Monster1-10

Chapter One

Chelsea stood in Daniel’s bathroom mirror, checking herself over for what felt like the hundredth time. It didn’t matter how often she would do it, as soon as she would sit down the worry would return about another possible hair out of place or her makeup accidentally smeared, forcing her to get right back up again. There was good reason; tonight was the first night that she and Daniel would make love.

“Not that I’m worried, this is going to be amazing,” Chelsea said out loud, hoping she was right. After chasing Daniel all over town for weeks, last month she finally convinced him to give it a chance. He agreed on the dating, but wanted to take it slow. Now the time was finally right to take things to the next level, and Chelsea couldn’t be more ready. She could finally prove to everyone that Daniel was the one for her, the man of her dreams.

Of course for the moment she felt extremely nervous. Walking back into his bedroom, she wondered why she had this queasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. It’s probably just natural, Chelsea thought, but she couldn’t help but note the absence of this feeling when she was trying to initiate sexual encounters early in her relationship with Nick.

“Don’t be silly, Chelsea,” she said as she sat down on the bed, the sound of her voice doing a better job of convincing than just her thoughts, “Nick was almost as inexperienced as you, and the chances of disappointing him was basically zero. “

Thinking about past sexual experiences reminded Chelsea of Daniel’s. Who cares how much older he was? The age difference might bother other people but not me. “What do I care about age? He’s easily the best looking guy in Salem and that body! I’m really the luckiest girl in the world to have him as a boyfriend.” Chelsea felt better now, especially since she could remind herself that Daniel was an established doctor. To be dating a doctor came with so many perks and with Daniel’s good looks, things were even more enjoyable. The few times they had been out in public, she had truly enjoyed the stares of the jealous women who would drool over the doctor, and it was so much fun when they realized she was the girl he wanted in return!

Chelsea could hear the familiar sound of her cell phone from the living room, recognizing the ring tone she assigned her best friend, Stephanie. Welcoming the distraction, Chelsea ran over and answered. With everyone over in France, she hadn’t gotten to tell Stephanie about making tonight she and Daniel’s first time.

“Hey Stephanie,” Chelsea said, vowing to herself she would not ask about Nick in France. She couldn’t believe when she heard he suddenly turned in vacation time and headed out to Marseilles to help Max and Stephanie. Between that and his looking at strange girls on the Internet, she really didn’t know what was going through her ex-boyfriend’s mind.

“Chelsea! I’m glad to reach you! I just got off the phone with Maggie and…”

“It’s about time you called. I’ve been dying to tell you about my date tonight with Daniel, we made plans for it yesterday.”

“Chelsea!”

“I was going to call you but I always forget how the time difference works, are you hours ahead or am I? Of course, Nick would know but he’s over there with you,” Chelsea flinched at how easily Nick’s name came out, her curiosity getting the better of her.

“Chelsea, please!” The tone in Stephanie’s voice finally was heard over the phone, and Chelsea now knew something was wrong.

“What’s wrong, Stephanie? Oh God, Max didn’t get in another fight did he?”

“No, Chelsea, its not Max. It’s…it’s Nick.”

Confused, Chelsea asked, “Nick? What could be wrong with him? Did he lose his passport? You know, he’s very organized but he drops things easily and…”

“Chelsea, Nick’s been…he’s been shot.”

A beat went by before Chelsea repeated what she heard. “Nick’s been shot.” Chelsea’s eyes moved around the room and they landed on her reflection in the fireplace mirror. Chelsea repeated the phrase but it was like someone else was speaking.

“Yes, Chelsea, I’m sorry to tell you like that. I wasn’t sure I should call you or not…”

“Of course you should call me. Why wouldn’t you call me? He’s my…” she almost said boyfriend but that was wrong. Nick wasn’t her boyfriend. She sat down on the couch to try to reassess everything. “How bad is it?”

Memories of Jett’s shooting surfaced in her mind. She hadn’t thought of him since the last time she saw him at the college hearing. She didn’t remember a lot of Jett or even why she was ever interested in him in the first place, but she would never forget watching someone be shot right in front of her. Did it happen that way? The image of Jett lying on the floor with a bullet wound was now replaced with Nick.

“It’s bad, they are wheeling him into surgery now.”

Surgery? “How did this…”

“I know it’s crazy! But we found Max’s sister and she’s a handful but it seems Nick was able to make more headway with her than either one of us. But she runs with some bad people and things got out of hand…”

“YOU THINK?” Chelsea blurted out, anger bubbling up inside her. How could they let Nick get involved with someone like that? She didn’t care whose sister she was.

“Actually Melanie helped take care of him until the paramedics arrived. She kept him from going into shock and all, but when they wheeled him away she was really upset. I think she likes him more than she let on…”

Why was Stephanie telling her this? This girl was a major bitch for letting Nick get shot by some punks in France. Anyone who met Nick within 5 minutes would know he’s a giant sweetheart and he should be protected by filth like that.

“What do you want me to do?” Chelsea asked, sincerely. She had to help. They already talked to Maggie. “Do you need me to call his parents? I have the numbers…”

“No, Maggie will take care of that and she has all the information like what hospital we are in. I just wanted to call and let you know. I figured you would want to.”

“Damn right I would want to. Anything with Nick I would want to know…” Chelsea cut off as her voice began cracking.

“I know. As soon as I know more I’ll call you back, I need to recharge my cell phone now but I’m glad I reached you.”

Chelsea said goodbye and hung up the phone but didn’t put it down. Gripping it tightly kept her hand from shaking. Standing up, Chelsea began blowing out the candles. Tonight was off. That was obvious. But she was going to have to talk to Daniel when he got home and hoped he would understand. She would have to go to France immediately.

Chapter Two

Melanie closed her cell phone, wondering if her father would ever bother to call her back. Normally having an untraditional parent was a plus in her book, Trent was light on the encouragement or affection, but he let her live her life the way she wanted as long as she followed through when he called for one of his “favors”. Some people might feel sorry for her, but Melanie usually enjoyed tremendous freedom with very few responsibilities. At the moment, however, Melanie wished she could lean on Trent like a normal daughter/father relationship.

The hospital intercom sounded and a nurse with a heavy French accent requested a doctor to call her. Melanie looked around at the white-walled layout, the French hospital didn’t look that different from an American hospital and the feeling was the same, a mixture of anxiety, depression and loneliness.

“Oh, Nick,” Melanie said out loud. How did this happen? She hadn’t meant for the guy to get shot. He shouldn’t have been there. She was ditching her newfound brother Max to do her due diligence (as her father put it) and entertain the man her father sent her. Usually it wasn’t a big deal. Most of the time the man was good looking, European and very rich so she had no qualms with taking things to wherever the gentleman wanted to go.

But this guy was no gentleman. For the first time he had a real entourage of bodyguards surrounding him, and he acted like he was high on drugs. There was a definite stench of smoke and booze, and the expensive clothes brought no appeal to the greasy man named Claude. Nick showing up was actually welcome, though she suspected he considered their friendship more than it what it was. Grabbing her, Claude whispered in her ear about where he saw the night going, and Melanie had no intention of following through, and she was sure her father wouldn’t have wanted her to either. She slapped him hard just as Nick came in.

Amazingly, Nick did manage to consider their options beforehand and wasn’t a man without a plan. He had set up some gizmo outside the window to cause a sound to be heard so everyone’s attention could be diverted long enough for Nick to hit the guard on Melanie and they could run out. As skinny as he is, Nick had a good punch in him.

They would have gotten away too, if Melanie hadn’t been wearing those spiked heels and could run properly. Nick pushed her out the door when one of the guards pulled out his gun and shot him. Nick went down immediately but managed to tell her to run. Melanie ignored his words and stayed with him.

Luckily, the gunshot notified a nearby police unit. Sirens came shortly thereafter and everyone in Claude’s gang ran. Melanie sat besides Nick who by then was bleeding heavily and going into shock. She sat there and held his hand, wondering how all of this happened.

And sitting there now in the hospital, Melanie was more confused on what kept her at Nick’s side. When things got difficult, she would make a beeline for the door but not this time, and it was more surprising she just couldn’t leave Nick. She stayed for a guy she hardly knew and certainly went against type. He was so average, hardly noticeable really. But he was really smart with a quick wit, he proved that their first meeting when he pretended to be a rich playboy on holiday. Melanie fell for it hook, line and sinker, until he got her to the police station to bail out her annoying brother and his dimwitted girlfriend. She was furious but she did wind up helping Max out, and Nick proved very useful. Later, he took her out for an informal bite, and it was nice to just sit with a guy she could just talk to and relax. Though knowing Nick in so little time, she could still tell he was one of the most earnest guys she ever met.

