The Announcer by Marcia Carrington

“And now for the Home Shopping Bonanza with presenter extraordinaire William Armstrong,” the voice-over man boomed, his distinctive voice filling the room. Casey Abbott moved in front of the screen to watch her favorite program, which always began at 1:00PM EST. She took off her reading glasses, and sank into the suede sofa. William Armstrong raised his hands, eyes twinkling and said, in his recognizable tone,
The Announcer
The Announcer by Marcia Carrington
“Hello and welcome to everyone. Today we have a busy day, with lots of products for you. And where will we begin? Let’s start with some…champagne!” he said, saluting the audience with a flute, brown eyes lighting up with cheeky abandon. Casey laughed, as she loved watching the antics of her number one TV personality. After several sips of the champagne, William began the serious task of advertising a vacuum cleaner with super suction. The way he made his studio guests feel at ease was one of the reasons why William Armstrong was the most popular personality at the local WSTY TV station. There was just something about this man which made Casey feel warm, but at the same time, safe. It filled her with a sense of comfort in a world where events had contained little sense over the past few years. Casey’s mind traveled to the experience which changed her life forever. She was slated to be picked up by a friend who was to take her parents to a doctor’s appointment, but Casey was unable to attend that day, as she was ill. Casey had a strong sense something was not quite right that particular day, and her intuition turned out to be correct. A drunk driver hit the car containing her parents and friend, and it spun out of control, striking a pole killing both her parents, and the driver of the vehicle. Casey could never quite comprehend how this happened, and, why she was spared from being in the car with them that day. This experience led her into a spiritual journey where she came to terms with the fact that life had dealt her a severe blow, but she had to continue her life, and in a manner her parents had always dreamt for her. At this point, Casey realized she was daydreaming, hearing William’s voice over the TV promoting an exercise machine. Casey smiled, and nodded in approval of his antics. It was not difficult to be taken in by William Armstrong, and who could not be. He was tall, genial, and very handsome. His eyes always radiated definite sassiness, but also a sensuality that spellbound Casey. William Armstrong appeared to have everything going for him in life - he had a high-rating and successful TV show, beautiful wife, and a charmed life. Casey always thought his wife Marguerite must have been the luckiest woman in the world to have William as her husband. She would make brief appearances on William’s show, and her flighty, bubbly manner perfectly matched William’s exuberant personality. Casey was a little envious of her, and often fantasized that she was in Marguerite’s place, but, knew this was not realistic. Casey had gone as far as parking outside the studio to see William emerge from the building, and drive away, but that was the extent of her contact with him. Casey realized that watching William on TV was the closest she would ever get to him, and continued to enjoy William wearing his exercise clothes on the treadmill, making jokes as he conquered the machine’s powerful rhythms. Chapter Two “Today I’ve made your request come to fulfilment. Your letters and phone calls indicated you love my costume dress ups on the show, but there was one character you always wanted me to appear as, but I haven’t done yet. So, by popular demand, I’ll be a joker for the entire show!” William said with excitement. Casey had just sat in front of the TV, and chuckled at William’s capers. These dress ups were something he did often, and proved highly popular with audiences. While he never slipped into self-parody, William Armstrong’s on screen masquerades had people in stitches, and buying the advertised products at the same time. He was not afraid to make fun of himself, and his naturalness and good humor filled many an afternoon for Casey. Casey had made herself a cup of hot coffee, and the flickering flames in her fireplace also provided comfort in this late summer which, due to much rain, had proven to be somewhat of an early winter, even though fall was only two weeks away. Today William was advertising a bed linen set, and flopped onto the mattress with a wild recklessness that caught Casey by surprise. His eyes glinted, and he moved onto his stomach, propping his head with his hand, his elbow resting on the mattress. “Oh, how I love going to bed - especially when I have bed linen like this!” William said. Casey grinned, and arose from the sofa to retrieve a notepad. She had been writing some things down she needed to do, and became lost in composing this list. In between she took sips of her coffee, watching the escaping steam with great comfort. By this time, half the program had ended, and Casey was awakened from her thoughts by William’s voice. This time he was advertising a food processor, and making jokes with the guest. “I have no one to cook for me now. Maybe if I had this food processor it’d make life easier,” William said. “I’m not the greatest cook, but any help is welcome.” Casey listened in with interest. She was not the best cook either, and could relate to this, but knew that William’s wife Marguerite had a reputation as a stellar chef. This comment struck Casey as being odd, but she knew William often sent up himself, and his private life. “I know what you mean,” the program guest responded. “This food processor has so many functions, and much more.” “That’s great, as I need all the help I can get. Marguerite was so sick of my lack of cooking finesse she left me to go on a cruise,” William said in response, smiling with irony. Casey placed her coffee on the table, and moved her notepad to the side. William periodically made jokes about his wife on the show, but his comment unsettled Casey, her blue eyes wide with concern, and she peered at the TV with complete attention. “I think we all need help sometimes with cooking; no one’s ever perfect, but this gadget will help,” the guest said. “I’ll buy this for sure. While I’m afraid of cruising, and my wife took her best friend, it’ll help me in the kitchen when she returns,” William said. After he said this, William looked away from the camera, and Casey noticed he appeared to be unhappy for some reason, his eyes, normally bright and alert, were now heavy and dull. Casey had watched enough of William Armstrong in action to know that something was seriously wrong with him, and he was carrying on a charade for the audience. Several other editions of the program showcased William saying something allegorical about his life, which Casey found uncharacteristic for him. Was he suddenly being flippant just as a gimmick, or was something else at play in William Armstrong’s life? This piqued Casey’s inquisitive nature, and she knew she had to see him. While she had purchased his products many times from the show, she had never gone as far as trying to meet him in person. Seeing him in this manner broke Casey’s heart, and she determined that as soon as she could, she would meet William Armstrong, TV star - in person. Chapter Three “There’s something definitely wrong with William Armstrong - I can feel it.” Several days afterwards, Casey waited outside the TV station in her car. She noticed that William would slowly stroll to the park close to the building, and eat his lunch all alone there. This occurred numerous times, and Casey thought maybe he was meeting his wife there, or possibly someone else. Today Casey’s curiosity had reached breaking point, and she moved out of her car, beginning to walk to the park. She felt a combination of excitement, and great trepidation at what she was about to do, but, in her mind, it seemed to be the right thing. Ignoring her self-doubts, Casey arrived at the park, but was immediately struck by a strange sight. Casey overheard someone crying continuously, and listened in to them. The person continued to cry, a loud, sharp wail, and this disturbed Casey. Was it a man, or a woman making this noise? Listening with total attention, she ascertained that it was a man. When she walked closer, Casey saw this person was sitting on a park bench, his head in his hands. Taking baby steps, Casey looked to see who it was. She was shocked to see it was William Armstrong, and he was utterly distraught. Casey gradually reached out, and put her hand on his shoulder. William looked up in alarm at her, and said, “What do you want?” Casey was taken aback by his abruptness, and said, “I would like to help you.” William glowered at her, his brown eyes teary, but resolute. “Who are you? What do you want?” Casey could still not believe she was actually face to face with William Armstrong, and his gruff attitude fascinated her all the more. “I’m Casey,” she said, with a slight smile. “I want to help you.” William’s face became even heavier, and he shook his head vigorously. “I don’t need anyone’s help…if you’re some groupie or wannabe, I don’t have time for this,” he said, storming off back to the studio building. This was not the ideal meeting Casey envisioned with William Armstrong, but it did not put her off speaking with him again. Casey could not grasp the fact she had actually been face to face with him, and shook her head at this situation. She had succeeded in finally seeing him, but knew there was more to William’s life than what he showed on camera. Today Casey saw that he was not at all happy, and watched him as he walked quickly back to the station. “William, William,” Casey called out to him. Her voice quickly lost its impact due to the cars whizzing by on the road, but William did not make any attempt to turn around, or acknowledge her in the least. Chapter Four “Today’s the day I will finally speak with William Armstrong,” Casey said, a determined expression on her face. Casey decided she would take a different approach to meeting William this time around. She waited in her car, and watched him as he left the station. Casey saw him leave through the security gate, and he moved into his car. As the boom gates at the building’s car park opened, he made his way out of the station. William was now on the road, and Casey put her car into drive, and began to follow him. Casey tried