Chapter Fifteen

Diana looked up at Mitch, ignoring the stunned looks on everyone else’s face; “I spent the next year trying to figure out what was a lie and what was the truth.  Because Mark and I had cleaned out the condo the day he went missing, the police had nothing to go by.  The contents of the wall safe were useless.  The phone had been reset and the wallet only had his driver’s license and a few pieces of paper.   

As far as the police were concerned Mark and I had destroyed any evidence that would prove Aaron was abducted.  Instead we were both suspects.  The police started looking for evidence that would prove Mark and I were having an affair.  It nearly ruined his marriage.  When he found another job I let him know it was okay.  I didn’t blame him for leaving and wished him well.

I went up to Aaron’s office a few times hoping to find something, but his office had been packed and his things sent to the police station.  My lawyer had to fight to get his things back.  When I finally received the boxes I could find nothing that would help.  Any questions I had, his employer referred me to his lawyer.  They had written Aaron off and treated him as if he’d abandoned his job.  

I never did get to see the contract, at least not the real one.  I just saw bits in a memo that didn’t make sense.  The secretary wouldn’t talk to lawyers and when we planned a meeting at a coffee shop she never showed.  I searched everywhere for passports, plane tickets, anything that would prove he’d traveled outside the country.  Even inside, I didn’t care; I just wanted a place to start.  But there were nothing.”

“Did he have any family,” Mitch paused, “besides you?”

“Nobody, he showed me where his parents were buried early in our marriage and mentioned an aunt.  But she died a few years ago.”

“What about friends?”

“Just the ones from work and they all had the same story.  That was the only time the police seemed suspicious.  It was all too rehearsed.  But you can’t charge people for agreeing on someone.  Without clues from his last known whereabouts, no information from work and no proof that Mark and I had anything to do with his disappearance, they put the case aside.  The lead officer even had the nerve to tell me to call him when I heard from Aaron.  As if he’d just show up one day and say hello.”

Mitch frowned, “Was there anyone helping you through all this?”

“Michelle was always there.  Her and her husband kept the shop running and when Mark left they hired someone soon after.  Most of the customers had no idea what was going on.  I was so thankful to have a friend at the paper who kept the details of his disappearance out of the news.  Eventually they did have to publish something, but it was far in the back and nothing referring to the initial investigation of Mark and me.”

“What a nightmare.  And still no answers?”

“Not  a one; I called the investigator once a week, then once a month, now he’s promised to call me if anything changed.  My lawyer wanted me to go after the company, but they have an endless supply of funds and lawyers.  I didn’t stand a chance.”

“When did you decide to sell the store?”

“Every time I walked into the store I remembered the first time Aaron and I met.  The first time he asked me out.  All the days we spent working side by side.  All the happy moments felt like lies.  I still loved my friends, the books and the customers, but the memories were overwhelming.”   This was the first time Diana shed a tearing during her story.  “I mentioned selling the store to Michelle.  I even offered to work something out so she and Stan could buy it and pay me out if need be.  But she wouldn’t do it. 

‘It’s your store honey.  I was here to help with your dreams and I loved every minute of it.  But I don’t want to hang on to your nightmare.’  I told her it wasn’t and that eventually I’d be able to come up there and maybe even help out.  But she was ready to move on too.  So when an offer came I took it.  

My agent, thinking I’d never sale, quoted an outrageous price to some potential buyers.  When she got it she called me hesitantly, thinking I’d still not take it.  But I did.  No questions asked.  Everything I loved was gone.  My agent handed me the check and said, “Here’s to new dreams.”  I ran out of her office like a fool.  I didn’t want a new dream.  I wanted the one I worked so hard for to continue.  But it never would.”

During the last part of her story Mitch slid into the booth beside her and pulled her into his arms.  She buried her face into his shoulder and cried harder.  “This wasn’t the first date I had imagined.”

“What had you imagined?”  He pulled away and lifted her face.

“Dinner and drinks” she sniffed.

“We did that, even dessert and coffee.  So what’s the problem?”

“I’d never planned to cry on your shoulder.”  She wiped her wet cheeks and nose with a napkin.

“As if you’re the first woman I made cry on a date.”  He chuckled and gave her a squeeze.
Diana’s muffled laughed made him smile.  “But surely not on a first date.”

“I find it’s better to get the crying over with as soon as possible when dating.  Now that we’re past that we can move on to the fun stuff.”

Diana looked down at her watch and gasped, “It’s so late.  I forgot about Sandra!”  When she looked around most of the patrons had left and the wait staff was cleaning up.  As their waitress walked back to see if they needed anything else Diana apologized to her; “I didn’t mean to keep you here so long.  I’m so sorry.”

“Oh Sweetie don’t worry about that.  I’m glad you shared your story with us; as frightful as it was.  You’re welcome to stay late anytime you’d like.”  She smiled and gave her a piece of paper with her name and number.  “While you’re in town call me, I know where all the hot spots are.  Mitch is too sedate for you.”  She winked at them both and walked off.
She giggled, “An old girlfriend?”  

“It’s a small town, we know everyone.  You ready to go?”

“Yes, thanks again for dinner.  And I’m so sorry for wasting so much time talking about myself.”

“Stop apologizing.  I wanted to hear the story, as did everyone else apparently.  I’m happy you shared it with me.”

“It was nice getting it off my chest.  My friends and family know the details, but telling someone who isn’t a part of it was cathartic.  Like maybe I can move forward.  That sounds silly.”  

“Not at all,” He stood up and tugged her out of the booth. “Now if you’d gone on and on about your steamy love life I might have been offended,” He winked.  “I’d prefer we make our own stories up.”

