Basic Chemistry

Part Five: The Chemistry of Dissatisfaction

Authorís Notes:  Iím throwing in the towel.  Not only would it be insanely hard to work in the elements from the CWPs I have left to do into the current story, Iíve officially run out of time, and I will be inactive if I donít get going and stop trying to retroactively add CWP elements!  It was a good run while it lasted, but this story is just a story.  :)  Many, many, many thanks to Susan, who not only improves my writing but does it on demand.  Thanks for the speedy edit, sweetie! 

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The chemistry of dissatisfaction is as the chemistry of some marvelously potent tar.  In it are the building stones of explosives, stimulants, poisons, opiates, perfumes, and stenches.
                                                      ĖEric Hoffer

"Talk?" Honey asked, her heart suddenly in her throat.

Dan noted her deer-in-headlights expression before replying, "Yeah. Those fortunes didnít seem to sit well with you. And donít forget that I know about you and fortunes. So, if youíve got some kind of difficult journey or uncomfortable situation, then I think we should talk about it."

Wordlessly, her hands like ice, Honey headed for the small living room and sat down on the couch. Dan followed her and sat down next to her. She sighed deeply and tried to get up the nerve to broach the subject that had been foremost on her mind for several daysÖever since she had decided that she needed Brianís help in chemistry.

"Honey, you donít have to talk about it if you donít want to," Dan said as he watched the nervous wringing of his girlfriendís hands. "Itís justóif somethingís bothering youÖ"

"Something is bothering me, and I donít want to talk about it, but I do need to tell you how I have been feeling lately," Honey explained.

"Are you okay?" Dan asked, concerned. Seeing Honey in distress was exactly what he had been afraid of. He did not want Honey feeling bad for wondering "What if?" in terms of her relationship with Brian. She was only human, and it was a very natural thing to do. But loyal Honey saw it as treason, of course.

"Iím fine," Honey assured him, but even as she said it, she realized she wasnít. What she was about to say was going to hurt the person she loved. Sheíd rather cut out her own tongue than hurt Dan.

She looked at her boyfriend, who was clearly doing his best to encourage her to talk. His dark eyes were caring and compassionate.

"What is it, Honey?" he asked gently. "You know you can tell me anything."

Honey nodded. "I know that I can normally tell you anything, but this is so hard. Iím so afraid of hurting you," she said. It was hard, but she was relieved that she was finally being completely open with Dan.

"Honey, I donít think that you could ever hurt me," Dan said. "Youíre loyal, honest, and caring. I donít see you ever doing anything to hurt anyone that you love. And I know that you love me."

"I do love you!" Honey blurted out. "Thatís why this is so hard."

"I hate seeing you like this, Honey," Dan said earnestly. "Whatever it is, itís not so bad that we canít work through this. We can make it through anything, you know."

Danís thoughtfulness was more than Honey could take. Tears glistened in her huge hazel eyes. "I donít deserve you," she said.

"Thatís ridiculous!" Dan protested. "Youíre really starting to worry me, sweetie."

"Iím sorry," Honey said, wiping her eyes with the back of her hands. "Iím a mess. Youíre so wonderful and so supportive of me."

"That goes both ways, you know," he reminded her. "You supported me a lot in the past few years, sometimes when no one else did. When I first moved to Sleepyside, everyone was ready to write me offóeven my own uncleóbut youÖyou were different. You always gave me the benefit of the doubt, even when I walked around with that big olí chip on my shoulder and never gave you any reason to give me the benefit of the doubt. So, donít ever say youíre not good enough for me."

He gathered her hands in his as he stared deep into her eyes. "Madeleine Grace Wheeler, I love you, and Iím not going to be mad at you, no matter what it is that you have to say. I promise."

Tears slid down Honeyís cheeks as she listened to Dan. She was an idiot to ever think that she and Dan werenít meant for each otheróthat there might be something between herself and Brian. What had she been thinking? Danís words and his love gave her the courage to take a deep breath and finally say, "I thought, well, after spending time this week with Brian, I thought that maybe, well, I donít know, it was just like old times andÖand there was this time, you know, before you and I started dating, before you even came to Sleepyside that everyone thought that, well, that, you know, thatÖ" Honey often garbled her speech under the best of circumstances, and when she was nervous, it was even worse, but Dan understood perfectly.

