”

“Don’t start. I’m tired of explaining it. I’m adopted and there is no blood connection.”

“But there’s a family connection. You’ve lived with them since you were very young. I hardly know you but I can immediately accept you’re my brother. But I can’t imagine growing up with a family that gives you their name only to wind up dating…”

“Melanie!” Max’s tone meant for Melanie to stop. Sighing, Melanie didn’t want the day to end on a low note. She and Max were getting along a lot better and today had been so nice. She shrugged letting it go.

“Thanks, now I’ve got to get in the back. Say hi to Nick for me.”

The mention of Nick’s name made her smile. The night before had been even more fun than their first time together. She wondered how a geeky science professor could have such an effect.

“Hey, Melanie.”

Melanie turned to say hello to Stephanie. “Hi, Stephanie.”

The girls stood awkwardly for a second. Melanie wasn’t sure if she should mention Max was there or not. Stephanie apparently already knew, “I see Max is working. I was going to stop by and get a quick bite.”

“Yea, he saw you. Um, I really don’t know what to say about you two, I feel a little responsible for the breakup given how stressful France turned out…”

“What? No, no, trust me. Max and I were good for each other at one time, but people really do move on. It was over long ago, I just wasn’t ready to accept it.”

Melanie nodded, feeling uncomfortable given the connection to Stephanie’s ex. “Well, if you’re not going to stay, you want to take a walk around town? I have some time to kill before I see Nick.”

“Sure.” Both women walked out. Stephanie asked about heading east as there were some fast food places she could stop in and get something to eat. Melanie agreed.

“So,” Stephanie asked, noting it was already starting to turn cool. September was already here. “You and Nick are seeing a lot of each other.”

Melanie smiled, “Yea, it’s funny how things work out. I didn’t think I wanted to see him in that way, he’s such a good guy friend you know? You can tell him anything. It was refreshing and I didn’t want to screw that up with sex. But the other night, one thing led to another…”

“You guys have slept together already?” Stephanie asked, blushing.

“Um, yea.”

Stephanie got quiet for a moment. Then she said, “You know, Nick is someone who doesn’t do casual relationships. He’s very vulnerable right now after Chelsea…”

This annoyed Melanie. She thought Stephanie was over being Chelsea’s champion, “Chelsea dumped him months ago now. He’s clearly over her. And as for the other thing, well, we’ve already had a discussion about that.”

“You did?” Stephanie sounded surprised.

“Yes, he brought it up. Anyway, I’m not making promises to him, but I am willing to see how this goes. I’m not used to being in a monogamous relationship. However, I think Nick is probably worth it.”

“He is,” Stephanie said while smiling, seemingly relieved.

The conversation had run it’s course so Melanie chose a new subject, “So, what have you been doing since you went off on Chelsea? Have you made up with her?”

“No, I’ve not. I feel like I should call her, it seems her grandmother is not doing so well with the cancer, at least I heard that from Philip at work.”

“Who’s Philip?” Melanie asked.

“He’s Kate’s son, Chelsea’s uncle. He’s a Kiriakis. And my boss.”

“Oh,” Melanie said. “Is he cute?”

“I thought you were serious about giving it a chance with Nick,” Stephanie said quickly.

“I am, I was really asking for your benefit.”

“Oh, yea, I guess but he’s a big horse’s ass. And I have avoided him as much as possible since going off on Chelsea.”

Melanie nodded, “Because you think Chelsea told on you now he’s gonna make things tough at work?”

“No, no,” Stephanie blushed, “He heard me go off on Chelsea. I’m fairly certain he heard a lot of it and I’m not liking he knows…”

Melanie waited for Stephanie to go on, but she didn’t. Guessing what Philip overheard, Melanie agreed, “I guess that is something you wouldn’t want just anyone to know.”

“Especially your boss who thinks you’re a spoiled child,” Stephanie said. Sighing, she went on, “And in a way I can’t deny that he has a right to think ill of me, the way I got the job and then just turning around and getting a leave of absence to head off to Europe doesn’t scream professional.”

