Cody had somehow gotten lost on his way to a Halloween party. As he travels a treacherous winding back road, he literally almost runs into a beauty he would love to know better.
"Dude, it seems like I have been driving for an hour. Where is this party you told me about?" I said into my phone angrily as I drove down some back country road.
I could not believe I was about to miss the party of the century because of the faulty directions my drunk friend gave me. When I finally looked at my phone after completing an important script assignment that I had put off until the absolute last minute, I had twelve missed calls and over thirty texts from different friends wondering where I was.
"Wha… say… can't…you…must…cutting." Was all I could make out of Randy's response.
"Damn!" I muttered as my phone beeped to let me know my signal was lost.
Who throws a huge party on a Thursday? All the grand Halloween bashes were still a day away but still, my friends would never let me hear the end of it if I didn't make this one. I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere but damned if I knew where.
My focus was more on my phone than my driving as I drove up the twisting country road. If not for a feeling at the last second I might have hit her.
I swerved as I hit the brakes going into a treacherous curve, cursing the fact I had not taken better care when it came to maintenance on my old hoopty and praying that I had not hit the thin blonde in the light blue ball gown and tiara.
My car slid sideways before coming to rest with my headlights shining down a deep ravine that I never even realized was so close to the edge of the road.
Once fully stopped, I quickly jumped out with a sense of dread to check on the young woman who barely escaped death because of my carelessness. "Oh my God! I'm so very sorry. Are you okay?"
The woman nodded as she turned away with a bad limp.
"Are you sure?" I asked as I approached her. "It looks like something is wrong with your leg."
Her attempt to walk away increased as she shook her head.
I ran to block her path. Something was very wrong and she obviously did not want me around but I had to offer help. We were in the middle of nowhere and in the thirty minutes since I left the main road, the only other car I had seen was driving like a maniac. There was no way I could just abandon her.
I gently grabbed her by the arm. "I am not going to leave you alone out here so it would be easier for both of us if you just let me help."
With a resigned sigh she finally looked at me and it was only then that I realized she rivaled my five foot ten inch height. Thanks to the small amount of light provided by my taillights, I was able to see her mesmerizing blue eyes. They were so beautiful that it took me a moment to realize she had a deep cut along her right cheekbone.
"That looks bad." I said as my finger lightly brushed beneath her injury. "I have a first aid kit in the car. Let's get that taken care of."
Apparently realizing I was not going to take no for an answer, she nodded and allowed me to lead her to the old Cadillac my grandparents gave me before I left for college.
I opened the back door and motioned for her to sit as I retrieved the first aid kit from the glove compartment. " I'm Cody by the way."
She nodded again but remained silent as she took a seat where I instructed.
The smile I gave her as I dropped to my knees in front of her was well practiced and known to put women at ease. "You can relax, I'm always nice to beautiful ladies. I only want to help you." I prepared to apply some antiseptic to her wound. "This might sting a little."
She winced and tilted her perfect face away from me, her full lips quivering. In any other situation I would do or say almost anything to get a personal introduction to them but she was too vulnerable. Even if I was not offering aid in her time of need, she somehow seemed better than my usual womanizing tactics.
"What are you doing out all the way out here alone?" I asked as I found the bandages.
Her posture stiffened as her eyes filled with tears and she shook her head.
Once again I almost became lost in her eyes as I covered her cut. I had no idea what had happened but there was no way I was going to leave her alone with it. "What happened to you?"
She tried to stand but I placed my hand on her shoulder. "I still need to look at that leg."
She sighed and relaxed again as I looked for injuries. I tried my best to be professional but it was difficult for a hormone riddled twenty year one year old when holding something so soft, long and shapely. .. and severely bruised. The darkening area around her ankle brought me back to reality in a hurry.
"What happened?" I asked again while still holding onto her leg.
She appeared to panic slightly as she tried to pull away.
"Hey hey, it's okay. I don't need to know." I said softly as I attempted to calm her. "I'll stop asking."
Again she attempted to stand and again I tried to stop her. "Why don't you let me take you to a hospital. That ankle needs attention."
Fear filled her wondrous eyes as she violently shook her head, slapping me in the face with her long blond hair.
"If I can't take you to the hospital then let me take you home." Before she had a chance to turn me down again I leaned forward and placed my hands over her trembling ones. "I'm not going to hurt you and I refuse to leave you out here alone. What type of man would I be if I did not offer assistance to a lovely damsel in distress?"
