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Wanting to Remember,Trying to Forget

By:Jacqueline A. Francis

Prologue





Danny crouched over on the dusty motel room floor, crying as her world fell apart around her. He was kneeling down right beside her and yet it still felt like he was light-years away. “Max, please don’t…” The words came out as hiccups through her sobs. “Please don’t leave. It doesn’t have to end this way. It doesn’t have to end at all.”

He ignored her begging, reached into his pocket, and took out a small, blue suede box. “This was for you. I have no use for it now.” His hand wove into her short, dark hair and he pulled her closer to place a long kiss on the side of her head. Dropping the box in front of her, he stood up and headed for the door. He picked up his other bag before he slowly turned to face her again. “Maybe you want to remember, Danny…but I’m trying to forget.”

“Max!” she called out, but he was already gone.

It couldn’t be over. Seven years. How could it be over?

She slowly reached for the suede box and when she opened it, fresh tears spilled out of her. Removing the exquisite diamond ring from the casing, she clutched it to her chest. He was going to propose and now it was over. It was her fault. He had played a part but mostly it was her fault. From a blazing fire to dead ashes, that was what their relationship had become.

How could two people who loved each other so much, destroy something beyond repair? She felt like someone had wrapped both hands around her heart and was squeezing it so tight she couldn’t breathe.

Memories of the years they had spent together flashed through her mind and she still could not believe that it had ended. It baffled her. She couldn’t understand it.


Sometimes the only way to understand why a relationship came to an end, is to go back to the beginning…

The beginning of the current year.





January





“What the hell are you doing?”

The shout came from across the room, very nearly scaring Danny out of her skin. Her body jumped involuntarily and it was only her cat-like reflexes that saved her precious vase from a near-death experience. She had to face him sometime. Fake smile, enter stage right.

She turned around slowly, cautiously, and faced Max with a sheepish look, which she tried to hide with innocence in her wide hazel eyes. She knew even before she fully turned around that he wouldn’t buy it. Why would he? If she were in his shoes, she wouldn’t have been softened by the pathetic attempt to plead not guilty. In fact, she would have slapped that stupid grin right off her face. It was a good thing that Max wasn’t the type to hit women.

“Nothing,” she said, trying to spread her smile further, but the sheer lack of authenticity in that smile was beginning to make her cheeks hurt.

“Don’t lie. I caught you red-handed.”

He was a tough nut to crack. It was time for more drastic measures. Drop smile. Enter adoring puppy dog face. “But, Max—”

“No buts, Danny. There is no way that thing is going in there.”

Widen eyes. Pout lips. Tilt head to the side. “Pleeease.”

“No!”

Round up the guilt-invoking troops. Mission failed. Accept defeat gracefully. “You’re such a jerk, Max.”

Danny sighed and reached for a sheet of newspaper. She had been unpacking her last box and if Mister I-hate-any-form-of-art hadn’t shown up, she could have placed the vase in the living room cabinet and Max, being the unobservant person that he was, would not have even noticed it.

Yes, it was his place. She got that. Yes, he was doing her a HUGE favor by letting her move in. She got that, too. But did he have to be so anal about every goddamn thing?

It had taken her a good few days to unpack and she had had the foolish notion that she would save the best for last. She held onto every last ornament so that she could have the explicit joy of placing them in the perfect spot, their new homes. Then came Maximillian Augustus Shepard with his dark cloud of interior decorating death and rained—correction, poured—on her parade.

She had decided to move in with him when Mister Coopers, the vice president of Banner and Coopers, had thought it best to move their offices from the upper side of town to the coast.

Thanks for that, boss! Now how about a monster truck so I can drive over the fifty million cars that stand between me and the shiny new offices you couldn’t wait to move in to?

She had been born and bred in Los Angeles, California, and had lived in this very neighborhood all her life. After she graduated from UCLA, she had moved for this job only to uproot her entire life and move right back because of something as dumb as traffic. She had borne the pain for almost an entire month but last week, right after she returned from spending Christmas at the Shepard’s, she had been struck with an ingenious idea.