"Everyone thought that you would end up with Brian," he stated, putting Honey out of her misery.

At his words, the tension eased out of her. "Yeah," she said softly, her eyes filled with tenderness as she looked at him. "I shouldíve known youíd know. I mean, I was pretty sure that you would know, whichóto be honestóis why I didnít want to spend any time alone with you tonight. I was so afraid that youíd guess what was wrong before I had a chance to talk things over with Brian, but Angela and Di reminded me of a few things, and they were right. Iím so glad that we talked this over first."

Despite Honeyís jumbled speech, Dan was able to ascertain two things: She was going to talk to Brian before him. She had already talked to Angela and Di. Before him. He tried to reign in his temper. He had promised Honey he wouldnít be mad, but that was when he thought she was just confused over her feelings. It had never occurred to him that she would talk to other people before she had talked to him. And it certainly never occurred to him that she would talk to Brian first. Apparently, Honey didnít think enough of him or their relationship to talk to him first. Dan felt a strong surge of jealousy course through him at her words. He tried to keep his feelings under control, desperate to live up to his promise, but something in his face must have changed, because the look on Honeyís face changed from relief to crestfallen.

Dan took a deep breath and tried to calm down. No matter how upset he was, he didnít want to see Honey looking that way.

"What?" Honey asked, a tinge of panic in her voice. "Whatís wrong?"

"You just admitted that you discussed our relationship with Angela and Di, and you were going to discuss this with Brian before you thought to discuss it with me, the boyfriend whom you supposedly love so much," Dan said in an even tone.

The lack of emotion in Danís voice was almost worse than his words, and Honey looked stricken and drew back as if slapped.

"ĎSupposedly loveí?" she echoed, sounding and looking very much like a lost and frightened little girl. "You donít think that I love you? But you just saidÖ"

Dan ran a hand through his hair. Of course, he knew that she loved him. Why the heck had he just said that? And after he had promised her he would not get upset. He sighed. He really didnít deserve her. Maybe she was better off with Brian. Thatís what that damn little imp inside his head definitely wanted him to believe.

"Iím sorry, Honey. Iím a jerk. I do know that you love me. I donít know what made me say that, except I was really hurt that you would talk to Angela and Di about this when you obviously felt that you couldnít talk to me." Dan paused for a moment and then continued, "And the thought that you were going to talk to Brian before me, and the only reason you didnít is because people outside this relationship thought better, wellÖ" He left his sentence unfinished and spread his hands wide in a gesture that indicated that he was speechless.

"Okay, first of all, since when am I not allowed to discuss things with my friends?" Honey demanded. Something inside her that she couldnít explain had just switched from scared and sad to irritated in the blink of an eye. "If you must know, I didnít have any grand plans to discuss things with Angela, but apparently, Iím a poor actress and she guessed that something was wrong. Instead of letting her worry about me, and to also try to gain some perspective because I was so confused, I confided in her. Iím sorry if that threatens you, Dan, but I do have friends other than you, you know."

Dan sighed again. "Okay, youíre right. Iím sorry. Iím sorry that I got jealous that you discussed this with others. It just hurts because it seems like you didnít feel as though you could trust me enough to discuss this with me first."

Honeyís temper fled as quickly as it had appeared. She didnít want Dan to feel like she trusted others more than him, especially as that wasnít the case at all. "Iím sorry that you felt like I didnít trust you," Honey apologized. "I did want to talk to you, and I do trust you. I was just so darn afraid."

"But donít you see, Honey? If you were afraid that I was going to be mad at you or break up with you, then you donít trust me." Before she could protest, he went on. "You donít trust me enough to not lose my temper over something we could work on together." Dan looked at her for a long moment, something heartbreaking in his dark eyes. "Did you cheat on me with him?"

Honey looked appalled and gave him a resounding, "No!"

"Well, if you didnít act on whatever feelings youíre having, then you should have felt like you could come to me and talk about them. Heck, even if you did act on the feelings, you should talk to me. I want us to be able to talk about anything and everything. And that includes the tough things. You have to trust me enough to talk to me about the tough things, too."

"But it wasnít like I never planning on talking to you at all. I just felt like I needed to get my head screwed on before I talked to you. And I thought that the best way to do that was to sort through what is in my head on my ownóand also to talk to Brian about whatís going on in his head," Honey explained.

