A Ben and Maria story!

Chapter 1

Sunset Beach, California

He fiddled with his tie as he stood in front of the mirror in his private bathroom at The Deep. No matter what he did though, he just could not get it to look right. It was either drooping or just stiff and unnatural as if he were trying too hard.

Ben Evans had never been the nervous type but today he was. Very much so. Not only was his only son graduating from high school tonight, he was going to see... Her... After more than six years. Benjy had always flown up here to see him so it was the first time he would see ... Her ... In the flesh, in all of this time. His belly hummed with anxiety and anticipation. He thought he may need a muscle relaxant or something of the kind to make it through the two hour flight ahead.

"Ben!" A familiar, high-pitched voice called from behind the door. Before he could reply, she was throwing it open, rattling its hinges actually, she flung it so hard.

"Amy, what the devil?" Ben demanded as Amy Nielsen, former trust fund baby and now his personal assistant, strode into the bathroom, not having the grace to even look embarrassed.

"Oh no worries, Ben," Amy said with a wave of her hand. "You're not naked are you?" She pointed out.

"That's quite beside the point," Ben practically snapped. "What are you even doing in here?"

Amy moved over to him and began fixing his tie for him without even being invited to do so. She took a lot of liberties where he was concerned and did it unabashedly so. She had not a humble or apologetic bone in her petite body.

"I was coming to tell you that Bruno is downstairs waiting to take you to the airport," Amy said as she finished fixing his tie and gave it a satisfied flick with her tapered fingers. "All done." She sounded triumphant and he looked in the mirror to see that his tie was well, tied correctly.

"Thank you," Ben said as he walked out of the bathroom with Amy following right behind him. He looked around for his suit jacket and she seemed to know just what he was looking for. She handed it to him. He looked around for his travel intinerary. She said, "It's in your pocket of your jacket." He patted his pocket. Indeed it was there. He never would have guessed when he hired her (out of pity) five months ago that little Miss Blondie would actually turn out to be a decent employee. She was brazen and daring (especially in wearing those skirts of hers that barely covered her er, assets) but she was good at her job. He had asked her about her surprising efficiency once and she had told him that she had managed many of her Daddy's affairs before he "you know, became a skeleton," in her words. She was used to dressing him up and doing things for him because she had done them for her father. It was oddly nice to discover that his perception of her - that she was an empty-headed bimbo - had been wrong to some degree.

"You're all ready to go, Ben," Amy said. She had never and would never call him "Mr. Evans" like every other employee did. "Don't forget to smile and be your charming British self... Knock 'em dead there." She then gave him a firm push towards the door and though he considered yelling at her for that, he resisted. He could only hope when he returned to work in two days that the office was still intact.


San Diego, California

The flight seemed all too brief and yet also seemed to take forever. Ben climbed off his private jet and straightaway found the car Amy had ordered for him idling on the tarmac. He passed his bags to his driver, who introduced himself as "Shamus, just Shamus" and then Ben climbed into the back of the Lincoln town car.

"To your hotel first, Mr. Evans?" Shamus asked in a decidedly accent-less voice. He was disappointingly and thoroughly Americanized, complete with a sticker attached to his rearview mirror that read "Mitt Romney For President". Ben didn't know what to think of that so he simply ignored it.

"No, the graduation starts in -" Ben checked his Cartier watch - "two hours. I want to go to the high school and spend a little time with my son prior to the commencement."

"Okay by me," Shamus said as he pulled into heavy late afternoon traffic. He had Ben's itinerary so he already knew where the high school was located.

Ben tried focusing on his cell phone, his computer, his cufflinks, anything to keep him from letting his thoughts wander too far but it was impossible. She was on his mind, like it or not. She wasn't an unpleasant thought of course (far from it actually) but seeing her again with that husband of hers was bound to stir up some troublesome emotions inside of him. He knew better than to wish for things that could not be - things that he had callously tossed away - and yet, his head never wanted to heed his heart which still hammered her name after all these years.

The drive was, like the plane ride, too short and too long, all at the same time. Before Ben knew it, Shamus was pulling up in front of Grossmont High School where Ben was sure he would find his son anxiously pacing about his Valedictorian speech he had to give today in front of all of his peers and teachers.

"I'll be here when you're done," Shamus promised as he opened the door for Ben and Ben climbed out.

"Thank you," Ben said and walked towards the entrance of the school. Multiple signs led him to the gymnasium. He took a deep breath and then stepped inside. Right away he saw a good two hundred students milling about, all dressed in matching blue caps and gowns. He scanned the room for his son and didn't see him at first. No, instead his eyes found Her like a heat-seeking missile. She was standing in the corner talking to a woman who Ben barely noticed for his eyes were directed at Her. She was smiling. She had a beautiful smile. Her chocolate-brown hair was twisted up in a chignon with only a few loose tendrils framing her flawless face. She was still so beautiful. Why did she have to be so damned beautiful?

As if she felt the heat of his gaze, she looked up then and the crowd seemed to melt away as their eyes met across the room. She offered him a smile - a bright one that only wavered for the briefest second. Then she was excusing herself from the other woman's company and slowly moving towards him.

He swallowed hard as she came to a stop in front of him. "Hello, Ben," she said. "I'm so glad you could come tonight."

He nodded as his gaze swept appreciatively over her body clad in a simple black cocktail dress before moving back to meet her stunning eyes. "I wouldn't miss this for the world," Ben said and gave her an impromptu hug. The warmth of her body pressed against his nearly stole the very breath from him. "Maria," he whispered. "Dear Maria..." That was all he could say in that moment. He was so humbled that he could finally touch her again even if only in an innocent embrace.