Something Old, Something New, and Some Borrowed Prada Shoes
1830 local time (April 25, 2003)
Edentide Bed and Breakfast
(As told from Maddie's POV)
Finally, it's here. The day and the appointed hour have arrived. If I had to wait any longer, I would need to be medicated. Believe me, there was a time when I had thought I would never have seen this day—but it's here. And it's a perfect, glorious day! Being the romantic I am, I could not have imagined it any better . . . or any more beautiful.
Close your eyes for a moment and picture it . . . dusk is slowly falling across a cloudless spring sky; the warm air is perfumed with the heady scent of lilacs and cherry blossoms in full bloom. The soft, rhythmic lapping of the river against the shoreline is the percussion, keeping time with the symphony of crickets beginning their nightly serenade. Candles of varying sizes surround a gazebo laden with wisteria. Under its roof, a string quartet plays a delicate tune as a woman clad in a long, simple white dress glides across the grass, making her way to the handsome, uniformed man waiting at the water's edge. The smiles on their faces are the epilogue to a story that began long ago in a Rose Garden.
Last year—November to be exact—I had begun counseling the now-happy couple at the request of their commanding officer, back when they weren't so happy and definitely not a couple. Had I known then that these two were going to be a handful, to say the least, I might have thought twice about doing it. They had to be the biggest challenge in my entire career as a counselor. Looking back now, I wouldn't have given up the opportunity to know them and counsel them for all the Manolo Blahnik's in Neiman Marcus.
I wish I could take full credit for this day and the happiness it brings them, but I can't. Officially, though, I can only take credit for the white, high-heeled Prada sling-back shoes the bride is wearing. Of all things for a woman to forget—on her wedding day, no less! Thankfully, being the shoe-goddess that I am, I travel well stocked and prepared for anything! Besides, the kitten-heeled Jimmy Choo's I'm wearing really compliments my pink Escada suit! Try explaining to your husband why the three pairs of stilettos you brought wouldn't exactly work with the freshly mowed lawn and the uneven ground. Sometimes he just doesn't get it. The happy-ending part of this story actually began to take shape the very day I bought the shoes the bride is now wearing. (Which, by the way, were mega-cheap at an end of season sale, in case you're interested!) But, I digress.
Watching AJ escort Mac to a waiting Harm at the water's edge, I am giddy with delight despite the tears streaming down my cheeks. Scanning the small crowd of friends that have gathered for this momentous occasion, I realize I'm not the only one shedding a tear. But, I'm probably the only one who knows how they walked through fire to reach their destiny. As they had told me, on more than one occasion, they'd do it all over again if it still brought them here . . . to this point in time . . . and to one another. And I would do it for them again in a heartbeat.
But today, it's all about them, and the lifetime of love and happiness that awaits them. I once read something that fits this moment—and them—perfectly.
"Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending."
This is their brand new ending.
Six months earlier
Old Town Alexandria, VA
Over three and a half hours after leaving her office, Maddie had finally decided it was time to return. Sure, she could have spent all day shopping—today had been a banner day by her standards—but staying out longer would have only compounded the situation she had created earlier.
Throughout her life, her one notable flaw (as she had been often told) had always been impulsivity and today was no different. Completely fed up with the way her counseling session had evolved, she promptly left them—Harm and Mac—alone together. Rather, alone together AND locked in her office. If that wasn't impulsiveness, then I don't know what is, she thought.
Turning onto King Street, panic had suddenly seized her. Those two are lawyers—they could sue me for this. Or worse yet, what if they had called the police? I could be charged with holding them hostage! Maddie's heart began to race, imagining all the potential ramifications from her actions. "Oh, I've really done it this time," she sighed, her palms sweaty as she gripped the steering wheel, white-knuckled. "Maybe this wasn't one of my brighter ideas."
Bringing the car to a stop in an empty parking spot, she immediately caught sight of a uniformed man on the opposite side of the street, next to her building. Maddie's heart began pounding uncontrollably in her chest as she opened her car door. Her knees felt like they would give out at any moment. At the sound of the car door shutting, the man looked up and over at her, before returning his attentions to the paperwork in his hand.
