Author's note:  I am so, so, so, and soooooo sorry this chapter took so long.  I have no excuse, except to say that I've been inundated in the real life, so this had to wait a bit. I hope you all didn't forget about Anne and Ben, the Dudes and the Guys and the Broads.  I've reminded myself every day to get back to them, and I'm glad I finally got to.  I'm just about done now, and I just have to say that though it's taken me so long, I'm so glad I decided to share it here.  You all have been great!  Okay, enough of my babbling.  Here's the next to last chapter:

Chapter 25-

Winning an Oscar rocks… it rules, it reigns, it escalates the combination of both mental and physical heights.  From hearing your name called, to making that walk down that long carpeted, televised aisle up to the stage, then to the podium, through the speech, across the stage to the back wings and into the press room, where a gloriously adoring group of media wait to hurl question after question at you, especially...

"Ben!  Ben!  Tell us… who is Annabelle Bruce?"

"She's…she's missed."

… past the swarm of media, back to your seat, where the congratulations from your agent and cast members wash you in yet more warmth, to the after party, where everyone and their pedigreed toy breed dog showers you in praise sprinkled with hints and outright proposals to work on future ventures with you. 

Yup, winning an Oscar rocks…it rules, it reigns, and it magnifies any sensation you might feel better than a couple of dissolved acid hits.

That is, until you finally make your way towards the only private area you can find at the party…past the kitchen, out the back door, and into the employee parking area, where you take shelter next to a dumpster rife with the smell of old produce, and you fish out your cell phone, staring at it as if the buttons on it might be carrying flesh eating bacteria.

Ben stood there, in his Oscar winning glory, alone in the employee parking area of La Trend, the hippest after-Oscar party spot of the evening, ignoring the smell of the dumpster beside him, staring at the phone, dying to use it, yet terrified to touch a single button.

He knew the number…numbers, actually; both cell and home… but as much as he wanted to call her, he couldn't.  He just couldn't yet.  A few seconds and a big sigh later, Ben hit speed dial, compromising and deciding to check his voice mail instead.

You have 21 new messages…

Good chance one of them has to be Annabelle, right?

Message one…nope, two… nope…three, four…nine…twelve…nope nope nope nope. But Ben kept on listening, and message 21 proved to make the voicemail experience stop short of a total washout:

Ben, this is Sue.  Boss, just wanted to congratulate you.  I knew you'd win, and I'm thrilled for you.  And, by the way… nice speech.  Thought you might want to know, incidentally, that Anne knows about that night.  The night in New York with Sharon, the folder, the threat.  Sorry, Boss, but I had to tell someone.  Lucky for me, I happened to tell one take charge Florida Senior Citizen, and she took care of a few things for us.  Anne knows now, Ben.  Do me a favor; call her.  This has been way too stupid for way too long.  I haven't been able to reach her tonight, but I think you might.  Call her, Ben…okay?  Bye.

In that single 21st voice mail message, Ben decided that a salary increase was definitely in order for his Broad housekeeper.  If her hard work alone weren't deserving enough, the fact that her message gave him the extra ounce of testicular strength needed to dial Anne's number was more than enough to merit a nice fat increase on the weekly paycheck.

And with that, Ben speed dialed again…

Anne's home number...he'd never quite been able to bring himself to remove it from his cell phone's memory.

One ring, two rings, three rings… Sue hadn't been able to get through; looks like he wouldn't , either.  The thought alone seemed to do the trick… no fourth ring, only the sound of a receiver lifting from a cradle, and a stoned male voice.


Okay, maybe Ben should've thought this through a little more.  Maybe thinking a little further ahead and having at least a clue as to what to say might've helped him to not hesitate so much from speaking, like he was now doing.


No hesitation from Jim's end of the line.  Not even a fraction's worth of second.  "Ben?  Ben!  Goddammit, Dude!  Good to hear from you!  Hey, man, congratulations!  You fuckin' rock!"

"Thanks…man.  Hey, Jim…"

"Oh, shit!  Hey, Ben… you and Anne gotta talk, and soon!  We all know about Daniel and Sharon, all of it."  Suddenly, a familiar cackle filled Ben's phone bearing ear, an eerily Jaclike cackle, "Dude, trust me, I'll tell you more later, but Daniel isn't a problem anymore."  The cackle returned, upped a notch.

"Yeah?"  Ben understood.  Maybe not everything, but enough.  "Can you put her on the phone, Jim?"

This time, Jim took a little longer to answer, a little longer than Ben liked. 


Oh, this was definitely not going to be the kind of answer a recent Oscar winning heart throb will easily listen to while standing next to a rancid smelling dumpster.

"Ben?  Uh, Anne's in New York…with Alan Overton.  They went on a trip together."

