Disclaimer: If you've heard of them, I don't own them. Everything else is mine, so no stealing, pretty please. ;-)
A/N: This was originally going to be my next saga fic - chapters and all that jazz. Instead, I'm pirating much of this storyline for my NaNoWriMo novel, so as practice, I decided to write a short (well, sorta long, actually) story in NASCAR-land. Let me know what you think. :-)
Isabella snubbed out her cigarette and took a deep breath. Squaring her shoulders, she gripped her notebook tightly and knocked on the motorcoach door. A cheerful voice from inside called "C'mon in" and she yanked on the door handle with a slightly shaking hand.
"You must be Isabella. I'm Steve." His blue eyes danced, his hand gripped hers firmly, warmly.
She automatically smiled in response to his friendly grin and returned his handshake strongly. "Nice to finally meet you. Thanks for the opportunity to interview you so soon after your return to racing."
"My pleasure." He smiled and gestured to his kitchen table. "Okay if we sit in here? Or would you be more comfortable in the media center?"
"Here." She said, clearing her throat. "Here is just fine."
"Call me Steve."
"Fire away, Isabella."
She knew that GQ had sent her specifically. She's was one of the few girls on the features staff at GQ - and they often sent her to get an angle on an interesting story that otherwise might have an entirely too male slant. She looked at the man across from her curiously. He didn't look like someone who had spent months recovering from a debilitating crash. His speech was slower than one would expect from such an obviously well-spoken, educated man, but his eyes danced and he moved confidently, quickly as he prepared drinks and slithered into the bench across from her. She liked him instantly. And she knew that he liked her too.
She was here to write a story on his recovery. His drive to continue to race. His feelings about racing in general.
She was hoping to learn more about this man than just the facts.
She was cute.
She looked at him with a mixture of curiosity, interest, and if his eyes didn't deceive him, the slightest touch of attraction.
Or maybe she was just reflecting his own thoughts towards her.
Isabella. He said her name silently to himself. Isabella.
She wanted to interview him about his return to racing, but all he wanted to think about how she would look if she laughed with abandon, what her skin would feel like, whether her voice was always this husky.
So much for professionalism on the part of the race car driver.
Was he looking at her with more than professional interest? Her eyebrows rose slightly as she asked questions about his personal life. How does a driver keep his private life private? How does it feel to be the object of affection of thousands of women? Did he have a girlfriend?
True, they were part of the questions she was supposed to ask. Also true, she wanted to know the answers for herself.
She couldn't help but smile secretly when he revealed his bachelor status.
"So are you going to stay and watch the race?" He asked inquisitively as her "interview" drew to a close.
"Any reason why I should?" Isabella asked coyly, flipping her hair over one shoulder.
"And that would be ?" She asked, trailing off.
"So I can take you to dinner afterwards." He shocked even himself with the forwardness of his invitation. He didn't ask many girls out - especially gorgeous ones with whom he would have no chance in hell if he were still running Modifieds up north for rent money. Still, he could see a spark in her eyes when he had asked.
Maybe he had a chance after all.
Oh, no he didn't. Isabella thought to herself. She was a professional journalist. He was an interviewee. That would be crossing a line that she's been forbidden from even contemplating.
But dammit if he didn't fill out those jeans deliciously.
Steve shook his head slightly, as though he had heard her wrong.
"It would be wrong of me." She said softly, looking directly into his eyes. His eyes narrowed slightly, and he struggled to find the right words to backpedal. Quickly.
"I have to take you to dinner." She said. "Professional courtesy, after all." He couldn't help but grin as she smiled a Cheshire cat smile at him.
"If you insist." He said gallantly.
She couldn't even remember what she had ordered for dinner. She barely remembered eating at all.
She did remember the expensive Merlot he ordered, and the fact they had drained the entire bottle too quickly.
She remembered how warm his hand was when he took hers from across the table.
She remembered the way the blush had filled her cheeks when he complimented her beautiful eyes.
She remembered the way he blushed when she had complimented his beautiful backside.
He liked this girl. He was drawn to her. He watched her from across the table, the way the candlelight bounced off her eyes, off her hair, off her glowing skin.
He wanted to touch her. Just reach out and touch her.
He smiled as she laughed out loud for the first time. He sighed when he touched her soft hand. He was filled with understanding when she pulled out a cigarette and asked if it would bother him if she smoked.
He couldn't wait to get out of this restaurant.
"Want to come in for a nightcap?" He asked, his voice low, husky.
She eyed him warily. "Is that a good idea?"
He shrugged slightly. "Probably not." He answered honestly.
