Never Look Back 2

 

Autor: anmodo

 

Note: This is a continuation of Never Look Back.I didn’t think I would start this so soon, but here it is. Enjoy!

 

After Danny Taylor left Brentland Academy, he never looked back. With the exception of meeting Katie, nothing good came from Brentland except for his stellar education. Danny always felt like he was sinking at Brentland. When he started at NYU, he felt like he was soaring. He loved everything about college. He loved the freedom and the culture. He loved the fact that there were all kinds of people, not like the cookie cutter rich kids at Brentland.

His immediate embrace of college life almost made him forget about the heartache of losing Katie. But he could never truly forget. The only thing that helped him forget was getting lost in the party culture of school. Monday through Thursday, Danny hit the books harder than anyone. But come Thursday night, Danny would party until the following Sunday. He was almost constantly drunk. Along with the partying and the drinking, Danny also started a bad habit of hooking up with different co-eds. Most of the time, he didn’t even know their names. When he would sober up on Sundays, he would regret his behavior. But the cycle would begin again on the following Thursday.

Not only was Danny relieved that college was much better than Brentland, but he was also happy to have Payton out of his life. After their brief sexual encounter after Katie left his dorm room, Payton tried to initiate a relationship with him.

Shortly after Mr. Mason left Danny’s dorm room, there was a light knock on the door. Danny sighed heavily as he got up from the bed. He didn’t want to see anyone. He just wanted to be alone. When he opened the door, he was surprised to see Payton holding two coffees.

Good morning,” she said cheerily as she brushed past him into the room.

I thought you left,” he replied with little expression.

Just to grab some coffee. I figured you’d need it after last night. I just saw Mason leave. What did he want?”

“Nothing. It doesn’t matter anymore,” Danny responded quietly as he sat down on the bed and took a sip of coffee.

I’ve been doing some thinking,” Payton said as she sat down on the bed across from his. “I think this has all worked out for the best. We click Danny. That was pretty apparent last night. And let’s face it…it was apparent our first night in my dad’s car. I think…”

Danny interrupted. “You really are delusional. After everything you’ve done to me…to Katie…and you want a relationship with me? Come on, Payton. This is a game to you. I’m not playing anymore.”

That’s what you always say…”

This time I mean it. No more. Besides, your family would have the same reaction as Katie’s. They wouldn’t think I was good enough for you. So even if I was interested…which I’m not…I’ll never go through that again.”

You were right about my father. My parents don’t give a crap about me. My mother’s been in D.C. for the last six months…and my father is trying to produce some movie in L.A. They wouldn’t care who I bring home…as long as I don’t cause them bad publicity.”

As much as he wanted to hate her, Danny felt sorry for Payton in that moment. He knew better than anyone what it felt like to not be wanted. The only difference between them was that he didn’t have money. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that things are so rough for you. I know how hard it is. But, I still can’t be with you.”

Because you love her?” Payton asked referring to Katie.

Yes…and because I don’t think I can just forget all the things you did to me. You made me feel like I was nothing…and I’ll never let someone make me feel like that again.”

Payton nodded and stood up. “So last night? Was that revenge?”

I’m sorry about last night. I used you…and I’m sorry.”

I’m sorry, too,” she said as she walked to the door. “I’m sorry for everything.”

He watched Payton walk out the door.

In Danny’s first two years of college, he was very careful to not start any relationships. His disastrous experience with Payton, and his heartbreaking experience with Katie left him extremely gun-shy. So his newly adopted partying lifestyle worked well for him. He never made any promises to anyone. And if a girl seemed to be too interested in him, then he would quickly cut it off. He knew that sometimes he was hurtful, but he couldn’t take any chances.

Danny’s problems with alcohol only got worse in college even though he was still able to do well enough in school. People who observed Danny would never see him as an alcoholic. He hid it very well, except for when he would lose his temper. His fuse shortened when he was drunk. He could be very mean and hurtful. He used his charm and good humor to mend fences when he would sober up. His friends and/or casual girlfriends always would end up forgiving and forgetting when Danny turned on the charm.

At the start of his junior year, Danny was surprised to get a call from his old caseworker, Sheila Simmons. He couldn’t imagine what she wanted from him, but he agreed to meet her at a restaurant.

When he entered the establishment, she was already there. He greeted her warmly. “Sheila. It’s good to see you,” he said as he gave her a quick hug.

“You, too, Danny. You look great. College agrees with you. Is it working out?”

“Yeah…it’s great. I can honestly say that surviving the hell that was Brentland was worth getting in here. Thank you for that, Sheila.”

“You did all the hard work. I just saw the potential,” she said with a smile.

“So, what’s up? I’m assuming you don’t look up old cases to just catch up on their progress. Otherwise…you wouldn’t have a life,” he asked curiously.

“I got a phone call from your brother. He’s looking for you, Danny.”

Danny's breath caught. He hadn't heard from or about his brother in years. “Did you tell him?”

“No, I told him that I would find out if you wanted to see him. I didn’t tell him that you changed your name.”

Danny nodded. “What does he want?”

Sheila sighed. “I almost hesitated even contacting you. I know how hard it was for you to let him go the last time. You almost died trying to help him. I don’t want you to feel obligated this time. Raffi has dug himself into a rather large hole.”

“What happened?” Danny asked hesitantly not really wanting to know the truth.

“I got a call from his defense attorney about a week ago. He was arrested for holding up a liquor store. He almost killed the storekeeper…a 72 year old grandfather. Raffi was strung out and needed money. You know the story…”

“Yeah…I’m familiar with it. Have you talked to him?”

“He called me after I spoke to the defense attorney. The attorney wants you to speak on his behalf at the sentencing hearing. When Raffi called…he said that he just wanted to see you before he went inside. He said he wanted to know you were okay.”

“Yeah…sure he did. He has an ulterior motive. He always does,” he said skeptically.

“You don’t have to do anything, Danny. Like I said, I thought about not telling you at all, but I didn’t think that would be fair to you either.”

“Where is he?”

“County jail. He’ll do his time at Riker’s. According to his attorney, he’s looking at 15-20.”

Danny shook his head and rubbed his eyes. Then they were interrupted by the waitress. “What can I get you this evening?”

“Can I get a shot and beer, please?” Danny asked without even thinking.

Sheila paused for a moment and then said, “Just a Coke is fine for me, thanks.” Then she gave Danny a disappointed look.

“What? What’s wrong?”

“I just thought that maybe you would have given up that stuff. You’re doing so well. I wouldn’t think you’d need to drink. And might I add, I don’t think you turn 21 for another couple of months.”

“Give me a break, Sheila. You just told me my brother, my only living family, is going to prison for 15 years.”

“Have you ever tried getting some help, Danny? A treatment program or AA?”

“Jesus Christ, Sheila…I’m fine. I have a 3.2 GPA. I’m holding down a part-time job. I’m fine. I don’t need help.”

“Okay. Sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you anymore than you already are. You’re just one of my best success stories, and I hope you keep going in the right direction.”

“You don’t have to worry about me, Sheila,” Danny replied as he took the shot from the waitress and drained it.

Point taken. Can I ask you about something else?”

Danny nodded. “I guess…”

“Whatever happened to Katie Mason? She has to be over 18 now.”

“I don’t know what happened to her. I assume she graduated from Brentland. She’s probably somewhere in London right now…studying Shakespeare and going to the theater. I’m sure she’s fine…wherever she is.”

“I was always sorry that all of that went down. I know it was hard.”

“Everything’s hard, Sheila. I’m used to it,” Danny said quietly.

