Here's the next story in my alternate timeline. It follows "Everything Is Different Now" and "Tonight and the Rest of Our Lives," so you should really read those two first. There's a bit of a time jump between the end of "Tonight and the Rest of Our Lives" and "Storm," because we begin on Valentine's Day 1995, and you'll be seeing a lot of familiar faces in this story. Here we go...
February 14, 1995, 1:04 PM—Springfield Journal, Holly Lindsey-Thorpe's Office
Holly looked up from her work when she heard the knock at her door. "Come in!" she called.
The door opened to reveal Tangie Hill. "I come bearing lunch. Your usual from Company," she replied as she entered and set the white paper bag in the middle of Holly's desk. Then she noticed the green vase filled with long-stemmed red roses and baby's breath on the corner of the desk. "From Roger?" she asked knowingly.
"Thank you, and yes," Holly replied. "He's finally coming home today. He refuses to miss our first married Valentine's Day." She looked at the roses. "These are just the start, he says." Roger had been in New York on business since the fourth, the longest separation they'd endured yet since he had launched his own consulting firm with Blake at the beginning of the year. They talked on the phone for hours every night, the conversations only ending when one or the other of them (usually Holly) fell asleep, but there was no denying that they greatly missed what Roger called face time with each other. Holly was looking forward to lots of face, and other kinds of, time with Roger that night, and not just because it was Valentine's Day. "What about you? Do you have plans tonight?"
"Dinner with Patrick at The Towers Club," Tangie replied with a smile.
"Patrick?" Holly asked, puzzled. Then she remembered. "Oh, Detective Cutter! I'm so used to him referring to himself by his last name."
"So is he," Tangie replied dryly. "He said I'm the only person in his life who calls him by his first name."
"What did you say when he told you that?" Holly asked.
"I told him it's good to be distinctive. He agreed," Tangie replied.
"I'm almost afraid to say anything, but things have been pretty quiet out there so far today," Holly said, knocking her knuckles on her desk.
"Fletcher apparently has big plans with Alexandra tonight," Tangie said. "That accounts for his good mood."
"It's about time he was in a good mood," Holly muttered.
"He has been pretty surly all year," Tangie agreed. "And you take the brunt of it since you're the publisher and he's the editor."
Holly's phone rang then. "Excuse me," she said. She answered as she always did, "Springfield Journal, Holly Lindsey-Thorpe."
"I'm at O'Hare, and the second I hang up this phone, I'm getting on a plane and coming home!" Roger exclaimed happily on the other end of the line.
"You got an earlier flight?" Holly asked, her whole face lighting up. Tangie, realizing it was Roger on the phone, returned to the bullpen, quietly closing Holly's office door behind her to give her boss privacy.
"I got an earlier flight," Roger replied. "Should I just catch a cab home, or can you meet me?"
"I'll be there," Holly said firmly. "What time do you get in?"
"If there aren't any delays, a little after three," Roger said.
"I'll be waiting," Holly promised. "Hurry home."
"I'm praying for a strong tailwind," Roger replied. "I love you."
"I love you too," Holly said. "See you soon."
"'Bye," Roger said.
After hanging up the phone, Holly quickly straightened up her desk, gathered her things, including her yet-to-be eaten lunch, put on her coat, and headed out. She knew there was no way she'd be able to concentrate on work now.
"You're leaving already?" Fletcher called after her as she breezed past his desk.
For the first time all year, he didn't sound angry or disgusted, so when Holly stopped and turned around to answer Fletcher, she returned the effort by not being sarcastic. "Yes, actually," she said.
Fletcher waved her off. "It's a good day to cut out early. Not much going on," he said. "I've got this." He gestured to the bullpen.
She gave him a genuine smile. "Thank you, Fletcher," she said before hurrying to the doors leading outside.
"Just don't get used to it!" Fletcher called after her.
"I wouldn't dream of it!" Holly called back before she boarded the elevator to the parking garage.
February 14, 1995, 3:06 PM—Springfield Airport
As soon as Roger entered the airport proper, he saw Holly waiting for him at the gate, the very picture of excited anticipation. The light in her eyes, the faint flush of her cheeks, the smile on her face… It was difficult going ten days without seeing her, without touching her, and he hoped he would never be away from her for that long again. He was still amazed every day that Holly was finally, really his wife.
The gate wasn't too crowded, one of the perks of a Tuesday afternoon flight. Roger knew the second Holly spotted him, because her smile grew, her eyes got even brighter, and she started hurrying toward him. He lengthened his own stride, and it was mere seconds before he dropped his briefcase and garment bag at his sides, picked her up and swung her around, capturing her lips in a kiss filled with promise. They were still kissing when he gently set her back on her feet, her hands gripping his shoulders as his arms encircled her waist. When the need for oxygen forced the kiss to end, he rested his forehead against hers for a moment. "Oh, I missed you," she whispered, touching his face.
