part three "What are you doing here?" I startled him. He was standing in my living room with his back to the doorway, looking at the pictures on my wall. When he saw me standing there, his eyes lit up. Richard had changed. He looked older, he had gained weight. It wasn't that he looked old - just older. He was a more mature, successful model of the strapping young Richard Dawson that I had worked with. "Fannie... I'm sorry, I know it was terribly rude of me, coming into your house without permission, but I couldn't help myself. I stil had your key - and I wanted to wait for you." "What for?" I put my purse down on the couch, but remained standing. "Because I miss you, Fannie." It suddenly felt cold in the room. "It's been over a year, Richard. And you suddenly miss me?" "No... not suddenly. I've always missed you. It's just become unbearable lately." I started to get angry. "It was your decision to leave. I asked you not to. You can't just walk back in and say that you're sorry." "Did I say that I was sorry?" He snapped back. Oh, sure, he sounded very calm and polite, but I know him too well. He was being defensive. "No, but you would have, if you had any sense. What do you mean, you miss me?" "I thought I already answered that." "Well, I didn't like your answer. Try again." "Fannie, you made my life so much fun... without you around, I just feel empty inside. I was an awful jerk to you, up and leaving like that, but, love, please - give me another chance." "Are you back in California?" "If you want me to be." "I won't have a long distance rela- Oh, hell, what am I saying? I won't have any kind of relationship with you, Richard. I can't." "Why not?" "Because... because you hurt me and I'm not going to be the same stupid girl that makes the same stupid mistakes twice. There's a wonderful guy that happens to care very much for me and I'm not going to hurt him like you hurt me." "Fannie, that's not fair - I didn't leave you for someone else. There hasn't been anybody - not since I met you. You have to know that." I looked at him. He was wearing a sharp dark brown suit, the kind he wears on Family Fued. I liked the clothes he wore on The Match Game better - that was Richard's style, not what some producer thought would be recieved better by an audience. "Sit down, Richard." I signed and pushed my hair out of my eyes. "Does this mean I'm forgiven?" He grinned that cocky grin and I wanted to slap him. "Not on your life. It means I'm tired of standing up and I won't have you looking down at me while we talk." "Well, at least I'm allowed to stay." But instead of sitting down, he walked into the kitchen. I didn't know what he was doing, but I didn't follow him. He came back a few minutes later with two drinks, a vodka martini and gin and tonic. Yes, he knew me at least as well as I knew him. Superficially, at least. It doesn't take a soulmate to know someone's choice in alcoholic beverages. "I'm only letting you stay because I want to know one thing - why did you leave?" "I left because I was scared and someone handed me an out - handed it to me on a silver platter." "Richard Dawson, scared? I'd never believe it." I said sarcastically. "You held a lot of power over me, Fannie. I was... well, I was in love. I would have done anything you asked." He sat down next to me, handed me my drink. "I still would." "If only I could believe that." "You can, love. Ask me - I'll give you anything within my power. I came here for one reason, darling. I won't lie about it. I want you back." Those were the words I had longed to hear for all of those long, lonely months after he left. But why did they sound so hollow and fake? Why did they leave me feeling lost? I thought about McLean, about the sweet, innocent way he kissed me, and I remember Richard - I had actually pictured myself marrying Richard, being with him for the rest of my life. "I want you to leave now, Richard." He looked surprised. Yes, I knew Richard. He was, underneath it all, quite egotistical. I used to find it adorable. It made me feel good to make him feel good. But I didn't feel like catering to him tonight. I was still in shock - Richard, back in my life. Richard, actually wanting me back in his. He left without argueing. He tried to kiss me as he left, but I turned my head. It would be all to easy to just fall into his arms, but I wouldn't let myself. I had a lot of thinking to do. And I did it. That night, I didn't get to sleep until long after all of the television stations were off of the air and every light on the street was out. But by the next morning, I had made up my mind. I was going to be strong. I was going to learn from my mistakes. He called me three times the next day, but I wouldn't talk to him. By the third excuse, he realized that I wasn't going to have a conversation over the phone - or in person, if I could help it. McLean called, and that helped. I wanted more than