The Scarlet Letter

A/N: I had to repost this, since some of the lines that separated the sections didn't show up the first time - if you read it that way and were confused - I'm so sorry. Anyway - this is the finale of the story, so I hope you guys enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it for you!

---

Meredith sat at her desk, situated next to window at the far end of her studio. The floor-to-ceiling windows allowed the midday Florida sun to stream in, washing over her like a warm shower on a winter's day. Three-year-old Caine was finally sleeping, and she was thankful for the opportunity to work on her newest collection for the local boutique that had faithfully stocked her work for the last eighteen months.

When Dave had called two days earlier to inform her that he wouldn't be able to make it home for the week as he had originally intended, she had been less-than-thrilled. The company had booked him for an interview and a photo shoot, and then he had been invited to dinner with a Hollywood producer to discuss a possible film role. While Meredith didn't care what he had to, it wasn't her place to force him home. If he didn't want to be with his family, she wasn't about to guilt him into it.

Though she had been expecting his travel schedule to accelerate once again when he regained the World Heavyweight title for the third time, living with the reality had proven to be a far greater challenge than she had anticipated. It had been the undoing of her first marriage, being married to a man who was more interested in his career than his wife. While she loved Dave, she found herself once again forced into the backseat. They smiled pretty and made the best of things for their son, and his daughters, but both knew that Meredith was one more canceled visit from walking away from yet another relationship.

Things had been fabulous in the beginning. After Caine was born, Dave had done everything in his power to be home as often as possible. When he simply couldn't be, he invited Meredith and their son to join him on the road. They had even managed to turn the WWE's summer trip to Europe into their first real family vacation, taking all three kids on a few sightseeing excursions when Dave could spare a few moments.

When they couldn't be together, Meredith busied herself with her paintings and designs, building a respectable name for herself among several buyers in the area. And, of course, being a mother took more time than she had ever dreamed. She didn't love being separated from her boyfriend, but there were plenty of things to distract her when he was away. They spoke on the phone when time permitted, and though the year brought it's fair share of challenges, they came through it stronger than they had been before their son's birth.

Meredith had thrown herself into planning a first birthday party that Caine would never remember, but that nobody else in attendance would be able to forget. Unfortunately, the powers that be scheduled Dave for an interview with a national television program the same weekend, and Meredith had nearly lost her mind when he called to tell her about it. Expletives he had never dreamed of using flowed from his girlfriend's mouth.

Though he knew that she had a valid point, Dave found her tone offensive, and in a flash of defensive indignation, he told her to get over herself and accept the fact that he couldn't be there for every party she decided to throw. His temper had always been his greatest flaw. His arrogant selfishness came in a close second. And both had exploded in the course of that conversation.

Danae had been the one to talk him off the ledge, lovingly reminding him that he had already screwed up one marriage by putting his career ahead of his family. She told him that if he didn't decide to save this relationship, he would be a two-time loser. As soon as the interview wrapped in New York, he raced to the airport and bought the last ticket on a flight back to Tampa. Like something out of a fairy tale, he managed to walk through the doors of his home just minutes before the first party guests arrived.

When their friends and family had left for the evening, Dave helped Meredith put Caine to bed and then dropped to his knee in their bedroom, presenting her with a beautiful ring and asking her to marry him. Meredith had accepted happily, though the couple had yet to set an official date. Things fell back into a normal routine shortly thereafter, and both found themselves struggling to keep the tattered ship together.

Casting her eyes to the backyard once again, she found her thoughts interrupted by the ringing of her cell phone. Grabbing it distractedly, she answered and tried to focus on the design before her. "Hello?"

"Hey, Mommy," the voice greeted happily and Meredith rolled her eyes. A deep voice cleared on the other end before speaking again. "What's up, Mer Bear?"

She cringed at Jayden's use of the nickname his father had coined so many years before. "Caine's finally sleeping, so I'm trying to get some work done," she answered, dropping her pencil and pinching the bridge of her nose. "What's up with you?"

"Nothin'," he answered easily, and Meredith could almost picture the young man leaning back in his office chair, crossing his legs at the ankles as he rested them on his desk. "Just thinkin' about you," he added.

Her heart rate accelerated as she pushed away from the drafting table and wished to hell she could push down the feelings of guilt that bubbled up at the sound of his voice. He was practically family. She had no romantic feelings for him. She was engaged to be married.

