To Be Consoled As To Console

Gary was walking along the mostly deserted Summer Beach on a late October afternoon. The air was cool but tolerable with a light sea breeze. The tide was going out and with the exception of a few dog walkers and romantic couples the beach was empty. Gary was lost in his thoughts when he heard his name being called on the wind but that would be nearly impossible. He was two hours and one hundred and twenty miles from home and nobody knew he was at Summer Beach on this sad autumn day.

But the call of his name continued. Gary wanted to ignore it but something told him to look back and so he did and he was surprised to see a woman running down the beach yelling his name.

"Gary! Gary! Gary!"

He frowned and squinted, having no idea who this intruder could be. He stopped and waited for her to reach him, the sand kicked up by her feet flying in the sea breeze. He was surprised to see that she was barefooted since it wasn't the weather for that.

"Gary!" The woman shouted one more time as she reached him by the muddy shore line of the receding tide.

He stared at her, clueless. She was wearing baggy jeans and a gray hooded sweatshirt that was four sizes to big for her torso. Her hair was tossed and messy from both her run and the sea breeze. She held her finger up in a 'wait a second gesture' and bent over to catch her breath, obviously winded from running who knows how far to catch up with him.

Gary couldn't see the stranger's face with her brown hair hanging down as she sucked in some breaths as if she had just finished running a marathon. When she finally recovered from her jaunt, she stood straight and stared at him.

"You are Gary O'Hara, aren't you?"

He looked at her with confusion. "Do I know you?"

"I'm Shana!" She laughed. "Shana Rowan!"

Gary's mouth dropped and his heart skipped. As soon as she said her name he immediately recognized her – he just couldn't believe it was her. He wrapped her into his arms and hugged her for a very long time. Shana accepted the gesture and put her arms around him as well and the two stood on the shoreline for several minutes clinging to one another in a wordless reconnection after so many years.

"How could you possibly know it was me?" Gary asked when they finally broke from the long embrace.

"Oh, I'd recognize that O'Hara gait anywhere!" Shana laughed. "I was sitting on that bench way back there when I saw you," she explained, gesturing to the distance behind her. "I was just staring out at the ocean when I saw this figure go by and when I put two and two together I knew it was you!"

"That's pretty impressive, Shana," Gary told her.

"Apparently, you had the same thought I did," she replied, looking into his eyes.

"I wanted to do something special for the tenth anniversary," Gary admitted sheepishly. "Summer Beach was one of his favorite places."

"My stuff is back there," Shana said, taking Gary by the arm and starting to walk him back in the direction from which she came.

"When did you get here?" Gary asked as they walked.

"Couple of hours ago," she replied. "You?"

"About the same."

"I'm staying in one of those goofy cabins up the beach."

"I'm at the Morgan," Gary let her know.

"Of course you are," Shana laughed. "I can't believe you're here!"

"Same with you," Gary replied. "I haven't seen you in…."

"Ten years," Shana finished for him.

"Yeah." Gary sucked in a deep breath of the ocean salt air as they walked along the sand.

Ten years since life changed forever for the both of them.

"How's Boston?" Gary asked.

"I'm doing okay," Shana replied with a smile. "Things are good." She peered at him as they walked. "You?"

"Working at the paint store," he answered.

"I thought you might make the Navy a career," Shana said.

"I kind of lost my zeal after Glenn died," Gary admitted. "Thought I should come home to be closer to the family."

"Makes sense," Shana replied. "Has it worked out?"

"For the most part," Gary answered. "Things were never the same, of course."

"Of course," Shana sighed in agreement.

They reached a bench on the boardwalk were Shana had daringly left her bag, book and sandals but nobody had walked off with any of her belongings. She sat on the bench heavily and sucked in her breath. Gary took a seat next to her, lifting his feet up onto the green railing along the sea wall. Neither said anything for the longest time as they stared out at the soothing Atlantic Ocean and the breaking waves of the surf while thinking about what brought them here on an October afternoon.

"I don't know about you but the last ten years has been quite the emotional journey for me," Shana finally remarked after they reflected on their thoughts and the situation they found themselves in.

"The most difficult years of my life," Gary replied.

"But we survived, Gary," Shana told him with encouragement. "We've learned from our experience."

"Not without pain," Gary said.

"We're supposed to be healing from that," Shana commented.

"It isn't always easy," Gary said as he watched some guy throw a Frisbee to his golden retriever who gave chase, not caring about running into the ocean waves. "Learning to cope from tragedy is hard but the good news is that the worst is over," Shana pronounced.

"It is?" Gary wondered. "Sometimes I don't always feel that way," he confessed.

"Look, we endured one of the most horrific tragedies possible and we've both taken a long roller coaster ride of emotions from guilt to confusion to turmoil to anger," Shana said. "But hopefully we've come to a state of acceptance and resolve."

"Are you saying you're over it?" Gary asked with surprise.

"No, of course not," Shana said, lying her head on his shoulder. "We'll never be over it. We're not supposed to be. But I do try to get through it, one day at a time."

"You finished your degree?"

"Yeah, I got through it somehow," Shana replied. "It wasn't easy. I was a dazed mess. Couldn't concentrate. Really didn't care. But my parents wanted me to soldier on so I didn't drop out."

"That's good now, right?" Gary asked.

"Yeah, they were right," Shana agreed. "But it didn't make it any easier then."

"I know," Gary replied.

"I spent all my time feeling guilty knowing that I might have, could have, or should have done something to prevent what happened."

"I was a thousand miles away and felt the same way," Gary said.

"I hated the stigma," Shana sighed. "There was sympathy and compassion but there was also this undercurrent of blame, judgment, and gossip. I knew people were saying things behind my back about what happened."

"I was pissed off when I got back to the ship after the funeral," Gary revealed. "My brother was a murderer."

"No he wasn't," Shana protested.

"He murdered himself," Gary clarified. "That brings new meaning to the concept of 'love-hate' relationship."

"I mostly felt disconnected," Shana said. "I couldn'tunderstand his choice and it made me feel like I never knew him at all. I was in conflict with my memories and feelings."

"I thought time was supposed to heal old wounds," Gary sighed. "But here we are sitting here ten years later reliving the worse day of our lives."

"We're still gonna have bad days, Gary," Shana told him. "We're gonna have our ups and downs. Hell, I still get sad when I hear a certain song or see some old television show we used to watch together. When I come across a photo of us. When I'm eating something he liked. Sudden feelings of sadness overwhelm me but that's when I need to focus on positive thoughts. Having you here with me today, for example. That's a really wonderfully unexpected gift. I was worried I might bum out coming here but now I'm happy because you're here too"

"I wish you were around ten years ago," Gary said.

"We were all on our own," Shana told him. "We had to get through it in our ways in our own time."

"I went back to the Navy and never talked about it," Gary revealed.