her best to ensure he did not realize she was following him, backing off slightly on some stretches of the road, but he picked up that she was tailing him. William made a few turns to try to confuse her, but Casey again found him, to his chagrin. She continued to follow William, and finally arrived at his house. Casey parked on the curb, and could see that William was waiting for her in front of the garage, looking tremendously angry. She quickly emerged from her car, and prepared to face him. “Why’re you following me? If you don’t leave right now, I’ll call the police,” William said, appearing totally unlike his upbeat, composed TV persona. His eyes were wild, and his brown hair slightly unruly. “I don’t want to cause you any harm William, it’s just that I’m worried about you,” Casey said calmly. William laughed, and rolled his eyes. “Worried? Huh! You’re worried about someone you don’t know - why don’t you do us both a favor, and mind your own business,” William said. Casey shook her head, and bit her bottom lip. “I can’t…I can’t bear to see you this way,” Casey said. William smirked at her words. “What! You don’t know me - you have no reason to be concerned,” William said. “I’d walk away right now if I were you - don’t get involved.” William’s ire made Casey angry, and the emotion rose in her cheeks. “Oh yes, I agree. Crying in the park, all alone, makes me very reassured you’re fine - your life must be wonderful for you to do that,” Casey said. William’s eyes boggled at her comment. “Who are you, a reporter or something?” William said, his hands on his hips in defiance. “What gives you the right to poke your nose into my affairs?” Casey looked away from William, wanting to have a break from his intense wrath, and turned back towards him. “Ever since that day you said your wife was on a cruise, and you laughed it off, I saw the expression on your face, your real expression, if no one else in the world picked up on it,” Casey said. William was stunned, but did not reply instantly. He watched Casey as if he was a police interrogator, but she was undaunted. “You thought wrong - everything’s okay. Please go now before I call the police,” William said. “You won’t do that once you see this,” Casey said, handing him a letter. William read through it carefully, peering at her in between paragraphs, and looked at her with a sense of relief. “So you’re the Casey who’s written me so many letters, and watched me for years,” William said, handing the letter back to her, both surprised, but happy to see the effect of his celebrity status on someone. “Yes, that’s me all right,” Casey said decisively. “See the part you wrote at the bottom of your last letter to me, that you’d like to meet me one day; well, that day has arrived.” William looked at Casey, and threw his hands in the air. “Well, you seem to know so much about me, you may as well come on in,” William said. “I’ve screamed at you enough, and, while my neighbors are nice people, they may become suspicious if I’m treating you this way, and think you’re pestering me.” Casey moved closer to him, and laid her hand on his shoulder, which he witnessed with a mixture of acceptance, and confusion. “If that’s what you want, William - all I’ve ever wanted was to meet you, not cause you any problems,” Casey said. He stood back, and surveyed her with care, his brown eyes studious and serious. “You know, I’ve learnt to have a read on people, and I feel safe with you for some reason…I don’t know, just something about you,” William said, his eyes appearing more composed than before. “I feel the same,” Casey said, and with this, William turned, and inserted the key into the front door, motioning to her to enter his house. Casey walked into his home, and was struck by its understated beauty. While it had a large comfortable living room, with stylish and modern furniture, it had a raised section at the room’s rear which boasted a formal dining table, and large sliding doors that overlooked a sparkling swimming pool. Casey could not stop looking at the room, and could not quite comprehend that she was in William Armstrong’s living room. She realized she was lost in thought looking at his room, and knew she was rude for doing this. “Oh William, I’m sorry, but you have such a gorgeous home.” Casey noticed she received no response from William, and saw that he had sunken into his sofa. To her surprise, William again began to cry, as he did the day he was in the park. She sat next to him on the sofa, and he fell into Casey’s arms, sobbing uncontrollably. “William, what’s wrong?” she said, stroking his head. Casey checked that perhaps he was unwell and had a temperature, but a quick test on his temple bore out otherwise. He did not respond, and continued to cry in her arms. “William, please listen to me. Take a deep breath, and sit back for me.” His eyes were red from crying, but he did as she said. “Why’re you so upset? Why were you crying that day in the park? What’s happened to make you this way?” William had calmed down slightly from before, and faced her, his eyes bloodshot. “I’ll tell you everything, as long as you promise to not say anything to anyone,” William said, with a puppy dog expression. “Your confidentiality’s assured,” Casey said, with a nod, stroking his head with her hand. “Thank you,” William said, managing a faint smile. “My ex-wife Marguerite…” he started to say. “Ex-wife,” Casey said, with an expression of shock. “But I thought you were the happiest couple alive,” she said, mouth open in surprise. “Were,” William said. “She left me recently, and isn’t coming back.” Casey’s eyes boggled at this admission. “So that’s why you said she went on a cruise, and you didn’t like cruises,” Casey said. “The first part’s true, the second, false. I found out as she left a letter to me after she went on the cruise, and subsequently sent the divorce papers for me to sign,” William said, starting to cry again. Casey was heartbroken by his revelation, and opened her arms to him. “I’m so sorry,” Casey said, massaging him on the neck. “Why’d this all happen?” William moved out of her embrace, and looked at Casey, wild-eyed. “She had a lover on the side, and I found them in our bed one day when I came home from work. She taunted me that I couldn’t please her as a husband as I should’ve, but was too attached to my job, which isn’t true. Marguerite also said she didn’t want to leave me, which I didn’t want, either. I forgave her, and she said things would be different, and she stayed for a little, but then took up with him once more.” William began to cry once more, and Casey took him in her arms. “Don’t worry William, everything’ll be all right,” Casey said, patting him on the head. William’s hair was so soft that she ran her fingers through it, but he did not seem to notice. “Thank you,” William said, almost whispering. “You’re welcome William.” Casey smiled at him, and he tried to do the same, but was drained from his ordeal. “William, I’ll ask you if you can do some things for me,” Casey said softly. “What do you mean?” William asked. Casey sat back in the sofa, and pressed her lips together. “You’re exhausted both physically and mentally, and I’d advise you to do something you may not agree with, but, under the circumstances, you need to do, now,” Casey said quietly. “What?” William said, looking at her with total innocence. Casey prepared herself for what she was to say, taking a deep breath, knowing it would be received with disdain by William. “You have to take a break from your job – I can only imagine how difficult it is to act so happy on camera, and come home, and have the weight of the world on your shoulders,” Casey said. William’s mouth popped open in shock. “But I can’t…it’s the only thing that’s kept me going…I can’t,” William said, watching her with bewilderment. “It won’t be forever – how are you to take stock of your life if you continue this way? You’re going to have a total collapse if you don’t take a break…won’t the managers at the station be understanding?” Casey said. William thought about this for a moment, and looked away from Casey. He stared at the television set opposite, but turned back, watching her cautiously. “Yes, they’d be okay, I think. I have a co-host who comes in sometimes…just they’d be worried about the ratings,” William said. “Well, if they’re as concerned about you as they should be, they’d give you the mercy of stretching your wings for a little,” Casey said. William paused for a spell, and considered what Casey said. “I suppose you’re right,” he said. William watched Casey, and shook his head. “What I can’t understand is how this is all happening, and why I’m telling you all this so freely…who are you, anyway?” Casey looked away at a photo frame on a table for a few seconds, and returned back to William. “I’m a psychiatrist,” Casey said, as William’s mouth fell open. “You’re…a psychiatrist?” Casey viewed him peacefully, as his eyes roamed the room. “A psychiatrist? Really?” William said. “Yes,” Casey said quietly. “You must think I’m weird or something the way I’m carrying on,” William said. “Or you see me as a project,” he said, rolling his eyes. Casey chuckled at this, and smiled. “No William, I’d never see you that way, and I never see anyone that way. Is it so difficult to admit we need help sometimes, and why should we be ashamed to ask? You’ve been through a trauma, but haven’t dealt with it properly, and this is the result,” Casey said. After hearing this, William began to cry, and sobbed in Casey’s arms. “Damn, damn!” William said. “There, there, get it all out of your system, it’s been bottled up long enough.” William sobbed for a while longer, and she turned his face to look at her. “You also appear to not be eating properly; I’ll go and fix you something,” Casey said. William nodded, and Casey proceeded to the kitchen to prepare some food for him. She did not find much by way of nutritious food, but did the best she could with what she had at her disposal. Casey made a few sandwiches, and brought these out on a tray, with some water. “William, I’ve brought you some food…” Casey said brightly, but there was no response from him. Casey moved down the raised section of the room, and saw that William had fallen asleep on the sofa. She set the tray down on the table, and went into a bedroom, finding a throw rug, but stopped when she saw what appeared to be William’s bedroom. Casey noticed photos of Marguerite everywhere, some with William, and others where