A/N: Thanks to everyone who reviewed the last chapter! This chapter would have been up much sooner, but there were a few things that I had to take care of in the "real" world before I could turn my attention back to this. I need to work on my time management skills. ;) Anyway, here's the latest update - hope you enjoy it!
Stephanie was waiting in the airport for any sign of Chris. She was bouncing on the balls of her feet trying to ward off her nervousness about this encounter. She had promised to meet him at the airport where they would talk over lunch before going to see Shane. She wanted the air to be cleared between them before anything else happened. She watched as sign for Chris's flight number changed to let her know that the passengers were disembarking from the flight. She had scoped out her spot ahead of time, hoping to see him as he walked off the plane so he wouldn't have to wander around the airport to look for her. Now all she had to do was wait.
She watched as the people started to trickle through the corridor and smiled in spite of her nervousness as a family with two young girls walked through the gate. The girls appeared to be twins and Stephanie couldn't help but notice how much they looked how she had at that age.
"Waiting for someone in particular, Miss?" She heard someone ask behind her. She whirled around to see Chris, only to have her jaw fall open at the sight of him.
"Chris?" She asked him doubtfully. While his blue eyes had regained the twinkle they once held, he hardly even looked like the same man. He nodded.
"You expecting someone else?" He asked, adjusting the strap of his duffel bag over his shoulder, trying not to disturb the sleeping Ash who was in his car seat. Stephanie didn't say anything at first, just taking it all in. He was thinner, much thinner than he had been when she last saw him. He had grown a beard in that amount of time as well, although it appeared to be neatly trimmed. Even with his stupid sunglasses he always seemed to be wearing indoors, she could tell that he had some pretty dark circles under his eyes. Out of all of that, the one thing she was having the hardest time with was his hair. He'd cut it. After years of badgering and insisting that he was not the long-lost member of an 80's rock band, he had finally cut his damn hair.
"Earth to Stephanie?" He said, waving a hand in front of her face. "I know I'm a huge rock star and all, but you really need to stop staring – it's not polite, you know." Stephanie blinked a few times before smiling at him and pulling him into a hug. He hadn't been expecting that and for a few awkward seconds he didn't quite know what to do, but finally he wrapped his free arm around her, hugging her back and the tension he'd been feeling ever since they agreed to this arrangement finally started to subside. They stayed like that for a few moments longer before she finally pulled back, her eyes glossy from the tears she refused to let fall. She smiled at him before briefly touching his hair.
"I can't believe you cut it." She marveled. Chris smirked.
"If you saw how bad it was starting to look before I cut it, you would believe it." He told her jokingly.
"You've lost a lot of weight too." She said, suddenly wondering if it was partially her fault.
"Yeah," he said, running his hand through his hair, a nervous tic he noticed he'd picked up ever since he'd cut it. "I haven't exactly been the healthiest eater." He shifted Ash's car seat to his other hand and Stephanie turned her attention to the little boy in front of her, who had since woken up and was babbling away happily.
"My God, he's gotten big!" She exclaimed, looking up at Chris for a moment. He smiled and nodded. Stephanie fawned over Ash for a few more minutes before finally turning her attention back to Chris.
"Let's get out of here. I know exactly where to go for lunch." She promised him.
Not thirty minutes later, they were sitting down in a local Mexican restaurant, sipping on their drinks making idle conversation. Both of them knew what they wanted to talk about, but neither seemed to want to bring it up. After a few more minutes, Stephanie finally decided she was just going to go for it, when the waiter came back and took their orders. As soon as the waiter left, Chris looked at her.
"Before this meal gets any more awkward, let's just get this out in the open." He said. "I'm sorry…for how I behaved. I-"
"Chris-" Stephanie tried to interrupt, but he shook his head.
"Let me finish." He told her. "I should have known when to let it go, and I'm sorry that I took it to the extreme that it was when you came out to find us." He took a sip from his drink. "That being said, I'm not going to apologize for breaking his nose and I'm certainly not going to apologize for finishing what he started. You mean a lot to me, Stephanie, and our friendship means a lot to me. And I know that, for some reason, Paul means a lot to you, otherwise you wouldn't have married him. But I think you should know what piece of scum he can be sometimes." Stephanie nodded slowly for him to continue.
"I was trying to behave that day, I really was, but when he started telling me to leave you alone-"
"Wait, what?" Stephanie interrupted him. "He actually said that to you?" Chris held up two fingers.
"Scout's honor." He promised.
"You were never a boy scout." She pointed out.
