tagRomanceThe Mask

The Mask

byDG Hear©

A big Thank You to WanderingScot for his editing of this story.

*

Chapter 1

Life is fickle if I may call it that. When we're young we have all these hopes and dreams and are told we can be anything as long as we try hard. I guess sometimes it's true but at other times we just don't have control over how things turn out.

My best friend while growing up was Kerry. We were both from families with higher incomes. In grade school we considered ourselves boyfriend and girlfriend. We loved being together and even talked about how when we got older we would get married and how many kids we would have.

Our parents would always laugh when Kerry said she wanted two kids and I said I wanted three. So I told her she could go ahead and have two and I would have three. I think we were about six years old at the time.

Time went on and we even spent our junior high school years together. Then my life as well as Kerry's was turned upside down. One day when Kerry was thirteen she was on her bike and was hit by a truck.

She was life-flighted to the hospital in critical condition. I couldn't help crying when I heard about it. I wanted to go see her but my parents said it wouldn't be a good idea, besides she was having major surgery and would more than likely be in a coma.

It turned out she broke both legs and had major head injuries. I felt so bad knowing that there was nothing I could do. It was summer time and I spent my whole vacation worrying about Kerry.

As she was getting better I was later told that after the accident she had only a seventy-thirty chance of surviving the accident but now they thought her chances were very good. It was over a month later before they told me I could go see her but they still advised against it.

"Why, Mom? Why don't you want me to see her?" I asked.

"John, Kerry has undergone a number of surgeries. Her head and face are completely wrapped except for her eyes and mouth. I know it's going to be hard on you as well as Kerry."

"I have to go see her Mom, she's my friend" I responded.

When I walked into her room she was conscious. The moment I saw her I had tears running down my face. I couldn't believe what I saw. Her head and face was wrapped in a mask like a mummy. There was no way anyone would even know who she was.

"Hi Kerry," I said under tearful eyes.

"John, I guess I blew it this time. The plans for our future will have to be put on hold. I'm being transferred to the Mayo clinic and won't be home for some time. You'll have to learn to study by yourself." She was trying to be funny but I knew she was scared.

It was Kerry that kept me on the straight and narrow. She helped me study which helped improve my grades. I couldn't picture my day to day life without her. God I was going to miss her.

I honestly didn't know what to say. I just blurted out whatever I could think of. "Let me know how things are going from time to time. You're still my best friend." I squeezed her hand and quickly walked out of her room. I didn't want her to see me crying.

In the hallway my parents told me that she would have to go through a number of surgeries and skin grafts. It would take a few years before she would be done with all the medical work and they still weren't sure how she would look.

I knew I still had to go back in and say goodbye. I wiped the tears from my eyes as I walked back in the room to say goodbye to my best friend. I know she could see that I had been crying. She was always such a smart girl. She had both the looks and the brains. I had to ask "Why God? Why Kerry?"

I could tell she was looking at me. "John, don't worry about me and I want you to go out there and be the best football player ever. If you don't want to do it for yourself, then do it for me. I don't know how I will look after all the operations, but just remember that beauty is only skin deep and I will still be the same person on the inside."

I had always talked with Kerry telling her how I wanted to play pro football and make lots of money and she could spend it on herself and our kids. I was basing all my future plans on us being together. Now the only plan I had was to be the best football player I could be. I was going to do it for Kerry.

****

All that took place seventeen years ago. I never heard from Kerry again but I can't say that I never thought about her. I guess it's called 'alone time' when you sit there all by yourself and think about your past and the good and the bad times. My best times were when I was a kid and being with Kerry. My worst time was seeing Kerry in the hospital. I often wondered what happened to her.

I will explain more about my life throughout this story. I was now a thirty-one year old man who owned a car dealership. I've had a number of ups and downs throughout my life.

Tonight I was to go to a Halloween party with everyone in my dealership. I had over twenty-five employees and we decided to go to a party at the Hilton Inn.

I had my secretary pick me up a costume, and I ended up with a cowboy outfit. She told me I was Roy Rogers. Actually I kind of liked the outfit except for the guns. I told her I could do without them.

