Part 1 – Sleeping Soundly.
Flack opened his eyes slowly, a searing pain cutting through him as he propped himself up on his pillows. He closed them while he recalled what had occurred in the moments before the explosion, but it was all a blur and was more a dream than anything else. Everything seemed a dream – the soft, warm feeling of the blankets; the sterile white of the hospital room; the oppressive quiet which was only broken by a cough or the soft steps of feet as they walked the corridors. But the pain reminded him that it was all reality and what had occurred was, indeed, reality.
His ears and eyes tuned into the darkness, sensing everything with the same precision he would during the day. It made him aware of slow and steady breathing close to him and the shape of something resting on his bed. Although, the shape and the sound made no fear in Flack, he reached quickly and flicked the light by his bedside on. After the angry, pin-prick pain disappeared, he saw a pale face framed with brown curls that was deep in sleep. The light did not appear to disturb her sleep, which, judging from her face, was well needed. Her complexion was far too pale with a grey quality to it and underneath her eyes were red and purple smudges. Flack smiled taking comfort in Stella's presence, and quietly removed his top blanket then wrapped it around her. After adjusting his remaining blanket, Flack turned the light off, and settled down in the bed watching Stella's outline until he was lost to sleep as well.
Part 2 – Survivors' Hugs.
Stella woke a few hours later, disturbed by a noise that echoed down the corridor. Once her vision focused she turned her attention to Flack who was sound asleep, a deep frown across his face that made him look slightly confused. She took the blanket from around her body and stretched her tired limbs through which ran a tingling sensation due to hours of sitting in the same place, curled up into a small ball. Feeling the cold nip of the air Stella wrapped the blanket around her body as a shawl as she paced around the room eventually coming to the window. It was early morning and so it was still dark out; in the sky hung the remains of a few stars while the streetlights twinkled for the earlier morning joggers and workers and anyone else unfortunate enough to be out at that hour. She felt the silence like the blade of a knife, it cut through her with a deadly sting and reminded her why she disliked hospitals so much...In the little hours they were too quiet which meant that the mind could wander and it often wandered to why you happened to be the hospital and the other occasions where hospital visits had been necessary. Stella found in these occasions she had far too many memories, where she was either the one lying in the bed or the one at the bedside, to the point it was cruel.
A rustling from Flack's bed caused Stella's heart to miss a beat and her thoughts to scatter. She ran to Flack's bedside and stood anxiously waiting for his eyes to open and him to tell her that he was fine – she needed to hear those words.
His eyes opened slowly and then after a moment he was sitting upright in bed. 'Stella?'
Stella sat on the edge of the bed and took his hand, while the other moved to her eyes of wipe away tears which had formed there. 'Don! You're awake! Are you okay? Not in pain or anything?' She didn't wait for a response but flung her arms around his neck so suddenly that Flack was caught off-guard.
'Now I am,' he winced.
Stella pulled back from him, her eyes full of concern, but when a slow smile spread across Flack's face she returned the gesture. 'Sorry.'
'It's not a problem, but, hey, warn me next time.'
Stella nodded her head. 'Are you sure you're alright?'
'I'm not going to die if that's what you mean, Stella,' he said in a light tone, but still he could see the concern in her eyes. He took her hands in his and in a loud, clear voice said: 'I'm fine.' And then as an after thought he added, 'Even better now I'm talking to you.'
Stella's face brightened at his words and he was glad to see the look of concern had lessened if not completely vanished. 'You had me worried – well, us,' she joked, looking down at the fresh scars on his hands which still held hers.
'I don't remember everything that happened.'
Stella sighed loudly, but divulged the relevant information while Flack listened eagerly like a child being told a bedtime story. As Stella spoke, she noted what a fantastic listener Flack was: he nodded in the correct places, formed the correct face to exhibit his emotions and made soft noises of dismay or approval. He made no loud noises that distracted or annoyed and barely ever butted-in. When she finished her story, she looked at him, her stomach knotted, waiting for a response.
'I'm lucky Mac was there!' he cried.
'I'm glad he was,' she told him seriously. 'Might have lost you if he wasn't.' Without thinking too much Stella hugged him again as if she was afraid that he may disappear or be stolen away from her. 'You are so lucky!'
Flack grasped her in a similar manner, crushing her in his arms like a ragdoll until both could feel their bodies ache. Neither wanted to let go. But it was not the type of embrace that lovers' exchange, as the Nurse who had slipped past in the corridor had thought, it was the embrace of survivors, who had begun to understand exactly how important life is.
Part 3 – Lucky I've Got You.
Flack felt himself falter on the steps, but Stella was quick and caught him in her arms, holding him up. Hooking her arm around him, they walked in time to his apartment door and then began a mad fumble for the keys.
'Okay,' said Stella, pushing open the door and helping Flack inside. Once they were in she eased his body into the first seat. 'I didn't think we were going to make it up those last few steps.'
'I wouldn't have minded.' Stella raised an eyebrow to his statement and seeing this Flack added: 'Because I would get to go back to hospital and see all the nurses again.'
Stella frowned while she rolled her eyes. 'Those nurses were doing everything in their power to get rid of you as fast as they could!'
'Thank god I got you then, Stel?'
'Some guys have all the luck,' she laughed. Stella, who was standing behind, put her arms around him and rested her head on his. 'Are you hungry?'
'Yeah, a little.'
'Well, let's see if we can whip something up,' she said disappearing into the kitchen.
Flack got to his feet and went slowly to the kitchen, where he leaned against the door frame watching her as she prowled through the fridge and cupboards, examining the contents and reading the various labels. Sometimes she would frown and other times she would laugh, setting the object aside as she did so. 'Thanks, Stella. You're amazing you know,' he told her in a serious voice.
'Don't I know it?'
Part 4 – Perhaps, Perhaps.