"That's not the real issue here." He told her, continuing his story. "When he said that to me, I just…I kind of lost control. He was trying to dictate your life and it really pissed me off that he was doing it and you didn't have any idea. I mouthed off and mentioned how he had hit you and he didn't even try to deny it, Steph. He just brushed it off and claimed it was my fault, since I was the reason you guys were arguing in the first place." Stephanie took a deep breath as Chris continued. "He accused me of sleeping with you and…" Chris paused for a minute. "I don't know why but I didn't even try to correct him. I told him that if he had been man enough to please you in the first place you wouldn't have come to me." He admitted.
"Chris," Stephanie said in a condescending tone.
"I know, I know, I shouldn't have said it, but I really wanted to set him off Steph. Part of me wanted him to get pissed and take a swing at me, so that I could beat him into the ground. Not just for what he said but for laying his hands on you. Thanks to my big mouth I got that much.
"I honestly don't remember much about the actual fight. I remember you coming out and shouting at us to stop, and I remember getting pulled off of him. What I remember most is the look on your face." He said, looking straight at her, taking one of her hands in his. "When I saw you crying I knew I had fucked up big time, and I promise you that I will never do it again. I never want to be the reason for you crying ever again." There was a brief silence that fell over them as he finished and Stephanie took the time to digest the words he had just told her.
"You've been practicing that, haven't you?" She asked him, a light smirk crossing her features as his face reddened slightly.
"A little bit, yeah." He admitted to her. She squeezed his hand. "But it's the truth."
"I never doubted it was." She said. "Paul actually told me the same story. Although he conveniently left out the part about threatening you to leave me alone." She told him. "He admitted to starting it and to arguing with you. He even mentioned how he had accused us of the affair and how you hadn't denied it. Funny thing is, when he brought it up to me again, I didn't deny it either." Chris cocked an eyebrow at her. "With Paul, sometimes it's just better to let him believe something than trying to explain the truth. Ironically enough, he was remarkably sweet after that. I guess he's been trying to win me back or something." Her sarcastic tone didn't go unnoticed by Chris.
"How's that been working for him?" He asked.
"Recently? It hasn't." She admitted. "He's been overly selfish lately and…I don't know…things just aren't what they used to be." Her phone started to ring and she glanced at it before rejecting the call. She looked back at Chris, who was watching her intently.
"I didn't tell him I was coming to meet you today." She admitted to him. "He doesn't even know that we've spoken." Chris was surprised.
"Why not?" He asked, in spite of himself. Stephanie stirred her drink with her straw as she shrugged.
"I didn't want him to try and talk me out of it. Any time I had mentioned trying to get a hold of you before he always seemed to have a good excuse not to do it." She said. "It's like I'm seeing a completely different person with him sometimes." Chris nodded and lifted Ash out of the seat before rooting through the diaper bag for a bottle. "You've really gotten the hang of this, haven't you?" She asked him, a smile crossing her face. He glanced over at her before starting to shake the bottle of formula.
"Some days it's easier than others." He said. "But for the most part, Ash is a pretty easy-going kid."
"Have you read any more of Jessica's journal?" Stephanie asked him. Chris looked over at her with an expression on his face that she had never seen before. He seemed to study her for a moment before turning his attention back to Ash.
"I burned it." He said finally. Stephanie's jaw fell open.
"You what?" She asked in disbelief. "Why?" He didn't answer right away and the waiter brought them their food in the time that he considered his response. When the waiter left again, Chris pushed some of his food around his plate with his fork.
"It just…It was killing me." He admitted. "It was the first thing I thought about in the morning. I'd start to pour through a certain section during the day when Ash was asleep, and then at night, I'd be lying there thinking about it again, wondering what sections I should search through the next day to try to find the answers I was looking for." He shook his head and set the fork down. "It was taking over my life and I just…I couldn't take it anymore. So I burned it." Stephanie grabbed Chris's hand and squeezed it.
"Hiding her cancer from you isn't –"
"Her cancer wasn't the only thing she was hiding." He said bitterly, locking eyes with her for a moment before looking away. "I was a fool to have been completely oblivious to the problems we had. I'm starting to think that the woman I loved didn't exist towards the end." Stephanie was taken aback by the harshness of his words.
"I don't understand." She said to him, plainly. He shook his head and turned his attention back to his food.
"I don't really want to get into it." He said. "How has Shane been progressing?" He asked, changing the subject. Stephanie regarded him for a moment, before answering him.
"He's doing good. They think he's going to make a full recovery." She told him, as they both started to eat. "Still acts like he's losing a limb though." She said and Chris chuckled.
"That's great to hear." He told her sincerely. The rest of their lunch was uneventful and while they weren't completely back to where they had been before, both Chris and Stephanie felt like a weight had been lifted from their chests by the time they left.