Dan considered Honeyís words for a moment. He was trying to tamp down the unreasonable jealousy that coursed through him every time he thought about Honey talking to Brian about this before she discussed it with him.

"Okay," he finally said. "Iíve got to admit that Iím really jealous right now. Iím jealous of you having this discussion with Brian before you had it with me. Just when was this discussion supposed to take place? How long where you going to avoid me?"

"I wasnít going to avoid you," Honey insisted. "I only meant that I was afraid that if we were alone together, you would guess that something was wrong. Angela did, and you know me loads better than Angela does. As for when the discussion is supposed to take place, Brian and I are getting together tomorrow."

Dan again tried to control the jealousy that flared at the thought of Honey getting together with Brian. He was being ridiculous for getting jealous when he had been expecting this. Hadnít he been expecting this for some time? Ever since he and Honey had begun dating, to be exact. Not to mention that Brian was a fellow Bob-White and someone that he trusted implicitly. So, where the hell was this jealousy coming from?

He asked, in a careful voice, "So, youíre going to sit down tomorrow and discuss this with Brian?" At Honeyís timid nod, he asked, "Does he know that you are going to discuss this?" Honey shook her head no. "He thinks youíre going to study?"

"We are going to study," Honey said somewhat defensively.

"Fine, but he thinks studying is all you are going to do. He has no idea you have anything else on your mind, does he?"

Honey reluctantly shook her head and said, "No, he doesnít."

"You said that he could help you get your head on straight. What did you mean by that? What do you expect him to say?" Dan wondered.

Honey looked startled. "I donít know what I expect him to say, honestly. I just kind of wanted toÖ" Honey paused, gesturing with her hands as she tried to find the right words. "Feel him out about how he felt." As soon as they were out of her mouth, Honey realized that the words that she had finally found were not the right words.

Danís eyes darkened, and his chiseled features, already very angular, went absolutely taut at her words. Honey blinked back tears. This was going just as badly as she had feared that it would.

"Feel him out?" Dan asked in a tight, controlled voice that was deceptively calm. But Honey knew that a storm was brewing.

"I didnít mean that exactly," Honey said, faltering.

"Then what did you mean?" Dan asked in a dangerous tone.

"I just meant that, maybe, well, maybe if Brian told me I was being silly, that the whole idea was stupid, I was thinking that maybeÖ" Honeyís voice trailed off as she looked at the remote, icy expression on Danís face. Dan stared at her, and Honey knew that he wasnít going to budge until she finished. This wasnít going to go well, but it looked as though she didnít have a choice, given the impassive look on Danís face, so she plunged ahead. "ÖThat I could just ignore it."

"Just ignore it," Dan repeated. "Ignore it as in, maybe you would never bring it up to me at all?"

Honey looked nervous. "I donít know, honestly. I was afraid of hurting youÖ" Again, her voice trailed off uncertainly.

"Well, Honey Wheeler, you managed to do that any way," Dan said in clipped tones. "You were just going to discuss this with Brian, and if it turned out a certain way, you were going to sweep it under the rug and keep your boyfriend, whom you claim to love so much, completely in the dark and never tell him about these feelings. Feelings, I might add, that are perfectly natural, perfectly normal, and perfectly expected. But you didnít trust me enough to find that out. Angela apparently knows me better than you do."

Dan did not raise his voice, but the icy disdain that dripped from his words spoke louder than shouting ever could, and Honey shrank back.

Dan continued in an ominously low voice, "And if you spoke to Brian tomorrow, and he said that your feelings werenít silly and that he had them, too, then what, Honey?"

A flush crept up Honeyís neck and into her cheeks, and Dan thought that he had his answer, but before he could react again, Honey spoke.

"I donít know. Dan, I wish I could tell you, but to tell you the truth, I honestly donít know," Honey said miserably.

"Would you kiss him on the spot?" Dan asked, the anger, pain, and jealousy he felt twisting his stomach into a knot.

Honey looked shocked. "Of course not!" she declared indignantly, and her anger flared. Two dark spots appeared on her cheeks, and Dan did not think that he had ever seen his girlfriend more angry.

