Chapter 45: Torture


Distractions were God's way of providing relief in our lives in order to keep the grief and emptiness at bay. Distractions kept the heartache from consuming every second of our lives. They were accepted and welcomed with arms wide open.

However, some distractions weren't kind to me at night. Sleep didn't come easily. In those times of insomnia—or just plain daydreaming—I often thought about my conversation with Mr. Johnson regarding Bella.

It was like torture treatment, all the thoughts that constantly pervaded my mind.

Fortunately, tonight would be a rather joyous occasion. It was the annual competition formal. I was looking forward to spending another evening not having to focus on my problems.

A gentle knock directed my attention towards my bedroom door. "Come in," I called, expecting it to be Bella, but I was pleasantly surprised when my father, dressed in his tux, stepped in.



"Well, I guess congratulations are in order," he began, smiling. "I heard that you and Bella are in the finals. It's unfortunate what happened to Tanya, however. How is she holding up?"


He chuckled. "Well, regardless, both of you have done a splendid job."

"Thank you," I kindly responded. I turned back to the mirror, putting on my bowtie.

"Before you put that on, I have something for you."

Confused, I turned back around and noticed the black box in Carlisle's hand. He sat on the edge of the bed, ushering me to join him. Once, comfortable, he went on to say, "Before your mother and I left the States…"—he took in a deep breath—"Theodore wanted me to give you something."

"Mr. Johnson left something for me?" I looked back at my father, still unsure as to where this conversation was going.

He opened the little box and out came something that I instantly recognized.

"He gave me his tie," I whispered, frozen with shock and overcome with humility. To some, this would like just an ordinary tie that you would, perhaps give your father on Father's Day. However, this was Mr. Johnson's competition tie—and in the tango world, ties and amulets were special, magical even. This superstition still held true in though Mr. Johnson had passed away. The "power" in the tie would still remain ready to be bestowed onto its next recipient.

Looking back at Carlisle, I asked, "But why me?"

Carlisle grinned. "He told me to tell you, that it's up for you to discover the reason why. He always believed that a man had to discover his own purpose. Same speech he gave me." After passing the box into my hands, he rose from the bed. "Well, Edward, you better hurry. You know how your mother is about these things."

"Wait. Dad, can I speak with you for about one more minute?"

He sat back down, his brows furrowed with worry, lips pursed with concern.

"Is everything okay?"

I sighed. "I've been doing some thinking about medical school and Bella and the studio—"

"Having second thoughts?"

"Well, it's mainly about Bella. The thing is…I don't want to her to give up her life in Seattle for me. But I also don't want to be away from her. I feel like, sometimes, I'm just going about this wrong. As if everything isn't just right yet. I don't want her and myself to go into this just on a slight feeling. I want it to be definite—"

"You want to be sure, right?" he offered, finishing my rambling into a very concise, very coherent fashion.

That was thing about Carlisle and me. Our relationship may not be as close as I was to my mother, or even Mr. Johnson for that matter. However, when we did have conversations, he was able to take my complex thoughts and ideas that always seemed to float in the ether and transform them into something grounded and tangible.

He laughed quietly. "Ahh…we've come to the age old question that every man must answer for himself. You really want to know if Bella is the right one, if she's the one. That, my son, I cannot answer. I'm not going to give you those overdramatized speeches like the parents do on the Bachelor—you know your mother is absolutely enraptured by the show. She even contemplated nominating you as a candidate."

"You were just going to let her, weren't you?"

"Perhaps." Then, he went on to say. "Past that, Edward. I want you to know you are at the point where there aren't any more multiple choice options. There is only true or false, and once you know what that answer is, you'll know if you are truly moving in the wrong direction or the right direction after all."

"Thanks, Dad," I smiled.

"My pleasure," he smiled back. Quite suddenly, another knock came from the door and soon, my mother stepped in, initially looking tense.

