Chapter   Thirteen

Brian walked out a back entrance to the hotel. He didn't notice Andre had seen him and started following him to make sure Brian didn't get mobbed, and if he did, to get him out. Brian pulled the hat low over his sunglasses and walked around for a while, thinking about Valerie and wondering what he would do if he saw her again. What am I thinking about, he told himself. Valerie is marrying someone else. You're just gonna have to except it. But how can I?

Brian walked into a nearby video rental store and starting looking at the selections. He was deep into his thoughts, he didn't notice the woman standing right in front of him. Brian continued walking and WHAM! ran right into her.

"I'm really sorry," Brian started saying. "I didn't see--"

Brian stopped mid-sentence when he saw who it was. He couldn't believe his eyes. "Valerie?"

Valerie's eyes widened. "Brian? Oh my god, it's you!"

The two of them threw their arms around each other in a big hug. Then they stood back and looked at each other in silence. They didn't say anything for a while. Then, before Brian could do anything, Valerie slapped him hard across the face and walked away. Brian watched her walk out of the store in astonishment. He stood there for a few seconds, then thought, What the hell am I standing here for? and ran outside to catch up with her.

"I was wondering when you'd come after me," Valerie said when Brian reached the corner, trying to figure out which way to go. "Come on. Let's go take a walk."

They fell into step next to each other. For a while, neither said anything until Brian spoke first.

"Why did you slap me?" Brian asked her.

"For making me cry," answered Valerie. "For making my spring break the worst one I've ever had in my life, for making me feel like the heart you shattered into a million pieces would never mend."

"I'm really sorry about what happened in Florida," Brian apologized. "I never meant to hurt you. I shouldn't have let our friendship develop into any more than that."

"But you did, Brian." Valerie's voice shook as her eyes welled up with the unshed tears she'd held inside. "I thought you really liked me. I thought I'd finally found someone who would make my life complete. When you ignored me the day after we kissed, it hurt me more than anything. I never felt that much pain before. Never. But then, I should've known better than to fall for a guy who was already taken."

"Valerie, I should've handled the situation in a better way, I know that. I should've talked to you, explained to you why I couldn't be with you, as much as I wanted to, but I didn't do that. There were a lot of things I should've done. All I can tell you is that I'm sorry for hurting you the way I did."

"Well, that's all done and over with now. There's nothing we can do about it now. You don't have to explain anything."

"Yes, I do." They reached the huge water fountain that always got shown at the beginning of "Married.... With Children". Brian and Valerie sat down on a nearby bench.

"There's one thing you have to understand," Brian began. "Me and Lisa had been together for a long time. Way before I'd even seen you in the airport when me and the fellas got back to Florida. I wanted you from the moment I saw you, but I couldn't throw away a long-time relationship like that."

"So you decided to see what it was like to be with me for that one night," Valerie said quietly.

"I put every ounce of feeling I had for for you in that one kiss I allowed myself to have." Brian looked down. "The feeling I still have for you."

Valerie looked at him in amazement. "Well, you're a little too late. I'm getting married in a couple days."

"I know. I called you once a while back, but you weren't home and I talked to your fiance. He sounds like a pretty nice guy."

"He is. I met him before I came back to Chicago that same time I met you. He asked me to marry him a few months back and I agreed." Valerie paused to get something out of her purse. She handed it to Brian. "You and the others are welcome to come to the wedding if you want. Since the other girls are going to be there, I thought the rest of the guys would like to to see them.... and hopefully apologize to them, too, for making them feel as bad as I did." Brian looked at what Valerie gave him and saw it was an invitation. "It's invitation only, so you'll need it to get inside the church."

Brian looked at her. "Thanks, but I don't think I'll be able to make it. I'm pretty busy for the whole time I'm here. Photo sessions, TV appearances, radio interviews, a concert to perform."

Brian held it out to her, but Valerie wouldn't take it back. "Keep it. Sort of like a peace offering between us." Valerie looked at her watch and stood up. "I have to go. Darren is probably wondering where I am."

"Just out of curiosity, what's you married name going to be?"

"I'll be 'Mrs. Darren Dreifort'."

"Why does that name sound familiar?"

"Probably because he's a major league pitcher for the Dodgers. He was in spring training when I met him. It's because of his status that the wedding is invitation only."

"Wow. The Dodgers. Cool. Well, I wish you much luck with your marriage and I hope you're very happy together."

Valerie smiled. "Thanks. That means a lot coming from you."

"You're welcome," Brian smiled back, even though he was falling apart inside.

The two walked back to the video store and parted ways, Valerie giving Brian a kiss on the cheek before walking away. Brian watched her as he tried to hold back tears of sadness. I love you, Valerie, he thought as he watched her disappear into the night. Then, Brian turned the other way and walked back to the hotel.

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