anything at that moment to tell him everything. A month ago, I would have. I liked McLean - I genuinely liked him, more than I had ever expected to. I knew that he was fun to be around, but lately I'm seeing more to him. He's very sensative, very tuned in. He has the most peculiar sense of humor - he makes me laugh so hard I feel like I'm going to die sometimes. He's not hard and closed off and over confident, not like Richard. But at the same time... he doesn't spark that passion in me. It's slow burning, with McLean. Like something wonderfully safe and comfortable. I've had enough drama from Richard - I want the comfort. I want to know that the man I'm with adores me, that he won't ever leave me. I can't see McLean letting his career guide him above his heart. Richard is wonderful with children, but I'm not sure he'd be a good father. He can be wonderful and attentive and funny and humble, while the camera is on. But he's too much like a child himself to give and not expect to get back. McLean is just as wonderful with children, and he does have the patience. I don't mean to make Richard out to sound like a horrible person - he can be very charming and very seductive and very generous and kind, if he wants to. It's just that usually when he wants to, it's because he knows that he'll get something back in return. When we first started dating, he showered me with gifts. We spent many nights talking, but it was usually about him. The funny thing is, with Richard, I wanted to talk about him - I wanted to know everything there was to know about Richard Dawson. I sort of feel like the roles are reversed with me and McLean. He always wants to hear about me. I feel kind of funny talking for hours just about myself, but McLean listens so well that sometimes I just lose track of time. I spent all day at home, and around 7 I got in my car and drove the 15 minutes that it took to get from my house to McLean's. He has a small house, neat and very lived in. He may be a bachelor, but he's had years of experience at it, and he knows how to keep his house clean. Not spotless, but nothing to be embarrassed about. He has two dogs, which surprised me the first time I came over. A big black lab named Rosie and a terrier named Henry, after the character he played on MASH, he explained to me. It had been a gift from someone on the set. I knocked on his door. He answered, looking as cute as he always does in in jeans and a blue sweater. He looked very happy to see me and that right there made me feel better than I had all day. I hugged him, which must have seemed strange to him, since I don't usually hug him for no reason at all, but I just felt like it. His arms around me felt nice. I liked the smell of his aftershave. I just stayed there for a moment, in his front doorway, with my arms around him. "Come on in," I said. I really had no idea why I'd come over. We'd talked on the phone, but when he mentioned going out, I knew that I'd sounded reluctant. "Is something wrong? You seemed kind of off this when I called earlier." "No... yes... oh, I just don't know." I threw my hands up in the air. I was sure I looked awful - had I even remembered to brush my hair before I care? I wasn't wearing any make up, and a ratty outfit that I'd thrown on. "Fannie, what is it?" McLean looked at me. I sank down into one of the large, soft chairs in his living room and put my head in his hands. "Fannie?" He said my name again. "McLean, I'm sorry." I looked up at him and smiled. He looked so worried. "Nothing's wrong. Nothing's wrong. I'm sorry. " I stood up again and put my hands on his shoulder. I've never been the agressive type, but suddenly I was feeling the urge to make a move. I kissed him hard. It took a second for him to respond, but he certainly did. His hands were grasping my waist and I was pressed against him. It was a heated kiss. I had been so intent on not rushing things before, but going slowly was the last thing on my mind. I led McLean into the bedroom. He even tried to protest, asked me if I was sure. But, being a guy, he didn't require all that much convincing. He was a wonderful lover - I might have been in a hurry, but he was all for taking his time. Those hands... Lord, I'd never have imagined that the man was so talented. It was around nine when my stomach started to growl. We had been laying in his bed for the past hour, enjoying the hazy mellow feeling that follows really good sex. He fixed me a ham sandwhich and a glass of soda and brought it to me, demanding that I not budge while he was gone. Watching him walk away clad in nothing but a pair of boxers, I realized just how wrong my first impression of him had been. He didn't have huge muscles, but he kept in shape. He was lean and slender, but what was there was well defined. The Match Game was filming the next day, so I told him I had to leave. "Don't go." He pleaded with me. Laying there, completely