she was on her own, and felt revulsion for this woman. The more she looked at these, the more disgusted she became of this person. Wanting to not look at Marguerite any longer, Casey brought the rug out, and slowly placed it on William. Casey sat in an armchair close by, and watched him. William was so serene now, which was at odds with his go-getting TV persona, and the more private side Casey witnessed today, which she never expected. Even though it was early in the afternoon, Casey was tired, and found herself falling asleep. * * * * When Casey awakened, she checked her watch, and was surprised that it was 4:00PM in the afternoon. Casey arose from the armchair, and checked on William. He was still asleep, and she lightly roused him from his slumber, by stroking him on his face. His eyes opened suddenly, and William looked at Casey in alarm, but then remembered what happened today. “I prepared something for you to eat,” Casey said. William watched her with a mixture of happiness, and bewilderment. He slowly sat up, and sank into the sofa, running his hands over his face. “You don’t have to stay here anymore – I’ve caused you enough grief today,” William said, still slightly groggy. “No, I want to help you – I can’t leave you like this,” Casey said. William rubbed his eyes, and they fluttered from his nap. “I’m sure you’ve got things to do, people to see, and look after – I don’t want to interrupt you any more than I have,” William said. Casey grinned, and shook her head. “If you’re asking if I’ve got anyone waiting for me at home, no, I live alone; my life is my job,” Casey said. “I’m not married, and never have been,” she said. “Oh,” William said, somewhat surprised at this. “I’m asking because I don’t want you to go…I want you here with me.” Casey raised her eyebrows in surprise - it was just several hours ago he wanted her to leave, and now he asked her to stay with him. “As long as you want me here, I’ll stay,” Casey said, to which he smiled. They were interrupted by a knock on the door, and Casey looked at him in alarm. William slowly got up from the sofa, and opened the door. “Hello Mr Jacobs,” William said, his neighbor watching him with care. He was a balding man with a chubby face, who had the habit of blowing his cheeks when he was listening to someone speak. “William, Mrs Jacobs and I were concerned about you as we heard some shouting when you came home, but we didn’t want to disturb you. Is everything all right?” he asked. “Yes Mr Jacobs, it’s all fine. I was just exchanging words with my doctor,” William said, looking over at Casey, and she smiled back at him. “Your doctor? Is something wrong?” Mr Jacobs enquired, his crumpled face appearing even more wrinkled than before. “Yes, I haven’t been well lately, and have been advised by my doctor to do things I don’t want to do, which are for my own good,” William said, looking again at Casey. Casey nodded at Mr Jacobs, who did the same in return, but whose face was again crinkling from confusion. “Oh, that’s fine, it’s just that Mrs Jacobs and I were concerned about you, as we haven’t seen Marguerite for a while….” Mr Jacobs said. William peered down at the threshold, and Mr Jacobs examined him with interest. A number of thoughts about Marguerite came flooding into his mind, but William shook his head, doing his best to dismiss these. “You have nothing to worry about Mr Jacobs, everything’s taken care of. I feel I’m in good hands; I’m very lucky,” William said. Mr Jacobs bowed his head, and smiled, his face appearing a little more reassured than before. “Remember William, if you need anything, please let us know; we’re just next door.” William nodded, and grinned at him. “Thank you Mr Jacobs, I’ll remember that,” William said. Mr Jacobs nodded, turned around, and left quietly. William closed the door, and sat down. “Mr Jacobs mentioned Marguerite…” William said, again beginning to cry. Casey moved to him on the sofa, comforting him by stroking his head. “William, you have to stop doing this to yourself; it’s not healthy. You have to realize she won’t be back, and torturing yourself does nothing to help you,” Casey said. William continued to cry, and Casey handed him some tissues from the table. “I…I can’t help it…I love her so much,” William said. Seeing William was not entirely listening to her, Casey thought about taking another approach with him. “William, I’ve prepared some food for you…you have to eat something, and keep up your strength. You’re going to achieve nothing by tiring yourself like this,” Casey said. Casey leant over the coffee table, and removed the plastic film from the food she prepared. William watched her numbly as she did this, like a little boy who had been reprimanded by his mother. She poured him water into a tumbler, and handed him the sandwiches. “I’m sorry, but I did the best with what I had,” she said. William tried to eat something, but pushed it away. “I don’t feel like it,” he said. “William, you’ve got to eat something…you don’t want to fall sick,” Casey said. “I don’t care…I’m not hungry,” he said. Casey smiled, and shook her head. “I care, and you will eat this - if you don’t I’ll force you to; I have my methods,” Casey said. William sneered like a cheeky insubordinate boy, but took the plate, and began to eat the sandwich. He ate it all, and drank the entire glass of water. “See, you wanted that, didn’t you? You’re not a good liar, saying you’re not hungry.” William grinned at Casey, and got up to take the plate and tumbler to the kitchen, with Casey following him there. “Better now?” “Yes, thank you,” he said shyly. William placed the plate in the sink, and was about to leave the tumbler there when he dropped it, the glass shattering into many pieces on the floor. He instantly began to cry, staring at the glass, but Casey took him into her arms, and touched his head. “Don’t worry, I’ll fix it. Go outside and take a rest,” she said, and William did as she requested. Casey proceeded to clean the mess, and disposed of the shards in the waste disposal. After finishing this, Casey continued to the living room, where William was slumped in the sofa. As she moved there, William observed her with a face full of sorrow. “I’m sorry,” William said. “For what?” “Ever since I met you, I’ve unloaded all my problems on you, and haven’t asked you how you are,” William said. “You must think I’m so self-obsessed.” “Never,” Casey said, with a chuckle. “As for me, I’m fine, always busy; I can’t complain,” Casey said. William watched her, his brown eyes just a tad more alert than before. “So you’re a psychiatrist,” he said. “Yes, I have been for a few years; it makes me happy seeing people functioning well, and moving forward in their lives.” “I’m sure they do,” William said, eliciting a smile to her. Casey returned his gesture, and said, “Enough about me; you need to rest, and take it easy for a spell.” William watched Casey, riveted by her every word. “Thank you.” “You have nothing to thank me for; I’m happy to help.” “I believe you Casey, my doctor,” William said. Casey smiled broadly, and he did likewise in turn. “You’ve listened to me so far; you’ve resisted a little, but that’s okay - I forgive you. Now time for more rest,” Casey said. William laid down on the sofa, and Casey placed the throw over him. Being a late summer day that was more like late autumn, it was a little chilly, thus necessitating the rug. “Help yourself to a rug for the armchair, or you can stay in the spare bedroom,” William said, almost ready to nod off. “Thank you, I’d prefer to be with you here, if that’s okay,” Casey said, going to retrieve the throw rug from the bedroom. Casey was uncomfortable walking into this room, as pictures of Marguerite were everywhere, but quickly took the rug, and sat back on the armchair. She read a little of a magazine which was on the table, and checked on William in between. Casey noticed that William had fallen asleep, and was happy he was at rest. Within an hour, Casey herself fell asleep, exhausted by the events of the day. Chapter Five The next day, Casey arose, and found William still asleep on the sofa. The sunlight was peering through the drapes in the living room’s windows, and Casey adjusted her eyes to this. Casey leant over and checked on William, who was still sound asleep. Casey put her throw rug to the side, and got up from the armchair. She saw it was 7:00AM, and was happy it was not too late, as she was always an early riser. Casey moved to the kitchen, and began to prepare breakfast, taking out the fry pans from the cupboard, and looking for food in the fridge. After doing this, Casey went around the house, and removed pictures of Marguerite, and left them all in one place. She collected a large number of frames, and was surprised how much this woman had herself plastered all over the house. Casey knew this was only going to cause more problems for William, as the more he was exposed to his ex-wife, the more difficult his recovery would be. After completing this, Casey checked on William, who was still sleeping, and gently roused him from his sleep. He awoke, and smiled when he saw Casey. “Good morning William,” Casey said. “Good morning Doc,” William said, with a lazy smile. “Breakfast’s ready whenever you are,” she said, with a warm smile. “I feel so hungry,” William said, and he gradually arose from the sofa, rubbing his eyes. “Well follow me,” Casey said. “I’ll just throw some water on my face, and see you there,” William said, eventually joining Casey in the kitchen. William and Casey had breakfast together, and enjoyed one another’s company. Casey had never seen anyone eat so greedily; it seemed as if William had not consumed proper food in ages, and ravished his breakfast with a passion that surprised her. In between mouthfuls of scrambled egg, William said, “Not only is the woman a doctor, but also a chef.” “Oh stop it,” Casey said, laughing off his comment. William watched her, his eyes livelier than yesterday, similar to his TV persona. “Want some more?” she asked. “No thanks, I’ve already put on weight,” William said, with a naughty grin. Casey threw him a smile in return, and went to tidy the dishes. “Need some help?” “No, I’m fine, see you in the living room,” Casey said. “Okay Doc,” William said, walking out of the kitchen. When he emerged from the kitchen, William noticed that the photos of Marguerite were all not in their place, and was confused. He looked around, and could not find them anywhere. William finally