Flack dragged his pen across his page forming little pictures while his mouth formed a large 'O' shape as he yawned, his free hand stretching out in front of him. He was unaware that he was under Stella's watchful eye and had been for most of the day. She was attempting to hold a conversation with Danny though was barely contributing, her eyes constantly flashing back to Flack. She knew she didn't have to worry about him, but it was almost instinctual. Danny, who had noticed her lack of concentration and the attention she was paying Flack, let a slow, satisfied smile spread across his face as he slipped away unnoticed. When Stella turned back and only saw an empty space that Danny had occupied, she spun around quickly searching for where he had gone.
Her search was an unsuccessful one, but by this point she had gained Flack's attention. He was now sitting up straight in his chair, the pen lying in front of him, while he watched Stella intently. She gave up and turned to look in Flack's direction, a bemused expression hanging on her face, and nearly jumped when she saw his gaze focused completely on her. But Stella was the master of control: she mustered the brightest smile she could and forced the embarrassment down.
Flack was on his feet and making his way across the crowded room towards her. Stella, although she couldn't quite understand why, felt nervous and desired to flee, just disappear into the crowd, but she knew Flack's eyes would seek her out. And now those eyes were looking into hers while his mouth moved, saying things she could barely hear above her beating heart.
'Stella?' Flack said, putting his hand on her shoulder in concern. 'You okay?'
Stella snapped back to reality and smiling up at him said: 'I'm fine, really!'
'You looked like you were dreaming.'
Stella shook her head furiously. 'Nope, just thinking. I was deep in thought.'
'Wasn't Danny here a moment ago?'
Stella's eyes moved from side to side. 'Yes, but he had to go because...'
'It looked like he was getting ignored,' Flack suggested, taking a step closer.
Stella shrugged her shoulders as she took a step back to put some distance between them, her nerves flaring up again. 'No, he had to go because he had something to do in the labs.' A beeping from Stella's pocket interrupted the conversation and she dived for a phone. 'Mac? Yeah, I'll be there in a second.' She hung up then looked to Flack, biting down on her lip. 'Got to go, Mac needs me.'
Flack watched Stella hurry away and disappear into the crowd, leaving him to wonder after her. She left him confused: she had been awkward and almost scared by his presence. It was strange considering he had thought they had turned a new corner. She had visited him every single day in the hospital and then every day when he was recovering. They were amazing together, talking for hours on end without a care in the world, and he was beginning to think that perhaps...He rolled his eyes, suddenly exhausted by his thoughts. 'Perhaps, perhaps...' Flack breathed.
Part 5 – Sorry.
Stella hopped down the last stone step onto the street, feeling the cold night air bite her skin. She let a long sigh out and watched the puff turn into a cloud of condensation. She began to rub her arms to generate heat when she felt a light coat fall over her shoulders. Touching the collar of the jacket, she pulled it closer and turned around to see who it belonged to.
'Flack,' she said so quietly it was barely audible.
'You look freezing, Stella. You should know better than to go out without a coat.'
'I guess I just forgot.'
'Yeah, well, lucky for you I don't feel the cold. Come on, let's get a coffee?' He slung his arm around her shoulder and led her down the street without waiting for a response.
Minutes later Stella was staring across a table at Flack over a steaming cup of coffee. He was talking and laughing but Stella could hear nothing, just buzzing, as her thoughts jumbled about in her head. She had never noticed before today the way her heart quickened its beat when he was near her or the way she constantly wanted to be around him. When Danny had walked away, leaving her there under Flack's gaze she had suddenly clicked it. This wasn't friendship – or at least, it wasn't on her part – and it was terrifying her.
'What are we doing?' she suddenly asked looking at Flack seriously.
Flack, who hadn't registered the expression in her eyes or the tone of her voice, took one of her hands and pulled it towards him. 'Well,' he told her holding up a cup, 'this is coffee, which you drink, Stella.' He put the cup to his lips and drank then looking back at her said with a wide smile: 'Like so.'
Stella fought the urge to smile. 'It doesn't matter.' She withdrew her hand from his with a sigh.
Flack reached out and took it back, allowing his fingers to intertwine with hers. 'I know what you mean, Stella. I know exactly what you mean.'
'What are we going to?'
'What do you mean?' he asked timidly, frowning. 'Isn't the next step quite obvious?' Flack's hand tightened its grip on her as he moved closer to her. Stella without thinking leaned towards him and their lips brushed gently. Flack reached out to touch her face but when Stella felt his fingers touch her skin, she pulled away quickly, sharply drawing in her breath.
'No,' she cried sitting back in her chair and looking at him, her eyes bright blue fire. They softened when they saw the hurt in his eyes. 'I'm sorry, Flack, but you and me...it wouldn't work. I'm sorry.' Stella slipped out of his coat, which was still hung around her shoulders, and headed for the door leaving Flack to sit with his mouth wide open.
Part 6 – Strangers' Hugs.
Flack walked out of the coffee shop into the almost empty street, but when he looked around he saw that none of the people wandering on the street were Stella. He sighed and began to head down the street back towards the station as the rain fell to the ground like bullets, which pierced his skin. Perhaps it was because it was Stella, someone he considered a close friend that he could trust, or perhaps it was simply the rejection, but he could feel hot anger pulsing through him.
But as he turned the corner and saw her slender body standing against the grey station building, his anger melted away and was replaced by a happiness he felt when he was around her. She turned when he approached, with a small constrained smile on her face as if she had no control over it. He stood in front of her, looking down into her blue eyes that were now very calm with a film of tears floating on their surface. Flack took her hand impulsively in the manner he had become accustomed to in the last few months with an expression which was purely concern.
'Stella, if I miss read the signals or --'
'You didn't read them wrong, Flack,' she cried breaking in, 'it's just better if we're friends.'
'Because we work together and if anything happens between us it might ruin our working relationship, and in our line of work there's a lot at stake.' Flack was about to speak, but Stella opened her mouth cutting him off again, 'I love spending time with you, Flack, and it would kill me if we couldn't be friends.'
Flack sighed: he wanted more than friendship. Friendship simply wasn't enough but if the other option was not speaking to Stella or listening to her or being near her then it would have to do. 'Yeah, Stella, we can be just friends.'