“Right….Well, do you know what you are going to do about Raffi?”

“Tell him…tell him that you couldn’t find me. Tell him that I skipped town or something.”

“Are you sure, Danny?”

“Yeah, I’m sure. I’m done with Raffi. I won’t let him bring me down again,” Danny said as he finished his beer, rose from the table and dropped some money down. “Thanks for letting me know. It was good to see you, Sheila.”

“You, too. Take care of yourself.”

Two weeks later, Danny sat in the back of the courtroom at Raffi’s sentencing hearing. He watched the old man that Raffi assaulted get up and testify against him. The man wept as he described the fear he felt as Raffi attacked him. And then it was time for Raffi’s character witnesses. The defense attorney didn’t have any. Part of Danny wanted to get up and tell them about the brother he used to look up to…the brother he used to want to be. But he took one look at Raffi and knew that he wasn’t that brother anymore. He hadn’t been that brother for a very long time. Danny didn’t see anyone worth saving when he looked at Raffi now.

Rafael was sentenced to 12-15 years in prison. He watched as they lead Raffi away in handcuffs. That night, Danny drank to his lost youth and family. He remembered when he and Raffi would throw the baseball in the backyard. He remembered when Raffi would swing him high into the sky on an old tire swing in their yard. He remembered laughing and screaming with joy. He wondered how things went so wrong and then remembered he only had himself to blame. Danny believed his parents died because of him…because he was careless. He took another drink to numb the painful memories before passing out.

By Danny’s senior year, he was fairly certain about what he wanted to do after college. He was graduating with a degree in Criminal Justice and planning to take the FBI exam. The more he read about the FBI, the more interested he became. He was determined to pass the exam on his first try. So the majority of his senior year was spent studying. He still found time to party, but he tried to keep his priorities.

Danny’s romantic life was less clear. On a couple of occasions, he tried to develop more serious relationships, but nothing ever seemed to work. His drinking was always a factor, as well as his unwillingness to open up about himself. So, he continued to go from one casual relationship to another. The encounters left him feeling empty and very alone…which led to more and more drinking.

He had a couple of part-time jobs to keep him busy. One of the jobs was parking cars at a very ritzy, uptown hotel. The tips alone helped him pay the rent on his small studio. One cold, December evening Danny was returning to the Valet stand after parking a car when he saw a limousine arrive. The first woman to exit the limo looked very familiar to Danny. And then he saw her. Katie stepped out of the back seat. He watched as she pulled her coat tighter to brace herself against the icy wind. He only saw her profile, but he knew it was her. She was with her mother.

He knew he should just let her go and pretend like he didn’t see her, but he was compelled to follow her. He told his co-worker that he was taking a break and then he followed her inside. He watched as she and her mother were greeted by the hotel’s Events Coordinator. Danny had worked several special events, so he was familiar with the coordinator. She led Katie and her mother up to the main ballroom. Danny went through the kitchen to slip into the ballroom unnoticed. He couldn’t hear what they were saying, but he noticed Katie looking uninterested in the conversation. She looked different…almost sad. She looked thinner and definitely more grown-up. She was wearing a pair of sleek, black reading glasses with her hair pulled back in a severe bun. She didn’t look like the same warm-hearted girl. Instead, she looked icy and detached.

They spent a half hour talking to the coordinator and then left the hotel. Danny wanted to call out to her. He wanted to say something, but he didn’t. He wasn’t sure what he could say after all the time that passed. And then that night as he tried to fall asleep, a thought passed through his mind. He was graduating in less than six months. He was taking the FBI exam in January. Katie’s father couldn’t really do anything to him now. What was stopping him from contacting Katie? What did he have to lose? The least he could do was explain that nothing happened with Payton. So Danny decided to find Katie and talk to her.

The next morning, he went to the Mason’s upper West side apartment building. He sat at the coffee shop across the street and watched the front door hoping to glimpse Katie leaving. As he sat there, he remembered the two weeks they spent in her bedroom. They were still the best two weeks of his life.

Finally, just as he was about to give up, Katie walked out of the building. Thankfully, she was by herself. She was dressed in a warm wool coat and scarf. He rushed out of the coffee shop to catch up with her and then followed her for several blocks until she entered the public library. He smiled as he watched her. She truly would never change. He didn’t even have to follow her to her location. He knew she would end up in British literature.

She settled at one of the study tables and took several books out. Then she put on her glasses and started going through the materials. This was the Katie he remembered and loved. Not the harsh looking debutante he saw at the hotel, but the girl with her hair in a loose pony tail wearing jeans and a sweatshirt and little or no make-up.

He grabbed a book off one of the shelves and approached her. “Excuse me, miss. I heard you were the expert on Shakespeare Sonnets. I was hoping you could help me decipher them,” Danny said with as much confidence and charm as he could muster.

Katie looked up a little stunned. Leave it to Danny to take her by surprise. He looked exactly the same to her, but completely different at the same time. She looked around trying to regain her composure before responding. “Is this a coincidence….or…?”

Danny shook his head. “I saw you yesterday…at the Ritz. So, today I went by your parent’s place hoping to see you. I followed you here. Are you home for Christmas break?”

“Home from where?” she asked confused.

Oxford. I assume you’re at Oxford.”

Katie shook her head. “I never went.”

“Oh…I didn’t know,” he responded awkwardly.

“How could you know? I haven’t seen you in almost four years.”

“Right…,” he replied sensing her iciness. “So do you go to school somewhere here…or…?”

“Um…I just started taking some classes at Columbia, but not a full load. I’m kind of just seeing what I want to do.”

Danny eyed her quizzically. “Seeing what you want to do? Didn’t you always know what you wanted to do?”

“I used to know. I got sidetracked,” she replied in a short tone.

Danny nodded not sure whether he should keep talking or leave her alone. “Um…when I saw you yesterday…I thought…I thought maybe we should talk.”

Katie sighed and a worried look crossed her face. “Danny…I…it’s been a long time. I was a child when we…back then. I was a girl with a crush. Things are completely different now. I’ve grown up.”

To say the least, Danny was surprised by her response. He had no idea that her feelings would change so completely, because he knew he still cared for her. “Oh…right…okay. You’re right. It’s been a long time. I didn’t mean to bother you. I just…”

“You’re not bothering me. There just isn’t anything to talk about,” she responded.

Danny nodded again. “Well good luck at Columbia. Take care,” he said as he backed away.

“You, too,” she replied and then turned back to her reading materials.

Danny left the library feeling confused and a little humiliated. He should have known that she would move on. She was just a girl when they were first together, and truly they weren’t together long enough to develop any kind of relationship. Danny felt foolish, but at least he took solace in knowing she was okay.

Danny left the library and was annoyed when he realized a cold rain started to fall. He really felt like he had the worst luck in the world. He started to jog toward the subway entrance when the rain started to come down harder. Right as he was about to go down the stairs, he heard a voice call out. “Danny…”

He turned around to find Katie standing in the rain. It looked to him like she was crying, but it could have been the rain. They just stood there for a moment taking each other in. He didn’t know what to say to her. It turned out, he didn’t have to say anything. Within seconds, she was closing the distance between them. He met her halfway, and their lips connected. Four years of waiting and wanting flowed through them. They seemed to forget about the rain beating down on them, and the scads of people holding umbrellas passing them on the sidewalk. In that moment, they were the only two people in the city. Danny held her face in his hand as he kissed her deeply while pulling her closer with his other hand at the small of her back. They must have kissed like that for five minutes before Katie had to pulled away to catch her breath. They looked at each other intensely as they breathed each other’s air. Danny felt her shiver in his arms from the wet cold.