found them in a stack in the spare bedroom, and became aggravated. Casey came out of the kitchen, and found William holding the pile of photo frames. “So, I gather you liked breakfast?” Casey asked. “Casey, why did you gather the photos, and put them away without asking me?” William asked. Casey paused for a moment, and looked away from William. She then turned towards him, and began to speak. “I did this as it’s the first step in freeing you from the shackles which have trapped you for some time now, and you deserve better than that,” Casey said. “What? You had no right to do that; I’m mourning the break-up of my marriage in my own way, and don’t need anyone telling me what to do,” William said, his mouth staunch with anger. “William, I’m sorry if I offended you, but you have to remember that the marriage is over - she elected out it, not you; she should be the one mourning, as she’s lost,” Casey said. William watched her, eyes again wild with despair. “You don’t understand anything about my marriage,” William said. Casey placed her hands on William’s, which he responded to by pulling his away. “I understand enough by seeing you hurt and in despair; what’s she doing right now, having a grand time with her lover on a yacht in the Caribbean?” Casey said. “I’d look at these quickly, and put them away somewhere where you don’t see them all the time.” William made a grunting noise, and huffed at Casey. “You’re just a stranger, don’t tell me what to do,” William said. “William, please, let me help you,” Casey said. William took the photos into his embrace, and glowered at Casey after doing this. She tried to wrest them from him so she could speak with him, but he grabbed them, and the force of this sent Casey into the sofa, the photos falling out of William’s protection and onto the floor, shattering the glass into pieces. William tumbled to the ground, and ran his fingers over the glass, cutting himself. Casey moved close to him, and rested her hand on his shoulder. He again began to cry, and Casey took him in her arms. “It’s not going to be easy, but you’re doing well,” Casey said, holding the shattered William. “But I love her so much - she’s my everything,” William said, tears rolling down his face. Casey sighed, and nodded at him. “William, she was your everything, but not anymore, that part of your life is now over; you have other things to look forward to, it really isn’t the end of the world,” Casey said. William nodded, and Casey raised him onto the couch. She noticed that his hands were bloody, and was shocked. “You’ve cut your hands; let me take care of this.” She quickly went inside, bringing some ointment and plasters, and tended to his injuries. “It looks as if no glass is in there; it’ll be okay. William looked at the ceiling as Casey was treating him, and did not react at all to her. “William,” Casey said, but there was no response from him. After several minutes of this, she closed the first aid case with a thud, which surprised William, jogging him back to the present. “I have a suggestion, and I’m not sure you’ll agree with me,” Casey said. “What?” William asked. “What would you like to do for the rest of the day?” Casey asked. William bowed his head, and frowned. “I don’t want to do anything; I want to stay home, and do nothing at all,” William murmured. “Well, it’s the weekend now; how about we go to the seaside?” Casey said. William looked at her, his eyes narrowing in scorn. “Why would you want to go there?” William asked. “Well, for many reasons,” Casey said, with a mischievous smile. “It’ll take you away from everything, and make you see things in a different light.” “Oh, I don’t know,” William said, with a slight scowl. “I don’t think it’ll help at all.” Casey slapped her hand against his chest, and he jumped in response. “Oh, come on William, stop being such a stuffed shirt,” Casey said, with a chuckle. “You’ve dressed up as every character known to man on TV, now you’re acting like a bore.” William’s eyes widened in sheer surprise, and he grunted. “What, you’re calling me a stuffed shirt, me,” William said, mouth open in shock. “And a bore?” “Yes, you,” Casey said, pointing at him. “I don’t see anyone else here do you? Just hear me out.” “Okay,” William said, rolling his eyes. Casey sat up, eyes filled with enthusiasm. “I have a deal for you; you have a shower, and I go home quickly, and have a shower, get ready…” “No,” William said, interrupting her. “I want you to stay here while I have a shower and get ready; then we can go together to your house, and you can get ready, gather some things so you can stay with me.” With this, Casey’s mouth fell open. While she was not a groupie or anything like that, she still could hardly believe she was in the presence of William Armstrong, someone she admired on TV for years. Above all, though, he wanted her to be with him, and this warmed her heart like nothing else. “So you want me to stay with you…” “Yes Doctor Abbott,” William said, eyes bright. “I feel so much safer with you. You’ve seen me at my worst, which is a big thing for me. Yesterday I never knew you before, but now it feels like I’ve known you for a long time, and you know me better than I know myself.” “Thank you William.” “No, thank you Casey,” he said, exhibiting more friendliness than before. After a relaxed exchange of glances between him and Casey, William arose from the sofa, and walked into his bedroom. Casey reflected upon what he just said, and a sense of tranquility washed over her. She moved into his bedroom, feeling that she was walking lightly on air, and strolled to his bathroom door. “You okay William?” Casey asked, through the bathroom door. “Thanks, I’m fine,” he said, and Casey walked out into the living room. She moved around the room, opening the drapes to let in some much-needed sunshine. The house was modern but not pretentious, with good-looking furniture, and pleasant art pieces on the walls. She was a fan of art, and visited art galleries whenever she had the chance. Her own home was filled with art pieces reflecting her love of the sea, and the earth. William walked out into the room, and saw Casey admiring one of his awards on the hutch. Casey was startled by him, as William was wearing a white dressing gown, and appeared as lively as he was on television. “I received that as best TV personality last year,” William said, with a wistful smile. “I’m sure it won’t be the last you’ll receive,” Casey said, as she noticed he was wearing a white, luxuriously fluffy dressing gown. At this point, Casey imagined that she and William were sharing the bathroom in the morning, and they were each dressed in matching dressing gowns. They were laughing as he had finished brushing his teeth, and Casey was combing her hair, viewing herself in the mirror. Casey experienced a lush happiness sweep over her as she envisioned this scene, but, her daydream was interrupted. “Casey, are you okay?” William said, lightly touching her on the arm. Casey’s eyes opened fully, as she understood she had just seen a very beautiful reverie. “Oh, I’m sorry, I wasn’t with it - what were you saying?” Casey said. William smiled, and chuckled. “It’s my fault, I’ve sent you around the bend over the past day and a half - maybe you want to time out a little, I’ll understand if you will,” William said. “Oh, no, not at all,” Casey said. “Take a breather while I get dressed - I won’t be long,” William said, returning to his bedroom. “No problem,” Casey said. She was a little troubled by her thoughts of being with William, especially as he was on the rebound, and knew she should be realistic. She did not want to be hurt out being involved with him, and knew that after this weekend with him, they would go their separate ways. Before long, William was dressed, and had his car keys in hand. “Ready?” William said. “Are you okay to drive? I can drive if you like,” Casey said. “Come to think of it, okay, show me the way. I’m looking forward to seeing your home,” William said. Casey smiled at his comment, and they moved into the car, making their way to Casey’s home. They grinned at each other on the trip to her house, and when they arrived there, William hopped out of the car, watched by Casey. “Your house feels great already,” he said, as she emerged out of the car. William waited for her at the front door, and she arrived, placing the key in the hole, and opening for him. She let him in first, and Casey turned on the light, as William sighed with delight. “I knew it from the minute I was outside, this is beautiful,” William said. “Just like the woman living here.” Casey smiled, and William walked in with excitement. “This feels like a sanctuary from the world - you must be at heaven here. My house is like a soulless shell,” William said. “Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” Casey said. “It’s beautiful, actually, stunning.” William frowned, and bit his lower lip. “On the surface, maybe, but it can’t compare to this,” William said. He meandered around the room, and headed for the bookshelf, which contained many books balanced by ornaments. William also noticed the large television, and beamed at her. Casey moved closer to William and, in a totally unexpected moment, he took her in his arms, her head over his shoulder. After a spell together, they separated, Casey and William looking at each other. William moved closer to her, his brown eyes needy, but sincere at the same time. Casey was thrilled with William’s overture, and they were about to kiss when Casey remembered she had to shower, and gather some things. “We’ll be late,” Casey said, pulling away from his embrace, but enthralled by it nonetheless. “You’re right…but we’ll pick up here again very soon,” William said, stroking her face softly with the palm of his hand. Casey did not want to leave him, even for a second, but had to. “See you soon,” Casey said, as she exited to go to her bedroom. She left William on his own, and he busied himself by reading some of her academic articles on psychiatry. Chapter Six “Where are we going Casey?” “You’ll see,” Casey said, with a wide smile. Casey drove William to the seaside, to his surprise, and she perceived a glow in him which she only witnessed in his television appearances. “You’ve brought me to a beautiful place today, thank you so much,” William said, beaming at her in the car. “You’re welcome. But we’re not here just for fun,” Casey said, raising her eyebrows. “What do you mean? You’re not going to make me