She did not move for a moment as she let my words sink in before finally nodding.
With a small victory grin, I placed my arms around her body to carry her around the car to the passenger's seat. At first her body became rigid at my touch but I was able to help her relax when I said, "I'm only trying to help. I'll say it again, I'm not going to hurt you."
"Where to princess?" I asked after she was situated and I was back behind the steering starting the car.
She cringed at me calling her that but I thought it was appropriate given her attire.
"Well since you won't tell me your name I thought princess suited you." I said with a smile. "You look like royalty to me."
After she still didn't respond, I placed my car back into park. "It would make things much easier if you were to actually… I don't know… talk." My face turned beet red as I pretended a thought had just occurred me. "Oh my God. You can talk can't you? Shit, I'm sorry. It never crossed my mind you couldn't."
For the first time she actually managed a smile and it was the most glorious thing I had ever seen. I realized in that moment that I would be willing to do anything to keep it there.
"I can talk." She said in a soft husky voice that was among the sexiest I had ever heard. Her music continued to fill my ears. "I'm Riley. Thank you for your help Cody."
"My pleasure." I replied with a smile. "Where to?"
"Back to town is fine. If I can use your phone I'll call someone to pick me up. I live too far away for you to drive me where I need to go."
The forty five minutes it would take to get to town did not seem like enough time to get to know the vision sitting beside me. "I don't mind taking you home at all. I'm happy to do it."
She shook her head again. "I can't ask you to do that, it's almost a three hour drive."
Normally, the idea of spending three hours alone with a girl I was not going to sleep with would be agonizing. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't like girls because I do. In fact I love them, but I had never met one interesting enough that I wanted to give that much of my undivided attention.
With Riley it was different. There was something about her that I wanted to know better. It was crazy because she had not said more than a handful of words and none of them carried any substance but her beautiful blue eyes told me she had so much to say.
"I don't mind the drive." I said as if it were no big deal even though it was. The gas alone for a trip like that would kill my beer budget for two weeks, not to mention probably missing my first class. But I figured it would be money well spent if got to know her better.
"You can't. It would cost too much in this land yacht of yours and I don't have any money on me." She replied.
I arched my brow as I grinned slightly. "I don't remember asking for money and don't disrespect the hoopty."
Riley laughed and it was amazing. "I meant no disrespect. I can call my family and they'll come get me."
"Let me take you. I really don't mind." I replied.
My phone beeped to let me know I had an incoming text. I chose to ignore it but Riley didn't.
She glanced down at it before looking at me again. "Aren't you going to see what they want?"
I shook my head. "Nope, it's against the law to text and drive. Haven't you seen the commercials?"
Riley giggled as she reached for my phone. "Something tells me you aren't always that cautious."
"I am when I have precious cargo with me." I replied with a wink.
"Ohh aren't you a smooth one." She gently teased before she glanced at the screen. Her eyes widened slightly. "Fifty-five missed texts! I don't get that many in a week."
"Yeah, my friends are at some party. They are notorious for drunk texting."
Riley started to frown. "Is that where you were headed when you saw me?"
I nodded as I reached for my phone before placing it in the door pocket so it couldn't distract us again. "Yeah but I wasn't really feeling it. I was getting there late so everyone would already be toasted. There isn't anything worse than being around a bunch of drunks when your sober."
"I can think of a few things." The injured beauty mumbled under her breath and her fingers brushed the bandage on her cheek.
"Yeah, I guess you're right about that." I responded as I glanced over at her. "Can I ask what happened to you?"
"No." She replied flatly.
My eyes returned to the road. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to pry."
Mentally I was kicking myself. She was finally relaxing and I had to be a dumbass and remind her of whatever happened to land her in my car.
After a few minutes Riley broke the uncomfortable silence. "Why are people scared of those who are different?"
My brows rose as I considered her question. "I'm not sure I understand the question."
She sighed as she turned in her seat to face me. "Why can't people just accept a person as they are? Why do they try to mold them into what they think is right? Why are they so quick to judge?"
Her question caught me by surprise. It wasn't exactly something I had personal experience with. "I have no idea but I might be the wrong person to ask. It might come as a shock to you but my short hair and preppy clothes is my way of rebelling. My Mom is a voice instructor and Dad is core faculty at a dramatic arts college. My parents are sort of free spirits. They have an eclectic group of friends and raised me with a live and let live philosophy. "
I stopped at the intersection with the highway back to town and turned to look into her eyes. "If I meet someone who is close minded or can't help me be a better person I just don't let them in my life. People like that aren't worth my time. When I meet a person, I look for their unique qualities and embrace them for how they can enrich my life."
