*Author's Notes - -

Hello, all.

I don't know how long it'll be before I add the next chapter as I'll be trying to wrap the story up within the next few chapters. I hadn't intended to go this long, (I always tend to write too much) and I think I need to put a stop to this story before it turns into something like that other very, very, very long story that some of you have read away from this site, as it's not posted here. What a mess that one is, and it still isn't finished. ;)

Thank you for sticking around for as long as you have, and maybe you'll stick it out until the end.


(Chapter Twenty-nine)

"It's okay, and I do forgive you." Dee Dee looked at Rick. "I forgive both of you as I was partly at fault, and I've learned that I don't have to please others in order to make myself happy."

"I really am proud of you, Dee Dee." Anna replied. "You've done a lot to make me proud, but I guess for my own selfish reasons, I didn't feel that you needed to know. And, you're right about not having to please others when it comes to your own happiness. I now know that I shouldn't have made you feel otherwise."

Dee Dee acknowledged the reply with a nod. "I want to add something else about my relationship with Mark. I want you two to think about something. How many men have I given my heart to? How many have I opened up with my feelings and told them about all the horrible things that went on in my life? How many know about most of the pain and suffering I've seen others go through while I was working, the pain and suffering I've been through in my own life, the happiness, the success…you know, all about me?"

The two were quiet for a moment, unsure of just how to answer. Rick finally spoke up. "I'd say…Steve, Alex and me."

"Yeah, but the three of you never knew the exact same thing. Steve was my first love and sharing everything with him about my life was just so right. Everything was so new…such an adventure with him." She smiled lightly at the thought. "Rick, after Steve died, you knew what I went through during that time as you were there from the start. Alex knew of some of it, but since I'd gotten through it with you, I didn't feel the need to fill him in on every single detail. Also, I kept some other things from him because I just didn't feel that certain connection as to where I wanted him to know everything. Some of the things were meant to be kept private between you and me, you know?" Rick nodded as she continued. "When we were working together and when we took things to a higher level, we already knew so many personal details about each other and we continued to share even more. The reason we could do that is because we trusted each other, and we also loved each other. I've never ever shared my deepest feelings with any of the other guys I dated, and the reason is because I didn't truly love them. I couldn't give them my heart. I loved Alex, but he didn't have my heart the way that you and Steve did." She hesitated and took Mark's hand in hers. "Mark and I love each other and he also has my heart. I've been able to confide in him because of that. There's no way to explain why we're together, except for believing that a higher power sent him to me so I could survive. If we hadn't fallen in love…if I hadn't given him my heart, I wouldn't have been able to share my pain and I may have killed myself or at least have lost my mind. I survived so many other things because of Steve and because of you, Rick." She looked at him and Anna. "Don't you both understand? If I can't trust a man with my heart, I can't trust him with my life." She heaved a sigh as more tension eased from her body. "I'm not sure of what the future holds when it comes to my being with Mark, but at the moment, I'm very happy with him. There's nothing written in stone that says how long we'll be together, if we'll get married, or anything. We just want to enjoy our time together for however long that will be. As we all know, the following day is not promised to us, so if you have someone to love, you need to love them while you have the chance. We just want to be happy, and I think we deserve to be."

Rick believed that some level of love did exist for the couple, though it ripped through his heart like a jagged piece of glass. "I want you to be happy." That was all he could muster with sincerity.

"Thank you." Dee Dee stood and met him in the center of the room. She took his hands in hers as tears welled in their eyes. "I need to get myself back on track, but I want you to know that I want you in my life. I still love you and I want our friendship back."

"I love you, too." Rick blinked away his tears. "Just tell me what you need from me."

"I still need more time to heal and I have no idea of how long that'll take. I'm not throwing you away, so don't worry about that. I just have to figure some things out when it comes to how I want to rebuild our relationship. I've been talking to Mark about traveling, maybe going along with him during some of his concert tours and just the two of us getting away, you know?"

"I understand. I want you to do what you feel is best."

Anna nodded in agreement. "So do I."

"I really appreciate you both for that. I know that it's been a tough time for us all, and though I was difficult to deal with at times, I'm glad that you didn't give up on me. I really did need you even if I acted as if I didn't. You two are so strong to have gone through all of this and still be there for me."

Rick grabbed Dee Dee's hand. "That's what you do for someone out of love."

"I see that, and I'm truly thankful."

"You deserve all the love that you get and more." Rick smiled. "I'm just glad to know that you're still willing to have me in your life."

Dee Dee smiled softly and squeezed Rick's hand. "I'm glad you feel the same way about me."

Rick pulled her close. "I'm always here for you, even if you think I'm not."

Dee Dee slowly pulled away. "I'm sorry that I was so hard on you about that. I just…"

"No, don't apologize. I didn't mean for you to. I also want to say that I'm sorry if I was too tough on you about getting you to open up about your feelings."

"Yeah, well…" Dee Dee sighed with a little bit of a smile. "Don't worry about it. I guess sometimes friends have to be tough on one another in order to help them through tough times."

Rick was relieved that Dee Dee could now bring herself to have him as part of her life again, but he still couldn't fully comprehend how she and Mark were so close in such a short length of time. He did believe that they cared a lot about each other, but was it all they said it was? With Mark holding his position in Dee Dee's life, it would be an even harder task for him to have her back and to have her completely as his own. If he wasn't careful, he could screw up and lose her forever, but he had to find a way to delve deeper into this romance and find a way to pull her out of it. "Mark is just too perfect to be real. There's gotta be something on him. I've just gotta find out what."