These Are the Days to Remember

 

Chapter 4: The Boy Who Cried Wolf

Ben was eating his usual plate of salad for lunch. Beth was sitting across the small table rattling off the names of people she wanted to invite for next Sunday's brunch at an exclusive restaurant (on behalf of Amnesty International.) "I don't know half those people Beth. I'm sure whoever comes to this thing will have a great time."

Beth wrinkled her nose, "I'm not quite sure. I have an insane Methodist Peer and Elton John. Either it's going to be a success or we're going to need a forensic pathologist to sort out the mess afterwards." Ben guffawed at her observation and nearly choked on his orange juice. Beth stared at him fondly as her lover managed to regain control himself. Then she looked at his plate and wondered why he insisted on eating rabbit food for lunches. Out of all the Winters he was by far the most athletic one though he never competed professionally in any sport.

The simple reason eluded her because it was so simple. Ben was at war with his body. Throughout his whole life Ben battled weight problems. Only three years ago did he start winning and was able to actually maintain his current weight. Being fat in a vain society is tremendously stressful for anyone. Compound that by having brothers like Sean, Jeb and Lorien and the stress increases exponentially. Ben never understood why he was overweight because his diet didn't vary from his brothers' while they were growing up. Yet while the other three went through puberty and maturity with blessed ease he gained weight over the course of his young adult life to the point that it became a personal shame for the third Winters. Of course no one really saw the problem except for the man; after all Ben was the nicest Winters of them all and everyone held the highest and the gentlest opinion of him. They all made excuses for him; he's sturdy; he'll lose it soon, going to school always makes one gain some weight...the list went on and on and Ben himself believed it for a while.

But inside it was a problem that was destroying him. Especially when he compared himself to his brothers. All tall, handsome, fashionably thin with defined wiry strength they exuded physical perfection. And then there was Ben, Big Ben as his mates called him. He lacked the physical grace his brothers had; he could never dress like them because the fashion world didn't design clothes for people like him. The more he thought about this, the bigger he got. Until one day he gave up trying to be like his brothers. Ben realized he would never have Sean's confidence, Jeb's seductiveness or Lorien's godlike looks. And it couldn't be gotten no matter how much weight he lost. So Ben stopped wanting to be like them and instead set more realistic goals for himself.

Within six months he went from 100 to 81 kilos then plateaued at 76. He stayed that way by eating carefully and drinking almost no alcoholic beverages whatsoever. He also went to the gym religiously and soon took up swimming and boxing besides rowing with his brothers. So it wasn't long before Ben became the athlete of the family. He always played rugby but that was more of an excuse for his size. Now though he still couldn't dress like his brothers it stopped mattering to Ben. The less he thought about it the more he improved, in looks and confidence. By the end of that miraculous year Ben rivaled his brothers not using their rules but his own. And the Winters family still knows nothing of this immense struggle he went through.

The doorbell rang and Beth rose to get it. Ben heard her talk and recognized the visitors. He wondered why both Jeb and Lorien decided to drop by and when the three entered the room his puzzlement immediately turned to worry.

"I think you need to know something..." Lorien told the story and by the end of his tale both Ben and Beth were worried as the guests were.

Beth did not hesitate, "I'll go see Megan now. I'm pretty sure she's at her place."

Ben was not as enthusiastic, "Wait a minute, who's to say that Mitch will do anything with Megan?"

"Because I know him Ben," Beth softly whispered. "He will never change. Nobody should go through what I went through during those weeks, I don't think there's anyone in this world I hate enough to wish that kind of life upon. And I will not sit by and watch him make a victim out of Megan. She deserves better than our complacency in this Ben and I won't run away. Not this time, not anymore." She grabbed her coat and keys then dialed Megan's number.

"Hello Meggie, it's me. Are you going to be at your place for a while? I need to talk to you. Yes, it's urgent. Thanks, I'll be right over." She moved swiftly so she couldn't give herself time to hesitate or rethink her plans. "I love you Ben Winters." With that firm declaration she breezed out the door leaving the three men behind staring at her back.

Ben glared at the other two. "You should have called ahead and given us some warning."

"What good would that have done?" Jeb asked softly, "All that would accomplish is get you two worried before we got here."

Ben threw his napkin on the floor, "But I would have known! Damn it Jeb Mitch terrorized her for months and made her life into hell! She still has nightmares about it!"

"And that's exactly why we came." Lorien interrupted, "So the same won't happen to Meggie." Ben turned to the younger one but couldn't argue past his point. Lorien continued, "Beth has to move on too Ben. So let her get over Mitch by helping Megan. We can't tell Megan what it was like for Beth but she can. And Megan will believe Beth. This isn't something you get a second chance at. If it's to be done, it has to be done right the first time."

Ben rubbed his face furiously, "Well I'm going over there and wait for her outside just in case Henley decides to drop by."

"Agreed, come on let's take my car. It's the fastest and Mitch won't recognize it." Jeb offered and grabbed Ben's coat handing it to its owner. They parked outside Megan's flat and waited with trepidation while trying to be on the lookout for Mitch Henley.



Megan handed Beth a mug of tea and sat down comfortably across the serious woman. "So what was so important? You sounded worried on the phone." Beth took a sip and tried to figure out where to start. She didn't succeed.

"I don't know what to say so I'll go straight to the point. Jeb and Lorien came by earlier and told me you were seeing Mitch Henley."

Megan's frown deepened immediately, "And what about it? What did they say exactly?"

"Don't worry, they didn't say much. Lorien said that you were seeing Henley for a while now and things were starting to look serious."

Megan placed her mug on the table, "Maybe, I'm not quite sure where it's going actually."

"Good, because I don't want you to see him. And this has nothing to do with Jeb or Ben or even Sean. It has everything to do with me. Did Mitch tell you he was my lover before I met Ben?" The shocked look on Megan's face answered the question. "No, I didn't think so. We were dating seriously for over two months before I found out what kind of a man he was. I didn't know what he was doing to my life at first. He is rather an intense man and I was very flattered by his attentions when we first met."

Megan saw Beth's pupils dilate as she told her story. "He always knew what to say, where to go and what to do." Beth took a deep breath then continued, "There's a picture of my mother in my living room. He saw it one day and we ended up talking about her. In the picture she was wearing this gorgeous string of pearls. She sold that heirloom in order to send me to college and get an education. We really were very poorly off but we did have the correct pedigree and my mother was determined that I make my own way in this world without marrying a rich man. Three days later during dinner he gave me a small box. I opened it and in the box was this gold chain with a pendant consisting of a single large black pearl. He said that it wasn't meant to replace what she sacrificed but only to make me see what came of it. I nearly cried right there...oh Mitch Henley definitely knew which buttons to push." She sighed as she remembered that beautiful romantic night.

"I was blinded by him. He had looks, he had exquisite taste, and it was as if knew every little thing about me. It wasn't long before he became the center of my private and public life and I was happy for a while. It wasn't until much later in the relationship that I realized my friends weren't calling me at all, and that I wasn't talking to them either. Henley had totally taken over and that was the way he wanted it. It started out small, arguments here and there about conflicting schedules, petty things really. But I was waking up and I realized very quickly that I didn't have a life anymore. Instead I was living his from morning ‘til night. I decided that wasn't what I wanted and broke up with him. That was when the problems started."

"Problems?" Megan asked fearing the answer.