“You want to get coffee…or…”

Katie shook her head. “Your place.”

And then Danny hailed a cab. They got in and he gave the cabbie his address. Then, instead of talking…instead of finding out why she acted so coldly to him in the library, they continued to kiss passionately in the cab. It was like they had both been starving for each other for the last four years. Once they made it up to his apartment, Danny tried to slow things down, but Katie didn’t want to stop. Within minutes, they undressed each other and made it to his bed. The heat was barely working in his run-down studio, but it didn’t matter. They were creating a heat between them that overpowered everything.

He asked her if she was sure, and she nodded without a doubt in her eyes. So he finally made love to her. He could tell she’d been with someone else. This wasn’t her first time. That realization that she moved on stung him. He wasn’t surprised, but there was part of him that wanted her to be completely his forever.

After they finished, she lay against his chest as he softly played with her hair. Neither wanted to be the first to speak and end their moment together. But then he felt her tears as they fell from her cheek. He reached down to wipe them away, but she stopped him and turned away breaking contact with his body for the first time since they embraced in the rain.

“Why are you doing this now?” she asked quietly but with full emotion as she clutched a pillow and stared at the window.

He turned on his side and pulled her against him. “I just…I just wanted to explain. After I saw you, I realized that we left so many things unsaid.”

“Explain what?” she responded. “You made a choice. That’s it, Danny.”

“No…no…I didn’t choose Payton. Nothing happened with…”

“I know. I know you weren’t sleeping with her while I was at boarding school. I knew it that night when you denied it. That’s not the choice I’m talking about,” she said as she sat up in the bed and pulled the sheet around her.

“What are you talking about? What choice?”

“You chose this over me,” she said as she looked around the tiny apartment. “I would have gone anywhere with you. I would have run away. I would’ve kept our relationship a secret. But you didn’t want to take that chance.”

“Your father…”

“We could have fought him, Danny. We could have won. But you didn’t even want to try.”

“This isn’t one of your plays. This isn’t a fairy tale. Life isn’t like that, Katie. I’ve been fighting my whole life. I couldn’t settle…”

“You couldn’t settle for me?”

“Look at us now. It’s only four years later. I’m about to graduate. It’s not illegal for me to be with you anymore. We can be together now. It’s not too late,” Danny pleaded.

Katie sighed and rose from the bed. She started to gather her still damp clothes.

“Don’t leave. Come back to bed. We can talk…”

She looked at him on the bed with his arm propping him up on the pillow. He was still the most beautiful person she’d ever seen. Everything about him…his eyes…his body…invited her to come to the bed. It took all her strength to tell him the truth. “It is too late, Danny. I’m engaged. I’m getting married in a month,” she stated sadly as she sat on the edge of the bed.

Danny felt like he’d been punched. He had no idea. “You’re twenty, Katie. Why on earth would you get married?”

“It’s a long story. But it’s happening. When I saw you today at the library…I…I…just wanted you to go away. I couldn’t deal…but something made me go after you. Something made me do this,” she replied as she looked at the tangled mess on the bed. “Maybe I just needed to get you out of my head. I…I…should have told you before…”

He sat up and put his hand on her bare back. She leaned into him to feel his warmth. “Look…I never expected for you to wait for me, but you’re not married yet. There’s still a chance…”

“Danny…it’s complicated…”

“You love him.”

Katie bit her lip, and finally had to stand up to break contact with him. “I…I…yes…I love him.”

“If you love him so much, then why did you just let me make love to you?” he asked her in earnest.

And in the moment, she could barely look at him. He looked like a little boy with sleepy, pleading eyes and messy, unkempt hair. “Because…because…in that moment at the library…and catching up to you in the rain, I was still that 16 year old girl who wanted nothing else than to be with you. I just wanted to live that moment a little while longer.”

Danny nodded and then whispered, “I guess I did to.”

“I need to get dressed,” Katie said quietly as she slipped into the bathroom and shut the door.

Danny lay back against the pillow. This was just his luck, he thought. He got up and put on jeans and a sweatshirt.

When Katie stepped out of the bathroom, Danny said, “I’ll…uh…I’ll walk you down.” He didn’t want to put anymore pressure on her. He knew this was hard on her.

“You don’t have to. I’m okay.”

“It’s late. I’ll get you a cab,” he insisted.

And then they silently walked downstairs. When the cab pulled up, Danny opened the door for her. He didn’t want to say goodbye to her. Before she got in the cab, she practically jumped into his arms. He held her tightly until she finally pulled away. “I won’t ever regret this,” she whispered quickly right before she slid into the cab.

That night, Danny couldn’t fall asleep. He kept thinking about her…the way she looked at him in the rain…the look in her eyes when they were having sex. She still loved him. He knew it. And he knew that he still loved her. So he started to devise a plan for winning her back.

He decided the first thing he had to do was find out as much about her fiancé as possible. And so, he found himself at the NYU library the next day scouring the society pages for an engagement announcement. He figured if Katie’s mother was booking the Ritz ballroom, it must be a big wedding. He eventually found the announcement. Katie was marrying a man name Eric Mathews. According to the announcement, they met through mutual friends. Eric Mathews was from a wealthy family just like Katie’s. His father owned a powerful Manhattan law firm, and Eric was one of the firm’s most successful attorneys. Danny was surprised to read that Eric was 30. He couldn’t imagine why Katie got involved with someone so much older.

Armed with the new knowledge, Danny planned on accidentally bumping into Katie again. He wanted to find out what exactly she saw in Eric Mathews. He thought if he understood that then maybe he could let her go. Three days after she left him, he followed her when she left her apartment building. She didn’t go far. She went into an upscale boutique. At first, Danny was going to wait until she came out, but after waiting twenty minutes, he grew impatient. He entered the boutique to look for her. He ducked into a hallway to avoid being spotted by a salesperson. And then he heard her voice coming from one of the private fitting rooms.

“I think this turned out well, Erica,” Katie said.

“You look stunning. Keep it on for a few more minutes and let’s try it with the veil. It was just delivered from Italy today,” the seamstress said.

Danny watched the seamstress leave. Then he quietly walked into the room. She quite literally took his breath away. She was a vision in the in the long, white gown with bare shoulders. He noticed the tears in her eyes as she looked at herself in the mirror.

“No one who looks as beautiful as you do should be so sad,” he said as he walked towards her.

She turned quickly as she wiped her eyes. “What are you doing here? You shouldn’t be here.”

“I wanted to see you. We need to talk.”

“No…no we don’t. I thought I made things very clear the other day.”

“No…actually, you didn’t. I still don’t understand the rush to walk down the aisle. After what happened the other day, can you honestly say you are ready to take this step?” he asked as he looked her up and down in the elegant gown.

Her first instinct was to say no, and let him whisk her away. Part of Katie hoped that sleeping with him would make her feelings go away. She would get Danny Taylor out of her system once and for all. But it was three days later and he was all she could think about. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw him above her, kissing and touching her. She could still feel him inside of her. So…she lied to him. “Yes…I’m ready. Look, I’m sorry that I misled you. But there is nothing to talk about. You have to leave, Danny. My moth…”

Just then, Katie’s mother walked in the room. “Katie, dear…how does it look?” And then Mrs. Mason saw Danny. The last time she’d seen him was in Katie’s bedroom when she caught them in bed together. “What…what is going on?”

“Nothing, mother. Danny and I just ran into each other.”

“You ran into each other at a wedding boutique?” her mother asked skeptically.