She didn't jump for joy, smile or give any indication she was happy with his answer, she merely nodded. 'I think it's for the best really.' Stella spoke as if she was trying to convince herself as well as Flack. She pursed her lips and blinked several times as if trying to hold back some urge, but it failed and she stepped forward putting her arms around Flack in an awkward sort of hug. Flack didn't move to put his arms around her, or incline his heads towards hers, knowing he would not be able to resist temptation. The hug was not like the one they had bestowed on each other at the hospital, which was imprinted in both their minds, instead it was the hug given by distant friends or those who avoided the embrace of another and the people in the street, who passed them, noted it too.
Part 7 – Fear Itself.
Stella returned to her apartment exhausted with the hollow feeling of desperate loneliness preying on her. She had stood their telling him lies – telling herself lies. It isn't fear that any involvement they might have would sabotage their working relationship, she scorned herself, but it is fear. Fear that it might end and she would be left heartbroken, hurt or lost like in every other relationship except with one little difference: Flack. It would be Flack doing these things, leaving her empty, and she valued him too much to let that happen, she loved him far too much to let either of them be hurt.
With eyes that were hot from tears, she dragged herself to bed, and lying on the cool covers she thought of him: the vivid expressions that would mark his face; the magical eyes that lit up when they spoke; the sound of his voice that she could listen to for hours; the soft touch of his lips against hers for that one beautiful moment. She felt tortured by these thoughts and the idea that they should be friends! And why? For fear of fear itself, she answered.
Part 8 – Emptiness.
Flack watched Stella smooth her red, velvet dress down her body before she began to fix her hair. She pulled the brown curls up into a bun, but allowed a few to hang loose at the front. After moving the strands at the front to different places, her focus shifted back to the dress. Stella looked unsatisfied with it and looked herself up and down in the mirror, extremely serious.
'You look great,' Flack said quietly breaking her concentration.
She turned around to look at him. 'Really? You're not just saying that?'
Flack put his hand on his heart as if he had been offended. 'Well, if you don't believe me, fine.'
Stella rolled her eyes at him then smiled. 'I was only asking. I do care what you think, you know?' Stella turned back to the mirror examining herself closely, but she noticed the small smile that Flack tried to hide as she had spoke. His smiles had become few and far between over the last couple of weeks, which worried her slightly. Stella walked over to where he was sitting and put her hands on his shoulders. 'Thank you.'
Flack's lips formed a thin line across his face. 'Yeah,' he said quietly.
Stella frowned, knowing the issue had not been resolved, but, after a quick glance at her watch, she knew she didn't have time. 'Can we talk later?'
'Sure, you don't want to keep Mark waiting,' he murmured bitterly.
Stella took one last look in the mirror before heading for the door with Flack following closely behind. She offered him a quick peck on the cheek and promised him a phone call before disappearing into the crowd as if she had never been there. He stood absorbing the emptiness, making it part of himself and he sadly thought of all the emptiness he had endured for so long. His whole life had seemed empty until she had stepped into it but then she snatched it away so quickly. Flack didn't know if he could survive having experienced that sort of happiness, the only kind he found when he was near her.
He bit down on his lower lips, cursing his weakness. After taking a final glance at where she had stood, he turned and walked out into the street that was bathed in a yellow, unnatural light.
Part 9 – I Do.
Stella kept her head pressed against Mark's chest, her arms linked behind his neck, as they swayed to the music. He held her tightly, keeping her pinned to him and his uncoordinated feet trampled and crushed hers. She resisted the urge to sigh as the music slowed knowing that he too would slow his pace and her feet would be spared. Stella took the opportunity to look at his perfect, pale face that looked as if it was been chiselled from marble, with its sapphire eyes and his ruby red lips. He was absolutely perfect! He was amazing! He wasn't Flack! And her mind constantly returned to that. Stella knew she didn't want Mark: she wanted Flack, with his dishevelled black hair and his cheeky grin.
But it couldn't happen! It just couldn't, she thought with such strength that she almost shouted the words. The thoughts raised tears in her eyes. Stella knew she was never going to be able to move past Flack and she knew he too was still hanging on to hope desperately. Their feelings were killing them both, and if they could never move past it, where did that leave them? Alone, wishing that they had taken the chance. Stella mulled the thought over, while a small voice in her head begged her to try, while the other voice quickly shot-down the idea, reminding her of the heartache she would suffer if he didn't want her.
Pulling cool air into lungs, Stella tried to calm herself as she felt Mark's grip on her tighten. She looked up at him with wide eyes. 'Is something the matter?'
'Can I ask you something?' Mark asked looking down at her and, after seeing her nod, he continued: 'I want to ask you if you'll marry me...?'
His voice was so soft that Stella had barely registered what Mark had said. But it soon sunk in and she looked up at him in shock. 'Are you sure?' Stella stopped moving, holding tightly to his jacket as if it were a lifeline. He began to speak but Stella's mind was busy, trying to process the information.
Everything in her screamed no, but Stella kept her mouth firmly shut. She didn't love Mark, but if she said yes perhaps Flack would give up, stop caring and move on. They could both move on and be happy. Feelings died eventually, don't they?
'Yes,' she said firmly. 'I'll marry you.'
Overjoyed by her response, Mark lifted her off his feet and held her in his arms. Stella put her arms around the man she sort-of-liked neck, and they stood in each others arms, one blissfully happy while the other felt their world crumble away. In their embrace, Mark was unaware of the tears that were slipping from Stella's eyes and down her face.
One hand brushed them clumsily away, and as she did this she thought of Flack. 'I'm doing this for you, Flack,' she thought to herself. 'You need to move on, we both do. I love you.'
Part 10 – The Call That Never Came.
That same night, Flack had fallen asleep on his couch by the phone waiting for the call he had been promised.
The call never came.
Part 11 – Heartbreak.
Flack pulled himself up the steps into the labs, his mood dark and his body tired from a hard day of work. At the tops of the steps he saw Danny, who was flipping through a file, but on seeing Flack he pushed it into his bag and then came down the last steps to meet him.
'Hey. You hear the news?'
