Chapter 7

Toby and Nicole came home from the vacation more relieved than anything else. There had been no major drama scenes or confrontations – and within a few days all four of the vacationers returned to the same routine as before with the two affairs continuing.

Nicole found the perfect house for Toby to move into. It had been owned by a photographer and he had his studio in front of the house which could easily be made into Toby's therapy offices. Toby showed it to Rosie during one of their rare discreet outings outside of his apartment and she agreed that it was a great find and the perfect choice.

In the first few months after the accident, Toby experienced nightmares about the tragedy. Gruesome, gory images of his dead friends – bloated bodies floating in bloody water, decapitated heads resting on rocky shores. The dreams eventually faded away but lately both Holly had been making gentle appearances in Toby's sleep, calling out her love for him from the great beyond. He didn't tell Nicole or Rosie about the dreams, not wanting them to feel jealousy for a dead girl as crazy as it was to even think such things. Toby felt both guilty and smothered by the lost images of Holly and he wondered if his love for a deal girl would affect his relationship with Nicole. Rosie knew all about Holly so that wouldn't' be an issue – he finally confided in Rosie about his Holly dreams after one of their lovemaking sessions.

"Maybe she's telling you it's time to make a choice," Rosie theorized as she snuggled close to him.

"Maybe it's time to leave the past where it belongs - in the rear view mirror," Toby said.

"But where would that leave me?" Rosie worried. "I don't want to be as dead as Holly with you."

"Somebody's going to have to make a decision one of these days," Toby insisted.

"Until then, just fuck me now," Rosie requested, rolling on top of him and placing her hand between his legs to bring him to her entrance.

Nicole couldn't understand why she was still tempted by and attracted to Serge. She loved Toby. She loved her job. She was content with her life. But Serge had maintained his spell on her, subtle and gentle, but powerful just the same, and that's why she found herself unwilling to break off the affair even though she had found happiness with Toby and adored Rosie. How long would she continue to betray Rosie and cheat Toby?

Summer ended and school started again. Nicole and Serge shared small talk most days and they often ate lunch together in the teacher's lounge with Rosie, a strangely perverse and unwitting threesome. How could the psychotherapist Toby allow any of this to go on? He had to be sicker than the three others combined!

Serge was constantly looking for opportunities to be with Nicole. Was it an endless fantasy? A mutual attraction? It was almost as if Nicole was possessed and couldn't stop herself from wanting Serge when she already had Toby. She knew it shouldn't be happening and yet there she was letting Serge into her house one more time. She allowed him to undress her and make love to her and when he left a few hours later, her hair messy, her makeup sweated off,

Nicole realize that she was continually putting herself up there on the JumboTron all over again, only this time nobody saw what she was doing. But why was she so willing to repeatedly compromise herself for such a cheap thrill? Especially now that Toby was in her life – so gentle and understanding, her true soulmate. Yes, the sex with Serge was daring and exciting and fulfilling in a physical sense, but emotionally and spiritually she now felt mostly empty and dirty.

The next time Serge stopped by her house for a tryst, Nicole decided it was finally time to have a heart to heart discussion about their future – before she'd let him make love to her again.

"I knew sooner or later you'd go with Toby," Serge said with disappointment.

"So, you're willing to let me go?" She asked with surprise as they stood in the kitchen, him with a beer in his hand.

"I figured you were hanging on because you wanted to," He shrugged. His response was made with such casual and blasé indifference that she didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

"This isn't a big deal to you?" Nicole asked, surprised at how hurt she felt.

"It's sex, Nicole," Serge replied knowingly. "Let's not make it into a big deal."

It was a cruel reality to hurtfully realize that she had totally exposed herself to physical lust and nothing emotional. She had allowed herself to be seduced by Serge's charms. She had no excuse or justification for what she had done. She was wrong to cheat both Rosie and herself and she was overwhelmed by the sense of remorse she felt for acting so stupidly.

Nicole knew that her friendship – and eventual relationship – with Toby had been the most honest of her life and she couldn't believe he had stuck around waiting for her to decide what (and who) she wanted.

"So, this is it?" She asked Serge. "You're going back to Rosie, no questions asked?"

"You knew I always was," he answered truthfully.

"Yes, I always knew," she sighed with resignation.

It hurt to realize she had put everything on the line for Serge, risking her friendship with Rosie and her relationship with Toby - a special man who had endured his own personal tragedy to live a fulfilling life, helping others while giving himself as her boyfriend.

"I guess I'll be seeing you around," Serge said with a shrug as he headed for the door.

Serge was barely out of the house before Nicole was in her car driving to Toby's apartment. She probably passed Rosie on the road as Rose had just left Toby's apartment a few moments before after a quick tryst. Nicole charged into the apartment and hardly reacted when she found Toby lying naked in his bed. If she was paying attention she might have smelled the odor of sex and the scent of a woman's perfume in the air.

