MEANT TO BE

By Michael Hanna (Wildebeast) and Anthony Smith (Rgent9)

For three years of the television show, Ed, the title character Ed Stevens pursued his high school dream girl, Carol Vessey. At the end of season three, they were finally brought together.

But what if Ed hadn't lost his job at Farmer & Sheehan in New York City even though he did find his wife Liz in bed with the mailman. If Ed never returned to Stuckeyville, what would have happened to the relationship with Carol? Would it never have happened, or was it meant to be..

CHAPTER ONE

New York City - the Law Offices of Farmer & Sheehan

December 11, 2000

7:30 PM

Ed Stevens looked up from the pile of legal-work on his desk and sighed. It was amazing. No, it was *really* amazing how much his life had changed in the last few months. His seven year marriage to Liz was over. He'd come home early one afternoon and found her in bed with a mailman. Not THE mailman, he mentally corrected, just someone who happened to be a mailman. He took some small comfort in that distinction. After all, coming home to find your wife cheating on you was bad enough. Coming home to find your wife cheating on you with fifty-five year old Murray Abramson with his bad comb-over and his knobby-knees ...

Well THAT would have been just TOO much.

He suppressed a chuckle at the mental image his thoughts had conjured and turned his attention back to the papers on his desk. He stared at them for several minutes, then looked up and surveyed his office.

The office that he almost didn't get. For as it happened, on the day that he had come home to find his wife in bed with another man, Edward J. Stevens had nearly lost his job at Farmer & Sheehan. He'd misplaced a comma in a contract he'd drafted. On the surface, such a simple error didn't sound so terrible. Unfortunately, due to the wording of the contract if it hadn't been caught, that little punctuation error would have cost Farmer & Sheehan millions of dollars. And Ed knew that even though the managing partners had been very pleased with his work up to that point, that they would have had no choice but to fire him on the spot.

Fortunately however, fate - in the form of Ed's associate and occasional racquetball partner, Jerry Pender - had intervened and Ed's mistake corrected before the final drafts were submitted for signatures. So, instead of being summarily dismissed for gross incompetence and coming home to find his wife in bed with a mailman, Ed Stevens came home early to tell his wife that his efforts had been rewarded with a corner office, a new secretary and a key to the executive gym on the 40th floor ...

... and *still* found his wife in bed with a mailman.

If it wasn't such a devastating blow to his life, Ed had to admit that he would have laughed at the irony of it all.

He put the contracts down and walked to a nearby window. It was winter in New York City. Two weeks until Christmas, to be exact. The sidewalks and store fronts were all decorated for the upcoming holiday. The streets were clogged with holiday shoppers scrambling from store to store to make their next purchases. From his vantage point on the 33rd floor, Ed watched the slow crawl of automobiles on the expressway, imagining the insane mix of holiday greetings and obscenities being exchanged by various drivers.

Ah, New York City in Christmas-time.

Ed had always liked this time of year. There was something about the holidays, about spending time with family and loved ones and remembering what really mattered in life, that appealed to him. But this year would be different, this would be his first year without Liz.

His first year spending Christmas alone.

Not that he'd had to spend the holidays alone. He walked over to the collection of photographs on his desk. His mother and father, obviously concerned for him since the divorce, had phoned last week and asked - no, DEMANDED - that he come down to Florida to spend Christmas with them. His mother had even gone so far as to enlist Ed's brother Lloyd in the attempt. However, in spite of the pernicious onslaught of nagging and cajolery - Lloyd's particularly specialty - Ed had held to his stated desire of staying in New York.

It wasn't that he didn't want to see his parents in Florida. Quite the contrary, it was that he knew what was going to happen once he got there. His parents would waste no time in starting in on him about how proud they were of their son, the successful New York Lawyer.

Except that he didn't feel very "successful" at the moment. Sure, he had the trappings of success - a high-paying job at a prestigious law firm, a nice apartment in an upscale part of town, and even a brand new car. But, he was thirty-one years old, divorced. He had no children. No one to spend his life with.

How could THAT be called "successful"?

He walked back to the window, leaning forward until his forehead touched the cold plexiglass. Going home for Christmas to see his parents was crazy, but it wasn't the craziest idea he'd had since the breakup with Liz. No, that particular honor belonged to his thought of going back to his old hometown of Stuckeyville. The idea had first come to him when, on a whim, he was looking through his old high school yearbook. He laughed, remembering the picture of his best friend Mike Burton - now Dr. Michael Burton - with his shirt collar turned up and that awful 80's haircut. He remembered paging through the faculty section and seeing the photos of his old teachers, Mr. Roarke for Biology, and Mr. Stanton for English.

And then, for a reason he still didn't quite understand, he turned the pages until he saw her photo - Carol Vessey, the girl he'd had a crush on since ... well since he was old enough to have crushes on girls. He remembered the day he first saw her. It was in ninth grade, Mr. Roarke's biology class. He had looked across the room and she was just standing there - pouring water into a test tube. He even remembered what she had wore - a blue shirt with white crisscross strings down the side. She was so beautiful - she took his breath away. In four years, he had never worked up the courage to talk to her. She was high school royalty - homecoming queen, cheerleader. The most beautiful and popular girl in school. She only dated football players. And he? He was ... He was nobody, really. Not popular. Not unpopular. It was just that he and his friends lived under the radar of the high school elite like Carol Vessey.

Ed remembered how he had just sat in his apartment and stared at that picture, for what seemed like an eternity. And he remembered how he, obviously in a state of mild insanity, had almost booked a flight back to Ohio with the sole purpose in mind of finding one Carol Vessey, and asking her out. Fortunately, he had come to his senses.