"Yes, problems. He chased me across London. I had dozens of messages left in my answering machine every single day. He constantly called me at work too. Sent me flowers, presents, notes...barraged me senseless. He said he was sorry, that he didn't know what to do with someone like me. That he was in love and he didn't want to share my time with anyone else. But it wasn't love, it was obsession and I started to look over my shoulder whenever I walked down a street. When the phone rang at home I used to have panic attacks. It got so bad that I turned the ringer off and never answered any calls. It was almost two months into this when I crashed into Ben.

I think it was G-d's good grace that introduced him into my life. And it was because of Ben I'm breathing now. Benjamin Frederick Winters, the nicest of the whole lot, not the swiftest but definitely the sweetest. I knew he had a crush on me but I kept brushing him away. I had enough problems with Mitch Henley. I did not need another man in my life, especially one whose last name was Winters. It took Ben many tries before he got a dinner date from me and he couldn't have been more different from Mitch if he tried. He was nothing like Sean whom I met before and definitely didn't have the reputation Jeb had. Soon one dinner turned into a lunch date then into a Sunday Dim Sum and you can guess the rest." Megan smiled softly, she heard about Ben's extraordinary attempts to woo this beautiful woman and marveled at the ingenuity he displayed while trying to win one hour with Beth.

"He was dropping me off at my flat and I invited him in for coffee. He saw the answering machine and read the number of messages it had and asked me if I was seriously that popular. And that was when I broke down. I told him everything and I think under five minutes because I was speaking so fast. Ben stood there and listened to me then told me to pack. I obeyed him because I was so scared and I couldn't think anymore. He took me to his place, gave me a bedroom and the second set of keys to the flat. He said I was welcomed to stay there until the mess was sorted out. So I did...I trusted him enough to believe that he would never try to collect what I owed him for taking me in and protecting me. Ben wasn't like that; he could never take advantage of a situation or a person even if his life depended on it. You know I woke up in his flat, I think it was maybe the second day I was there and I found my laundry clean and folded on the chair? He did my wash and I had no clue that my dirty clothes were even gone from the closet.

In three days I moved in and basically took over that bedroom. I even dragged in my computer and the computer desk but he didn't make one sound. Instead he had a third phone line installed so I could make private calls and use the Internet. He was also seeking legal advice about my situation and I didn't know this until it was all over but he made a visit to Mitch and threatened him with everything he had. He even dragged Jeb with him to get the point across in case Mitch didn't take him seriously. I thought that would do the job and for a while everyone believed it did. He was with his brothers and I was coming back to his place directly from work. I keyed into Ben's apartment and found Mitch sitting in the living room sofa. Somehow he got the building manager to let him into the flat and he was waiting for me. He also knew I was alone...the SOB knew it.

I couldn't run Megan; I couldn't even call for help. And Mitch went mad. He screamed at me, accusing me of things I can't and won't...I just can't say it. Then he started on Ben and that was when I got mad. I was so happy to be angry, because I was so tired of being scared. And I started to scream right back. I didn't care if he threw me out the window but I wasn't going to take it anymore and when I heard him talk about Ben that way all I could think about was screaming so loud I could drown out his hateful, vicious, insane words. We had a good row going when the front door flew open and Ben came through like one of those American comic book heroes.

Mitch got a good punch in but Ben didn't even notice it. Instead he dislocated Mitch's arm and sent the man flying to the wall. It took Sean and Lorien to hold him back until he calmed down. They asked me how I was and I lied to them, all of them. I told them Mitch didn't touch me but he did. He actually hit me couple of times but I thought if I told Ben the truth he would've killed Henley. And Mitch wasn't worth it, not then and not now."

"He hit you?" Megan whispered her face pale as the walls in her apartment.

Beth nodded, "Oh yes, to get his point across. And he made couple of good ones. I had to wear pajamas for almost two weeks before the bruises faded away. Thank G-d I wasn't sleeping with Ben otherwise he would've seen them."

Megan covered her mouth and tried to breathe but somehow the air in the room thinned out to almost nothing. "After that Mitch Henley disappeared from our lives, until today when Jeb and Lorien told me you were seeing him. I know you Megan, and believe me when I say you don't want to go near that man. You don't want to touch him. You don't want to be alone with him and you sure the hell don't want him in your life. You're better off not having him in these walls Megan, because once he's in, it could cost you your life before you get him out." Beth's eyes were hollow and dry, tears could not begin to express what she went through and the fear came off of her in waves drowning Megan.

"Megan, do me a favor. Don't see him again. Please. I don't want anything to happen to you. And I think Ben and the rest of them would die if anything did happen because of Mitch Henley. That's why they came running to me. When have you ever seen them turn to someone else for help?"

Megan nodded and gave rest to her friends' fears, "That is not a problem. I won't see him again. Oh my G-d, I feel like I just missed a flight to find out the plane crashed on the runway. Oh my G-d..." Beth embraced the shaking woman and held her until she calmed down.

"Just tell Mitch you've got too much going on right now. Tell him that things aren't going to work out because you had your great love and you don't want anyone else. Tell him that you're gay, whatever it takes. But get that man out of your life." Megan nodded again more firmly this time.

She escorted Beth to the lobby and went back upstairs her mind imploding with what she just heard. Megan was cleaning up the mugs but broke both of them because her hands were trembling so badly. She always thought she was a good judge of character but obviously when it came to Henley she made a tremendous and almost fatal error. Suddenly the phone rang and she nearly screamed. It was Jeb.

"Hey, how are you?"

"Oh Jeb, thank G-d it's you. I'm not doing well but I think you know that."

"Yes I know. I am sorry to do this to you Meggie but I couldn't..."

"Don't apologize Jebediah Winters. This was probably one of the best things you've ever done for me. Where are you calling from?"

"The lobby in your building. We followed Beth to make sure Henley doesn't make a surprise appearance."

"Well then little Jebby let me take you out for a drink because I need one and I'm buying. Is anyone else with you?"

"No, I stuck around to see if you're all right. Should I come up?"

"No need, let me grab my coat. I'll be down in a second, and Jeb?"

"Yes?" The voice asked hesitatingly.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome Meggie." Jeb replied tenderly and hung up the receiver.

Taking a deep breath Jeb made some mental notes to buy her flowers for the upcoming week. Distraction was the key to making sure Meggie survived what she learned about her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend. True to form Megan was downstairs in three minutes and the two hailed a cab. They both knew they were going to need someone else to do the driving for the night. Megan led them to a good local pub and soon both were eating bangers-n-mash for early dinner. Washing that down with two pints each they made a visit to a more sophisticated wine bar. Getting drunk was not the goal, taking Megan's mind off things was.

Megan fiddled with the wineglass then asked the man sitting across from her, "It must have been difficult for you to find out that I was seeing Mitch."

"Difficult is not the word, terrified is. I didn't know what to say, what to do without having you get mad at me again. G-d knows I am the proverbial boy who cried wolf but at least I knew I was. So I went running to Beth because I knew I would screw it up if I talked to you. And that is the truth Meggie, honest to G-d."

She smiled sadly, "You don't have to swear Jeb, I believe you, and Beth. I don't think I've ever seen Beth scared before but when she told her story I could smell her fear almost. That was more than enough to convince me. And she is brave, very brave to tell me what happened to her. Most women never say anything because they think it's a sign of weakness. I don't know, all I can say is I will break it off with Mitch, gently and nicely but it's over."

"Then let's toast to mistakes averted, and new but less threatening ones in the future." Jeb offered raising his glass.

She smiled broadly, "Agreed Jebediah Winters."

The wine was definitely first rate and as the two relaxed under its spell their moods improved greatly. Jeb escorted her to her flat and was about to leave when he heard her answering machine. It was Mitch.

"Hey, it's me Megan. I was wondering if you wanted to go out for dinner tomorrow night. Call me back." Before the call even ended he yanked the cord off the jack.