The waitress walked by just as Mitch spoke and popped him on the backside with her towel.  “Mitch!  How can you talk to her like that after she told you what all happened.”  

Diana laughed, she was happy he had.  The idea that she’d just ruined a potential relationship was sitting hard, but Mitch joking meant there was still a chance.

“He kissed me at the door.  It was so sweet.  Like the first kiss with your prom date, neither of you knowing if it’ll go further.”  “And did it?” Michelle asked on the other end of the line.  “No!  It was our first date, just a kiss and a promise to see each other tomorrow.”  “One week in England and you’re already making out with the locals.  I’m impressed.”  

Diana felt bad for not updating Michelle on what had happened with Alex, but she thought if she ignored it then perhaps it would just fade away from memory.  “Did I mention he owns a book store, passed down from his parents in this old beautiful building?”

“You did, three times now.”

“I’m going on and on aren’t I?”

“I’m glad you are.  I was worried you’d be homesick or shut up inside your room.  I’m so glad you’ve getting out and seeing everything.  Have you worked on your genealogy project any?”

“I did a little.  I should probably take the day and see more sites and visit the local historical society.  I’m not sure where to start really.”

“I bet Mitch can help you out.  It’ll give you an excuse to bend heads over books together.  How sexy is that?”  

“Stop making fun!”  Of course Diana was used to this from her best friend.  Even though she’d worked in the shop with her for all those years and enjoyed it, she never did see the appeal of spending hours over books.  A romance novel every few weeks was sufficient for Michelle.

“Well get off the phone with me and go see that sexy man of yours.” 

They said their good-byes and made plans for another chat next week.

It was noon time and she needed to see Sandra after missing their girl’s night out.

The moment she walked into the pub Sandra was on top of her asking questions; “Tell me everything!”  “What do you mean?”  “When Alex came to help out and you never showed up I called your phone but you never answered.  We started to worry when an hour passed.  Alex even went out looking for you.  By the way, I think the guy might have a thing for you.  Did you know that?  Weren’t you going to tell me something about you two?  I mean, what’s with the going to his place and eating dinner together?  You need to catch me up!  And make it fast.  After he couldn’t find you and you weren’t at the B&B I assured him that you and Mitch must have lost track of time.  I think he’ll be back asking questions.”

Diana didn’t want to be here when he returned.  Though maybe if he thought Mitch and her were an item he’d stop teasing her.  Did she want that?  Surely she did.  He wasn’t the right guy for her.  Not that Mitch was, or any guy for that matter.  And why was she even concerned with either of them.  She’d be leaving in a few weeks.  “Oh this is ridicules.”

“What is?”

“Oh, I didn’t realize I’d spoken out loud.  But it is.  I didn’t eat dinner with Alex, like I said yesterday he was just there.  As far as going to his place,” she needed to think fast “I locked myself out and needed the keys to the B&B.  That was it.”

“So he’s just teasing you for the fun of it.  There isn’t anything going on with you two?”
She hated to lie, but what was there to say; “Nothing is going on.”

“Okay, what about you and Mitch?  What happen yesterday afternoon that lead to late last night?”  She didn’t sound upset, but she should have been.

“I’m so sorry about that.  Mitch took me to the brewery for lunch and a tour, but we never did the tour.”

Ian walked past and made a whistling sound through his teeth.

“It wasn’t like that!”  She chuckled.  “I told him and half the town about Aaron’s disappearance.  Y’all know how long a story that is.  And Mitch insisted I tell him everything so I lost track of time.  I’m apologizing a lot these days, but I am sorry.”

“Don’t think anything about it.  I’m happy you told him and he listened.  Now you can get on with a proper relationship.”

“That’s the thing.  Why would I try to start a relationship when I’ll be leaving in a few days?  It’s a waste of time.”

“If we work it out right Ian and I, with the help of Mitch will have you living here permanently.”

“I can’t do that!”

“Of course you can.  We’ve got it all figured out too.  When you’re ready for the details we’ll let you in on it.”  Ian walked over and rubbed Sandra’s shoulders while he spoke.  “You know we love you and want you happy.  We agree that moving away from all that mess back home would be for the best.  You must agree.”

“My family and friends are there.”

“You’ve friends here too.  Your family can come for visits.  Besides, you’ve told us plenty of times how you’d love to start over.  Wouldn’t this be perfect?”  

“Hush Ian, I need more details about her and Mitch.  We’ll convince her to move here later.”
Diana felt so loved in that moment.  “You two are the best.” She squeezed Sandra’s hand and smiled at Ian.  “But I’m sorry to report that Mitch and I only kissed.  There are no other torrid details.”  

“Curses; I had the two of you naked at his place.  You’ve shattered my dreams.”  Sandra kicked the table leg and handed Ian some money.  

“Did y’all make a bet?!”

“Of course we did and I won.  I always win.”  Ian joked.  “But I will admit to sweating some when you didn’t show up for dinner.  I almost paid up but I’m glad I waited.”

“I’m glad you think more highly of me than Sandra.”

“I just figured it was time, that’s all.”  Sandra blushed and stood up.  “I should maybe get you some lunch.”  She walked off with her head down.

“She was really hoping you two hit it off.  She wants you to stay.  But no pressure” He smiled and followed Sandra to the back.

“So the date went well?”

Diana jumped.  When she turned around she saw Alex a few feet away.  Had Ian and Sandra seen him?  How long had he been standing there?  “It was nice, yes.”

“Seems there was no need to worry about you then?”

“I’m sorry if you did, but there was no need.  I should have called Sandra but I lost track of time.”

“As long as you’re okay” He turned around and walked out.  

“That was odd.”  Diana said to no one but herself. 

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Still a work in progress, but thanks for reading.