"Jayden," she started, unsure of just how she should tell the young man to back off. She hadn't exactly rejected his advances earlier in the week, when he had kissed her good night after the dinner she had cooked for him.

When he had called her, nearly six months earlier, saying that Emma was asking about her and wanted to see her Meredith again, she had seen no problem with letting the young girl come over to play. She was working from home, and would love to see her former "grand daughter" again.

What she hadn't expected was that Jayden would be a part of the package. His own marriage had dissolved a year earlier, and he was tired of immersing himself in his work to cover the loneliness. While Emma doted over young Caine, Meredith and Jayden shared music between their laptops and debated old gangster movies.

He made no effort to hide the fact that he was physically attracted to the woman who had once been his father's wife, but Meredith had remained strong. She laughed off his advances and assured him that she was happy in her relationship with Dave. But Jayden didn't know the meaning of "rejection." He chose to believe that she was simply delaying the inevitable.

Truth be told, Meredith was lonely. She wanted someone to hang out with, and someone to make her feel wanted. Plenty of people needed her. Caine. Eden. Rebekah. Even Dave. But Jayden felt like the only one in the world who really wanted to be with her anymore. Even when Dave was home, he was on the phone with Hunter or one of the road agents. Even when the girls came over, they were busy with other friends or showering their little brother with attention. She just wanted to spend some time with someone who wanted to hang with her.

"So what are you doing tonight?" Jayden asked suddenly, cutting her off before she had a chance to shoot him down. "Because I scored a reservation at 'Amici e Amanti' at nine o'clock and I would love it if you could join me."

'Amici e Amanti', translated Friends and Lovers, was Meredith's favorite Italian restaurant, and she knew that reservations were hard to come by. She also knew that Jayden hated Italian food. "I can't," she declined with a voice full of hesitation. It wasn't that she didn't want to, or that she even thought it was wrong to accept an obviously romantic advance from a man other than her fiancee. "I can't find a sitter for Caine on such short notice."

With the same easy, undeterred cadence Jayden responded. "Try. If you can find a way, then I'll be there at 9:00. If you can't, we'll just try for some other time."

They said a quick good-bye and Meredith stood from the desk, only to collapse onto the bed. If she could honestly convince herself that it would just be dinner with a friend, she knew that she could find a sitter. But she also knew that the possibility of crossing the line, of finding solace in Jayden for just one night, was high. If she drank too much. If he was his usual charming self. If he wore that cologne that smelled like heavy, musky sex. There were too many variables, too many possibilities. She wasn't sure she could trust herself not to cross the line again, like she had with Dave.

Another blaring ring interrupted the quiet. She didn't want to talk to anyone. Not now. Especially him. She couldn't bear to hear Dave tell her again that he couldn't make it home. She couldn't stand to think that she might spend another Friday just watching him on television. If she rocked Caine to sleep, kissing his head, and telling him that Daddy would be home soon, she thought she might vomit. She couldn't keep lying to her son, and to herself, anymore.

Taking her cell phone from the bedside table, she hit a number that she knew by heart and waited for the response. "Hey, it's Meredith. You think you might wanna babysit tonight?"

---

"Wow."

Turning to the door of her bedroom, Meredith smiled and ran her hands over the skirt of her classic black dress. "You like?"

Rebekah nodded and let herself into the room, flopping onto the bed. "Eden got a last minute party invite, so she sent me in her place," the nineteen-year-old explained as she laid back on the plush mattress and rested her hands on her stomach. "What does it say about me that my baby sister has plans on a Friday night and I'm free to babysit my little brother?"

"It says that you are your stepmother's angel," Meredith said, turning and holding her arms out to her sides. "So, do I look ravaging or what?"

With a critical eye, Rebekah took in the woman standing before her. The soft black fabric rested against Meredith's porcelain body like a second skin. She wore diamond jewelry that glinted in the light with every breath she took. Her blazing hair was braided and twisted high on her head, making her neck look supermodel long. The strappy heels on her feet gave her an elegant air of sophistication. It was a far cry from the punk queen that Rebekah was used to, but she couldn't deny that Meredith was stunning.

"You got a hot date or what?" she finally asked, hoisting herself into a seated position on the bed. Her dark eyes were intense, boring into her step mom with a "don't give me any bull shit" stare. If anyone had recognized the tension between her father and his girlfriend, it was Rebekah. It was like watching her parents fall apart all over again, and she wanted the truth this time, before she was forced to take sides.