"Oh, thank goodness," she gasped. To her relief, it was only the meter man or traffic control cop—whatever they're calling themselves these days. However, it had also crossed her mind that Harm and Mac's vehicle had been on the street for a very long time—most likely at one of those expired meters he was checking. Since she hadn't any idea what type of car they drove, she had no way of saving them from the inevitable parking ticket. Plunking her coins in the meter, she made a mental note to offer to pay whatever fines they incurred—that is, if her clients didn't kill her first.
Anxious yet completely petrified, Maddie avoided rushing up to her office. Instead, she leisurely climbed the stairs, taking what seemed to be an eternity to reach the second floor and imagining every scenario with each step along the way. Slowly, she pulled the stairwell door open and peered around the corner and down the hall toward her office. The passage appeared quiet and, thankfully, empty. Feeling all was safe, she moved through the door and began the final leg of her journey.
As she made her way down the corridor, she had taken a few slow, easy deep breaths to calm herself, and circumvent the hyperventilation trying to consume her. Maddie's palms were still clammy and her heart was pounding when she reached the door to her office. In her assessment, it hadn't been opened. Carefully she placed her ear to the door, hoping to hear something that might give her a clue as to what lay before her. The silence she found confused her—they couldn't have left, could they? But, how would they have gotten out? Could it be that they've sat there in silence this whole time? Was all this for nothing?
Curiosity had replaced her earlier apprehension. Hurriedly, Maddie pulled her keys from her purse and wrapped her fingers around them, preventing them from jingling against the door. In one swift movement, she placed the key in the lock and turned it, opening the wooden beast that had kept her clients confined for most of the morning. Careful not to make any noise, she tip-toed into the room and quietly shut the door behind her.
Briefly surveying the area, she noticed Zoloft sitting near her inner-office door. If it were possible for a cat to look perturbed, he certainly did. In fact, his expression strongly resembled the look he gave her whenever she and her husband engaged in any affectionate behavior, or he had been shut out of the bedroom—for obvious reasons.
Maddie raised an eyebrow, and whispered to herself skeptically, "Really? They didn't! Did they?" as Zolly flicked his tail and scurried into the other room, unwilling to welcome his mistress back. Now she was even more curious as to the goings-on in her office during her absence.
Initially, the silence in her office was unmistakable. But now, some three minutes later, she thought she heard Harm's voice, soft and low, followed by what she thought was the faint sound of Mac giggling. Maddie was torn between "announcing" her arrival with some sort of noise, or peering carefully into the office, unbeknownst to them. Deciding on the latter, she crept silently toward the door, only to trip, drop her keys on the hardwood floor with a loud jangle and clank, and then loudly shriek, "Shit!" as she fell through the doorway and into the room. Harm and Mac, who had been curled up on the sofa together, were startled and immediately sat up.
"Well . . . how nice of you to join us, Maddie!" Harm said with a laugh, standing up and attempting to help her.
"Looks like our captor has returned to the scene of the crime," Mac added with a smile, likewise rising.
Klutz! No one would ever believe I went to Charm School with that little two-step, Maddie thought, absolutely mortified by her lack of finesse. And, considering she hadn't the opportunity to verify if they were "decent", she immediately covered her face with her hands before Harm could help her up. Of course, it was just killing her to take a little peek.
"Uh, do you want me, uh, to step out so you could, uh . . ." Maddie stammered.
"Do what, Maddie?" Mac asked, before it dawned on her what their counselor assumed had gone on. "Its okay, Maddie. You can uncover your eyes—we have nothing to hide."
Harm regarded Mac's statement quizzically before he had his own light bulb moment. "Yeah, Maddie. You do want to know what happened after you left, don't you?" He struggled to sound convincing, stifling a snicker.
Maddie felt like she was in the middle of her worst nightmare. Facing the consequences of her unorthodox therapy was almost as painful as wearing a pair of ill-fitting shoes. "Look, guys, I'm really, really sorry. I'll just go into the other room and . . ."
"Oh, no you don't. You're not going anywhere until we settle this!" Harm said, gently pulling Maddie to her feet and her hands away from her face. Of course, her eyes were still shut.
Slowly, Maddie opened her eyes to find her clients standing there in front of her—fully clothed—with their arms crossed. She was somewhat relieved at the sight, yet a little disappointed too. But, judging by the looks on their faces, she knew she wasn't quite off the hook yet.
"You seem surprised, Maddie. What did you think you'd find?" Mac asked with a sly smile.