Riley's smile returned. "The world would be a better place if everyone thought like you. What qualities do you see in me?"
My lips pursed as I contemplated my answer. "I'm not sure yet. At the moment all I see is the superficial. I mean I see a beautiful woman with eyes I could lose myself in but we both know beauty is only skin deep. I sense there is more to you than meets the eye and you are even more stunning inside but I don't know that for sure. That's why I want to drive you home so we can spend the time getting to know each other."
She caught me by surprise when she leaned across and ever so lightly kissed my cheek. "Turn left. I think I'd like to know you better too."
During the three hour drive we shared our passions as well as our dreams for the future. I told Riley about how it was my dream to one day write a beloved play or movie. She smiled when I told her about how one day I wanted to sit in the back of a theater watching people laugh or cry and know my words were responsible.
She shared how her dreams were much simpler. Although she loved art and had a passion for painting, all she wanted was to be healthy, happy and have someone to love who loved her as she was. I told her that her dream would be much easier to achieve but she rolled her amazing eyes and told me she wished it were.
We shared our insecurities. There were many but the main ones were about me never making a mark on the world and Riley was afraid of being viewed as a joke. I tried pressing her for an explanation why anyone would see her that way but she wouldn't answer.
I told her quite a few funny stories about my parent's eccentric friends and she told me about her younger sister, Robin, who lived to torment her but I could tell there was immense love.
We discovered we could talk to each other easily, there were no uncomfortable silences.
When I told her of my love for British comedy she laughed and started quoting some of my favorite obscure lines.
Riley talked of her dedication to a little known indy rock group and was amazed when I connected my phone to the radio and started playing their latest album.
By the time I stopped to get gas halfway into our trip she was a different person. The smile she gave me after I handed her a small stuffed bear in addition to the burger, soft drink, and aspirin when I got back to the car took my breath away.
She shared vague details of how she ended up on the back road. Apparently she trusted some people who turned out not to be her friends. She mentioned thinking they accepted her but it all turned out to be an elaborate joke and she was the punch line.
There was something she wanted to say but couldn't bring herself to do it. Every time I tried to press her for more information she abruptly cut me off.
I steered the conversation to more pleasant topics and her mood improved again but sadly, the minute we saw the city limit sign of her hometown, the sad, scared girl I met on the side of the road returned.
"Cody, you are one of the greatest guys I have ever met." Riley said with her eyes starting to gloss over. "I wish I had met you before tonight."
I reached across to take her hand. "I'm glad I met you too. Hopefully we can stay in touch. I want to get your number before I drop you off."
She shook her head. "I lost my phone when I was… walking down the road."
I wanted to ask her more about it but I was afraid of her shutting down and possibly shutting me out completely and that was not something I was willing to chance. It was silly but I was already falling for her. "I understand. Can I at least give you my number?"
She nodded. "I'd like that."
She nervously guided me to a middle class neighborhood and told me to stop in front of a large beige ranch style home.
"This is the place." She said with a sigh. "Thank you for everything."
I dug around for a piece of paper and a pen before writing down my number before giving it to her. "It was my pleasure. I'd like to see you again. Can you call me when you get a new phone?"
She appeared to be searching for her words before her sad eyes met mine. "If we had met and you asked me that before tonight I would have said yes without hesitation but…" She took a deep breath. "But I have some serious soul searching to do. I'm mixed up and you are too great of a guy to get dragged into my craziness."
I pulled her trembling body into my arms. "I know you went through something traumatic tonight and I understand if you need space but I'd like to think we are friends now. Friends help friends. If you don't want to date that is fine but I'd like to grow the friendship we started. Besides, who else can I talk British comedy or indy rock with?"
Her smile was a sad one as she buried her head in my shoulder. "I can't wait to see the mark you leave on this world. You are amazing. Make proud to say I knew you way back when."
I lifted her chin and guided her lips to mine.
After a moment she pulled away. "Thank you for everything. I wish I could explain how much tonight has meant to me."
"Why are you making it sound like we are never going to see each other again? Look, I know you are hiding something from me but I feel a connection between us and I know you feel it too." I replied. "Don't let us be just a single perfect night."