"That ought to take care of psycho-boy." He muttered to himself and erased the message. Megan was in the bathroom so she had no idea what he had done and the water was running so she didn't hear the phone ring either.

Jeb was standing in the middle of her living room remembering the last time he was here it was under the worst circumstances possible. He heard her come into the room and turned to her. Things have changed now he thought to himself, let it change. Stop fighting and let it go. Megan was drying her face off with a towel when she saw him looking at her with such thoughtfulness she stopped mid-stride.

He smiled softly, "So you're a free woman now." Megan panicked when she heard the dulcet voice and those dangerous words.

"Not really, I need to talk to Mitch."

"Does it really matter what he knows? We both know he doesn't count anymore." Megan swallowed hard. This was the Jeb every woman talked about, gossiped about, feared, and desired. And was wounded by, this was the Jeb she never knew.

Jeb read those thoughts as if it was a neon sign over her head. "Everything's changed Meggie. Lorien lectured me the other night by telling me we're not kids anymore and he's right. Don't you think?" Megan couldn't have answered that question even if she tried. He slowly approached her never breaking the eye contact that held her captive. "I'm not little Jebby and you're not Meggie, Queen of the Scabby Knees no matter how much we want us to be." He smiled softly at the childish words but it had a deadly effect on her.

"So let's stop playing games and grow up." Megan took a step back when he was but ten feet away from her. He saw her retreat and halted, he did not want to scare her. That was the last thing he had in mind.

Megan would have been in full panic-mode by now but for the life of her she couldn't even begin to make a break for it. Part of her still saw Jeb as she's always seen him; the other part was plain confused as to what was happening to both herself and Jeb.

"What are you doing?" She asked as he his jacket fell from his shoulders.

"I'm taking off my jacket. Is there something wrong with that?" He asked.

"No, but you're leaving so put it back on."

"Then why don't you come here and help me get dressed?" Megan shook her head, that would be a fatal mistake and she knew it. He shrugged his shoulders and stood still while staring at her. When he saw her regain her equilibrium he deliberately set out to upset it again.

"What are you doing?" She nearly shouted.

"Taking off my shirt."

"Jeb!"

"Then come over here and stop me." This time she had no choice because if she didn't the only article of clothing he would have left would have been his trousers. Damned if you do, damned if you don't ...she thought blindly as she walked up to him. Dear G-d this is still Jeb Megan Addelson she whispered viciously to herself. This is Sean's younger brother, the irresponsible, irrepressible, and irredeemable Jeb. But the moment she stood in front of the man she lost the battle that was waged against her sanity the night before. She looked at the famous Winters' ice-blue eyes and found fire instead of cold.

"I'm not a child anymore Megan." He whispered right above her left ear. "I can make you forget everything Megan, if you let me. Just say yes." She rested her forehead on the warm expanse of his chest then nodded slowly. He embraced her and held her tightly while trying to slow down the furious pace of his heart. Things have changed irrevocably for both of them.



It was almost midnight when Jeb left her side so he could get a drink of water. He saw the yanked phone cord and feeling guilty about his earlier actions he plugged it into the wall. As soon as it was re-connected the phone rang.

He picked it up on the first ring, "Hello?" He answered thinking it was either Lorien or Beth checking up on Megan. The other end remained silent. Jeb immediately knew who it was and didn't hesitate, "Stay away." He ended the call with those two words.

Mitch heard the dial tone and felt the air from his lungs rush out of his body. Suddenly the world bore down on him until he couldn't even stand up from his chair. Jebediah Winters... Winters. Once again that bloody family crossed his path and taken away something he worked hard for. It took him months to set up the perfect occasion to meet Megan Addelson. It took him even longer to finally get her to go out with him. He stood up and began pacing up and down the room; she would have been perfect...so perfect! The receiver in his hand shattered against the wall and was soon followed by the rest of the phone. Enough he raged; he had more than enough. He will find a way to make them pay, make all of them pay actually. Make them bleed body and soul.

Jeb stared at the phone for a long time then dismissed the call. Life had better things for him to think about, especially right now. He returned to Megan's bed and studied the figure underneath the sheets. Then he curled up next to her and stared at the sleeping woman. Jeb gently traced the jawline and combed out her hair with his fingers luxuriating in the feeling of the soft strands that escaped his grasp.

She woke up from his touch, "Is anything wrong?" She asked as she realized he was wide-awake.

"No, nothing's wrong. Are you're tired?"

She came closer to him, "Not anymore."

"Positive attitude, I like that." He teased and took her into his arms.

 

Chapter 5: A Bouquet of Flowers

Jeb rolled over once and woke up to an empty bed. He sat up and scanned Megan's bedroom to find it empty. He quickly put on his trousers and entered into the living room to find her curled up in her sofa staring at the wall in front of her. He saw the look of regret on her face and it frightened him terribly.

She suddenly noticed him and smiled, "Good morning Jeb."

"Good morning Megan." He replied softly and sat next to her.

"Why did you get out of bed? It's not even seven yet and it's the weekend." She brushed her hair from her face making a ponytail and took some comfort in the familiar habit.

"I couldn't think straight with you sleeping next to me. You disturb my peace of mind even with your eyes closed."

Jeb smiled and rubbed his face on her shoulders, "Sorry, didn't mean to do that. Not that I am feeling genuine regret. Come on, let's go back to sleep." He tugged at her robe's belt.

She brushed his hands away, "No Jeb, let's not." He pulled back a little hoping that by giving her space she would give him an acceptable explanation to her rejection. She saw the hurt brush across those blue eyes and felt a spasm of guilt come across her conscience. But it had to be said not only for her sake but for his also. She refused to end up as one of his many conquests and he will always need her as a friend. Something she could not be if the relationship turned sexual in nature.

"Jeb, about last night, it shouldn't have happened."

The man in front of her didn't react but she felt the coldness rise from his person. "I'm not saying I regret it but Jeb we're too old for this. I'm nearing the forty-mark and so are you and we've known each other almost...actually over thirty years. I think we should just continue as we always have been, friends, best friends Jebediah Winters but only that."

"Was it something I said?" Jeb asked quietly, "Or something I did? Was last night so terrible that..."

"Oh Jeb," She sighed and embraced him fiercely, "Nothing went wrong last night but it can't continue Jeb. We're not suited for that type of relationship and it's best if we recognize it now. Otherwise we'll end up hurting each other and everyone else."

Jeb closed his eyes and concentrated on her words. She was right of course, Megan always was as far as he could remember and who's to say that he could have given her what she needed? Megan Addelson deserved the best and he was only the spare, the second best.

"Then you're not angry with me?"

She kissed him on his forehead, "Of course not you silly man. Did I act angry last night?"

He laughed a little, "No, but I thought I'd check to make sure. I seem to be in the doghouse quite often when you're concerned."

She laughed at his teasing, "No, not in this you're not. Last night was not yours to blame or take credit for. I've known you too long Jeb and in spite of your callous behavior you don't have a mean bone in your body. Unfortunately you don't take the time to think things out and instead go full steam ahead totally oblivious to what's around you. That's part of your charm Jeb but it's also your downfall. People like you are designed to drive people like me into the nearest madhouse. I love you Jeb Winters but there are times when I can cheerfully shoot you dead."

He rested his chin on her chest and looked at her with thoughtful eyes. "Well don't worry about being without comfort in the lunatic asylum. I've got the Minister Suite in there complete with a four-piece bathroom. Should you require an extended stay ask for my place."

She laughed out loud, "And what can possibly make you run mad?"