Or more beautiful, he thought ironically as Honey continued, "And if you think for one minute that thatís what I would do, Dan Mangan, then you donít know me as well as you think you do. And you most certainly donít know me as well as I thought you did." Her eyes narrowed and her voice dropped a notch lower. "And you obviously donít trust me. You talk about trust and say that I should have spoken to you about how I was feeling. You said that you wouldnít get angry or upset. Well, guess what? Here we are, having the conversation I dreaded, and look! You are upset! And you are angry! You talk about trust and how I donít trust you enough, when all along, if you think that I would cheat on you, then you donít trust me! You hypocrite! And you know what? Not only would I not do it to you, but I wouldnít do it to Lexi! And I wouldnít put Brian in that position, either. But most of all, I wouldnít do it to myself! I have more self respect than that, Daniel Timothy Mangan!"

Honey was shouting by the end of her tirade, and that it was so uncharacteristic of his girlfriend that it made Dan all the more miserable. He hated that they were fighting. He and Honey rarely fought, and certainly not like this. But, unfortunately, something inside of him was keeping him going. The jealousy he felt was tearing him apart with its intensity, and he did not know how to deal with it other than lash out, even it if was directed at the last person that he wanted to hurt. His feelings were all churned up inside, but he had to know the truth. He needed to know the truth, as awful as that truth might be.

"Fine," he said, fighting to keep his voice even and his emotions under control. "You wouldnít cheat on me. But if you decide that these feelings are real, are you going to break up with me if he breaks up with Lexi?"

Honey paused. She couldnít help it. She didnít know. It was one of the reasons that she had wanted to speak to Brian before she spoke to Dan. She couldnít answer it now. The feelings from her fight were too painful, too raw. Just a few moments before, she was thinking that Dan was the only one for her and that he would never hurt her. But he had. Not only had he said that she "supposedly" loved him and then, knowing it would hurt her, followed that up with an accusation that she only "claimed" to love him, but he didnít trust heródidnít know heróif he thought that she would cheat on him with anyone, let alone one of his best friends.

Finally, after she had regained some measure of control over her emotions, she spoke. "Dan, I love you very much, no matter what you seem to think. Itís not just a claim that I make," Honey said, throwing his word back at him. "I hadnít gotten that far in my thinking. Right now, Iím so angry that I donít want to answer that question."

"Fine," Dan said, standing up and looking down at her. "I think maybe itís best if I leave."

Honey stared at him. Part of her wanted him to leave, she was so angry, but another part of her wanted him to stay so that they could make up.

Which was the bigger part?

Honey made her decision and swallowed hard. "You can leave if you want to, and maybe thatís best so that we donít say any more hurtful things to each other, but I donít want you to leave." There. She had said it. She closed her eyes, waiting for the rejection that she was certain was going to follow her admission, and was pleasantly surprised when she felt the couch sag next to her. She opened her eyes to see Dan staring at her, his expression contrite, his eyes begging for forgiveness.

"I donít want to leave, either," Dan admitted.

The fight had gone out of each of them, and they clung to each other, afraid to think about the future.

* * *

Honey and Dan had called an uneasy truce and did not discuss any more loaded topics for the rest of the evening. Dan learned that Honey was having lunch with Brian, so he did not suggest seeing a matinee together, as he had planned to. Honey wanted to ask Dan to have dinner with her, but she was too afraid to broach the subject. Dan spent the night at Honeyís, but the cuddling, which usually felt so warm and brought them close together, did not feel the same for either of them. Brian Belden was between them now. Both Dan and Honey felt that.

The two slept in the next morning, and the fight of the night before was still their minds as they awoke. Both tried to pretend that it was not still between them, but each of them failed miserably. They made breakfast together, as was their Saturday morning tradition, but the usual easy laughter was noticeably missing. Dan scrambled the eggs and added shredded cheddar cheese, chopped tomatoes, and diced green peppers and onions. Honey heated a skillet for sausage and shredded potatoes for hash browns.

The two worked in the kitchen silently and efficiently, used to their Saturday morning ritual. Often they worked together in an easy and companionable silence, the comfortable silence of two people who did not need to talk to enjoy each otherís presence. Today, however, it was a strained and tense silence, with both of them lost in thoughts of their fight the night before and Honeyís impending talk with Brian. Honey and Dan both longed to turn back the clock and regain that sense of companionship that they so treasured.