Although, now that he thought about it again, it would have been nice to see Mike and his wife Nancy. Ed hadn't seen them since the birth of their daughter, Sarah. And he couldn't help but think that even without the possibility of running into Carol Vessey - who he realized was probably married by now - it would have been nice to go back home for a visit. Bowl a few games at Stuckeybowl. Eat a few Suzeechios. Maybe stop in and see old Mr. Kiffle at the shoe store.

And if he should happen to run into Carol, well ...

Maybe he *could* get away this summer. Just for a few days. Maybe - if the managing partners haven't promoted him and dumped enough work for FIVE attorneys in his lap, that is. Of course, it wasn't entirely the managing partners fault, Ed had welcomed the extra work. It was an excuse to avoid thinking about his divorce from Liz.

He walked back over to his desk and sat down. For the last two weeks, he'd been working late trying to get these latest contracts drafted in time for Friday's meeting. He had to get back to work.

***

Ed had spent another half hour working on the contracts when a voice from across the office startled him.

"Burning the midnight oil AGAIN, boss? I thought we'd talked about that last week?" Ed looked up to see his secretary, Deloris, standing in the doorway to his office. Deloris was in her early 50s and had only been with Farmer & Sheehan a few months - just since Ed had gotten the promotion. But the two had quickly formed a comfortable working relationship. When she wasn't trying to "mother" him, that is.

"I'm just doing some last minute revisions on the Henderson contracts," Ed offered, before remembering that he was the boss in this situation. "What are you still doing here anyway? I thought you had plans tonight?" he said with a knowing grin.

"Irving called an hour ago to say that traffic on the bridge was a real mess, so he'd be running a little late."

Ed nodded. Irving was Deloris' husband. He worked as a loading dock supervisor in New Jersey. The plans he'd mentioned earlier were dinner reservations to celebrate their thirty-fifth anniversary.

"Hopefully the restaurant hasn't given our reservations away, even though we're already a half-hour late." She tried to smile, "And I've been meaning to tell you that I appreciated the flowers this afternoon."

"Wedding anniversaries don't happen everyday, Deloris. Occasions like that require .... no, they DEMAND recognition." Ed smiled and stretched back in his chair.

Deloris looked at him questioningly, "Well, I wasn't expecting something like that, considering ... " she looked over at the collection of photos on Ed's desk. More specifically to the space, now empty, where Ed had kept Liz's photo.

Ed sighed, "Thanks, Deloris. I appreciate that, but I'm okay. Really."

Deloris looked at Ed, then said, "You know it would do you a world of good, to get out once in a while. Why don't you come out to dinner with us tonight? My niece Frankie is going to meet us at the restaurant. I think you two would get along wonderfully. She's a lawyer, too. Just graduated from law school."

"No, I don't think so, Deloris. I've got a lot of work still to do tonight. And besides, I'd be intruding..."

"You *wouldn't* be intruding ..."

"Yes, I would. Besides didn't you mention that Frankie already had a boyfriend? Leo or Lionel or something like that."

"Leon," Deloris corrected.

"Okay. Leon."

"But I don't think they make a good pair. She's always breaking up with him over the most trivial things."

"Thanks Deloris, but no. I'm sure Frankie is a very nice girl. After all she's your niece - your favorite niece, given how much you talk about her. But I really do feel that I'd be in the way tonight. Besides, I'm due in court tomorrow and I need to finish this brief." He was interrupted by the ring of Deloris' phone. "Now you better get going I'm sure that's Irving calling to tell you that he's downstairs waiting."

Deloris walked over and answered her phone. As Ed suspected it was Irving, then she turned to get her coat. She was about to head for the elevators when she stopped and looked back toward Ed's office ...

"I said NO, Deloris."

"But I haven't asked you yet?"

"You were thinking about it," Ed smiled. "Now don't make me pull rank."

"Okay ..., but I haven't given up on you yet."

Ed chuckled. "Get out of here. Have a nice dinner and I'll see you tomorrow."

"You'll probably be here before me - as usual." Deloris said with a sad smile, and walked toward the bank of elevators just outside Farmer and Sheehan's offices.

Ed sighed again, and sat down, he resumed work on the stack of contracts. After a few moments, he stopped, a quizzical look appeared on his face, and he began to smile. He got up and walked back into the outer office, and over to Deloris' desk. Looking at her desk calendar, he found the notation for this evening on the calendar: '8:00 PM, dinner with Irving and Frankie, Tad's.'

Ed picked up the phone and dialed a number. After two rings, a voice answered, "Good evening, thank you for calling Tad's. This is Charles, how may I help you?"

"Yes, may I speak to Philip Croft, please?" Ed asked.

"Hold one moment, please," the voice said.

After a moment a second voice started on the phone, "Hello, this is Philip. May I help you?"

"Phil," Ed said, "Hi, Ed Stevens over at Farmer & Sheehan."

"Mr. Stevens," Phil said warmly, but formally. "How are you tonight?"

"Good, Phil," Ed replied. "Good. Look, can you do me a favor?"

"Of course, Mr. Stevens," Phil said. "We are always at the disposal of Farmer & Sheehan's rising star. What can I do for you?"

"Well," Ed said, "my secretary has dinner reservations there tonight. It's for her 35th wedding anniversary. Unfortunately due to the traffic, she's already about 45 minutes late for it and probably won't be there for another 15 minutes. Can you make sure she gets a table as soon as she gets there? A nice table?"

"Absolutely, Mr. Stevens," Philip replied, "I'll call the maitre'd right away. Consider it done."

"Good. Great, their last name is Hector." Ed added. "Oh, and put their meal on my tab, okay?"

"Done," Philip said. "So, when is the next time we'll be seeing YOU here?"

"Not sure, hopefully soon."

"Very good sir," Philip said, "I'll talk to you soon."

"Thanks again." Ed replied then hung up the phone. He smiled, he could always rely on Phil to come through in a pinch.