"Sean and Lorien." The second brother stated, "Try being a peacemaker between those two for a month. Trust me you'll lose your sanity soon enough." She combed through the tangled and lightened chestnut hair admiring the thick strands.

"I respect you for that Jeb. It can't be easy standing between them without choosing sides." He curled deeper into the comfortable wool robe conforming his own body to the curves hidden underneath the warm fabric.

"I do take sides. The trick's to not get the other upset when I do make a stand. The person I think about most is Daphne whenever those two wolves set their teeth on each other. She gets so tired and depressed when they clash. I think she's aged twenty years the last four and it can't be good for her health."

Megan was surprised at his confession but kept silent encouraging him continue. "She's the only mother I know Meggie. Sean's got his memories but all I have is Daphne and I can't sit back and watch her being cut to pieces because of them. Daphne's still wary of Sean; she has to be, after all that's happened with the family. I also know she loves Lorien more than any of us though she never says it. No, don't look so disapproving Meggie. She has the right to have a favorite as long as she loves us all and Daphne does, no mistaking that. But she's scared that if Sean ever finds out her preference for Lorien he will isolate himself again from us. He's done it before for almost six years until Lorien's near-drowning. Dad really did mess up there; he should've never sent Sean away at such a young age and for so long. Sean learned how to survive without us before he reached ten and he still has that core of hurt in him from dad's ‘rejection'. I'm hoping Sarah will change all that, in fact I'm praying every day that she will. Heaven knows she's strong enough and he's needy enough to let her change him. But it's going to be a long, long process."

He closed his eyes enjoying the feeling her fingers in his hair. "So you get to stand in the middle and be smacked from both sides?" She asked.

"No, they're not that bad. It becomes difficult only in certain occasions, like that reception we had nearly two years ago when Lorien came with Sarah? Remember that marvelous night?" She nodded closing her eyes and groaning in pain.

"Exactly, you should've seen Sean's face when he saw those two. I thought for a second that he would beat the living daylights out of Lorien for pulling such a stunt. Fortunately for Puck Sean had enough conscience to realize he deserved to have the rug pulled from underneath him. Moments like those are what keep my life interesting." She snickered at his sarcastic tone muffled by her robe.

"Well, hopefully things will change for the better Jeb Winters."

He nodded and held her tighter. "They better, otherwise I'm going to shave my head and join the local Buddhist sect."

She chuckled at the thought, "Somehow I can't imagine you celibate." He started laughing too.

"You're funny. Tell me are you this hilarious in the mornings or am I blessed to have you in such a mood?" She couldn't stop her laughter and it developed into a full roar. She choked out the next words.

"I'm sorry Jeb but I can't imagine you giving up sex and taking up calligraphy in its stead. Oh G-d, what a joke that would be!" He tried to look insulted but failed miserably as her mood seeped into his.

"Stop laughing at me woman! Why is that so hard to accept?" She curled up into the corner trying to control herself but kept laughing at the thought of Jeb denouncing women for life.

Jeb suddenly quieted down the hysterical woman by kissing her furiously. Megan wasn't expecting the intimate contact and something within her gave way to his desires. "Good," he whispered, "Finally some silence." She realized that she was cornered between the armrest and Jeb with no escape to be had anywhere.

"Jeb, did you hear a thing I said before?" He kissed her again pressing closer.

"Yes, and I agree with you. Every single word in fact but since we started out last night in this manner let's end it the same way. After this we can be who we were before." She closed her eyes and frowned but the next kiss erased all the arguments in her head. There was one thing true about Jeb Winters from all the rumors floating about the man. He was by far the best lover Megan ever had and feared ever will.

Jeb felt her melt against him and moaned inside his own mind. He didn't know why he was doing this exactly. Maybe it was the fact he didn't want to return to the way things were before. Perhaps it was the insane desire to make her remember what it was like to have him as a lover and not as a friend. Jeb couldn't figure out his emotions or their needs so he did what he usually does under such circumstances, he gave into them willingly and surrendered all caution to his body. What he did to himself would not be clear until afterwards, days later actually. And when he finally understood the repercussions of his actions he would regret it with a bitter heart and even more bitter conscience.



The morning ended and Jeb left with Megan asleep in her bed. He carefully tucked her in and made sure she would not be disturbed. Feeling jarred by what happened he didn't pay attention to anyone or anything while returning to his flat. He almost didn't hear his name being called while he was trying to key into his front door. It was Lorien who was waiting for him in his SUV.

"I called you last night." Jeb had to prevent himself from cringing at the cold voice as the youngest continued. "And I called you this morning. You see I was afraid something like this was going to happen."

"I don't see how this concerns you Lorien. Both Megan and I are grown-ups and we can..." Jeb didn't finish the sentence as Lorien grabbed him by his jacket collar and slammed him against the door.

"Do not use that excuse on me Jebediah! Neither I nor Megan deserve such crap and you know it!" Jeb paled as he realized Lorien was truly angry, to the point of violence in fact.

"How could you do this? This is Megan! Our Megan! The one true G-ddamn friend you got in this whole bloody world you idiot! Do you think things will remain the same when you get tired of having sex with her?! Do you think she can just walk away from you after this is all over?! She's Megan, damn it Jeb! What have you done?!" Jeb took a step back lost on how to respond to Lorien's accusations.

"Jeb, do you have any idea what you've done to her? To us? To the Winters Firm? This isn't about sex it's about Megan. I thought you cared enough about your best friend to control yourself around her. She deserves better Jeb, you know that, don't you?"

Jeb felt the words lash into him deeply. She deserves better, better than what he could offer and the earlier doubts finally established themselves firmly inside his mind. Even Lorien believed that to be true so it must be. He phrased his words cautiously so Lorien wouldn't be so upset with him. "Nothing further is going to happen between Meggie and myself Lorien. Megan told me last night was a mistake and we talked about it this morning. She's right of course and I agreed that it should go no further either. She's no fool and neither am I, not in this Lorien so don't go popping a blood vessel on her behalf. It's taken care of."

Lorien stared at the older man trying to control his breathing, "Are you sure Jeb? Because I don't want her to think that she's..."

"I'm sure of it Lorien." Jeb replied in the most soothing voice he could manage, "More importantly she's sure of it too. Come on Lorien, it's Megan. When was the last time you saw her make the same mistake twice?"

Lorien was already regretting his outburst but he remained firm in his convictions. "I'm sorry for yelling but I was worried about her Jeb. I couldn't bear to see her hurt because of you."

Jeb gave a small smile, "Don't worry, neither could I."

He opened the door and turned to his shaking brother, "Want some coffee?"

"No, Matt's waiting for me back at the flat. Are you sure, about Megan and her feelings?"

Jeb nodded, "Yes, she told me outright about what she felt and she left no room for error. After all she is an Addelson and they never leave anything to the imagination."

Lorien gave a contrite smile, "Sorry about the outburst Jeb. I'll disappear now before I do something else equally stupid."

"Don't worry about it Lorien, I would've done the same thing if I was in your shoes. Go back to Matt, I'm sure he's missing you plenty." Lorien gave a small and sad nod before walking back to his car. Jeb didn't look back and entered into his place, within the hour he was buried with office work and managed to at least focus his attention to the needs of the firm and not the maelstrom inside his mind.



Megan woke up around two and ran errands for the rest of the afternoon. She was coming back from grocery shopping when she spotted a familiar figure waiting for her in the lobby.

"Mitch." She greeted calmly as he turned to see her.

"Hi Megan, I was calling you all day but you didn't answer. I got worried." He sounded strained and distant, which made Megan even more nervous.

