The following is a short, romantic, non-erotic story that when I started it I thought it would be a quick stroke piece, but the more I wove the characters in my mind the more I saw this as something that was just simply sweet. I hope you like this tiny light read. ~ Red


The house was quiet, the calm before the storm, some would say. For Natalie and Brian though it was more of a controlled silence. It was only the two of them, tomorrow though things would be different. The house would be full of well wishers and various family members as well as friends that only come around during those special moments in a person's life -- births, graduations, weddings, funerals --- it was a wedding this time that would have the house bursting at the seams.

Madeline, Natalie and Brian's youngest daughter, was getting married. She'd asked to have the wedding at Natalie's house and Brian had been more than happy to agree. Natalie wasn't thrilled with the idea, but she understood the appeal of having the wedding in the home that the kids grew up in. It was a beautiful home, situated at the bottom of a mountain, tucked beside a dense forest and a man-made lake, which only added to the breathtaking view.

The one thing that bothered Natalie was the fact that Brian was going to be there. She knew she had no say in the matter, after all he was the kids' father and though they had parted ways many years ago, it still stung that he had left her for a much younger version of herself --- her second cousin. Brian learned real quick how greedy Megan was and after just two years he found himself sitting across the table from another divorce attorney.

Tonight though wasn't about Megan and Brian, nor was it about their divorce. Tonight was about Madeline. Brian had arrived earlier that morning and offered to help Natalie move the rest of Madeline's things from her room, as well as whatever she had stored in the attic. That's where they were now, the attic. Madeline would arrive in the morning, the wedding would be later that evening and when it was over and done with all the mementos of their daughter's youth would be neatly packed away and on a truck headed toward Chicago.

"Remember this?"

Natalie turned her head and looked over at Brian. In his hand was a small dress; on the floor next to it lay several layers of paper and a few moth balls. Natalie smiled. "I wondered where that was," she said. Her gaze rested on the gown that her mother had made. It was a silk gown, small enough for a newborn. Madeline had worn it at her baptism. "Mom made one for Sarah and a suit for Todd."

"I wonder if they still have them?" Brian asked, as he folded up the small gown.

"I hope they do. It would be nice if their children got to wear them," Natalie said, turning back to the box that she'd been looking through.

"What have you got there?"

She looked up and saw that Brian and moved to stand over her. He sat down on his knees and looked over the contents of her lap. Several photos lay spread out over her legs, as well as across the floor. There was no rhyme or reason to the pile, but each one showed smiling faces.

"Vacation photos --- I think," Natalie said. "I believe this one is Yellowstone."

"Looks like it." Brian picked up the photo and studied the woman who held a baby in her arms. "Todd was so tiny," he whispered, "and Sarah -- so full of mischief and Maddy -- what a handful."

Natalie chuckled. "Todd was tiny, but he made up for it years later." She picked up another photo. This one showed a teenager, who was holding up a large mouth bass. The young man stood six foot two and was not yet done growing. He would eventually stop at six foot eight.

Brian sat down and crossed his legs. Soon he too was going through the pile of photos and commenting on the various activities he and Natalie, along with their kids, partook in. Eventually he sighed and touched her hand. "Natalie... I'm sorry."

Natalie turned, her brow furrowed in confusion. "For what?" she asked, genuinely confused.

Brian hung his head. "For everything I put you through. For cheating on you -- leaving you -- everything."

Her eyes took on a glassy stare as she rose from the floor and dusted off her pants. The photos fell from her lap, forgotten as the past rushed up to greet her. It took her a moment to wipe away the pain that his apology had brought to the surface, but when she did she told him that it was all in the past and to leave it alone.

She left him then, choosing to take a break from the memories and instead focus on fixing something for their supper. She had offered to let Brian stay in one of the guest rooms for the night and that also meant catering to his needs -- as far as supplying him with something to eat. He had told her she didn't have to, but she had felt it was the right thing to do.

Downstairs she went through the motions of washing the vegetables for the salad, while the oven preheated. Eventually Brian joined her and before she realized what was happening he was helping her cook dinner. She swallowed the lump in her throat as she worked along side her ex-husband. Her hands shook as she cut vegetables and layered them in a bowl. When Brian's hand reached over and covered hers, she stopped breathing for a moment.

"What do you want Brian?" she asked, fearful of his answer. She had never stopped loving him. Yes, she had been angry, hurt, confused and had for many months lived in a state of denial, but she had found a way to survive and cope without him. Why was he touching her? Apologizing to her? What was he expecting?

"I want you to tell me you're single. That you're still waiting for me to wake up and come back? That..."

Natalie dropped the knife she'd been using and pulled her hand away from his tender grip. "Are you kidding me?" she asked. Her voice had risen several octaves as Brian stared back at her. Her lower lip trembled. "You know I'm not seeing anyone. I haven't been. I told you there would never be anyone but you in my life. You were the one that fucked up -- not me!" she hissed, before spinning on one heel and walking out of the kitchen.

In her bedroom, she sat. The door was closed and the sound of Brian working in the kitchen, keeping watch over their meal could be heard coming through the walls. She buried her fingers in her hair, pulled on the thick red strands and then pushed them back, gathering them into a thick loose braid. It took her several minutes before she felt composed and when she was ready to face him again, she did so with apprehension and confusion in her gaze.

He was sitting at the dining room table. A plate had been prepared for her, a glass of wine poured, her favorite salad toppings had already been added to the vegetables. She sat down and said nothing, as he handed her a slice of warm garlic bread. She took it and whispered a quiet firm "thanks". After several bites, many of which had been forced, due to the emotions running rampart in her head, Natalie pushed her plate away.