"If you, two don't get a move on, we will be late—my, just look at my handsome men," she expressed quite proudly. Turning toward me, her smile quickly became a grimace. "Edward! Where is your tie?"

It was nice to have Esme around. Moms always made the best distractions.


Maybe it was the optimistic part that Marco had built up in me. Or maybe it was just me having hallucinations. However, I really thought that he would just come outright and say that he wanted to take me back.

The car ride was uneventful, but I was sure that he wanted me back; he sat next to me in the limo. He said I looked nice and smiled.

But he was wrong. I looked better than just nice. I wore an onyx-colored floor-length gown with a plunging neckline and subtle sequin detail along the bodice line. No splits mid-thigh, and nothing too revealing. I had picked it out, trying to keep classy and sexy in mind. And when I picked it out Marco never expressed that he didn't approve of it.

Marco helped me step out of the car, and I felt slight spark from his touch. I knew he had to feel that. He even went so far to walk me inside the hotel lobby. There, I felt everyone was watching me and Marco.

Maybe everyone could see it. Maybe it was written on my face.

We were heading towards the bar, weaving through the crowd, when all of sudden—

"Marco! Is that you?"

I turned around to come face to face with this…gorgeous woman. Her skin was the color of mocha with a hint of bronze glow, her smile suggesting warmth. Her auburn hair cascaded into messy loose curls that seemed to only enhance her features. Her facial bone structure was one models would kill for, let alone her body—full and curvaceous in her red, off-the-shoulder dress.

Damn her.

"Zafrina…how are you?" Marco greeted as he gave her an extra affectionate hug that seemed to have lasted a little too long.

"Oh, just great," she replied, pulling away to look at me with genuine curiosity.

"This is Tanya," Marco began. "She was my partner in the competition." Partner.

"It's so nice to meet you, Tanya! Silly me, I didn't introduce myself. I'm Zafrina. I am an old friend of Marco."

I nodded and smiled. "Nice to meet you, too."

Zafrina looked around in awe. "Gosh, everyone here looks so beautiful. I really need to get invited to more events like this, or I will never leave the lab."

She was smart and pretty.

She laughed and then said, "Hey, thanks Marco for inviting me tonight."


"I'm going to go get a drink. Excuse me."

As Zafrina moved away, and Marco started towards the ballroom, I demanded in a low whisper, "How do you know her?"

"She's part of my past."

"You mean, you dated her."

"I wouldn't call it dating…" he implicated.

At the round table, I couldn't think of anything but anything but that stupid conversation. I didn't notice how nicely decorated out table was, or the fact that Bella and Edward were a table over. I didn't notice that Jacob was trying to win the attention of Zafrina while Liz futilely was trying to use him to make P.J. jealous, who wouldn't stop glaring at Jacob (Alice had to give me the 411). I couldn't keep up the conversation, only able to insert "mmm…" and "Really?" when it deemed appropriate. Once again, Alice had to keep the table flowing and lively.

This was how my night was kicking off.

Someone struck a glass, chiming to get our attention. Reluctantly, I turned towards the front stage to see a short man standing at the podium. I usually didn't listen to the introductory speeches because they were all the same: he announced the competition statistics, congratulated the finalists, thanked the judges, and then wished for an eventful evening.

This time was no different. I carefully tuned into Zafrina's soft voice, listening for giggles, sighs, and small talk. However, she was quite still as the emcee recited his speech with a stale delivery.

At last, dinner was served.

My glass was emptied (again), and still I couldn't make Zafrina disappear from my mind. All I could think about was Marco having sex with her…and not wanting to have sex with me.

Losing my appetite, I resorted to sizing up my competition. "So, what is it that you do again?"

Zafrina chuckled and replied. "I work in the biochemical field. Right now, I'm in the middle of testing this new drug to see if we can eliminate the teratogenic effects presented in other drugs in order to see we can halt the development of certain birth defects. If successful, we can greatly reduce the number of newborns afflicted with birth defects. How about you?"