Katie looked down not knowing how to respond. So Danny saved her. “I was across the street at the coffee shop. I saw her walk in. I wasn’t even sure it was her after all this time,” he said as he looked at Katie. “I just stopped in to say hello. Congratulations, Katie. I hope you and your fiancé will be really happy.” And then he walked out without another word.

After seeing Katie again, Danny wasn’t sure if she was worth pursuing. She was obviously set on marrying Mathews. And maybe she was right. He missed his chance when he chose to focus on college. And then there was his lifestyle. Would Katie really want to be with someone who couldn’t get through a week without getting wasted? She would also have a problem with his history of casual relationships. And what if he couldn’t change? He could never subject Katie to his hard-partying lifestyle.

He went home that night and was studying for a major exam the following day when he heard a knock at the door. When he opened the door, he was very surprised to see Katie standing there.

“What were you thinking…coming into my dress fitting like that? Why are you doing this, Danny? You can’t walk back into my life after all this time and just expect to turn on the charm and I’ll fall back in love with you. It doesn’t work like that…”

Danny tried to listen as she went off on him, but all he could think about what how great she looked and smelled. In mid-sentence, he dipped down and connected his lips to hers. She made no move to push him away. Instead she responded to his kiss by raising up on her toes. Danny closed his door and backed her against it. As he trailed kisses down her neck, she let out a sigh. “I’m really starting to hate you…”

For the second time in three days, Katie found herself in Danny’s bed…lying against him trying to even out her breathing after experiencing an intense climax. When she finally felt able to move her legs, she started to get up, but Danny quickly stopped her. He took hold of her arms and rolled on top of her…essentially pinning her to the bed. “Not so fast. I’m not letting you go without some answers this time.”

Katie looked up at him and rolled her eyes. She made a couple of half-hearted attempts to push him off, but really she didn’t want him to let her go. “I’ve already told you everything. There are no answers. There’s just reality. And the reality is that I am getting married in less than a month.”

“I don’t get it. Who the hell is Eric Mathews? He’s ten years old than you. And according to the gossip columns, he’s nailed half the socialites and several actresses in Manhattan. What gives?” he asked as he searched her eyes and continued to lightly hold her wrists against the pillow.

“I met him a year ago at a friend’s party. It was love at first sight…for both of us. He’s not ‘nailing’ anyone else but me now,” she replied knowing that she was stinging Danny with her words. “And I know you, Danny. I’m sure you haven’t been celibate for four years.”

Danny tightened his grip for an instant and let his weight fall against her. Her breath caught as she felt the strength of his body. “Love at first sight, huh? So I’m gonna ask you again…if you love him so much, then what are you doing here with me?” he asked as he looked in her eyes.

“I don’t know,” she replied breathlessly feeling a combination of arousal and emotion. “I’m confused. And you’re not making it any easier.”

When he saw the tears come to her eyes, he felt bad…so he let go her, rolled away and fell back on his pillow. She covered herself with a pillow and sat back against the headboard. Then, out of the blue, she asked, “Did I ever tell you what made me fall in love with you?”

Danny looked up at her as she wiped a couple of tears from her eyes. “No, I don’t think so. I always kind of thought it was born out of pity…”

“No…no…I fell for you way before I found out how hard your life was. You’re locker was right across from mine my freshman year. You didn’t know I existed. There was this freshman scholarship student. I think her name was Katina….”

“Katina Mobley…she bussed in from the South Bronx everyday,” Danny interrupted.

“Right, Katina Mobley. Do you remember how little she was? I swear she was barely five feet tall. A couple of Brentland jerks were giving her a hard time. They’d pretend to be nice, but then they’d be cruel. It was really…awful. And you stepped in…you tried to divert their attention from Katina to you. And then I think you threatened to break their legs or something….”

“That’s what got you?” Danny asked disbelieving.

“No…after the guys took off, you sat next to Katina and talked to her. You made her feel better about herself…because those boys tried to tear a part any self-respect she had. I just remember listening to you talking to her with such compassion, and…that’s when the feelings started. I think I built you up into this perfect figure.”

“I didn’t know.”

“I started watching you…almost immediately. I’d watch you with Payton…and I wished it was me.”

“I’m surprised that didn’t diminish my so-calledperfect imagein your eyes. That’s not something I’m particularly proud of…”

“I know. When we finally did meet, I literally prayed that you would see the light about Payton. I wish that whole thing wouldn’t have been so painful for you. But Danny…I don’t think I fell in love with you…but more the idea of you. You were so different from anyone I’d ever met before.”

“I was a novelty?” he asked in a slightly hurt tone.

“And I was a child. I really believed that we could run away and live happily ever after. And maybe we could have…but who knows. You want to know why I’m here? I’m here because you represent the innocent time in my life. Everything changed after I left you that day in your dorm. I guess I just wanted to capture that feeling again…that naïve, innocent feeling of unblemished love. That love I always read about in plays and books. It’s not real, Danny. What we had…and whatever we have now…. it’s not real.”

“It could be real…if you wanted it to be…” he said as he looked up at her. “Is this about your family? Are you marrying Eric because it will make your parents happy?”

Katie sighed again and laughed. “On the contrary…my father hates Eric Mathews…and hates the Mathews family.”

Danny sat up and leaned against the headboard next to her. “I don’t understand…”

“My father and Eric’s father have been enemies for years. Mr. Mathews crossed my father at some point…and you know how dangerous it can be to cross my father. And then two years ago, Eric represented stockholders in a class action lawsuit again my father. They won a huge settlement. So…needless to say…my father was not happy when I started dating Eric. And he was pissed beyond comprehension when we got engaged, but appearances are appearances. So he is throwing me the wedding of the year.”

“So is that what this is? Are you getting back at your dad?”

“Maybe that’s how it started, but…”

“I don’t buy it, and I don’t believe it. The Katie I remember couldn’t be in love with someone and sleep with someone else.”

“I’m not the Katie you remember, Danny. I’m far from that girl,” she said as she rose from the bed and searched for her dress.

Postpone the wedding. Tell Eric that you need some time to figure things out. Give us a chance, Katie.”

Katie looked into Danny’s dark, pleading eyes and couldn’t deny him. “I’m going to my grandmother’s place on Long Island this weekend. I’ll be there alone. Meet me there, and we can figure all of this out,” she said as she zipped her dress and slipped on her shoes.

Danny got dressed and then walked her downstairs. They shared a brief kiss before she got in the cab and left.

The next day, Danny was at his job at the Ritz. He’d been in an unusually good mood ever since Katie gave him hope about their relationship. That hope dimmed when Danny opened the door of a silver Mercedes and saw Robert Mason, Katie’s father. Mr. Mason stepped out of the car and handed Danny the keys. He gave Danny a cold smile. “Isn’t this a surprise?” Mr. Mason said sarcastically.

“Is it?” Danny asked.

“No, it’s not. I’m going to ride with you while you park my car.”

Danny rolled his eyes as he got in the driver’s seat. Mr. Mason went around to the passenger side and got in. “What do you want?” Danny asked.

“I had an interesting conversation with my wife the other day. She said that she caught you and Katie in another compromising position…not as compromising as the first time…but considering Katie is engaged, compromising nonetheless.”

“I didn’t know she was engaged when I ran into her. Now I know. So…”

“What do you think about Katie’s engagement, Danny?”

Danny shook his head as he pulled into the garage. “I’m happy for her,” Danny lied.

Mr. Mason laughed. “You’re a terrible liar.”

He pulled into a parking place and turned off the car. “I’m not sure where you are going with this.”

