September passed, so did November. Carly filled most of her hours with her patients, willingly filling in for any doctor who happened to be ill or had time off. Most nights she didn’t go back to the loft, crashing on the couch in her office instead. Daniel wasn’t pleased. ‘You’re going to wear yourself out and not going home for days isn’t healthy either.’ He scolded.
Carly meekly accepted the cup of coffee handed over to her; pushing back her tangled hair.
‘If you don’t go home today, I’ll tell Lexie what you’ve been doing.’
‘She probably knows already,’ Carly said cynically, ‘and letting her best friend know she’s got nothing to worry about. With this schedule I’m keeping, I hardly have the time to chase Bo, do I?’
‘Now you’re sounding bitchy Manning , that’s so not you.’ Daniel said disapprovingly.
‘You would be in my shoes.’ Carly said, thinking about the anonymous note she still had in her possession. One of Hope Brady’s numerous supporters wanted to intimidate her. Why you don’t face me instead, you coward, she’d thought.Thinking over it carefully, she decided not go to Bo about it. He was protective of her but she had to avoid running to him whenever she had a problem. Besides, since she was disliked by half the town, the writer could be anyone. She refused to tell Daniel about it either, he and Chloe would insist she informed Bo.
Daniel sighed. If only Hope would make up her mind, divorce Bo or reconcile with him; she was seriously getting on his nerves. Only a man in love like Bo would put up with the present scenario. And Hope seemed to be taking advantage of it by leaving him guessing what she intended to do and at the same time treat Carly like her enemy. ‘I probably would, yes.’ He agreed. ‘But don’t let it get to you. It’s not your fault Hope’s playing this game with Bo. And I wish both her families would say what they really feel about what she’s doing, acting like a brat.’
Carly shrugged, reluctant to say anything against Bo’s wife. The last time she tried talking to Hope, to assure her she wasn’t after Bo, all she got was a scornful look and even more scornful words. To Hope, she was playing innocent; just like her previous rival did and almost succeeded until she saw the light at the last minute.
‘But if there was a chance she decided to call it quits… is there a possibility you and Bo might take up where you left off?’ Daniel asked cautiously.
‘What makes you think that?’
‘You two were in love once and let’s face it Carly; you’re a beautiful woman and Bo could do without all this drama he’s in the middle of right now. And the guy clearly cares about you.’
‘Bo will never divorce Hope or throw any 25 years of marriage, never.’ Carly stressed with firm conviction. She remembered the deeply unhappy and traumatized shell of a man Bo was when she first came to Salem, mourning the wife he lost.
‘You don’t know that,’ Daniel argued. ‘He might agree it was time to call it a day and want you in his life again.’
‘Well, I don’t want a romantic relationship with Bo Brady,’ Carly’s tone was now hard. ‘Hope maybe acting like a brat now but it’s not like I was perfect either, when I was with Bo. I’m done with romance and Bo’s far too in love with Hope to ever think of being with me.’
‘I think you’re selling yourself short and being unfair to Bo.’ Daniel chided.
‘No, Daniel… I’m just telling the truth. What Bo and I had, it was a lifetime ago. I care about him too; as a friend.’ Carly forced herself to sound convincing and hoped she did. ‘Any relationship with Bo now, I’ll just end up getting hurt. Hope’s the love of his life, the mother of his children. They’ll always be connected. You honestly think there won’t be times he’ll be thinking about her when he’s with me?’ Inwardly her heart ached at the thought and the other reasons why Bo will remain forbidden to her. ‘You mean well Daniel and I love you for it.’ Daniel reached out to squeeze her free hand. ‘But my answer is no… not possible.’
‘It’s a shame.’ Daniel said regretfully. ‘All the same, at least try to get out more instead of working so hard. I know for a fact a few of the guys here have a crush on you and would gladly take you out for dinner.’
Carly shook her head. With a shrug, Daniel patted her hand got up. ‘Go home, take a shower, order take-out.’
‘I have a lot to do.’ Carly protested.
‘Go home. Quit making the rest of us look bad.’ The grin on his face took the sting off his words and he left her office, closing the door behind him. Carly finished her coffee before replacing her crumbled scrubs for jeans and a long sleeved top, slipping on her warm coat. As it was December, the days were even colder. Christmas decorations were already being hung all about town, she was yet to get her own tree. Wanting another cup of coffee, she stopped at The Java.
