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Meeting up with Layla and Hugh for lunch at the Meridian turned out to be as expected for Evangeline. The two lovebirds were huddled together lost in the moment of gazing lovingly into each other's eyes and whispering sweet nothings. Married for two and half years, the couple was expecting their first born within three months, the child's gender unimportant. Evangeline never quite put her finger on when her sister and Deputy DA Hugh finally found that romantic spark between them given that her sister travelled in and out of the bad boys club. Hugh on the other hand, was unlucky in love. Even though he tried his best, he usually ended up being on the receiving end of those bad breakups.
"Baby," Layla giggled as Hugh's mouth nipped at the base of her neck.
Evangeline wanted to hurl at the affectionate display nevertheless she delighted in her sister's happiness. The burden of worrying about Layla's future disappeared the moment she found out about their relationship. Hugh doted on her, Layla never lack for anything, and in return, she gave him all the love and tender care that he needed.
"Would you two stop. Aren't we supposed to be enjoying lunch? Not having your sister being subjected to the two of you making googly eyes and carrying on like teenagers in heat," Evangeline playfully lamented even adding a dramatic eye roll.
They were midway through lunch with Evangeline dining on shrimp quesadillas while Layla and Hugh shared Meridian's classic gourmet pizza. The restaurant lay a couple of blocks away from downtown Llanview and mainly catered to its professional class on a daily basis. The food was exquisite and the restaurant's ambience added to its appeal. One could choose to dine in the open area downstairs or retreat to the private rooms upstairs. It was a great networking spot with many deals carved out over its artisan tables.
"Whatever," Layla chuckled. "You don't need to worry much longer; regretfully my man has to go back to work," she added with a sullen look on her face.
During the last couple of months, cases inundated the District Attorney's office. Hugh did his best to spend as much of his free time with his lovely, expectant wife. They often conversed about their new addition. The prospect of becoming parents proved both exhilarating and fearful.
"Honey you know I'll make it up to you."
Layla smiled at him then said, "You'd better."
His knuckle massaged her cheek and afterwards their lips touched giving way to a long, sweet kiss. Hugh slowly rose from his seat.
"I hope you ladies will be fine without my company," he teased.
"You know how long I've been waiting for you to exit," Evangeline chuckled.
"I know you don't mean that. Come on Vange," he smiled.
"Only in the courtroom," she smirked.
Hugh leaned over kissing her cheek. "Bye ladies."
"Bye Babe love you."
"Love you too."
"Just look at you Layla...my little sis about to become a new mom. I'm so happy for the both of you."
"Thanks sis...I never thought I'll be this in love especially with this little one on the way," she replied gazing briefly at her growing abdomen.
"Have you guys talked about mom coming to stay for how many months?"
Layla knew exactly what she was hinting at. "Vange don't be that way. Hugh adores his mother-in-law. Besides, I need mom now more than ever. I have my man to give me the loving I need..."
"And a mother to give him a swift kick in the ribs with words to match if he doesn't."
"Vange don't be that way. You're making me really nervous about this arrangement," she said uneasily leaning back against her seat.
"I'm just teasing Lays. Mom has calmed down considerably and she definitely adores Hugh even if she can't get pass the name Hugh Hughes." They shared a laugh. "So how are you guys enjoying the new house?"
Layla leaned forward. "I adore everything about it...you've seen the architecture. The baby's room is coming along. Sometimes I just need to take a breath."
Evangeline looked at her thoughtfully. "My advice to you is to cherish these moments. Time flies by so quickly..."
"I know it hasn't been easy for you during the last year..."
Evangeline felt a range of emotions from Layla's statement. She couldn't help but stare off into the distance recalling those moments in her life when everything seemed picture-perfect. Her time at the DA's office ended and soon after, she went into private practice. Being a defence attorney remained her true calling. It wasn't long after that she caught the attention of Robert Parsons, an up and coming Creative Director at the AD Media Group. The attraction was instantaneous and after a year of dating marriage followed. Together they created an amazing son named Trey. It was not to last however. Not long into their marriage, the doctor diagnosed Robert with stage three prostate cancer. The news was devastating. Her once perfect world collapsed. Once the shock had worn off, they came up with a plan. If one method of treatment failed then they would move on to next. The Parsons were an unbeatable force once they put their minds to it. It wasn't meant to be however. Was it fate or by his own hand that he died suddenly in a car accident? She chose to believe it was indeed fate.
"It is better. Every day I wake up thanking God that I can be here for our son. Trey makes everything worthwhile."
Suddenly Layla's eyes shifted to the right. Victor Lord and his fiancée Nicki Shelton entered the restaurant and were about to climb the spiral staircase. Evangeline noticed them as well but she focused more on Victor who was wearing a loose fitting pea coat over a sweater and wool trousers.
"Every time I see him, I can't believe he's not Todd Manning anymore. It was all a cruel stunt perpetrated by his mother for her own gain."
The revelation not only brought upheaval into Victor's life but it also split apart their close friendship. These days they barely spoke and she missed that very much. She knew he was hurting and even though she asked, he never wanted to talk about it. Outwardly, he still carried that cool and innate way about him but deep down who knew the agony he was experiencing.
"For so long I didn't understand why you wanted to be friends with such a monster. I guess you were right all along Vange."
"I didn't know either," Evangeline corrected.
"Subconsciously you did."
As they disappeared out of view Evangeline softly said, "It doesn't matter anymore."
"Vange?" A concerned Layla questioned.
"Layla...please leave it alone," she pleaded softly. "Please..."