"I'd love to." She whispered. He opened the door and gently guided her inside, his hand resting on the small of her back. She felt as though a heat was radiating from that point outwards, throughout her body.
"You thirsty?" Steve asked conversationally as he pulled the door shut and moved past her.
"No." Isabella said simply, twining her arms around his neck and pulling him close for a kiss. Their lips locked hungrily as Isabella dropped her bag and Steve absently tossed his keys behind her back to the floor. He began to walk them slowly backwards, never breaking contact between their bodies until his knees hit the back of the bed in the rear of the motorcoach.
He sat abruptly, pulling her onto his lap. His lips never left hers.
She yanked his shirt over his head with a wry grin, and he struggled to unbutton her blouse.
Shoes, pants, socks, lacy lingerie all hit the floor in short order.
"You are so fucking beautiful." Were the only words he whispered.
With a heavy sigh, Steve threw down his bag and rolled his shoulders. He loved being on the road, but sometimes it was good to get home. Just to be in his own house, with his own bed, with his own refrigerator
His own bills. He wrinkled his nose at the pile of bills, flyers, ads, credit card applications and catalogs that was piled on his kitchen table. He grabbed a beer from the kitchen then sat down to sort out what could wait and what needed to be answered right away.
He decided he didn't need another MasterCard, Discover, or Visa card, and weeded the pile quickly. One piece caught his eye. He pulled out a pale pink envelope and eyed it suspiciously. It was addressed to him, but fanmail usually went to DEI. No return name or address.
Curiosity got the better of him, and Steve ripped open the envelope. A single sheet of paper fell out.
I really need to speak with you. Please call me when you get in, I'd appreciate it. (555)555-7805.
Steve put the paper on the table and closed his eyes.
Isabella. The beautiful journalist from GQ. The girl he had spent hours exploring teasing loving. When he had woken the next morning, she had vanished. No one had seen her leave. She left no number, no address, nothing.
The story she wrote was fantastic, but he'd never called her.
He felt like a heel.
He should have called. He should have tracked her down. He should have done something.
It must have been what? Two or three months ago now?
He didn't just sleep with women who happened into his life for a day. He didn't sleep around like some of the guys. He didn't have one night stands. And especially not with media members. It wasn't him, that's all.
But she was different. Isabella.
"Hello?" Isabella reached over and answered the phone listlessly.
"Hi, um, may I speak to Isabella Stevens, please?" Her heart beat faster at the sound of his voice. She knew it was him.
"This is." She answered, trying to sound cool, detached, professional.
"Oh. Hi! This is Steve. Um, Park." Steve sounded flustered, unsure. "I just got home today because I was at the track all weekend and I got your note and I just hi. How are you? It's great to hear from you "
She smiled to herself as she could practically hear his brain telling his mouth to shut up. When they were face to face, or body to body, she thought, he'd had no trouble formulating the right words, or knowing just what to say.
"Hi, Steve. Thanks for calling me." Isabella said, closing her eyes briefly. She wished he'd called three months ago
"Listen, Isabella " Her heart did a flip-flop as he said her name. "I'm sorry about I'm sorry." He trailed off.
"That's not why I wanted you to call me, Steve." Isabella replied. "But thanks. There's something I need you to know."
Steve sat on the floor in the dark.
He said it out loud.
Nope, still terrifying.
God, he didn't know what to do. And if he was scared, she must be fucking terrified.
He needed to see her. Now.
Isabella knew he must be freaking out. She had the luxury of freaking out three months ago, when he wasn't around. She was able to be Miss Calm, Cool and Collected on the phone when she told him.
God, she wished she could see him. In person.
She wished she'd called him that day, instead of skulking out of his coach, out of his life.
They eyed each other in the airport. She could feel him looking at her, looking to see if she looked pregnant. She hated that.
She looked the same. She thought. His eyes didn't betray him either way.
He looked the same. Still handsome. Still with a gleam in his eyes, and a smile on his lips.
God, she wanted him all over again.
"This is awkward." She said, smiling and trying to break the ice.
"Tell me about it." He said with a laugh. "You look wonderful. These are um, for you." He handed her a packet of flowers wrapped in paper. She looked beautiful. Just like he remembered
"How long are you here?" She asked hesitantly.
"Just until tomorrow. I couldn't take any more time off. I'm sorry." Steve said, shrugging apologetically.
Isabella nodded. "Let's get out of here then."
"We need to figure out " Steve trailed off. "I'll do whatever you need. Support you any way I can."
Isabella sighed slightly. "I know. Thank you. Steve, I never meant for any of this "
"I know." He whispered. "For what it's worth "
She looked up at him expectantly.
"I don't regret a single minute we were together."
"Neither do I." She said softly.