Today’s the sixth, she realized as she waited for her order. The anniversary of the symbolic wedding she and Bo had on top of the El Castillo in Chichén Itza. The happiest day of her life, only just slightly marred by the fact it wasn’t valid as her marriage to Victor was yet to be annulled. This day, several years ago.
The ancient Mayan court. Bo going down on his knees, holding her hand; bright hazel eyes filled with love as he asked her to marry him. Tears running down her cheeks as she said yes, kissing him.
Their wedding day. Bo waiting for her, the morning breeze blowing his black hair, looking so handsome in the native outfit he was wearing; smiling at her as he took her hand. Watching them as they made their way up the pyramid… Roman, Marlena, their hosts- Hank and Soledad, John and their beloved Isabella, pregnant with Brady.
‘Ma’am, are you alright?’ the boy behind the counter asked, bringing Carly back to the present.
‘Yeah… I’m fine.’ Carly mumbled, taking paying for the coffee.
‘But you’re crying.’
Carly touched her face, her fingers wet from the tears on her cheeks. ‘I’m fine,’ she repeated gruffly, moving to a table by the window. Bringing out a hanky from her purse, she dabbed her eyes and cheeks; nostalgia hitting her hard. A public place however wasn’t the place to have a good cry; the boy behind the counter was watching her anxiously. Instead, she nodded at him reassuringly and sipped her coffee.
Her mood didn’t improve on running into Caroline Brady. It really upset her the woman she regarded a mother figure was so cold to her; especially since Frankie was an adopted son. Caroline was coming from the opposite direction and her face changed on seeing Carly walking towards her.
‘Hello Caroline,’ Carly said awkwardly.
‘Carly,’ Caroline replied curtly.
Carly’s eyes moved to the little girl holding Caroline’s hand. Curly black hair, rosy cheeks, dark eyes staring up at her solemnly. Carly’s mind went back to the past again.
‘Give me four and I’ll change all the diapers,’ Bo promised.
‘Right sure you will!’ she laughed at him. ‘Look, I don’t care how many we have as long as we do. I want to be able to carry your babies in your arms and watch him grow as wonderful as his Papa.’
Carly hardly heard Caroline’s surprised voice, her heart was too heavy with pain; hot tears sliding down her cheeks as she stared down at the child who now looked alarmed.
‘I’m sorry… I’m… I’m sorry,’ Carly sobbed, pressing her hand against her mouth, turning away from the child. She needed to get home, far away from this beautiful child.
‘Carly, wait a second…’
Carly didn’t hear, too filled with grief of what might have been and the secret she was keeping stabbing at her heart. She walked away, determined to put some distance between her and the child… Bo’s daughter.
‘Grandma, what’s wrong with that lady? Why is she crying?’ Ciara asked.
‘I don’t know, honey.’ Caroline replied. Carly’s tears and the expression on her face had startled her, it was the look of a devastated woman.
Bo hardly saw Carly these days and while he found himself missing her, he was also relieved. The intense feelings he had for Carly wasn’t fair to her and certainly not fair to Hope. If he wanted to shed off such feelings towards his ex, he had to stay away from her as much as possible. Much as he wanted Carly physically, it’s not like she would entertain him hitting on her. And he wanted Hope back home with him.
Hope came to the house as he was decorating the tree he’d bought on the way from work. ‘Looks great,’ she commented.
‘Thanks,’ he replied, folding the step ladder, glad to see her. ‘Coffee?’
‘Oh, no thanks.’ Hope shifted her weight from one foot to the other. ‘I actually came by to talk about Christmas Eve. Aunt Maggie was wondering if we’re going to host it this year like we always do.’
‘Because of the present situation between us, obviously.’ Bo said flatly.
Hope bit her lip, nodding.
‘We can just end this situation Fancy Face, move back here.’
‘I’m not ready…’
‘You aren’t ready or you simply don’t want to; because you still think I gambled with our daughter’s life. That you would even think like that – you have any idea how it makes me feel?’ Bo asked, anger in his voice.