Flack's heart jumped into his throat when her name was mentioned. He was normally the first to know anything about Stella, not the last. It reminded him of how far they had drifted apart. Looking warily at Danny, he informed him he knew nothing.
'She and Mark are engaged.'
Flack had heard people mention broken hearts before though he never fully understood what the feeling was like until that moment. It was a searing, raw pain that cut through his chest threatening to destroy him. Flack felt tears in his eyes and for a moment Danny was sure he could see real pain in Flack's face and eyes. But Flack was not one to be a slave to his emotions: he quickly straightened himself, ran his hands through his hair and told Danny he had not heard before he excused himself so that he could seek the loneliness he had feared for so long.
Flack sat in an empty room, his elbows resting on his knees and his head resting in his hands, while tears fell freely down his face like drops of silver rain. The one thought crashed destructively around in his brain demanding his attention. How could she marry Mark without saying a word to him? She had forbidden their relationship, begged he stopped loving her the way he did and he tried, but it wasn't like a switch which he could just turn off when the inclination took hold of him. It was as regular and constant as his heartbeat.
As Flack thought this, his breath caught in his lungs causing a sharp pain in his body. After all the suffering he had gone through, how could she stop caring for him so easily? The answer was simple, he told himself. Stella couldn't have cared for him to begin with.
Flack wiped his tears away roughly as he attempted to settle his mind. He told himself not to care: stop thinking about Stella and get on with your life. Love fades and dies in time. Stella could be a distant memory, even if he didn't want her to be.
Part 12 – Anxiety.
Stella's apartment was dimly lit and where she lay resting on the couch under a blanket she could barely make out the features and items that lay close by. Some light filtered in through the window and from where Stella lay she could see the stars that sat above. It reminded her of the night she stayed with Flack in the hospital keeping a vigil over him. Her heart had sat in her throat that night as it did now. The anxiety she had felt while she watched his sleeping body seemed trifling compared with the anxiety she felt when she thought of informing Flack of her engagement. In fact, it was more than anxiety, it was fear – pure fear.
Stella rolled on her side criticising herself. She had feared furthering their relationship but now she was terrified to think that she would have to tell him that she was getting married. Stella cringed as she thought of her horrible day, which Mark had decided should be in the winter. She would have to stand, put all her strength into making those two tiny words sound convincing – I do – then just continue to lie for the rest of her life, but already the prospect chilled her like the touch of ice. It wouldn't be a happy day with everyone she loved gathered near, it would be an execution, a sacrifice, where she would be stripped off all comfort and forced to live the rest of her life without love. All she would have to live with would be memories of the short-lived love she had felt towards Flack and the few months they had spent in blissful peace.
Her thoughts were lost as the phone buzzed incessantly and Stella reached out wearily but felt a jolt of excitement when she saw the number was Flack's. She lifted the phone, holding her breath as she felt a mad panic bounce around her body. But the voice on the other end was not Flack's but he knew who she was.
'I'm sorry, who are you?'
'I'm calling on behalf of Don Flack. He's...out of shape,' said the man on the other end of the phone, his voice wavering and unsure. 'You were on his speed-dial and I was thinking you could pick him up?'
'Yes, sure. Thank you for calling.' Stella quickly took down the address and thanked the stranger again before hanging up.
Part 13 – About A Wedding.
Stella pulled her coat closer to her body as she entered the almost empty bar, where she saw Flack and a man sitting talking. As she approached the man stood up and beckoned her away from the table. After looking her up and down, he asked: 'Are you Stella?'
'Yeah. I'm guessing you're the one who called?'
He nodded his head, but then looked at her critically. 'I've had a talk with him and, I'm just going to tell you that he's not...happy with you.' He looked over to Flack, who was slumped across the table. 'Something about a wedding, I'm not sure. It's none of my business but just don't aggravate him further.'
Stella bit down on her lip as she listened to the stranger speak. 'Thank you for watching him. It was good of you.'
Flack sat up suddenly, his eyes going large. Standing up and walking with unsteady legs he made his way towards her, his hands outstretched. As a compulsion she took his hands though fear was surfacing within her. Stella took in his haggard face and felt tears rise in her eyes. He looked so pitiful and so tired and so hurt that her very heart ached.
'I'm sorry you found out, Flack. I wanted to be the one to tell you,' she whispered, knowing that he was beyond reach. 'I didn't want to hurt you.'
Part 14 – Stolen Kisses.
Stella nearly fell as she attempted to unlock the door and support Flack at the same time. It was made more difficult by Flack's need to pull and sway, but eventually she had unlocked the door and was pushing him through. While Stella rested, Flack walked about his apartment muttering away to himself and walking about making wild gestures. Stella ignored him, heading to the kitchen where she filled a large glass with water and brought it to Flack, forcing him to drink it, which seemed to calm him considerably.
He finished the water in one go and then looked directly at her. 'Why did you do it to me, Stella? Have you any idea how much it hurts?' he said, in a quiet voice. 'It's like you ripped my heart out!'
Stella sat down beside him on the couch, sighing loudly. 'I should probably tell you this when you're sober, Flack, because I'm not sure I can do this twice.'
'I can understand. I can.'
Stella squeezed her eyes shut, pushing the pain down, deep down. 'I love Mark very much, Flack. I'm marrying him because I love him.'
'Liar,' Flack hissed, anger pulsing through his body. 'You love me! You do!' Flack stood up, wobbling on his feet.
Stella jumped up, grabbing hold of him. 'No, I love him!'
Flack spun around, breaking her hold on her and catching her off guard. Stella stumbled, but Flack caught her and held her up, his fingers sinking into her skin. He looked deep into her eyes, seeming to see every atom and her soul. 'Please, Stella. I know you loved me once...even if you don't now.' One hand released her and came up to her face, where he ran his fingers across her soft skin. Quickly, he dropped his head and kissed her lightly on the lips.