The party was a lot of fun; I had a lot of good people who worked for me and I supplied the drinks for them during the evening. There were a lot of other people there also and we mingled with them. I was intrigued with a woman who was dressed as Cat Woman from the Batman series.

Her outfit was all black and very tight. It showed all her curves; she was lean and the suit fit her like a glove. The only thing that bothered me was she wore a full head mask. I could only see her eyes and the opening for her mouth. It brought back thoughts of Kerry.

The first time she walked by me she said, "Hi John, good to see you again," and walked away.

I have to admit this grabbed my attention. I walked over to her and asked her if she would like to dance and maybe have a drink.

"The drink would be nice but I'm not in the mood for dancing," she replied.

She had me intrigued. "How about a little conversation instead?" I asked.

"That would be nice. My name is Kat, as in Cat Woman," she said as she laughed. "My husband is meeting me here, so I have a few minutes."

I sat down and waited for our drinks to come. "So Kat, how is it we know each other."

"I've know you most of my life John. We even went to the same High school."

At first when she said we've know each other I thought about Kerry again. I didn't want to blurt out her name so I just asked questions. "Did we ever date?"

"Not hardly! When I was a freshman, you were a senior. All the girls had a crush on you."

"So what else do you know about me?" I asked.

"I know everything about you John. Don't forget you're a celebrity. Everyone knows about you. You were 'All State' in high school. Then you went to State college where you were a tight end. After that you were picked in the second round of the Pro Draft and played for two years before that horrible knee injury that ended your career."

"I can't believe you know so much about me. Why don't you take off your mask to I can see who you are?"

"I don't think so John. I prefer to keep it on. Don't want to scare you or anything," she replied.

At that moment a chill ran up my spine. I thought about Kerry's covered face and of course I had to wonder what it must have looked like under the bandages. I tried to recover but I know Kat noticed my reaction.

"What's the matter John? Did I say something to upset you? I'm sorry, I didn't mean to."

I know she said we were in the same school and that she said she was younger but I had to wonder if it just might be Kerry. "Are you sure that we never dated?" I asked.

"John, not to be disrespectful but you dated a lot of bimbo's and groupies. Also a few celebrities; you were also married and divorced twice. I'm sorry but I don't exactly fall into any of those categories."

"I'm sorry. I know I screwed up my life pretty good. I really am trying to change it now. It's just that you remind me so much of a childhood friend; even though it's been quite a few years, I think about her often."

"Not to pry but I'm a good listener, a shoulder to lean on, what's your friends' name?"

"You wouldn't know her, it was a long time ago. Her name was Kerry Underwood." I know I had tears in my eyes when I said her name.

"John, I know a Kerry Underwood. She was hurt in a car accident when she was just a teenager."

"What? You know Kerry? What can you tell me about her?"

"Oh, here comes my husband," said Kat. "Jim this is John Taylor, the pro football player from our town."

"Good to meet you John. I followed your career, too bad about the knee injury," replied Jim.

"Nice to meet you too Jim. Kat, I'm sorry, you are with your friends at a party and I'm taking up your time, but I would like to talk to you more about Kerry later." I replied.

"That would be nice. Maybe we can set up a lunch date if Jim doesn't mind," said Kat.

"Honey, you know I trust you," replied Jim.

"So, John, I'll see you later," said Kat as she walked away.

I sure wish I could have talked to her longer. Now she has me thinking about Kerry again.

I had ignored my friends and had to get back with them for the evening. I knew I had to get back to Kat eventually and learn more about Kerry. I just hoped she would get back to me. Hell, I didn't even get her last name.

****

A couple of weeks had gone by and I didn't hear from Kat. Then one day while I was at the dealership my secretary came in and told me a woman wanted to speak with me in private.

"Who is it?" I asked Thelma.

"She said to tell you she's Cat Woman," said Thelma with a smile. "She's a good looking woman John but she has a wedding ring on her finger."

I've know Thelma all of my life. She was my dad's sister and of course my aunt. She was married with three grown kids. She has always been my closest relative outside of my parents. When I bought this dealership she came in for her job interview. I had to laugh because I couldn't run the dealership without her. My mom even said I needed her to keep me straight. She was one of the few women that I knew I could trust.