"Come in, I didn't get your messages but I'm glad you came by. We need to talk."

"I should say so." Was the sarcastic reply and Megan knew she was on the losing end of this meeting.

The two entered her apartment and she dropped her groceries on the kitchen table. "So when were you going to tell me our relationship was over?" She whirled to face him, her face in total shock.

"What?"

"After all Jebediah is one of the Winters brothers and I'm sure he did his best to remove me from the scene. Tell me, how long have you been sleeping with him, days, months or years?" She still stared at him uncomprehending his accusations.

"I don't understand what you're saying."

Mitch gaze deepened further, "He picked up the phone last night and in no uncertain terms told me where I belonged in your life. I must admit he was rather laconic with his words but I got the hint."

Megan closed her eyes and shook her head. "You talked to him last night?"

Mitch was beginning to feel like he was missing a large part of the picture, "Yes I did. I called here last night and had the distinct pleasure of speaking to him instead."

"I don't know what he said Mitch but Jeb and I are not lovers, not by any stretch of the imagination."

Mitch smiled harshly, "Really, then why was he doing in your apartment after midnight?"

"Because I was talking to him about us."

Mitch was not expecting that answer, "What?"

Megan sat down on the kitchen chair and replied, "I was talking to him about us. Most people don't realize this but Jeb and I are best friends. We have been since we were children." She saw the surprised look on his face and continued, "People mistakenly believe it's Sean but in reality it's Jeb. Sean was more like an older brother to me while I was growing up. Mitch, I'm not sleeping with Jeb, what did he say to make you believe otherwise?"

Mitch had to scramble now. He had no choice, not if there was a chance of recovering his relationship with her. "Nothing too damning, just ‘stay away' or something like that. It was more the tone in his voice...maybe I'm jumping to conclusions here. I just assumed that with his reputation..." She laughed but it was a hollow, aching sound.

"And that is why I don't sleep with him Mitch, think about it." Henley stared at her his gaze piercing but she didn't look away for a moment and he knew he made a terrible error.

"I am sorry, I am very sorry Megan. I had no right to accuse you, I see that now. But when it comes to Jeb or any of the Winters brothers any man can feel threatened, you must realize that."

Megan took a deep breath, "Mitch, this isn't going to work, and it's not because of Jeb or Sean or any of them. I'm not ready for a serious commitment, not with you or with anyone. I'm sorry but I can't handle the kind of relationship you deserve while trying to balance out my career. It's impossible and you deserve better, better than what I can give anyway."

Mitch replied gently, "Why don't you let me be the judge of that? I'm happy with what I have Megan, happier than I've been for a long time so why don't we go out for dinner and let me make it up to you?"

She shook her head, "You might be happy now Mitch but down the road you won't be. I know it, even though you don't. So it's best to break it off now, before either of us gets hurt too badly." Henley saw the determination in her eyes and knew there was no hope of winning her back.

"I won't agree with you Megan, no matter what you say but I can't force you to change your mind. Take care then, and call me if you need anything." She stood up and embraced him though her self-preservation told her otherwise.

"I'm sorry about all this, and about Jeb's behavior too. I'm going to have to give that boy some serious talk about his interference in my life."

Mitch gave a wan smile and departed from the flat as fast as he could. He was convinced Jeb wasn't her lover but he believed that Jeb had actively interfered with their relationship to the point of persuading Megan to stop seeing him. His anger had cooled down from the night before but he was more determined than ever to see the Winters family pay for their interference in his personal life. First Beth, now Megan...how much do they think he could take before he finally snapped and seek reprisal for their constant meddling into his personal life?

Megan watched him get into his car and drive off. She didn't hesitate and grabbed her car keys and headed off to confront Jeb. She was furious and determined to make the second Winters pay for whatever he did to enrage Mitch Henley. She knocked on his door and found the man alone. Jeb saw her agitation and invited her in wordlessly.

"What happened Meggie?" He finally asked when she refused to greet him. She turned to him her face burning with anger and more importantly, with frustration.

"I just broke off with Mitch. He came by earlier and we had a talk. I think it's safe to say we're not seeing each other anymore." Jeb suddenly remembered what he did the night before and she saw the memory come back.

"Yes, he told me all about your conversation. How dare you." She whispered harshly, "How dare you put me in such a position with Henley. He was quite convinced that we were lovers, for a while actually. Tell me Jeb, is this what you wanted? To convince everyone that we're something we're not?" Jeb stood there finally comprehending what his previous actions have caused.

"No Megan, I didn't know he would take it that way. Megan, I'm serious! I had no idea he would..."

"He would what? Jeb, how could you tell him to ‘stay away' from me and not believe he would take it the way he did? Do you know what's even worse? That I had to be the one who stayed behind and clean up your blasted mess! It took me every ounce of conviction to make sure he knew we weren't lovers! He could've made me pay for what you said last night Jeb! What prompted you to make such a display of testosterone-driven stupidity?"

Jeb blinked furiously trying to find words for the indescribable fear he felt last night, every night actually for a long time. She saw his confusion but it didn't abate her anger, not one blade. "Mitch was with me and he could have gone over the edge because of what you did Jeb. I thought I deserved more consideration from you." Jeb knew he had to voice something. This anger she felt and the look on her face told him she might be unable to forgive him this time.

"All I could think about was the fact that Henley was...there. He was a threat to you Megan and that was the only thing echoing inside my head. I just reacted, I told him to leave you alone because I couldn't accept..."

She interrupted him, "But it wasn't about you. It was about me and Henley, the only reason you were involved was because of what you knew about him. You had no right to say a word to Henley and you certainly didn't have any right to put me in such a position. And most of all, after everything you've done you didn't even tell me what you did. Not one warning Jeb, not a bloody word."

Jeb knew then that he did something she would never forgive. "I was going to tell you, but after this morning I couldn't, not right away so I was going to drop by later, before dinner and tell you Megan."

Her disbelief was obvious, "Really? And why should I believe you? Why should I take anything you say seriously?" Jeb fought as hard as he could watching her slip further away from him with every word.

"Because it's about you Megan and everything changes when it concerns you. It always did, you must see that."

She shook her head, "I thought so too Jeb but after last night and this morning I don't think that's true. And I think it's about time I see that and move on." Jeb started to approach her, his panic beating its wings and taking flight.

"No, Megan listen to me, I'm telling the truth. You've got to believe me, please." She turned away from the pleading man and walked out the front door. The second Winters brother stared at the fading figure unable to run after her. He finally cried wolf enough times to have her abandon him.

Megan drove back to her place feeling exhaustion and depression settle in. She was walking through the foyer when the front-desk receptionist called out her name.

"Miss Addelson, these flowers arrived for you!" Megan turned around and saw a large bouquet sitting on the marble credenza.

"Thank you," She absently replied and took the arrangement to her place. She opened the card expecting it to be from Mitch trying to convince her to reconsider her decision. What she read made tears wring themselves from the tired woman.


Meggie,

This is an advanced ‘I'm sorry', come by later to explain.

Love,
Jeb

 

Chapter 6: Black and White

Jeb returned to the office and worked with a passion hitherto unseen by anyone. Even Ben noticed the intensity flowing from the second brother and though he wanted to ask why he knew the question would be unwise and unwelcome. Throughout the workday Jeb checked his voice-mail on a half-hour basis hoping he would get something from Megan. Even a reproof or plain angry verbal barrage would have been preferable to the silence from her corner. But as Monday trickled into Tuesday and turned into a dreary Wednesday he believed he had overstepped into a place from which he would never be welcomed back to her fold. Out of desperation he called the florist and found out that she did receive his bouquet but the confirmation did little to assuage his worries. Lorien didn't quite know what had happened between the two but harried by Jeb's frequent requests he left a message on her answering machine inviting her over for a meal on Friday night.