“Where am I going with this? Well…Eric Mathews is a slimy bastard. Katie is only with him to spite me. Just like she skipped out of Oxford to spite me. She’s still making me pay for keeping you two a part. So when I heard that you were still in the picture, I saw an opportunity. I’m successful because I take advantage of opportunities. Now…do I want my daughter to marry a valet? Of course not. But you could provide a means to an end. From what I understand, you’re about to graduate from NYU. That’s impressive, to say the least. I thought for sure you would crash and burn.”

Danny shook his head. “I don’t have to listen to this. You can’t do anything to me now. Maybe I felt threatened when I was an 18 year old kid, but not now.”

“100,000. I’ll give you 100,000 if you stop this marriage from happening,” Mr. Mason said as he stepped out of the car and looked at Danny.

Danny stood in shocked silence for a moment. He couldn’t believe the lengths Mr. Mason would go to control Katie’s life. “You really think I am that stupid, Mr. Mason? You want to kill two birds with one very expensive stone. You pay me a hundred grand, and then I break up Katie’s marriage. And then you can sweep in after that and tell Katie you paid me off. No thanks, Mr. Mason. I’m not interested,” he replied and then started to walk away.

“You know what is sad? You could have avoided all of this if you just would have let Katie and I stay together four years ago. I would have encouraged her dream of going to Oxford. You blew it, Mr. Mason.”

“What if I could offer you a job instead…a good job? You put a stop to Katie’s upcoming wedding, and I will give you the opportunity of a lifetime. If you and Katie are happy, and you want to get married…then I will be fine with that.”

Danny laughed. “Let me get this straight. Now you’re okay with Katie and I together?”

Provided you take a job with my company…and make sure that Eric Mathews is out of her life…” Mason added.

“You must really hate this Mathews guy, but I don’t trust a word you say. So, no thanks. My advice…and I know it’s not worth much to a guy like you…stay out of your daughter’s life. She’d be much better off,” Danny said before walking away.

After Danny finished work on Friday night, he took a ferry out to the Hampton’s. Katie left him a message the day before telling him how to find the house. The cab dropped him off in front of the large beachfront home. As he walked up the driveway, he saw Katie waiting for him on the porch. She was wrapped in a blanket since it was almost freezing. As soon as she caught sight of him, she jogged out to meet him.

“I was hoping you would get my message,” she said almost frantically.

“What message? I came straight here from work.”

“Eric is here. He found out I was coming and insisted that he join me. I didn’t know what to tell him.”

“How about telling him the truth? That you are confused and need time to sort this out.”

“I can’t do it, Danny. I can’t….”

Danny felt his heart deflating, but he couldn’t give up. “What is the deal with you and this guy? I don’t get it.”

Just as Katie was about to respond, Eric Mathews appeared at the front door and walked out casually. “Sweetheart…I was wondering where you escaped to,” he said curiouslywhile he kissing her and putting his arm around her. “What’s going on? Who do we have here?”

Danny could see the panic dance in Katie’s eyes. “Danny Taylor,” he said as he held out his hand. “You must be Eric. Katie’s told me so much about you.” Eric was shorter than Danny and had sandy blond hair. He looked like a pin-up for a former frat boy.

Eric shook Danny’s hand and looked at him suspiciously. “Well I wish I could say the same. Katie hasn’t mentioned you. What brings you out here this time of night?”

“Eric…” Katie started to explain.

Danny interrupted. “My friends have a place a couple of miles from here…not quite as nice as this…but it’s fun to get away to every once in a while. Katie and I went to high school together. I knew her grandmother still had a place here, so I decided to take a chance.”

Eric looked from Katie to Danny skeptically. “You went to Brentland? You’re name doesn’t sound familiar. I’m a Brentland survivor myself.”

“That’s right. I went to Brentland,” Danny replied sensing the snobbish air about Eric.

“Well…it’s nice of you to stop by, but Katie and I have an evening planned…” Eric responded sounding slightly threatened.

Katie looked at Danny with a sad expression. She didn’t know what to do or say. Danny just wanted her to tell Eric the truth and couldn’t understand why she couldn’t.

“Right…well…good to see you, Katie. Congratulations to both of you,” Danny said as he turned to walk up the drive.

He had to walk two miles to get to the nearest business establishment, which happened to be a bar. When he walked in, he just planned on calling a cab, but then he felt the wad of cash in his pocket. He remembered he still had the tips from his day’s work. So he sat at the bar and ordered a drink. Once again, he was feeling depressed and sorry for himself. As he drank more and more, he started to feel like Katie chose Eric over him because he was her kind of people. He felt like he would never measure up in her world. Just like with Payton…he was only good enough for Katie to sleep with…not have a relationship with.

Two hours later, he was completely drunk. The bartender told him the bar was closing, and he had to leave. The bartender called him a cab, but instead of waiting for it, Danny walked all the way back to Katie’s house. It was well past midnight. He was just drunk enough to want to confront Katie. He wanted to force her to tell Eric the truth. So he walked up to the front door and started to bang on it. “Katie…Katie…,” he yelled.

Finally, Katie answered the door wearing a long robe. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“It’s time for you to tell the truth. Where is he? Where’s your fiancé? He needs to know the truth about us,” Danny said in a loud, slurring voice.

“He left, Danny. He was called back to the city on business. I’m sorry he was here. I didn’t mean for that to happen.”

“You didn’t mean for it to happen? Oh…poor Katie. All that time, you thought Payton was so evil…and now you are playing her same game. I’m such an idiot.”

“What does that mean? I’m not playing a game, Danny.”

“The hell you aren’t,” he said as he got in her face. “You know exactly what you are doing. You’re engaged to Mr. All-American, but you have to indulge the rich girl fantasy of screwing a guy from the wrong side of the tracks.”

“You’re drunk, Danny. If you weren’t, then I would explain…but you are way off-base.”

“No…I’m not,” he said as he backed her into the door and untied the sash of her robe. “You want your cake and you want to eat it, too. I should just accept it and take it for what’s its worth…an easy lay,” he said and then leaned in to kiss her.

His breathe reeked of alcohol. Katie felt the rough touch of his hands on her body and was scared. She’d never seen him like this before. There was anger and rage in his eyes. When his lips moved from her lips to her neck, she cried out, “Danny…please stop…I’m sorry…I’m sorry…don’t do this…”

Hearing her cry made him stop even though he was still drunk and very angry. He pushed away from her. “I have to get the hell out of here. I’m so tired of dealing with spoiled rich bitches like you.”

“You don’t understand…”

“You’re right. I don’t. I have to call a cab…” he said as he stumbled toward the phone.

“You won’t get a cab out here this time of night. And the ferry stopped running at midnight…just spend the night…”

“I don’t want to spend another minute with you…”

“I’ll drive you. I’ll drive you back to the city tonight...right now.”

Danny was torn. He didn’t want to stay with her, but couldn’t continue walking outside in the freezing cold. “Whatever…I just want to get the hell out of here.”

Katie walked quickly up the stairs and came back down within minutes dressed in jeans and a sweater. She grabbed a set of keys from the side table, and Danny followed her out to the driveway. Before she could get in the driver’s side, Danny stopped her. “Wait a second,” he said quietly.

“What?” she asked turning around.

He came toward her and tenderly touched her face. She leaned in to his touch as she looked into his eyes. She thought for a moment that he was going to apologize. Instead while she was focused on holding his gaze, he reached down and grabbed the keys to the Range Rover out of her hand. Danny laughed as he held the keys out of her grasp. “I’ve always wanted to drive one of these things.”

“Danny, give me the keys.”

“Nope…I’m driving.”