Melanie nodded, hearing Stephanie talk made her wonder if she would need to get a job in Salem. She didn’t like that idea at all, but she didn’t want to do the alternative anymore, helping entertain Trent’s business associates.

By now, they had arrived at a local Mexican place, Stephanie going inside. Melanie had eaten already with Max so she made her goodbyes. Getting a job was making more changes to an already unfamiliar lifestyle she was experiencing in Salem. But she knew she would go crazy if she didn’t have anything more substantial to do. Salem didn’t have the party scene but they did have different career paths to choose from. Should that be something she should do?

Chapter Nineteen

Chelsea had been sitting in the hospital waiting room, trying not to listen to Philip’s phone call. Checking her watch, he had only been on the phone for half an hour but it felt much longer. She didn’t try to hide her glare, she believed it quite rude to conduct business right there for everyone to hear.

A few minutes later, he finally hung up and sat down besides her. Turning his head, he noticed the glare she was giving him. “What?” he asked.

“Philip, if business is so urgent why don’t you head back to your office while…”

“Because she’s my mother,” he said, “And I didn’t plan on being on the phone that long, but it happens when you have such incompetent people working for you.”

Chelsea shook her head, Philip sounded just like his father. “Everyone’s incompetent compared to a Kiriakis. You hardly give anyone a chance, especially Stephanie.”

She noted Philip shifted in the chair at the sound of her friend’s name. Chelsea hadn’t spoken to Stephanie since their fight. She left a couple of messages for her, but like Nick, she ignored them. She was dying to know how her friend was doing.

“Actually Stephanie isn’t so bad,” Philip said sheepishly. “Don’t look at me like that. I’m not saying she’s ready to run her own division, but she has proven herself to be more then capable at the smaller tasks we’ve given her.”

Chelsea smiled, proud of her friend. She knew Stephanie could handle whatever work they gave her, provided they were fair and trusting, not words she usually used to describe her grandfather and especially Philip. “Glad to hear it.”

Philip nodded, obviously wanting to go on but was nervous. “Um, you know, I overheard that fight you two had.”

Chelsea felt herself blush and now she was shifting in her seat. “I’d rather not talk about it. I know it was a stupid stunt and I can’t say how much I regret…”

“No, no. I just was surprised to hear Stephanie had been raped.”

This got Chelsea’s attention. Turning to look at Philip, he was now red and not looking at her. Not sure what to say, Chelsea said, “Yes, she was.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“It’s not something one usually puts on their resume.” Chelsea said dryly.

“Chelsea, I just didn’t know she’d been through something like that.”

Chelsea was confused. Why was Philip acting like this, of course no one would wish such a horrible crime on anyone, even outright enemies, but Philip was the last person she expected to have his opinion changed by…

“Excuse me, Philip, I brought the papers.”

Chelsea looked up to see a good-looking man in the doorway, probably about 26 or 27. Philip excused himself and got up, taking the briefcase the man brought. The guy kept staring at her, and Chelsea immediately recognized interest in his eyes.

“Hi,” he said shyly.

Chelsea forced a smile, and said hello back.

“Oh, Sam Nelson, this is Chelsea Brady, my niece.” Chelsea was relieved he was far enough away she didn’t have to shake his hand. He certainly had good looks and must be smart to work for Philip, but she wasn’t interested in meeting anyone new.

Just then Hope walked in, and Chelsea didn’t have to fake a smile in seeing her. Jumping up, both women embraced like it had been months rather then days since last seeing each other. Chelsea hadn’t realized how much she would miss seeing her family when she moved in with Victor.

“How’s Kate doing?” Hope asked.

“Not good, she’s got more tests today. We aren’t allowed to see her so we’re waiting out here.”