Shaking her head, Meredith took her wrap from the bed and gave Rebekah her best, reassuring smile. The young woman on the bed might not believe her, but there were some truths that just didn't need to be spoken. "I am having dinner with a friend," she answered a vaguely as possible. When Rebekah grunted and rolled off the bed, following her down the hall to Cain's room, Meredith went on. "I haven't had a night out in I don't know how long, and Jayden invited me to dinner."

"Jayden?" Rebekah asked as she moved toward her brother's door and removed the kiddie-gate before lifting the dark-eyed cutie from the floor. "Does Dad know?"

Meredith moved to the dresser and began laying Caine's pajamas out, while tidying the room as she went. "I haven't been able to get in touch with your father all day," she lied. "And he doesn't ask for my permission before he hangs out with his friends," she defended quickly.

"Caine," Rebekah spoke to her brother as he turned his cherubic face toward hers, "Tell your mommy that's because Daddy's friends aren't totally gorgeous, filthy rich guys," she started and then bit her lip. "Wait, they are," she conceded, winking at Meredith. "But they don't wanna have sex with him," she said in a child-like voice.

"Things with your father are," Meredith started and then shook her head. "Jayden and I are just friends," she stated again, as though the repetition would seem more believable.

Rebekah turned without another word and set Caine's feet on the floor. "Let's go get a cookie, Chubbo," she nudged the small boy with her foot as he toddled from the room, clapping his hands and screeching about chocolate chips.

For the millionth time, Meredith second-guessed her decision to meet Jayden. She could insist all she wanted that nothing was going to happen, but a nagging feeling her gut said she wouldn't mind if it did. She had tried to be better for Dave than she had been for Daniel. She done everything in her power to make this one work. Maybe it just wasn't possible. Maybe she needed more than they could give her. Maybe she was the weak link. Maybe she would never be anything better than an adulteress whore.

With a heavy sigh, she checked her watch and grabbed her purse from the kitchen counter. Shoving her conscience a little further to the back of her mind, she kissed Caine good-bye and promised Rebekah that she would call if she was going to be later than midnight.

Determined, she put the car in gear and pulled away from the house. She looked amazing, and she was ready to be shown a good time. A shot ran through her as she went over the plan again. She would be fabulous, bask in the glow of Jayden's attention, and then come home and cuddle up with her son for the night. If there was a glitch in the plan, from Jayden's side or her own, she would deal with it later.

---

By the time she arrived in front of the breath taking structure, the air had begun to chill. Pulling her wrap tighter around her shoulders, she checked the time on her phone and proceeded to the front door, her heart pounding in her chest. The glass elevator felt like a cage, and she began to feel a suffocated sense of claustrophobia. She could do this. It wasn't a big deal.

Dave's eyes registered his shock as he opened the door of his hotel room and rested his groggy eyes on Meredith. She wore a black cocktail dress, her hair falling out of the formal style it had been forced into. She carried a pair of pumps in one hand and a clutch in the other. Her eyes were red, her cheeks splotchy, as if she had cried all of her make up away during the flight from Tampa to Des Moines, Iowa.

"What are you?" he started.

But Meredith shook her head and pushed him back into the room, kicking the door with her foot. "Do you think we're gonna make it?" she asked.

He had been deep in sleep when she pounded on his door. It was three o'clock in the morning. "What are you doing here?" he asked, lowering his hulking frame to the bed while blinking his eyes against the harsh overhead light.

"I asked you first," Meredith insisted, crossing her arms and staring at him, her eyes clouded with an emotion he couldn't identify. "Do you think that we're gonna make it? Or are we just delaying the inevitable?"

Clearing his throat, Dave twisted his fingers together and rested his elbows on his knees. "Where's Caine?" he asked, his brain starting to awaken a bit.

Meredith threw her arms up and then rested her hands on her hips. "Rebekah's staying with him for the night," she answered coldly.

"Okay," Dave nodded, rising to his feet once again and moving to his girlfriend. With his strong hands on her shoulders, he led Meredith to the bed and gently lowered her to the mattress. "Are you drunk?" he asked. She scoffed. "Well, what do you expect me to think?" he asked defensively. "You show up at my door at three in the morning, demanding to know if we're going to make it?" Taking her hand, he raised it slightly, watching as the light caught the diamond on her finger. "I think that answers your question."