Stella didn't pull away, she felt frozen to the spot. The soft touch of his lips against hers transported her to that moment in the café, the moment they were both happy and the one that changed everything for them. When she did not resist, Flack deepened the kiss, pulling her into an embrace. Stella still didn't resist: this is where she wanted to be. Indulging in the moment, Stella moved one hand to his face while the other held tight to him as she kissed him back.
When Flack pulled away, he took hold of her shoulders to look at her face but Stella's head was hung. 'Stella,' he said quietly, putting his hand to her chin. After initially resisting, Stella looked up at him, her eyes brimming with tears while a sad smile sat on her lips. 'You do love me.' Stella nodded her head as she wiped away the tears. 'Say you don't love him, say you don't love Mark.'
Stella's voice was hung with emotion and pain as she spoke: 'I don't love Mark.' She coughed, trying to push it all down. 'I can't stand him...That's why this hurts so much.'
'Then don't do it!' Flack cried shaking her fiercely.
'You've had too much to drink, Flack,' she retorted pulling away and stepping backwards. 'You're not thinking straight.'
'I'm not drunk.'
'You're over the limit.' Stella backed away towards the door. 'I'm going now.'
'If you walk out that door, Stella,' Flack shouted pointing to the door, 'it's over. That's it.'
Stella didn't reply but walked steadfast to the door and once she was past it, she looked back to see his dejected face. It took everything in her to close it behind her, but once it was closed that strength dissolved, and she collapsed to the floor unable to contain her anguish. The pain was so exquisite she could barely breathe; it was the same heartbreaking ache Flack had experienced and it was killing her.
Part 15 – Transfers.
Mac sat back in his chair listlessly, looking at the papers that sat in front of him while his fingers played with his pen. He exhaled, regret sitting heavy on him, as his mind processed the information he had been presented with by Stella. The sheets simply needed his signature and everything would be done and dusted, but something prevented him. Mac knew exactly what that something was – it was friendship that stopped him. He had assumed that both of them would be there together until the bitter end because they were friends.
But it was because he was her friend that he signed on the dotted line and then pushed the papers away from himself as if they disgusted him.
His thoughts were disturbed by a light rapping at the door. When he looked up he saw a slightly dishevelled, tired looking Flack, who he beckoned in. 'What can I do for you?' he asked, gesturing to a seat.
Flack shook his head but stood close to the desk, his fingers tapping it nervously. 'Have you seen Stella? I've been trying to find her all day...Danny said I should talk to you?'
'Stella's put in for a transfer,' he told him with a frown, thinking that Flack would have been the first to know.
'Oh? To which department?'
Mac sighed and rubbed his brow. 'Sit down, Flack. Stella hasn't asked to be transferred to another department, she's asked to be transferred to another crime lab.'
Flack, who had only just sat down on the seat, jumped back up, his knee hitting off the desk with a loud thump. 'She couldn't! She belongs here.'
'Calm down,' Mac shouted seeing the young man's obvious distress. 'Stella must have her reasons for going and whatever they are we have to respect that.'
Flack didn't answer; he walked out of Mac's office, letting the door slam behind him. He walked slowly down the corridor that felt strangely cold, as if it had been her presence that once warmed it, feeling his world slip away from him.
Part 16 – Months Go By.
Flack leaned against the warm metal of the patrol car, as he ate his sandwich and chatted to Danny. From where they stood they could here the soft lapping waves as they hit the land and the distant cry of seagulls, merely grey and white specks to the two men, that soared far above the heights of the skyscrapers. The breeze, which carried the birds high, blew passed the men cooling them and making everything seemed calm. It was a beautifully sunny autumn day, both still and lazy.
Neither Flack nor Danny could remember a day that was so serene, it was slightly unnatural to them but they were going to revel in it for as long as they could knowing that someone or something would come along to ruin it. Their chatter soon tapered off and the silence between them grew, though was occasionally broke when one pointed out something to the other with a single word. Danny didn't mind the silences between them (and sometimes he needed them) but he was sorely aware of how quiet Flack had become over the months. He knew the cause and knew better than to speak about her, but Danny had thought that he would have forgotten by now. It was perhaps insensitive of him to think like that as he didn't fully understand the love that Flack held for Stella, the kind of love that never truly disappeared. Danny simply saw how everyone else, like Mac, had mourned her absent, commented on the strangeness of it all and then got on with it – why couldn't Flack?
Almost as if Flack could read Danny's mind, he turned to look at him. 'I was thinking about Stella.'
'Oh, were you?' said Danny, his tone oozing with sarcasm.
Flack smiled but it was quickly replaced with a look of concern that was so earnest that Danny knew not to joke. 'Do you think she's happy?'
Danny rubbed his face as he pushed himself from the car and thought. 'Yeah...she must be happy. I mean, she's got Mark and everything,' Danny mumbled, speaking quietly as if it would cause Flack less pain to hear. Once Danny spoke his face took a very serious look and he straightened himself up. 'Why do you ask?'
'I want to see her.'
'No, Flack, don't be stupid. Stella's moving on with her life – she's happy and you should be happy for her,' Danny told him sternly, folding his arms across his chest.
Flack nodded his head sadly but Danny was right and so he thought it wise to obey. He binned the rest of his lunch, his appetite lost suddenly, and began to walk slowly up and down, feeling the wind blow through his shirt and hair. Danny went back to his own lunch, though he kept his eye on Flack.
Neither was aware that Flack's wish would be granted and the horrible event that would bring them together was happening as they enjoyed their lunch.
Part 17 – A Tragedy.
Flack had just reached the car as a radio crackled to life and communicated the details of some tragedy. Danny tossed the radio to Flack, who answered and listened to the information he was given. The afternoon heat had made them tired but both sprang to life hearing the name of the victim given by dispatch. Danny was on his feet, moving around the car to where Flack stood with his mouth hanging open. He took the radio from Flack and confirmed they would proceed. He then shouted at Flack to move before jumping into the driver's seat.