Philip cursing under his breath forced the women to look over. Apologizing, he said to Sam, “We don’t have enough room in here, let’s see if maybe we can borrow an office or something to lay these papers out.”

As they walked off, Chelsea rolled her eyes. She turned back to Hope and asked, “You were in the neighborhood?”

“I was having lunch with Kayla. She was telling me that Daniel was working really hard on Kate’s case.”

Chelsea sighed. She had resisted calling Bo or Hope to tell of her break up with Daniel. She was in no hurry to hear ‘I told you so’.

“He is, but I need to tell you something, Daniel and I broke up last night.”

Hope’s showed no surprise at Chelsea’s admission. However, concern led the older woman to steer Chelsea back to the chairs so they could sit down. “You did? Are you ok?”

The younger woman shook her head, “Yes, I’m fine. I knew it was coming. He was the first to say something but honestly, things hadn’t been the same since…”

Hope raised her eyebrow when Chelsea dropped off. “Since you went to France?”

“Yea. Of course, Nick won’t speak to me now so…” Chelsea had expected for Hope to question why. She didn’t look forward to explaining how she angered not just Nick but also her best friend. Nevertheless, she really needed to talk to someone.

“Chelsea,” her stepmom interrupted, “I hope you aren’t thinking about trying to get back with Nick.”

“What?” Chelsea expected Hope to be the last person to say such a thing. Hasn’t Hope been Nick’s biggest champion?

Hope explained, “I’m sorry to be so straightforward, but you can’t keep doing this to him. You run to him every time things don’t work out with the guy you left him for. He deserves to be more then just a…”

Chelsea voice turned icy, “A placeholder?”

Hope nodded her head.

Chelsea got up, furious. “I will say this to my dying day, Nick has never been a placeholder for me.”

Hope remained silent now. She knew Chelsea well enough to know if she went on in this direction, the girl would ignore all advice and do what she wanted.

“I suppose you think I never loved him?” Chelsea’s tears surfaced and Hope let the compassion out.

“Of course I think you loved him. But you were quite preoccupied with Daniel the moment he was assigned to Bo’s case.”

“Yes, but, I never stopped loving Nick!” Chelsea cried. “You know, I was confused. And after watching you and Dad lovingly spend time back then, when we thought he was dying. I just…I wanted that special once in a lifetime kind of love too.”

Hope looked confused, “Wait? That’s why you broke up with Nick?”

Chelsea sat back down again, embarrassed. “I loved Nick. I just didn’t think he was the one. And the way Daniel came in and everything just seemed to point to him being that guy. I wanted to get what you two had, and Daniel seemed like the kind of guy I could experience love as an adventure.”

“Oh, Chelsea, honey,” Hope said. “There is so much wrong with what you just said, I don’t know where to start. Bo and I are at a different point in our lives then you are. Then you would be with anyone, whoever the guy is. You can’t expect to copy a relationship any more then you would think you could copy a person’s personality.”

Chelsea kept looking down, “Yea, well. I wasn’t going to admit that. It became clear fairly soon that Daniel wasn’t going to make this a grand romance when he fought me on it. But I didn’t back down, I had given up Nick, broken his heart and I wasn’t going to do that in error. I had to be right. When Dan finally agreed to go out with me, the feelings I felt were already gone.”

“Really?” Hope said, “Remember the Fourth of July picnic? You and Daniel were all over each other.”

Sheepishly, Chelsea nodded, “It was mainly denial. I knew the feelings weren’t there but I thought it was because of the attitude you all had against us that was bringing me down.”

Both women sat in silence. Chelsea kept mulling over how foolish she had been. She then remembered what Hope initially said. “So you see, Hope, Nick isn’t a placeholder at all. And I love him so much, I kept trying to fight it or ignore it or pretend…”

Hope put her hand on the young woman’s arm, “Sweetheart, I think what would be best is if you tried it alone for awhile, or at least tried dating other people.”