"I dance," I replied rather flatly.

"Ooo…what style?"

"Latin ballroom and the Argentine Tango."

Zafrina, as if she was child, turned to Marco with wide, surprised eyes. "You never took me dancing," she accused.

He chuckled and replied smoothly, "Trust me, it took me a while to learn how to use these two left feet."

She giggled. "Well, I guess you can't be good at everything."

I chuckled, a little irritated. Before I could contemplate why my wine glass was empty again, the emcee came back, this time wearing a very somber expression. "While you enjoy your dinner, fellowshipping with one another, we would like to remind you all how…special it is to have us all together again. Every year, we come together through our passion and dedication to dance. Unfortunately, the dance world has lost one of its shining stars."

He's talking about Mr. Johnson, I thought to myself.

"Theodore Johnson served us as more than just a competitor. He was instructor, he was a leader. He gave his time to teach the next generation about something as traditional as ballroom. He was a good friend to some us, and a great leader to all of us. Theodore, you will be missed. We would like to take this moment to show a video, a tribute to his life."

The lights dimmed and a projector was started, rolling a presentation of Mr. Johnson's life. Just hearing his voice and seeing his face—it was all too much.

I tried to stare at the screen, but the pain pinched my side, setting my tattoo on fire. It felt as if everyone could see the pain in me, as if everyone could see my flaws. Everything felt stuffy. My dress felt too tight. I was creeping on the edge of an anxiety attack.

Barely thinking, I barely registered that I was standing up, muttering something. I found myself rushing towards the exit doors. A hand went out to reach for me, but I slipped past its grasp. I passed the lobby, going out in the crisp air of the night.

It was a little cold on my exposed skin, but I was too stubborn to accept the jacket from the bellhop. Sighing, I touched my forehead, trying to pull myself together just walking away from the place that was causing me pain at the moment. I took off my heels, and I just walked around the block.

Same routine every time.

A good ten minutes passed before I was able to guide myself back to familiar lands. As I approached the lobby, I saw there was a figure coming towards me. At first, I thought it was Marco, waiting for me. So, I hurried to meet him.

Only…it wasn't Marco. I ran only to come face to face with the ghost of my past. Only he was flesh and blood.

"I knew you would find your way back to me."

"James," I breathed, holding my chest. I think my heart stopped.


Accompanying Edward and me at our table were good friends of Edward's parents: Charles and Makenna from Scotland, and Mary and Randall from Canada. I was almost starstruck, sitting at a table of professional dancers. Part of me didn't feel like I deserved it. Really, who was I kidding? I was coaxed by my best friend to dance, ended up competing as a substitution. Now, I sat next to some of the greatest dancers of all time, posing as their equal. It was almost unfair to them. It was really mind-boggling for someone like me without any type of dance background to become so highly skilled in such a short time.

And now, I was sharing this intimate moment with them as we all paid respect to Mr. Johnson.

Edward was a still as a statue as frame by frame, the memory of Mr. Johnson flickered past his eyes. Holding his hand, I relaxed my head on his right shoulder. I peered at Esme who dotted the corners of her eyes while Carlisle rubbed the small of her back.

"Look Bella, there's me," I heard Edward quietly say.

There he was…a little blond boy on the screen with a younger Mr. Johnson. They both seemed to be happy, caring a small ribbon for honorable mention.

"Edward…your hair…"

"Born with hair like Carlisle, and it grew into dark locks like Esme," he sighed.

The next photograph was a picture of Mr. Johnson with a dancing couple, both young and gorgeous. "Is that…?"

"Yes, those are my parents."


More pictures consumed the screen, ranging from different points in Mr. Johnson's life. There are pictures of him when he started out as a young dancer, of his marriage, of his first studio. His whole life seemed documented in this short five minute tribute.

I was touched. Literally, I felt someone move behind me as the presentation continued.