nude with a sheet up to my waist, with him leaning over me, argueing was the last thing I felt like doing. "We can drive in together. We'll leave early and I can take you buy your house to change. Please, Fannie." He kissed my shoulder. I closed my eyes and tried not to think of Richard. Yes, I know, it is totally and completely wrong of me to bring up his name at this moment. But I want to be honest with you - Richard had been on the back of my mind the entire time. It wasn't that I wished I were with him... not really. I just felt guilty for not telling McLean the whole story. If Richard hadn't come by and upset me like he did, put those thoughts into my head, then I wouldn't have come to McLean and we wouldn't have made love, not that night, anyway. I was glad that we'd slept together - I didn't regret it - I just thought it was for the wrong reasons. So I agreed to spend the night. Part of me genuinely wanted to... part of me just didn't want to go home and actually have to think about what had happened and why it had happened. It was so much easier to let McLean amuse me, let him make love to me, make me laugh. Not at the same time, of course, but you know what I mean. I didn't sleep very well that night, though, even wrapped in his arms. He woke me up with a kiss, and it led to more. We'll just say that my morning got off to a very pleasant start and leave it at that. When we arrived at the studio, there was a note waiting for me. I'm not sure how Richard found out my work schedule, but he had left a message with a secratery saying that he'd stopped by the night before and would try again that night. The note was from 'Dick'... I suppose with his history on the show, he was smart to not advertise his return into my life. I didn't mention the note to McLean - how could I? He knew nothing of Richard and I. At least, I hoped he didn't. He hadn't mentioned anything to me. Brett and I share a dressing room - she was my closest female friend at the time, and I quickly spilled the entire story to her. Minus the part where I slept with McLean - I hadn't even hinted that our relationship had been heading in that direction, and I didn't want to give her a heart attack. Brett may seem tough and hard, but she's a softie underneath, and a wonderful friend. That woman would do anything for me, and has just about offered to. She's always got some friend or another that she thinks would be great for me. After Richard left, I was so depressed that she spent nearly every night with me, trying to cheer me up. When I was done telling her everything that I was going to, she shook her head. "That ratfink. How dare he." There was real anger in her eyes. "Now I knew that Dickie could be real ass but I never thought he'd go this far. Does he really expect you to just take him back because he's tired of being alone?" I shrugged. I felt better, having gotten everything off of my chest. But Brett was seething. "I oughta call that son of a bitch and tell him-" "Brett," I laughed and grabbed her waving fist. "It's okay. I know how to handle Richard." "Oh, hun, I'm certain you do," She said with the utmost confidence. "But still, someone needs to show him the way things are supposed to be done." Obviously, someone had. Just after noon, while we were on our lunch break, a delivery man brought a dozen roses in, for "Miss Fannie Flagg". The look on McLean's face was enough to make me want to cry. He was surprised - but he didn't seem too angry. I grabbed the roses and took off for my dressing room. Brett started to follow, but I shook my head. After a minute, McLean came after me. "Fannie?" I was staring at the roses, blood red and absolutely beautiful. "I guess I need to explain." I said. I wasn't looking forward to it. "You know when I told you that I didn't want a relationship because the guy that I had been seeing hurt me?" He nodded. I was sitting in a chair in front of the vanity table and he was leaning against it. I had a choice here. I could either be vague and not give him a name, or I could tell him the whole truth. The card that came with the roses were unsigned. But I didn't want to decieve McLean, so, although it was against every instinct in me, I was completely honest. "It was Richard Dawson." McLean still didn't say anything. "We broke up over a year ago. It was his decision. When he left the Match Game, he decided to take a vacation. He spent... I don't know, I think a month in Europe. I'm not sure who he was with, but he wasn't alone. He called me one day and left a message that I shouldn't expect him back any time soon." I paused, seeing if he would reply to anything I'd said. "It was his car in my driveway last night. He still has a key... but I hadn't talked to him almost a year, I didn't invite him over." "He wants you back?" McLean stared at the roses. I nodded, but since he wasn't looking at me, I also said, "It looks that