He did get a reply but unfortunately he was in the hospital so he never had a chance to speak to her personally. Megan made the usual polite excuses begging off his invitation for dinner and promised to see him sometime in the near future. Lorien listened to the cool message and finally confronted Jeb. So the second Winters had no choice but to update Lorien on what had occurred Sunday evening. Lorien was aghast as his brother finally finished the woeful tale.

"You are trying to tell me that you disconnected her phone? And then had the nerve to tell Mitch off? Have you gone out of your blinking mind? What if he did blow up on her and took it out on her hide for your foolishness?" Jeb leaned on the wall and covered his well-lined face with his hands. Matt stayed in the bedroom and kept out of this conversation; he had no desire to step into a field littered with fraternal landmines.

"I wasn't thinking. That's what I keep telling her and now you. I wasn't thinking Lorien, why is that so difficult to believe?"

"Because it's about Megan!"

Lorien bit back sharply, "And unlike your behavior with the general female populace you used to give her a great deal more consideration. Christ, no wonder she's avoiding you and me." Jeb stared at the youngest and wilted a little under the disappointed look in Lorien's eyes. Sometimes he and Sean were so alike it was almost frightening.

"I'm going to visit her."

Lorien gave him a strange glance, "Then what? Seduce her again?"

"No, none of that. No more of that I swear. I don't know, beg, crawl...I have no idea. I just need to get into her flat. After that I'll think of something."

Lorien suddenly understood what Jeb was asking, "Oh no, I'm not helping you here. If I did she will put me out too. Don't even bother..." Fifteen minutes later Lorien found himself in Megan's lobby muttering a string of lively words. He called her from the courtesy-phone.

"Megan? It's me Lorien, can I come up?" Megan hit the wall with the flat part of her palms giving way to her frustrations, she knew this would happen sooner or later.

"Yes, of course." Was her controlled reply and she buzzed Lorien in not realizing there were two Winters in the elevator and on their way to see her.

Lorien turned to his older brother, "I'm betting my life here that you can convince her to forgive you. If you fail I will personally hang you myself, is that clear?" Jeb nodded and took deep breaths trying to calm down his frantic pulse.

They approached the door and Lorien gave a polite knock. "Come in Lorien! It's open!" But instead of the youngest the second oldest stepped into her flat. Lorien did an about-face and dashed for the elevator. He didn't want to face the music either way and prayed that Jeb would be able to use that infamous charm of his to earn forgiveness from Meggie. Jeb took a cursory look and saw her place was littered with papers and thickly bounded documents. Obviously she had an important case and she wasn't lying to Lorien when she said she was too busy for dinner. He heard Megan scrounging in the kitchen and smiled a little as he recognized the acrid smell -- burnt tomato soup. She must have forgotten she had it on the heater. Megan stepped out and saw the figure.

"Damn it, I didn't invite you." She barked in annoyance and embarrassment. Her flat was a mess and she had to call the lobby receptionist less than five minutes ago to tell him that fire trucks would not be necessary since she had her kitchen under control.

Jeb turned to her trying to hide his amusement but he failed miserably. This aggravated the woman even more. "I have no idea what you're smiling at."

Jeb gave an apologetic shrug, "Don't bury Lorien. I tricked him into doing this."

"Somehow I doubt that." She replied sharply and sat down on her sofa.

"Jeb, please I have a lot of work to finish and this isn't a good time to discuss anything that happened last weekend."

"That's fine, tell me when it is a good time for you and I'll be more than happy to come back."

Megan placed the legal documents on her lap and replied softly, "I don't know when it would be a good time to tell you the truth. This isn't anger Jeb, it's something worse and I really don't want to deal with it right now."

A gash of a frown marred his face, "Yell at me then or say something Megan. Anything, just don't be so cold...I've never seen you this distant and it scares me."

"Well the distance is to preserve my sanity Jeb. The distance is to make me see more clearly what kind of a man you are and I don't like what I see. That's all there's to it. You and I are from different worlds Jeb, it was fun while we still behaved like children but that's over now. We have nothing in common and we never will. You have your life and I have mine. The only time they overlap is when the Firm is involved. It's about time we both see that."

"That's not true," Jeb replied, "We grew up together Megan. We've been friends before this weekend and that wasn't because we were stupid or naïve. Megan, don't throw out what we had because of my mistake, that's not fair."

"Fair?" Megan asked surprised, "And what would you know about that word Jebediah Winters? You who grew up with money, power, prestige, looks...you had everything from Day One, from the get-go Jebediah. While the rest of us, the other 99.99% didn't and never will. You never had to use the words ‘fair' or ‘equal' because you never needed to. Please Jeb, if you want to give a standing argument at least try something a bit more plausible than ‘that's not fair.' It doesn't hold very well when someone like you use it." Jeb felt the blood drain from his face as he saw her anger in her words and in her trembling hands.

"But does that mean it doesn't apply to me Megan? Because I've been born to wealth and privilege does that mean I don't deserve what others have?"

"You don't want what others have." Megan replied her voice never wavering, "You made it clear you never want our problems, our heartaches, our desires or shortcomings. We bleed Jeb, we get hurt when our friends betray us. We cry when the people we love walk away and never come back. We want marriage, we want kids and we want husbands and wives. Even Sean, in spite of all his affairs and his anger wanted someone. And when he realized that single terrific and terrifying truth, Sarah was there. When Sean wasn't looking she came by his window and he was lucky enough to look up and catch her walking by. But not you, you want this distance, this coldness. I used to think because I was your friend, maybe you would actually spare me some warmth, some closeness and consideration but you didn't and I don't think you ever will."

"That's not true Megan, and I won't believe you're saying all this and mean it. I'm sorry for my actions, G-d knows I am but I don't deserve this from you. Of course I want those things, in my own destructive way I want them as badly as Sean or Lorien and even Ben. There isn't a day that goes by when I don't feel envy at their luck. But I'm not allowed to feel that, I'm not even allowed to say it because I'm their brother. Heaven knows Jebediah Winters is shallow enough so if I even express that particularly unsavory opinion out loud I would be crucified, lynched probably. You should know all this Megan; you've always seen what it was like growing up in our household...no excuses, no mistakes, and definitely no surrender. You're the only person I know outside of my family who understands what it's like to be a Winters. Don't you see you are the only true friend I've got? And that's not because of my wealth or my family but because you stuck by me through thick and thin. I'm sorry I jeopardized your situation with Henley but it wasn't because I wasn't thinking about you. It was because I couldn't think of anyone else.

I saw you in the hospital, after the accident. And G-d forgive me but I wished you were dead so the machine wouldn't need to breathe for you. That was beyond fear that was hell on earth for all of us. So never say that I don't care or feel enough when it comes to you Addelson. I spent weeks in that bloody putrid-colored waiting room proving otherwise." Jeb nearly bit his tongue so he could flatten his voice and leash his anger. "When I picked up that receiver and realized it was Henley, all I could think about was what he was capable of. I don't know if this is true or not but I believe Beth lied when she told us Mitch didn't touch her. I saw the way she had her arms wrapped around her waist and the look in her eyes when Ben asked that question. I think she was hiding something but I never said anything out of respect for her and because I was terrified as Beth was about what Ben was going to do if she told the truth. I told him to stay away; that's all I said I swear. I didn't do it out of selfishness Megan, I said it because my mind just stopped ticking and those two words were all I could verbalize."