Stephanie walked up and handed Melanie a soda. “I figured you were thirsty.”

She took it, not sure if this was a trap or not. When she called Max to let him know about Nick, his reaction was surprisingly aggressive. It didn’t take long for them to show up where she and Nick were, but her brother who was so intent on reconnecting with his sister couldn’t wait to tell the cops how Melanie was a tramp and a thief and probably used Nick to make some money. She had never been so angry and hurt in all her life. She would have ran away right then if Nick, who had temporarily regained consciousness while being worked on by the paramedics, told Max to shut up and remember he’s no saint either. If blood weren’t everywhere, she would have kissed him right then and there.

“How are you doing?”

“Just peachy, where’s your sniping boyfriend?”

Stephanie glanced at Melanie and the redhead felt a little guilty. So far Stephanie had seemed more concerned about her than Max, and she was at least trying to be civil.

“Sorry, I’m just not ready to be blamed for this yet.”

“Should you be blamed for this?” Stephanie asked.

“No! Well, I mean, he was just trying to help me and I had no idea those guys were that bad. Usually when my Dad tells me he wants me to meet one of his friends they are just more charming…”

“Your FATHER sent you to them?”

Melanie sighed, she was so tired of hearing this reaction. “Yes, yes, I know, he’s the spawn of Satan and looks like he’s pimping me out. It’s not like that. Well, normally it’s not. This guy, I would never, I mean, Claude was just gross. I knew instantly when I saw him.” She stopped but saw Stephanie didn’t look convinced. “You don’t believe me.”

“It’s hard to imagine a woman just blindly sleeping with criminal types who know her father and be happy about it.”

Melanie leaned her head back, flinching at how Stephanie saw it. Yes, that did sound terrible, but it wasn’t like that, not until now. “A few years ago when I turned 18 Trent told me I was an adult and it was time to behave like one. He would continue to support me financially but now I had to help him out from time to time. I had grown up in private schools by then and never been someone used to doing ‘chores’. Of course, I was always a handful at the schools, sneaking out to party with the guys school down the street. Dad knew I loved partying and he told me he would never ask me to do anything I wouldn’t normally want to do.

“It’s not been that often and most of the time I just take the guys for a drink. They usually drink heavily and by the time we get back to the hotel room they pass out. The younger ones are more fun and I promise you if I found them at a bar on my own, I would have attempted to meet them anyway.”

Melanie was surprised to find tears growing in her eyes, she had never bothered to explain this behavior before and hearing it verbally, it must sound like an empty life. She continued, “But tonight was different. He looked like a thug and so did the rest of his group. Just looking at him, I could feel my skin crawl. I was going to turn around and walk out but he must have had my picture as he knew me on sight, and his guards closed in on me. Nick showed up soon after that and you know the rest.”

“Would you have…if Nick hadn’t shown up would you have…”

“NO! I had no intention of sleeping with that guy at all.” Melanie meant it.

“Voluntarily, but do you think he would have forced you?” Stephanie was fidgeting now, obviously uncomfortable in asking but for some reason needing to know.

Melanie knew the answer but she didn’t want to put words to it. It was over, at least that part of it. She just wanted to concentrate on Nick and be here for him when he was out of surgery. It was the least she could do.

“Hey, I brought back lunch for us, Steph,” came a familiar voice. Melanie glanced over to see her brother handing Stephanie some food. It smelled good but she would be damned if she was going to ask him for any.

“Thanks, did you bring enough for all of us?” Melanie was shocked at Stephanie’s query, and judging by Max’s face, so was he.

“Um, no, she can get her own. I honestly didn’t think she would be still here.”

Angry, Melanie responded, “Of course I’m still here. I want to be here when Nick wakes up.”

“After you got him shot?” Max said. Before Melanie could reply, Stephanie smacked Max on the head with the food bag. “Max, leave her alone. She’s been through an ordeal herself and Nick went on his own to help her. That’s how he is, he can’t NOT help someone, and I think Melanie has every right to be here as we do. After all, she remained with Nick until the paramedics came and called us from his cell phone. ”

Both brother and sister looked at Stephanie with puzzlement over her outburst. Max just looked down, and began eating, considering her words. Stephanie handed Melanie some of the bread in her bag and silently Melanie accepted. She had no idea if she should thank her or not, but she was glad it looked like they would be able to sit here and wait in peace until some news came along.

That peace lasted all of two minutes.

“Where is he? Is he out of surgery yet?”

All three turned surprised to see a girl run over to them from the elevator, pulling a suitcase with her. She was a skinny brunette with a very red face, like she had been crying. Stephanie jumped up, calling her Chelsea and gave the newly arrived girl a hug. Max didn’t get up, but he did look surprised to see this person.

Chelsea went over to Max but when she saw Melanie she got a look on her face like she knew her. She looked like she was just about to ask her name when Max made the introductions, “Chelsea, this is my sister, Melanie.”

She stood up and extended her hand but Chelsea responded differently, with a slap across Melanie’s face.

Chapter Three

The last thing Chelsea planned upon entering the hospital would be starting a fight but coming face to face with the tramp that was responsible for Nick’s condition was too much for any reasonable person to remain civil. Melanie was not expecting Chelsea’s assault but it didn’t take long for her to return the same. Quickly, Stephanie and Max jumped in to pry the girls off each other.

“Who the hell are you?” the redhead yelled, with Stephanie keeping her from launching on Chelsea again.

Max had his hands full too, holding Chelsea who answered back, “One of Nick’s friends, you mess with him you have to answer to me!”

Insults traded back and forth, until Max had to tell the women if they cared about Nick, they would stop now so he wouldn’t find out his friends got kicked out of the hospital. Chelsea shook Max off and tried to regain composure. He was right, no doubt Melanie would get her due with the police but now wasn’t the time.

“Is he out of surgery yet?” Chelsea asked, now realizing she hadn’t gotten the answer to her question.

Stephanie answered, but walked between the two just in case. “The surgery is over so he’s in recovery. They got the bullet, it seems to have gone out of it’s way not to hit a major organ but he’ll be here for a couple of days to verify everything is ok, plus he’ll be in a lot of pain.”

“Gone out of it’s way?” Chelsea asked. She had spoken briefly to Maggie before leaving and Nick’s aunt knew more of the medical details than she did, so she knew the bullet had hit his chest.

“Yes,” Max answered, “The doctors came out a few hours ago to tell us the good news, that once they got in there they knew the extent of the damage was minimal other then losing a lot of blood. He’ll have a pretty bad scar though. We tried calling you but it went straight to voicemail, I guess now we know why.”

“Yes, I was on the plane then,” Chelsea confirmed. She was so relieved to hear Nick was going to be all right. She was remained frightened during the flight she could hardly sit still. As soon as she landed, she came straight to the hospital. There was no time to lose. “So when can I see him?”

A silent Melanie finally had enough, “You’re gonna have to wait in the back of the line, Kelsey.”

Just hearing Melanie’s voice set Chelsea off again and she lunged for Melanie, but Stephanie’s plan worked as she caught the brunette, walking her into the hallway. “Chelsea, it’s good to see you but honestly I have to ask, what are you doing here?”

The question stunned Chelsea. “What do you mean what am I’m doing here? Nick was shot.” To Chelsea, the last sentence explained everything.

“You and Nick aren’t together anymore, Chelsea.”

“That doesn’t mean I stopped caring about him…”

“I know that, it’s why I called you. But I didn’t think you would hop the first international flight and come straight here.”

“I didn’t, Grampa Victor let me take his jet.” She said this as if it made all the difference in the world.

Stephanie decided to use a different tact, “Ok, but, what about Daniel?”

“Daniel?”

“Yes, Daniel? How did he feel you dropping everything and headed here to look after your former boyfriend?”

“He was fine with it,” Chelsea said defiantly. Stephanie stared at Chelsea for a few minutes but when she didn’t continue, she gave up and told her to wait while she would check to see how long it would be before Nick would be moved to his room and could have visitors.

Alone now, Chelsea thought back to her conversation with Daniel, realizing Stephanie did have a point. She honestly hadn’t thought much of Daniel, and guilt struck her at that last conversation.

She quickly had cleaned up his apartment, removing all added items which gave ambiance to the intended romance that had been planned. She had wanted to call him, just tell him over the phone, but that didn’t seem right.

When he came in, she was already dressed and ready to go home and pack. It was going to be a busy night. He looked confused.

Daniel, I’m so sorry, I’m going to have to take a raincheck tonight.”