“Danny…don’t be ridiculous. You’re drunk. Just give me the damn keys,” she said reaching for them again, but Danny wouldn’t budge.

“Do you know how many cars I’ve parked while drunk? More than I can count right now, that’s for sure. Let’s go.”

“I’m not getting in the car with you like this. Give me the keys.”

Danny kept laughing. “Fine. Just don’t report the car stolen, and you can’t pick it up at my place tomorrow,” he said as he slid in the driver’s side. “Maybe I’ll even be up for a one last roll in the hay before you live happily ever after with Eric.”

Katie didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t get the keys away from him, but didn’t want him to drive back to the city alone. So she went around to the passenger side and got in. “I can’t let you go alone. This is insane. You shouldn’t be driving,” she said as she put on her seat belt.

Then Danny took off. He peeled out of the driveway and onto the main road like a bat out of hell. Katie gripped the door handle and pleaded for him to slow down.

“Relax…okay. I’m fine. We’ll get back to the city, and then I’ll never bother you again…trust me,” he responded as he continued to slur his words.

“Danny…the back roads are tricky. You need to go slow. You’re going way to fast,” she shouted anxiously.

And then all at once…it happened. The corner was sharper than Danny anticipated. He overcorrected, and thecar started spinning. Danny banged his head against the window right before the the car flipped. The last thing he heard was the sound of Katie’s screams.

Danny watched them argue from the back seat. This was the nothing new. His father would always start yelling when he was drunk. He must have had beer in the trunk because he wasn’t drunk when they drove to the baseball field. Danny had a double-header that day and was so happy when both his mother and father were there to watch. When he looked over to them in the bleachers, he always saw his mother dutifully cheering him on, but sometimes his father was no where to be found. He even missed watching Danny steal home to win the first game.

After the games, Danny watched in embarrassment as his parents argued in the parking lot. His father was yelling at his mother in a combination of English and Spanish. Danny just ducked into the back seat hoping they didn’t attract too much attention. Finally his mother gave up and slid into the passenger seat. She looked back at Danny and shrugged. “Lo siento, mijo. When we get home, we’ll celebrate. You played like a champion, mijo.”

Danny just smiled at her sympathetically, and then his father stumbled into the car.

Shut up…I’m fine,” Danny’s father shouted as he drove along the dark road.

You’re not fine. Please pull over. I can drive,” his mother pleaded as she started to cry.

I told you to shut up…you dumb bitch,” he shouted again.

And then Danny couldn’t take it anymore. He couldn’t listen to him yell at his mother for one more minute. “You shut up…you shut up, papi,” he cried out. “Don’t talk to her like that.”

His father turned and raised his hand to backhand Danny. “You little bast…” his father started to yell, but then his mother cried out as the car swerved into oncoming traffic. His father tried to recover, but they went over an embankment and crashed into a tree.

Danny hit the back of the passenger seat and was slightly dazed. When he came to, he looked into the front seat. “Mama? Papi? Mama…Papi,” he called over and over. He saw his father slumped over the steering wheel, but his mother wasn’t in the car anymore. He pushed open the door and stumbled out of the car. “Mama? Mama? Where are you?”

And then he saw her lying on the ground. She was covered in blood from being ejected through the windshield. When he turned her over, he saw Katie’s face covered in blood…

Danny woke up in a cold sweat. There was a nurse holding his wrist to take his pulse. “Where…where’s Katie? Where is she?”

“Mr. Taylor? You were in a car accident. You lost consciousness, but it looks like you’ll only have a minor concussion.”

“Katie…. where’s Katie? Is she…?”

“The driver of the car was rushed to surgery. She suffered severe internal injuries. The doctors are doing all they can for her.”

“The driver?” Danny asked confused because he knew this happened because he drove drunk.

“Yes, sir. Katie…is that her name? She was driving the car when it spun out of control. The car flipped. You are very lucky. You only have minor injuries.”

And then it came back to Danny…

Danny…Danny…please wake up. Please wake up. We have to get you out of the driver’s seat. You have to help me,” Katie cried.

He opened his eyes. There was blood on her beautiful face. “Are you ok?” he asked.

I think so. My stomach and back are sore, but I’ll be fine. We have to move you. I already hear the sirens in the distance. You can’t get caught like this.”

I’m sorry. I’m so sorry…”

Don’t…don’t say anything. Just help me,” she pleaded. He helped her maneuver his body over to the passenger side. She secured his seat belt and then walked around to the driver’s side. She struggled to open the door. As Danny watched her, he started to feel groggier. Right before he lost consciousness again, he watched Katie fall to the ground.

“Oh my god…oh my god…Katie. It’s my fault. It’s all my fault,” Danny said as he panicked. He tried to pull the IVs out of his arm and get up. “I have to tell someone…I have to tell them….”

A doctor rushed over and helped the nurse hold Danny down, and then the doctor injected something into Danny’s IV that immediately made him feel groggy again. “You have to stay calm. Just relax, sir. There’s nothing you can do for your friend right now,” the nurse said soothing as Danny slipped back into unconsciousness.

A few hours later, he woke up again. This time the IVs were out of his arm. He was in a recovery room. He sat up in the bed and hit the nurse call button. A nurse came in within minutes. “Mr. Taylor, you’re awake…”

“How’s Katie?” Danny asked weakly.

“Katie Mason?”

“Yes, how is she?”

“She’s out of surgery. I can’t really tell you specifically about her condition. She’s still in ICU. Her family is here. They can tell you more.”

“I have to see her. I have to see her now.”

The nurse was going to tell him no, but the look in his eyes told her he was going with her or without her. So she brought him down to ICU in a wheel chair. “I don’t see her family around.”

“Can I go in?”

“Only family is allowed in ICU…”

Please…please….I have to see her.”

The nurse sighed and wheeled Danny into the room. She was hooked up to several machines, and there was a breathing tube in her mouth. “I’ll give you a minute. I’ll be right back,” the nurse said gently.

Danny took Katie’s hand in his and started to cry. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry…” was all he could say.

He sat with her for several minutes and then heard a voice from behind him. “You shouldn’t be here,” Katie father said.

Danny turned around in the chair. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“What the hell was she doing driving back to the city at that time of night?”

Danny didn’t know what to say. He knew if he told the truth that he would go to jail. “Um…I went out there to see her. I was trying to convince her not to get married. We got into a fight. It was late…so the only way for me to get back…”

“Was for her to drive you back…” Mr. Mason finished.

Danny nodded. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Mr. Mason.”

The nurse then came in and apologized to Mr. Mason for the intrusion. “I’ll take him back to his room now.”

“No…I’ll take him back,” Mr. Mason said.

“Are you sure? He’s in room 432.”

“Yes, I’m sure. Thank you.”

And then Mr. Mason wheeled an almost despondent Danny back to his room. Once they got in the room, Mr. Mason took a seat across from Danny. “If she pulls through this, I doubt that Mathews will still want to marry her. It’s doesn’t look good…you and she driving back to the city at 2 in the morning. I’ll make sure Eric knows the history of your relationship.”

Danny lookedat Mason in disgust. “How can you even think about that? You’re daughter is fighting for her life, but all you care about is settling to score with some enemy. What’s wrong with you?”

“What’s wrong with me? How dare you…you little punk. How about I ask you a question? Why was Katie driving last night? Why was it so important that you leave in the middle of the night? The doctor told me…he told me that Katie was probably driving because you were drunk. He said your blood alcohol was five times over the legal limit. She’s in there because of you.”

Danny couldn’t respond. Mr. Mason didn’t know how right he was.

