Before Sunset
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Before Sunset

Chapter 22
The ringing of a phone is a rude alarm and not at all a pleasant way to wake up, particularly if you are waking up from a late night and a most pleasant dream. Olivia fumbled on the table for the receiver and didn't even try to hide the fact she had been sleeping, "Hello..."

"Oh, Olivia, I am sorry. I hate to wake you and I know you were out with Del until late, but I really need a favor."

Olivia sat up and stretched. She owed Elaine too much to be upset with her early morning call, besides, squinting at the phone, she realized most people wouldn't consider 10:45 to be early. "Don't worry about it. I needed to get up anyway. What did you need?"

"Paula's new daycare just called and she's sick. I would close down and go get her but the lunch rush will be coming in soon and I need to get ready for them."

Olivia smiled, "I hope you mean for me to go after Paula because I am certainly not standing over that grill."

Elaine laughed, "Would you mind? I can call the school and let them know you'll be there as soon as you can."

"Sure. Give me 30 minutes to get dressed. I'll swing by and get the key to your place after I pick her up. Do you have soup or something for her there?"

"I'll prepare some to go and give it to you when you stop by for the keys."

"No problem. See you in a few." Olivia yawned as she hung up the phone. Hello, real life... She crawled out of bed and began getting dressed.

Del smiled across the small table at Madeline as they shared a late breakfast in her apartment. He would have liked to have slept a little longer, but he supposed having hired help was worth the little sacrifices. Breakfast was wonderful and being able to eat in a robe and not having to drive to some noisy restaurant was a fair trade for a few minutes of pillow time. Maybe he should hire a maid. He would have to check his finances and ensure it wouldn't cut too deeply into his nest egg. His funds were still limited until he could get some strong investments started. Then there were his other plans, Madeline among them. She was nice looking and not unpleasant to be around. Yes, a marriage to her would certainly be a plus...
Bette sighed as she contemplated her life. Mario was drinking more and more, to the point it was affecting his work. He'd had to call in sick twice in the last three weeks due to hangovers. Of course she knew what was bothering him, but how could she talk to him about it? You didn't just accuse your husband of kidnapping your best friend's baby. She played with the ring on her finger. The marriage had been going downhill ever since that night. Neither of them discussed anything anymore and Maria seemed unable to let go of the guilt. He'd mentioned leaving Sunset Beach and perhaps that would be the best for him. If he got away from the scene of the crime maybe he could put it behind him. But was she ready to leave again? If she did go away with him would their marriage have a chance? She wished there were easy answers to the questions but none seemed forth coming.
Gregory was busy. His success was bringing in more clients and more work. It was also bringing out envy in more than one coworker, people who had been with the firm longer without as much recognition. Between keeping the senior partners happy, watching out for backstabbing juniors, and trying to do his job he barely had time to notice when lunchtime rolled around. Finally his stomach and the smell of a secretaries brown bag special alerted him to the need for food. He could grab a sandwich across the street at the deli, but he had a better idea. After all, he deserved a real lunch, didn't he? And he did hate eating alone. He dialed the number and smiled as he waited for an answer. The answering machine erased the smile and he hung up without leaving a message. Maybe a deli sandwich was the way to go after all.
Olivia had just locked the door when the phone rang. By the time she got it open again the caller had hung up. No message light was blinking on the machine so she closed the door again and went down to her car. Paula's daycare wasn't far away and she found the little girl lying on a bench in the manager's office. "Hi, Sweety. Are you not feeling well?" She asked, kneeling next to her.

"I feel all icky." Paula told her and Olivia had to suppress a smile.

"She seemed fine this morning, but as the day went on she got listless. It may just be that she's tired, but there was a slight fever and we don't like to take chances with the children." The caretaker informed her as she handed over Paula's things.

"I understand. We'll just get her home and see if we can get her feeling better." Olivia lifted the youngster into her arms and smiled as she laid her head in her shoulder. "Aunty Olivia is going to make it all better." She said, kissing the back of the little head as she carried her to the car. Paula laid in the back seat while she drove to the Waffle Shop for the keys and the soup. By the time she got there the child was sleeping and Olivia was slightly relieved there would be no whining for her mother.