Her best friend just so happened to live three blocks away from their new offices. Her best friend just so happened to be living in a two-bedroom place alone. Hey! Here’s an idea. Why not move in with this best friend? It’ll be fun.

Huh! As it turns out, her best friend just so happened to be the most pedantic man on the planet. But it was bearable. She could live with looking at beige every day. It was better than commuting for hours Monday through Friday. Danny did not have many hobbies, but she was pretty sure that dodging crazy, road-raged drivers during peak hour traffic was not at the top of her list of fun things to do.

But there was one thing she did know. Leaving work at five and reaching home twenty minutes later was probably the best feeling in the world.

Thanks, Max, you bland, beige-loving, pedantic lifesaver, you!

Okay, he wasn’t that bad. Max had been her best friend since college. Six years and still going strong. She could barely keep a plant alive for more than a week, but maintaining a friendship with Max was absolutely effortless. He was the most easy-going person she had ever met. Apart from, of course, his complete fascination with anything that would be interpreted as colorless to the female eye.

He liked his apartment dreary and well—beige. He refused to let her add anything of color. He refused to let her add anything with a feminine touch. He said no to everything. The beautiful waterfall painting? No. The gorgeous hand-made sculpture of an African God? A big, fat no. And now her lovely bedazzled vase, which she interpreted to be a hell no!

Even pillowcases. Who argues over pillowcases? What was wrong with him?

“How about I put it at the back so you don’t see it?” she suggested as a last attempt before she wrapped the vase in newspaper.

Max eased his long body into the one-seater sofa and lifted a slice of pizza from the box on the little table beside him. “Uh…how about no?”

She rolled her eyes. “You have no culture, you know that?” She quickly wrapped up the vase. “And don’t eat that. It’s been out since last night.”

“I know,” he said as he took a bite of cold salami and cheese pizza.

“That’s gross!” She placed the vase back in the box before looking at him apprehensively. “Are you sure you don’t mind me moving in with you?”

He grinned. “Yes, that is the question you should ask after you’ve unpacked your last box.”

“I’m serious, Max.”

“Of course, I don’t mind. I mean, which guy in his right mind wouldn’t want a violent, absent-minded, junk collector living with him? It’s a no-brainer.”

Her face drooped and he offered her a stale slice of pizza as a peace offering. “I’m just kidding,” he said softly. “I don’t mind at all.”

When she rejected his peace offering, he set the box back on the side table, and sat back to enjoy his hardened, cheese-encrusted slice. “I think we just have to decide on chores now.”

Her eyes lit up with enthusiasm. “I could cook.”

“N-o-o-o! No cooking for you. You should be banned from all kitchens.”

Danny narrowed her eyes, feeling slightly indignant. “Hey, I can make a really mean grilled cheese sandwich.”

“Yeah, that’s about all you can make. And even that repeats itself on you for two days afterwards.”

She sat down on the two-seater beige sofa adjacent to the one he was on, kicked off her shoes, and pulled her legs up underneath her. “Well, in case you forgot, I made that for lunch yesterday and you’re still smiling.”

Max finished off his slice of pizza and licked his fingers. “I’m smiling,” he said matter-of-factly, “because I have a sexy smile and I like to flaunt it.”

Danny choked, trying to hold back a smile. “Oh, yeah. With your one dimple. I think you were last in line when God was handing out dimples and when he got to you, he was just like, oh, I’m sorry. I only have one left.”

She watched the smile drop off his face and the laughter came bubbling out of her. She had teased him about that dimple since the moment they met. The same joke had been revised and innovated over the years. But she had to admit, it was one adorable dimple.

He had a naughty sort of face, not rugged, but boyish, and God had placed that dimple on the perfect spot on his left cheek. That, coupled with his thick, brown hair and mischievous brown eyes brought him just to the border of not being a complete geek. He had all the ingredients to make up a world-class nerd. Tall. Skinny. Shy. But that one dimple was his saving grace. One could see that he was a sci-fi movie junkie, but at the same time he was still kinda cute.

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