Megan refused to look at him and stared at the documents on her lap. "It doesn't change anything Jeb."

"Surely it must. Megan, when have I ever harmed you out of malice? When have I ever done anything to deliberately hurt you? Out of stupidity yes, out of not thinking clearly -- I can easily name a dozen but never out of deliberate thinking. You're my best friend Megan, you have been from the start. In spite of the fact that Sean always had first place with you when we're concerned."

She looked up at him confused, "What are you talking about?"

Jeb smiled sadly, "During Sean's time in the University he was more than a ‘friend' wasn't he?"

Now it was Megan's turn to lose all color, "How did you know?"

"I found out by accident. I was trying to surprise Sean one weekend by dropping in on him. I saw you leave his college early in the morning, too early to make it a ‘friendly' visit. I didn't say anything because I figured you guys would make it official when you felt comfortable enough. Of course after Ian came into the picture I really had no right to ever mention it so I kept my mouth shut."

"It was a mistake," She explained, "It was something that shouldn't have happened. I think we became serious in order to appease our parents more than anything else. It didn't take long before we both realized how useless it all was and we were both incredibly relieved to go back to the way we were. I had no idea anyone else knew."

"There's nothing to apologize for Megan, and you should be able to keep your secrets. Like I said I knew it was none of my business."

"Jeb, that doesn't mean you come second or Sean comes first. What happened nearly twenty years ago doesn't affect what's happening now."

"Doesn't it? Then tell me whose standards are you measuring me against?" Jeb asked knowing how unbearably piercing the question was. He saw her close her eyes and look away.

Feeling panic he rushed his next words, "But that's fine too because you're the only one who actually expect something better than my usual fare. You demand more from me, always, in everything. My behavior, my taste, my preferences you always ask for the best and what's even more surprising is that when I fail to meet those standards you are disappointed...like you had faith that I could do more. Don't take that away from me Megan, please. Don't take that hope, that expectation from me. Everyone else has given up except you and I can't take the loss if you walk away from me too. Yell at me, hit me, I don't know. Do anything but don't shut me out and leave me here. I promise this won't happen again. I learned my lesson good and proper Megan, I swear."

"Jeb, if you stuck your foot in the fire and burnt it would you stick your hand in it too?" Megan asked staring hard at the man.

"Yes, if I like having my limbs turned to charred stumps." She tried to ignore the irreverent answer but the humor was too infectious. She began giggling and because she was so tired, so emotionally spent she began laughing out right. Jeb stood there with an angelic smile painted across the narrow visage as she buried her face in the sequined pillow trying to end her guffaws. He looked as tired as she did; in fact he almost looked his age as he examined the damage he caused. Gone were the mischievous glimmer and the careless demeanor. Instead there was an intense concentration and regret true to form of a Winters and not Jebediah that Megan knew.

"You still aren't forgiven." She stated knowing she lost the battle and thus the war.

Jeb's smile turned broader, "But at least I don't have a permanent lease in the doghouse."

"Oh I wouldn't go that far Jebediah Winters. You're there often enough to at least invest in some renovations." He gave her a disgusted look and sat down on the armchair directly across from her. He examined the papers piled on the furniture. It wasn't long before his frown deepened.

"The Watson Foundation? You're doing the paperwork for us on this transaction?"

She nodded, "Yes, it was handed over to a junior partner but the fellow boshed it to kingdom come. So now I'm here to clean up the aftermath."

Jeb gave a low whistle, "That would have costed us plenty. Thanks Meggie."

"Don't thank me. I was the idiot who recommended that Thompson do the paperwork in the first place. I thought he could handle the workload but it wasn't long before he cracked in half."

"And from the looks of it he did a fantastic job mucking things up." Jeb noted as he saw the figures, "What made you choose him?"

"Wishful thinking in my part obviously." She replied in contrition. "I don't know, he was so capable when he was working with me for the last quarter I thought by giving him this chance he would prove his worth to the firm and my father. Instead, he's now on probation with the senior partners."

Jeb made some sympathetic noise from the back of his throat, "So it's in your personal make-up to take in lost and hopeless causes." The double-entendre behind his comment was not lost on her and she raised her face to examine his.

"I guess it's pretty transparent isn't it?" She asked. He nodded and put the paperwork in a neat pile.

"Tired?" He asked and she nodded. "Starving too I presume from the likes of the smell that's wafting in from the kitchen." She gave another tired nod and rested her head on the back of the sofa.

"I'm not doing too well here." She finally confessed but Jeb kept tactfully silent at the remark. "And it's all your fault." She added.

"Of course it is. Isn't it always? Dinner?" She threw him another exasperated look.

"I am not fit to be seen in public."

"With this crowd you are. Come on grab your coat. We're going out for a bite and a pint."

Megan gave into his cheerful begging and grabbed her jacket. The two walked quite a distance before he led her into a local tavern. Soon both were dining on pub grub and to Megan's happy surprise it was quite good. The shepherd's pie was huge and the crust was flaky and tender at the same time. The ale was also quite sweet which suited her taste and her consumption of the local brew was plentiful. Throughout supper Jeb was gentle, and terribly careful. He knew this moment was fragile and should he make one bad judgment Megan will retract into her cold shell and leave him alone once more. And Jeb knew should he fail her the second time around he would lose the only true friend he has in his life. He was neither so idiotic nor so hopelessly self-centered as to not understand the reasons why most people in his life consider him to be such a desirable acquaintance.

If Sean was cynical about his social status Jeb was outright repulsed. From his youth he realized by watching others trying to prey on Sean's good will that money and power attract some hideous people. And while Sean was able to brush off the schemers' attentions Jeb was offended by what he saw and his jaded view only grew worse as he grew older. So by the time he entered into the glittering London world with all its glamour and trappings he knew not only the games that were played but also how to survive with his sanity and bankbook intact. Unfortunately Jeb was also attracted to the very thing that sickened him and like a moth to a flame he found himself in the very social circles that in private he felt very little empathy for. However if he was swimming with sharks he was very well aware of it and Jeb himself was considered to be one of the worst by the other predators in the social waters. But if any one of those acquaintances saw him now sitting across the overworked woman they would've hardly recognized him for the changes wrought by Megan's presence made the difference in his character similar to that of Jeckyll and Hyde.

Megan looped her arm around his and the two walked companionably silent after the meal. Jeb knew he was almost forgiven though the injuries he inflicted on her would be there for a long time. And that shamed him more than anything. In spite of her anger and those condemning words everything Megan said was at the heart of it, true. He was undeniably selfish, in an unforgivable way and he knew his actions were inexcusable, even to him. So it would take a bigger person with a better soul to forgive him and luckily for Jeb Megan was such a human being. Jeb also came to an understanding about his behavior towards Megan many years ago, when Ian first entered into the picture. The truth of it shocked him but he accepted it rather quietly because like a true Winters Jebediah could not remain blind for too long.

It was fear really, based on the knowledge that nothing in life was definite save what you can hold onto. And Jeb realized that he wasted much of his existence holding onto nothing really precious except for his family and Megan Addelson. Jeb also knew that every comparison he could make between himself and the woman walking next to him would put her in a better light. But that was fine with him because as long as she was his friend, his companion it gave him a sense of self-worth. That maybe he wasn't such a lost cause when someone like Megan was willing to stand in his corner. Whether her reasons for staying with him were out of pity or sympathy he couldn't figure out but there wasn't a moment in his life when he didn't have Megan around. Even when she was supposed to be Sean's future girlfriend and then bride he held onto their friendship with claws, often declaring silent wars against his older brother for her affections and loyalty.