“But Hope, I don’t want to date other people. I need Nick, and he needs me! I know that now. That’s why I couldn’t stop being friends with him. And what if he died in France? He would have thought I didn’t love him…”

Hope squeezed Chelsea’s arm. “But you just said that Nick doesn’t want to have anything to do with you, and I really can’t blame him.”

“Why are you saying that? Ok, so I interfered with he and Melanie…”

“That’s the girl he’s been seeing?”

Chelsea remembered Hope didn’t know about her recent stunt or the circumstances that led to Nick and Melanie getting together. “Yea, he’s dating Max’s sister, that red-headed bitch.”

“Chelsea,” Hope’s tone was clear.

“Ok, I know that sounds just like jealousy but you can ask Stephanie, Melanie has dated around. A lot. And she is the reason Nick got shot in France so she’s pretty much a bad influence.”

“And you weren’t?” Hope said with a knowing smile.

“No! I was not…”

“If she and Nick are already dating that must mean she sees something in him that you didn’t see yourself for quite a while. And let me ask, is Nick happy with her?”

“They have only been together for like 3 days!”

“Chelsea…”

“Well he’s a guy and she’s been around the block so I’m sure he’s happy for now. But she’s going to break his heart I’m telling you…”

“But you have to let it happen, sweetie. If he and Melanie aren’t meant to be, then he’ll figure it out for himself eventually. And if he’s meant to be your ‘great love’ well, you two will find your way back to each other. But you can’t force it. And he needs some time to forgive and forget. I once told him to fight for you, and that might have been a mistake. You always expected Nick to be around. You need time to figure out if it’s really Nick who you want.”

Chelsea shook her head, “It’s Nick! Doesn’t me dropping everything to head to France count for anything?”

“While you were still dating Daniel? I don’t think so,” Hope said, but her smiled returned. “You know, Chelsea, you’ve come a long way these last couple of years but you still have a lot to learn on how to put others first.”

Chelsea snorted which made Hope chuckle. The girl might have been irritated but she could tell what she was saying was sinking in, “Loving someone is about putting their welfare before yours and sometimes that means you do things without expecting anything in return.”

“Oh please, Hope,” Chelsea said, “I know that. You’re treating me like I’m a child.”

“Sometimes you act like one.”

“Excuse me? I think I’m a lot better then I used to be and it would be nice to get some credit…”

“I think you’ve gotten a lot of credit, probably more then you deserve. Two years ago, I’m afraid I have to admit I wrote you off as far as being able to change. But someone out there thought there was more to you, someone who believed in you.”

Chelsea grew quiet; she knew the ‘someone’, “Nick. But…”

“There is no but. Nick was good for you but I’m not sure you were ever good for him. The Ford scandal he stood by your side the whole time. He never wavered and I bet if you had gone to jail, he’s still be loyal to you and doing what he could for you while you were in there. He was throwing himself completely into the relationship but getting so little out of it.”

“I love him, I need him, and I’d do anything for him…”

“Really?” Hope questioned. “Last year you left him in Vegas with that concussion. You saw him with that China Lee person who clearly was up to no good.”

Chelsea flinched. She had managed to forget that. But was Hope saying that was her fault? “I didn’t know he had a concussion.”

“You saw the bandage, it was clear he was acting outrageous.”

“Well you should have heard the things he said to me, and the way he was acting was really over the top…”

“Exactly, Chelsea. You knew Nick and he wasn’t acting like himself at all. But you cared too much about your pride rather then to figure out what was going on with him.”

Chelsea sat silent, letting what Hope say sink in. “But, how am I to get him back?”

“What I’m trying to say is, he probably doesn’t want to come back. It’s going to take a lot more then just your apologies for that to happen. The first thing he needs is time, which will require patience on your end.”

Chelsea rolled her eyes, “Well, patience isn’t one of my strong suits.”

