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Timepieces  
by Martha
marthalgm@yahoo.com


December 31, 1997
11:55pm

Frohike turned off the beeping alarm of his wristwatch and checked
the time. He wanted to be sure that he would be able to get to
the phone and make his call and be on the line at exactly
midnight. With Dick Clark on the TV freezing his ass off in New
York and the party crowd down the hall getting more than a little
wound up, he dialed her number. It was a silly thing to do, but
she like silly.

"Hello?"

Frohike acted surprised. "You're home? I'd have thought you'd be
out somewhere."

Dee laughed somewhat under her breath. "No, I just wanted to stay
in." <<And you knew that I would be home, too.>> She turned to
her TV as Dick Clark started to get ready for the countdown. The
noise from Becca's party began to echo in her receiver. "Are you
in Times Square or what?"

"No, I'm entertaining a cat and a pile of coats in a back bedroom.
The party's down the hall."

"So, we're both standing in an empty room at midnight on New
Year's Eve. Are we pathetic?"

"I like to think of it as older and wiser. I get into a lot less
trouble this way."

"I remember some of those stories." Dee reached for her remote to
turn down the sound as the counting began. "I wasn't expecting to
hear from you until Sunday."

<<Six . . . Five . . . Four>>

"I wanted to be able to say," Frohike waited for the countdown to
finish <<Two . . . One>>, "Happy New Year."

"Happy New Year, Mel. Got your resolutions thought up?"

He wanted to sound evasive about it, but he also wanted her to
know exactly what he was thinking about. "I'm working on one."

Dee could feel the slow crawl of a blush cross her face. He's
starting this again, she thought to herself; and I'm going to let
him.

"What are you being so quiet about?" Frohike coyly asked.

Dee sighed into the phone. "Well, I just thought back a few years
and remembered one particular New Year's Eve . . ." <<Come on,
Frohike, take the bait.>>

"Hmm, does it involve Johnny Mathis, a bubble bath, and a bottle
of champagne?"

"You *remembered* what was playing on the radio?"

"Yeah - 'Chances Are'. Quite prophetic at the time, I thought."

"You'd better hush. I'll bet that there are people who would kill
for that kind of information on you."

You have no idea. Oh, hell; Langly would use it as a lead story
in the next edition.

x x x x x

They continued to talk for a few more minutes before ending the
conversation with the promise to talk on Sunday.

Sundays at 11 pm. They would take turns calling the other. This
was only the second time that they had talked since that odd phone
call over a week ago. And then he had called right back.

Dee remembered grabbing the phone the split second it started
to ring. It was almost as if she had willed it to happen - if he
would just call back . . . And he did. And she spent the next
fifteen minutes on the floor of her kitchen where she had slid
down the wall next to the phone, halfway to tears, telling Frohike
how she had waited for him to come after her. Modesty was kept in
check; discretion went AWOL. If he could pick up the phone after
all these years, then he deserved to hear what she had done and
not done. She felt as if the last eight years had vanished in one
phone call.

She turned off the TV and headed for bed. She would have to be
careful about this, about letting him back into her life. She had
already jerked him around once by walking out on him. He had been
so damn polite about it, too. And here he was coming back for
more. What did he want?

She had asked the questions that she wanted answers to. What was
he doing now? Why did he leave Baltimore so quickly? He had
provided the answers, not nearly in as much detail as she would
have liked, but it was enough for now. He was definitely holding
something back, but she was not going to pry into his life so
quickly.

**************************************************

Friday, January 23, 1998
3:45 pm

The drive up Interstate 95 towards Arlington took longer than she
had expected. The weather had cooperated; the other Friday
afternoon commuters had not. Dee had plenty of time to make her
arranged meeting with Frohike, but she did not want to be hurried.

After nearly a month of talking on the phone, they were finally
going to meet again. Frohike had brought the subject up after the
first couple of phone calls. They were getting along rather well;
so well in fact that he rarely stuck to the one-phone-call-a-week
plan. He'd call to leave short messages on her machine, and she
found herself dialing her home number during the day to pick up
those messages. She was thrilled, embarrassed, and touched. But
the thought of meeting him again terrified her.

Not that she did not want to see him. But eight years can change
perspectives. What may be remembered fondly becomes a nightmare;
an idealization can not live up to its expectations. She had not
changed that much, physically, since she last saw him, but then
there wasn't a whole hell of a lot there to begin with. And for
the twelve-millionth time in her life, she wished that there was
something not so terribly plain staring back at her from the
mirror. Jesus, she thought, guys don't worry like this, so why
should I. She just prayed that she was not rushing into this with
expectations that could not possibly be reached.