Riley smiled with a faraway look in her eyes. "Yes, it was a perfect night and let's not ruin it by seeing each other in the bright light of day."
"No." I responded as I my hand tightened around hers. "Promise you will call me. I'll wait for you to sort through whatever you are going through but don't let this be the end of it."
Tears started to fill her eyes. "You'd be willing to wait?"
I nodded. "You're worth it."
The front porch light flickered on and an middle age woman stared at the car from the front porch.
"That's my mom. I gotta go." Riley said with a slight panic in her voice.
"I tightened my grip on her hand as she tried to pull away. "You are going to call me right?"
Her eyes were wide with fear when the woman started to walked toward us. "Yes I promise. I have to go. Thanks for everything."
I released her hand and with a quick wave she was out of the car. Her mother gave her a disapproving look and sent a death glare in my direction.
My heart reached out to Riley as she limped in the house with the angry woman following close behind.
"Whatever happened to you Riley?" I asked aloud while looking at the large window of a shop showcasing various Halloween costumes. A gown similar to the one she wore that night was displayed among them.
I never saw her again after that night three years ago but it was not because I didn't try.
I never let my phone leave my side and kept the phone active after I moved across the country to pursue my dream. I did all this in anticipation of a call that never came.
A couple of weeks later I traveled the three hours back to the house I last saw her, but the woman Riley said was her mother would never answer the door. On my seventh visit, a girl who looked like she could be Riley's sister met me in the driveway and told me she would call the police if I ever came back.
I begged Robin to let me know where Riley was and even though it appeared she wanted to give me the information, she never did.
It never crossed my mind to get her last name but I did a search of the last name on her mother's mailbox. There were no women who resembled her when I looked for Riley Ruche.
I even resorted to driving around her town many times hoping to see her again but sadly I couldn't find her.
All my friends told me I was crazy, that I made the whole thing up. They said it was impossible to fall in love with someone after only a few hours but I knew it was very possible because it happened to me.
They all laughed at me when I stopped my partying and focused my energies on school. It was hard to for them to understand that meeting Riley made me want to be a better person. She saw greatness in me and when I saw her again, I wanted to hear her say "I knew you could do it."
I kissed my fingers before placing them on the glass. "I know you are real and wherever you are, I love you as you are. I hope you found your dreams too."
It was my first visit back since graduating. I had somehow become the new 'it' person around Hollywood since the buzz around the movie was so great. Not only had I written but I also directed, produced and financed my first film. It was a passion project I funded myself through an inheritance left by my grandparents and had already won many awards on the festival circuit and been picked up by a major studio for distribution.
The story was almost a carbon copy of the night I spent getting to know Riley with the slight dramatic license added here and there. The ending was changed to the happily ever after I had hoped for but never received.
Even if the movie completely tanked at the box office upon wide release, I'd still be financially secure from what I made off the deal with the major studio.
I was now free to make my mark on the world.
I met my parents at a small café in town for lunch, I couldn't help but to laugh when I noticed them sitting at the most visible table on the sidewalk. To say they were proud would be an understatement.
"What's wrong Cody?" Mom said after she looked into my eyes.
"Nothing." I replied. "Just memories."
Her hug was just what I needed at that moment. "If it's meant to be, you'll find her again. If not, at least you had that one night. A lot of people never even have that."
She was right, like always. "Thanks Mom."
I sat nervously in the last row of the theater as my movie played on the screen. The small college in Riley's hometown asked permission to do a screening. I agreed since it was so close to my parents and would give them a chance to experience the life I now had.
Much to my relief the audiences laughed at all the right spots and cried when I hoped they would. I noticed many couples moving closer together as the ending played out and sharing kisses when my dedication displayed before the credits.
Wherever you are, thank you for believing in my dream.
I still believe in yours.
I quietly made my way to the lobby to wait for everyone to fill out the questionnaires I would be answering during the Q & A session later on. I was so lost in my thoughts that I almost missed a slender blonde in baggy jeans and a black oversized leather coat talking to one of the ushers before slipping out a side door.
Her hair was shorter and she wasn't wearing any makeup but I'd recognize those eyes anywhere.
My heart skipped a beat as I started running to catch up with the person I had waited three years to the day to see."Riley wait!" I yelled as I reached the alley.
She turned in a panic and took off in a full sprint to get away when she saw me.
I tried to catch up but she was too fast, by the time I reached the corner of the building she was nowhere to be seen.