way." "Well, what do you want?" McLean certainly didn't look happy, but at least he wasn't furious. I thought for a moment. "I don't want to be hurt again." "Did you come to me last night because of Richard?" I thought about it before I answered. "No. I think last night would have happened anyway." "But would it have happened last night?" I was in anguish. McLean had never looked at me so seriously before. I felt like I was in school, getting in trouble with a teacher. "I don't know." "Do me a favor, Fannie." How he sounded so assured, so certain, I'll never know. "Go out with Richard. Tonight, tomorrow night, some time soon. Make sure you're over him. Because you mean a lot to me, Fannie - I'll come right out and say it. I'm in love with you. But I want to make sure I'm not fighting for you before we have any kind of relationship." "You want me to go on a date with Richard?" "Will he leave you alone if you don't?" "Probably not," I admitted. "So do it. Spend some time with him. I'm not trying to push you back into his arms - I just want to make sure that I'm not fighting a losing battle. I don't want you to suddenly realize that you made a mistake in six months and take off. At my age, I need something a little more permanent than that." So when I got home that night, I did something I seemed to be doing a lot of - laid down on my bed and thought a good, long time. By the time I got back up, I had made my decision. Richard wasn't worth it. McLean was what I needed. My momma didn't raise a fool - I knew a good thing when I had it. McLean was the best thing I'd had in a long time. But I was going to do what he asked me, even if I'd already made up my mind. I called Richard. He offered to come and get me that very night, and I told him yes. Better to get it over with. It was around 8:30 when he arrived at my house. I wore a black dress, form fitting. It was a dress that he had always admired - I debated on whether to wear it or not, but in the end, I came to the conclusion that it was the best outfit for the occasion. Black was somber, and so was my mood. I would finally have closure with Richard. He picked me up in a limo, complete with chauffer. He had obviously set out to win me over. But as soon as I got into the car, I laid out the whole situation for him. I told him that there was someone else. I told him who, even. He took it in stride - much more calm than I had expected. Richard tended to have a quick temper, but if he felt in any way wronged by my news, he hid it well. "All right, then." He reached over and took my hand, pulling it onto his lap. He held it, stared at it. "All right. If that's the way it is, then that's the way it is. But, Fannie," He said, his voice a little bit pleading. "Let me have tonight, love. I want to enjoy it. For all I know, it may be the last time I ever see you again. Have dinner with me. I won't try anything funny, I just want to spend time with you. I really have missed you." That last sentance sounded so sincere and so raw. Looking back, I think something in me began to crack right there. "Okay." After all, I had promised McLean that I would make sure I was over Richard. I had all intentions of keeping that promise. I can't really explain to you what all happened that night... except to say that Richard Dawson truly is an amazing man. Maybe it was all a plan. Maybe he realized that he'd come on too strong, with the wrong approach the first time he tried. But his quiet humor, his sharp mind, that low voice... it got to me. By the time he was ready to let me go home, I was more confused than ever. I truly enjoyed spending the evening, the night, actually, with Richard. When he held my hand, it felt natural. When he ordered for me, it seemed right. He knew what I liked and what I didn't like. In the limo, in my driveway, he leaned over to kiss me on the cheek and thanked me for letting him have this time. He pulled away, but not very far. He was waiting, because he knew me too well, and he knew what I could resist and what I couldn't. It was really all just too much. I closed my eyes and relinquished control to anything but my mind. When our lips met, it really was magic. It was an instant flame, no spark, no hint, just full force fireworks. His hands were all over me, feeling the material of my dress, his tongue in my mouth, searching and tasting. I felt like I was going to die right there. I realized on some level that I was doing exactly what I'd promised myself I wouldn't do. It was like falling into a hole, deeper and deeper, until I couldn't see my way out. All I could do was hold on to Richard and hope he wouldn't let go of me. But he did finally let go of me. I was breathless and disoriented, but Richard seemed unphased. He just looked at me with this little grin and waited for me to say something. "You son of a bitch." I said with all of the seriousness I could muster, but it didn't work. I ended