"I missed you too," he whispered back. He bent to retrieve his briefcase and garment bag, and Holly threaded her arm through his as they headed for the baggage claim.
Once they had claimed his suitcase and were in the car, Roger asked, "So, do you have to go back to the office?"
She glanced away from the road to beam at him. "No," she said. "We have the whole rest of the day…and night."
"Good," Roger said. "I'd hate to think we had to rush anything."
"Speaking of a rush, what did McNamara decide?" Holly asked, seeking a safe topic of conversation that would distract her from the feeling of Roger's hand resting on her thigh.
"He decided to hire Thorpe and Marler," Roger said. "This will be the firm's first major job. It could open a lot of doors for us."
"Oh, Roger, that's wonderful!" Holly exclaimed happily. "I'm so proud of you!"
"I'm proud of me too," Roger admitted. "Before now, I was always doing some other company's bidding, or trying to. But this time, it's all me. Well, me and Chrissy. I'm not doing this for anybody else's company, I'm doing it for mine. And I have to say, I like the feeling. I like it a lot."
"I loved the roses," Holly told him then. "Thank you."
"Like I said in the card, those are just the beginning," he said. The hand he had resting on her thigh began slowly inching up under her skirt then.
Holly glanced from the road to him again, and the look in her eyes would have melted steel. "Are you trying to make me wreck the car?" she asked.
"It's been ten days, Holly," Roger said.
"Ten interminably long days," she agreed. "But if your fingers move even half an inch higher, I'll crash the car, I know it." She paused, then said, "We'll be home in five minutes. If you can control yourself until then, I'll give you the most mind-blowing welcome home you've had yet."
Roger groaned at the images that flashed across his mind at Holly's words, but removed his hand from her thigh. Five minutes later, Holly screeched the car to a halt in the driveway. "Should we get your luggage later?" she asked.
"Yes," Roger said. He picked up his briefcase from the floor then. "I do want to take this inside, though, since your Valentine's presents are in it."
"I got you something too," Holly told him as they got out of the car. At the gleam in his eyes, she said, "Besides that, I mean."
"So, presents now or later?" Roger asked as Holly unlocked the front door and he followed her inside.
Holly closed and locked the front door, then pushed Roger up against it. "Later," she said before grabbing his face and planting a sizzling kiss on his lips. Roger responded instinctively, dropping his briefcase, wrapping his arms around Holly, pulling her flush against him, and giving her a sizzling kiss in return. His hands roamed up and down her back as hers moved to his shoulders. Seconds later, they were leaving a trail of clothes from in front of the front door past the couch and down the hall to their bedroom.
They were both half-naked by the time they tumbled onto their bed in a tangle of limbs, lips roaming over each other's faces and necks the whole time. As she fumbled with his belt and zipper, he noticed the black satin chemise she was wearing now that her jacket and turtleneck were somewhere in the living room…or possibly the hall. "This is new, isn't it?" he asked breathlessly as his fingers trailed along the garment's hemline.
"Yes. Admire it later, take it off now," Holly said breathlessly as she straddled his waist and put her arms up. Roger tugged the garment up and off, flinging it aside before sitting up to kiss his way down her now-bare torso. She tangled her fingers in his hair, relishing the feel of him before they got the rest of their clothes off, fell back onto the mattress together, and proceeded to get happily and thoroughly lost in each other.
February 14, 1995, 4:27 PM—Roger and Holly's House
"Wow," Roger said when he could speak.
Holly gave him a sated smile. "Wow yourself," she replied. "Ten days was way too long, but wow is definitely right."
"Mind-blowing," Roger agreed, looking at her with a mix of awe at how incredible she was and pride that he was responsible for her sated smile. "Completely mind-blowing."
She kissed his jaw before resting her head in the crook of his neck with a contented sigh. He slowly caressed her shoulder and back as they lay there, just enjoying being in each other's arms again after what felt like an eternity apart, the longest separation of their marriage so far.
"What do you want to do about dinner?" Holly asked after several minutes. "I mean, it's still early, but…"
"It's already taken care of," Roger replied. "We have a 7:00 reservation."
"Where?" Holly asked.
"Martinelli's," Roger told her.
She sat up and looked at him. "Martinelli's? There's a one-month waiting list for a table there!"
He looked up at her with a grin. "Which is why I called the second week of January," he said.