"Oh."  That's about all Ben could muster vocally.  Yet inside, a battle between two urges was brewing; the urge to figure out how he could kick his own ass versus the urge to find Alan Overton and flatten him with the world's largest fly swatter. 

"Oh, man, Ben.  I shouldn't have said anything.  I'm sorry, man.  Listen, though; you still need to talk to her.  There's some things you two need to clear up, you know?"

"Okay, I will," Ben got out after a moment of gathering himself, "Thanks, Bro.  Listen, I'm at a party right now, and I'd better get back to it, so I'll talk to you later."

"Ok.  Hey, man…we've missed you.  And if you tell anyone I said that, I'll kick your ass."

Despite the smell of dumpster, despite everything…Ben smiled genuinely, even if just for a moment.

"I've missed you guys, too.  Bye, Jim."

The rest of the after party continued to flow with laughter, cheer, fame, success, glamour, and all the other things that make the mere mortal envy the hell out of celebrities, but with one exception-

An Oscar winning actor sparkled a little less, felt a little less warm, despite the praise and adulation bathing him this evening, no matter how hard he tried to hide it.  Thoughts of how a news making, televised declaration of love meant to do only good had now not only humiliated Ben, but surely also Anne and her new boyfriend, kinda made it hard to bask like he'd been basking earlier. 


He shoulda known.

He shoulda known he wasn't going to end up with the happy ending he somehow hoped for.  Everything about this evening had been the stuff of fairy tales…except for the ending.  Not too bad, he told himself, or tried to tell himself. 

4 a.m.

Benjamin Rappaport lay in his bed, on his stomach, pillow over his head and comforter pulled up over the pillow, trying to fall into a deep sleep, but not quite able to.  Too many things in a day can do that to you, whether they be good, bad, or in between.

Fact of the matter is Ben was reeling from two very different things…from the dreamlike sensation of having achieved every actor's dream come true to feeling the heavy undertow of knowing tonight, tomorrow, and every day after was never going to end up quite the way he'd wanted.  Close to what he'd wanted, but not quite…there.

A man can feel many things at a time like this.  He can revel in his successes, his overwhelming successes, he can kick his own ass for not reveling in them enough, he can try to see the good in the situation, urge himself into accepting that he and Anne just weren't meant to be and concentrate on what that best actor Oscar was going to do for his future rather than what a relationship with a certain Redneck wasn't going to do, and he could also just try to talk himself into going to sleep, hoping that waking up tomorrow would bring a fresh perspective. 

And, believe it, Ben felt them all.  He felt and thought all of these things so fully while laying in that bed that it took a little while to realize that something was going on outside of his whirlwind of a head this early California morning.

Yup, it took a little while for Ben to hear the bass erupting from downstairs, starting at a low and lazy pulse, then building a bit as downstairs fingers manually turned the volume button.

When you were here before

Couldn't look you in the eyes

You're just like an angel

Your skin makes me cry

You float like a featherrrrrrrrr

In a beautiful world

I wish I was special

You're so fuckin' special

"What the?"

Ben threw the pillow off his head and sat up in bed. Someone was playing his Radiohead cd...and loudly…or at least, that's what his heart hoped.  More bass, more lyrics answered his hopes as he got out of bed, the Bose stereo showing him the way, leading him towards the upstairs hall, and to the stairs.

I don't care if it hurts

I wanna have control

I want a perfect bodyyyy

I want a perfect soul

Halfway down the stairs, Ben's heart pounded.  He rubbed his eyes, hoping that when the hands finished rubbing the attempted sleep from them, he'd still see what he thought he saw-A familiar travel bag sitting in the foyer hallway on the Spanish tile…

Anne's bag.

I want you to notice

When I'm not around

You're so fuckin' special

I wish I was special

The pounding in the heart increased as he approached the living room, nearly made the pumping muscle explode as he turned the corner and took in the new sight before him.

Strawberry blonde hair…belonging to a shapely young woman standing in his living room, back towards him like before,… but no Swiffer this time, no Fonzie shirt, no bottle of Windex, and no swaying to the lazy beat. This time, the sight was a million times more important to see, a billion times more welcome.

Ben stood in his hallway, knowing she probably had every idea he was there, and not debating one second over what he should do next.

"You're not Sue."

She didn't even flinch at the deep voice she'd missed so much all this time.  Didn't flinch one noticeable bit, except to click the off switch on the Bose remote, but Anne's heart pounded now as much as Ben's was.  Determined not to show it, she turned and saw him, saw 'the chest', the Calvins, the flash of white, the stubble, the salt and pepper gray… she saw Ben…her Israeli.

"Yeah, I'm not.  But I think I'm supposed to be here."

They stood there for awhile, several feet apart…soaking each other in, wordless, but not without saying a wealth of things in other ways.