"Do you know that woman you were talking to a moment ago?" I frantically asked the usher after walking back to the lobby.
His confusion was evident as he blankly stared at me. "I'm sorry. What woman? I haven't talked to a woman since the movie started."
"The blonde woman in the leather coat. I saw you talking to her." I replied.
The young man started laughing. "Oh, you mean Riley. Yeah a lot of people confuse him for a woman but don't let him know. He's kinda touchy about it."
My head started swimming. "What do you mean Riley is not a woman? Do you know her I mean him?"
The usher nodded his head. "Riley works in the maintenance department and sometimes helps us out around here if we have problems with the new digital equipment. He's pretty cool but has a real chip on his shoulder about how people see him. He'll flip out if anyone assumes he's gay or anything like that."
"Thanks." I replied as I walked away before he finished talking. No wonder Riley never called me back.
My mind was in such a daze that I still don't know how my Q & A went. I could only hope I didn't make a fool of myself.
I wracked my mind as I laid in bed that night trying to remember if there had been clues I missed. I mean it never crossed my mind she was anything other than a beautiful woman who needed my help. I kept replaying our conversations and once again I came up blank. Sure she had some minor masculine traits but most women did if you looked close enough.
My emotions bounced between hurting for her, to being furious and everything in between. Why didn't she tell me? I never considered myself gay but at the same time I never saw Riley as a guy. I was attracted to women and my attraction to Riley, was an attraction to the woman she was on the inside.
By the time I left my parent's house the following morning I had a plan and after running a couple of errands, I found my way to Riley's town and the maintenance department.
"Can I help you?" A disheveled middle age man asked as soon as I walked in.
"Is Riley in?"
He nodded and yelled over his shoulder. "Hey Ruche, someone out here to see you."
"Just a moment Tom." The familiar voice replied.
Riley hurried into the room but stopped in her tracks as soon as she saw me. "Cody." She whispered. "What are you doing here?"
I smiled as I basked in the nearness of her. Even in baggy men's clothes and a shaggy haircut, she looked as beautiful as I remembered. "You ran off before I got the chance to hear your thoughts on what you saw on screen. I thought we could grab a bite to eat and catch up."
She shook her head. "I don't think that would be a good idea."
"It's just lunch. That's all I'm asking for. Please."
Riley didn't show any signs whatsoever of consenting until I smiled. "You know I'm not going to give up. If not today then I will come back every day until you say yes."
Her grin was slight but I saw it as she nodded. "Yeah, you can be relentless."
"Can you go now or do I need to come back?" I asked.
She stared at me a moment before sighing and turning back to the room she came from. "Fine, let me my coat."
As we walked across the quad to where I parked my car, I brushed the faded scar on her cheek. "That healed well. You can hardly tell it's there."
She pulled away from my touch like it contained an electrical charge. "I guess I have you to thank for that. The doctor said if you hadn't patched me up it could have been worse."
"Glad I was there to help." I replied.
I studied her as we walked. Her movements seemed unnatural and rehearsed. I had dealt with my share of actors recently and she was among the worst I'd ever seen. Riley Ruche was no more meant to be a man than a cat was meant to be dog.
She laughed and turned to stare at me as soon as she saw what I was driving. "You're the hottest commodity in Hollywood and you're still driving the hoopty?"
"I do when I come home." I answered with a grin. "It was my grandparent's car before it was mine. There are too many memories in it to ever get rid of it."
Her hand glided over the passenger's side door before she opened it. "I can see that."
"Where would you like to eat?" I asked after I sat behind the wheel. "Anywhere you want. My treat."
I moved to start the car but she stopped me. "Before we go I believe I owe you an explanation." I started to tell her I would appreciate one but she held up her hand. "Please don't interrupt. This is going to be hard for me to say."
I nodded as she continued. "I always believed I was born in the wrong body. I knew from a very early age but my parents tried everything to foster my interest in boyish pursuits. That didn't really last that long because my dad died when I was nine. After that it was just Mom, my sister and I. Mom didn't understand but had too many other things to worry about. I guess I was fourteen or so when I found a place online where I could order the hormones my body craved to give me the body I was meant to have. In the beginning I tried to be open but it was hell. The kids at school bullied me like you would not believe and the adults weren't much better. Mom finally snapped and told me how I was becoming an embarrassment so I started keeping my feelings confined to the house when she wasn't home."