"Uh, well . . . uh," Maddie mumbled, at a loss for words. She was positive she was not only going to pay dearly for locking them in, but also for assuming that some certain activities had occurred between them. No matter what the case, she could feel the flush of embarrassment quickly filling her cheeks.
"I sure she has a good explanation for locking us in here for, uh, how long was it Mac?" Harm asked, hoping the added touch of a furrowed brow would make Maddie squirm just a little.
"Three hours, forty-one minutes," Mac replied without benefit of a watch, trying her best to sound irate.
"Okay—fine! You two win!" Maddie said, exasperated, throwing her hands into the air. "You want to know why I locked you in here? Fine—I'll tell you! You two didn't need a counselor—you needed an intervention from good 'ol Mother Nature! I knew that from day ONE!"
Harm and Mac, shocked at Maddie's disclosure, didn't dare interrupt her rant lest she hold them hostage again. Instead, they had exchanged a little smirk or two, knowing how right Maddie was.
The frazzled counselor took a deep breath before continuing her rambling, albeit more coherently. "For as intelligent as you people are, you can't see past your insecurities—you couldn't see what was right in front of you . . . the love of a best friend . . . the love of a soul-mate," Maddie said, bringing her hands to her heart for dramatic emphasis. "I had hoped that keeping you in this room together would make you two recognize that."
"And if that didn't work," Harm asked, finally daring to interrupt her.
"Then . . . well . . . I really don't know. I didn't plan for anything beyond locking that door," Maddie sighed, motioning to the other room. Judging by this inquisition, and an overwhelming feeling of defeat, she wondered if it all had backfired—the counseling, locking them in—everything. At this stage of the game, I'm just too exhausted to fight anymore, she thought.
Sensing her disappointment, Mac walked over to Maddie and put her hand on her arm, saying with a smile, "Then, consider yourself one lucky woman."
Shocked, Maddie looked at Harm then Mac and back again. She blinked disbelievingly. Nothing Mac said was registering. The only coherent word she could utter was, "Huh?"
"Maddie, you're either crazy or brilliant," Harm said, and then added, "Judging by how your, uh, experiment turned out, my bet's on brilliant."
Bringing her hands to her mouth, Maddie stifled a scream—or at least tried to. "Does that mean what I think it means? It WORKED?"
The couple nodded their acknowledgment as Maddie immediately punched the air with jubilation, shouting "YES!" and then watched as she did more than just a little happy dance.
Harm came up behind Mac and wrapped his arms around her waist, nuzzling her neck saying "Does that mean we're cured?"
"I think so, but Maddie could use a little time on the couch, don't you think?" Mac replied with a smile, relishing the warmth of Harm's arms around her.
(Present day—Maddie's POV)
That day had to be one of the happiest days of my life. Once I extracted myself from cloud 9, the three of us actually had an intelligent discussion of the day's events over a late lunch. They both agreed that being locked together in my office was one of the best things to happen to them. It gave them the opportunity they needed to confront their feelings without running from them.
However, they never did divulge any "specific details" of their confinement—not that I had asked. Some things are just meant to be confidential. Of course, Zoloft wasn't about give up any particulars either, even with a bribe of his favorite treats.
In the subsequent weeks, Harm and Mac continued their counseling with me. But our sessions had become less formal and more like old friends enjoying good conversation. The fact that it was about their relationship—past and present—was inconsequential. In that one afternoon together, they managed to accomplish more than most couples do in years of therapy.
Despite all their misunderstandings and their inability to communicate over the years, their love for each other had always been paramount. It's what brings us all together for this moment—to watch Harm and Mac seal their bond and their love with the exchange of gold bands and promises. All they needed was just a little nudge from me.
Three weeks later
As I get comfortable in my old leather chair, I can't help but wonder what I've gotten myself into, yet again. Looking across the office at the couple seated before me, I have an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. I tried, vehemently, to convince them that they didn't need to be here and that I'd rather not do this, especially knowing them as well as I do. But they insisted and I, of course, relented. I'm a romantic, remember?
Their open file is laid across my lap and my pencil is poised in hand. Please, God, give me the strength to get through this.
"So . . . AJ . . . Meredith . . . tell me what brings you here today."
Before AJ could even begin to voice the displeasure written on his face, Meredith is pulling a notepad from her purse and flipping it open to the first page.
"Well, Maddie, I hope you don't mind, but I've made a few notes . . ."