work,” William said, smiling slightly. “Well yes, and no,” Casey said, lending him a cheeky grin. William’s mouth popped open in mock horror. “Now you’ve got me in suspense,” William said. “What have you got planned Doc?” Casey raised her eyebrows, William’s full attention on her. “I’m going to expose you to something that helped me when I was down a few years ago, and I’m sure will help you too,” Casey said. “Okay, show me the way,” William said, and with this Casey got out of the car, and he did likewise. They were struck by the beautiful blue sky at the beach, and the calm waters of the ocean, thoroughly irresistible on a pleasant late summer day. Casey and William walked closer to the edge of the water, and she raised her hand to him, her fist clenched. William looked at it with curiosity, and she decided to indulge him by opening her hand. “What is it, Casey?” The wind had picked up slightly, and blew Casey’s hair in her face, which she quickly tucked behind her ears. “I’ve found throwing small stones into the water is a way of relieving myself of any worries or anger that can build up over time, and, for me it symbolizes renewal, and new horizons.” Casey moved her hand over to his, and placed some pebbles in his hand. He watched her with skepticism, but took the stones. “Go on, give it a try.” William looked at the stones, and back at her. After pondering for a minute or so, he threw the first stone into the ocean, but it was a half-hearted attempt. He stared at the stones, and out at the ocean. William threw a second stone, then a third in quick succession, and another six in turn. He became more and more excited as he hurled each stone, and his mood changed considerably from quietude, to excitement. After finishing this, William looked to Casey, who was watching him with great interest. “So, how does that feel?” she said. “I feel as if another weight has been lifted from my shoulders…it’s indescribable,” William said, his eyes wide with wonder. “You know, there are so many ways to release pressure and stressful feelings, and this is one of them. Such simple things are neglected too often in life. If people did these more often, undesirable consequences could be avoided many times,” Casey said. “You’re right,” William said. They looked at each other with tenderness, and he took her hand. “By the way, you’re not totally off the hook yet,” Casey said. “So, what does Miss Abbott have in store for the rest of the day?” William asked. “You’ll see,” Casey said. “Let’s go.” She noticed that William was admiring the ocean with its crystal blue waters, and allowed him this privilege. After a minute of doing this, William nodded his head. “I’m ready when you are,” William said, and they walked to the car. They drove to the town center, and parked in a lot near the main row of shops. “Hey, this is great,” William said, as he alighted from the car. Casey did likewise, and they strolled to the main avenue of the town center. The street was filled with antique stores, restaurants, and, an ice cream parlor to die for. They stood outside this, and observed the store, with its assortment of mouth-watering flavors on display, and customers eagerly awaiting their frosty delights. “This we’re having,” William said, as they moved into the shop. Casey and William emerged with a strawberry ice cream, and orange gelato respectively. They located a seat with an umbrella outside the store, and made themselves comfortable. “This is such a dreamy place, I’ve never been here before,” William said, looking around at the array of stores on the avenue. “Yes, I like to come here whenever I need an ice cream hit, or some retail therapy at the stores here,” Casey said, savoring her ice cream cone. “You know, I haven’t had ice cream for such a long time, like forever,” William said, licking the ice cream with a vengeance. “Well, it looks like your time has come, in more ways than one,” Casey said, with a raunchy laugh. “Meaning?” William asked. “Meaning this,” Casey said, and she lightly put the ice cream on his nose, to his surprise. “What was that for?” William said. Casey rolled her eyes, and laughed. “Oh, I just felt like doing that,” Casey said. William groaned, and smiled broadly. “Well, take this in return,” William said, doing the same in return. “You scoundrel!” Casey said, William laughing at her. “Yes, a scoundrel with ice cream on his nose!” he said, laughing. “And I look like one of Santa’s reindeer with a red nose!” Casey said. “Yes, but a beautiful one,” William said, watching her carefully. He then captured her free hand, and gave her an expression of gratitude. “Thank you - I’ve never had so much fun before, let’s do this again sometime,” William said. Casey placed the ice cream cone in the plate, and planted her other hand on his, stroking it warmly. “There’s much more where this came from, that’s for sure,” Casey said. “And I can’t wait for the next instalment,” William said, nodding at Casey. After their pleasant time at the ice cream parlor, William and Casey spent the remainder of the day scouring the stores in the town, and happily went home with plenty of bags from their shopping escapade, very satisfied with their outing. Chapter Seven Several days after their seaside visit, William and Casey were at his house. He happily closed the door behind him, and grinned at Casey. Casey waited for him, and they began to walk together to the car. “We have a busy day today William, don’t forget that,” Casey said, with a sparkle in her eyes. “Yes, but I’ve got to do this for myself - it’s the only way,” William said. “Well, you know what to do - I have confidence in you,” Casey said. William turned, and watched her with passion. “I’m just beginning to realize how deep this runs, and don’t think I’m ungrateful,” William said, as they shared a quiet moment. Casey could not withstand William’s intense gaze, and looked away from him. “Time to go,” Casey said, getting her car keys ready. “Let’s make tracks,” William said, and they proceeded to Casey’s car. Before long, they were at the television station, and entered the boom gates. William quickly got out of the car, and watched Casey. “Wish me luck,” William said. “It’ll all be fine,” Casey said. William gave her an expression of hope, and walked towards the glass doors of the building. Casey waited for William in the building’s car park, and turned on the radio to listen to while he was away. William was to inform station management that he desperately needed a break, as he had been through tremendous emotional strain lately. Within half an hour, Casey saw William walking out of the station’s doors, and he appeared calm. William opened the door, and moved into the car. “So, how’d it go?” Casey asked. “Better than I thought. Howard was very understanding about it all; he gave me a generous amount of leave, and that I should return when I’m ready,” William said. “That’s great,” Casey said. “I explained everything to him; he was shocked, but took it in his stride. He can be tough, but is generally fair,” William said. “That’s good,” Casey said. “Yes, he’ll handle it well, won’t let anything get out of the room we don’t want public,” William said, pursing his lips. “Do you feel better now?” Casey asked. William sighed, and nodded. “It’s a relief, to be honest. And, the break will give me more time to find my new way in life,” William said, looking at Casey in earnest. Casey smiled, her blue eyes filling with joy. If someone had told her just a few days ago that she would be in this position, she would have laughed at them, but Casey really was with William Armstrong, and had been for days - and would not have it any other way. “Casey, just a question,” William said. “What William?” “Where to from here?” William asked. Casey threw him a huge smile, which he reciprocated. “And now, for the second part of our journey today - the fun part,” Casey said. “You just love to keep me in suspense, don’t you?” William said, curling his lips. “I’m just keeping life interesting,” Casey said. She started the engine, and they were off again, through the building’s boom gates, and onto the road. They passed by the highway, which was largely devoid of cars, and entered some lush, deserted back roads. William and Casey were soon in a beautiful rustic setting, with farms aplenty, livestock grazing on grass, and wide open spaces which beckoned with their untouched beauty. William sighed heavily, and looked over at Casey. “Boy, you know how to pick these places…one surprise after another.” “They’re so addictive, and thoroughly mesmerizing…we sometimes forget how many beautiful places we have in this county,” Casey said. “For sure,” William said, admiring the sights out of his window. They finally stopped on a large, deserted country road, with some of the greenest grass they had ever seen. “We’re here,” Casey said, as she released her seat belt, and got out of the car. “Ah,” William said, as he emerged from the car. “The aroma of freshness just hits you in the face; no smog, no cloudy skies, just pure blue and green.” “Yes,” Casey said, as they opened the car boot, and took out the large wicker picnic basket, which William carried. “You know, I haven’t had a picnic in such a long time,” William said, looking around with wonder. There were wildflowers aplenty ahead in the field, and some of the largest trees he had ever seen. It was as if time stood still here, and was unaffected by what was going on elsewhere in the world - the perfect escape to get away from it all. “It’s just one of these things we forget about being in the city, even though we have parks everywhere we could use,” Casey said. William nodded in agreement, and they settled underneath a tree which had a nice combination of sun and shade. He placed the basket on the ground, and Casey opened it, retrieving the picnic rug. She proceeded to unroll it on the grass, and they placed the basket in the center. Casey began to take out the food and drinks, and finished with the cups and plates. William watched her with devotion as she did this. “You know, you’ve prepared a veritable feast here,” William said, his eyes boggled by the delights which Casey had brought. On the savory platter there was honey ham, feta cheese, camembert cheese, small bread triangles, and water crackers. The sweets platter boasted, cannoli, biscotti, and mini chocolate croissants. “I like to have a little of everything, combining different tastes from different cultures,” Casey said. “You’ve achieved