This made Hope laugh but she hugged her stepdaughter. “Oh, I know that. We all do. The thing is you need to give yourself time too. And I don’t think you sitting around for Nick is healthy either. Take advantage of being properly single now. The right guy is out there for you, whether it’s Nick or not.

Chelsea didn’t like hearing what Hope said but admitted it made sense. Nick had moved on. And right now Kate needed her more. Chelsea hugged her stepmom back, but flashes of Nick and Melanie popped through her mind and Chelsea wondered if things would ever feel right again.

Chapter Twenty

Melanie stood besides Nick slightly nervous as they waited for their table at Chez Rouge. Things had been going so well. Melanie couldn’t remember ever feeling so happy being with one person before. While she would have been perfectly satisfied spending most of her time with Nick at his apartment, he insisted they get out and see the town. Melanie expected these trips to be rather lame, or at best, moderately amusing given what a small city Salem was. But Nick made it fun and interesting. He had taken her not just to the typical places like museums, art houses and parks, he had surprised her with untraditional dates like a picnic in the planetarium or visiting the butterfly museum. Nick being so unpredictable helped ease her fears on whether she could continue seeing him.

Which is why this dinner was so important. She already knew Nick didn’t like her father, but now Trent would grind his teeth when she mentioned Nick’s name. While Nick may be able to surprise her that monogamy would be something she would wind up preferring, she needed him to get along with her father.

As they sat down, Nick immediately reached into his pocket, pulling out his bottle of pills. Surprised at seeing them, Melanie asked, “You’re still taking those? Why do you need…”

“Please Melanie, to get through the evening with your dad, I’m going to need all the help I can get.”

That’s a bad sign. “Nick, I thought you said you were going to give tonight a fair shot.”

“I am,” he said while drinking the water that had been brought over. “That’s why I need these pills. I’m hoping to dull the pain, wherever it comes from.”

Before Melanie could argue with him, she caught sight of Trent. As he walked up, he kissed his daughter’s head, and then extended his hand to shake Nick’s. Nick complied.

So far, so good. Melanie thought.

“Thank you for inviting me,” her father said.

“Nice of you to finally join us, the invitation was for 10 minutes ago.” Nick said. Melanie’s mouth dropped, she couldn’t believe Nick. He glanced over at her, shrugging while taking another sip of water.

“Yes, well, sorry about that. I had a last minute business call.” Trent said, taking a seat.

Relieved her father was behaving, she asked, “Really? For the university?”

“Um, no. This is other interests, from my past.” He smiled. Melanie glanced at Nick who was outright glaring at her father. She tried to make eye contact with him, hoping to sooth whatever this hostility was, but the waiter came up. She flinched when her father decided to order in French for all of them.

“I’m sorry, Anthony, I’m afraid you will have to change my order to the club sandwich and tea.” The waiter wrote in his notebook, glanced at Trent who now was glaring back at Nick, and walked away.

“If you are worried about the cost of the meal, Nick, don’t worry. I’ve got it.”

“That’s not it. I just had my fill of French cuisine when we were in France.” Nick went on, “And you don’t have to pay for my meal. It’s covered.”

Melanie attempted to laugh, getting both men’s attention, “Yes, covered. Nick’s Aunt, you know, owns this place so he can eat here for free.”

Trent nodded his head remembering. “That’s right. That’s why we had your celebration party here.”

The mere mention of a party peaked Melanie’s interest. “Oh, a party? What were you celebrating, Nick?”

Nick looked down at the table, “It was for receiving the grant that finances my fuel project.”

“And how is that coming, Nick?” Trent asked with a smile. “You made any headway lately?”

Annoyed, Melanie answered for Nick. “Trent, you know Nick hasn’t been back to work since he’s been shot.”

“Yet he’s been all over town with you, sweetie. And if I’m not mistaken, he probably has been exerting more energy with you then he would on actually doing his job.”

Nick had been drinking more of the water but now he slammed it down on the table. “Trent, don’t talk to me on how I perform my job, I’ve seen your teaching style and it leaves something to be desired.”