Layla decided to back off seeing the solemn look in her sister's eyes. Whatever was going on between those two wasn't her concern although she hated the fact that Victor's mere presence affected her sister a great deal. Perhaps losing Robert made her revert to her old habits, Layla surmised.
Layla decided to lighten the mood. "So are you still singing at the UpScale?"
Evangeline's mouth twisted into a smile. "Once a month....it's good to get away once in a while...," she reflected.
Sometimes she worried a great deal about Trey growing up without his father and of course, there was her practice that created another set of stressors. Yet after Robert died, she switched her career path by becoming a consultant. At first, the change tested her resolve. Being a defence attorney was both challenging and rewarding. She excelled in a courtroom setting. Some of the most satisfying moments came from winning difficult cases. Consultancy however gave her an opportunity to work fewer hours enabling her to spend more time with Trey.
"Maybe my Babe and I can witness the versatile Evangeline Parsons at work...just give me the date and time and we'll be there."
Evangeline giggled. "I'm not too sure about that." She shrugged her shoulders, "Seeing my pregnant sister and her husband may make me nervous."
"Not a chance," Layla countered giggling as well. "When you sing, it's something pretty special. You can see that it comes from the heart."
"Thanks for the compliment sis."
Three picture windows gave the room a light and airy feeling providing great views of the surrounding scenery. Victor took off his jacket, placing it on the handy coat rack and the couple took their seats across from each other.
Nicki opened her mouth to speak but Victor said, "I know you wanted us to meet for a specific reason but I prefer we mostly get through eating before we begin."
"Ok," she acquiesced pushing her fingers through her long, blonde curls.
What else could she do but accept. Over the past few months, she desperately tried reaching out to him but found her efforts blocked at every turn. Vicki mainly ran interference offering different reasons why it was best to leave alone for the time being. It certainly affected her ego. Becoming a top-notch real estate agent took skill, perseverance and a positive attitude. Victor Lord proved to be her most difficult case. No matter what transpired in the past, she yearned for to have him completely back in her life. She needed to stay the course, unwilling to give up on a future with the man she adored.
Lunch soon arrived a fillet mignon burger with sweet potato fries and a coke for him while she received a turkey sandwich with sparkling water. Except for the background music playing throughout, they ate in relative silence. Occasionally Nicki gazed over at Victor whose attention appeared focused on everything else but her. She detested the chasm between them. Finding out the truth about his real identity not only fractured his life but their once close bond.
"It's a wonder that you wanted to see me," he said breaking through the quiet after taking a long sip of his coke.
"Why wouldn't I want to see my fiancé? I haven't given up hope. You believed it best for us to separate and I chose to go along with your idea for both our sakes."
"This meeting isn't about hope," he said coolly.
A fear crept inside her heart. She tried holding on to her optimism as she stared into those icy blue eyes. There was something about Victor that drew you in, making it hard to let go.
"You don't love me anymore?" her grey eyes probed. She desperately wanted to know even if the answer proved too much to accept.
"Don't you get that the person who proposed to you doesn't exist. Todd Manning planned out that romantic evening and got down on one knee..."
"You were still there Victor." She stretched out a trembling hand across the table. "We had plans remember. I don't care if you're not Todd Manning. Why can't we just be? Move on with our lives; creating new memories."
"I don't want us!" His voice boomed against the walls.
The announcement so loud and final that tears instantly rolled down her cheeks. "So this is it. This is how you want things to be," she sniffled using the back of her hand to wipe them away. She rarely cried. "Why are you hurting me?"
"I don't mean to," he softly replied.
"Yet you are taking great pleasure in doing it to me now."
He let out a frustrated sigh. A while ago, he determined that his love for her fell more on a friendship level. He blamed himself for forcing things along without considering the future implications. After all, Evangeline had moved on and so should he. Todd Manning was capable of having a stable relationship of his own with a gorgeous, intelligent woman. In reality, he wasn't Todd Manning and neither did he love her.
"I can't allow us to continue like this. ...You are a very attractive woman who deserves love from a special man. I'm not that man and never will be. "
"Why are you saying these things? I love you Victor and you.love.me.," she stated through clenched teeth. Her eyes turned a dark grey and her cheeks flushed.
"Nicki its best that you move on..."
"I'm in too deep..."
"I can't believe you don't want to fight for us. All those times and moments we shared meant nothing to you? How can you be so cruel?"
He replied plainly, "I'm a Lord...and that's what we do. We place women in one of two categories - to bed or to wed...no real love in between. You wanted to know the truth Nicki. I have never loved you; not even a little. It's best that you find out now before it's too late."
"Bastard! I hate you!"
Nicki quickly stood up, twisted the engagement ringer off her finger, threw it at him and ran out of the room.
He just sat there not moving to retrieve the discarded ring. His ears attuned to the background music. Most of what he stated was a lie but he wanted to get his point across or she would have kept on it. Better for her to think of him this way than to live in that fantasy she created.
Sitting there waiting his mind soon drifted.
"You want to be alone."
"Yes. It has to be this way for now. You and Vicki keep saying the same things."
"It's not like you don't give us reasons to worry."
"These last eight years has been one huge lie. How do you expect me to react? I don't know who I am anymore. I don't have any memory of who I was. ...I just need time to think things through. I can't think with the both of you hovering over me like I'm porcelain. Give me that space Evangeline.
Ok if that is what you want.
It is what I need.
Just remember there is never going to be a moment that I don't care for you...I will always care for you. We have been through too much for me not to care. I wish you the best Victor. Take care of yourself.
The memory lay fresh in his mind. He sensed her soft hand massaging his shoulder before she turned and walked away.