“So when she pulls through this…and she will pull through this…Mathews will be out of the picture because he’ll find out all about you and why you were with Katie. And you…you, son…will be out of her life for good. Is that understood?”

Danny held his aching head in his hands. “Yeah…I understand. She’s better off without me.”

“Exactly. I’m just trying to protect her,” Mr. Mason said as he stood up and walked to the door. “I know you care about her, but sometimes things aren’t meant to be. I hope you can accept that.”

Danny was discharged two days later. He didn’t go back to see Katie, but Mr. Mason sent a nurse in to tell Danny that she was out of the woods. They repaired the internal injuries, and she was expected to make a full recovery. He was thankful for that.

When Danny returned to his apartment, the first thing he did was empty every liquor and beer bottle he had. His drinking almost took Katie’s life. He tried going cold turkey without any help for the first couple of weeks, but it wasn’t working. He was miserable during the withdrawal. The only good thing was the he was on winter break, so his studies weren’t suffering, but he knew he had to get it together. He had to get his life together and stay clean.

A few days before returning to school, Danny found himself standing outside a community center. It took every ounce of courage he had to go to the AA meeting. The one thing that really pushed him to do it was Katie. She saved his life. If it weren’t for her, he’d be in jail at that moment. He had to repay her by staying clean…even if she would never know about it.

And so Danny started to go to AA meetings. For the first few months, he went everyday. Once he decided to do it, he was committed. There was nothing to stand in his way. He returned to school and finished out strong. He took the FBI exam and passed on the first try. He focused all of his energy on this so that he wouldn’t think about Katie. He was due to go to Quantico for FBI training during the summer after graduation.

One morning after he graduated, he was reading the newspaper. As he flipped through, he stopped when he saw her picture. He opened the page and looked closely at the picture of Katie Mason and Eric Mathews. According to the announcement, they were getting married the following Saturday. He couldn’t believe that Eric took her back, especially since Mason made a point of using Danny to break them up. For weeks, Danny had been agonizing about whether to contact Katie. He needed to make amends with her. His AA sponsor said it was the only way to truly move on. Danny wrote her a letter, but couldn’t send it. Something didn’t feel right about saying it in a letter. Now, knowing she was getting married, he didn’t want to disrupt her wedding…but he knew he had to tell her.

All that week, Danny tried to track her down, but she was nowhere to be found. On Saturday, the day of her wedding, he knew she would be at the church. He knew it was stupid, but he decided to try and see her before she got married. A couple of hours before the wedding, he slipped into the church. He found a set of rooms behind the altar that were a flurry of activity. He finally found Katie in a room getting her hair done. When Danny walked in the door, the stylist asked, “Can I help you? Are you delivering something?”

Katie looked up and her breathe caught as she locked eyes with Danny through the mirror. “No…no delivery,” Danny answered. “I just need to speak with the bride-to-be.”

The stylist looked at Katie for direction. “Can you give us a minute, Clay? Thanks.”

The stylist walked out and Danny closed the door. “I’m sorry to bother you, today. I’ve been looking for you all week outside your parent’s place, but I never saw you.”

“I moved in with Eric…two months ago,” she replied quietly as she turned around in the chair to face him.

Jealous feelings bubbled in Danny’s heart. “That explains it. Um…I…uh…I have so many things to say, but I don’t know where to begin.”

Katie nodded. “Why don’t you start with why you never once contacted me after the accident?”

“I thought it was for the best. I thought I had hurt you enough…”

“Look…there’s really nothing you can say now. If you are trying to stop this…”

“I’m not. I promise. That’s not what this is. I want you to be happy. I want you to marry Eric Mathews and have kids…. and I just want you to be happy. I’m here because I need to tell you how sorry I am.”

When Katie heard his well wishes, tears filled her eyes. “You don’t have to…”

“I really do,” Danny interrupted. “I almost killed you. And if it weren’t for you…I would have gone to jail. What I did that night was unforgivable. And what you did for me…well…I could never repay you for that. Because of you, I have a future. I graduated in May and I start FBI training next month. All of that is because of you.”

“Why are you telling me this now? Why now?”

“I’ve been going to AA for over six months now. I haven’t had a drink since that night. I just needed to tell you how sorry I am. I was wrong. I was wrong to put that pressure on you. I said things I didn’t mean. I know you were confused, and I just made it worse. You didn’t do anything wrong. I’m sorry if I made you feel guilty for what happened between us.”

Katie stood up and walked toward Danny. She took his hand as tears rolled down her cheeks. “All this time, I thought you still hated me. I thought…I thought you wouldn’t be able to forgive me for not telling Eric the truth about us.”

Danny shook his head and wiped the tears away. “I could never hate you. I was drunk when I said those things. I didn’t mean any of it.”

“I guess…I guess…we just were never meant to be,” Katie said in a weak, trembling voice.

Danny looked at her as his heart ached. He knew he had to let her go. “I guess not, but I’ll always love you. No matter what, I want you to be happy. You’re happy with Mathews, right? I mean…you’re doing this because you love him? It’s not about your father, is it?”

Katie let go of Danny’s hand and stepped away. She looked at him sadly before answering. “I love him.”

Danny smiled at her. “Then be happy,” he said as he took a step toward her and lightly kissed her forehead. “You’re the reason…. you’re the reason for everything good in my life,” he whispered in her ear before turning and walking out the door.

Danny stood in the back of the church and watched Katie walk down the aisle. Watching her get married was like a punishment for ruining things between them. As she said her vows, his heart told him to say something to stop her, but his head told him to let her be. He left the church that day knowing he had to start the next chapter of his life without the woman he loved.

After saying goodbye to Katie, Danny focused all of his energy on the FBI. Since he wasn’t partying and drinking, he had an endless amount of energy to put into his FBI training. After he sailed through Quantico, he started working at the New York City field office. As a new agent, he basically just got to do the jobs no one else wanted. He poured over phone records looking for one number. He spent countless hours looking at surveillance footage. He did anything and everything he was asked and more. He never questioned orders and he always got the job done while keeping a very positive, upbeat attitude. And for all of that, he developed a very good reputation for a new recruit. After his first year, he was transferred to the Violent Crimes Division. His responsibilities didn’t change that much, but at least he was working in the area he wanted to be in. He even got to participate in some fieldwork, which made him very happy. He loved the feeling of going out into the field and apprehending suspects. He loved the rush he got every time he pulled out his badge. Being an FBI agent gave Danny an identity that he never had before.

As his career progressed, Danny slowly started to go out again in his personal life. He reconnected with some friends from college and finally felt okay with going into bars and clubs without drinking. He even started dating again, although it was hard not to try and compare every girl to Katie. But even with having a social life, Danny’s singular focus was his work. He felt that it was what defined him and gave him purpose.

Danny was in his second year as an FBI agent when he encountered Vivian Johnson from the Missing Persons Unit. The Missing Person’s team was heavily involved in a kidnap/ransom plot and needed additional hands to do surveillance. Danny often observed the Missing Person’s team while they were working. Jack Malone would sit with his agents around the conference table and they discussed theories and ideas. They were so focused and dedicated. Danny dreamed of being a part of a team like that. The Missing Person’s Unit was one of the most elite team’s in the FBI, and that’s where Danny wanted to be.

“Agent Taylor?” Vivian asked.

“Yes, ma’am.” Danny answered as he stood up at his desk.

Vivian smiled at his eagerness. “Your supervisory agent said we could borrow you for some surveillance work. Can you come with me?”

“Yes, ma’am. Let’s go,” Danny said as he smiled briefly and put on his jacket.