She smiled at him. "You're remarkable," she said. "The roses, dinner at a restaurant I've been dying to try for months…"
"And the presents we didn't get to earlier…well, two of the three," he amended.
"Oh!" Holly exclaimed, remembering. "I want you to open yours before we start getting ready to go out."
Roger sat up and threw off the covers, reaching down to the floor to snag his boxers, and pulling them on once he was on his feet. "Wait here," he told Holly. He left, returning not sixty seconds later with his briefcase. He got back in bed, holding the briefcase on his lap, and opened it. Holly tried to peek and see what was in there, but he quickly turned the briefcase so she couldn't see the contents. "Let's see…" he said thoughtfully. "I think this one should be first." He took a document out of the briefcase and handed it to her.
She looked at the document. "It looks like a contract," she said.
"It is a contract," Roger told her, "for the station manager at WSPR. Are you interested?"
"What?" Holly asked, shocked.
"The network wants to promote Gilly to New York, and she's taking the job," Roger replied. "She's already put in her two weeks' notice. You haven't seemed to really enjoy your job at the Journal for a while now. Gilly getting kicked up to the network means WSPR needs a station manager. If you're interested, the job is yours."
"Station manager?" Holly asked.
"And since Gilly still did live remotes when she was station manager, the precedent is in place, so you would have the latitude to do some producing for the news or for other in-house programming, as you saw fit," Roger continued. "That's a standard contract, but we can have the station's lawyer in to negotiate something different if you want. And I can guarantee that at least one of the two principle owners would be completely hands off…in regards to the station, that is." Holly looked from the contract to Roger. "It's entirely your decision, Hol. If you want to stay at the Journal, I'll support you a thousand percent. But the opportunity is there at WSPR. All you have to do is say the word, and if you're not interested, then we'll just get somebody else."
"You're right, the Journal has been one headache after another for quite a while now," Holly admitted. "And I did love it at WSPR…and only partly because I was working with you, which I couldn't admit then, even to myself. The energy and the vibe there was so much different than it is at the Journal, and I really liked it. I don't think I realized until now just how much I've missed it."
"Is that a yes?" Roger asked.
Holly nodded and smiled. "It's a yes," she said. She held up the contract. "But I don't think we have time to iron this all out now, do we?"
"No," Roger agreed. "So we'll go over it later. Now…" He opened his briefcase again and removed a small package wrapped in red foil and tied with a white ribbon, holding it out to her.
She eagerly tore off the ribbon and wrapping to reveal the distinctive blue box of Tiffany's. She looked up at him, watching her with dancing eyes and a hopeful smile. "What did you do?" she asked him.
"I was in New York for the ten days before Valentine's Day," he reminded her. "Of course I went to Tiffany's."
Holly opened the Tiffany's box, poured the small, black velvet box out into her hand, then opened it, gasping when she saw the contents. "Oh, Roger!" she whispered. Nestled inside the box were the most gorgeous pair of emerald earrings, the round green stones set in gold winking in the dim light of the room.
"The second I saw those, they reminded me of you," Roger said softly. "The salesclerk said that emeralds are the 20th anniversary gemstone, but I didn't want to wait that long."
"I'm glad you didn't," Holly whispered emotionally. She launched herself at him and kissed him soundly. When she pulled back, she said, "They're beautiful. I'll wear them tonight. Thank you."
"You're welcome," he said softly. "As for your third present, that's for later, after we get home."
"Then it's your turn!" Holly exclaimed. She carefully set the box with her new earrings on her nightstand, then opened the nightstand drawer and removed a small package wrapped in blue paper with a small silver bow. "Happy Valentine's Day," she said as she handed it to Roger.
He tore open the package to reveal a new watch. Its face was black, with white Roman numerals, white hour, minute, and second hands, and a white date indicator above the numeral six, and a stainless steel band and casing. "I had it engraved," Holly said.
Roger turned the watch over. On the back were the words, My heart is yours until the end of time. Holly
"I love it," he said. "Thank you." He kissed her again, and things were starting to get heated when he forced himself to pull back. "Dinner," he reminded her. "We have to get ready."
"Right," she said, letting the hand that had been cupping the back of his head drop to his shoulder. "But we'll continue this after dinner."
"Definitely," he agreed.
She kissed him again quickly. "I'm just gonna take a quick shower, and then you can have it," she said as she got out of bed, grabbed her black satin chemise from the foot of the bed, and headed for the bathroom. He would have suggested they shower together, but he knew if they did, they'd never make it out of the house.
When she returned from the shower, she was wearing the chemise as she headed for her closet. "Your turn," she said.