But Meredith wasn't convinced. "That doesn't mean a damn thing and we both know it. It didn't matter when I had one before, and it doesn't matter now," she hissed. "I was supposed to have dinner with Jayden tonight," she informed him, watching his eyes narrow at the news. "And don't think that I'm naïve or stupid, because I know he just wanted to get me drunk and sleep with me. To be honest with you, I kinda wanted him to."

Even if he'd been well-rested, Dave wouldn't have been prepared for the conversation. He knew that things had been rocky, that there had been tension between them for months now, but he never would have expected something like the confession pouring over her lips at that moment. "What are you doing here?" he asked once again. If she wanted to be back in Tampa, sleeping with someone else, then why was she sitting before him, looking broken and defeated?

"Because we were supposed to meet at 'Amici e Amanti'. We were supposed to have primevera and red whine. I wanted primavera," she said, her voice catching in her throat as the tears began to pool in her eyes. "But when I got there, all I could think about was the first time you and I were there. The night that Daniel showed up for a business dinner and you bribed the waitress to sneak us out the back door so he wouldn't catch us."

Dave smiled slightly at the memory. It was the first, and only, time they had nearly been caught during their affair, and the rush of adrenaline had resulted in one of the wildest nights he had ever experienced. "But you knew I wasn't going to show up," he finally said.

"No," Meredith agreed. "But you know what I thought? That was the night I realized that I loved you. Because it was the night that I realized I wasn't really hiding from Daniel. I was hiding with you. All I wanted was to be with you," she cried, her voice climbing as the sob took over her throat. "If you had shown up tonight, I wouldn't have wanted to run away with Jayden," she shook her head. "Or anybody else, because I still just wanna be with you, Dave," she gasped, taking the tissue he was offering.

They both had their flaws. She had quirks and traits that irritated him to no end. There were times when he didn't want to come home, when he didn't think he could stand to look at another sketch from her newest collection. He had tendencies that drove her crazy, as well. Though she never said it, he knew that she hated the amount of time he spent in front of the mirror, or the way he refused to admit that he was wrong. About anything.

Standing form the bed, he ran his hands over his face. The sinking feeling in his gut wasn't due to Meredith's confession at all. It was a violent response to the realization that he had no idea how close he had been to losing her.

Krista had threatened to leave him during damn near every fight they had. She had told him to shape up, to be a better husband and father, or she was going to leave. Meredith never gave him ultimatums. She never told him what to do. She wasn't going to force him into being a better man. But she needed him to figure it out for himself. While Krista demanded he think of someone other than himself, Meredith simply expected him to do it.

He had mistaken her silence for permission, or apathy. At least, he had justified his actions by telling himself that's what it was. He could blame her all he wanted for entertaining the thought of dating someone else, but she hadn't done it. She had flown half way across the country to pour her heart out, to save their relationship. What had he done to help the situation?

"I'm losing the title at the end of the month," he said suddenly. She turned sympathetic eyes to him, but Dave shook his head as he sat at her side once again. "I need to," he insisted. Of course, the news hadn't made him so happy a few days earlier, but now he was seeing the blessing in disguise. "I've got a favor on the back burner," he went on, taking her hand in his and weaving his fingers through hers. "I'm gonna cash it in and take a few weeks off."

Meredith shook her head and stood, running her hands over her skirt. "Dave, I'm not asking you to," she started.

But he just smiled and shook his head. "There are a lot of decisions that we need to make, baby," he spoke softly, his low voice rumbling into the stillness of the room. "My contract expires in a year, and I've been thinking about not renewing." Though she said nothing, he couldn't deny the small smile that tweaked her lips. "Maybe we can use my upcoming time off to set a wedding date?" The smile grew. "I don't know. . . we just need to take some time to work through some things."

With a nod, Meredith lowered herself back to the bed and rested her palms on his cheeks, drawing his forehead to hers. "So," she whispered, pecking his lips lightly before she allowed herself to smile. "You think we're gonna make it?"

Dave laughed and wrapped his arms around her, lifting his fiancee into his lap. "You flew all the way to Iowa to make sure that we did," he said. "What kind of jack ass would I be if I ignored a gesture like that?"

With a happy giggle, she shed her cocktail dress and looked around the room. "I'm going to take a shower and try to get some sleep. It's kinda been a long night," she smiled. "Can you do me a favor and call Rebekah? Let her know that I got into town and that everything's okay?"

As Dave began to dial his daughter's number, he called out. "Meredith?" When she turned, he nodded. "We're gonna make it."