Later that evening, Stephanie was thumbing through the channels on television in Chris's hotel room while he grabbed a quick shower. Ash was, as per usual, sleeping so she was trying to keep the volume low so he wouldn't wake up. She jumped a little when her phone rang unexpectedly. She answered it quickly.
"Where the hell are you? Why haven't you been answering my calls?" Paul asked on the other end of the line, anger evident in his voice. Stephanie sighed as she got up from the bed and walked over to the balcony door.
"I've been busy, Paul." She said simply.
"Doing what? Fucking Chris?" He spat at her. Stephanie stopped in her tracks. Her mind was racing. How in the hell had he known that she was spending time with Chris today?
"What the hell gives you that idea?" She asked him. "I thought we were past that crap."
"Yeah, me too." He sneered. "I'm at the hospital with your parents and they said Shane told them you and Chris came by together earlier today. I thought you were pissed off at him for the whole fight thing." Stephanie mentally swore at her parents for telling him, but she knew that she hadn't told them otherwise. She knew she probably should have said something to them, or him, before this got out of control like this, but she really just wanted to be her own person for once.
"We talked things over, Paul. We're just catching up." She told him calmly, trying not to let him get her riled up. The last thing they needed was to have another fight.
"Catching up. Yeah. You expect me to believe that?" He snapped.
"Yes I do." She told him, seriously. "If you really trust me the way you've been saying, you will believe that." She said.
"You can't-" Paul started, but she cut him off.
"If you really want us to continue Paul, then you will trust me when I say that there is nothing sexual going on between me and Chris and if you really want to know the whole story of what's happened today, I will tell you when I get back home." She told him and hung up. She took a deep breath and let it out again as she looked out at the city view in front of her.
"I guess that was Paul?" Chris asked from behind her. Stephanie whirled in surprise and saw him standing outside the bathroom door in a t-shirt and track pants. She nodded in response.
"He's a little pissed I didn't tell him about coming to meet you." She told him, throwing her phone on the empty bed, rubbing her temple as she thought about the mess she was going to have to sort out. Chris nodded as he walked over to check on Ash.
"You can leave if you need to sort things out." He offered. "I can take care of Ash from here." Stephanie shook her head.
"He can wait." She said simply. "He's overreacting and he needs to learn to trust me." She told him, taking a seat next to him. "Been married for years now and he still doesn't trust me."
"Maybe he's just worried you'll find someone better than him and you'll run away." He told her.
"Honestly, I think he's just worried about his ego being bruised." She said. Chris didn't say anything in return and they both just sat there watching Ash for a few moments.
"Jessica cheated on me." Chris said quietly. Stephanie turned her attention to him.
"Come again?" She asked, not entirely sure she had heard him correctly.
"Jessica cheated on me." He repeated, turning to look at her and she saw that same expression he'd had earlier in the restaurant. "I got paternity results back for Ash the night I got back from Connecticut." Stephanie felt her stomach drop.
"Mine?" He finished for her. She nodded. "Yeah. Whoever gave her the sample to test with didn't match. Obviously she didn't ask me for one." Silence fell between them as Stephanie tried to wrap her head around the latest development in Chris's life.
"Did she mention who it was with?" She asked him finally. He shook his head and turned his attention back to Ash.
"No." He said. "There was a brief mention of it in the journal, but no name. Only that it was someone I work with." He turned back to Stephanie. "Honestly, at this point, I don't even care. I burned that journal to get away from this mess. I don't want to spend another minute thinking about it." She nodded before placing a hand on his forearm.
"I'm sorry, Chris." She said quietly. He shrugged.
"What are you sorry for? You didn't have anything to do with this." He said.
"I should have been there. I should have been a better friend-"
"Stop." He interrupted. "We've both been kind of slacking in the friend department. The important thing is that we're both here now – working through the mess that is our lives. Let's just…forget about it. It's been stricken from the record so we're starting with a clean plate." He studied her and she nodded as a small smile worked its way to her lips.
"I guess I should go before Paul goes crazy." She said finally. "You sure you're going to be okay?" He laughed at her.
"I'll be fine, Steph. Been doing this on my own for a while, you know." He reminded her. She nodded and gathered her things up to leave. He walked her to the door and they embraced once more.
"You're a good man, Chris." She mumbled into his chest. He nodded and smirked. He moved to open the door as she placed a kiss on his cheek. "I'll call you tomorrow." She promised, avoiding his gaze as she stepped out into the hallway to leave. Chris closed the door slowly and turned to walk back into the room. He was halfway to the bed when he realized that his hand was idly rubbing the spot she had kissed him. He pulled his hand away and turned out the lights before climbing into the bed.