He turned from the dresser, where he had just removed a fresh white dress shirt, and ogled her appreciatively. "You do look amazing in that," he said.
She beamed. "So do you in those red silk boxer shorts," she replied. She bit her lip. "Dinner," she said, reminding herself more than him.
"Yes," Roger said resolutely, closing the drawer as he laid the clean shirt on his side of the bed. "It's our first Valentine's Day married. I want to show my wife a good time, even if everyone else is wondering what she's doing with me."
"They can wonder. She knows what she's doing with you, and doesn't care one whit what they think," Holly said. Roger smiled at her before heading for the shower himself.
When he returned to the bedroom, Holly was standing in front of the mirror in a long-sleeved black sequined dress that touched her knees, black silk stockings, and low black heels, putting in her earrings. He tossed his towel at the hamper, making a mental note to put it in the hamper later, put on a fresh pair of boxers (silk again, Holly noticed, but black this time) and his shirt, then went to his closet for his black suit. As he was tying his tie (red with white stripes, in honor of the holiday) in the mirror, Holly came up behind him, put his hands down at his sides, and finished tying the tie for him while looking over his shoulder at their reflections in the mirror. When she was finished, he turned to face her, and she straightened his tie before turning his collar down. "You are a goddess," he said.
She beamed at him. "You're looking very striking yourself," she said.
He held out his arm to her. "Shall we?" he asked.
She grabbed her bag from her vanity, put her arm through his, and they headed off for their Valentine's Day date.
February 14, 1995, 6:29 PM—The Spaulding Mansion
Fletcher smoothed his tie and carefully shifted the bouquet of lilies of the valley wrapped in cellophane to his other hand so he could check his watch. 6:30. Okay, plenty of time. Their reservation wasn't until 7:30.
He looked up when he heard voices approaching the library, but it wasn't Alexandra who entered; it was Alan and Hope. Hope was resplendent in a deep pink satin evening gown with matching wrap, her long blonde hair pulled into an elegant twist, the diamond necklace Alan had presented her with before they came downstairs glinting around her neck, and Alan cut a dashing figure in his black tuxedo with white tie and vest. Hope smiled at Fletcher. "You look very handsome, Fletcher," she said. Fletcher was wearing a navy blue suit with a crisp white dress shirt and paisley tie.
"You're looking gorgeous tonight yourself, Hope," Fletcher replied. He inclined his head at Alex's brother. "Alan."
Alan nodded to Fletcher. "Fletcher. What do you and my sister have planned for this evening?"
"Dinner at that French restaurant downtown Alex loves that I can't pronounce the name of, followed by a carriage ride," Fletcher replied. "How 'bout you kids?"
"Dinner and dancing," Hope answered. She looked to her husband with a smile, which Alan returned. This was their first Valentine's Day since Alan had been released from prison, and they were excited about it.
"We have a 7:00 reservation, Hope, so we'd better get going," Alan said.
"Have a good time," Fletcher said as they turned to leave.
"You too," Hope replied with a smile. Alan put his hand at the small of her back as they departed the library, and the closing of the front door signaled that they were gone.
A few minutes later, Alex finally entered the library, but she didn't notice Fletcher standing there with the flowers because she had her nose buried in a file folder, and she was still wearing the suit she had worn to work that day. She literally bumped into Fletcher before she noticed him standing there, holding a bouquet of lilies of the valley and dressed to the nines in an unrumpled suit and tie.
The smile didn't leave Fletcher's face. "You forgot, didn't you?" he asked knowingly.
"Forgot?" Alex asked blankly.
"Valentine's Day," Fletcher said. "But it's okay. Our reservation's not until 7:30, so you have time to get ready before we have to be there."
"Today is Valentine's Day?" Alex asked, surprised.
"Yup," Fletcher replied. "Hence the fancy noose and the freshly pressed suit." He gestured to his attire.
Alex looked uncomfortable. "Fletch…I really did forget," she said anxiously.
"Don't worry about it. We have plenty of time," he assured her.
"I'm afraid I can't go out tonight," she said regretfully.
Fletcher's smile disappeared as if a switch had been flipped. "Why not?" he asked, struggling to keep his voice even.
Alex held up the file folder. "There's a board meeting in three days, and I have to be ready for it. Alan has been doing a brilliant job of making me look unprepared lately, and that stops right now."
"It's in three days," Fletcher said.
"Yes," Alex said with a nod.
"Then you've got time to cram for it. We haven't been on an honest-to-goodness date all year, Alexandra, and it's Valentine's Day," Fletcher said. "I made plans. I made plans specifically with you, with us, in mind."
"Fletcher, there's too much for me to go over before the board meeting. I'm sorry, but I really can't go out tonight," Alex said.
