It didn’t take long for those dark clouds to pour over her and wash away her newfound happiness. It took only picking up the phone that started to ring after Rick had left, for Miley to feel all of her energy flow out of her body in a hard swoosh. She literally dropped her body to the floor, as the doctor explained the test results had come back. They couldn’t wait until after the holidays for the surgery. As soon as the team of surgeons was assembled, they would be ready to operate.
In a matter of seconds, her once bright morning transformed and Miley paced around the room, trying to figure out where was she going to get the money to pay for the surgery. There was still money from the savings account, but it would die up soon paying for hospital expenses.
She recalled Stacey had offered her help, but Miley just couldn’t bring herself to accept. She was supposed to figure this out on her own, this was her problem not Stacey’s.
Unfortunately, there was no time for pride. Holding her head in between her hands, Miley went to her closet to grab the overnight bag she would have to pack. As she opened her closet, she was met by a dress kept inside a protective bag, its sequined surface shooting off sparks from the lights above.
As she stared at the dress, while her mind processed the doctor’s words, another set of words resurfaced, words Rick had told her the other day. “I could give it back and ask for the money but that would be distasteful”
Money……….Miley blinked several times, the dress gaining a whole new meaning, its sparkling surface almost encouraging her to do it. But could she? Rick had bought this for her so she could keep it and wear it some other time.
Like where? The hospital corridor?
But he had said so himself, it was distasteful. How could she?
Yes, well, desperate trumped distasteful and right now, she was desperate.
Her hand trembled as she extended it to bring the dress down and cradle it in her arms. Miley shut her eyes and saw herself that night, when she came out of her room with the dress and Rick’s quiet desire going over her entire body. When he took her to the dance floor, his arms securing her to him, while they swayed…….that was the real worth of this dress, not its value in money. She couldn’t just exchange those memories to soothe her own need.
The phone rang again and Miley ran to it. When she hung up, she took several deep breaths and placed the dress on the bed, while she got ready to go. That call had been from the hospital, the team was set, the surgery would take place tomorrow.
Miley fidgeted outside Rick’s office building. She’d done it. And even if it would mean a great help, she felt awful. Up until now, Rick had been opening up to her, especially when he told her about his parents. Only she hadn’t been as honest about her own life.
She had to tell him. And maybe she’d been putting it off for when she had good news but that was no longer a near possibility. She had to tell him why she wouldn’t be able to do their planned Christmas celebration tonight.
Miley dreaded dumping all this on him, afraid he would walk away from her. Especially since she now knew, after last night, that she loved him. It happened so fast, so unexpectedly, but she was and because of that love, she had to come clean.
If he did walk away, it would break her heart but then it would mean they weren’t meant for each other. Though, she couldn’t bare to go through what was coming, alone.
Miley stood there looking up at the tall building, her stomach churning, and knowing Rick was probably waiting for her to go to lunch. She pushed the revolving doors and stopped short, the person behind her almost colliding against her.
Had she gone inside the wrong building? This wasn’t the building she’d entered three days ago, all gray and bleak and with no trace of the holidays anywhere. This lobby was an explosion of color, tasteful yes, and elegant with the golden balls that were gathered to one corner of the small sitting area. Still, it was an explosion, one that made her forget about what she had come here to do, especially when her eyes found it. The tall Christmas tree in the center of the room, with what she assumed where empty boxes wrapped as presents pouring out from under it.
It was blinking on and off, hypnotizing her, and pulling her to examine it closely. It was gorgeous, so unexpected, for a moment Miley allowed herself to think of the man sitting inside his office upstairs and what had brought up this sudden change.
“It wasn’t a very happy season for me. But that’s because I didn’t know it could be. You showed me that Miley and I want to share it with you.”
Had she really had that effect on him? It made her feel humbled, that he had been able to see the holidays through different eyes. That making a simple batch of cookies, hearing her talk non-stop about her own experiences, skating under the tree in Rockefeller Center had changed his mind.
Miley circled around the tree, noticing the huge golden star on top, and the very small ones sprinkled all over the tree. Even the snooty receptionist seemed cheerier, a small replica of the tree before her minus the big star, on one corner of her desk.
With anticipation, her dread at the back of her mind, Miley went up on the elevator to Rick’s office. She spotted Jonathan and beamed at him, as he looked up guiltily from something he had been reading. When she was near, she realized it was the same e-book reader Rick had gone to the department store to purchase.