Hope looked at him, the familiar stubbornness on her face. ‘Think about how I felt Dean manhandling Ciara in front of me that night. If you had agreed that I pay the ransom, Dean would’ve been long gone.’
‘Dean would’ve killed her.’
‘So you say, you always have to be right. ‘ Hope glared at her. ‘You knew I wasn’t about to lose another child but you made that call anyway…. a very risky call.’
Bo was tired of arguing over it. ‘So, exactly how long are you going to keep punishing me over my decision?’
‘I’m not punishing you,’ Hope denied hotly. ‘I just need time.’
‘That’s not what you said before, you basically hinted you want to call it quits!’
‘Do you want to call it quits?’
‘Damn it Hope, what’s this game you’re playing?’ Bo lost his temper. Hope flinched but stood her ground. ‘What are you doing to me exactly?’
‘I’m not playing games…’
‘Then what do you want exactly, huh? Because I’ve spent these past months wondering what you want or what’s going with you- and you keep shutting me out. I honestly don’t know who you are anymore.’
‘I can’t do this right now…’ Hope turned towards the door.
‘That’s right, turn tail and walk out!’
Hope paused, her hand on the door, not looking at him. She turned finally, her face pale and strained. ‘Ciara deserves to spend Christmas with both her parents. We simply have to put our differences aside and provide her with it. With what she went through, it’s the least we can do.’
‘And what are we going to do about us?’ Bo demanded.
Hope left, not answering. Bo sank into the couch, holding his head in his hands. He was furious, exasperated and suddenly very tired. The result of trying to talk to Hope always ended in a brick wall. Lord knows he tried, tried very hard and got nothing. Hope needed time to think- to think over what? For how long did she intend keeping him in limbo?
Picking up his cell, Bo dialed a number.
And immediately Bo felt the anger die away, very glad to hear her voice. ‘Hi yourself. It’s been a while.’
‘I know, I’ve been very busy. I just got in actually, I’m drawing a bath. Are you okay?’
‘Uh yeah,’ Bo thought of Hope with bitter weariness. ‘Just finished dressing the tree.’
‘That’s nice. I need to get one myself.’ Pause. ‘Did you call about something important?’
Why was she so distant? A thought suddenly hit him, today was December 6. ‘Today’s our anniversary isn’t it?’ Carly, radiant and beautiful in her handmade lace dress, yellow flowers in her hair.
Another pause then, ‘You remembered.’
Guiltily, Bo thought of the years he’d pushed the memory of their symbolic wedding to the back of his mind; all their memories together. They were from another period of his life, when he and Carly belonged to each other. But he never truly forget them, especially their symbolic wedding, despite moving on with his life.‘I never really forgot,’ he admitted.
‘I never forgot either.’
Yet another awkward pause.
‘Let’s have dinner tonight. I know a great place.’
‘You know we can’t do that.’
‘We’re not going to let everybody’s stupid attitude stop us from being friends, are we? It’s just dinner, nothing more. And frankly, I could use the company. Please?’
He heard Carly sigh then she replied, ‘When?’
‘I’ll pick you at 8.’
When Carly got home, she’d given in to the great sadness triggered by the sight of Ciara and was just recovering when Bo called her. She took a much needed nap after her hot bath and woke up at 7, fully refreshed. She buzzed Bo in and stared in amazement at what he was carrying.
‘You shouldn’t have.’ She murmured, making way for him and the fresh fir tree he bought for her on the way.
‘It’s nothing,’ Bo insisted, carefully placing it at a corner. ‘You needed a tree so I saved you a trip. Consider it an early Christmas gift.’
‘Thanks Bo, it’s very sweet of you.’
Bo turned to look at her. She was dressed in a black turtle neck and matching pants; her shoulder length hair brushed. No jewelry except for a watch and her wedding ring. Bo forced himself not to look at it. ‘You look great by the way.’
Carly shrugged at his compliment and Bo wished she would smile. Happy, sad or solemn, Carly looked beautiful all the same but he missed that sunny smile of hers.
‘I’ll just get my coat.’ She said, her heart beating fast at the intense way he was staring at her. She hoped she will be able to get through dinner.