Finally, the meal was complete, and the two sat down to eat it. Usually Saturday morningís breakfast was filled with chatter, but the uncomfortable silence still reigned.

Suddenly unable to stand the silence, Honey threw her fork down on her plate in an unusual moment of pique. "I canít take this any more!"

Startled at the sudden noise and Honeyís uncharacteristic gesture, Dan looked up quickly, apprehension in his dark eyes.

Honey looked at Dan and continued, "It really sucks that stupid Brian Belden has wrecked not only our romantic Friday evening together, but also our Saturday morning!"

Dan was more than a little surprised at her language. He wasnít sure he had ever heard Honey assess anything as "sucking," but he did have to grin at Brian being described as "stupid."

Honey took his grin as encouragement. "I love you, Dan," she said earnestly. "And no matter what I feel for Brian, that will never change. Canít we get past this?"

Dan wanted to get past it more than anything, but he also didnít want to get lulled into a false sense of security, get his hopes up, and then realize that Honey truly loved Brian and was dumping him for her first love.

"I want to, Honey. I love you, too, and I will always love you no matter what. But IÖI need to guard my heart right now," he explained. He then took a deep breath. What he was about to say was painful for him, but it was the absolute truth and had to be said. "If you want to be with Brian, Iím not going to stop you. I want you to be happy more than I want anything else, and if Brian Belden makes you happier than I can, then so be it. But it will hurt. A lot. And if youíre going to go over to his place and decide that you want to try dating him, well, then, I need to protect myself."

Honey nodded slowly. "That makes sense, and I understand. And saying that you want me to be happy no matter what, even at your own expense, makes you the sweetest man ever." Honeyís hazel eyes filled with tears. "You really and truly are too good for me, and I donít deserve you. And this makes me wonder all the more why Iím being so stupid about Brian!"

Dan reached for Honeyís hand. "Youíre not being stupid, sweetie," he said gently. "You really arenít. You have all of these unresolved feelings that go back years. I suspect they go back to the very moment that you met Brian. You guys have never dealt with them, even when he started dating after he left for college, and they need to be dealt with. Iíve always known that. Itís better that youíre dealing with this now and not later, like say, if we were engaged or married or something. You need to resolve this, because we absolutely cannot go forward until it is resolved. I hope more than anything that the resolution makes us stronger as a couple, but if the resolution is that you and Brian need toÖ" He paused and swallowed, the next thought almost too painful to speak out loud. "If you and Brian decide that you need to explore these feelings togetherÖwellÖthere is really nothing that I can do, and I certainly will not stand in your way."

Honeyís heart nearly broke at the sight of Dan sitting there with so much pain and courage and understanding openly displayed in his beautiful dark eyes. She squeezed his hand as tears flowed down her cheeks. She tried to smile and lighten the situation. "Subscribing to the ĎIf you love someone, set them freeí theory of relationships, are we now?"

Dan smiled through his pain. "Yeah, I guess so. ĎAnd if they donít come back, hunt them down and kill them.í" At that, the two shared a genuine smile, and the painful moment was over. They leaned toward each other and shared a sweet kiss.

As they resumed their eating after the kiss, Dan said, "So, I was thinking that maybe I could stay here while you go meet Brian? Be waiting for you when you get back?"

Honey looked uncomfortable. "Well, Brian was kind of freaking out over the fact that heís never been to visit any of the Bob-Whites except Mart. Apparently, itís really been bothering him that he canít picture where each of us lives when we all used to be so close, so he wanted to come over here." Honey shrugged as if to reassure Dan that it was no big deal. "I can kind of see his point. I mean, you and I visited Jim at Michigan State back when he lived in the dorms, but heís living off campus now, and Trixieís there, and with freshman year being so crazy, Iíve never gotten a chance to visit her, either. It is kind of weird to realize that I canít even picture where my best friend or my brother live."

Dan, however, had a different take on the situation. Was Brian really so concerned about where all of the Bob-Whites lived? Or just one in particular? Was he going to make a pilgrimage to every single domicile of each Bob-White? Or was he just going to check out Honeyís apartment? Again, a niggle of jealousy tugged at him.

"Okay, so I guess Iíll leave," Dan said, not happy about this new turn of events. He couldnít help adding sarcastically, "I can use the time to go tidy up my place in case Brian decides he needs to see where I live, too."