For a split second she thought she saw relief on his face but it was probably her imagination. He asked, “What’s wrong? Is it Bo? Kate?”

No, it’s Nick. He’s been shot.”

Shot?” His expression matched the incredulous tone. Chelsea still couldn’t believe it herself.

Yes, something happened in France. Of all the people I knew, he was the last one I thought could get into a mess like this. Stephanie called to tell me and he’s in surgery now.”

Was it self inflicted?”

Anger sprung up in Chelsea and she snapped, “No! Of course not!”

Sorry, I just know how…much he missed you.”

She had her back to him now, and being reminded on how much she hurt Nick slowed her body movements. Earlier she thought so too, but the last few times she saw Nick he was brisk and curt with her, and he certainly hadn’t sought her out in anyway, usually it was the other way around. Not that she could admit that. She wasn’t sure what Daniel thought of her heading to France like this, but it would never be a good thing to tell her current boyfriend she was trying to convince her ex-boyfriend to remain friends. Guys were funny like that.

Well, I have to go, I don’t know how bad this really is and I wouldn’t want him to…” she cut off when she realized what the end of that sentence would be.

Daniel remained silent for what seemed like an hour, but finally he replied, “No, that’s a good idea. Do you need me to take you to the airport?”

Relieved, Chelsea shook her head. “No, I have to head home first and then Grampa is going to pick me up in his limo. He was very sweet when I asked if he was using his jet for anything now and so…”

And that was that. She had so much to do while in Salem that Chelsea didn’t have time to really think on anything else until she got on the airplane. Then all her thoughts were devoted to Nick and what it would mean if he didn’t make it. Tears began swelling up when she realized how close she was to the nightmare being realized.

“Chelsea!” Stephanie had returned. “It seems you had perfect timing. Nick has been in his room and he is about to wake up. So after we tell Max and Mel-“

“You can’t be serious,” Chelsea said shocked. “What is Melanie even doing here? She got him shot!”

“Chelsea, it wasn’t like that and she really does seem to care…”

“Care, my ass. I can spot a con artist a mile away and she’s just like China Lee, worse even, cause she’ll probably try to exploit Nick now too. God, he’s like a magnet for women like that…”

“Chelsea! Please, don’t have another scene with her…”

Chelsea threw her purse over her shoulder and got out her compact mirror. The evidence of her crying was tough to miss; she didn’t want Nick to see that, he would feel bad for making her worry. She glanced at Stephanie and rolled her eyes at the look her friend was giving her. “Relax, Stephanie, I’ll behave myself with Melanie. Especially now that Nick is awake. Just let me get in there with him first, so I can protect him from that bitch.”

Stephanie took Chelsea’s arm, “I don’t think that’s a good idea. Chelsea, Nick might not want to see you exactly…”

Chelsea’s look cut Stephanie off. It was a mixture of horror and fear. It hadn’t occurred to Chelsea Nick wouldn’t want her there. But even if things were different now didn’t mean at times like this they couldn’t be there for each other, and for the first time since she’d known Nick, he was the one who was in danger. The idea was as foreign to Chelsea as the country she was currently in, but she had to come. And now that was here, she had to see him.

And of course Nick would want her there too. He was upset about her dumping him for Daniel but he couldn’t just cut her out of his life forever, especially at a time like this. Stephanie was wrong. Probably a mixture of her own fear and fatigue from the situation. She probably had spent hours now with that skank of a girl and Stephanie just wasn’t thinking clearly.

“Stephanie, Nick nearly died, and I’ve traveled on this way, if you think I’m going to wait to see him…” Stephanie relented, letting go of her arm. She told Chelsea the room number and Chelsea walked on.

Going in, Chelsea steeled herself but as soon as her eyes fell on pale, motionless Nick, she fell apart. “Oh, Nick!” she said as she walked over. In all the time she had known Nick, he had always been the one who supported her, no matter what. And now when she needed him more then ever, he couldn’t do it.

She put her hand in his, caressing it. The motion allowed for Nick’s eyes to flutter, and then open all the way.

“Hi Nick!” she tried to sound upbeat.

His voice was scratched when he answered, “Chelsea?”

Chapter Four

Nick remembered being shot and brought to the hospital. He remembered waking up and the questions by various hospital personnel. He remembered being told he was going to have to have surgery. He remembered the recovery room and a nurse telling him everything went well and he was going to be fine. But he didn’t remember leaving France and coming back to Salem. He must have though, why else would Chelsea be here?

She smiled at him when he said her name, as if unsure if he would remember her. He felt a squeeze on his hand, and he was now aware that she was holding it, caressing it. Speaking wasn’t that easy, his mouth was dry and he was still groggy.

“Chelsea,” he repeated her name.

“Yes, Nick. Do you need anything?”

He needed a lot of things but he was more concerned about his lapse of memory and how he got back home. He took his eyes off of her, looking around the room. It didn’t look like Salem General at all, and he had spent enough time in there, especially during Chelsea’s surgery to know. He was about to ask her where he was when he heard the intercom from the hallway paging a doctor. The accent told him that he was still in France. But that didn’t explain Chelsea’s presence.

“What are you doing here?”

Chelsea’s reaction showed his question hurt her. He had to hold back from apologizing, the habit of how to deal with Chelsea was a hard one to break. She looked down at his hand as if she needed to tend to it. She did answer the question. “You were shot.”

“I know that…but why are you here? In France.” Normally he wouldn’t be so direct with her but he decided surviving a shooting and surgery within 24 hours should give him some leeway against usual Nick Fallon etiquette.

Now she raised her eyes at him, those big doe eyes that were perfectly sized to hold large amounts of tears before they fell down her cheeks. They usually got to him but right now Nick didn’t feel anything but numbness. Probably the pain meds he thought. “Nick, did you really think I wouldn’t have come?”

A moment of déjà vu came over him, and then he remembered she said something similar when he had his party at Chez Rouge that celebrated receiving the grant money. That was right after she dumped him so her attending wasn’t required or expected. Of course, she spent all of 5 minutes with him, using the rest of the time to stare at Daniel Jonas who made himself a permanent spot at the bar, trying to avoid her. God help him if she brought Dr. Fantastic to France, he’d never recover.

“No, I didn’t expect you to. How did you find out about this? Did Aunt Maggie tell you?”

“No, Stephanie called.”

Ah, right, Stephanie, that explains it. She probably guilted her into coming. “Well, I appreciate the concern but it wasn’t necessary. “ He wasn’t sure why he was sounding so cruel. He might as well as told her to ‘go away’ but the physical pain was nothing compared to how much emotional toil he felt at her presence. Dealing with one at a time he could handle, but not both.

“Nick,” Chelsea was crying now, “You have no idea how worried I was when I heard. I had no choice but to come, I didn’t care if you were halfway around the world. I know we aren’t a couple anymore…”

“That’s right, we aren’t.” Fatigue was building; Nick knew he didn’t have much more energy left. “And I just can’t keep doing this over and over. I’ve got to do what’s best for me…”

She squeezed his hand to interrupt him, “Nick, it’s going to be alright. You’re just tired and cranky and who can blame you after everything? You’ll feel differently in a couple of days. Now, did you say you wanted some water?”

Sighing, Nick wanted to just give up, at least for the moment. Closing his eyes he could feel himself falling back to sleep and so he told her so; going to sleep sounded like a great idea. She agreed.

He felt her pulling his blanket up. The door opened then and he could hear Max and Stephanie come in. He wished he could ask them about Melanie but he wanted to wait when Chelsea wasn’t around. He remembered Melanie talking to him until the ambulance arrived, and he also remembered Max going off on her. After that he didn’t know what became of her and now he needed desperately to know if she was ok.

Chelsea’s voice cut through this worries as she told them he was going to get some sleep. There was something in her tone though, very curt and short that sounded odd, even for Chelsea. He lifted his head to look in their direction, and seeing Melanie, Nick felt a newfound strength emerge.

“Melanie!” She was alright! Thank God! Seeing her now lessened one worry off his mind.

The smile she gave him was dazzling. “Hey, Nick. Chelsea said you were tired.”

“Not too tired,” he said, but realized he had slurred his words. The sound made Melanie giggle and he couldn’t resist the urge to grin.

“Nick needs his rest right now, so if you don’t mind, let’s leave him to sleep,” Chelsea said while standing guard by Nick’s bed. Nothing seemed to stop Melanie though as she simply decided to walk to the other side, taking his other hand.

“I’m glad you’re alright, Nick.” Melanie said.