The place he took her to was a seafood restaurant by the river. Inside, booths lined the walls; music played from a neon light jukebox standing in a corner. Bo led Carly to a booth and sat opposite her, her expensive perfume enveloping him. I want to kiss her so bad, he thought; and for once he wasn’t angry with himself nor guilty for having such thoughts. He wanted to kiss her and more.
Carly wondered what Bo was thinking; if her feelings for him were obvious on her face. After she married Victor, keeping her love for Bo from him and Victor was agonizing, only Marcus Hunter was aware of her inner strife and didn’t judge her. She had to do it, to avoid hurting Victor and to protect herself from more pain from Bo, who suddenly had a change of heart after his constant- and very cruel- rejections. But she’d believed him to be with Emmy hence refused to succumb to his tender words… until the day she found out about the forged letter.
Till now, she’ll never understand how things had changed between them. She developed amnesia thanks to Vivian’s herbal drugs and oxygen deprivation- believing she was 18 again and in love with James- Lawrence gleefully taking advantage of it. On recovering, she remembered Bo again but her feelings for James- or Lawrence- were still there; what she and Bo did made no difference. She remembered the tears on his face when she returned her ring and kissed him for the last time. Looking back, Carly realized Lawrence did what he did years ago; making her fall for the façade he adopted to fool her. She had fallen in love all over again with James- an illusion- once again. But this time, this time it was too late to do anything about it. And she spent several agonizing years paying for it.
‘Penny for your thoughts,’ Bo said suddenly.
She blinked. ‘Huh?’
‘You’ve been staring at the menu like you’re studying hard for the SATS.’
That brought a faint smile on her lips. ‘Sorry.’
It wasn’t the real smile Bo wanted to see but it was better than seeing her face looking so emotionless. He suddenly realized something else, their roles were reversed. On their first meeting, their proper first meeting, he was often distant and brooding around her. Sometimes they shared playful banter as their rapport grew but then he would withdraw back into his shell, out of sadness over Hope and the agonizing fear of losing Carly if he allowed himself succumb to his feelings for her. Now she was the one alone, distant and brooding.
‘How’s Nicky these days?’ he asked. ‘Hearing from him?’
‘Yes, we’ve been exchanging phone calls and emails. He’s great, very busy with the estate and the conglomerate. I don’t know his plans for Christmas but I might hear something soon.’ Carly replied, looking up at the waitress who appeared notebook in her hand. ‘I’ll have crab cakes, Surf and Turf, and a green salad. Coffee afterwards. Cream, no sugar.’
‘I’ll have the same,’ Bo told the girl who nodded and bustled away. ‘Great minds think alike,’ he winked. To his delight, her cheeks turned a rosy pink. Miracle of miracles, he’d actually made her blush.
‘Quite,’ she replied primly, the mask coming back on.
Enough of this crap. ‘Am I making you uncomfortable or something?’ he demanded.
Carly frowned. ‘No… why would you think that?’
‘I got good reason to. I understand you’re still trying to come to terms with your husband’s death and a lot has changed since you’ve been gone. But I want to believe one thing hasn’t changed between us. That bond we had before we ever fell in love. The same bond that’s enabling us to remain friends but I don’t feel that we’re friends at all.’ Bo made no effort to keep the hurt and frustration from his voice. ‘There’s this huge distance between us; it’s like you’d rather keep me at arms’ length than loosen up around me.’
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for you to feel this way.’ Carly now looked contrite. ‘Of course we’re friends; of course I want us to keep being friends. It’s just… with what’s going on with your marriage and everyone’s attitude towards me, it’s pretty difficult for us to hang out and convince everyone it’s strictly platonic.’
‘Well, they’ll just have to believe it’s platonic and find something else to talk about,’ Bo said firmly, squashing down a stab of guilt. What will Carly say if she knew he wanted to sleep with her? ‘Let’s not let them ruin our evening, okay? Tonight is ours, let’s talk about something else.’
As they were served their appetizers, Justin suddenly appeared, to Carly’s horror.
‘Hi Bo,’ he greeted, turning his sardonic gaze at Carly. ‘Hi Carly.’
Carly didn’t bother replying.
‘What’s up Justin?’ Bo said, not pleased to see him either.