"Olivia, the soup is next to the register." Elaine quickly passed her the house keys as she attended to the next customer.

"Got it." Olivia assured her. "See you at closing."


"Madeline, I owe you a very special evening for being so understanding about the party. Better yet, a special weekend..." Del had taken only a minute to acess his options and decide that Madeline's fortune would take a bit of an investment of his own.

She looked at him suspiciously, "A special weekend...?"

"Let's get away." He reached for her hand. "You, me, a suite in Palm Springs... No distractions, no family, no business... Room service." He winked.

She smiled, "Darling, I think that sounds wonderful."

Mario came home early, again. He just couldn't stand being at the hospital anymore. Once he had lived for medicine, believing with all his heart that being a doctor was his ticket to happiness and success. Now he wondered what he had ever seen in the field. There were certainly other means, easier means, of making a living. There was his family's business in Arizona for one. His uncle had started it as a small shipping company for the local area and expanded to cover four states. He'd made it clear that Maria was welcome there should med school fall through. Now Mario was considering it for the first time. Bette came in from the back just as he was making up his mind. He knew she wanted to stay in Sunset Beach but he was the man, right? He wanted to go and she would go with him. Period. End of story. The martinis he'd had at lunch were making him bolder.

Bette glared at him, knowing the instant she saw him straighten his spine and square his shoulders that he was about to do something foolish, "Good afternoon, Darling. So nice to see you could get home early, again..." She said sarcastically.

"Start packing, Bette. We're going to Arizona."

Bette's mind was made up by the tone of his voice. A few minutes earlier she had about talked herself into a move for his sake and for the sake of their marriage. Now she looked at him with contempt, "We? You got a mouse in your pocket?"

Gregory tried Olivia's number twice more during the day but each time he got the machine. So she was out... No big deal... Why did it bother him so much? Because you need to hear her voice, to have her assure you she is still interested in the dinner, a little voice in his head answered. "Oh shut up." He said allowed, causing the secretary passing by to look in with a puzzled expression and an annoying colleague to raise an amused eyebrow.
Olivia fell asleep in the chair with Paula snuggled against her, the book they had been reading slipping to the floor. That's how Elaine would find them when she closed the restaurant a few hours later. She tried to lift Paula gently so as not to wake either of them, wanting to put her in her own bed. The movement disturbed Olivia just enough to awaken her and she smiled up at mother and child, "I think she's feeling better, but she does have a fever. Do you need me to stay with her tomorrow?"

"Would you mind?" Elaine whispered back. "I hate to close the shop..."

"I don't mind at all. She was an angel." She yawned. "What time do I need to be here?"

"I need to be there by 6:30 to get ready for the breakfast crowd..." Olivia moaned and Elaine smiled, "You could stay here tonight..."

"Perfect." Olivia smiled, "I'll just need to get some clothes for tomorrow." She noticed the look on Elaines face as her friend studied her little girl. "What?"

"Do you think you can stay a few days?" Elaine asked, holding Paula's small arm under the light. "I think we have a case of chicken pox..."

"Oh." Olivia looked at the small dots. "Poor baby..." She glanced at Elaine and shrugged. "I needed to get my apartment painted anyway..."

Elaine smiled, "Thanks, Olivia. What would I do without you?"

A small tinge of guilt kept Olviia from responding.

Del made the reservations while Madeline showered. The desert would be a perfect place to convince Madeline to accept his proposal. He would have to watch her carefully and find the perfect time to ask her. She could be difficult and he had no intentions of giving her the satisfaction of turning him down.
Gregory slammed the phone down in frustration. Maybe he had misread the woman... No. The energy between them was too strong to have been imaginary. She was just out. Maybe with Bette, probably shopping. But the dinner was tomorrow and he needed to make arrangements. He'd try once more in the morning and if he couldn't reach her he'd have to break down and call Felicity. He frowned at the thought, but he certainly couldn't go alone.
Olivia quickly packed a couple of days worth of clothes and essentials into a small bag. She noticed there were no messages on the machine as she called and left a message with the landlord to see about getting the place painted while she was out. As she started out the door she thought of Gregory and frowned. Why hadn't he called? She checked again to verify there were no messages. Maybe she'd read too much into it. He'd probably decided to take Felicity after all. She picked up her bag again and stopped. What would it hurt? She quickl;y changed the message on the machine to say where she would be staying for the next few days. If Gregory wanted to get hold of her he could call Elaine's. If he wanted to get hold of her...
Bette showed up on Del's doorstep just as he was getting home. He'd been at Madeline's most of the day and then gone out to get a few things for the weekend. Seeing his sister standing there with her bags packed did not make him happy, "You left him."