She shifted in her seat."It was getting to be more than I could handle mentally and figured when I moved off to college was the best time to start a new life. I mean I already had a name that wouldn't raise suspicions and a body to match. Instead of the dorms, I arranged to live just off campus. So instead of a mixed up boy of eighteen, it was a confidant young woman who started that first day of college. At first it was wonderful, nobody suspected anything and treated me as one of the girls. My life finally became whole. I had joined a few student groups and was popular for the first time in my life."
Her head dropped and she wiped away a single tear that had formed. "That lasted a little over a year until I ran into someone I went to high school with. He recognized me and made a huge scene in front of large group of people outside of the communications quad. After that, word spread like wildfire. Friends bailed on me like I was contagious and others accused me of lying to them. Word got back to my mom who cut me off financially unless I went back to being her son."
"It was terrible, the comments and whispers as I walked through public areas were almost unbearable. People even raised hell when I tried to use a public restroom and things started to get physical. Only a few people stuck by me and they were great until one Halloween three years ago. They invited me to a costume party and arranged for me to be Cinderella. I spent three hours getting ready but once we were in the middle of nowhere they stopped and dragged me out of the car." She inhaled deeply as the memory wracked her body. "They beat me so bad." Her tear stained eyes glanced up at me. "Well, you know."
I nodded before she continued. "I knew I had two choices at that moment. I could either could go back to living as my birth indicated or I could end it all. I was broken, I could no longer live the life I wanted so badly. I mean, I had a taste of what normal was like and it was taken away violently."
"As I walked down the road, I noticed a deep ravine and right as I was about to make the leap, a huge blue Cadillac swerved into my life and this great guy tried to help a complete stranger."
She smiled as she reached for my hand. "You were so gentle and kind. You saw me how I wanted the world to see me. You gave me hope when I had none. We shared our fears and our dreams. It was wonderful. If I were to make a list of everything I wanted in a guy and put it into a search engine, that result would have been you. You made me laugh and for all too brief a time helped me forget my problems. It was too good to be true."
Her smile disappeared as she looked away from me. "When I stepped out of your car that night, I had every intention of staying in contact but reality crept back in. I never meant to lead you on in any way. My family convinced me that it was a foolish pipe dream to imagine I could have a normal life. As my mother loved to remind me, people like I was back then don't have normal lives. Only normal people have normal lives."
"Normal is a matter of perspective." I said, no longer able to hold my tongue. "You are as unhappy right now as you were that night."
"I'm doing okay." She replied defensively.
With having heard her explanation I understood her mindset better and was ready to put it behind us so we could move forward. It hurt that she didn't give me the chance to decide if I wanted to pursue a relationship back then but I could see the woman I fell for was still in there, she just needed some support to come back.
"You are just as beautiful as I remembered but you are not okay." I said I started the car and backed out of the space. "You never said where you wanted to eat."
"Don't say things like that." She replied. "It would probably be better for you if we went somewhere with a drive-thru."
A frown formed as I stopped before pulling out on the road. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Riley shook her head and sighed. "You know what I mean."
I placed my car in park and turned to stare her in the eyes. "I honestly don't. Why would it be better for me?"
"This was a bad idea." Riley said as she reached for the handle on her door. "It was great to see you Cody."
"Oh hell no." I said as I reached across to grab the arm rest in an effort to keep her from opening the door. Being super nice and sweet had not gotten me anywhere so I decided to change tactics and let my emotion show. "I listened to your lame excuse for not calling AND hiding from me. You're going to answer my question whether you want to or not."
She pressed against the door but it wouldn't budge. "Let me out."
"Why are you doing this?" She cried out as she struggled to moved my arm.
"Because you are trying to push me away again. It took me three years to find you and I'll be damned if I'll let you disappear on me again."
Riley's teeth buried into my flesh that was inches away from her mouth but I refused to let go.
"Why won't you let me help you? You know how I feel about you."
She leaned back with tears flowing freely. "No, you fell for a helpless girl on the side of the road. As soon as you found out the truth you would have treated me just like everybody else. You would have felt betrayed and claim I lied to you. You'd start acting like I was some kind of freak and then leave me beaten on the side of some metaphorical road of your choosing."
My anger flew off the charts as I listened to her. I pulled my hand back and crossed my arms across my chest. "What did I ever do to give you the impression I was like that? Do you seriously believe I'm that shallow? How dare you project your insecurities on me. If that's what you think then get out. Get the fuck out!"