Honey looked at him. "I think he really does want to come see your place, Dan. I donít think that he was using this as an excuse." Her huge hazel eyes pleaded with him to understand.

Dan noticed her pleading look and sighed. "Iím sorry Iím so cynical, Honey. I know Brian, and of course, heís the type to wonder about where we all live. The rest of us Bob-Whites are together, but Brian has been kind of isolated ever since his freshman year at Columbia. And now that you and I are in the City, of course heís starting to realize how isolated heís been."

Dan looked at Honey and wondered if he should say what he was about to say. Honey noticed the look and asked, "What?"

When Dan didnít immediately answer, she said, "Címon. You have to tell me now, or Iíll just die of curiosity!"

"Okay, Trixie," Dan said with a chuckle, and Honey smiled. "Iíll tell you. That girl that he dated before Lexi, well, I think she was kind of a control freak, and she really isolated him. Jim and I were pretty worried about him, actually. We both really noticed a change in him, and it wasnít for the better. After they broke up, he was pretty hurt and confused, but I could see a glimpse of the old Brian. Then, he started dating Lexi, but then they broke up because of her dad, and by that time, you and I had paired off. Brian came home for the summer, and Trixie and Jim were more solid than ever and in their own little world making plans for Michigan State. Mart and Di, as you know, were always their own little island. I think he felt isolated all over again. I noticed the change in him that summer, and I know Mart and Jim did, too."

Dan paused, wondering if he should tell Honey something that he had kept hidden for nearly two years. Finally, he continued, "I never said anything, but remember how he was around when we were getting ready for my prom? I saw the look in his eyes as he watched you that night. I shouldnít be telling you this now, especially given everything thatís going on right now, but there was definitely regret in his eyes as he looked at you. That summer, we had a lot of talks about Lexi and how he couldnít forget her, so I pushed the memory of how he was looking at you the night of my prom into the back of my mind. But Iíve always known that he had unresolved feelings about you, too." Dan looked down. "I thinkÖI think thatís why I got so stupidly jealous last night. Iím just so afraid thatÖ" Dan didnít finish his sentence. He just looked up at Honey with a look so raw that Honey reached out and hugged him.

"Iím so sorry, Danóso sorry weíre putting you through this. I hate myself for this. I really do."

Dan pulled away at her and said fiercely, "Donít you dare hate yourself, Honey Wheeler. Like I said before, what youíre feeling is normal. You have to do this, and we both know it."

He gave her a rueful smile. "It looks like the Bob-White girls need to spread their wings a little."

Honey knew that he referred to Diís sudden need to break free from her old life and experience a whole new world. A need that included freedom from her boyfriend of many yearsóa boy that she had loved since kindergarten.

"This isnít quite the same thing as Di," Honey said quietly.

"No, I know," Dan said. "Youíre a lot more self-assured than Di ever was, so I donít ever think youíll need to go to quite the same extreme. You know, I spent some time with Di when you guys were all off together, and I got to know her pretty well. I wasnít surprised by what happened once she went away. She was always Trixieís friend or Martís girlfriend or the sudden-millionaireís daughter or the big sister. She was never really able to be Diana Lynch, except when she was doing her art stuff. Iím not surprised that she needed to break free of all of that at college. Iím just sorry that Mart had to get hurt in the process."

Honey nodded soberly. "I am, too," she said. She looked at Dan for a moment and then asked, "So, why donít you think Iíll ever do that?"

"Because even though youíre Trixieís friend, you never allowed your self to be defined as that," Dan explained. "Youíve always known exactly who you are, even while being friends with a hurricane like Trixie Belden. Youíve always known what you wanted, and youíve gone after it. When you and Trixie decided to be detectives, you agreed with her because thatís what you wanted, too. You didnít just agree just because thatís what Trixie wanted. If you werenít genuinely interested in being a detective, Trixie never would have been able to persuade you, no matter how forceful her personality is."

Honey smiled. "Iím so glad you believe in me."

"Well, Iím not the only one," Dan said. "Your brother and Trixie know how strong you are, too. Trixie told me a ton of times about how you were timid at first, but within a very short time, you were really brave and went forward in spite of the danger." He grinned. "Like pretending you were a member of a trailer-stealing gang. I really wish I had been there to see that!"