"I was at Green College so there were people around who knew me and knew what happened," Shana said. "Some were able to help me and others didn't want to."

"I got out of the Navy and came back to Hillsboro a few years later," Gary said. "There was still morbid curiosity and talk going around. Sometimes I felt judged."

"Most of my friends moved on pretty quickly," Shana reported. "They got tired of me talking about it. I was kind of glad when I got the job in Boston. Gave me a new start even though I brought all the old stuff with me."

"Yeah, I thought being on the ship would help me distance myself from it all but it was still with me even there," Gary agreed.

"Then I started feeling guilty about feeling better," Shana said. "I made new friends. I liked my job. I'd laugh at stuff and have a good time. Then I'd feel bad, like I was somehow disrespecting or forgetting about Glenn."

"I hate the holidays, his birthday and the anniversary of his death," Gary sighed.

"That's why we're here," Shana observed. "Can't escape it so we might as well embrace it."

"I came this year to remember the good times we had here," Gary revealed. "I was hoping that would make me feel sentimental instead of sad."

"Do I make you feel sentimental?" She teased.

"Very much so," he blushed.

"How are your folks doing?" Shana asked.

"Divorced," Gary sighed.

"Oh, that's terrible, I'm sorry," Shana groaned. "They were so good together."

"My mom just couldn't move beyond it and my father couldn't wait for her," Gary reported. "Every time there was a wedding, a birth, or some sort of achievement or accomplishment my mother would get all resentful and bitter because Glenn wasn't around to enjoy it too. She didn't like life moving on without him whereas my father was ready to move on so he went without her. He got remarried last year."

"And your mom?"

Gary shrugged. "She drinks too much. She's unhappy. She's wasting her time feeling sorry for herself."

"I'm really sorry to hear that," Shana said with sympathy.

The sun was setting in the western sky behind them and it quickly began to cool off even more than before. Shana shuttered as she tugged her sweatshirt close to her.

"I guess it's time to go," she said as she gathered her stuff together.

"Yeah," Gary agreed as he stood.

"Are you hungry?" Shana asked as she left the bench and started walking along the wide sidewalk.

"I guess," Gary said, trying to keep pace with her.

"Why don't you come by later?" Shana suggested as they crossed the boulevard in a crosswalk to the business side of the boardwalk. "I'll cook us up something."

"You sure?"

"Gary, we're both at Summer Beach," she laughed. "Are we supposed to go back to our separate rooms and isolate?"

Most of the businesses were closed for the season. An occasional restaurant or gift shop was still open. They stopped at a grocery market and picked up some food and snacks and then continued their walk until they reached the Morgan Sea View Motel where Gary was staying.

"So many memories here," Shana smiled as she stared at the familiar sight.

The Morgan was where Gary's family stayed during his childhood vacations and later Glenn brought Shana there for romantic getaways at the beach. Gary felt the nostalgic need to get a room there for old time sake.

"I'm in the Lulu at The Beachfront Cabins," Shana told Gary. "Come by in about an hour." She reached up and gave him a peck on the cheek before continuing down the boardwalk and Gary watched her leave.

He couldn't believe he and Shana had both decided to come to Summer Beach to remember the ten year anniversary of Glenn's death. Was it a twist of fate, a grand intervention, or just happen chance?

Gary walked into the courtyard of the Morgan Sea View. The same family had been running the motel for generations and he liked the atmosphere and philosophy even if the older parts of the motel were outdated and "rustic" as Glenn once put it. Gary had fond memories of his childhood here but the images forever burned into his memory data bank was the summer when he was sixteen and he came here with Glenn.

Their parents thought they were with their guy friends but Glenn actually brought girlfriend Shana and her cousin Crystal who became Glenn's sidekick for the overnight, including sharing a bed. She was only fifteen and while nothing happened between them it was still a life altering weekend for the young and impressible Gary.

Glenn had been going out with Shana for a few years by then so Gary was familiar with her as his brother's girlfriend but sharing a motel room with Shana (and her kid cousin) was a magical memorable experience. What Gary appreciated most about that trip was that Shana treated him with respect and maturity instead of as Glenn's goofy kid brother, the third wheel guy not taken very seriously. After that memorable weekend spent in Shana and Crystal's constant company, Gary felt like he was somebody relevant for a change.

Ironically, Gary never saw Crystal again after that weekend but he enjoyed a stronger friendship with Shana even if she was his brother's girlfriend. Glenn took Shana for granted sometimes but Gary never grew tired of chatting with her. She was his 'pretend' girlfriend and Gary 'practiced' socializing with Shana to work on his confidence and style and it helped him finally ask Jami Dixon out several months later.

Glenn's funeral was still a huge blur in Gary's memory (he tended to block all that stuff out). He remembered Shana being a mess and they really didn't spend too much quality time together during those difficult days. They were too emotionally raw and confused to function on any real level.

Gary lost contact with Shana after Glenn's funeral and when he came home from the Navy she had moved away and he never saw her again – until she came running toward him on Summer Beach like some sort of fantasy dream.

The Morgan Sea View was the same as Gary remembered it. His room was in one of the original smaller wings where he could smell and hear the ocean. His father enjoyed the older rooms in the single level wings while his mother was more comfortable in the newer multi-floored wing set further back. Glenn and Gary were happy to be at the beach and they would have slept in the sand if they had to.

Gary wasn't sure how he was supposed to feel about seeing Shana again after all this time under these strange circumstances. Was she still technically Glenn's girlfriend or had the statues of limitation run out on that? Maybe she was with somebody else now anyway. She was certainly an attractive woman - but what would she being doing at the beach alone if she was involved in a relationship?

Actually, it just wasn't seeing Shana that made Gary feel so different all of a sudden – it was talking to her that filled him relief and understanding. Gary rarely mentioned Glenn's name out loud in the years since his brother's death. Few people besides his parents brought up Glenn's memory and Gary was content on keeping the stigma buried. When he met somebody new and talked about his family, Gary might mention that he "used to" have a brother but he didn't go into a lot of detail about the circumstances of Glenn's death other to say that he died. Shana was about the only person in the world who knew exactly how Gary felt about Glenn's death because she basically felt the same way.

Gary looked forward to talking to Shana some more about a topic he never talked to anybody about. He freshened up, changed his shirt, and waited for the hour to go by before leaving his motel room and walking along the now nearly dark and deserted boardwalk until he reached the cabins. The Lulu was one of the last cabins on the property and Gary could see the lights through the window. A nice Volvo sedan was parked on the side of the cabin, much classier than the ten year old pick-up Gary drove. He knocked on the door and a moment later Shana opened it to let him in.