She made it to her hotel with time to spare. 'Casual', he had
said, 'dress casual'. She did not want to dress casual; she
wanted to knock his socks off. But that was not happening with
her equipment, so she settled for looking presentable. Black
sweater, slacks, jacket. It was the best that she could put
together on short notice. Well, here goes, she thought, as she
closed the door to her room and headed for the covered walkway
that would lead her to the adjoining mall.

Dee spotted him first. She had waited at the top of the escalator
to see if she could find him amid the evening crowd. She knew
that she was early, and he appeared to have been there for a short
time. This is a good sign, she thought. She got on the escalator
and checked him out on her descent. Leather jacket, black jeans.
Definitely not as geeky as she remembered. And touches of gray,
too.

Dee caught her breath when Frohike turned and spotted her halfway
down the escalator. She felt like she was in one of those dream
sequences in the movies where all you see is that other person and
everything else is moving in slow motion; the conversations
surrounding you and the general noise of the crowd suddenly
transform into a low dull ringing. At least she had the
wherewithal to remember to step off at the bottom of the
escalator. It would have made a real good first impression to
trip and land right on her face.

She walked over towards him and held out her hand. It was not as
if she had a whole lot of experience as to how to greet an old
lover and was not sure if a kiss at this point would have been
appropriate, given that she did not know exactly how he would
react to all of this. Frohike followed suit, holding out his hand
as if to shake hers when . . .

"Ouch." The static electricity that shot through Dee's fingers
sent her into a nervous giggling fit. "Sorry." How embarrassing.

Frohike offered her his arm. "Here, ground yourself to this."

Dee threaded her arm around his, and they walked off towards the
restaurants at the far end of the mall, both of them smiling and
giggling and shaking their head at the other. She kept thinking
of a line that she had heard somewhere before: they were going to
have to pry the smile off her face with a crowbar.

x x x x x

"Is all of this legit and legal?"

"Well," Frohike began, "legit, sure. But I think that we push the
legal definition at times."

Over salad, steak, and baked potatoes, Frohike had brought Dee up
to speed on his activities in full over the past years. A crowded
restaurant seemed an improbable setting to spill some of those
details, but there was all the noise and no one was paying them
much attention.

Dee was both entertained and apprehensive about the narrative laid
out in front of her. Maybe it was a good thing that she left when
she did, she thought; she was not sure how she would have dealt
with some of the situations that Frohike and his friends had found
themselves in. Regardless, these events were now a part of him,
and she was intrigued by the subtle changes they had brought in
his behavior. He was still confidant about himself but not cocky
or brash like before. He also seemed calmer, not so ready to go
out and prove everyone else wrong.

After dinner, they walked through the mall. During the long slow
stroll back to the place where they had met earlier, he had asked
about her family and how they were doing, and eventually the
conversation got around to other relationships that had occurred
since they broke up. Frohike alluded to one, but did not go into
too much detail, a crush - no, an obsession - on a certain FBI
agent that may be brought up when he would introduce her to the
other Gunmen tomorrow. Dee had also confessed to a somewhat
intense courtship some years back but quickly dropped the subject.
It just did not seem proper to discuss past history with someone
whom you were trying to establish a current one.

They were up the escalator and across the walkway at the entrance
of her hotel before she realized it. She was dreading this
awkward moment, when they would say good-bye for the evening. She
knew that it would be so easy for her to do or say the wrong thing
or to give the wrong impression. But Frohike made it easy for
her. He gave her a quick hug and announced that he would pick her
up in the lobby at 9 am tomorrow to show her around, and then he
left.

Jesus, Dee, you really *did* knock his socks off, didn't you?

When she got back to her room, she noted that it was past 10 pm.
She had not realized that they had spent almost five hours
talking. The quick good-bye notwithstanding, she felt that it had
been a really good evening. No stumbles, no skeletons in dark
closets revealed; she'd had worse dates. She put it out of her
mind. He's just trying to figure out how he fits in all of this,
she rationalized. No need to go so fast if we will eventually get
there anyway.

Dee had undressed and gotten into bed and was catching up on the
news on CNN when the phone rang.

It was Frohike on a cell phone. "I got halfway home before I
realized that I had forgotten something. I've been wanting to say
this for a while, so I guess I should just go ahead and tell you
that I love you. Now, turn off the TV and go to sleep. I'll see
you in the morning." Then he hung up.

Dee nearly laughed out loud as she replaced the receiver on the
phone. <<There is something very wrong with that boy.>> She
reached for the remote to turn off the TV and pulled the covers up
to her chin.