Isabella sat in her family in total darkness. Steve was gone. She had appreciated how calm and supportive he had been. Not that she could picture it of him, but she had half expected him to say it was her problem and having nothing more to do with her.
Thank god he wasn't like that.
They had talked at length for hours first about the baby, then about themselves, their lives, their jobs. Getting to know each other they way they had that night in the restaurant.
As darkness fell, Steve stood up and pulled Isabella to her feet gently and wrapped his arms around her. Hugging her tightly to him, he breathed in the scent of her hair, felt the curves of her body. She melted into his arms, not moving simply feeling his strength, his warmth.
Tugging on her hand, he began walking towards her bedroom. "Steve, I'm not I look gross." She said, unable to form a more intelligent-sounding thought.
"You look stunning." He said, brushing back a lock of her hair. "I want to see you. Please. Let me. I need to I want you I "
They hadn't left the bedroom the rest of the night.
They talked on the phone every night. Sometimes a serious, heartfelt conversation, sometimes nothing more than a few minutes of telling jokes and harassing each other.
Isabella lived for those conversations. She wished he were closer.
She wished they were talking under different circumstances, but underneath every conversation, no matter how silly or serious, was the undercurrent of their impending parenthood.
She hated that.
Steve thought about her all the time. Sometimes about her smile, sometimes about her knack for making him laugh.
He missed her.
He wished they were together under different circumstances.
He needed to see her more than this.
Despite his fear over becoming a father, about the press finding out, about how it would change is life, in some ways, he was glad.
It had brought Isabella back into his life, when she otherwise might have been gone forever.
He hoped she knew that.
Isabella gasped slightly and wrapped an arm around her waist. Sudden, shearing pains swept through her, and she almost fell to the floor in pain. She cried out as she slid down to the ground, pulling her legs up towards her chest and screaming in pain. She looked down and saw blood. Too much blood.
She managed to call 911 before another cramp ripped through her.
Steve ran down the hall of the hospital towards the nurse's station. He'd gotten a call from the hospital. Isabella had listed him as her contact person. All he was told was she was in the hospital, could he come?
He was on the first flight out. He had no idea what happened. He was scared to death.
"Isabella Stevens." He breathed to the nurse behind the desk. "I'm here to see her. What happened? Is she okay?"
"Let me find a doctor, sir." The nurse said efficiently.
"Please, tell me, is she okay?" Steve grabbed the nurse's arm as she moved away from him.
"She's resting comfortably, sir."
Steve stepped into the hospital room. He hated hospitals. He shuddered slightly as he looked around, then looked to Isabella.
She looked so small.
He walked to the side of the bed and grasped her hand in his, then raised it to his lips. Her eyes fluttered open and looked at him.
"Steve?" She asked, sounding confused. "What happened?"
He said nothing, just looked at her for a moment, his eyes looking deep into hers. He was willing himself to be strong for her, to not cry in front of her.
"Oh god " She breathed. "I lost the baby. I lost it, didn't I?" Her eyes welled with tears, and he sat beside her.
"Isabella, we'll get through this. I'm right here. Honey, it's okay. The important thing is that you're okay. We'll get through this together. I promise." Steve said, his voice catching as he watched her curl up, her back to him, retreating from him.
"I lost the baby." She whispered.
"Hey." Steve called as he dropped his backpack to the ground and walked into Isabella's kitchen. "How're you doing?" He gently kissed her temple and rubbed her back affectionately.
Isabella smiled up at him, happy to see him. He'd been on the road for the last two weeks, and she was glad to finally see him somewhere other than the hospital. "I'm doing better." She said, nodding.
"Are you?" Steve asked. "Good. Good." He wrapped his arms around her and hugged her gently. "I'm happy to see you."
"Me too." Isabella said, stepping back slightly to look at him. "Rough Sunday, huh?"
"You saw that, huh?" He laughed a little. "Damn Nemechek again." He turned to the stove. "What's for dinner?"
She knew she had to do this. She had to.
"Steve." She began, pulling her feet up under her as she sat across from him on the couch.
"Hmm?" He asked, looking at her directly.
"I um. We need to I've done a lot of thinking these last few weeks." Isabella stumbled over her words.
"Me too." Steve said, grasping her hand in his gently.
"I think I really appreciate how much you've been here for me, despite your job. All the phone calls, and being at the hospital and ... " She laughed and gestured around her. "All the flowers."
"Went a little overboard on that, huh?" He looked impish as he eyed the sprays of flowers everywhere. "A wise man once told me girls love flowers."
"Who was the wise man?" She couldn't resist asking.
"Well, Mikey, but still." Steve laughed and Isabella couldn't stop herself from grinning in return.