Bette shrugged, "So are you going to let me in or not?"

Del unlocked the door and followed her in, "You already know where your room is. Can I get you a drink?"

"No. I just want to go to bed." She went upstairs, the silent tears already burning her eyes.

Elaine gratefully helped Olivia get settled in the extra room, trying not to think how it was supposed to be a nursery. "I'll try not to wake you when I leave in the morning. If you need anything at all just call me at the Waffle Shop. You have no idea what this means to me." she rambled.

Olivia gently shut the door in her face, "Good night, Elaine."

Elaine laughed, "Good night, Liv. And thank you."

"Stop saying that!" Olivia laughed and got into bed. If only Gregory would call in the morning...

Chapter 23
Waking up in an new place, even if that place is a familiar one, always brings a sense of disorientation. For a moment the mind refuses to believe that the lamp is not in it's usual place, that the window is on the opposite side of the room, but as consciousness returns and the memory awakens the feeling passes and the ability to adapt with it. So it was with Olivia when the sounds of morning activity and the faint light of early morning aroused her from her dreams. She reached for the second pillow that wasn't there as her brain frantically tried to determine the source of the new faint sounds and smells. Elaine's, it finally answered. The smell of coffee was mixed with something else she couldn't immediately identify. Elaine was preparing to leave for the day. Now the sound of a door opening, Elaine checking on Paula, ensuring she was alright before she left her. Olivia yawned and drug herself from the bed, meeting Elaine in the hallway, "Morning..." She said sleepily, her English accent emphasized by the sleep still clinging to her throat.

"Good morning." Elaine smiled. "I didn't mean to wake you. Coffee and muffins are in the kitchen. There always better hot, sense you're up anyway." Olivia was one of the best friends she'd ever had. She admired the woman, just a few years younger than herself, and worried about her. Elaine might be a simple, down-home girl, but she was not stupid or blind. She had recognized a desperation in her from the start. A desperation combined with a determination that made Elaine frightened for her but had also ensured they could remain friends even after AJ. In fact the episode seemed to have made them closer and for that Elaine was grateful. The admiration came not from the obvious qualities that others might attribute it to, her knowledge of what she wanted and willingness to work for it, the natural beauty and practiced grace that was obvious even as she suppressed a yawn, or the willingness to answer a friend's plea for help within minutes. Her admiration was for something less evident on the surface. It was for the quietness with which she carried herself through the times when no one else knew she was hurting, when it took all her strength to keep the smile on her face and carry on. Elaine had seen it at times when Olivia thought no one was looking. It was this quality that she admired, and the one that made her want so desperately to protect her.

"Was Paula still sleeping?" Olivia asked as she sat at the table and sipped the coffee that would help her become more alert.

"Yes, unless I get her up she sleeps for another hour or so. I'm not sure how the fever will affect that though. She seemed cooler this morning so hopefully she'll rest."

"I didn't hear her in the night, after you went to bed."

"No, she slept well once the medicine kicked in and I covered her in medicated lotion. She hates the lotion but I think she realizes it's what helps with the itching."

"I'll make sure she's well covered." Olivia assured her and reached for a muffin.

"Thanks again." Elaine kissed her cheek on the way past as she went out the door to work.