"Marry me!" She said, diving onto the bed and nearly crushing her lover as she landed on him. "Let's buy that house together and live happily ever after."

Toby studied her for a long moment. "So, it's over with Serge."

"Yes," she announced decisively.

"What happened?"

"It doesn't matter," she insisted. "If you truly love me you won't ask."

And so it had finally happened. The log jam burst. Ironically, after waiting all this time, Toby wasn't all that sure how he felt. For so long, he assumed Rosie would break it off with him or Serge would leave Rosie for Nicole or Serge would catch Rosie cheating with Toby or Nicole would catch Toby cheating with Rosie.

In any case, all hell could have broken lose but now, with Nicole apparently having made her choice (or had her choice made for her) Toby realized he now faced the decision he was unsure he could make - hurting Rosie to be with Nicole. Or was it hurt Nicole to be with Rosie (assuming she wanted to be with him, even though she said she wouldn't leave her marriage)?

"What's wrong?" Nicole asked as Toby stared blankly over her shoulder.

"Nothing," he said, forcing a smile. "This is great news."

"You don't seem happy."

"I'm happy," he insisted, pulling her close and kissing her. "It's just that I've been waiting so long this doesn't seem real."

"Let's just start our relationship over," Nicole suggested. "Forget everything else."

"Okay," he agreed, rolling her over onto her back. "Spend the night," he whispered.

Nicole left early in the morning to get ready for school. Toby fell back into bed, still naked from their night of lovemaking, relieved that Nicole hadn't suspected anything from Rosie's previous visit. Not long later, Rosie burst into the apartment, dressed for school but looking perplexed and Toby was once again thankful that the two women's paths had not crossed.

"What's wrong?" Toby asked with concern.

"Serge confessed last night," she said with disbelief.

"Wow," Toby said. "I wasn't expecting that."

"I made him promise his fidelity from now on," she announced. "We're going to marriage therapy. He wants to work on our relationship."

"Congratulations," Toby said.

Rosie bravely smiled. "I assumed Nicole told you?"

"Sort of," Toby replied.

"So, you're going to be okay, right?"

"I'll miss you."

"We'll still be friends," she promised. "I've forgiven Nicole in my heart. She's still my friend. She doesn't have to know about us. Serge either."

"It will be weird though."

"It's always been weird," Rosie replied, sitting on the bed and looking at him with affection. "Ever since Holly died."

"Yeah," Toby agreed. He looked at her and smiled. "You gave me a reason to love again."

"I warmed you up for Nicole," she joked, reaching out and squeezing his hand. "I'll see you around, Toby."

"I'll see you around," he said with affection and appreciation.

Sometimes, when they were watching some sporting event on television and the giant JumboTron appeared on the screen, Nicole would cringe from the memories. And sometimes, when Toby awoke in the early morning after another dream visit from Holly, he'd feel guilty, as if he was cheating on Nichole. He 'd hug her close in the bed and she would happily return the embrace and Toby would realize just how lucky he was to have gone to Green College instead of Worcester State all those years ago.

A/N: So I saw the Jumbotron video and I wanted to write a story using that. But there needed to be a reason why Toby didn't pursue Nicole in college beyond Anthony so I came up with the boat accident to numb his emotions. Originally, I had Toby and Nicole bumping into each other in front of Johnny C's - but Nicole was only about to have an affair with Serge - the return of Toby stopped that from happening - but then that would have been the end of the story because they would have obviously hooked up in their loneliness. .

So I went back and rewrote the story - Nicole is having an affair with Serge which complicated matters but clearly she would have ended it to be with Toby. So then I thought - what if Rosie was having a revenge/reconciliation affair with Toby? Revenge to get back at the cheating Serge - reconciliation with Toby over their mutual grief for Holly and their lost opportunities at the time of the accident.

Rosie had no idea Toby and Nicole knew each other or she probably wouldn't have had the affair - and maybe she should have fixed up Toby and Nicole as she originally considered. I realize the various sex angles questions some of the characters' morals and perhaps made them less likeable but I needed a plot twist!

But then - how to conclude the story? Who would Nicole want in the end? It was pretty obvious Toby - but what if Toby really wanted to be with Rosie!? I decided to go with the safe happy ending - Toby and Nicole together as they were meant to be and Rosie finding a way to reclaim her marriage after a mutual "time out".

For a while - I thought about switching up the ending. Nicole comes into the apartment after Serge ends it to find Rosie and Toby making love - she laughs hysterically at the insanity of it all and Nicole walks away the loser - dumped by Serge and rejected by Toby (and Rosie). But that seemed cruel so I went with the safe happy ending instead!

This was definitely a bit of a change of pace story but each story attempt is a test tube project.