"Send her in Thelma. I've been wanting to see her. She knows about an old friend of mine. Please hold all my calls and I might even be going to lunch."

When Kat walked in I stood up to meet her. She was a beautiful woman but I did not remember ever seeing her. The only downside was I thought there was a chance that she might have been Kerry, but she wasn't.

"Please come in, I was so wanting to talk to you. Please sit down," I asked.

"Thank you, I know you are wondering who I am. I know that you had a slight hope that I was Kerry, but I'm not.

"No...I was just..."

"It's ok John, I could see it on your face. To be honest with you I'm Kathy, Kerry's little sister. The little girl you use to chase away so you and Kerry could be alone. Remember me now? My mom always sent me along with you and Kerry so you two wouldn't get in trouble." She was smiling, and it put a smile on my face too.

"My God, you have grown up to be a very pretty woman. I'm not hitting on you, I know you're married. I'm just speaking the truth."

"So, are you taking me to lunch?" asked Kathy.

"Of course, anywhere in particular you would like to go?" I asked.

"Kerry told me to tell you to take me to the Red Lobster," she said with a smile.

"You talked to Kerry? How is she? Where is she?" I asked.

"We'll get to all that over lunch," said Kathy with a smile.

We went to the Red Lobster and ordered lunch. Kathy looked up at me and asked, "So, what do you want to know about her?"

"Everything, how is she? Did she recover from the accident? What did she do with her life? She was always so... so beautiful, smart and happy before... I might have only been a teenager but I loved her and miss her so much." I knew I had tears in my eyes.

"John, I know how you feel. I felt bad when she got hurt but I remember her telling me that beauty is only skin deep and that she would recover."

"My God, she told me the same thing. I wanted to keep in touch with her but I was so afraid and then I had no idea where she moved to. I just didn't have the nerve to see her again. Please tell me she's alright!"

"She spent six months in the hospital following all her surgeries. She had so many operations and skin grafts that I lost count. She lived with our aunt so she could be close to the hospital. She was still a happy girl growing up and kept a positive attitude, and told everyone she met that she would someday be a plastic surgeon so she could help people like she was being helped.

"We would go up to see her about every weekend. Mom couldn't stand being away from her and moved in with my aunt so she could be with Kerry. It was a real strain on my parents' marriage and they eventually divorced. I stayed here and lived with dad and went to the local schools. We still visited Kerry at least once a month.

"She was home schooled and then went to a medical college until she got her medical degrees and finished her internship. She now works in a hospital in Pittsburg. It's only a three hour drive from here.

"I talked to mom and she said that Kerry mentioned moving back here for her residency. I should tell you that she never dated a lot due to her facial surgeries and spending all her time studying for her degrees."

"Thank you Kat, I feel so much better. I wasted most of my life feeling sorry for myself. I tried hard at football because I promised Kerry I would. If she had been by my side I know I would have been on the straight and narrow instead of going to bed with anyone who was willing."

My sexual history has been in all the gossip papers for years. Only recently since I got the dealership have they left me alone. I'm no longer the playboy of the day. Just a hard working business man going on with his life.

"You should stop by her office or the hospital and see her. I'm sure she would like to see you again," mentioned Kathy.

"No, I don't think I can do that. I was a coward not to keep in touch with her and I was supposed to be her best friend. I missed her so much."

"John, after I ran into you at the Halloween party I called Kerry and talked to her. I told her I had seen and talked to you and asked if it was ok to answer your questions. She was happy to hear that you still remember her."

"Remember her! I can't tell you how much I have thought about her over the years. You might not believe this but she was the only girl I ever loved. I know it now."

"I will say that she has talked about you and was sad to read where you had a career ending injury," replied Kathy

"That's what I mean. She went to hell and back and she worries about others. Thank you for telling me about her. Not to change the subject, but how is your dad doing?"

"He died two years ago. He never remarried after he and mom got divorced. I guess it was hard on him. One day shortly after Jim and I got married, we got a call that dad had a heart attack."