She was wearing gray sweats and a New England Patriots football jersey with Tom Brady's Number 12. Ironically, Glenn didn't look all that much different from Brady now that Gary thought about it and his brother certainly played like Brady too! The cabin was small and crammed – a large bed, a dresser, a desk, a kitchenette, a half table with two chairs, and a small bathroom. The smell of cooking food filled the room as Shana showed Gary in and he saw hamburger cooking in a frying pan on an old efficiency stove.

"I'm making my famous chili-mac!" Shana announced proudly.

Gary laughed, remembering how Shana bragged about her favorite dish and the occasions when Glenn complained about it! Gary saw an opened bottle of wine on the table and a glass half-filled.

"Would you like some wine?" Shana asked as she checked on the meat. "Help yourself."

"I try not to drink so much anymore," Gary replied as he slipped into one of the chairs at the half table of the kitchenette.

"Well, there's soda in the frig," she said.

"I'll wait for dinner."

Shana nodded as she came to the table and took a seat opposite him, picking up her wine glass. "I always wanted to stay in one of these places," she smiled. "It's like being in a doll house."

"What kind of place do you have in Boston?" Gary asked to make conversation.

"A small condo in Cambridge, actually," Shana replied. "It's nice. My boyfriend has a much bigger place in New York where he lives."

"Your boyfriend lives in New York?" Gary asked with surprise.

"He's got a really great job and I love mine so for now its how we roll," Shana explained. "It seems to be working out okay."

Well, that solved that mystery of Shana's situation in Gary's mind, not that he for one second entertained the idea of hitting on his dead brother's girlfriend even though he had always been attracted to her.

"I didn't date for two years after Glenn died," Shana told Gary with sincerity. "This is the first guy I've really been serious about even though it's mostly a long distance relationship. We've been together about three years now."

"That's great," Gary said with enthusiasm. "You deserve to be happy."

"What about you?" Shana asked with interest.

Gary glanced out the window. "Nothing that's lasted," he admitted.

"We're both damaged goods, Gary," Shana told him and he couldn't argue with her.

She talked about her job as a senior accountant for a small corporation and he talked about the painting business. O'Hare's Painting Company was supposed to be Glenn's inheritance but now it fell on Gary to carry the baton and eventually take over the business from their father. Shana finished preparing the Chili-mac and she served it on paper plates bought at the store.

"Just as I remember," Gary replied after taking the first bite, having been fed Shana's dish several times all those years ago.

She smiled with delight and Gary gave her an update on Hillsboro.

"I have no reason to go back now that my parents live in New Haven," Shana said. "I kind of stayed away on purpose, truthfully."

"Yeah," Gary concurred. "Sometimes I wonder if I should have come back at all."

They cleaned up when they were done eating but the only place to sit was on the bed which made Gary feel a little awkward. Shana was on her third glass of wine and apparently she had no boundary issues as she sat on the bed with her legs folded under her with the wine glass in her hand.

"Come on Gary, relax," Shana invited, gesturing for him to join her on the bed.

Gary kicked off his sneakers and collapsed onto the bed, stretching out with his head resting against the headboard listening to the sounds of the ocean outside the cabin.

"Do you ever think about that day?" Shana asked.

"I try not to," Gary admitted.

"I was in shock for weeks," Shana sighed. "I could barely get out of bed."

"When we got the Red Cross message on the ship, I went into a state of denial," Gary recalled. "It was like a bad dream coming true and my supervisor had to force me to accept the truth and take emergency leave to go home."

"It was just so sad," Shana said. "Seeing your parents like that."

"I trashed his room," Gary revealed. "I was so pissed off when I got home that I went up there and started smashing stuff. My father had to drag me out of there and my mother got all freaked out because she wanted to make it a shrine to his memory."
"I guess I accepted what happened but I'll never understand it," Shana said. She glanced at Gary. "After all this time, do you have any better idea or understanding why he may have done it?"

Gary thought about it for a moment. "With all the concussion stories in the news lately I can't help but wonder if maybe he had some sort of undetected head injury from football or something," Gary theorized. "My parents didn't have an autopsy done so we'll never know for sure but maybe some sort of extreme concussion syndrome led to his final act."

"My therapist told me that there's a difference between condition and catalyst," Shana told him.

"You go to a therapist?" Gary asked with interest.

"I had to," Shana replied. "It was the only way I could get through any of it."

"You know, it's not as if he had years of emotional distress or some sort of mental illness," Gary complained. "He was just a regular guy. There were no prior attempts. He didn't have morbid thoughts."

"He could be a little high strong and moody sometimes though," Shana pointed out.

"Everybody gets moody," Gary reasoned.

"He'd get all emotional whenever we had problems with our relationship," Shana said. "Remember that time we broke up for a while senior year? He practically stalked me. Sat outside my house in his car just staring, waiting for me to come out. That was kind of strange."

"I learned a long time ago to stop asking why," Gary let her know. "I wanted to understand why he did it but because he didn't tell us it became pointless to try to figure out unknowable answers to empty questions."

"And even if there were answers it wouldn't change what happened," Shana agreed. "I found that acceptance was the only way to start healing a wounded heart."

"I never talk about this with anybody," Gary told her. "It feels good to know that I'm not alone in the confusing sorrow I've been feeling all these years."

"I probably talked about it too much," Shana admitted. "I finally had to reach an agreement with the boyfriend not to bring up the subject of Glenn around him."

"No guy wants to hear about former boyfriends," Gary reasoned. "Especially dead ones!"

"I wanted to make sure I didn't make the same mistake a second time," Shana explained.

"What, you're afraid this guy might off himself too?" Gary frowned.

"I know its totally illogical and irrational and paranoid but because it was such a shock when Glenn did it I feel like I'm going to miss the signs with everybody else too."

"Glenn was a very logical person," Gary said. "People remember him for his looks, his athletic abilities, his humor and his personality, but he was really a serious guy with a logical mind."

"Are you saying that he saw what he did as logical?" Shana frowned.

"I don't know what I'm saying," Gary replied. "But here's a guy who had it all, with a driven personality, a talented and popular athlete always trying to prove something even thought he already had it made. He had you, he had the scholarship, he had the future of the paint store and yet there was something in his DNA that prevented him for going for the brass ring."

"Maybe it was all too much for him," Shana suggested.

"My mother still treats him like a martyred saint," Gary sighed. "She refuses to consider the reality that Glenn bares responsibility for his actions. Instead, she blames everybody else for what happened."

"Like who?"

"My father for having guns in the house," Gary revealed.

"You guys went hunting all the time."

"Not anymore," Gary said pointedly. "My father got rid of every gun he owned. But she also blamed Glenn's college coach and professors for being to hard on him. And you for going to a different college. And me for joining the Navy."

"Everybody but herself," Shana noted with interest.

"She never understood how controlling and opinionated she could be," Gary agreed.

"But it's not her fault either," Shana said. "The only one really responsible for his actions is Glenn."