that,” William said. “Thank you,” Casey said, smiling at him. Casey poured them both soft drinks, as she wanted to be safe on the roads, and keep her concentration. William peered with fascination at the food and drink on the picnic rug, and shrugged his shoulders. “So, what haven’t you brought today? Everything but the kitchen sink?” William said. “I wouldn’t go that far; this is just a teaser of the food I love,” Casey said, devouring some feta cheese. “A teaser?” William said, his brown eyes shining with mischief as he gobbled a slice of honey ham, and closed his eyes in delight. “Yes.” “Do you care to elaborate?” William said. “Well, I’ll show you in no uncertain terms what I mean,” Casey said. “Being?” he asked. “This,” Casey said, as she reached out to William, and pinched his backside, to his shock. He dropped the water cracker from his mouth, his eyes wide with mock horror. “You just pinched my butt!” William said. “Yes, I did,” Casey said, with a petulant smirk. “You have nice buns,” she said, with a wicked smile, downing some camembert cheese with elegance. “You know, you have to expect the same in return,” William said. “What does that mean?” she asked. “Are you ticklish?” “Yes,” Casey said, unsuspectingly. With this, William ticked her mercilessly, and they ended up falling backwards on the picnic rug, laughing, and having fun. She could not remember the last time she had so much excitement in the past few years, and it was like a fresh wind of change for Casey. Once their bout of frivolity came to an end, with Casey pinching him again on the bottom, they looked at each other. William and Casey froze, and their faces moved nearer. Casey could see that William’s eyes were filled with love for her, a sight she had never before witnessed from another man. This man had packed her life with nothing but joy from the sanctity of her home via the television set; now she was experiencing this sensual man from close up, and she liked what she saw. He moved closer to Casey, and was about to kiss her, their lips almost touching, but suddenly recoiled from her. William thought of Marguerite, and immediately raised himself from the rug. “I’m sorry,” William said, his eyes taking on a heaviness which she had not seen in days. “You have nothing to be sorry about,” Casey said, eyes glistening in the morning light. “I know exactly what you’re thinking about.” William watched her with love, and moved a stray strand of hair from her eyes. “Yes, I believe you do,” he said, smitten. “You seem to know how I feel even before I say.” Casey also got up from the picnic rug, and faced William. “That’s because I love you William - I’ve loved you for a long time,” Casey said. “I can wait as long as you wish; I won’t rush you, or make you feel uncomfortable, let’s take it a step at a time.” William gave her a lazy smile, and nodded. “This is exactly the reason why I love you Casey Abbott - my doctor, my nurse, my…savior,” William said, immediately pulling Casey into a warm embrace. The shadow of the large trees above added an intimacy to their moment which only the great outdoors could provide in its distinctive manner. They remained in this position for some time, not wanting to let each other go. When they did, William brushed Casey’s cheek, and she stroked his hand. They continued their food feast in earnest, staying late into the afternoon enjoying each other’s company, until they packed their picnic basket, and drove back home. Chapter Eight “Today I’m driving, as it’s my time to surprise you,” William said, looking over at Casey as they navigated the deserted roads. “I love surprises, they make life all the more unexpected,” Casey said. “I agree, but I can’t tell you what it is, then it would ruin it for you, and me,” William said. “That’s okay, I’m patient; instant gratification was never my style,” Casey said, adjusting her sunglasses. “I’m beginning to understand that,” William said, smiling at her in between peeks at the rear view mirror. Before too long, they were approaching a beautiful ranch which appeared to be taken from the pages of a design magazine. It had an elaborate Greek Key design above the front façade, Doric columns, and was painted in a light beige hue which exuded class and relaxation. William drove straight into the covered entrance which resembled the arrival entry of renowned international hotels. “Oh, how gorgeous,” Casey said, as they drove to the front of the house. As they made their way there, a woman in her sixties, and a man of similar age, were waiting there, beaming at them, to Casey’s curiosity. William stopped the car, and got out of it, as did Casey, who did not know what was going on. “William?” Casey said, as he did nothing but smile at her. William approached the woman there, and with a great squeal, threw his arms around her. “Mom!” he said, to Casey’s surprise. “Will, I’m so happy to see you,” she said, her face appearing much younger on second sight. After their embrace, William went towards to the man, whom he also hugged. “Hey dad!” William said. “Oh son, I’ve missed you,” he said, tears streaming down his face. Seeing that father and son were caught up in each other’s company, chatting away with total abandon, William’s mother made a noise which alerted him that he had forgotten something. “Aren’t you going to introduce us to this ravishing young woman?” William became as red as a beetroot, and sighed. “Oh, I’m sorry, Casey, please meet my folks, Annabelle and Hayward.” Annabelle took the surprised Casey into her warm embrace, holding her there for a few moments, before separating from her, and looking into her eyes. “I’m so happy to meet you, Will’s told us so much about you,” Annabelle said, smiling. “Pleased to meet you too,” Casey said, happy with the reception from William’s mother. Casey turned her attention to William’s father, and could not stop watching him. Hayward was just like an older version of his son, and this resemblance stunned Casey. “I can’t believe it…you’re just like William, like brothers,” Casey said, still gazing at him, to Hayward’s bemusement. Annabelle’s face was red with faux anger, and she turned towards Casey. “I’m sorry Casey but he’s already taken,” Annabelle said, as they all roared in laughter, to Casey’s embarrassment. “We’re used to that, we get it a lot, but I stake a claim to this handsome Mr Armstrong,” Annabelle said, as William rolled his eyes. “Casey’s not that way,” William said. “I know, I’m only kidding,” Annabelle said, poking her tongue out. “So what are you waiting for Hay, welcome the young woman to our fold,” she said, as Hayward opened his arms, and took in Casey. After they separated, they all laughed at Annabelle’s antics, which truly surprised Casey. “So, let’s go inside, you must relax and take it easy, that’s what you’re here for,” Annabelle said, as they headed inside the house. William and his father retrieved their suitcases from the car, while Casey followed Annabelle inside. They entered the front door, and Annabelle led Casey to a room with beige drapes and lightly floral wallpaper, and low-key, graceful furniture. “Do you like it?” Annabelle asked. “This’ll be your room for the next few days.” Casey’s mouth fell open in joy. “It’s simply stunning…thank you very much,” Casey said, surveying the lush, romantic nature of the room. “You’re welcome, and thank you for coming into my son’s life…I can tell he’s right about you; he wasn’t thinking the other time,” Annabelle said, frowning as she thought about Marguerite. Casey said nothing in response, but they were interrupted by William, who brought Casey’s suitcase into the room, and left it on the storage seat. “You’ve already started chatting Mom…give Casey a chance to freshen up,” William said. “Well, who can blame me for wanting to speak to this lovely young lady…we’ve got so much to talk about,” Annabelle said, winking at Casey. “You’ll have time, don’t worry about that,” William said, smiling knowingly. “We will, for certain, but I’ll leave you alone now, but not for too long,” Annabelle said, waving her finger, as she moved out of the room. Casey smiled, and watched William with love. “So, do you like it here?” William asked. Casey paused, and nodded. “Yes, I love it - your folks are wonderful people, their home is beautiful, and I feel at my very best right now. Above all, though, I love their son, who has given me everything I was lacking for so long,” Casey said. William’s eyes swam all over her face, and he touched her golden hair, gently stroking a tuft. “I could say the same about you Doc,” William said, pulling Casey into an embrace. * * * * The next day, Annabelle was in the kitchen preparing food, and Casey came in her robe to see what was going on. The fresh aromas from the kitchen had wafted into her room as it was close by, and Casey was intrigued to see what Annabelle was doing. “Good morning Casey, it’s good to see you,” Annabelle said, smiling as she turned to acknowledge Casey. “Good morning Mrs Armstrong,” Casey said, still woozy from her sleep, which had been particularly satisfying. The feather and down bed had been sumptuous, and the best sleep Casey had ever experienced. Annabelle grinned at Casey. “First things first, please don’t call me Mrs Armstrong, it sounds like I’m being addressed on an official basis,” Annabelle said, roaring with laughter. “Apart from this, it makes me feel older than I already know I am,” she said, to Casey’s solemn reaction. “You’re not old,” Casey said. “Well, you’re in my good books the more you tell me things like that,” Annabelle said, with a wry grin. “Now I see where William gets all his oomph,” Casey said, with a wicked smile. “Thank you, Casey,” Annabelle replied. “You’re welcome. By which name would you like me to call you?” Casey said. Annabelle stopped her cooking, putting down her whisk, and faced Casey, looking very decisive. “Please, I love Belle personally, if you could call me that, I’d be in seventh heaven,” Annabelle said, with a huge smile. “Okay, Belle,” Casey said, to Annabelle’s happy reaction. “Would you like some help?” “No, it’s okay, I’ve got it all handled. Anyway, you’re our special guest here, and we don’t let guests work,” Annabelle said, then checking on some vegetables. “Perfect, cooked.” It was a veritable hive of activity today, and Annabelle could be described as cooking up nothing short of a storm of culinary delights. There was lasagna, vegetables, roast beef, gateaux, and cheesecake - for starters. Casey’s eyes traveled from one cooking masterpiece to the next, and she was warm and tingly from seeing these creations. “Forgive me for asking, but why are you doing all this cooking?” Casey said. Annabelle looked up from her cooking, and put a lid on a casserole. “We have something special planned for tonight, and whenever we have something like this, not even wild horses can keep me out of the kitchen,” Annabelle said. “You know, you sound like my mom…she loved to cook,” Casey said, turning away from Annabelle. Annabelle saw her reaction, putting a lid on another pan, and Casey began to cry. “I’m sorry honey…I’m very sorry,” Annabelle said, taking the shattered Casey into her arms. Casey sobbed openly, and found herself at ease in Annabelle’s comforting embrace. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do that,” Casey said, choking back tears. “You have nothing to apologize for. Know that your parents are watching from above, and are proud of you in every way,” Annabelle said, pulling a handkerchief from her pocket, and wiping the tears from Casey’s face. “Thank you Belle,” Casey said, attempting a smile. “Remember, I’m here for you, as you’ve been for Will, okay?” Annabelle said, laughing in between her own tears. “Yes,” Casey said, beginning to be happier again. Annabelle heard a bubbling noise, and turned towards the cooktop. “Oh, let’s check on the broccoli, we don’t want it to overcook do we,” Annabelle said, seeing that it was steaming relentlessly, releasing Casey from her arms, and taking her by the hand to see the pot. * * * * William and his father Hayward were sitting together at the edge of the pool, lightly flapping their feet in the water. Their trouser pants were turned up at the cuff, the feel of the calm water soothing on their tired feet. It had been a while since they last had a heart to heart, and this visit was providing great opportunities for this. “Looks like it’ll be one of the last times this season for us to use the pool. Seems like winter’s coming early this year,” Hayward said. “Yeah, I can feel it already,” William said, with a nod. There was a silence between the two men, and Hayward saw that William was preoccupied with something, looking off into the distance at the far reaches of the ranch. “So son, are you really sure what you’re getting into this time?” Hayward asked. William looked to the sky, and laughed, before turning towards Hayward. “If you’re saying I’m making a mistake a second time, I don’t think so. Casey’s different, nothing like Marguerite. She was all about ‘take take take’, but Casey’s the opposite. She loves to help people, it’s not hard to see how she became a psychiatrist,” William said. Hayward nodded, and pursed his lips in agreement. “To be honest, I don’t get that same feeling I got from Marguerite. Anyway, you were younger, and she was the type you would’ve been attracted to at that point in life. We didn’t want to be the bad guy, and be totally honest about her, but we saw it all a mile away,” Hayward said. William shook his head, and flared his teeth, thinking of Marguerite. “No, you and mom aren’t responsible for that - it was my fault. There was just something about her…that prima donna temperament, that devil-may-be attitude…” William said, wringing his hands. “Well, that’s over now,” Hayward said, seeing that his son was becoming a little hung up again on Marguerite. “She’s in the past, you’ve got so much to look forward to. Never let anyone ever get to you in that way again - you’re worth much more than that,” he said. “Thanks Dad,” William said, reaching over to hug his father, who patted him on the back. After a small moment, they parted, their brown eyes watching each other with admiration. “Okay, let’s get ready for this afternoon, we have some serious catching up to do,” Hayward said, getting up from the pool, as did his son. They dried their feet with a towel, and retrieved their slip-ons, walking into the house together. Chapter Nine “This is one day I’ve been looking forward to for a while, now it’s coming true,” Annabelle said to Casey wistfully. Annabelle had been preparing the family dining room for their welcoming party for Casey and William, working overtime to get it all right. The extended Armstrong family would be arriving from all parts of the globe, and other aunts, uncles, and cousins would be making the family home their nest for the next several days. Casey had been with Annabelle the entire time, assisting her with place settings, food preparation, and everything else. She had been scouring the large antique rosewood dining table, checking that everything was in its place, and Annabelle reveled at Casey’s attention to detail. “You really don’t need to help - you should be out with Will, not worrying about me. I’m fine,” Annabelle said. “You know Belle, I feel I really need to do this; I’ll be guilty if I don’t help you - you can’t do it all on your own,” Casey said. Annabelle placed the napkin holder in its place on the table, and faced Casey. “You know, with you here, it’s been such a breeze, and I got so much done…you know how to get things done Casey,” Annabelle said. “I try to,” Casey said. William came into the room with a huge smile, grinning at the two women. “So, how are my two favorite ladies going with all this?” William asked. “Swimmingly, until you came and spoiled our girl talk,” Annabelle said, laughing as her son acted hurt. “Boy, did I walk in at the wrong time,” William said, poking his tongue. “No, it’s all perfect as we can make it,” Casey said. “It’s excellent,” William said, pulling the excited Casey into his arms. “Oh, that’s my cue to leave. I’ll check on the baked cheesecake in the oven, and become scant,” Annabelle said, beating a hasty retreat from the kitchen. Annabelle winked at Casey before she left the room, which Casey did in return. “So, how do you feel?” William asked. “On top of the world…I have a handsome man at my side, his wonderful folks…life can be beautiful,” Casey said. “There’s always more where that came from,” William said, releasing Casey, and taking her by the arm to the family living room. “What are you planning to do?” Casey asked. William walked over to a cabinet, and pulled out some albums to show Casey. When she realized what he was about to do, she smiled in delight. “Oh, I can hardly wait - I love looking through albums,” Casey said. They moved over to the large gray wool ottoman where he rested the albums, and sat together. “Here’s so you can get more of a feel for me, and my life until now,” William said. He proceeded to turn pages of the album, and Casey was utterly fascinated by what she saw. Casey viewed images of a young William growing up, acting in high school plays, to his moments in the theater as a young thespian, and, finally, to his TV career. William talked about everything that had gotten him to this point, referring back to the photographs at every turn, which gave them even more to talk about. At this point, William closed the album, and looked at Casey. “Have you had enough, or do you want to see more?” William asked. Casey’s eyes welled up with tears, and she nodded at him. “That’s so beautiful William, keep going, we’re on a good thing,” Casey said, as they continued chatting away for another hour, rifling through half a dozen more albums. * * * * The dining room at the Armstrong family ranch was beautifully decked out for the afternoon party that Annabelle had planned so meticulously for days. Guests began arriving for the party, and William’s parents were expecting around twenty people in total. Before too long, the empty dining room was filled with a friendly and lightly boisterous extended family who welcomed Casey into their fold with nothing but genuine interest. The food came out thereafter with great regularity, and lots of compliments for Annabelle’s cooking made their way to her ears. Annabelle also saw that many of the talks spilled out of the dining room, and into the living room and kitchen. Casey had so many great conversations today with friends and relatives of the Armstrong’s, but, had seen little of William. She located him in the corridor, and gave him her hand, which he took. They entered the kitchen, and moved towards the large cooktop. “So, how’s it been for you today Doc?” William said. “You have a big family,” Casey said, with a broad smile. “And not one person has been unaccepting of me; it feels like I’ve known them for a long time.” “Yeah, that’s what we’re like, making people feel special and wanted,” William said. “I can really sense that,” Casey said. Casey peered at the ceiling in thought, and turned back to William. She suddenly seemed disappointed, which intrigued William. “What is it Casey?” “You know, I’ve really enjoyed being here with you and your folks; but we’ve got to go back soon,” Casey said. William’s eyes expanded at Casey’s words, and he closed his one eye at her, which made her laugh. “Back to what? To reality…who says?” William said, with a naughty chuckle. “Forget timelines, forget jobs, forget everything else…life is calling us to take it easy,” William said, throwing his hands in the air, something he would do on his daily TV show. “You really have changed,” Casey said, looking at William in surprise. “Life was all about work and no play for you before.” “Well, that was until I met you, and everything changed forever…for the better,” William said, with a solemn smile. “But we’ve got some things to do today which can’t wait any longer,” he said, this time pulling her by the arm outside to the living room. “What do you mean?” Casey asked. “Wait, and you’ll see,” William said, with Casey more absorbed than ever by his mysteriousness. William and Casey were now in the living room, where everyone was congregated, and stood at the windows, which offered a lush view of the pool, and green fields beyond. “Please everyone, may I have your attention.” Everyone became quiet, nestling onto sofas, armchairs and ottomans, listening to William. Annabelle and Hayward viewed him with curiosity, smiling at each other. “We thank you for coming to our family reunion, it’s a pleasure to see you all here. The next few days will be nurturing in every way,” William said. Everyone clapped in agreement with his sentiments, and listened in again to William. “I have an important announcement to make which I’m happy to share with you.” Casey stood motionless, and listened to William with calm interest. He watched her and smiled, and she responded