"Anyhow, I've been thinking, and I think " Isabella took a deep breath. "I think I need to be alone for a while. Reconnect with myself."
He felt like he'd been punched in the stomach.
She was serious. How could she be serious?
"After all this, and you, and the baby and everything I just I need to be alone. I need some time." Isabella looked at him from beneath her lashes. "Do you understand?"
He nodded dumbly.
"I want us to be friends, but this this whole thing Steve, I need to do this."
He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again. A few seconds later, he tried again. "I understand. Whatever you need, Isabella. I'm here for you, you know? We'll still be friends."
He almost choked on the last word.
He hated her. She knew it.
She felt like a heel. But she had to do this. The only reason he had stuck around was with the baby. She had to let him go. No reason to keep him pinned to her.
Besides, they'd still be friends.
"Hey, Park. You okay, man?" His younger teammate waved a hand in front of his face and he snapped out of his reverie.
"Huh? Oh, hey Junior." Steve said distractedly. "What's up?"
"Man, you've been a space case for weeks. What's up?" Junior asked, leaning against a stack of tires.
"Nothin. Just, girl stuff." Steve said, before realizing his mistake.
"Girl stuff? You? Woohoo!" Junior screeched. "About damn time. Who is she? She cute?"
"She's beautiful. But she's gone." Steve said numbly. "I had her, then she was just gone."
She watched him every Sunday. Every turn, every pit stop, every interview. She watched his eyes, his easy smile, the way he tried so hard to make his speech smooth, slick, easy. He didn't want anyone saying he was still messed up.
That's how she felt. She didn't want anyone to know she was messed up.
Especially over him.
When she had broken things off, she genuinely thought she would gather herself up, move on, and be okay. Her relationship with Steve would fade from her mind, and she would get back to normal.
It hadn't. It couldn't.
She was so unhappy it hurt.
He read every issue of GQ, flipping through the pages quickly to find her name. He read every word she wrote, every interview she conducted. He detected a change in her writing - a new hardness, a new edge to it.
He wondered if she still thought about him.
She straightened her skirt for the 80th time. She hadn't seen him - in person - for months. She hoped this was the right decision.
Moving through the media center and out into the sunlight, she grasped her notebook and approached the motorcoach area. She flashed her badge and her most winning smile to gain access. She walked unsteadily to Steve's coach and took a deep breath.
Either it will work or it won't. Either he'll be happy, or he won't. Simple as that.
She raised her hand and knocked.
A cheerful voice from inside called "C'mon in" and she yanked on the door handle with a slightly shaking hand - a sense of déjà vu washing over her.
God, she looked beautiful. He wondered if he was imagining her.
"Hi." She said softly. "Is it okay that I'm here?" She looked so timid, so shy. He'd never seen that side of her before. He wanted to pull her against him, to bury himself in her skin, her hair, her smile.
"Of course." He choked out. "Of course. C'mon in. Sit down, if you want."
"There are some things I need to say." Isabella said, still standing. "I know it's been a while. You look great." She said with a shy smile. "Those damn jeans, I'm telling you " She trailed off with a grin, and he couldn't help but laugh.
"You look beautiful." He said in response as his laughter died.
"Thanks." She said. "I'm sorry well, for everything. For pushing you away. For the miscarriage. For being pregnant in the first place. But I'm sure you know that. But there are some things I'm not sorry for, and I thought you should know."
His heart was beating so fast, he felt like he'd run a marathon. Pleasepleaseplease let her stay. Don't let her walk away from me again, he silently begged any and all gods who might be present.
"I'm not sorry I met you. I'm not sorry about any minute we spent together." Isabella took a breath. "I needed some time to sort things out. And I think I have. Mostly I wanted to let you go. I didn't want you to be tied to me out of obligation "
"You think that? You really think that?" Steve interrupted. "Isabella, I always wanted to be with you, I never felt tied down, I mean, I "
She raised a hand to stop him. "Steve." He bit off her last remark and tried to concentrate on her again.
"You need to know something." Isabella said. "I want to "
"What?" He interrupted, unable to stop himself. "What do you want, Isabella?"
She raised an eyebrow slightly, a grin tugging at her lips. "I want to be with you."
"I want to know you again."
He swallowed roughly.
"I want it to be like that first night. The best night."
He looked heavenward then stepped closer to her. She looked at him, her eyes a mixture of fear, shyness, delight and desire. He knew he reflected the same thoughts in his eyes.
"Yes." He whispered.
"Yes?" She asked with a grin. "Just yes?"
"Yes." He said with a
smile, lowering his lips to hers. "Forever and ever, yes."