"I try not to think about that," Gary admitted.

"We're not responsible for his death in any way, shape or form, Gary," Shana insisted. "I know its easier to blame ourselves instead of admitting we were unable to prevent what happened but the simple truth is we're not to blame."

"I feel guilty if I blame him," Gary told her.

"'Cause he's a victim too," Shana agreed. "But there's a difference between blame and responsibility. Blame is judgmental but responsibility is simply an acknowledgement of fact. It doesn't mean that we didn't love him. It just means accepting a tragic event for what it is."

"It's a tough reality to accept," Gary sighed.

"I know," Shana acknowledged. "But I've tried to move on with my life even with the guilt associated with leaving Glenn behind. Sooner or later, we have to live our lives, Gary. We've been changed forever but our lives don't have to be ruined forever. If I'm really honest with myself I have to admit that Glenn and I probably wouldn't have lasted as a couple anyway even if he had lived."

"What?" Gary asked with surprise.

"Come on, Gary, we were high school sweethearts going in different directions in college. We already had a few major blow outs and conflicts. I worried for a long time that's why he did it but I'm not sure we would have stayed together."

"Wow," Gary said.

"That's an example of being real in the aftermath instead of trying to deny reality," Shana said. "Does that mean I loved him any less? That I miss him any less? Of course not. But I have to be honest about everything."

"I feel like I have unfinished business left," Gary said. "That there's something remaining that I'm supposed to say or do to finally put it all to rest."

"Maybe this is it," Shana smiled.

"Running into you?"

"Sure," Shana smiled. "Now that enough time has passed, we can finally get honest about some of this stuff."

"What stuff?"

"Accepting fact over myth," she answered. "Not blaming ourselves for our thoughts and feelings or for surviving. That we did the best we could then and we're doing the best we can now. That we're only human. That we have a right to live our lives because life has a way of moving on with or without us. And definitely without Glenn. We're not leaving him behind, Gary. We have our memories that we'll cherish always and we can celebrate his life while we live ours."

"We'll never know what brought him to that tragic choice, will we?" Gary realized.

"No," Shana answered. "But there are things that I can be reasonably certain of though."

"Like what?"

"Even Glenn wouldn't be able to explain his mindset at the time or answer our questions," Shana said. "He couldn't possibly comprehend the impact his death had on the rest of us. I can only help him now by remembering all that was good about him and why I loved him in the first place while letting go of everything else so I can enjoy life, smile and laugh, get rid of sadness and remorse, love others, and seek new horizons. Only then will I truly honor Glenn."

Gary sat inert on the bed looking drained.

"Your problem is that you tried to do it on your own all these years, Gary," Shana told him. "Now you have me to remind you that you're not alone. I understand what you've gone through and I'm here to help you move on."

"How?" Gary asked, wanting to cry.

She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. "Believe," was all Shana said.

Gary moved away from her with such a shock that he almost fell off the bed. Shana looked at him like he was crazy.

"Relax," she said.

But Gary had become instantly confused and guilt-stricken. Every adolescent secret fantasy he ever had became unleashed in his memory and that scared the hell out of him. He remembered the first time he met Shana, coming home after school one day when he was fourteen to find her sitting at the kitchen table with Glenn. She was the prettiest girl he had ever seen and he envied Glenn for being lucky enough to land her as his girlfriend.

"What ever happened to Crystal?" Gary asked, remembering Shana's cousin and that weekend at the Morgan.

Shana smiled. "She's married with a couple of kids," Shana reported. "Lives in New Jersey."

Gary nodded with understanding. "Do you remember when the four of us came up here?" He asked.

"Of course," Shana grinned. "Thank God our parents never found out about that!"

Gary wanted to tell Shana that he wished he had shared a bed with her instead of Crystal that weekend but he knew how perverse and disgusting that would sound. Now here he was with her in a motel cabin but the ghost memory of Glenn made him feel like a total sleaze and he knew he should call it a night and go back to his own room before he said or did something stupid.

"Glenn was a great guy," Gary said, swinging his legs off the bed.

"Yes, he was," Shana agreed warmly.

"I should probably get going," Gary said.

"If you want," Shana replied, sitting up on the bed and eyeing him.

"I just don't want to violate any of the rules," he worried.

"What rules?" Shana asked with interest.

"The code, I guess," Gary clarified.

"What code?" She asked, sounding slightly amused.

"The dead brother code," Gary replied awkwardly.

"What exactly is that?" Shana wondered.

Gary got off the bed. "I don't know," he admitted.

"Look, Gary, its okay," Shana said as she climbed off the bed too. "It's been ten years. Life goes on. You're not taking advantage of some vulnerable emotionally crushed lonely woman desperate for attention and companionship. I have a boyfriend. I'm okay."

"Actually, I was more concerned about me," Gary confessed openly.

Shana peered at him with fascination. "Oh?"

"I'd be all for you taking advantage of vulnerable, emotionally messed up lonely me who's desperate for attention and companionship," he revealed. "But you were my brother's girlfriend…..."

"Yes, I was," Shana let him know.

"It was great seeing you again, Shana," Gary remarked as he headed for the cabin door like he was a convict making a prison escape. "Maybe I'll see you tomorrow."

He was gone before Shana had a chance to respond and he hurried back to The Morgan Sea View feeling like an idiot for saying what he did to Shana. He was embarrassed for confessing his feelings about her and he feared she wouldn't want to talk to him having learned the truth. Gary toyed with the idea of checking out of the Morgan and heading back to Hillsboro but he was too tired to drive so instead he lay on his motel bed watching mindless television thinking about Shana and how much it meant to him to spend some quality time with her after so many messed up missing years.

Gary awoke in the morning to the sound of a heavy rain outside and he knew it was going to be a dreary day, not something he needed after suffering such an emotional crash last night. He rolled over in the bed content on sleeping longer because of the rotten weather. He wasn't sure how long he slept when the sounds of pounding on the door awoke him from his slumber. He stumbled from the bed in his gym shorts and tee shirt to open the door.

Shana was standing in the rain wearing a yellow hooded poncho holding a cup holder tray with two large coffee cups along with a bag of bagels.

"Think it might rain today?" She joked as she pushed herself into the motel room, drenched, soaked and dripping.

"What the hell are you doing out in this stuff?" Gary asked as he closed the door. "It's raining cats and dogs out there!"

"The beach is beautiful in the rain, don't you think?" Shana answered as she placed the breakfast run on the table by the television. "I've been up and out there for hours!"

"There are towels in the bathroom," Gary told his soaked and dripping guest.

"Great!" She smiled as she peeled out of the poncho, heading for the bathroom.

Shana kept the door open as she hung the poncho over the shower curtain rod to let it drip dry.

"I didn't realize it was going to rain today," Shana said.