"Brian, what's happened?" she asked, curious as to why he was suddenly so interested in her. "You've been without Megan for a while. You still have plenty of money, so it isn't like you need mine. I know your business is booming. You're traveling all over the world. I'm sure there are plenty of women to fill your bed, so why are you trying to mess with me?"

He looked across the table, past the food and wine, and stared intently back at her. Natalie shifted nervously in her seat. He always seemed to make her squirm and at times -- times like these -- it angered her. After all this was her house. Who was he to come in and make her uncomfortable? "Well?" she said, hoping her voice showed a hint of a backbone.

"You're right -- everything you've said is true. I have been flying solo for a while and there are no problems plaguing the business that I can't handle. I am traveling and if I snap my fingers loud enough a gaggle of women will fall at my feet."

Natalie rolled her eyes at his last statement. She caught his smirk, and blushed when he added a wink.

"But, to answer your question and answer it honestly --- Remember a year ago, when I stopped talking to you, stopped talking to the kids, stopped talking to everyone we knew, pretty much cut myself off from the world?" Brian asked.

"How could I forget. The kids were frantic -- angry -- frustrated -- and so was I. It was like you dropped off the face of the world and if it hadn't been for the phone calls from your attorney, the kids would have filled out a missing person's report," Natalie told him.

"But you wouldn't have, would you?"

She angled her head, lifted a brow and answered solemnly, "Eventually, after another year or two."

Brian nodded his head in understanding. "I was fighting prostate cancer."

Natalie's whole body responded to the confession. Her shoulders slumped. Her eyes dropped to his lips, almost willing them to say he was lying. Her chest pounded and yet at the same time it felt as if her heart stopped beating. Her palms grew sweaty and her head began to ache. Again her lower lip trembled, but this time it was not because of her ex-husband's questions, but from the idea that he had been battling for his life and had left her and their children out of the fight.

It took her an eternity or so it seemed, for her to regain an inkling of reality. She looked back at her ex's eyes and saw the truth clearly written beneath their blue color. "And now?" she asked, her voice shook with emotion; tears, yet to be shed, lay hovering on the edges of her eyelids.

"I'm cancer-free," Brian told her. A soft smile rose from his lips, showing off his dimples.

Natalie felt herself slowly retracting from the emotional roller coaster she had just experienced. The tears began to fall, her lip was bitten down, the shaking stalled by the pressure of her teeth. Her hands moved to her lap, where she clutched the material of her skirt, balling up the napkin that had been lying there. She didn't hear Brian scoot his chair away from the table, nor did she realize he was coming up beside her until her chair was being pulled away.

"I'm sorry Natalie. I'm sorry for everything. For fuckin' up our marriage, our lives, your life, the kids. Everyone I've hurt. I went through this alone because I chose too, because I knew that if I told the kids, that they'd tell you and you'd come to me and you'd be there for me even though I didn't deserve you. I didn't want that. I wanted you to come back to me for you --- and for me. Not because you felt obligated but because you wanted to."

Brian's eyes were full of tears, tears that were so plentiful in number that they fell freely down his cheek. "Natalie, I am not asking for a promise for a lifetime of tomorrows. I just want a chance to show you how much you mean to me. How much you've always meant to me."

She looked at him, saw the man she'd fallen in love with many years ago. He was on his knees, begging for forgiveness and in his eyes she saw the truth behind his words. Natalie slid from her chair and went into his arms. The warmth that radiated from his chest covered her like a blanket. He held her tight as she cried. She cried for the lost years and for the pain in her heart and ache in her chest. Tears fell in sheets down her face as she imagined life without him, even if it was to be a life full of anger and regret. More tears fell as she saw her future, slowing opening up to include him. The hole in her chest could be full again, if she took a chance on Brian... but could she?

Natalie pulled away, touched his face and then wiped away her own tears.

"We can't go back. We can't repeat the same mistakes. I'm not the same woman you married and I'm not the same woman you left," she told him.

"I know."

"No, I'm serious."

Brian smiled warmly. "I know you are. Natalie, I've watched you these past few years. You've come into your own. You started your own business and yes, you've done a fine job. You have maintained this home, this land and you've managed to still be the perfect mom to our kids. I don't want the woman you were. I want the woman you are."

She licked her lips, tasting the salt of her tears before taking another calming breath. "We have to move slowly," she told him.

"I am okay with that," he admitted.

"And date... not other people, obviously, but each other, for a long time. You're not getting into my pants just because you know all the right buttons to push," she said with an air of defiance.

Brian's lip rose in a grin. "I'll agree to not dating others and I'll agree that we have a lot of dates for a long time, but not getting into your pants," he chuckled, "only a fool would agree to that."

Natalie giggled, opened her arms and brought him into them. Their lips touched and for a moment she was transported to the past, where only he existed. When the kiss ended, she was breathless. "I never stopped loving you," she finally admitted.

"I know Natalie and I never stopped loving you either. I was just an idiot, too strung out on power and money, easy to corrupt and easily corrupted."

Brian rose from the floor, offered his hand to her and she took it. With their fingers entwined they stared at each other for a long time before she leaned in and kissed him again. "I think you need to head into the city and get a room for the night."

His brow arched in confusion.

"I'm determined not to let you back into my pants --- at least not yet."

Brian laughed, agreed to her demand and kissed her again, before turning away. "Natalie," he said before walking out of the dining room and then out of the house, "thank-you." She couldn't form the words "you're welcome" because "thank-you" was already lodged in her throat.

When he was gone, she locked the door and leaned against it. The sense of joy that filled her was unlike anything she had felt since the birth of her children. This time it would be different.

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