Since You Went Away

Lily and Dusty

"So catch me up," he said as he dropped down beside her on the bench. She was hyperaware of the heat of his body next to her, scalding her even through her clothing. He looked so handsome; so damn sexy. Some things - not even presumed death - changed. Her reaction to his nearness definitely hadn't changed.

She looked at him as she continued tossing dried bread crumbs to the birds in the park. "On what?"

"What's been going on with you since I went away," he said.

"'Went away'? Is that what you're calling it?" she asked in a low voice. "Because you faking your death ... It was so wrong."

"I had no other choice. Everyone wanted me gone - including you."

"Gee, Dusty, I wish every time things went wrong for me I could just play dead for months. Everyone else be damned." Her voice was laced with bitter recrimination. She didn't know if she could forgive him for pretending to be dead for so long. Sure, James Stenbeck had made it all the worse but Dusty had always sworn he wouldn't be the one to leave her, to hurt her, and he had lied.

"You're bitter."

"Damn right I'm bitter!" she snapped, wanting to hit for that comment alone but resisting by sheer force of will. She was Lily Walsh-Snyder. Lily handled her problems much more decorously. Bullshit. She should hit him for making her love him and then walking away.

"I'm sorry if I hurt you," Dusty said. "I never wanted that."

"Oh sure," she sniffed. "You helped break up my marriage, pull me away from my kids..."

Dusty rolled his eyes. "I didn't come here to fight. As you pointed out, I was gone for awhile-"

"Your choice. At least at the start."

"The point is, Lil, I am here now. Let's not waste anymore time being angry."

"That's easy for you to say. You got to walk away and be free for awhile. I was stuck here going through rehab, coming back and trying to make things work with Holden, and him acting like I was a complete stranger. He shunned me and then he just took up with Carly and you should have been around. I didn't want to do it alone. I shouldn't have had to."

"You're right," he admitted. "And I'm sorry things all went to hell. I wanted you to be happy. That's one reason I left. To make things easier for you."

Lily shook her head as pitiful, humiliating tears filmed her eyes. "You think that makes it easier? Hell no it wasn't easier, Dusty. Maybe for you but not for me. I loved you and you walked away, let me believe that you took your last breath believing I hated you when it was just the opposite. I felt so guilty ... So damn you, Dusty, damn you to hell. Go back to playing dead. I don't care anymore."

She shot off the bench then and started stomping out of the park. He was following after her immediately, reaching for her wrist, pulling her to a stop, using his leverage on her to turn her around to face him. He reached out with his free hand and slid his calloused fingers under her chin, titling it upwards, bringing her misty hazel eyes up to meet his stormy brown ones. "You think it was so easy for me, Lily?" he said. "Then you're wrong. I missed you every goddamn day, every second really. You were in my thoughts constantly. I wanted you so badly but I wanted you to be happy even more and I believed that Holden was it for you, that I was just a distraction until you two worked things out again. I wasn't willing to destroy your life just to be the fallback guy."

The tears she had been holding back gave way and trickled down her face. He caught every single one with his fingertips, wiping them away as fast as they came. "Lil, don't cry," he said.

"I missed you so much, Dusty," she said. "I did. For a moment there, I even thought I was pregnant. I took a test and I was hoping - honestly praying - that I was carrying your child, just to have a part of you. I was a married woman - I still am, even in name only - and I wanted your baby, I wanted you, I wanted it all with you."

"Lily, it's not too late to have it all," he said, thumbing her moist cheek.

"It is, Dusty, it is," she cried. "I would have walked away from it all for you. Before. But it's too late now. I found out this morning Holden and I are expecting again. I wanted your baby but I'm having his."

"Lily-"

"Don't, Dusty. Let's not make more promises we can't keep," she said and lightly pushed his hand away even though it felt so warm on her skin.

"We can raise the baby together," Dusty offered.

"No, no we can't, Dusty. Holden and I are trying to make it work so for the sake of our children and this coming baby. We need to do that."

"Staying together for the kids... It never works, Lil. It's not what you want."

"I will make it work this time," Lily said. "You chose Emily and then you chose to fake your death and leave me. You have no say in what I do anymore."

"Lily -"

But she was already turning and leaving and this time, he knew he couldn't stop her.