I was never one for funerals because I never responded the way everyone expected. I didn't cry at Grandma Marie's funeral, but I do get emotional every time I make her famous stroganoff. I'm a complex mess.

However, looking around the room, they were so many people here that seemed to be affected by the passing of Mr. Johnson. Some only knew him as strictly a competitor; others knew him more intimately, such as the Cullens. It was a moving sight to see.

Finally, the lights regained strength and the presentation ended with Mr. Johnson's voice, saying, "We often let words get in the way; sometimes, we need to let the dancing do the talking."

Silence settled over the crowd for a moment as everyone returned to reality, coming out of their nostalgic daydreams. Esme was the first speak at our table.

"Well, at least they used a good picture of us. Carlisle, you have a tendency to photograph goofy…"

The whole table erupted in laughter. It wasn't because Esme's remark was particularly funny, but it was just the kind of thing needed to provide some relief.

As emcee drew back in the crowd, speaking about the competition, and the live band onstage commenced, inviting dancers and amateurs alike to test their skills on the center wooden floor.

Carlisle didn't hesitate to invite Esme to dance with him, and gladly she accepted. Soon, our table was only populated by Edward and me. I waited for him to invite me out to the floor, when he whispered in my ear, "You can relax, love. We don't have to dance if you don't want to."

I let out a breath of relief. "Good."

Edward chuckled and then took my hand, caressing it methodically, while never breaking my gaze. "I'm pretty sure I told you this already, but you look absolutely breathtaking tonight."

I giggled. "I'm pretty sure you have. However, that doesn't mean I get tired of hearing it." I kissed his cheek briefly before he said, "I love you so much, you know that?"

Once again, I giggled. "Yes, and I love you, too."

"I apologize for my—" Thinking ahead, I halted his apologetic mutters, placing my fingers on his lips.

"Edward, this night isn't about that. It's just you and me tonight. No one else, so let's try to make memorable, please?"

"You're right, love. You are so right," he smiled.

I sighed, grinning and looking around. "Rarely do I ever get to experience this. The highlight of my social life has been one dismal homecoming junior year in high school. I didn't go to prom or any formals afterwards."

"Why not?" he asked, sounding so intrigued.

I shrugged. "Never had anyone I wanted to go with."

Edward's did his crooked smile again. "Bella, there's something I have to ask you."

"Go ahead," I said, but Edward abruptly rose from his seat, causing me to think I had said something wrong. He glared above my head, drawing my attention to the approaching guest—Aro.

"What a fine evening. Wouldn't you agree, Edward?" Aro greeted, tipping his head politely. "I hope I'm not intruding."

Edward took my arm again, intertwining his fingers with my own, as I rose from my seat. "Aro."

Aro enveloped my free hand and kissed it. "And how are you, young lady?"

"Fine." My voice broke, losing the confident vibe I was trying to portray.

"Will you please send my condolences to the Johnson family? What an unfortunate event and especially in the middle of the competition…," Aro spoke sincerely, though I was sure it was far from it. "And so young."

"Mr. Johnson set out to serve his purpose in life, and he accomplished it. He led a life of fulfillment," Edward argued. "Unlike some instructors, he didn't value his career by the amount of trophies he won, but in the amount of people he touched and helped." It was a subtle but direct insult to Aro. Everyone knew he recruited only the best of his academy to serve one purpose—to win.

Aro grinned beatifically. "I'm sure he was a very good man."

"Well, if it isn't Aro, still snatching up dancers for his little army," a snide voice commented. Turning around, I noted the unusually tall man hiding his thin frame behind a full tux, his long, almost shocked white hair flowing down his back. And at his side, was a man of almost equal stature; however his hair was jet black. The dark-haired man commented. "Yes, seems as if Aro is still harassing the young Carlisle."

"Vladimir. Stefan." Displeasure thickly seeped from Aro's pronunciation of each name. "When's the last time your company won an international title?"

Stefan (I presumed the one with the dark hair) replied, "Well…let's see. Would it be..."