Fletcher snapped then. "Of course you can't," he said sarcastically. "God forbid you give me two measly hours of your time on Valentine's Day! Valentine's Day is a day for love, for romance, for couples. The first two items on that list have been in damn short supply for us the last several months, and we barely qualify as the third item." He recalled Holly rushing out of the Journal shortly after one o'clock that afternoon then. The grapevine said that Roger had been out of town on business but was due back today. They were celebrating Valentine's Day. Alan and Hope were celebrating Valentine's Day. The entire free world was celebrating Valentine's Day…except for him and Alex.
The thought of everyone else he knew celebrating Valentine's Day two by two—Alan and Hope; Nick and Mindy; Ross and Blake; Vanessa and Matt; Ed and Maureen; Holly and Roger; heck, even his own son Ben had gotten up the nerve to give a Valentine's card to Michelle Bauer at school that day—made Fletcher angrier than he already was.
"Fletcher, you know I love you!" Alex exclaimed.
"Do I? Because you haven't said it or shown it in weeks. I don't need for us to be joined at the hip, sweetheart, but it would be nice if you'd occasionally notice we happen to be sleeping in the same bed…that is, when you bother to show up to sleep, since we certainly aren't doing anything else in there," he added acidly.
"Is that what this is about? The fact that I haven't been in the mood lately?" Alex asked angrily.
"I'm no sex maniac!" Fletcher exclaimed. "This is about the fact that you have no time for me at all, and it's been that way all year!"
"Now we're back to Ed and Maureen's on New Year's Eve. That was six weeks ago, Fletcher! Aren't you ever going to let it go?" Alex asked.
"Well, let's see…on New Year's Eve, you were so busy complaining about Mindy and Nick going away for the holiday that you couldn't be bothered to count down to midnight with me," he said. "Now it's Valentine's Day, and you're too busy trying to show up your brother, who happens to be out celebrating with his wife right now, to go to dinner with me. I don't know what I'm still hanging around here for. You don't seem to need me for anything but somebody to complain to when Nick is too busy to listen to it, and you don't seem to want me around at any time because I just get in the way of your corporate plotting and scheming. You didn't even know I was in here until you walked into me, for cryin' out loud!" He stalked toward the door to the library.
"The company needs all of my time and attention right now!" Alex insisted. "You know what it's been like since Alan came home."
Fletcher spun around to face Alex. "And if it wasn't Alan and the company, you'd be complaining about Nick and Mindy again," he said. "I need more in this relationship than listening to you obsess about your brother, your son's marriage, and your company, Alex. I need a hell of a lot more. For God's sake, even Roger and Holly, as twisted as their history is, have gotten it together!"
"Are you comparing me to Roger Thorpe?" Alex exploded, her voice rising an octave.
"No, because…and I can't believe I'm saying this, but I've seen it for myself for the last six weeks…Roger is a lot better at his marriage to Holly than you are at your relationship to me. I could accept it if I didn't come first with you all the time, but I'd at least like to have the top spot once in a while."
He turned to the door. "Don't you walk out on me, Fletcher!" Alex warned.
He looked over his shoulder at her. "You don't need me, sweetheart, you have that exciting manila folder there!" Fletcher shouted acerbically. "You don't have to hit me over the head. I get it. You walked out on me on New Year's Eve, you're blowing me off on Valentine's Day, so don't worry, I won't bother darkening your doorstep on St. Patrick's Day. I do think I'll get started on the pub crawl a bit early, though. I'm going out, Alexandra, by myself. Enjoy your evening!" He slammed the flowers in the trash can and stormed out.
Alex angrily threw the manila folder down, scattering its contents across the rug. If Roger hadn't bailed on her back in November because he was so lovestruck about Holly, she might not feel so ill-equipped to defend her fair share of the company, and Nick's future stake in the company, against Alan and Alan-Michael. She had no problem with Alan returning to work full-time, but she didn't want to give up the amount of control she had, or gamble with Nick's rightful share of his legacy, by ceding more of Spaulding Enterprises than she felt Alan truly deserved. For all his faults, and they were legion, Roger was a brilliant businessman. But he had turned his nose up at her, and at Spaulding Enterprises, to go off and marry Holly and launch a company of his own, at the very moment she could have used his shark-like business tactics the most.
She would have to make it up to Fletcher. Maybe she could carve out enough time to have dinner with him and try to make it up to him for canceling on him tonight, but not until after the board meeting. As she retrieved the papers from the rug, Alex vowed that Alan would not get the best of her, or make her look like a doddering fool, in front of the board yet again, no matter what she had to do.