“I’m tougher then I look.” He replied back. Seeing her made him feel so much better. “I’m glad you stuck around to make sure I was ok.”

“Of course, I did. Like I could leave the hero who saved me!”

This caused Nick to blush, he was hardly a hero. It was actually a wonder he didn’t get them both killed. “You were more of the hero I think. Staying with me until the ambulance came. Thank you for that.”

He felt his pulse race when she leaned in and said, “Like any woman could leave you.”

“Ok, that’s it. Time to go! He really needs his rest. Can’t you see he’s exhausted?”

If Nick could, he would have thrown something at his unwelcome ex-girlfriend, but unfortunately the lack of strength proved she was right after all. He didn’t want to let go of Melanie’s hand but upon hearing the promise she would return very soon, he reluctantly did so. Watching everyone leave, including a very annoyed Chelsea, Nick laid in his bed smiling, until fatigue over took him and he finally fell asleep.

Chapter Five

Melanie pulled out her compact one last time, smiling upon seeing her. Her makeup was as perfect as her hair and Nick was especially appreciative of such things.

Standing outside his hospital door, Melanie frowned, not sure why she felt suddenly anxious. He was being released today and she was grateful there was no lasting effects from being shot. She had visited him everyday which was unusual given she hated hospitals and tried her best to remain outside of them, no matter who was on the inside getting treatment. However, there was a bonus to visiting Nick, getting on his former girlfriend’s last nerve. Max, despite his own negative treatment of her, had been rather upset the way Chelsea introduced herself to his sister and decided to fill her in somewhat on Chelsea and Nick’s early relationship. He didn’t get into details but Melanie could fill in the blanks. Chelsea dumped Nick for a hotter guy but obviously considered him still her property. Melanie might not know Nick that well, but upon meeting him she could tell his breakup had hurt him badly.

Normally Melanie wouldn’t care so much, and she herself only noticed Nick right away because he tricked her by pretending to be super rich, but now she could see he was a pretty special. He put all his energy into pleasing whomever he was around, not to mention he risked his life to save hers, thus Melanie felt this need to protect him. She wondered why Max and Stephanie didn’t extend such protection for Nick themselves; it was obvious Chelsea’s visit was not doing him any good but nobody dared to cross the brunette.

The small window of glass in the door allowed Melanie to see Nick standing and getting dressed, so she beamed her biggest smile and walked in. When he saw her, his smile matched hers.

“Hey Melanie, I was hoping you would come by.”

“Of course I would come by. You’re finally a free man.”

He laughed nervously, “Well, there is that. But I actually wanted to give you something.”

This surprised Melanie. He hadn’t a chance to go anywhere being bedridden. Coyly, she asked, “Yea? You know, your smile is enough of a gift for me.”

He blushed and Melanie shook her head. The guy could think fast and manage to stay a step ahead of guys with guns without missing a beat, but one unexpected compliment made him seem out of his depth.

“Um, well, it’s not much. Not much at all. But I thought you might like it.” He handed her what appeared to be magazine clippings.

“What is it?” She began flipping through. It was pages from magazines of various clothing outfits and articles of fashion. They had been arranged in various categories, and Nick had some how engineered the paper to create pockets so the pages could be removed.

“It’s a fashion notebook for you.”

Now she was really confused. Did he think she needed one? Since Nick was so easy to talk to, she had babbled on over her love of fashion to him since meeting him. She always kept up with the latest magazines. Not wanting to hurt his feelings, she nodded and said, “Well, thanks, this can be useful.”

Nick could tell she didn’t understand. “No, no. You can reuse this. I remembered you talking about your magazines and how you laid them out so you could refer to them later. I figured you could take out the pages that you were saving them for and just file them away in this book. That way you could recycle the other stuff you didn’t need, you know, the ads and what have you. And since fashions change so often anyway, you can easily make room for new stuff when everything becomes dated. “

“You…you did that?” Now that he explained it, Melanie could see more detail and effort had been put in. She was truly astonished that he would go to such trouble, even if he were bedridden.

“Well, I had a lot of time, you know.”

She glanced up, staring at him. Her stare made him blush more and he shifted uncomfortably. She wondered if it was possible he could be even more considerate then she initially thought. Without thinking about it, she walked up and gave him a kiss on the cheek, which caused his blush to turn bright red.

The door slamming shut brought their attention away from each other. Chelsea stood there looking quite angry, Melanie realizing kissing Nick had a bonus, she obviously witnessed it. Served the bitch right for slapping her.

“Hi Chelsea!” she said in a sing song voice.

Ignoring her, the brunette walked over to the other side of Nick and said, “I thought we decided you would wait until I got here to help you.”

Nick’s voice was noticeably cooler, “No, that was what you decided, not me. I don’t need help to get dressed.”

“I didn’t say you did,” Chelsea said as she watched Nick walk away from her. Melanie noted how her face fell at Nick’s rejection to her touch, adding it to a mental list.

“So, when is your flight?” Melanie asked.

In that annoying way she had, Chelsea answered for Nick, “We can leave at anytime. We are using a private jet to fly back.”

This was the first Melanie heard of a private jet. Who had access to such funds? She presumed that since Nick said he couldn’t bail Max and Stephanie out of jail was because he had been lying about having such money, but maybe…he had money after all. Turning on her charm, she smiled, “Why Nick, you didn’t tell me you had your own private jet.”

“I don’t,” Nick said, looking annoyed at Chelsea. “It belongs to Chelsea’s grandfather. And he’s kind enough to let us all come back on it.”

That was disappointing, and Melanie realized Chelsea sensed what she was thinking. “Oh, well, no matter. I’m sure it will be lots of fun to fly back on.”

“We aren’t going to be partying, Melanie,” Chelsea said, “Nick needs to take it easy and I’m sure Max and Stephanie will sleep…”

“Ok, loosen up, Chelsea,” Melanie said annoyed, “I know Nick has to take it easy, but he doesn’t have to pretend he’s flying in a coffin either!”

“Are you two finished?” Nick asked. Melanie was surprised that he seemed annoyed at her too. Clearly Chelsea had started it and one could only take so much of her. However, she didn’t want Nick’s last memory of her to be tainted by his bitchy ex girlfriend’s presence.

Holding up her gift, Melanie said, “Thank you for my gift. It was really sweet of you to make it.”

“What did he…wait. Is that the file folders you had me buy?” Chelsea asked. The idea Nick used Chelsea to get the materials made the gift all the more precious to Melanie and she hugged it.

“I bet it is. Nick is so handy with such materials. I can’t wait to start using it.” Melanie grabbed her purse when Nick stopped her.

“Wait, are you leaving?”

“I’m afraid so, Mr. Fallon.”

“Well,” he looked desperate to keep her there. Finally he said, “Won’t I see you again? You could come to Salem!”

Melanie laughed, more out of Chelsea’s reaction, but there was a surprising part of her that hated this would be goodbye too. “I doubt it. I’m a party girl, remember? And Salem hardly sounds like a place that could entertain me…”

“Oh, I don’t know. You don’t have to live there. Just visit, and maybe you could go to a few parties, update your blog with the American side versus European side.”

Melanie giggled because Nick was talking so fast. Surprise took her when she heard Chelsea mutter, “Oh, please.” Nick’s rambling had led her to forget Chelsea for a moment.

“Its true. I do have a party blog, Ms. Brady. You’re welcome to read it.”

Nick quickly said, “Oh she’s seen it.”

This surprised both women. Nick reddened but said, “You remember, Chelsea, in the coffee shop.”

Chelsea’s expression was not a happy one, but Melanie could see something else was going on she didn’t understand. Whatever it was, Melanie didn’t like it. Thinking about her agenda coming up, she realized she really had nothing planned for the next couple of weeks, and she really did want to see her father since the shooting. They really needed to talk.

“You know, this might be rude but, would there be room on that plane for an extra person?”

Chelsea was too slow in her reaction, but Nick nearly spit out his answer, “There’s plenty of room!”

“Excellent. I need to see my dad and it’s been awhile since I’ve been to the states…”

“But how would you get home? One way flights can be very expensive,” Chelsea said quickly.

Melanie smiled, already knowing the answer. “My dad will send me home when it’s time. Of course, it won’t be a private jet but he’ll take care of me.”

Chelsea rolled her eyes, “Yea, I’ve heard how he takes care of you.”

A flash of anger hit Melanie, she wondered if Stephanie had told Chelsea about her relationship with Trent and realized, of course, she had. Nothing more was said, since Nick hugged Melanie and took her to the door. “Ok, well you better run home and pack. I’ll make sure the plane will wait for you.”