"The last time your company didn't try to swindle their way to the top," Vladimir completed. If I wasn't watching their lips move, I wouldn't have known which of the two gentlemen had spoken. It was like the freaky twin telepathy thing that made us all wish we were Mary Kate and Ashley when they were ten.

Aro, his eyes not hiding the hate that he harbored, patted Edward on the shoulder with quite the forced farewell chortle. "Oh, well. Edward, the offer still stands…"

Edward smiled unkindly. "And sadly, I still must decline."

"Well, in that case, I wish you…the best tomorrow."

"Thank you," Edward replied uneasily as he watched Aro seemingly glide away and share inaudible words with this young, unrecognizable female. Quietly, Edward whispered, "I'll be right back."

Before I could make my escape with him, Vladimir and Stefan turned to me with interest.

"So, you must be the famous Isabella Swan," Vladimir greeted. "I have heard so much about you. You have become quite the star."

"Really?" I blushed, thinking about the fact that people were actually talking about me.

"Oh, don't worry," he grinned. "It's only been nice things."

"Yes, nice things," Stefan echoed.

Changing the subject, "Do you have dancers competing this year?" I asked.

Stefan chuckled. "Heavens, no. Our company dissolved years ago due to Aro stealing away all our dancers. Instead, we have become part of the judging committee."

Vladimir frowned, "Doesn't matter how much we despise that man and his little toy soldiers, they are really true to form. Every year, I've seen dancers dreams crushed by his regime, simply because they merely didn't expect such domination. However, we've really seen some exceptional talent this year."

"Yes, we've seen amazing talent, reaching past our wildest expectations! Very refreshing!" Stefan added with glee. "I know we really shouldn't be saying this, but—off the record—we are greatly looking forward to crowning some new champions this year, after seeing some real shaking up. We really shouldn't converse too long…people start get suspicious."

"Claiming things like 'cheating.' Preposterous!" Vladimir laughed happily. Stefan chimed in gaily. Still chuckling to themselves, they quickly bade me farewell, granting me the opportunity to escape and find Edward.

It didn't take me long. He was actually approaching me out in the lobby with two drinks in hand, offering one to me.

Gladly, I accepted it. After taking a sip—tea—I said to him, "Bringing me a drink doesn't let you off the hook. I can't believe you left me with the Draculas."

He chuckled but didn't respond.

"Laugh all you want," I whispered, "but you won't be sleeping with me tonight."

"Who said we would be sleeping?" he teasingly murmured, before taking a drink. I could see the corners of his mouth pulling up, as if he was trying to hide his smug grin.

"Well, you do look pretty darn handsome in that tux," I qualified, smiling. I stroked his chin before pecking him on the cheek.

My heart warmed all over.

"Now, if I remember correctly, you said you had something to ask me?"

He seemed to falter a little, trying to gather his thoughts. Then, he grinned again, that crooked little smile that I knew all too well. "It's not important, love," he replied, setting our drinks down. "Come on, let's go for a walk."

It was kind of picturesque. Edward had draped his tux jacket around my bare shoulders, and then wrapped his arm around my waist. It was straight out of a chick flick.

"Two days…" I whispered, looking down. "You're leaving in two days."

"I know. Hard to believe," Edward mumbled. He kissed into my hair. "But don't worry, I will definitely frequent as much as possible. I will call and skype you every day. Twice a day if possible."

"And I will expect them," I smiled, touching his chest lightly.

"Never thought I would be dating one of my students."

"Never thought I would be dating an instructor," I teased. "Then, again. None of them tried to kiss me."

"What?" Edward laughed.

"You made a move on me," I repeated, looking up at him. Those piercing green eyes seem to sparkle a little. "Don't worry. I'm glad you did."

He laughed even louder, just before kissing me so sweetly underneath a canopy of trees. "You are a dream," he whispered in my ear.