He and Vivian were in the back of a van looking and listening to surveillance footage from an apartment across the street. Vivian explained to Danny that they thought the owner of the apartment was responsible for the kidnap/ransom plot. They were hoping to catch the guy talking to one of his partners.

Danny stepped out of the van and bought two coffees. He brought them back in and handed one to Vivian. “Did he fall asleep in the middle of the day?” Danny asked because he could hear the loud snoring noises coming from the monitor.

“How could you tell?” Vivian asked as she smiled appreciatively. “Thanks for the coffee.”

“Anytime…and I mean that…anytime. If I worked with your team, I would gladly volunteer to be you coffee lackey for life.”

Vivian laughed as she sipped her coffee. “You want to work for us? I think we could find better uses for you than coffee lackey.”

“Really?” Danny replied earnestly. “Because I heard that one of your guys is transferring to LA…at least that’s what the grapevine says. And…and your team, Agent Johnson…that’s where I want to be.”

“Missing Person’s can be a tough gig. You can get your heart broken…”

“I can handle it,” he replied not wanting to explain the number of time his heart had already been broken. “I’m very serious about this. I thought about saying something to Agent Malone…”

Vivian laughed again. “Not so fast…. I would suggest just continuing to do what you’re doing. You’re young, Danny. Are you even 25 yet? Maybe a little too young for our team, but it’s definitely something to strive for in the future.”

Danny nodded. “Thanks. Patience isn’t one of my strengths.”

“I’m getting a little impatient, too. If this guy doesn’t wake up soon, we’ll have to leave it for the second shift.”

“Oh…no ma’am. I can stay. I don’t have to be anywhere…”

“Good for you, but not so good for me. I have to pick up my son in less than an hour.”

“Oh…right…sorry. How old is your son?” he asked genuinely curious.

“He’s five, and such a handful…”

“Whoa…whoa,” Danny interrupted. “Someone is at the door.”

They watched a man knock on the door. Their suspect woke up and answered it. The two men started talking about where they were holding the victim. Vivian called in the victim’s location to Jack and then she asked, “Should we apprehend the suspects?”

Danny felt a rush of adrenaline. He tried to maintain his composure. When Vivian hung up her phone, she said, “OK…we’re going to bring them in. Are you up for this?”

“Absolutely,” he answered eagerly.

He and Vivian and another back-up team stormed the apartment and arrested the suspects. The kidnapping victim was found alive and unharmed. Danny loved every minute of it.

A month later, Danny was at his desk doing some evidence analysis. He was reading over some Medical Examiner files, when his phone rang. “Agent Taylor,” Danny answered.

“Agent Taylor. This is Jack Malone. Can you come to office ASAP?”

“Yes, sir. I’ll be right there.” Danny had met Jack on a couple of occasions, but he didn’t realize Jack even knew his name.

When he entered Jack’s office, he encountered Jack and another agent with a DEA badge.

“Danny…thanks for coming so quickly. We have an assignment for you. I’ve cleared it with your boss, but it’s…uh…it’s challenging and highly confidential…to say the least. If you’re not up for it…”

“I’m up for it, sir,” Danny replied quickly.

The other agent then said, “You may want to hear what it is first.”

“This is Agent Sanders with the DEA,” Jack explained. “His partner is missing, Agent Pedro Ruiz. Before we go any further, Danny…we have to have your word whether you help us or not…that this information doesn’t leave this room.”

“No, sir…I mean yes, sir, I understand. I won’t say a word,” Danny replied.

“We were working undercover in Miami...”Sanders started. He explained that he and his partner infiltrated a dirty Vice squad in Miami. They were getting close to bringing them down when his partner went missing. “We haven’t told anyone about this. I’m afraid there could be a leak in the DEA, which is why I came to Agent Malone directly.”

Danny nodded. “I’ll do whatever you need me to do.”

“We need you to go undercover. No one has seen you down there, and no one in the DEA knows you. Agent Sanders has a contact that can get you into the Vice squad. This is going to be time-consuming and very dangerous, Danny. You won’t be coming home for quite a while.”

“I’ve got no ties here. I can be there as long as you need me. And I know the area down there…”

“We know. We’ve seen your file. That’s why we picked you. Part of the reason why Sanders can’t infiltrate further is because he doesn’t speak the language well enough…if you know what I mean.”

“I understand. I’m ready, sir. I can do this.”

“Viv said you’d be up for it. Let’s hope she’s right,” Jack said uneasily because he felt like Danny might be too green for this kind of job.

Danny left immediately for Miami. It was strange going back there after all the time had passed. He felt like he was returning as a whole new person.

He spent three months infiltrating and gaining the trust of the dirty Vice squad. During his time with the squad, he found out that a disgruntled DEA agent leaked Ruiz’s identity to members of the Vice squad. Two members of the squad were responsible for giving Pedro Ruiz up to a Miami drug lord. Danny found out that the drug lord buried Ruiz’s body in the Keys. Danny and Agent Sanders collected enough evidence to bring down the dirty DEA agent, the Vice squad and arrest the drug lord.

When Danny returned to New York, he immediately returned to work even though his boss told him to take some time off. Danny hated taking time off. He never knew what to do with himself. On his first day back, he was at his desk when Vivian approached him. “Hey…I heard you did a hell of a job in Miami,” she said with a smile.

“Thank you, ma’am,” Danny replied quietly.

“I thought you’d be happier. You brought down a whole division of Miami PD. MPD and the DEA are very pleased.”

“I just talked to Agent Sanders. He said that he informed Agent Ruiz’s wife and family. He was pretty upset. I just…I just…wish we could have found him alive,” he responded.

Vivian nodded. “I know…it’s rough…especially the first time. But Danny, we knew when we sent you down there that you were going on a recovery mission. You gave his family peace of mind.”

Danny nodded. “I guess.”

“Come with me,” she said as she started walking.

Danny followed her into Jack Malone’s office. “Have a seat, Danny,” Jack said after Danny walked in.

Danny looked from Jack back to Vivian not sure what was going on. Jack continued. “We were very pleased with your work in Miami. You took a big risk, but you hung in there.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Vivian tells me that you have interest in the Missing Person’s Unit. I was wondering if that was still the case…after working on such a tough case.”

Danny didn’t hesitate. “Yes, sir. It’s still the case. That’s the kind of work I want to do.”

“As you know, we’ve had an opening for the last couple of months. I’ve waited to fill it until you returned.”

Danny looked up at Jack as his heart started to pound. “You mean…”

“I mean that you’ll still have to apply, but you have a pretty good shot considering the work you just did.”

Danny stood up and shook Jack’s hand. “Thank you. Thank you, sir. You won’t regret this.”

“I hope not. Get your application in first thing tomorrow. Hopefully, barring the squeaky wheels of bureaucracy, we can get you on the team within the month.”

“I’ll do that…I’ll do it tonight. Thank you again,” Danny said as he walked out followed by Vivian.

When they were out of Jack’s line of vision, Danny turned and embraced Vivian. “Thank you. I can’t thank you enough,” Danny said excitedly and then quickly let her go when he realized she was taken by surprise. “Sorry…I’m just…I’m just really happy about this.”

“You’re welcome. You earned it, Danny. I think you’ve got the right stuff for this job. You’re tough, but you have a lot of heart…and you need that more than anything.”

Danny went home that night feeling happier than he had in a very long time. He felt like he was really hitting his stride. He always had to work so hard to accomplish everything, and now all the hard work was paying off. Despite his troubled past, his alcoholism, and heartbreaking relationships, he finally found his place in the world.