Gregory knew it was too early to call but he couldn't stop himself. Trying to manage his tie and dial the phone at the same time took some creativity, but he managed. His heart sank when he heard the answering machine pick up. Had it not been for the tie he would have hung up without realizing the message had changed. Staying at Elaine's to care for Paula... He smiled. Well that explained that. His tie finished he hung up the phone without leaving a message and smiled as he headed to the office. Knowing where she was, able to picture her at that moment, imagine what she was doing, made her seem closer to him. He knew where to find her and he would call later about dinner. She hadn't forgotten or changed her mind. He knew that message was left for him and that knowledge made the day just a little better.
The start of Bette's day was less pleasant. The events of the night before played in her mind even before she was awake enough to register that she wasn't back in her room at the house she'd shared with Mario for just a few short months, not even a year. She sighed as she opened her eyes to the familiar room at Del's. At least he hadn't made any comments, she was coming up with enough of those herself. She looked at the clock and wondered if he'd given the hospital his notice yet. Olivia wouldn't be awake yet most likely but she dialed the number anyway. The answering machine told her about Paula and she got up. Maybe cheering up the pleasant little girl would make her feel better about her own situation. If nothing else at least she'd have Olivia to talk to when Paula took her nap...
Del heard Bette preparing to leave the house but he didn't go out to meet her. He had too many plans to make, too much to do. It annoyed him that his sister's marriage was falling apart just as he was attempting to arrange his own. The idea he was directly responsible for it's failure never occurred to him, only that he would have to discreetly find a way to get Bette into her own place before his wedding. Normally he would push her off on Olivia, but she might not be as reliable if things went well with Richards. Elaine was a possibility, but a remote one. Why did Mario have to be such a weak kneed yellow belly anyway?
The doorbell rang just as Olivia was covering the last of Paula's spots with a new coat of lotion. She kissed a small clear spot on the child's cheek and tucked her in before going to the door and letting Bette in.

"How's Paula?" Bette asked, handing over the stuffed animal she'd brought with her.

"Better I think. She's not run a fever all day, but the itching is about to drive her crazy. Are you okay?" Something in Bette's face didn't seem right.

"I left Mario..."

"Oh...." Olivia felt her breath leave her as she sank into a chair. She knew without being told that it all came back to Elaine's baby, the tiny infant that Del had carried away in his car, and the empty casket they had buried in the Deschanel cemetery. This knew development added to the guilt she carried with her constantly.

Bette shrugged, "It's been over for awhile, I just didn't want to admit it. He's decided to leave Sunset Beach. I guess that's what finally made us both see..."

Olivia nodded. Mario had gone down hill sense that night and maybe leaving would be best for him. She was just sorry it had all come to this. The doorbell interrupted her thoughts before she could sort them enough to respond. Her heart seemed to skip a beat and she caught her breath as she saw him standing there, dressed in an expensive suit, his hands behind his back as if hiding something. The grin on his face confirmed it. "Mr. Richards... May I ask what you are hiding?" She grinned.

One hand came slowly around to reveal a stuffed St. Bernard puppy with a jug filled with candy tied beneath his chin and a little get well note attached to the ribbon. "For the patient." He explained before bringing the other hand around to reveal a single long-stemmed rose, "And for her nurse..."

White, for passion, thought Olivia as she saw the rose, warm waves of desire flowing over her as his eyes, dark with hunger, confirmed her thoughts. "She's sleeping now, but I'm sure she'll be delighted. I know the nurse is..." She let her fingers brush dangerously against his as she took the flower. "Bette's in the kitchen. Would you care to join us for coffee and muffins?"

He forced in his mind to focus on now and not the thoughts that seemed to berate him constantly in her presence, "I wish I could but I have a lunch meeting with a client in 30 minutes. I just wanted to make sure you could still join me this evening."

Olivia slipped a strand of hair behind her ear and nodded, "Of course.. I wouldn't miss it. Can you pick me up here? I'll be watching Paula for at least a couple more days."

"Perfect. I'll be back around seven then. Would you give Paula something else for me?" As her eyes questioned him he reached over and gently tilted her chin, placing the softest, most innocent of kisses on her lips. "I'll see you later..." He turned then and left quickly, every ounce of control and will that he had spent in not drawing her to him at that moment.