She was wearing a blue long sleeved thermal jersey and jeans. Her shirt was reasonably dry but the bottom half of her jeans were soaked and sandy. She kicked off her rubber boots and looked at herself in the bathroom mirror. Shana had small breasts – that was something that fascinated Gary in his younger days. She was almost flat chested as a teen and even now with her small breasts pushing against her skin tight thermal shirt looked childlike.

"I never bothered to check the forecast before coming," Gary admitted.

"I don't suppose it really makes much of a difference anyway," Shana replied, tossing him a look.

Gary was shocked when Shana pulled her shirt off over her head and draped it over the shower rod, exposing her small but wonderful breasts. He tried to look away but she was looking right at him as she continued the conversation.

"How long were you planning on staying?" Shana asked.

Gary tried to look at her eyes and not at her chest.

"Tomorrow morning," he said sheepishly.

"Me too," she smiled as she unsnapped her jeans and shuffled out of them, taking down her white panties as well. She had to know he was watching.

Gary tried not to stare at her neatly trimmed pubic hair and he almost whimpered when she turned to hang her jeans and shirt on the shower rod and he got a perfect peek of her round buns. She grabbed a towel and wrapped it around herself before coming out of the bathroom.

"Anyway," she said. "Is it okay if I hang out here while my stuff dries? Hopefully it will stop raining sometime."

"Sure," Gary replied with a nervous smile.

Shana handed him a cup of coffee and a bagel before she took a seat on his unmade bed and began eating her bagel and sipping from her coffee cup. Gary took a seat in one of the chairs and ate his bagel. He wasn't sure what he was supposed to say or think after that little show. Shana rubbed her damp hair with her hands and looked at him.
"You don't have to be embarrassed," she said quietly.

"I'm not," he lied.

"I'm not either," she let him know.

"Why not?" He asked with interest.

"Because I trust you, Gary," Shana let him know. "I believe in you. I'm comfortable with you. I like you. I know you. We have a history together. We have shared experiences."

"Our shared experience is my dead brother," Gary reasoned sadly.

"Not all of it," Shana reminded him.

"I guess," he shrugged.

"Why aren't you with somebody?" she asked gently.

Gary got out of the chair and went to the window, opening the curtain enough to peak out at the rain and the foggy ocean beyond.

"Is it because you're afraid she'll leave you like Glenn did?" Shana asked from the bed.

"For all the reasons we talked about yesterday," Gary admitted. "Anger. Grief. Sorrow. Mistrust. Hurt. Pain. Defeat. An unwillingness to take a chance."

"For how long, Gary?" Shana wanted to know. "How long are you going to let Glenn keep you from living your life?"

"I don't know," he sighed.

"Are you even interested in anybody?" Shana asked.

"Well, there's our cashier at the paint store," Gary admitted. "She's quiet and shy but I think I kind of like her."

"Great!" Shana laughed.

"But I don't know how to approach her," Gary sighed. "It's like I'm chained to the corpse of Glenn."

Shana stood from the bed, let the towel drop and, after pausing for a moment to make her point, she slipped under the covers of the unmade bed. "Come join me," she said.

"I'm not in the position to console," Gary sighed.

"I thought I'd console you," Shana smiled.

He stared at her. "I can't have sex with my brother's girlfriend."

"I stopped being your brother's girlfriend ten years ago," Shana said.

"What about your boyfriend?"

"This isn't about him," she replied.
"Wouldn't you feel bad if we went there?" Gary asked. "For crossing the line?"

"What line?" Shana waited but he didn't answer. "You were part of him and I was part of him," Shana told him. "Why don't we merge those parts together and become one?"

"Because it would be wrong," Gary answered.

"Come lay down with me," Shana pleaded. "We'll listen to the rain."

Gary chewed on his lip for a moment before letting go of the curtain and heading for the bed.

"Console me," he pleaded as he slipped under the covers.

Gary was in an unusually good mood when he arrived at work on Monday morning. He was feeling surprisingly little guilt or remorse about spending the rainy Saturday naked in bed with Shana. She said that they were repairing the past and preparing for the future. It was the best sex of his life and when the rain let up later that afternoon they walked the beach and for the first time since that terrible day when Glenn died, Gary finally felt free.

He took Shana to dinner and he spent the night with her in the cabin. In the morning, when it was time to check out and return to their lives, Gary knew Shana was saying goodbye to him for good. She had her career in Boston and her boyfriend in New York and he was heading back to Hillsboro and the paint store but he drove home from Summer Beach with a completely new attitude and outlook. He wasn't going to let the ghost of Glenn dictate his mood and he wasn't going to let the stigma of suicide keep him hidden in the shadows. It was time to get on with the rest of his life and Shana's willingness to console him in the best way possible had given him the ability to start anew.

"How was your weekend?" Heidi the casher asked politely when Gary entered the store.

"It was great!" Gary grinned with a new found enthusiasm that caught Heidi off guard.

Gary glanced at Heidi and smiled. He felt like an idiot for ignoring her for all this time. Heidi had been working in the store for six years, a quiet and private person who did her job well but kept to herself. She was a few years younger than Gary with long black hair she often wore in braids, sometimes wrapped in a bun on top of her head.

"How was yours?" Gary asked with sincerity.

"Okay, I guess," Heidi shrugged.

Gary knew that Heidi's mom had died but he hadn't offered much comfort other than the usual polite condolences one extends to an acquaintance whenever such a loss takes place. Now he realized how insensitive and unsympathetic he had been toward Heidi during her time of grief and he felt like a jerk. Shana told him it was time for him to stop feeling sorry for himself. He wondered if it was time he started feeling for other people too.

Gary spent most of the morning observing Heidi while they both went about their work. Heidi rang up the sales and Gary provided customer service to people who came into the store as well as working his father in the back office keeping the painting crews on track at the various job locations. Heidi was friendly, cheerful and polite with the customers, always quick with a smile and some meaningful back and forth but Gary sensed sadness about her that he never paid attention to before.

When it came time for lunch, Gary asked Millie the office lady to cover the cash register for him (he usually covered for Heidi).

"Come on," he said to Heidi. "Let's go to lunch together at Johnny C's."

"I brought my lunch," Heidi replied, shocked by the invitation.

Heidi often ate her brown bag lunch on the bench behind the paint store and now that Gary thought about it she never went anywhere to eat, always bringing her lunch with her.

"Johnny C's has some great lunch specials," Gary smiled. "I'm buying."

Heidi stared at him with shy embarrassment. "I don't want to impose."

Gary laughed. "I've been eating alone at Johnny C's for years," he told her. "Believe me, it wouldn't be an imposition at all."

Heidi blushed but she decided it wouldn't be wise to turn down a lunch invitation from the owner's son so she agreed although she felt awkward and out of place as she walked along Main Street with Gary. She liked his father as a boss, always kind and easy going, but she found Gary to be a detached, disinterested moody kind of guy which is why his behavior today was rather unique and different.