Melanie agreed and leaving the two, she walked out the door. As she got outside, she actually felt excited. She was going to spend more time with Nick who despite their differences was usually enjoyable and now it had the added bonus of upsetting Chelsea. And then when they landed she could see her Dad!

Chapter Six

Chelsea sat at the pub waiting on Daniel. Though she had been in touch with her boyfriend since arriving back in Salem, this would be the first time they would meet in person. Oddly, she felt no excitement in seeing him. It should concern her, he was her current boyfriend; that “dream man” she was going to spend the rest of her life with, but instead her thoughts were devoted to Nick.

In France that day, after Melanie left to go pack, Nick all but ignored Chelsea, only answering her when prompted. It had been like that since arriving in France and Chelsea didn’t know what more she could do. She had waited on him when he was healing and did anything he asked, including getting the stupid supplies so Nick could make that ridiculous notebook for Melanie. She was going beyond and above the call of duty, especially considering he was her ex-boyfriend. If Chelsea wanted to be truly honest, she was treating Nick better now then she ever had when they were dating, and she didn’t understand why he couldn’t even act a little civil towards her.

“Hey, Chelsea.” Daniel said, giving a kiss and sitting down opposite her. “You look good.”

Chelsea blushed, not from the compliment he paid her, but because she hadn’t even seen him walk through the door, her thoughts were so wrapped around thinking of Nick. Shaking her former boyfriend out of her mind, she replied, “Hey, you look great yourself.”

He smiled and pulled out the menu. The waitress, Pam, took their order and now Chelsea was able to speak to Daniel freely. Not sure what tact to take, she decided on humor, “Miss me?”

“Of course,” he said very quickly. Almost too quickly. “How was France? Nick?”

“I didn’t see much of France. Spent most of the time at the hospital. Nick is better. He’s up and walking around, though very slowly. He’s supposed to be taking it easy. They gave him some pain medicine which he said he was going to try not to take.”

“That’s probably for the best. Medicine given to gunshot victims can be pretty powerful, and usually is quite addictive…”

“Daniel,” Chelsea couldn’t stand it anymore, “I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I ran out on you. Us. For my ex-boyfriend. I can’t imagine what you must have thought…”

Daniel contemplated his answer. Finally he said, “I was actually proud.”

That wasn’t what she was expecting. “Proud?”

“Well, maybe that’s the wrong word. It’s just so many people had opinions on you leaving Nick for me, even though I didn’t ask you to, and several brought up your past treatment of him.”

“My treatment of him?” Chelsea was confused. Who were these people?

“Calm down, there is nothing to get excited about, I thought it proved you and Nick just weren’t cut out for each other. How he was way more into you then you were into him. ” Daniel took her hand and squeezed it.

Something wasn’t sitting right with Chelsea. She still wanted to know who these people were. They made it sound like she never loved Nick, which she does. Did.

“Anyway, hearing you head over to France to take care of him was a sweet gesture. And its not like I thought you would cut him out of your life. He’s a good guy and it’s great to see he can count on you.”

Chelsea smiled but it felt very forced. Daniel was speaking so eloquently of her, and it was a relief that he wasn’t annoyed or angry. But she didn’t like how…how one sided they made her relationship with Nick seem.

“Chelsea?”

She nodded, “Thank you. You’re like, the best boyfriend ever to be understanding of that.”

Daniel nodded. Their food came and as they began eating, Daniel asked, “So can you tell me how Nick managed to get shot? I still can’t quite imagine Nick being in such a situation.”

“Oh,” Chelsea was glad to share, “it wasn’t his fault. Max’s bitch of a sister practically dragged him into it and got him hurt.”

“Max has a sister?”

This caused Chelsea to pause, did he not remember anything she told him? “Yes, that’s why Max and Stephanie went to France, remember? I told you that a month ago. They went to go look for Trent’s daughter.”

Daniel nodded now, remembering what Chelsea said, “Oh right. I had forgotten. She’s the one who shot Nick?”

“No, but she might as well. And I don’t understand why Nick is being so nice to her, she’s such a…” Chelsea stopped when she saw who came through the door. Melanie had walked in with some guy Chelsea didn’t know. They were flirting and Chelsea couldn’t believe it.

“Chelsea?”

“That’s her!” she said, pointing to the redhead. Daniel turned to look. “Who is that guy?”

“That’s Mike Davis,” he answered. Upon Chelsea’s questioning look, Daniel explained, “He’s son of William Davis who’s on our board. He’s very rich and very eligible.”

“Wow, she works fast.” Chelsea said. Wait until Nick hears about this! Grinning, Chelsea decided she needed to go and put Melanie on the spot. She excused herself from Daniel who looked confused at her actions.

“Hi, Melanie,” Chelsea said brightly. She was pleased when the redhead frowned at the sight of her.

“Chelsea,” she greeted back, making no attempts to be friendly.

Feeling like she had the upper hand, Chelsea introduced herself to Mike, “It’s good to meet you. I wasn’t aware Melanie knew anyone else in Salem other then her father.”

Mike quickly explained, “Oh, we just met. I nearly walked right over Melanie on campus coming out of the bursar’s office. I swear she wasn’t there the last time I looked, but she snuck up on me.

I bet. Realizing Melanie was on campus, Chelsea decided to throw a wrench in her current dating plans, “Visiting Nick?”

“No,” Melanie said annoyed, “he’s not back at school yet. I was visiting my father.”

“Who is Nick?” Mike asked.

“He’s just a friend, Mike. A really nice guy who has been really kind to me lately.”

Rolling her eyes at Melanie describing Nick as simply “kind to her”, Chelsea became direct, “Friend? I thought there was more to it.”

“No, Chelsea. You thought that. We are only friends. Period.”

Chelsea was surprised to hear it but delighted nevertheless. Maybe she just misread the situation and there was no need to be worried about anything. Saying a quick goodbye, she headed back to her table with Daniel.

“What was that all about?” her boyfriend asked.

“Just saying hi,” Chelsea said with a grin. She felt better then she had in ages, and ordered dessert. She listened to Daniel the rest of the afternoon, but her mind wandered to when she could go see Nick and tell him how quickly Melanie worked.

Chapter Seven

Nick opened his office door, turning on the light. Nobody had entered since he left for Europe a month ago, and it looked quite dusty. Walking in, he pulled out his office chair, grimacing at the pain that shot through his body. He was reminded he had pain pills at home, but he really hated to take them. The pain wasn’t that bad, though sometimes it was hard to sleep, but those pills could affect one’s moods. Sitting down, he flipped through his itinerary for the upcoming semester. Relief hit him at the fact he only missed a few classes while he was gone and a co-worker could have completed the rest of the grading. He would have felt guilty if he had left in the middle of the semester.

But even so, it would have been worth it, Nick thought as images of Melanie came to mind. He smiled. She was so much fun to be around. He couldn’t remember the last time he felt so relaxed with such a beautiful woman. With Chelsea, even when they were happy he was always on edge. There was always something in her life that required him to walk on eggshells around her and Melanie was so opposite, much less dramatic. The girl could have been shot with him yet she not just stayed but remained calm until the paramedics came.

“What are you doing here?”

Startled, Nick jumped and turned around too quickly. Pain shot though his body and he slammed his good arm down on the desk in frustration. “Dammit, Chelsea. Don’t sneak up on me.”

She seemed to realize then what she had done and came forward, touching his side and apologizing. Nick glanced up, seeing true concern in her face; concern that had never wavered since she showed up unrepentantly in Europe. If he didn’t know any better, he would think…

Putting ridiculous ideas out of his mind, Nick decided to answer her question. “I came in to get a grip on the coming semester. I need to look at my schedule,”

“Oh my God, Nick,” she interrupted, “they can wait until you get better. I know you’re a popular teacher and have a full class but the doctor said to rest and take it easy, and he meant no work for at least a week.”

“This is hardly work, Chels,” Nick said, flinching when he realized he could shorten her name down again so effortlessly.

She smiled at the slip, looking quite pleased to hear it, and put her purse down on his desk. “It is work, and I know you. You’ll lean over this desk for hours, getting sucked into science and cool physic tricks.”

Chelsea’s description of him was right on, and he got a fuzzy feeling inside that allowed a smile to slip through. Maybe it was time to just put the past behind them and become the friends she so earnestly wanted. “Well, I guess the bowling ball trick would have to wait until next year.”

“You have a bowling ball trick?” she looked less surprised then he expected.

“Yup, I came up with it back in June, you take the ball…”

“Why don’t you tell me later,” she said, “First we need to leave here and get you back to your apartment.”