Sean never knew this fierce competition existed which shamed Jeb a great deal not only because of his behavior but that Sean didn't really think Jeb as a threat worthy enough to pay serious consideration. Either way it was Jeb who always ended up standing next to Megan whenever the rounds were finished and the lights have gone out. Others saw this friendship, this strange pairing between the glamour-ridden second Winters and the fiercely intelligent Megan Addelson as an anomaly to be humored and ignored. But those close to Jeb (which most can't claim actually) knew it was based on something far deeper than either would admit, even to themselves. She was his anchor, his hold onto the real things that matter and Jeb was her raft which prevented her from sinking into the gloomy depths of her industrious life. Megan didn't know it yet (because she was far stronger than Jeb was) but she needed him as badly as he needed her. A truth that was slowly dawning on her as they shared their meals in the pub and when they walked back to her flat.

He watched her go into the lobby elevator and gave another wave of farewell as she returned to her mounds of paperwork. The relief he felt unwound all the tension in his person and soon he was exhausted to the point of inertia. He called it an early night and crawled into bed not bothering to even change his clothes. He was forgiven, and she had accepted his numerous apologies. It was more than what he hoped for and everything seemed right with his world again. It did amuse and confuse him a little that Megan's good opinion meant so much to him. But that was the way it always was so Jeb didn't consider the why behind the fact. And it was a good thing that he didn't, because the truth would have been something he would be unable to handle, for now.



Mitch Henley waited impatiently for his appointment to arrive. His Saturday was put on hold because the PI told him he had collected all the information Henley requested of him. Mitch was rather surprised that the man had such an easy time of it but he didn't want to second-guess an expert on the field. He put his sunglasses in its case and enjoyed the warm weather beaming down on London. The café was rather quiet because it was too early for the lunch crowd and Mitch wanted some privacy for this meeting. Suddenly a young man came into view and waved a small hello before he joined Henley at the table.

He shook Mitch's hand and apologized, "Sorry I'm late. Here are the photos you requested and these memos will explain all my findings to your satisfaction. Do you have any questions Mr. Henley?"

Mitch took a cursory glance at the package, "Is Jebediah Winters sleeping with Megan Addelson?"

Robert shook his head, "No, definitely not. I've been tracking them down for the last week and they're not lovers. I stake my car on it. They are friends, no doubt about that but the physical language between the two suggests a platonic relationship. Which is surprising considering Mr. Winters' reputation with the birds. But then I hear Miss Addelson is a rare breed, the kind that can say no and mean it. So don't worry about Jebediah Winters Mr. Henley, your girlfriend's not cheating on you. I'm sure of it."

Mitch gave a narrow smile. He lied to the investigator in order to hire the man. Somehow this news gave him smaller comfort than he expected. He was rather hoping that Jebediah Winters was the cause for Megan's decision but obviously she had more personal reasons for ending their relationship. "And the rest?"

"Oh nothing special really. The third Winters Benjamin is definitely hung up on his girlfriend, little surprise there. She's a beauty and knows how to keep'm hanging on a thread. He's actually visited three jewelry stores last two days and I think we're going to see an engagement announcement pretty soon from what I gather. But that must be old news to you Mr. Henley. There's been talk about their impending marriage for months now, especially with the oldest married off to the American."

Mitch stared at the lovely raven-haired woman. She was so beautiful, there wasn't a camera in the world that didn't love those dark locks and expressive eyes. And she was his, all his until the Winters brothers came along and stole her. Now that pig Benjamin was going to wed her and give her what Mitch planned to so long ago...a home, even a child perhaps. A family, something he craved so badly but now seemed more hopeless with every passing second. Robert felt the emotional waves coming off his client and stiffened a little. Something about this job never felt right, even from the start. But Henley came with the recommendation of one of his better clients and the man offered him so much money Robert could not afford to refuse.

"And the last Winters?"

Robert gave an inelegant snort, "That one's taken too. No way is he fooling around from what I can see. These Winters men don't seem the type to play outside their fields. They're rather old-fashioned that way, except for Jebediah Winters of course."

Mitch looked at him surprised, "Lorien has a girlfriend? I had no idea he was involved in a serious relationship."

Robert smiled in confusion, "Girlfriend? You mean boyfriend. The good doctor's a poof. You didn't know that?"

Mitch was shocked, "You must be mistaken. Lorien Winters is not gay. I stake my fortune on it. What makes you think..."

"Look at the photos Mr. Henley. That tall fella right there to his right," Robert pointed on a grainy black and white, "That's his ‘roommate' Matt. They've been living together since Lorien Winters entered medical school. Which makes their relationship nearly a decade-old. He's a fag Mr. Henley, as gay as they come. I mean he doesn't go dressing in woman's pom-poms for the Pink Parade but he's definitely on the other side of the fence. Look at the pictures..." Robert trailed off as his client furiously rushed through the photographs.

Pictures never lie and Mitch Henley slowly began to see the truth. This was what everyone was protecting...this was what the general public never knew save the privileged few. The laughter was small but it was definitely triumphant. One of the glorious Winters brothers was a poof and nobody knew it yet. To top it off Lorien was a surgeon, what was the hospital policy regarding homosexuals who come into blood-contact with their patients Mitch wondered thoughtfully.

"Doesn't look like the kind of man who could attract someone like Lorien does he?" He asked the PI.

Robert shook his head, "No, definitely not. I thought he was a professor or something but it turns out he works for a local ad agency. But he's been keeping Lorien Winters happy so there must be something there we don't see."

"There's a lot here we don't see Mr. May." Henley corrected gently but firmly still gazing at the photographs.

"And there hasn't been any extra-curricular activities on either side?"

"No, they're about as married as I've ever seen, except they're gay of course. They both come home right after work, have dinner, go out sometimes but they live a very quiet life. No big parties, no big anything, almost a retired existence you know?"

Mitch nodded, "They have no choice, not with Sean as the oldest in the clan. Oh how this must grate him, to have the brightest of them turn out to be a fag. You've done your job very well Mr. May. Please allow me congratulate you on your excellent work." Mitch took out his checkbook, "Let me also add a bonus to show my gratitude. And I can assume you are the kind to keep perfect discretion?"

Robert saw the figure and his jaw nearly hit the table, Henley just doubled his fee. "I have no problem keeping my mouth shut sir. No problem at all."

"Good, then this ends our transaction and I hope you have a wonderful weekend. Good bye Mr. May." Mitch handed the check and dismissed the man at the same time. Robert took his payment and left without sparing another thought. And with every step that distanced himself from his client Robert felt better. Henley was a creepy man in spite of his wealth and charm and Robert couldn't help but rub his right hand on his leg as he still could feel the dry, raspy handshake that Henley greeted him with.

Henley stared at the pictures between the two men. Admirable, he thought. So quiet, so secretive and so tactful for so long Lorien Winters. How did you ever manage to hide your relationship from the rest of us for ten years? It must be love, has to be for someone like you to pull this magnificent blindfold over the rest of London, making fools of us all. Is he worth it Lorien? Is this tall slumping figure of a man worth it? He better be, because you and your family are about to find out exactly what this ‘Matt' is worth. Mitch took out his cell and dialed a number of another acquaintance he knew, Larry Broge. An editor in Inside the Mind who failed to publish an article that Henley gave to him over a year ago due to some stupid virus infecting and crippling the press. Mitch smiled a little, he suspected the hacker who saved the Winters' reputation that time was nowhere in England now to rescue their collective hides from this upcoming upheaval.

 

© 1999 Copyright held by the author.

 

 

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