Moments later they were flying along the road at top speed, each man feeling their heart beating unbelievably fast that it hurt. Danny's face had formed a frown as he concentrated wholly on the road while Flack's face had formed some terrible mask contorted in pain and his thoughts jumped about wildly, each demanding his attention. Just ahead they could see where cars had screeched to a stop and people who were watching the scene with sick fascination. Danny was forced to slow the car and as he did Flack swung open the door and was running down the street, his feet hitting the tarmac agonizingly, but he ignored it knowing she was there.
He came to an abrupt stop seeing the crowd which he forced to move with a flash of his badge. When they parted he saw her.
She was lying in a small ball, her knees at her chest and her arms holding them. A small pool of her own blood surrounded her and her face, which was dotted with red, was creased with distress. A man, who was unknown to Flack, was by her side speaking to her in low tones. Flack ignored everything he saw, having only one purpose: to be by her.
When Flack approached and dropped to his knees to examine Stella, the unknown individual identified himself but his words went unheard by Flack, who was looking for the cause of Stella's hurt. The culprit was a bullet which had tore a wound in her abdomen. Flack's years of training had disappeared from his mind and he scooped Stella's limp body into his arms then ran back towards the car passing Danny who was only just approaching.
Part 18 – Back To The Beginning.
Danny stood outside Stella's room talking with a nurse while Flack kept a watch over her refusing to leave her side for even a moment. He held her hand, pressed kisses to it and spoke to her softly, while his blue eyes gazed adoringly over her, praying for her to wake. His heart sat in his throat and his stomach was tightly knotted; they lurched forward every time she moved or made a sound. Every now and then he would adjust the blankets or smooth them over while he muttered away to her in an odd manner. He seemed to the nurse like a man very much in love but to Danny he seemed slightly mad.
Flack brushed hair back from her face allowing his fingers to linger there feeling the soft touch of her skin. 'Stella,' he whispered, lifting her hand and ignoring the cold touch of her engagement ring, 'you gave me such a fright. I thought you were gone for sure – you shouldn't scare me like that. But, I'm glad I can be near you again. I miss you so much.' He sighed then kissed her hand repeatedly in a passionate way. 'I think about you like every day...You probably don't care about me though. You're too happy.' His eyes dropped to the ring she wore which glinted and mocked him. 'I love you, Stella, and I'm never going to stop.' He pressed a final kiss to her hand before letting his fingers intertwine with hers. 'But...if Mark makes you happy then I'm happy. That's all I want for you, Stella. Danny's right: I should be happy for you and I am. Just as long as you're happy...'
The door was pushed opened and Danny entered. 'How is she?'
Danny pulled up a chair on the other side of the bed so that he could see Flack. 'And you?'
'The moment I heard her name, Danny, it was like nothing I've ever felt before. I was terrified and I was panicked but at the same time I just needed to be with her. And now I'm still terrified and panicked but I'm happy because I'm here with her. Does that make any sense what so ever?'
'No, but...I guess that's love for you,' Danny sighed, looking at his friend with a pair of serious blue eyes. 'But, you know, this doesn't change anything. After this you still have to get on with your life.'
'I know that, Danny. I can do it as long as I know that's she safe and happy...that's all I've ever wanted for her. I just figured she would be those things with me.' Flack hung his head after he spoke and sat hunched over until he heard a noise from Stella.
Stella squirmed under the blankets and her hand batted at something invisible in front of her, while her face twisted so that she looked distressed. Danny moved back to avoid being hit but Flack reached out and took her hand in his own as if it was a very natural thing. Stella responded by taking a sharp breath and then opened her eyes. His attention riveted on her, Flack leaned closer, his grip on her small hand tightening.
Stella's eyes slowly opened, revealing her bright blue eyes which were unfocused and confused. With her free hand she wiped away the vestiges of sleep, while the other hand came to life and squeezed Flack's hand in an affectionate way. She attempted to sit up but Flack prevented her from doing so by placing his hand on her shoulder. Stella quietly obeyed, but winced as she settled herself again. After a look about the room, she looked at Flack, who was unbelievably happy as well as relieved. 'Don?' she said in an unsure voice.
'I'm here,' he told her, moving closer, his smile growing at her use of his first name. He put his other hand out to touch her, but thinking better of it, he withdrew it then looked nervously at Danny.
'You okay, Stella?' Danny asked, getting to his feet.
'Yes, I think so. My head hurts a bit actually.'
Flack closed his eyes in disbelief at her statement and began to laugh softly. Danny gave a wide smile, which Stella mimicked. 'I'll go find a nurse.'
The two watched Danny go and only once they saw the door was firmly closed did they look at each, their delight in seeing each other barely constrained. Stella sat up, ignoring Flack's objections, her eyes never leaving his and then she took his other hand. 'Are you...well?' she asked, her voice choked.
Flack didn't quite understand her question but answer that he was very well. For an uncomfortable moment they sat in silence before they both blurted out loudly, unable to contain it: 'I've missed you.' Flack felt all barriers slip away; he was on his feet pulling her into an embrace which she accepted readily. Stella pressed her head to his chest, mumbling in an incoherent manner, and Flack held her there wishing that the embrace would never end. When they pulled away from each other, Stella kept a tight grip on his arms as if he was about to run away.
'Flack! Flack,' she cried shaking him, 'I...don't leave me.'
'Calm down, Stella. I'm here.'
'I don't mean now,' she said sitting back down on the bed which allowed Flack to sit as well. 'I mean forever.'
Flack felt a slow smile spread across his face. 'I'll never you leave you.' He lifted her hand and brought it to his chest.
At a soft creak, Flack and Stella turned towards the door to see Danny entering with a tall man behind him. Flack did not immediately register who was walking behind Danny but Stella did and her eyes darkened and she took her hand away from Flack. The man overtook Danny and made an exclamation of horror as he sat on the edge of the bed pulling Stella roughly into his arms, ignoring the small cry that passed her lips.
'Darling, are you alright? I came as soon as I could get away from the office.'
Stella frowned while a small voice in her head reminded her that Flack had been there in minutes, not hours. 'I'm fine.' Feeling suddenly awkward, Stella pulled herself away from Mark.
'These are the men who found you?' Mark asked looking to Flack and Danny.