She knew that Gary had lost a brother to suicide years ago but because the family didn't talk about it Heidi never did either. She didn't know what to say about it anyway. Her mother had fought so hard to beat the cancer that eventually killed her and Heidi couldn't imagine someone willingly taking their own life. It kind of angered her to think Gary's brother gave away his life when her mom desperately clung to hers until the end. Gary sensed that Heidi was nervous and edgy as they walked to Johnny C's, a noticeable difference from her cheerful customer service demeanor behind the cash register. He knew there was something about her that he didn't know but he was interested in finding out. Gary led Heidi into the diner. Some of the staff and regulars did a double take noticing that Gary had a woman with him. He exchanged greetings with many of the people in the diner and then led Heidi to a booth that had just become available.

"Thanks for having lunch with me," Gary said once the busboy prepared the table.

She peered at him. "Something's different about you," She observed.

Gary smirked. "Today's the first day of the rest of my life," he quipped, sounding like a Hallmark greeting card. 'What an idiot' he thought to himself.

Heidi rolled her eyes before burying her face in the menu to figure out what she wanted to eat. Gary had the menu memorized and he went with a cheeseburger club with fries and a coke while Heidi opted for a tuna super melt and coffee. She didn't have much to say and she kept looking out the window instead of making eye contact with Gary.

"You're so good at customer service behind the cash register, all smiles and jokes and laughs," Gary noted. "But with me you're a clam."

"I play a role behind the cash register," Heidi explained. "This is the real me."

"Quiet and shy," Gary said.

"You don't know anything about me," she replied. "So don't pretend you do."

"I know you're a nice person," Gary replied, not offended by her remark. "I'd like to get to know you more."

"Why?" She asked suspiciously.

"We've been working together for a long time now, Heidi," he explained. "I just thought it was time."

"All of a sudden? Just like that?" She peered at him. "What happened to you?"

"My brother died," Gary replied honestly.

Heidi was surprised to hear such an admission and she sat back in her booth seat taking a long look at that. "I knew that," she said quietly.

"Did you know he shot himself in the head ten years ago this weekend?" Gary asked.

"No," Heidi replied. "I didn't know that."

"For ten years I've been carrying the shame, guilt, remorse, sadness, grief, and pain of that horrible day," Gary told her. "This weekend I bumped into somebody who knew Glenn quite well and I learned that I don't have to live with that burden any longer."

"That's very interesting and quite remarkable, Gary, but what does any of it have to do with me?" She asked.

He shrugged. "I know you don't understand what I been through,'" he said. "I've been working with you all this time but I couldn't talk to you. I couldn't put myself out there. Now I can."

The waitress came with their food. Gary and Heidi thanked her and then started in on their meal, Heidi busy trying to get her thoughts in order as she sat across from the apparently new Gary O'Hara. She was intrigued by the prospect of somebody being interested in her in a social setting. She hadn't been out on a date in forever (not that this could be considered a date) and she hadn't talked to anybody about her mother either.

"Does this mean I'm going to be a closed down zombie for the next ten years over my mother?" she asked seriously.

"You think I've been a closed down zombie?" Gary asked, embarrassed by her observation.

"Compared to how you're acting today, yes!" Heidi replied.

"You're probably right," he sighed.

"It's been almost a year with my mom and I feel like I should be over it by now," Heidi admitted.

"You'll never be over it," Gary advised. "The hurt doesn't ever go away."

"I was afraid of that," Heidi replied heavily.

"Well, at least you're not a zoned out zombie!" Gary teased.

"I've felt like one," she confessed.

"My savior this weekend taught me that we have to learn to live with it," Gary said. "It just takes time."

Heidi groaned. "Time sucks," she complained.

"I let it eat me alive," Gary remarked. "But I discovered this weekend that talking about it helps."

"I have nobody to talk to," Heidi sighed and then she became horrified that she had actually confessed such a pathetic reality about herself to him.

"Well, if you ever need to talk, I'd be happy to listen," Gary said earnestly.

"Thanks," she mumbled, not seriously entertaining such a possibility.

"I remember your mom," Gary said as they continued to eat. "She came into the store a couple of times."

"She did," Heidi confirmed.

"She was a nice lady."

"Thanks," Heidi said politely.

"What's your favorite memory of her?" Gary asked.

Heidi was surprised by the question but she found herself warmed by his interest. "Her laugh," she answered. "She had such an easy, happy laugh and she could laugh at anything."

Gary nodded with understanding.

"What's your favorite memory about your brother?" Heidi asked.

"Everything about him is my favorite memory," Gary replied. "He was my mentor, my friend, my protector, my teacher, my sidekick, and my conscience." His eyes watered up.

"I never knew my Dad," Heidi revealed. "So my mom was all those things to me and more. When she died, a piece of me died with her."

"Yeah," Gary replied, completely able to relate.

"She was sick for two years," Heidi said sadly. "It was hard to watch her suffer."

"At least you were there for her," Gary said.

"Weren't you there for your brother?"

"I was away in the Navy when it happened," Gary sighed. "I've always regretted that."

"The house seems so empty now without her there," Heidi said sadly. "I go home at night and feel so alone."

"I'm sorry," Gary said.

"I never had a reason to leave," Heidi explained. "I was so close to my mother that after high school I just stayed. Went to Blue County Community College and then got this job but there was no reason to move out."

"No guy?"

Heidi blushed. "Nobody serious," she said.

"Me either," Gary replied. "I guess zombies don't date."

"Well, going to lunch is kind of nice," Heidi replied.

The rest of the lunch conversation was safe topics – mostly the store and some of the customers and recent events. It was easy to talk about that sort of stuff and before they knew it they had finished their meals and they walked back to the store together. Heidi had surprised herself by actually talking about her mom with Gary. She hadn't spoken about her before and it felt good to talk about it now. It almost felt as if her mom was alive again.

Heidi felt Gary watching her during the afternoon shift and she wasn't sure how she felt about that new reality. Maybe it was better when he was a zombie because Heidi didn't know if she was comfortable with him being (apparently) interested in her. She tried to avoid him but it was kind of hard to do that working together.

Gary said good night to her as Heidi left at the end of the day. The way he said it made her look back at him over her shoulder and she saw the huge smile on his face.

"Good night," she replied politely as she left the store and when she drove home Heidi thought about lunch, their conversation, and how nice it was to talk to someone about something that was important to her.

A few minutes later, Heidi was inside her empty and lonely house with another boring evening routine. Gary, meanwhile, put in a few extra hours restocking the shelves at the store and tidying up before heading home for another uninteresting night of his own. He still lived with his mother, feeling to guilty and concerned to move out and leave her on her own to drink herself into oblivion. At least with his presence, his mom had a reason to cook a meal and keep the house reasonably picked up. She still worked as a teacher's aide and she only drank at night and on the weekends but there wasn't much joy in her life.