Nick’s face fell. He knew her words was harmless, this time at least, she was focusing on making sure he took care of himself, but various flashbacks played before him about how he would try to talk about his day, yet she never wanted to hear. Instead, she would tell him about her day.

“No, Chelsea, I can stay here for an hour or so. I really do need to get this done and I appreciate you checking on me. I’ll see you later.”

As if sensing his mood change, Chelsea asked, “Did I say something wrong?”

“No, nothing. I just need to focus. “

He turned his back, hoping she would just get her purse and go, but of course Chelsea never could take a hint. “Well, I did have another reason to come by.”

Now that sounded like the Chelsea he knew. She must want something. “What do you need?”

“Need? Nick, I don’t need…I just wanted to come by and let you know Melanie and I had made peace.”

“You had?” This got his full attention and he turned to look at Chelsea.

“Yes, I guess, I might have misconstrued your relationship. I didn’t realize you were just friends.” Nick couldn’t hide his expression at Chelsea’s statement and she noticed. “She told me you were.”

“Well,” he thought about it, they were just friends but he hoped things were going in another direction. “I don’t know why you are telling me this, or why you talked to Melanie about our relationship, whatever Melanie and I are is really none of your business.”

“Of course it’s my business, Nick, you’re my friend!” Chelsea said, quite annoyed. “And what do you mean, ‘whatever Melanie and I are’?”

Nick held back anger, “Just as it sounds. Melanie isn’t likely to talk to you about her feelings for me…”

“Well, she didn’t have to talk, Nick, she was letting me know, hell, everyone knows because she was hanging all over her date she just picked up.”

This stopped Nick cold. Melanie had a date? “She was with a guy?”

“Yea, Mike Davis. You know him?”

Nick did know him. His family was big with the medical community and apparently knew the Hortons well. Mike was the favorite son who was the garden variety playboy around town, one of those especially good looking guys but once you spoke to him you realized that it was a good thing he came from money, as he didn’t have any brains or real personality of his own. Remembering how Nick himself first met Melanie, he knew she was probably attracted to his money.

Nick’s silence clued Chelsea into his disappointment and voiced her fears, “You…you really like Melanie don’t you?”

“It’s like she told you, we’re just friends,” he denied, but Chelsea knew him better then anyone and could tell when he was lying.

“Nick, she is so wrong for you. First, she’s a gold digger and second, she would never appreciate a great guy like you.”

“Like you did?” Nick was angry now. How dare Chelsea come into his office and talk about Melanie. “Don’t argue with me, Chelsea. I’m tired of…God, of this! We aren’t a couple so there isn’t a reason for you to get in my face anymore. I’ve paid my dues….and since it was your decision to break up…”

“YOU PAID YOUR DUES?” Chelsea was furious now. “How dare you? After all I’ve done for you since you got shot! I couldn’t think straight when I heard, I was so scared and even after the surgery…whatever you wanted I would…”

“Nobody asked you to, Chelsea. And don’t turn my getting shot into a case study of how YOU SUFFERED!”

Chelsea started to say something but stopped, Nick finally getting to her. She ran out of his office and Nick went to slam the door but stopped when the pain hit his shoulder. He looked up the hallway and various professors were peeking out after hearing their fight and Nick grimaced. This was the last thing he needed. Sighing, he got his keys and locked up. He could hardly work in there now.

Chapter Eight

Marching into Chez Rouge, Nick headed straight for the bar. Surprising himself, he ordered a whiskey sour. Checking his watch, it was just two in the afternoon, way too early, but he needed something to take the edge off. He wasn’t sure if he was drinking because of the fight with Chelsea, or upon hearing that Melanie was dating Mike Davis.

—————-

Melanie caught sight of Nick when he first came in. She was going to raise her hand up to call him over but he didn’t see her, heading over the bar. Funny, she never pegged him to be a guy to drink so early in the day.

“Am I boring you?” Trent asked.

Melanie glanced at her father and smiled. “Of course not. I just saw Nick Fallon come in.”

“Nick?” Trent turned his head but saw the young man’s back. “Odd to see him at the bar.”

Melanie remembered that Trent knew Nick fairly well. They had worked together on his prototype and of course being in the same department at Salem U. “You know, he saved my life in France.”

Trent looked confused for a few minutes, then his face changed as he remembered, “Oh right, the shooting. How long have you thought about staying in Salem?”

Melanie grimaced at his change of subject. They had not spoken of the events in France. She knew why, he obviously felt guilty getting his daughter involved with such thugs. She knew her father loved her and was devoted to her, but sometimes it would be nice to hear him say it. Unfortunately he wasn’t that kind of man.

“I’m not sure yet. I’m checking out my surroundings…see who I can befriend.” Her eyes darted over to Nick.

Noticing his daughter’s interest, Trent shook his head, “Well, I don’t you need you mucking up Nick Fallon, Melanie. His grant project is very important to the school and it’s imperative he come through with it.”

“I’m not going to muck Nick up. He and I are just friends.”

This caused Trent to look relieved, “Good. Honestly, he isn’t your type at all, no money or looks to really speak of. And he’s too much of a boy scout to keep you interested for long.”

“You make him sound boring,” Melanie said suddenly annoyed, “I’ve found him to be the opposite.”

Trent shrugged. Signing the bill from the waiter, he stood up and kissed his daughter on the cheek. “Well, good to see you anyway. Will you be home later?”

“I have a date later so I wouldn’t wait…” but by then Trent was walking out the door. Turning her attention to Nick, Melanie got up and headed over to see her friend.

“Melanie!” Nick said. He was still working on his drink. Good to know he wasn’t a lush.

“Hey hero!” Melanie said. This time however Nick didn’t blush like he usually did. He looked almost sad.

“You don’t have to call me that. In fact, I really would prefer if you didn’t.”

Melanie watched as he took a sip and wondered why he was so down. “But you are one, Nick.”

“Melanie,” Nick began, but then stopped. “Never mind.”

“What? Tell me.” She patted his hand. She resisted the urge to interlock their fingers.

He sighed. “When I was younger, I used to fantasize about being a girl’s knight in shining armor. Now…it’s surprisingly easy to find yourself becoming ‘a hero’. But having her stay is the harder sell.”

Melanie’s jaw dropped. She had never heard Nick talk like this before and his face looked so sad. Sensing Chelsea was at the bottom of this, she decided to stroke his ego.

“I think there is more to you then that just being a rescuer. And I told you, Nick, a girl would be crazy to leave you.” She found the words were becoming easier and easier to say.

Sighing, he shrugged. “When are you going out with Mike?”

Taking Melanie by surprise, she realized that he wasn’t referring to Chelsea so much as he was referring to her. Blushing, she admitted, “Tonight.”

“I hope you have a good time.” With that he took his drink and walked over to the restaurant side, leaving Melanie on the stool. Was this a goodbye? She didn’t want things to end with Nick. Why couldn’t they be friends?

“Nick,” she said as she followed him, “please don’t talk that way! Come on, can’t we be friends?”

She mentally kicked herself. She sounded like Chelsea. That bitch did a number on him. Nick smiled though, “We already are.”

Sitting down at his table, Melanie said, “Nick, I really do like you. But for the first time, I’ve found a real friend, someone I can talk to. I feel like I can share anything with you.”

“Thanks Melanie. I’m not cutting you out, but maybe…I can’t help how I feel. Hearing about your date hurts, and I’m done with playing the suffering friend with the unobtainable crush. Plus, I’ve seen your party blog. You’ve got plenty of those.”

“Those aren’t…” she was embarrassed to admit it. She had to take a moment to realize if she really meant what she said about Nick, that she could share anything. Looking into his eyes, she knew she could. “Those aren’t my friends. We all head to the same clubs and shop at the same stores but honestly I don’t know them that well. Certainly not to count on or trust.”

Nick kept staring at her and Melanie shifted in her seat. He really had quite an intense stare. For a brief moment, she imagined his gaze in a more intimate situation. The idea was much more appealing then she was comfortable to admit. “Where is our waiter? It’s hot in here.”

He slid his drink over to her, but pain showed up on his face as he used the wrong arm. “Oh, Nick, is your shoulder hurting you that much?”

“It’s fine, I just sometimes forget about it when I move at a weird angle.”

“Do you not have any of the pain medicine left?”

“I have all of it.. I hate to use it…”

“Well that’s what it’s there for isn’t it?” Melanie said. She flagged the waiter and ordered a drink, then showing her ID. “Are we ok?”

Nick nodded, “Yes, I’m just wallowing today. I haven’t done that in a while. Ignore me.”