As he pulled away, I cradled his face in my small hands. "But you are so real to me," I replied. Studying his face for a bit, I instantly whispered with a smirk, "I think this is where you take me back to the limo to have your way with me."

"You're so impatient, woman." He shook his head, though humored. "But don't worry," he teased. "I'm glad you are."


My phone had been buzzing all night, but dutifully I ignored it. James and I were now in a local pub, relaxing at the bar.

Part of me wanted to go back to the fancy dinner and be with Marco even though it was obvious that he didn't want me. Another part systemically sassed, Forget that fool.

So, here I was with James after having ditched the glitz and the glamour of stuck-up dancers in stuffy suits and dresses for good ol' bar food: burgers and beer. We looked like we had escaped from a wedding. Definitely overdressed.

"Aren't you going to answer that?" James asked, pointing towards my vibrating evening bag. I could hear the amusement in his voice.

"No," I frowned. "He dumped me like a bag of trash. He said he was looking for something serious—as if I was just a booty call. He's nothing but a selfish, inconsiderate ass!" I took a big vicious bite into my burger, and boy, was it delicious. I was careful to not the let the juices run down my chin onto my dress.

James laughed and commented, sipping on his glass of beer. "That's harsh. It's that what you thought when you didn't answer my calls?"

"I thought you would have gotten the message the first time I didn't answer."

"And what message would that be?"

"That we are over," I smiled half-heartedly.

He still held his amused grin. "You are so mean to me, you know that? But, they say you never forget your first love…"

I laughed a little before knocking back my drink. Last thing I needed was more alcohol. But subconsciously, I was trying to drown my heart. "I'm pretty sure I wasn't your first."

"How would you know?" he challenged, crossing his arms.

I didn't have an answer, but I assumed that James fell for anything with legs.

He continued, "Do you know how many times I lay awake at night, thinking about you? Every time I'm with another woman, you are the one on my mind."

I laughed, irritated. "Ha. You fantasize about me?"

He smirked, slinking closer. "Especially about how you used to rake your nails across my back."

"Hey, not in front of the kids," I teased before taking another enormous bite.

"Yeah, you were the best I ever had…" he sighed. He sounded like he was reminiscing, and then he looked over my direction as if he was checking me out.

I smacked him in the shoulder.

"OW!" he yelled, "what was that for?"

"For trying to imagine me naked," I answered matter-of-factly.

He laughed and rubbed his wounded shoulder. "You can't blame a man for trying. I've been watching you all week."—I bet, I thought to myself—"You're really quite amazing…even with your mediocre partner. It's a shame, you aren't in the finals."

"Yeah, but you and Cindy are. I have to hand it to you. She doesn't seem like the dancing type."

"And that's where you wrong," James whispered, leaning closer. "She's been taking gymnastics lessons since she was child, only stopping in high school for cheerleading. When she came to me, saying that you gave her my information, she said she wanted to pick up dance lessons, already flexible. She's almost better than you," he joked.


He laughed again, full and loud. "Okay, so I lied. She's great you know—but she's not a natural…but enough about my partner. Let's talk about yours…You're letting him hit, aren't you?"

I shook my head, feeling slightly angered. "No, James. It isn't like that."

It would have been easier to say yes, but it had never been that way between Marco and me. From day one, he showed no interest in seducing me for sex. It was nice to just be in the company of a man just because he liked spending time with me, not because he thought he was going to get lucky.

"How presumptuous of me…" James replied condescendingly. "You know what? I apologize." James took my hand and kissed it, causing me to shiver uncomfortably. It was like being eighteen again. "So…you are letting him cop a feel instead?" he whispered quietly, curious.

"We haven't even so much as kissed too deeply, James."

"Does he know about Trevor?"

"No, and I'm not going tell him."

"And he's not gay?"

"No. He's a gentleman—unlike you."

"I'm a gentleman," he offered, laughing. "But wow, really? You guys haven't even reached first base—in any of the leagues?"