Gary didn't mention running into Shana at Summer's Beach to his mother. No point opening old wounds and hurts. He ate dinner with his mom and then went up to his room. The door to Glenn's room was always closed. Gary never went in there but he'd find his mother in it all the time, dusting, rearranging, or just sitting. The room was frozen in a time warp with images from Glenn's youth and teenaged years. Of course, all of that stuff would be long gone now had Glenn lived but because he died, time stopped in that era.

Gary smiled at Heidi when he came to the store the next day and when it came time for lunch he joined Heidi on the bench out back even though it was a cool and breezy autumn day.

"I brought my lunch today," he announced, holding up an old black lunch pail. "Salami sandwich, chips, an apple, and a coke."

Heidi was surprised when Gary sat on the bench next to her. She used to go home for lunch when her mom was alive but it seemed like a waste of time, gas and effort to go home to an empty house to eat her sandwich so on nice days she ate on the bench. Today it was peanut butter and jelly on rye.

"You don't mind if I join you, do you?" Gary asked.

"Why would you want to?" She wondered.

"I just want to help," Gary replied. "Somebody helped me this weekend."

"Help me with what?" A genuinely confused Heidi asked.

"Well, maybe you're actually helping me," Gary realized.

"Helping you what?" She asked.

"Not be a zombie," he replied.

"Look, I'm not very good at this," Heidi admitted.

"I'm not either," Gary replied. "Maybe we could not be very good at it together."

She swallowed nervously but she didn't say anything as she took a bite from her sandwich. Gary didn't say anything either as he ate his lunch. When they were done eating, Gary carefully and tentatively placed his hand over hers where it rested on the edge of the bench.

"You can talk to me," he said

"I know," Heidi replied, not moving her hand in protest. "I guess I don't have anything to say."

"Yet," Gary smiled.

She shrugged and looked away.

They started eating lunch together every day. On the bench behind the store when the weather permitted and in one of their cars or in the back office if it didn't. Once in a while they'd go to Johnny C's or The Hillsboro Pizza House. They talked about activities at the paint store, or Gary's dead brother or Heidi's dead mother. Heidi appreciated Gary's presence and she was surprised that she was telling him so much about herself, things she might have told her mother but not anybody else. She talked about growing up without a Dad, about her few crushes and how her one big love affair went bad when she was eighteen and why she never bothered again after that. She talked about missing her mom and how she hated going home at night to the empty house.

Gary would listen intently, occasionally offering advice or wisdom but never passing judgment or criticism upon her. Sometimes he would counter her mom stories with a Glenn story to balance the conversation, usually sharing something that was similar in theme to whatever Heidi was talking about.

"I knew for almost two years that my mom was going to die," Heidi told Gary one day over pizza at the Pizza House. "She was constantly fatigued and exhausted. She lost weight. She was weak and she had no energy but she never lost her spirit or her interest. I guess I had a lot of time to process what was going on but we didn't talk about the end all that much. And then one morning I woke up and my mother was dead. No goodbye. No real notice. She just passed away in her sleep that night. It wasn't a surprise, I suppose, but it was still a shock. I don't think I'm over it even now."

"What would you have said to her?" Gary asked.

"Huh?" Heidi asked.

"If you knew that she was going to die that night," Gary said. "What would you have said?"

"That I loved her," Heidi replied, her eyes tearing.

"Don't you think she already knew that?" Gary asked.

Heidi didn't reply. She quietly ate her pizza feeling glum. Then she glanced at Gary. "What would you have said to your brother?"

"Don't do it," Gary replied without even thinking about it. "But it's different for me. Your mother didn't have a choice. My brother did."

"I walked into her room that morning and it looked like she was asleep," Heidi recalled. "I kept calling her name and it wasn't until I sat on the bed and felt her cold hand that I realized she was gone. I'm not sure how long I sat there just holding her hand."

"I never saw Glenn," Gary revealed. "It was closed casket. By the time I got home he was already in the box and my mother ordered that it stayed closed. She didn't want anybody to see him even though the undertaker did a pretty good job pasting his skull back together. That's what my father said anyway. He and my mother fought about that. Dad wanted people to be able to see Glenn when they said goodbye but my mother wanted to remember him the way he looked when he was alive."

"I'm sorry," Heidi said quietly.

"It's okay," Gary smiled. "But my biggest regret is not opening the damn coffin anyway."

Heidi wasn't sure why she asked Gary over to her house for dinner. The words just came out of her mouth one afternoon when she was getting ready to leave the store. Gary had a broad smile on his face and he gladly accepted her invitation.

Heidi's house was a small brown older single story ranch in the flats section of town. The home hadn't been upgraded but it was still in reasonably good shape for its age.

Gary parked in the cracked driveway that was in need of a repavement and saw Heidi's car parked underneath the carport that looked a little uneven and saggy. The yard was small but neat and organized and Gary went to the back kitchen door instead of the front door. Heidi looked nervous and uncertain when she welcomed him. Gary handed her a plant from the Hilltop Florist and she smiled as she took it.

The kitchen was painted yellow with older white metal cabinets and a cracked linoleum floor. The kitchen table was an old metal Formica style, red with four matching chairs. The appliances were twenty to thirty years old.

"We didn't have a lot of money," Heidi explained as she led Gary through the open dining area into the open living area. The furniture was older too but well maintained and the wood floor had older carpets on them. A hallway off the living room led to two bedrooms and a bathroom.

Gary's Dad was a piddling fix it kind of guy so the Gary's house was well maintained and updated, a new coat of paint slapped on every few years (at least before the divorce). Even now, Gary repainted the interior rooms every few years.

"You're the first guest I've had in here since Mom died," Heidi told him as she led him down the hall.

She stopped in front of the master bedroom. "I'm debating whether I should move in here," she sighed.

Gary glanced in and saw that that there was no bed but that there were two large dressers and a vanity.

"My mom had a hospital bed near the end," Heidi explained. "I gave all her clothes to charity and got rid some of the other stuff but I haven't had the heart to move in here myself."

"Glenn's room sits like a museum display," Gary sighed. He glanced across the hall and saw that Heidi's (well kept and decorated) room was much smaller. "You deserve to promote up," he said.

Heidi unexpectedly threw herself at him, knocking him against the wall and wrapping her arms around him while burying her face in his chest. "God, I'm so lonely," she groaned.

Gary cradled her in his arms, one hand brushing through her hair and she burst into tears, sobbing into his chest. Gary continued to stroke her hair and squeeze her close while letting her feel whatever she needed to feel. When she was able to pull herself together, Heidi broke from the embrace and went into the kitchen to check on the lasagna that was baking in the oven.