up laughing and so did he. He grabbed me and hugged me. There was a moment where it felt like nothing had ever happened. "Fannie, darling, I love you." He moved back a bit and put his hand under my chin, making me look up at him. "I love you. I'm hope you know that. I'm sure you know that. It was never my intention to come back into your life and mess things up. It honestly never occured to me that you would have moved on." "I haven't." I said, very quietly. I almost didn't recognize my own voice, until it got stronger. "I've tried to get over you, but I haven't." Richard looked very pleased, but he was intuitive enough not to come right out and show it. "I know the feeling, love. Don't think I didn't try to forget you - but it didn't work. We had something, and I was too much of a blasted idiot to realize it. I know I didn't have any ground when I came here, and if I were a smarter man I might have just out and begged for forgiveness. But I didn't want to seem weak to you - the last thing I need is to have your strongest memory of me being a blithering whiney crybaby." I laughed at the mental picture. "Oh, Richard... I don't think I could ever think of you as anything but what you've always been to me - strong and confident and successful." He didn't say anything and neither did I. "Do you love McLean?" "Richard, he's wonderful to me. The last thing in this world I want is to hurt him. He loves me so much-" "I can't blame him for that one," Richard interrupted. "I don't know what I'm going to tell him... he told me to call you tonight, he wanted me to be sure that I was over you... I really thought I was, I told him I was... oh, Lord, Richard." I laid my head on his shoulder. "I'm so confused." "Fannie, Fannie, Fannie." He rubbed my back in a circular motion. "I have to go, Richard." "Fannie-" He said my name again. "Don't give up on us if you're not ready to. I'm here, and I won't go anywhere unless you tell me to." I got out of the limo without saying another word to him. What was there left to say? It was 2 AM when I knocked on McLean's door. He answered, looking weary and unrested. No big wonder, seeing as this was the second night I'd deterred his sleep. It was pooring down outside and I'm sure that I looked like a horrible mess. I was wearing black slacks and a blue shirt, without even a jacket to protect me from the wind and the freezing rain. He immediately pulled me inside and found a towel for me to dry off with. "I'm sorry..." I started to apoligize. "Don't." He led me into the kitchen and flipped on the lights. I sat down at the small round table while he fixed some coffee. "How'd it go?" I didn't know how to answer. "Aw, Fannie." He said after giving me a minute to respond. "You've still got it for him, don't you?" I still couldn't answer. It hurt me too much to say yes. He abandoned the coffee and sat down beside me. He took my hands in his, much like Richard had hours before. "I guess I always knew that there was someone else... you've always had a little bit of something sad in your eyes. I just sort of hoped that I could make it go away." "Oh, McLean - I'm so sorry." I started to cry and let me. Lord knows what would have happened if he'd reached out for me - I certainly wouldn't have pushed him away. I was half in love with him already, part of me always would be. But he didn't make a move towards me. I'm glad he didn't. It would have only made things even more complicated than they already were. The next day I called Richard and told him that I wanted to see him. Within half an hour, he was sitting on my couch. "I went to see McLean." Richard waited, patiently, though I could tell that it wasn't easy for him to refrain from commenting. "I told him that I'm still in love with you." Richard smiled... not the condescending smile that I half expected, but a genuine smile. "That doesn't mean you're off the hook, though, mister." I was trying my best to be serious, because it was a serious thing, but somehow I found it hard. Richard was back... Richard was here, with me. It was hard not to jump for joy. If it weren't for the thought of McLean and the memory of how I felt last time Richard deserted me, I probably would have been the happiest woman alive. Richard and I struggled through those first few months. More often than not, it was me causing the struggle. It was hard to forgive him - and seeing McLean, and knowing that I was hurting him, only made it worse. But Richard hadn't been feeding me a line when he said that he would work to make things better. I can't say that I changed him, no one can do that, but he really does love me and it shows. Most people in my position would stop and wonder every now and then, would it have been better if they'd taken the other road. I won't lie to you and say that I don't - but I am happy with the decision that I made, hard though it was. I'm happier than I've been in a long time.