Honey laughed. "It really was surreal. I was absolutely terrified at first, but then, looking down on Al and Jeff from the loft, it was like watching an exciting movie, and I forgot to be scared. Plus, we realized how close we were to Jim, so we were really excited and happy about that. Then, when it looked like Al might kidnap us, it just didnít seem real. And when Trixie kicked Al and knocked him down, well, that was the highlight of that whole scene for me. You should have seen the look his face as he tumbled down to the ground!"

Dan shook his head. "I canít believe the dangerous things you two got into when you were just thirteen years old."

"I know. We must have had one heck of a guardian angel following us around," she said with a smile and then sobered. "I know you donít like to talk about it, Dan, but I know that you must have been involved in some dangerous situations when you were just barely a teenager, too."

Danís face became gravely serious. "Youíre right, Honey, and I hope that you will never have to know or experience such things."

"But, Dan, I want you to be able to talk to me about these things. I want to know about that part of your life, because as awful as it was, itís still a part of you and made you who you are today. And who you are today is someone I love very much. I want to know the details of how you got to be you, and I hate that you donít want to share that with me, even if it is a misguided attempt at protecting me."

Dan sighed. "I am trying to protect you, Honey. But Iím also trying to protect myself, too. I donít like remembering that Dan Mangan, and I donít like thinking about it. I donít want you to ever look at me and see that Dan and not me."

Honey reached out to take his hand. "That would never happen. Iíd never judge you. You talked yesterday about trust. Well, you need to trust the love that I have for you." She smiled. "Even when you were the old Dan with that huge chip on your shoulder, I didnít see that Dan."

Dan smiled. Honey made a good point. She had seen the good in him, even when he had given her no reason to. "I know. And I will try to tell you some day. Maybe when I work through it myself. Okay?"

Honey nodded. She certainly wasnít going to push him. "Okay."

"So, do you want me to come back after Brian leaves? Iíd like to. Unless you want some time alone afterward?"

Honey shook her head. "No, I donít think Iíll need time alone." At least, she hoped not. "But you donít want to go all the way home and come back, do you?"

"I can head over to the library and get some studying in. You could call me on my cell when you and Brian are done," Dan suggested.

"Are you sure?" Honey asked, looking at him critically. "I hate to think of you sitting in the library wondering aboutÖwell, about what Brian and I are talking about."

Dan shook his head ruefully. "Honey, do you honestly think that Iím not going to wonder about that no matter where I am?"

Honey shook her head regretfully. "No, but I hate feeling like Iím kicking you out of my apartment, and I hate thinking of you sitting in an impersonal library. I like to think of you hanging out on your couch, just chilliní and not thinking."

Dan chuckled. "Chilliní?"

Honey giggled. "Yeah, chilliní."

"Youíre cute," Dan said, as he reached out and tucked a strand of honey-colored hair behind his girlfriendís ear. "Silly, but cute."

Honey stuck her tongue out at him, and the two were relieved that if things werenít perfect right now, at least they werenít strained and tense anymore. Breakfast had ended much better than it had begun.

* * *

After Dan had left for the library, Honey straightened her apartment. But, given her natural tidiness and the years spent at boarding schools and camps, there wasnít much to straighten. At her motherís insistence, Celia came to the apartment to give it a thorough cleaning once a month. The maid already came into the City to clean the Wheelersí penthouse apartment, and it was no trouble to travel the two miles or so to clean Honeyís as well. Honey felt strange about this, but Celia and her mother kept reassuring her that it was no big deal.

This meant that now that Honey had so much nervous energy and no ability to concentrate on her homework, there was nothing for her to do to keep busy. Brian was not due to arrive for another hour. She tried to turn on the television to occupy her mind, but nothing appealed to her. Honey clicked off the television in frustration.

It was then that she remembered how she had passed the time the other night when she had had the same kind of nervous energy. So, once again, Honey fired up her laptop and word processing program and stared with satisfaction at the blank page in front of her. She would fill that page with her words, and the black text on the white page would make her feel at ease again.

Dear Diary, she wrote.

This worked the other night when I was feeling restless. I deleted everything I wrote that night. They say that the truth hurts, and it really did hurt to see what was lurking in the subconscious recesses of my mind laid out before me in black and white. How could I be thinking this way? How could I hurt someone that I love very much?