with a great grin. William dropped to the floor, and, on bended knee, took a small box out of his pocket, as Casey’s, and the rest of the guests’ eyes, watched, thoroughly riveted. Casey’s blue eyes were the biggest he had ever seen them, and he so loved to surprise her. “Doctor Casey Abbott, will you do me the pleasure of becoming my wife?” William opened the box, and Casey was treated to a glorious diamond ring, whose many facets shone in the afternoon light. Casey felt a momentary blockage in her throat, and her heart was pumping as if it were running a marathon. She swallowed, and took in a breath, exhaling, but, at last, again found her voice, just as William’s face appeared to lose its happy glow. “Yes!” Casey said. “I will marry you, William Armstrong, and can’t wait to be your wife!” “Great!” William said, eyes afire with happiness. William placed the ring on Casey’s finger, and the room again erupted into a lively concoction of squeals, and harried conversations. William took Casey into his arms as Annabelle and William clapped as they had never clapped before, and William’s other relatives responded with unbridled enthusiasm. Annabelle and Hayward came over to congratulate their son and Casey, who was still stunned from what had just occurred. “Oh, this is one of the best days of my life - seeing you and William this happy just makes me feel on top of the world!” Annabelle said, taking Casey into her arms. “I always wanted a daughter, and now I have one!” Hayward patted Casey on the arm, and nodded. “And I have a new daughter too,” Hayward said, with a laugh. “Oh,” Annabelle said, as she parted from Casey, and let her husband move closer to Casey. “Welcome to the family, Casey,” Hayward said, as he opened his arms to embrace Casey. After several moments, they pulled away from each other, and he grinned at her. “You can tell you’ll be showered with affection here from now on, but that’s par for our course,” William said, as Annabelle swatted him with her hand. “You’re making fun of me, aren’t you Will?” Annabelle said, curling her lips. “Love makes us all do funny things, but at least we mean well,” Hayward said, as Annabelle laughed. “Yes my love, in other words, welcome to the family,” William said. Casey sighed, and watched her new family with affection. “This is the best place in the world - I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” Casey said, to the appreciation of her soon-to-be in-laws, and husband. Chapter Ten “Casey, you look wonderful, absolutely magical,” Annabelle said, stroking Casey’s cheek. It was the day of Casey and William’s wedding. They were preparing Casey for her gown, and Annabelle had carefully applied Casey’s makeup for her. Casey was seated in front of the nightstand, peering in the mirror. “You’re a godsend Belle,” Casey said. “The same goes for you,” Annabelle said, with a laugh, and a tear. “You’re the perfect bride, but there’s one last thing I want to give you before you enter the church.” Casey watched Annabelle with anticipation, raising her eyebrows. “Here’s something my mother gave to me when I married Hay that I’d love to give you as a memento,” Annabelle said, pinning a diamond brooch on Casey’s wedding dress, to her delight. The brooch perfectly complemented Casey’s gown, and added a further dimension of class to her garment. “It’s beautiful…I don’t know what to say; thank you very much,” Casey said, arising from the upholstered stool to embrace Annabelle. Annabelle began to cry, as did Casey, but Annabelle quickly recovered and chuckled, shaking her head. “We’d better stop now, we’ll ruin our makeup,” Annabelle said, to Casey’s pleasure. Casey again sat on the stool, and plumped her hair in the mirror. Her diamond tiara glittered in a subtle manner, and perfectly matched the blue of her eyes. Casey was every part the princess today, but regretted something more than anything else. Her folks would never be able to see her special day, and this left a vacant spot in her heart that would never be able to be filled in the same way. There was a knock on the door, jogging Casey from her ponderings, and in popped Hayward, to Annabelle’s surprise. Annabelle gave her husband a look of admiration, observing that he beautifully filled out his tuxedo as if he was much younger. He smiled at Casey, and winked at Annabelle. “You both look so beautiful,” Hayward said, nodding at them. “Boy, I could say the same about you Mr Dreamboat!” Annabelle said. “You look like the day we married, have you aged at all?” Hayward laughed, as did Casey. “Same goes for you Annabelle,” Hayward said. Annabelle flashed a wide smile to Casey. “Now you know why we’re like two peas in a pod Casey?” Annabelle said, as Casey laughed. “I hope to be the same with William,” Casey said. “You will be, honey, I know it,” Annabelle said. They all shared a quiet moment together, until Hayward checked his watch. “Are we ready?” Hayward asked. “Yes,” Casey said, arising from the stool. Casey wove her arm through Hayward’s, Annabelle watching them proudly, and they proceeded together to the shiny black limousine which would be taking them to the church. There was a number of photographers waiting outside the church, their cameras at the ready for Casey’s arrival. When Casey emerged from the limousine, they furiously began clicking away with their cameras, but, despite this, Casey held her composure. Casey thought she might stumble or do something unbecoming, but was a picture of elegance. There were sighs of approval from onlookers, and the photographers themselves stopped, and took in the ethereal sight of Casey in her wedding gown. “Are you okay Casey?” Hayward asked. “Yes, thank you,” Casey said. “When you’re ready,” Hayward said. Casey looked around at the crowd of onlookers, and back at Hayward. “I’m ready,” Casey said, as she began the wedding march with Hayward. William was waiting at the church for Casey’s arrival, becoming impatient, and turning around every so often to the church entrance. The church music began its comforting, melodic tune, and William turned again in suspense. He saw Casey slowly walking down the aisle on his father’s arm, and William’s breath was taken away. Wearing her lace wedding gown with sheer poise, Casey was in everyone’s view, relatives and friends taking any opportunity to take pictures with their cameras and cell phones. It seemed like forever for William, but when Casey joined him at the front of the church, lifting her veil, the people in the church gasped, as did William. “You look absolutely beautiful,” William said, clutching her hand, as she smiled sweetly. “I love you, Casey.” “I love you too, my dear William,” Casey said, beaming, as the ceremony began to take place. While her parents were not able to witness it first-hand in the church, Casey had worn a locket which featured both of them in small photographs, which she kissed at the beginning of the ceremony. “That’s sweet Casey, your folks will be here with us,” William said, as he also kissed each of her parents’ photos. Casey smiled solemnly at William, and took his hand in hers. Annabelle was in the front row of the church with Hayward, and watching the unfolding wedding with much attention. She had jitters throughout the ceremony that Marguerite might turn up, and try to disrupt the proceedings. Every so often Annabelle turned around to the church entrance to see if she would arrive. “Do you think she’ll come?” Annabelle said, looking alarmed. Hayward turned towards her, and took her hand. “I don’t think she will somehow; I think that ship sailed a while ago,” Hayward said. “I just hope so,” Annabelle said, still turning around periodically to see if Marguerite was around. When the part of the ceremony arrived that asked if anyone wished for William and Casey to not be wed, there was silence in the room. William and Casey looked at each other in suspense, as did Annabelle and Hayward. Annabelle took her husband’s hand, and squeezed it tightly. Everyone waited for the seconds to pass, and when there was no response, a sense of relief invaded the room. Annabelle let out a sigh which Hayward smiled at. “See, you were worrying over nothing,” Hayward said. “Thank goodness,” Annabelle said, letting her grip on her husband’s hand lessen. After the priest pronounced them husband and wife, William and Casey kissed, to the applause of the guests, and they walked together down the aisle, with Annabelle and Hayward close behind. After exchanging words and wishes with guests and relatives, the family embraced each other, happy that the day had not proceeded with any hitches. Annabelle took Casey in her ever-ready embrace, and cried out of happiness. “Casey, your new life is now beginning. You have the blessing of both myself and Hayward,” Annabelle said, tears rolling down her rosy cheeks. “Thank you Belle, this is the happiest day of my life - my life with William will be beautiful, and filled with nothing but joy, I can feel it,” Casey said, as Annabelle again took in her arms. Chapter Eleven “Special Issue: TV star William Armstrong’s lavish family wedding to psychiatrist Casey Abbott in full color.” A woman was in a luxurious penthouse apartment overlooking the ocean, seated at a leather armchair. The sounds of the ocean below reflected her restlessness, the waves rushing back and forth towards the shore, spilling over the banks of the pier. She was reading a magazine with much interest, and shook her head repeatedly. The woman sighed as she saw that William and Casey were now married, and elegantly placed the magazine on the table. Her blue eyes glowed with passion as she thought about her next movements, and how she would achieve these. “Oh William, why did I ever make the mistake of leaving you? I was so foolish to let you go, but I’ve learned from my error. We can take up again where we left off, and choose to forget what happened.” Her eyes began to fill with tears, rolling down her cheeks slowly. She was almost at breaking point, but choked back more tears. “Give me a chance to do things over, and make things right between us, I won’t disappoint you this time.” Marguerite moved her shoulder-length blond hair behind her shoulders, and sat back with assurance in the chesterfield chair. She smiled with great confidence that her plan to win back William’s affections could not fail, and folded her arms, peering at William and Casey’s wedding photos with pure contempt.

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