After she told me about her father she told me it was time for her to leave.

"It really was nice talking with you, John. Maybe I'll see you again sometime. You really ought to think about going to see Kerry. I know she'd love to see you," said Kathy.

I was happy to hear about Kerry but yet sad that I was such a coward. Besides, after two failed marriages I was trying to get my act together. Luckily I saved enough money while I played pro ball to buy my car dealership.

I spent the rest of the day thinking about Kerry. Just maybe I could get up the nerve to go see her.

****

It was nearing Thanksgiving and as usual, I'd be eating at mom's along with other relatives. It's was mom's big thing to have Thanksgiving dinner at her place every year. I couldn't complain, the food was always great. I really missed it the years I was away playing ball.

The day before Thanksgiving I always closed the dealership early. My employees had time to be with their families. We always closed for Thanksgiving but opened up on Black Friday. Believe it or not business was usually pretty good. Some people did buy the big ticket items, like vehicles for Christmas presents.

As we closed the door for the day and I wished everyone a Happy Thanksgiving I got the crazy idea to drive to Pittsburg to see Kerry. I had to do it. I just had to go see her as hard as it was for me. I rushed home and packed a light suitcase and headed off to Pennsylvania. I figured it would be about a three hour drive according to Kathy.

I had her office address and the name of the hospital she worked at. When I got to her office there was a sign in the door that said, "Closed till Monday. For emergencies please go to the hospital."

Damn, I hope she would be there at the hospital after getting up the courage and driving this far. I walked up to the reception desk and asked for Dr. Kerry Underwood. It sounded strange calling her doctor.

The receptionist replied that Dr. Underwood would not be available till Monday. If I had an emergency I could see Dr. Morehouse.

Needless to say I wasn't the happiest person. "Can you give me a number that I might reach her? I'm an old friend."

"I'm sorry sir, we can't give out personal information on our doctors. I'm sure you understand."

I know I shouldn't have but I was now agitated. "Look, Kerry is an old friend of mine and I haven't seen her for years. I just drove over three hours to see here. All I need is a number to contact her." I said in a rather loud voice.

The receptionist must have called security because a man in uniform appeared behind me.

"Is there a problem Mrs. Cully?" asked the man from security.

"This gentleman wants personal information on Dr. Underwood and won't accept that I'm not permitted to give it to him."

"Look, I apologize, I didn't mean to raise my voice or cause trouble. I was just hoping to see Kerry, Dr. Underwood," I replied.

The security guard stared at me for a moment. "You're John Taylor, the running back aren't you?"

"Yes, former running back - career ending knee surgery. Listen, I'm sorry for any trouble I caused. If you would, could you leave a message for Dr. Underwood and tell her I was here?

"Sure, no problem," said the security guard. I thanked them both and left.

I could hear them talking about me as I was leaving. One thing about your past, once you've been a celebrity, it always comes back to bite you in the ass.

Well, I guess my trip was for naught. I was wondering if Kerry would call me back after she received my message? I sure wanted to talk to her in person and apologize for my past.

It was late when I got home so I took a shower and hit the hay. I was tired from all the driving but had to be at mom's for Thanksgiving dinner the next day.

When I arrived, even though I wasn't in the mood, I promised my mom I would attend. Not seeing Kerry really bugged me.

As I entered the hall my mom came up to me and told me she had a surprise for me; she had someone she wanted me to meet. Ever since my last divorce, (my wife left me when I could no longer play ball), my mom tries to fix me up with dates she approves of. Usually it makes me laugh but today my thoughts were elsewhere.

"Mom, I know you mean well but I'm not looking for a woman to date right now. I'm actually trying to get my act together." I was an only child and I guess I had hurt my family enough with two failed marriages and no grandchildren.

"This isn't a date, it's an old friend I invited to dinner. She said she talked to you last week."

I immediately thought of Kathy. My mom pointed toward a man and woman. Kathy and her husband Jim came over and we greeted each other. She said she remembered where my parents lived and stopped by to find out where my dealership was and to say hi to them again. While they were talking, mom had invited them over for Thanksgiving dinner.

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