'They're my friends,' Stella replied in a light tone. At seeing the confusion on Mark's face, she added: 'We used to work together.'
'Oh...right. Well, thank you both,' Mark said in a pompous voice that Stella had come to hate, as he extended a hand towards Flack, who took it without a moment's hesitation. Stella watched the two hands as they moved up in down in a friendly handshake feeling strangely relieved. 'Listen, darling, I have lots to take care of and can't stay.'
'I'll make it up to you.'
Stella shrugged her shoulders stubbornly. 'You don't need to...I don't care.' Mark bent down and planted a kiss on Stella's lips, which caused her to shudder.
'I think I'll follow suit,' Danny informed Stella, following Mark out the room.
'He seems nice,' Flack said in a soft voice.
'Yes, he is. He's fantastic.' Stella looked in the direction of the door and after a long sigh she turned back to him and whispered in a confused voice: 'I'm lucky, I guess...'
'You don't sound too sure.'
Stella looked at him very seriously. 'He's ordered white orchids for the wedding.'
'Right...' Flack mumbled quietly. He wasn't sure he understood the meaning in what she said but he pretended, knowing that it would upset her otherwise.
Stella sighed again and then looked out the window. It seemed to darken as she peered out, reflecting the mood she was in. From where she sat she could hear the soft patter of rain as it ran down the window creating small streams. Soft light streamed in through the panes lighting the room sufficiently for the two just to see each other. A harsh wind blew: it carried yellow leaves and made a rattling noise. Inside the hospital, cruel coughs sounded, machinery beeped, people moved restlessly around the corridors and people laughed and chatted as they went about their business. Stella tilted her head while she listened to the sounds, thankful that it would not be silent for some time yet.
'Do you remember when you were in hospital?' Stella asked as she turned to look at him. She jumped to see his eyes fixed on her but she calmed herself. 'After the explosion?'
'Yes, I remember it clearly.'
'Stupid question. But it's like being back at the beginning.'
Flack grinned, but felt sorrow sit heavy on his shoulders. 'It's never going to be like the beginning, Stella.' On seeing her confused face, he added: 'Too much has changed.'
Stella exhaled, depression sinking in as she thought of the past and the future. But the ideas were pushed away when she felt his hand take hers, squeezing it gently in the affectionate way he used to. She rolled on to her side, as she squirmed down under the blankets, watching Flack, who kept his eyes on her. Stella pulled his hand close to her, and could only think of the present, the moment, with Flack.
Part 19 – White Orchids.
Stella moved around Mark's apartment – her new apartment. It was very odd to be in this place, forcing herself to call it home while knowing full well it wasn't. Mark's apartment was white and minimalistic with cold lines; it differed so much from her own, which was colourful with wooden furniture and floors – hers was a home, a comfortable place. Even with party decorations it was still reminded Stella of an igloo.
Mark had filled the apartment with white orchids and from the ceiling had hung glittering snowflakes. Along the ground and all over the rooms lay fake snow and glitter. It was all very beautiful, almost like a fairytale. Any other girl would have loved it – Stella, of course, didn't, and she also didn't agree with the engagement party Mark had decided to throw. The party Flack was coming to!
She wanted to scream every time she thought about Flack standing in the room, sipping champagne and toasting the happy couple. But he would do it with a charming smile hanging on his lips because he wanted her to be happy. He confessed everything to her in the hospital, he had worn his heart on his sleeve and bared all: told her he would never stop loving her and that he would be happy as long as she was. And Stella had sat there listening to his words, but stopped herself crying out everything in her heart. Instead, she said in a small voice that she loved Mark, and that she was going to marry him in the winter. Flack had excused himself after that and Stella had cried herself to sleep; however, when she woke, he was fast asleep in the chair at her bedside.
He had meant every word.
Flack crept up the stairway, Danny a few steps ahead, and already he was able to hear music and bubbling conversation. Danny peered back to look at him, noting the pale, terrified expression on his face, but he said nothing, quite aware of the difficult situation Flack was in. He admired him for his bravery and strength though: it was awe-inspiring. Slowing his pace and coming to a stop, Danny fell in beside Flack. 'This is going to be fine, isn't?'
'Yeah, of course it is. I'm not going to start anything.'
Danny shifted his weight from foot to foot and then after a small cry of annoyance cried: 'You know she doesn't love him, right?'
'Stella told me she loved him,' Flack persisted, shaking his head.
'Well, it's a lie. I've seen the way she is with him – and the way she is with you! She does not love him.'
'Why, Danny? Why are you telling me this?'
Danny's face was clouded with anger and he stamped his foot down on the step several times. 'If it were me, I couldn't let her go without a fight...And that's what I've been telling you to do. But, Flack, if you love her then I think, maybe, you should give it one more go because you'll regret it for the rest of your life if you don't.' Flack opened his mouth to speak of the impossibility of it, but Danny quickly cut in: 'I heard once that love is only as great as the obstacles it faces – don't you give up, Flack.'
Flack didn't reply; he hopped up the remaining stairs and onto the landing, leaving Danny to trail behind him.
Pushing open the door, Flack stepped out of the elevator and into a room with a glass roof and walls which had once simply been the roof to the building. Someone had placed wicker furniture and broad-leafed plants in the room, and Flack thought it resembled the conservatory his parents had. Directly across from the elevator was a glass door leading out to the balcony, where a solitary figure sat with her legs dangling through the railings. He silently slid the door open and took a seat beside her, putting his legs through the railings as well.
'What are you doing up here?'
'Nothing,' Stella said quietly as she looked out over the city. 'Hiding, I guess.'
Flack nudged her and passed her a bunch of flowers which were wrapped in purple tissue paper with a red ribbon sealing them. 'These are the ones you like.'
Stella took them with trembling hands. Peeling back the paper, Stella could see the white, smooth, curved flowers and she felt her heart beat race. With wide eyes, she turned to him: 'Calla Lilies. White Calla Lilies! You knew?'
Flack grinned, showing his white teeth. 'A week after I went home from the hospital we went for a walk, remember? It was the first time I was allowed out of the house.'