‘Fine, I was passing by and thought I’d grab dinner. Fancy seeing you two here.’ There was double meaning to his words and Bo and Carly immediately picked up on it.
‘If you want to make something of two old friends having dinner, go ahead. I don’t have to explain myself to you, neither does Carly.’ Bo didn’t mince words, looking at his cousin squarely in the face.
‘I’m not making something of anything,’ Justin said stiffly, ‘It was just an innocent remark.’
‘Nothing’s innocent with you,’ Carly spoke at last, her tone icy cold. ‘I should know, after all.’
Justin inwardly cursed himself yet again over the hospital incident. While he wasn’t scared of his cousin, he knew what Bo’s temper was like. If he answered Carly back, that episode will come up and he wasn’t exactly in Bo’s good books these days.
‘I didn’t mean to offend you, Carly; believe me.’ He said smoothly. ‘But since my presence obviously bothers you, I’ll take myself somewhere else. Enjoy the rest of the evening.’ He left them.
‘Good riddance,’ Bo muttered. He turned to Carly who was stabbing a crab cake with her fork as though attacking it. ‘What did you mean by what you said to Justin?’
‘We had an altercation months ago.’ Carly admitted. ‘But I put him in his place and he got the message.’
‘I don’t want to talk about it, please.’ Carly insisted. Relenting, Bo engaged her in conversation and the rest of the evening passed successfully.
Bo walked her back; his boots and her heels tapping the pavement. They cut an attractive picture as they walked along; a few strangers glancing at them, mildly wondering why they weren’t arm in arm though they appeared to be a perfect foil to each other.
Bo Brady and Carly Manning were nursing the same thought, how things have changed yet not so changed. Their bond was still there; more obvious over dinner. But what’s to be done about their feelings? Bo was confused over his. He loved his wife, though she’s been treating him badly. And yet found himself physically drawn to Carly. What did he want from her exactly?
Carly meant what she said to Daniel. Bo will never leave Hope for her or any other woman. That should sadden her and it did, in a way. But she kept reminding herself it was just as well because she had nothing to offer him. This made her resolve easier to bear.Yet, she was aware of how much she loved him. And dreaded how his reaction if he ever discovered her secret.
‘Thanks for dinner,’ she said when they got to her building at last. ‘It was great having a night out for once.’
‘The pleasure was all mine. I had fun too.’ Staring down at the green eyes illuminated by the light coming from the hall, Bo felt like a callow teenager dropping off his date and wondering if she would kiss him goodnight or if she would be mad at him if he attempted to kiss her. ‘I guess this is goodnight then,’ he said, feeling foolish and awkward.
‘Yes,’ Carly mumbled, loving and wanting him so bad she couldn’t bear it. ‘Well… goodnight. And thanks again for the tree.’
They stared at each other, sexual tension escalating. Carly forced herself to break the gaze. ‘Goodnight Bo.’ She said almost harshly and went inside.
Sighing heavily, Bo walked home; looking forward to a cold shower.
Carly was shaken by the intense moment; heated passion was in Bo’s eyes. If she’d given him any encouragement at all, they would be ripping each other’s clothes off right now. And what would it have been, a one night stand or the start of an affair? Either way, she couldn’t possibly let such a thing happen and it was more for her own sake than Hope’s. Bo would have seen the scars, especially that scar. He would’ve demanded an explanation for them and he would know what happened to her, what she did.
I have to keep away from Bo, I have to.
Noticing a light on her answering machine as she sat down on the couch, she pressed a button.
‘Hi Mum, it’s me.’ Nicholas’ voice came up. ‘How are you? Anyway, I’m spending Christmas and New Year at Chamonix. I’ve actually rented a great chalet already. Uncle Francois’ already agreed to come and we really hope you’ll be able to join us. Let me know as soon as you get back, love you.’
Christmas with her brother and son; for the first time in years. Carly was more than up for it. With the back breaking schedule she’d been keeping at the hospital, she was due some vacation time. Not only will she get to spend time with Frankie and Nicholas, she’ll be able to get away from Bo for a while. But when she got back from the trip, she’ll have to make some new arrangements. Picking up the phone, Carly dialed her son’s private line. Very pleased, Nicholas promised to send the Alamain jet to fetch her and his uncle.