"Hey, Redneck.  What took you so long?"

The Redneck's eyes were brimming with wetness now, mostly the happy kind.

"Sorry, Israeli."  A smile warmer than anything he'd ever seen before appeared from across that living room.  "I hear you won the Oscar."  She took two steps closer, not close enough, but nevertheless closer.  Ben held his ground, even though he wanted more than anything to instead close the gap.

"Yeah, I did."

"I also hear you gave one hell of an acceptance speech."

He shot the warm smile he'd just received right back at Anne when answering. "Yeah…I did."

Two more steps closer…one from a Redneck, one from an Israeli.

"Congratulations."  She faltered a little, that wetness spilling just a bit from her eyes down onto her cheeks, before she proudly wiped the wetness away.  "I knew you'd do it, Ben.  I never doubted it."

"I know you didn't.  Believe me, I know."

Two more steps.  Closer than ever now.

"So, where's Alan?"  Ben stared directly into those blue eyes, still so hesitant on the outside, heart still pounding on the inside.  She smiled again, and her eyes dried a little at the question, a reassuring sparkle replacing the tears.

"He's in New York.  I was headed there, too, but that Alan, he's a smart kind of guy…he's a good friend, too.  He dumped me, sent me here instead."  She winked, knowing Ben would somehow get it, and he did.

"Alan sounds like my kind of guy.  I'd like to meet him some time."

"I think you will."  Now it was Anne's turn to ask a question.

"So… what's this about you loving me?"  As cute and cocky as she meant the question to sound, she couldn't quite deliver the line the way she'd intended.  The eyes welled up again.  Not enough to spill over, but enough to let Ben know that the answer he wanted to give was the answer she wanted to hear more than anything in the world. 

His answer wasn't vocal at first.  It started with Ben closing the final gap between the two, stepping up to Anne and staring down into her eyes.  It followed with two olive skinned hands lifting up and stopping just short of the sides of her face, stopping just long enough to look for permission in her eyes, permission he found in them, then softly setting themselves on her skin, a deep breath from Ben telling them both just how good touching her, any part of her ever again, felt.  Another deep breath, a sigh signifying the kind of relief you just don't feel too often, erupted from them both when her own hands came up and closed over his forearms.

And then, finally, the words came out.

"Annabelle Elizabeth Bruce, I may be stupid, I may make some silly decisions sometimes, and I may not know much about making things right, but if there's one thing I do know, it's that I love you.  Anne, I loved you from the first day I saw you, and I never stopped."

The tears being held back in Anne's eyes finally said 'enough!' and let themselves free.  She didn't sob, and as odd as the tears streaming down a smiling face looked, Ben was happy as hell to see them.  That odd combination of smile and stream told him the feeling was mutual, and when a laugh joined the strange mix of emotion, Ben knew she was just as knee deep in love as he was…despite Sharon Hawthorne, despite Daniel Chandler, Jr., despite Alan Overton, thank God.

"You know, I'd feel a lot better if you stopped crying and at least gave me a 'ditto', you know."

"Fuck ditto, Israeli", she got out in between attempts to control the tears.  "I love you, too.  For as long as you, as much as you, and I'll go you one better…I intend to never stop."

So, what do two people in love do at a time like this?  Does the man take the woman in his arms, throw her into some Rhett Butlerish dip and ravage her lips in a searing kiss?  Does he kiss her on the forehead, as only the gentlest of gentlemen do, then hold her in a warm and loving hug, cradling her face against his shoulders and he warmly strokes her hair?

Who cares?

Ben lowered his face to hers, and Anne, never being the one to totally submit, raised up a bit on her toes to meet him half way.  The words tongue, passion, spit, saliva, throbbing, cavern, and any other number of words just ain't gonna be used here, because they're not important.  What is important is that two people in love… two people who never thought they would ever have this moment again… were having it. 

Sometimes a kiss can be simple, without great manipulation or expertise, no fighting of tongues, and no swapping of any oral fluid.  And sometimes two sets of lips lightly touching each other, lightly brushing a deceptively soft and gentle stroke across each other, can beat the living hell in a handbag out of anything the French ever came up with.  Sometimes, two sets of lips are anything but lips.  Sometimes, two sets of lips can be two souls making sure a fairy tale ends right.

The two pulled away from each other, the Israeli and his Redneck…the Redneck and her Israeli.   Eyes started into eyes, and in that kiss, in that glance, the two knew that though a great deal of what brought this moment about needed to still be talked about, for now, it just wasn't important.  Gaps could be filled in later.

Nope, right now, the single sweeping motion of an olive skinned heart throb throwing his former housekeeper and current muse up and over his shoulder while he carried a giggling Anne up the stairs took precedent.

Sometimes, the fairy tale ending can wait another chapter.