'And we walked through that street of houses...'
'Where one of the gardens had Calla Lilies. You told me white ones were your favourite.' Stella ran her finger across the flowers, as her vision was blurred by tears. In a vain attempt to hide them, she turned her head in the other direction and wiped them away with the back of her hand. Flack took the hand away from her face and his fingers intertwined with hers. 'I also know that your favourite colour is blue; that you love Italian food; and that you absolutely hate white orchids – you think they're ugly.'
Stella tried to stop herself smiling, but it broke through like sunshine through clouds. 'Thank you for the flowers and everything.' Stella looked down at the flowers, feeling determination growing slowly inside her. She got to her feet and then, offering a hand to help Flack to his, asked, 'Do you want to go for a walk?'
'Down to your apartment? It's not much of a walk,' he told her, brushing the dirt off his trousers.
'His apartment,' Stella corrected bitterly, hugging the flowers to her body. 'It's not mine and it never will be. I'm going.'
'I don't know...just for a walk, I guess.' Stella was completely unsure of herself, but one thought screamed through the others: it told her to leave Mark while she had the courage to do so, to walk away with whatever dignity she had left.
'I'll come with you.'
'You'd do that?'
'Course I would.'
Part 20 – Lovers' Hugs.
They walked down the street from Mark's apartment block without saying a word. Stella's fingers fiddled with the ribbon which held her flowers together, while her eyes were concentrated on her feet. She was unwilling to look at Flack: she felt ashamed and afraid. She had had everything just moments ago; now she had nothing. Stella suddenly realised that she was quite, quite alone. The heartbreak and loneliness she had tried to safe herself from had found her just the same. She sighed out hoping that all her problems would disappear with the air.
There was a flash of light above and the quiet was broken by thunder, which rumbled around, echoing through the city. Seconds later, rain began to pour down like a monsoon, drenching the two lonely characters to the skin. Flack caught hold of Stella's elbow, trying to pull her into shelter, but Stella resisted and broke away from his grip, storming ahead of him. He stood stunned for only a moment and then went hurtling down the street to catch up with her, but she had already disappeared. When Flack turned down onto the next street, she was not there. It was only on spinning around on his heel that he saw a slender figure passing into the park.
Stella finally came to a stop on Bow Bridge. Her elbows rested on the railing, and her body was slumped over in a pitiful way; tears and rain stole quietly down her face. She did not straighten when Flack approached, but she allowed him to stand by her side. 'Do you think they'll have realised I'm gone yet?' she asked turning her head towards him and laying her flowers down.
'Stella, you should get inside before you freeze in that party dress,' he told her, ignoring what she had asked.
Stella brushed her hair back from her face, as her eyes widened. 'Do you think I should go back?' Her voice was quiet and full of fear. She turned and held his arms, shaking them slightly. 'I should go back...'
'No, I shouldn't.'
Stella's knees shook, and she realised the insanity of everything. 'Fine,' she said, turning back to look over the side of the bridge. After looking at her fingers, Stella removed the ring that sat on one of them. 'Watch this,' she said, smiling. Stella lowered her eyebrows in concentration, and sent the ring skimming across the water's surface with one flick of her wrist.
Flack watched the ring glitter and disappear. 'What if Mark wants it back?'
'We know were it is,' Stella joked, nudging him with her elbow. 'I mean, how hard can it be to find?'
They both burst into laughter. When it had subsided, Flack took her hand in his, sighing deeply. 'You still need to go back, Stella. You need to tell him it's over.'
'Not tonight,' she whined. 'I'm happy and I want to stay that way for just a little bit longer. I will tell him though.' Stella turned and leaned her back against the railing. 'It was stupid to do all this; all I did was hurt you, me and now Mark.'
'You didn't plan it.'
'I was terrified by the thought of anything happening between us – we've both been hurt a lot. I just thought that if I pretended to love Mark that we would both move on.'
'I could never have moved on,' Flack told her softly.
'I couldn't either, why do you think I transferred? But that didn't work. I loved you more each day I didn't see you if anything!'
'And when you were in the hospital and Mark came in, all I could think of was how much I hated him...How much I hated Orchids!' Stella shook her head, laughing at her own oddities. 'I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't given me those Calla Lilies.'
Stella could feel tears rising in her eyes again, but Flack instinctively wiped them away with his thumb before they could fall and then let it caress her cheek. Stella inclined her head towards it, placing her own hand over his. 'I'm sorry I hurt you. I was horrible! How could you possibly still love me?'
Flack smiled as he stepped closer. 'How could I stop?'
'Aren't you afraid of what could happen?' she asked looking into his eyes. 'Aren't you afraid of what might happen?'
'Yes, I'm terrified at what could happen...but life is far too short to be afraid of things that could or might happen, Stella. I thought you would know that.' Flack slowly slid his arms around her, pulling her body against his. 'I can't promise that it'll work out or that it'll all be a fairytale, but I am promising you something: to love as much as I can for as long as I can. That's all I can give you.'
Stella reached up and kissed his lips lightly. 'I...can live with that.' Putting her arms around Flack's neck, Stella kissed him again. Flack was quick to pull her into a tight embrace, as if he were scared that she would run away, feeling her lips curve into a smile against his. Stella pulled back and rested her head on his shoulder, one of her hands griped to his shirt while the other hand held his tightly. Flack rested his hand on the small of her back, while he gently and lovingly kissed her face.
Another couple hurried by, seeking shelter from the rain that continued to pour relentlessly down. The couple, who were unable to comprehend the step the two had taken, paid little attention to the lovers locked in an embrace and merely remarked on the strangeness of the sight: a woman in a party dress and a rather tired looking man, both soaked to the skin but both unbelievably happy. Somewhere else one of the obstacles Flack and Stella had faced attempted to explain where his fiancée had disappeared to. And, as this happened, Danny told Mac the events that had passed, the importance of Calla Lilies and of the love he knew had triumphed over fear, doubt and many obstacles after that.
Summary: As Stella and Flack's relationship develops, they face many obstacles that throw them both into turmoil.