She giggled, “Impossible.” His blush returned and Melanie felt such relief. “You missed seeing my dad just now.”

“Oh?” Nick didn’t look too disappointed.

“You like my father, don’t you?” She really hoped he didn’t believe Max’s take on it.

“We work together and he does know his stuff. He’s very respected.”

“Nick, I know you’re friends with Max and I know what he says about Trent. But Max’s side is not everything that happened.”

“So, your dad told you why he abandoned your brother?”

“No, he…he said he had his reasons.”

Nick looked surprised, “That’s it?”

“Well, it’s none of my business really. It was in the past before he met my mother and…”

“How is it none of your business, Melanie?” Nick said, getting quite agitated, “You have a brother you didn’t know about. Family that was kept from you. What or who else is he keeping…”

“Ok, ok, ok,” Melanie said, not liking where this was going. “Can we change the subject please?”

Nick sighed, looking vexed. He took a moment and then gave in, “I guess. I was really just going to go home and relax.”

“Doing what?”

“Watching some documentaries.” He said sheepishly.

“Oh really? That sounds like fun,” She lied. It didn’t but she didn’t want to leave Nick and she would finally get to see his apartment.

Chapter Nine

Chelsea sat down at the bar in the Brady pub. She had called Daniel hoping to squeeze in time to see him, but he was busy with a double shift at the hospital and couldn’t get off. Chelsea was more disappointed over her fight with Nick then missing out on spending time with her boyfriend, but she told herself it wasn’t that unusual. Even after being broken up for months now, fighting with him always hurt, and having Nick angry with her always made the world seem a darker place.

It had been several hours since speaking to him but his stinging words still echoed in her mind. So much so, that Chelsea ignored the two freshman girls in the corner of the pub. They had recently been inducted in the sorority house, odd for summer but with the current economy the school wasn’t going to turn any eager students away. However, Chelsea was in no mood to hang out with them, and no doubt her face matched her mood as they didn’t try to come over.

“No, I got it the first time. Those other dozen times you told me how to create the presentation.” Chelsea turned to see Stephanie walking in, talking on her cell phone. Chelsea didn’t have to hear the other caller to know Stephanie was talking to Philip. Her best friend’s angry face and strained voice was enough clues. Those clues were also evident to April and Joanie, the sorority freshman, who tried to wave Stephanie over, but stopped upon seeing her face.

Hanging up, Stephanie tossed her cell phone on the bar, taking the next seat. “I know he’s your uncle but what an ass. He treats me like a child.”

Chelsea smiled somewhat, she couldn’t deny Philip could rub off on people like that sometimes, but this wasn’t his entire fault. “Well, probably because he didn’t like Grampa hiring you. I told you there might be problems if I asked Victor about any openings for you.”

“I didn’t know he was going to place me in the executive section of the company! I figured I’d get some internship somewhere, a quiet place where I could learn and build up my job experience. But for some reason he picked the most important area in the company. I had no idea I go head to head with Philip on a daily basis like this.”

Chelsea shrugged, she was surprised too. Victor Kiriakis didn’t have much love for the Johnson family but Stephanie was hired very shortly after Bo recovered from his illness and Chelsea guessed Victor felt compelled to give Kayla’s daughter special treatment, probably because he knew Kayla played a strong part in Bo recovering. Now he was probably sorry given the resentment it created in Philip, but Victor never admitted to making mistakes. Ever.

“It also didn’t help you taking a long hiatus barely two weeks in to head off to France to help find Max’s insufferable sister.”

Stephanie looked at Chelsea for a few moments, appearing to want to express something. Whatever it was, it was obvious she changed her mind, and the subject. “So what are you up to?”

“Nothing much. Tried to spend time with Daniel but he’s working.” Chelsea’s mind went back to Nick and she vowed to remain silent on her problems with her old boyfriend.

Stephanie began, “Well, I have some free time now if you want to go shopping…”

“Can you believe that Nick is interested in Melanie?” Managed to hold it in for two seconds.

Stephanie didn’t miss a beat. “Yes, I can.”

“What?” Is Stephanie insane?

“Well, they spent a lot of time together in France and the shooting only gave them a stronger bond.”

Chelsea was sick of hearing about the shooting and the bull that somehow it gave Melanie a chance to be closer to Nick. “Bond? How can someone bond with a stranger over an event like that? So she stayed with him after the shooting. I can’t imagine anyone with a heart leaving Nick hurt like that. He acts like she shoved him out of the way and took the bullet herself. It’s just stupid that’s considered a way to bond.”

Annoyed, Stephanie said, “Unlike bonding with the doctor who saved your father’s life. That’s completely different.”

Chelsea was taken aback. Stephanie stinging remarks were aimed at her and Chelsea didn’t understand why. “I don’t know…why are you bringing Daniel up?”

“It’s just Nick was actually quite supportive of you when you broke things off. He didn’t voice his thoughts on what you felt for Daniel, and…”Stephanie then stopped, realizing she was going a bit too far then she intended. Looking at her best friend’s face, she softened and said, “Look, I just think it means a lot when someone close to you supports you, even if they don’t agree with you. That’s all.”

Chelsea was about to ask her what she meant when Max walked in, appearing to ignore them. “Oh, Max still giving you hell about the job?”

“Yea,” Stephanie watched Max with an unreadable expression on her face, “I don’t know why he has such a problem with it. He acts like I’m betraying my family or something. At first I thought it was because it was the Kiriakis family but when I mentioned finding another internship he got irritated too.”

“You were going to find another job?” Chelsea was surprised at that.

Her best friend laughed, “No, trust me, not now. I can’t even believe I considered it. To change a job to make Max happy is just taking things too far and besides, plus, it would allow Philip to believe he got to me and I can’t let him think that.”

Chelsea glanced at Max who was working very hard to not have to make eye contact with them. Rolling her eyes at Max, Chelsea asked, “What are you going to do?”

Suddenly Stephanie wanted to head back to the subject of Melanie, “So Nick said outright he liked Melanie?”

Not questioning the change back to the subject of Nick, Chelsea cleared her throat. “Pretty much. I know him. Honestly I didn’t need him to tell me verbally, I saw it on his face whenever he looks at her.” It’s how he used to look at me.

“Well, you can’t stop them from dating…”

“Melanie is already dating someone else.” Chelsea spat out. “That Mike Davis guy.”

Stephanie shrugged, not really knowing him. Chelsea sighed, “Melanie clearly isn’t interested and I hate to see Nick get hurt wasting time chasing her.” Or worse, she winds up falling for him back.

“I just hope Melanie makes it clear to Nick that she only wants to be friends.”

Chelsea snorted, “Please, Melanie would never do that. She enjoys Nick’s undivided attention too much.”

Max asked to speak to Stephanie in the kitchen and Stephanie got up, obviously steeling herself for whatever new fight was in store. Glancing at her friend, she said, “Too bad you couldn’t force her to, but unfortunately Melanie hates you so much she would be willing to date Nick out of spite.”

Chelsea watched her friend go, knowing her friend was absolutely right. If there was only a way to get Melanie to cut ties with Nick altogether, but all Chelsea could imagine would be if he made her so angry, and how would Nick do that?

“Hi Chelsea,” said April. She and Joanie had finally gotten up and walked over to their upperclassman. “I don’t want to bother you, but our soap is on, and we can only hear the TV at the bar.” Glancing at the TV, Chelsea saw as a couple argued. The woman was furious at the guy, apparently he misunderstood a situation and made each of them look like a fool. Scooting over, Chelsea smiled at the girls to let them in. No need to be rude to people who were treating her so nicely.

As the scene went on, Chelsea imagined Nick in the same role, apologizing for embarrassing Melanie. The idea of Nick making a fool of Melanie was an appealing idea, Chelsea admitted. Some incorrect information perhaps about Melanie or even Mike Davis.. Thinking how zealous he could be, she realized there might be an opportunity here. Nick’s own opinion of Melanie could be changed too. She was not right for him, he just needed to see that. If Nick thought Mike was a bad guy, and that was the kind of guy Melanie was most comfortable with, it could turn him off from her.

The more she imagined, the more she liked it, Nick might get embarrassed but that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, served him right for being so blind to Melanie in the first place. But how could this come about? It couldn’t come from Chelsea. And Stephanie wouldn’t agree to it.

Glancing towards the sorority sisters beside her, Chelsea got a big smile on her face, realizing she could appeal to that sister bond they shared. Since joining the sorority, the girls had questioned everyone about Chelsea and Stephanie’s role in bringing down Ford, and even the earlier time with Dr. Rebert. Taking her drink, Chelsea walked over to April and Joanie, sitting down and taking full advantage of the their freshman naïveté. “Girls, I was wondering, can I get you to help me?”