“Nick!” Melanie exclaimed.

Trent laughed, “Oh, I think the desire is there but in a different way.”

‘Oh, that’s just…” Nick stopped and for a split second Melanie thought he was going to let it drop. But his expression changed and her heart sank. “Of course you would call it that. A man who pimps his own daughter out has no problems with pretending the students he sleeps with are desiring him.”

Trent got up. “That’s it. I’ve had enough. Melanie, dear, please let me know when you have tired of this boy scout. He clearly lives above everyone else and it won’t be long before he turns on you too.”

Trent got up but walked straight to the bar. Melanie saw Nick was busy glaring at his retreating form so she gathered her purse and headed out the door. She heard Nick yelling her name behind her.

Outside he caught up with her. “Melanie, wait!”

“There is no waiting. I can’t believe you said…how dare you! I told you what I did in France wasn’t like that.”

“Melanie, wait, I’m sorry. I know I got carried away. Please wait.” He grabbed her arm and Melanie stopped to look at him.

“Do you think of me like that? A prostitute? Is that why you like sleeping with me so much?”

“No, no, that isn’t what I meant at all!” Nick’s face showed genuine concern. But she had dated guys before who thought that was all she was about, a good time.

“Then why…”

“Oh, Melanie, don’t you see that Trent is a jerk and is not worth anyone’s time?”

Melanie turned on her heels and began walking again with Nick following behind her. She kept going, but she shouted, “I’ve told you he’s a great father. And we’ve been through a lot together. You know me barely for a few months and now you think you know me better then I know myself.”

Nick jumped in front of her, she attempted to go around him but he kept blocking her path. He shouted, “Listen to me!”

She stopped at his outburst, but she needed to catch her breath anyway. “Ok, I’m listening.”

“Melanie, I do know you. You have dreams and ambitions but you are scared of them. It’s easier to play the party girl, and since everyone expects that of you, you convince yourself it’s what you want. But deep down you want more out of your life, and I want to do everything I can to help you.”

She was taken aback. Nick’s intensity was just as alarming as his words were. She stepped back, not sure how to respond. She really didn’t know what to say. Tonight had blown up in her face almost as badly if Nick and Trent had drawn pistols on each other. Now Nick was saying this crazy stuff and she wasn’t sure where it had come from.

Deciding to ignore it for now, she leaned up against the wall. “I just wanted tonight to go well.”

Nick’s concentration began to calm down as well. “I know.”

“I just wanted my boyfriend to get along with my father. Is that too much to ask?”

“I suppose not, but…wait. Wait. Did you say boyfriend?”

Melanie colored. She had said boyfriend. She had been very careful not to let anything like that escape her lips. She had promised herself she wouldn’t lead Nick on. But it came out so easily and she hadn’t even thought about it beforehand…

“Melanie, does this mean?” Nick was smiling.

“Nick, I..I just…well, I don’t know, I…” Could you stop babbling?

“The two week deadline is up on Thursday. I didn’t want to bring it up because I wasn’t sure, but…are you going to stay now? Does this mean we can be exclusive?”

She knew the deadline was coming up, and she had managed to keep it out of her head. She enjoyed spending time with Nick, there was no denying that. But she had not wanted to commit so wholeheartedly either. In some ways, it was scarier then facing Claude.

Nick walked up to her now, his smile beaming. Melanie’s heart leaped as he got closer. What is happening to me?

“Melanie? You have to answer.” He was so very close. Close enough to kiss, and in spite of tonight she wanted to kiss him. She wanted to keep kissing him.

“The answer is yes. I’m staying.”

The kiss she received lifted her up and against the wall. All concerns and worries disappeared as she wrapped her arms around and just sank into him. Eventually she had to breath and they separated. Slowly she slid down his front, and she grinned at the sensations it caused.

Silently, he took her hand and they headed very briskly back to his apartment, Melanie smiling the whole way.

21-30

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