“Miley, how are you?”
“Fine. So, the present was for you?”
He lifted the gadget and waved it.
“Guilty. I know you met him when he was the Grinch, but he is a very decent boss and human being. You’d think he wouldn’t tolerate a gay man working as his personal assistant but he is different. Only since you came along, he’s changed. He is happy.”
Miley bit the inside of her cheek, wondering how much of that happy was going to last. She turned sideways to where the tip of the tree was visible from here and hoped Jonathan was right.
“Anyway,” he opened the drawer and put the gadget inside, “let’s keep this between us.” He winked at her. “Go right in, he mentioned you two were going out for lunch.”
“Thanks, Jonathan. See you later.”
Miley turned the doorknob and opened the door, shyly, her head peering inside finding him right there sitting at his desk. Only instead of being busy, he was standing before the window, staring out. It made her step falter as she stepped inside. He looked different. There was this unspoken tension emanating from his body.
Almost as if sensing her, he turned toward the door and something in Miley’s stomach fell.
The hard edges of his face, the emptiness of those eyes that stared at her the same way he had the first day they met, with distrust, made her not hurry to his side but take careful steps until her hands rested on the back of the chair in front of his desk.
“Jonathan said I could come inside.”
“It’s okay. I was just thinking where should we go for lunch.”
“Oh. Well, before we do that,” Miley’s fingers dug into the leather of the chair, “I have something I need to tell you.”
“How about we go shopping?”
“Excuse me?” Miley’s forehead wrinkled in puzzlement.
“I…..okay, sure if you want. But Rick I really have to tell you….”
“I mean now that you have all that money burning a hole in your purse, might as well spend it, right?” Rick’s impassive stance changed, and Miley knew he was close to exploding.
“Money? I don’t understand.” Though her insides were starting to tremble like jelly.
“Goddamn it, Miley. Stop treating me like I am stupid. I know what you did with the dress.”
“You know?” The disbelief in her voice clearly enraged him even more.
“The owner of the store remembered selling it to me, and called me to ask what had been the problem with the dress. Good thing I insisted you keep the dress!” He pushed some papers of his desk to the floor in frustration.
“Rick, it’s not what you think.”
“No? So you didn’t fool me with your offended act of not looking for money in exchange for returning my credit card? You didn’t fool me with your staged desire for some street hot dogs instead of going to the Ritz? I mean, you probably assumed I was going to take you eventually. Why not deceive me a little bit more?”
“I haven’t deceived you, Rick.” Miley could hear the anxiety shaking her voice. “I never did this for the money, for your money!”
“Like hell you didn’t. You’re all the same, after one thing. Only you are a far better actress than the others. At least they had the decency to show their true colors from the very beginning.”
Miley wrapped her arms around her stomach, as if she were trying to bend down from the impact of his words.
“You don’t mean that, you….”
“I do. Or are you going to deny exchanging the dress?”
“No.” Miley saw no reason in beating around it. It’s what she had come here to tell him. His unexpected reaction though, that she hadn’t been prepared for. Neither was she prepared for how her heart cringed away from the disdain with which he was looking at her now.
“Just leave Miley, and don’t bother coming back. We’re done.”
She couldn’t believe this. Yes, she had been prepared for him to walk away from her, but not without allowing her to tell him the truth, the reason why she had given the dress back.
She stood stunned, while Rick bent down to pick up the papers that lay scattered, and placing them on his desk, acting as if she weren’t in the same room with him. As if he couldn’t hear the way her own heartbeat slowed to painful thuds in her chest. He seemed so calm, none of that anger from before. Like telling her they were over was as simple as a business transaction he had just concluded.
Just then, Jonathan entered the office and whatever he had been about to say died in his throat as he looked from Miley’s frozen figure to Rick’s busy one. Miley wanted to scream and say look at me, hear me out! But pride and hurt prevented her from doing so. Let him think she was another gold digger after his money, that she never really loved him for the man he was regardless of his fortune.
She should’ve never accepted that invitation that first night. Miley knew she had so many problems the last thing she needed was the distraction of falling in love, and now of feeling her heartbreak.
Wordlessly, Miley turned and didn’t look up, not even when Jonathan put a hand on her shoulder in question, and she only shrugged it away and left that office.