Chapter Ten

Nick walked into the pub, feeling down. Melanie had left for her date; he had no reason to suppose she wouldn’t, but he had held some small shred of hope she would change her mind at the last minute and stay with him. They were having such a good time. She didn’t mind having the TV on whatever was on the History channel, though they wound up talking about various things ignoring it altogether. Melanie really was more knowledgeable on life then one would think, probably because she had lived on her own for so long, thanks to her father.

Thinking of Trent, Nick felt even worse. He had yet to admit how he truly felt on her father, wanting to enjoy the time together instead. Melanie idolized him, for some reason, and thought he was very good to her. Nick didn’t need to hear from Max what kind of person Trent was…he had spent a good deal of time with the older man all on his own through school, and not once did Trent ever mention having a daughter plus his treatment of the students, especially the young coeds made Nick’s skin crawl. But how could he tell her that?

Looking around, Nick spotted Stephanie in the corner looking quite sad. Wishing to keep his mind off his troubles, he headed over to see her. “Hey Steph. Anything wrong?”

She looked up and smiled a weary smile. “Hey. Yea, I just…Max and I broke up.”

Nick sat down in shock. “What? Why?”

“You’ve spent a good deal of time around us now, are you really surprised?”

He thought of all the fights and arguments, Max’s various moods and on a good day how Stephanie would have to walk on eggshells around him. He really thought being in Europe would do them good but it actually made things tenser. “No, I guess, I can’t deny it was coming, but I had hoped you two would work it out.”

She nodded. “Can I admit…I feel like it’s such a bad thing to admit out loud. It’s just…it’s such a relief to be done now. I should be sad or upset but honestly I’m not. I feel better then I have in a long time.”

Nick didn’t understand that, he felt like a zombie for weeks after Chelsea broke up with him but maybe it was different for the girl. On the other hand, he could tell by looking at Stephanie she appeared like a weight was off of her and he nodded. A twinge of guilt went through Nick, as Max’s friend he should go look for him to see if he was ok but he honestly felt closer to Stephanie. How times have changed.

“Where did Max go?”

Stephanie grimaced. “He went out, probably to visit the cemetery to see Grandpa’s grave. He spends a lot of time there these days.”

Now that did surprise Nick. He made a vow to talk to Max later to find out why he was so down on life. Finding Melanie wasn’t exactly the reunion he was hoping for but he now he had that blood relative he wanted. “Has he spent anymore time with Melanie?”

Stephanie nodded, “Some. They get along better now we are back in the states as long as they stay off the topic of Trent. I actually find myself liking her too, but of course I really can’t befriend her, given how…”

“Chelsea hates her.” Nick said firmly.

“Yea, she told me about your fight.”

He rolled his eyes, of course she did. “It’s funny. Most girls say ‘let’s be friends’ when they break up with you, but they never mean it. Chelsea meant it but I wish she didn’t.”

Stephanie nodded, patting his hand. “Chelsea feels more then she thinks. It’s not always a bad thing but sometimes…it can be trying.”

Nick nodded too, appreciating Stephanie’s admission. She stood up then, grabbing her purse, “Well, I’ve got to go. I’m going to go in the back and take my laptop to work on this presentation. I can’t get much done at the sorority house and mom and Dad still are having problems with their computer.”

“Oh right. I was going to come and look at that later.” Nick felt guilty. It wasn’t like he didn’t have time on his hands, and the Johnsons were so nice.

“It’s ok. Come over whenever you want. Let me know when you do and I’ll make sure to be home then. Otherwise Dad will make you change Joe’s diaper.”

Nick laughed as Stephanie walked off. He got up himself, deciding to try to go for a walk when two young girls stopped him. He hadn’t noticed them until now.

“Hi, Prof. Fallon? I’m April and this is Joanie. We joined Salem U this past summer to get a jump on our classes.” The girl speaking was sandy blond haired, and fairly tall.

Joanie, a good deal shorter with freckles, nodded. “Right. And we wanted to let you know we signed up for your class for fall.”

Nick couldn’t help but be pleased at the attention. He was so surprised that so many of the female students would act so interested in his classes. He believed part of it was due to his young age, he was only a few years older, but he sometimes wondered if they wanted to improve their grades by flirting with the geeky professor. He didn’t like to think of it that way, but given the students who threw themselves at Trent who was twice their age, he knew it was out there.

“Thank you, I’m looking forward to this semester. I hope you enjoy the cl-“ Nick stopped when he looked outside the pub. He saw Melanie and Mike outside, arm in arm. It looked like they were about to walk in, but suddenly they stopped and headed back to the parking lot. Nick flushed at the coy smile she gave her date.

“Oh look, Joanie, was that Mike Davis?”

“Yes! God, glad he didn’t come in here.”

This got Nick’s attention. He looked at the girls. “What? You know him?”

The girls exchanged knowing looks. “Well, we know of him.”

Nick knew of him too but hadn’t heard anything unpleasant. What did they know? He shouldn’t ask, it was none of his business but Nick felt responsible for Melanie and he didn’t want her to hook up with the wrong guy. “What have you heard?”

“Well,” Joanie said, “he’s been investigated a few times. My father is on the police force. But thanks to family connections, nothing ever sticks.”

This really got Nick’s attention. “What..what was it they were investigating?”

Both girls looked at each other, guilty expressions on their faces. “Some girls have complained about him. Being out with him on dates. That kind of thing.”

“What do you mean?” Nick asked, getting very worried.

“Apparently he gets very…” the girls looked around and whispered, “aggressive.”

“He does?” concern flowed through Nick. Thinking back to Claude in France, he felt tense and suddenly his shoulder was throbbing. The girls went on, but Nick didn’t need to hear anymore. Eventually they excused themselves and he was anxious to get away. Walking outside, he didn’t see Melanie or Mike anywhere.

Would Melanie get involved with a guy like that, especially after France? Nick didn’t want to think so, but she could have gotten her head turned by the good looks and flash of money. Mike Davis didn’t “look” like Claude did so why should she feel any danger? Deciding it wouldn’t hurt to see if he could find them, just for his own peace of mind, Nick set out around town.

– – – –

An hour went by and Nick still hadn’t found them. It was already dark and he was getting worried. As time went on, Nick’s overactive imagination took over and by now he was convinced Mike was up to no good.

Walking into another restaurant, he found out they had been there and left a few minutes ago. Mike apparently was in a big hurry that only validated Nick’s suspicions. This place shared an alley with Chez Rouge, and Nick remembered a couple of years past when Dr. Rebert was with Chelsea, Nick decided to check there. Sure enough, a BMW was parked.

Walking towards them, Nick flashed back to Dr. Rebert mauling Chelsea and he suddenly replaced the faces with Mike and Melanie. Enraged he swung the door open and pulled Mike out. It was odd, it felt like he was watching it happen instead of experiencing it but he did hit Mike square in the jaw. Running on adrenaline, Nick didn’t even feel the pain in his hand or his shoulder.

“What the hell are you doing?” Mike asked, holding his nose and looking furious.

Melanie jumped out of the car, looking…angry? “Nick! What the hell? Have you lost your mind?”

She ran over to Mike to check his face and suddenly Mike jumped to go after Nick. Melanie told him to stop and looked at Nick. “What are you doing?”

“I…I” Nick stammered. What was he doing? It happened so fast. He didn’t know. “I thought Mike was…taking advantage of you.”

The icy stare she gave him only succeeded in making Nick feel sick. Her words made it worse, “Where did you get the idea I wasn’t enjoying myself?”

He looked down and back at her, “I just, I had heard that..”

Presuming he heard something about her, Melanie held her hands up to stop him, “Shut up. Did you really think I would let myself be taken around here to this alley with a guy I didn’t want to spend time with? And were you following us? God, I thought we could be friends but obviously I was wrong. God, I can’t believe you…I’m so..” Mike and she got in the car and screeched off, leaving Nick alone in the alley. His hands were shaking. Did he really just rip into that guy?

– – – –

Nick arrived home, still shaking. As he put his keys on the kitchen counter, he saw the bloody knuckles and grimaced. Holding his shoulder, Nick cursed himself for getting carried away like such a fool. Not only did he just lose Melanie forever, but he might have hurt his shoulder again.

Glancing by the sink, Nick saw his unopened pill bottle. It won’t hurt to give in tonight and take a couple, he thought. Hopefully it will help me sleep and let me forget probably what is the worst day of my life.

40-41
Title Page
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