I looked at him, shocked. "Why must you always belittle physical forms of romantic expressions to perverted metaphors of the juvenile years?"

He threw up his palms in surrender. "Look, I'm just curious to know what kind of guy—or girl for that matter—doesn't want to have sex with you. I mean, look at you; you're hot!"

I remembered when Edward rejected me and Marco just constantly discarded the possibility of it. A slight pang.

"Really, if this guy really cares about you as much as you make it sound like, and he still hasn't gotten a lay, he must really like you. But then, I have to ask, why aren't you with him right now?"

I shrugged. "I don't know. I asked him if there was a particular thing about me that bothered him, but all he could say was that he wanted a 'committed relationship' as if every time we got together all we had was sex! But if sex and my personality weren't really the cause…"

"Have you ever factored in that you might intimidate him? Sometimes, guys are afraid of women who appear very aggressive, strong-willed, or ambitious?"

That was when I realized, James really didn't know me as well as Marco did. James still saw the immature, aggressive side of me, only the first layer. However, Marco had dug much deeper, knowing my most vulnerable and sensitive parts.

I shook my head and remarked, "Can we stop talking about him?" I was feeling greatly uncomfortable.

We were quiet for a moment when James took my hand, "You know, I only did this, compete again, so I could be close to you."

I tried to move my hand away but he held fast.

"I know it's been years, but I never forgot about us. I never forgot about the life we had built up together. I know we are different now, matured more or less, and have grown wiser. One of us more than others," he joked. I couldn't help but laugh.

All of sudden, James looked over his right shoulder, the same shoulder I wounded, and complained, "Hey man, can't you see we're talking?"

When I looked up, my eyes almost fell out of their sockets. My jaw might have dropped as well. Maybe I was drunk, but I definitely felt my heart shut down and drop to the pit of my stomach.

"Come on, Tanya. I'm taking you home," Marco expressed quietly, seizing my wrist. I was forced up from my barstool and stumbled a little on my heels.

James got up, placing me in the middle of the two men. "Hey! Who are you?"

"I'm her boyfriend," Marco stated, wrapping his arm around my waist.

However, James took my free arm and pulled me his way. Caught between past and future (let's face it, the present was kind of crappy for me).

With this smug grin, James went on. "You were her boyfriend. And maybe she doesn't want to go with you. You dumped her. Now, she's with me. Next time, you'll realize what you have before you dismiss her."

"Look man, I don't know who you are, but you should mind your business!"

"Tanya is my business!" James replied.

I spoke up, "It's okay, James. I can handle it from here." I was trying to keep a confrontation from breaking out, but no one would listen to me. Maybe my words weren't loud enough. Maybe I wasn't even speaking…

"Really, who is this man, Tanya?" Marco demanded.

"Her baby's father!" James declared indignantly.

Baby. I knew I was definitely going to be sick now—and not because I was tipsy.

Soon, the manager of the bar walked over and said, "I don't want any trouble in my restaurant. I think it would best if you took this outside." That meant it was time to go.

Marco all but pulled away from me in disgust before stalking out of the establishment.

"James, how could you?" I snarled, holding my forehead in confusion.

"He needed to know, Tanya. You can't keep secrets like that from the ones you love. And you can't keep pretending as If he never existed."

"I don't pretend like he never existed!"

"Are you sure?" he asked. He pulled something out his breast pocket and pushed it into my hands. It was a picture, very ratty alone the edges as if it had been burned or damaged from the years. The image itself was black and white and kind of gritty. Almost abstract…like an ultrasound.

It was like he had taken a rusty knife and thrust it into the middle of my chest. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't damn well think.

It took all the power I could to hurry out the door to catch Marco. When I finally got to the street level, there was no one around. Only a few couples strolling the streets and small pockets of families enjoying the company of each other. Groups of friends laughing from the cafes, sipping coffee and tea.

But none of them were Marco.

I was too late.

Some things would never change for me.

No. Not for me.