Well, that someone assures me that it is normal, and that heís been expecting this for some time. I guess that makes sense. After all, Brian and I do have all of these unresolved feelings for each other, so of course they had to be dealt with at some point. And I guess that some point is today. Brian is coming over in a little bit. He doesnít know it, but Iíve decided that we need to talk about this. We need to get that stupid elephant out of the room, you know? And we have to decide if what we feel is leftover kidsí stuff, or if itís real. And if itís real, then we need to decide how weíre going to deal with it.

I love Dan, I know I do. But there is that "What if?" lurking inside of me. I realize that now. And I can never move forward with Dan if that "What if?" continues to lurk. Dan is right about that. Actually, Dan is right about a lot of things. He really is a smart guy. Wise, you know? Of course, part of me is sad that he is so wise, because I know that it came with great cost. Losing your mom and dad at a young age and then having to live on the streets is not something that I would wish on anyone. Not even Dot Murray or Laura Ramsey! :)

Anyway, Iím getting off track, as I usually do.

I have to look into these unresolved feelings. The question is, how far do I take it? What if Brian and I do realize that we have feelings for each other? What do we do then? Do we break up with Dan and Lexi? Do we pursue it? I just donít know what to do. But I also can not live my life wondering "What if?" Itís not fair to me, and it wouldnít be fair to Dan, either.

Why does this have to happen? Why canít Dan be my first love? I mean, in most ways, he really is my first love, but I know what I feel for Brian is love, too. Iím not sure itís romantic love, but it is there. And Iíve known Brian since I was thirteen. Of course, Iíve known Dan since I was thirteen, too. But the thirteen I was when I met Brian was so much moreÖinnocent than the thirteen that I was when I met Dan. Itís hard to explain, Diary, but so much happened that year that it seemed more like a decade than a year. I mean, when Trixie and I met, we felt as though we had known each other for months and months when it had only been a few days.

The time when I met Brian just felt like a more innocent age than the one in which I met Dan. I really canít explain it better than that. Clear as mud, right?

But the point is, when I think back to the time I met Brian, I think of crystal blue skies and clear sunny days. I remember seeing him for the first time at the bottom of the hill on the property of Crabapple Farm, his dark hair blowing in the slight breeze, the early morning sun shining down on him. Itís a very romanticized memory. I met Dan on the school bus in the middle of winter, and Trixie and I were not very nice to him. Trixie said something tactless and thoughtless, and I was sure that he had heard her. It was all very embarrassing. Hardly a romantic moment.

I had just gone to Diís Valentineís Day party right before I met Dan. I had gone with Brian, and my head was all full of that. I felt very grown up. He didnít send me an orchid like Jim sent to Trixie, but he made it clear that he and I were there together, and that I was someone very special to him. Maybe that was kid stuff, but maybe it wasnít.

I know that I was awfully, awfully hurt when I first found out that he had met someone in college and started dating her. Jim had waited for Trixie, even though he was way off in Michigan. Why hadnít Brian waited for me? That was when I started to doubt things. I mean, if I had meant so much to him and was someone "special," then I didnít see how he could have feelings for someone else. Since he did, I figured that he must not have them for me.

But I realize now that that logic is very flawed. I mean, I most definitely love Dan and have feelings for him, but I also have feelings for Brian.

Why does this have to be so hard?

Honey stopped typing and stared at what she had written.

"Why does it have to be so hard?" she asked out loud.

The phone rang, startling Honey out of her reverie. Her eyes flew to her clock. It was a quarter to noon, so it was probably Brian, waiting to be signed in as a guest. Her residence was strict about visiting guests, and each one had to be signed in by a resident and show identification. It was indeed Brian, letting her know that he was only a few minutes away from her building. She quickly saved the document she had been working on and shut down her computer. No sense risking Brian seeing her confessional, she reasoned.

She threw on her battered moccasins, grabbed her keys from the hook on the wall next to the door, and hurried to the bank of elevators. Just before the elevator doors opened to release her onto the lobby level of her apartment building, Honey took a deep breath.

I can do this, she thought. When the elevator doors opened, she pasted a smile on her face and went to greet Brian.

 

How fun it is not to have to list carryover items here! *g*

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