Gary didn't say anything as he followed her. He helped make the salad while they made small talk about the house and how good of a cook Heidi's mom had been, the best cook ever according to Heidi and she hoped she had picked up some of her mom's talents. They ate at the kitchen table, not really talking all that much. Heidi was feeling vulnerable and raw from her sudden emotional outburst in the hall and Gary was trying to figure out if something was beginning to unfold between them. He had been out of the game for so long that he wasn't sure if he'd be aware of any signals or openings even if they hit them in the face but he kept remembering Shana's advice as they cuddled naked together in the bed of the Sea View at Summer Beach.

"Find someone to console and to be consoled," she told him. "I consoled you today and now you need to pass it on for yourself."

When they were done eating, Gary helped Heidi clean up and wash the dishes. They must have looked like a married couple standing at the old split sink as she washed and he rinsed and dried with her telling him where each piece went in the cabinets. Her mother did most of the chores around the house but Heidi had picked them up pretty well once her mom got sick.

"It feels good to share dinner here with someone again," Heidi smiled sadly when they were done with the clean up. "It's weird eating alone every night."

"Thanks for having me," Gary smiled.

"I'm glad you came," Heidi said as they adjourned to the living room. "I wasn't sure how this was going to work out but I had a nice time."

"Me too," Gary replied.

Heidi took a seat on the couch and she looked like she expected Gary to join her but he glanced toward the door.

"Maybe I should go," he said, suddenly feeling awkwardly uncomfortable.

"I'd rather you stayed," Heidi said softly.

It was not something Gary expected to hear her say. She was such a shy, reserved, private person, the victim of a long ago love affair that ended badly, a grieving daughter mourning the loss of her mom, a woman who hadn't dated much in recent years.

"Do you want me to console you?" Gary asked as he slowly took a seat next to her.

"Console me?" She was understandably confused.

"Sorry, inside joke," Gary smiled, remembering Shana's plan of action that Saturday at the Morgan.

"Maybe I do need consoling," Heidi replied after thinking about it for a moment. "Are you good at consoling?"

"I have some experience," he replied.

"Okay," she decided, standing. "Why don't you come with me?"

Gary stood and followed her down the hall to her smaller bedroom. She had a double bed, a tall antique dresser, a computer desk, a hope chest at the end of the bed, and one easy chair by the window. There were several stuffed animals scattered on the bed and a small bookcase.

"I'll be right back," Heidi informed him in a near whisper before disappearing from the room.

Gary knew that this was his first chance to see if he was really ready to get beyond Everything Glenn and give himself to another person. Shana had shown him that he was capable of feeling again and now he wanted to help show Heidi that she could feel again too, ready, able and willing to be the Great Consoler.

Gary stripped down to his boxers and slipped under the covers of Heidi's warm and comfortable bed. He dimmed the lights to give Heidi some protection when she returned. A while later, Heidi entered the room wearing a white robe. Gary saw what she looked like with her hair down for the first time the bun and braids gone, her black hair down the middle of her back. Heidi stopped in her tracks when she saw Gary cuddled under the covers and they stared into each other's eyes for a long moment pondering if this was really what they wanted.

"I can leave if you've changed your mind," Gary let her know.

"No, no, I want you to stay," she whispered nervously before climbing onto the bed next to him, but above the covers with her robe still on.

She pressed against him and Gary pulled her closer, the covers and her robe acting as a safety zone. She gave him a small smile.

"I've never had a man in here before," she admitted sheepishly.

"I'm honored then," Gary replied.

"Will you really console me?" She asked, sounding almost desperate.

"I'd like to try," Gary told her. "Trust me, you don't want to wait ten years like I did."

She sat up on the bed and gave him a long look. The light from the bedside table illuminated her face in a soft glow. She leaned over and gently kissed him.

"Live your life". Shana's words echoed in Gary's thoughts and he remembered that wonderful day of consolation at the Morgan as different images flashed through his mind, a fantasy come true, an act of kindness by Shana to help jump start his heart, mind and soul.

And now here he was with a woman he had been attracted to for a long time but he was too "damaged" (as Shana had put it) to do anything about it. Until he asked her to lunch and now here they were in Heidi's bed, offering each other tender kisses.

Heidi got off the bed and slipped under the covers next to Gary, still in her robe. She was blushing as she stared into Gary's eyes. "I feel like I'm sixteen again," she sighed.

"Me too," Gary said warmly. "It's okay."

. "I'm not interested in a one night stand, Gary," she warned him.

"I'm not either," he assured her. "Been there, done that. I'm ready for something more now."

"Me too," Heidi agreed. "I'm tired of being alone."

"Are you sure you want it to be me?" Gary worried.

"Who else would it be, Gary?" Heidi wanted to know. "You're the only guy I talk to. You're the only guy who pays attention to me. You're the only guy I can relate to. You're the only guy who understands what I've been going through and seems to care."

"I'd like to make you feel better," Gary said.

"By consoling me?" She raised an eyebrow.

"To start," he admitted.

"Do you think that would make me feel better?"

Gary let out a breath and smirked. "I hope so!"

Heidi curled up against him, her head resting on his chest. "I like talking with you," she said.

"I like talking to you too," he assured her.

"I feel comfortable with you,' she admitted. "Safe, even."

"Good."

"I haven't done this in a long time, Gary," she told him.

"It's okay." He leaned and gave her a gentle kiss, tenderly biting on her lip in the process.

Heidi kissed him back. "Oh, God," she whispered. "Console me."

Gary was happy to finally be with a woman without the ghost of Glenn haunting him. He wanted to live his life to the fullest and freely love for the first time since that terrible night.

In the morning, Heidi silently slipped out of the bed being careful not to disturb the sleeping Gary in her bed. She couldn't believe she actually slept with a man after so much time alone. She never thought she'd trust a man again enough to be intimate with him. Heidi felt awkward and embarrassed as she began to tip-toe toward the bathroom but she tripped over her discarded robe on the floor and she stumbled in an embarrassing pratfall into her desk, crashing to the floor in a naked thud that awoke Gary with a start.

"What the…..?" he asked as he sat up on the bed, glancing around to discover the naked Heidi lying on her stomach on the floor. "What are you doing?" he asked, amused by the unexpected sight.

"Making a fool of myself," she groaned as she rolled over on her side facing him with humiliation, holding her forehead which she rapped on the corner of the desk going down.

"Oh, you're hurt!" Gary said as he sprang from the bed and Heidi's eyes went wide when she saw him naked before her. She really had never seen a man totally naked before and suddenly she didn't care that she was naked too.

"Console me," Heidi whispered as Gary helped her to her feet.

"From now on," he promised her as he wrapped her into a loving hug. "To console as to be consoled."

Heidi pushed him back onto the bed. "Let's live our lives," she whispered.