Olivia's heart raced in her chest and she stood in the doorway for sometime after he'd gone, the gentle brush of his lips on hers leaving a burning that radiated far beyond the spot where they'd touched. When she did finally turn and close the door she found Bette, a look of amusement on her face, leaning against the kitchen door. Olivia walked past her to pour herself a glass of water, saying nothing for fear her voice would fail her.

Elaine came home to find her two best friends in a flurry of dresses, shoes, makeup, and jewelry as they searched out the perfect look for Olivia's first official date with Gregory Richards. A company dinner, they decided, was much harder to prepare for than a charity ball, mostly because none of them had any experience or an adequate frame of reference. Olivia was convinced, in her normal pessimistic, fatalist view, that whatever they chose would be a disaster. Bette rolled her eyes and surrendered her into Elaine's much more patient hands. Between the three of them they decided on a simple, straight black dress with a not-to-daring neckline, a chain of pearls with matching earrings that dangled slightly below from her ears, and an elegant upswept hairstyle. For make-up they chose very light, neutral turns to highlight her features in a subtle way while leaving her looking fresh and natural. The result was elegant but casual. In a word... stunning.
Gregory had to try three times before he got his tie right. He checked his coat carefully for lint, for at least the seventh time. He was ready... He glanced at the clock, 6:45... Elaine's house was a 5 minute drive. Who knew 10 minutes could be an eternity? The doorbell disturbed him and he frowned. Probably a solicitor, a kid selling candy bars to raise money for the ball team or band, or one of those religious nuts who tried to sell magazines on reincarnation and the power of Zen. He opened the door, prepared to get rid of them quickly. What he saw threw even him off guard.

Felicity Prescott, immaculately groomed eyed the man in front of him with a practiced eye. She knew precisely where he was going, and with whom. It was why she was here. She raised her eyes slowly to his face and smiled, a cold unfriendly smile. "Going out, Darling?"

"Felicity, I really don't have time for this..." "Make time." She brushed passed him and walked into his spacious apartment.

Anger welled within him. Gregory did not take orders well on a good day and this unwelcome interruption into his plans did not set well. His eyes sparkled dangerously as he turned to her, "Get whatever may be here that you could reasonably claim as yours and get out." The voice was controlled, but the threat behind it was clear. Before she could respond he was gone, leaving the door open and her standing in the middle of the hallway.

Elaine opened the door when Gregory arrived and ushered him into the living room. Olivia was ready but had been detained by Paula's insistence that she read just one story before going out for the evening. If she had been aware that only moments before Bette had told the child to do it, Olivia may have turned her down. At any rate she would not have left Gregory alone with the two women who know sat with him in the next room. Bette smiled across the room at him, "Nice tie..."

"Thank you..." He frowned, recognizing that something was out of whack here, but unable to put his finger on any problem.

"Where's this dinner being held?" Elaine asked, propped causally on the sofa's arm.

"The new restaurant that just opened at the hotel." He answered, wishing Olivia would hurry.

"Fancy?" It was Bette's turn again. "I've... I've never eaten there, but yes.. I would expect so."

"Any plans for after dinner?" Elaine asked.

"How long do you expect dinner will last?" Bette chimed in before he could answer.

"I'm not sure..." His brow furrowed. Was he missing something here? "There's a cocktail hour for mingling and then dinner, followed by a speech from one of the senior partners. A couple of hours anyway..."

"And it starts at 7:30? An hour of conversation, another hour for dinner, what? 30 minutes for the speech? So, we can expect her back around 10?" Elaine had to fight not to smile. Bette's warning glance helped keep her in line.

"Well, there will be more conversation afterwards and I do need time to drive." He stated, recognition of what was happening dawning on him as he settled back, "Then I thought maybe a drive along the coast..."

Bette grinned, realizing the fun was over, "Don't even think about it, Greggy..."

They were all laughing as Olivia came into the room. "Did I miss something?"

Gregory's eyes traveled down her body and then back again, slowly taking in the figure in front of him. Rising to his feet he shook his head, "Nothing of any importance... Ready?" A drive up the coast was no longer something to joke about. He just hoped he could get through dinner without making a fool of himself.

Olivia warmed under his gaze, "Ready." Neither of them noticed the exchanged glances between Elaine and Bette as he reached for her arm and led her from the room.