My outburst caught her by surprise but she didn't back down. "Everyone has done it. You expect me to believe finding out I can pee standing up hasn't changed how you feel about me?"
"I'm fucking here aren't I?" I yelled. "Jesus Christ Riley! Do you remember what I said when you asked my opinion of you? Do you? I said I wanted to drive you home so we could spend the time getting to know each other. By the time I pulled into your driveway I had fallen for a sweet, smart, funny, and slightly damaged woman. If you remember, you weren't exactly looking your best that night. It was your mind, personality and heart I fell for. The fact I find you to be the most stunning woman on the planet is just a bonus."
Tears again started to form in her amazing eyes. "Why are you mad at me? I'm trying to help you. Your career is beginning to take off. Your dreams are within your grasp. If anyone found out I was the inspiration you'd be ruined."
I took her hands in mine. "I don't think so and honestly could give a damn if it wasn't seen again if it meant we were together. Not everyone is as narrow minded as the people around here. Come with me and let me show you the life you dream of."
I kissed her knuckles. "Riley, not a single day has gone by that I have not thought of you. I have dated other woman since that night but they all paled when compared to you. I'm weird, I have an odd sense of humor and an eccentric taste in music. You get me. I get you. Who cares what anyone else thinks so long as we have each other?"
"So you love me as I am right now?" She asked.
"Yes." I replied without hesitation.
"Would you stay with me if I remained as I am right now?"
"No." I said without reservation.
My answer confused her. I could tell by the way her brows arched. "Excuse me? Why not?"
"Because." I said as my voice became gentle and I made circle patterns on the back of her hands with my thumbs. "When you love someone, you want them to be happy and thrive. You will never be happy unless you are yourself. We both know it but you are afraid to admit it."
I leaned forward to kiss her forehead. "We can do it together. If you aren't sure, then just give me this weekend. We will go someplace where nobody recognizes you and stay until Sunday. If you want to come back to this life afterwards, we can part as friends and I will know I tried everything. But if you decide you don't want to come back then we can start the next chapter of our life together."
Riley smiled as she reached for her phone and dialed a number. "Hey Tom it's me. I'm taking off the rest of the day. I might see you Monday but I kinda doubt it."
I leaned in halfway after she ended her call. To my relief and delight she brought her lips to mine. The kiss was timid at first but soon flared with such passion we could hardly contain ourselves.
"Don't come in here." Riley yelled from the bedroom. "I want you to be surprised."
"Okay." I replied with a laugh. "But we are already late."
My heart swelled as I heard her giggle. "It's worth the wait, I promise."
I glanced down at the military style jacket she insisted I wear and adjusted the gold sash. "I hope so. I still don't understand who I'm supposed to be."
I had no idea it was possible to love someone so much. It had been an amazing five years since we reconnected. In many ways our weekend never ended. I stayed with her while she worked out her notice then she moved to Los Angeles with me and has not left my side.
Riley was initially worried about how my friends and family would react to our relationship but she was universally accepted into the group almost immediately. Once my girl let her light shine, everyone loved her.
"You'll figure it out soon enough." Riley said with a joyful lilt in her voice.
Sadly her own mother was not as accepting and broke off all contact after my love had the surgery to complete her transformation. I know it still bothers her but I'm thankful her sister Robin accepted her with open arms and stayed with us during the recovery. I'm holding out hope that one day her mother will come around. Robin swears she's trying to help.
"It won't be soon enough for me." I replied teasingly. "You know I'm not a fan of surprises."
My wife has truly thrived in the time we've been together. Her confidence is unsurpassed and her art has been showcased in the finest galleries. There is a constant demand for her work.
I have not done too bad either. Thanks to Riley's constant inspiration, my screenplays have become highly sought after. The bidding wars that break out between various studios affords us the luxury of funding our charitable foundation that offers assistance to those who are going through what my wife endured.
There are still those who do not accept us completely but thankfully Riley no longer worries about what others think. She tells me that my love her gives her strength but she has it wrong. It is her who makes me strong.
"You are who you have always been." My wife said as she stepped out wearing a light blue full-length satin and brocade ball gown very similar to what she was wearing the night we met. "My Prince Charming."
Every time I think back to the woman I first met on the side of the road, the woman who was so broken she was ready to give up and compare her to the woman who became my wife three years ago today, I swell with admiration and realize if she can do that, then I can do anything so long as she is by my side.
I pulled her into my arms and kissed her with all the love I felt for her. "Thank you princess for my happily ever after."
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