And as she lay in the dark trying to sleep, she replayed that
phone call over in her mind and thought, "How am I ever going to
tell him?"


end of part one

(see notes at beginning of part one)

Saturday, January 24th

Most of the morning and early afternoon was spent showing Dee
around the Gunmen headquarters. Byers was already there when they
arrived, and he caught Frohike up on the overnight emails while
Dee wandered through the place. She found Langly's workroom and
spent time looking over his operations. Langly showed up later,
and the two compared industry notes.

"My R&D guys would love to get a look at this, if any of this
actually existed." Dee handed him one of her cards. "If you ever
get tired of hanging around these guys, give me a call. I'd love
to find out how all of this works."

Frohike interrupted them. "Your first visit, and you're already
trying to steal the talent." He crossed the room and made some
belated introductions. Langly was called to the phone, and he
closed the door to the workroom on his way out.

Frohike took advantage of the privacy and reached out for Dee.
"Does all of this remind you of anything?"

"Oh, I don't think that any of our friends back then were *this*
good." Dee looked around the room. "But I'm sure that I've run
into him before. Back in Baltimore. I just can't place it yet."

There was a knock on the door, and Byers entered. "Uh, guys,
Mulder just called. There are a bunch of games on cable this
afternoon, and Mulder's bringing the pizzas. If you didn't have
anything planned . . . Langly and Becca will be there, too."

"Becca," Frohike repeated as he led Dee out to the main offices.
"I've got to introduce you to Rebecca."

x x x x x

Empty pizza boxes littered the living room of Byers' apartment.
The last of a triple-header college basketball lineup had just
gotten underway on the TV. Mulder had already come and gone, and
Langly had just left for parts unknown. Byers had gotten up and
peered through the blinds as he watched Langly drive away. "He
looks like he's heading home." He hated the thought of having to
check up on him and despised himself for taking on that
responsibility.

"FOUL!" Both Becca and Dee screamed from their respective corners
of the sofa.

Becca was livid. "Are you BLIND, ref?"

Dee reacted to a play at the other end of the court. "Oh, well,
NOW he calls it."

Byers returned to his chair and looked over at Frohike. "Are you
beginning to regret introducing these two?"

Frohike just shook his head and continued to watch the animation
on the sofa. Dee and Becca were sports fans, vocal ones at that.
Byers did not have the first clue about a number of sports, but he
did enjoy basketball. With his height, it was the one sport that
he played in high school. But the two women were putting his
knowledge of the game to shame.

Half-time came along eventually, and the subject somehow turned to
baseball.

"Now, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium - that was a great place to
watch a game," Dee began. "It had great views even from the last
row. I feel betrayed by Turner Field."

"I should take you to Camden Yards in the spring," Frohike added.
"You'll enjoy it."

Dee stood up to start to collect the pizza boxes. "Hmm, the
Orioles. I haven't really been following them since Billy Ripken
left."

Becca began to help her. "How could you miss out on Cal's
streak?"

"Well, Cal's a great player and all, but," Dee looked a little
ashamed, "Billy's cuter."

"Explain," Becca insisted.

"When they were playing together, did you ever see the two of them
side-by-side?"

Becca nodded.

Dee added, "From behind?"

Becca locked eyes with Dee, and the two began giggling.

"Now Atlanta," Dee continued, "their starting pitchers, by far,
are the best looking ones in the league. Glavine, Maddux, Smoltz,
Neagle. Avery, when he was with them. Great eyes and great
asses."

Becca let out a loud scream. "Yes!" She then looked over at
Byers. "Oh, speaking of which . . ."

Byers shot a look at her that could only be interpreted as 'don't
you dare go there'.

Becca cleared her throat and continued. "Well, let's just say
that I wouldn't throw him back into the water." She picked up the
boxes and started into the kitchen, with Dee following her. "So,
your friend over there. What's his story?"

"Well, *if* memory serves . . ." Dee began. The two disappeared
into the kitchen amid whisperings and sudden outbursts of
laughter.

The two men in the livng room were left shaking their heads in
disbelief. Byers got up and followed the noise. "I'd better go
separate them before they learn too much."

Dee emerged from the kitchen a bit flustered and curled up next to
Frohike on the couch. He put his arm around her, and they spent a
few minutes exchanging some words and glances before turning their
attentions to the start of the second half.

Becca looked back into the living room at the other two on the
couch. "Young love. Ain't it grand?"

Byers put a hand on her shoulder and whispered behind her neck,
"Does this mean that the adults get to have some quiet time to
themselves?"

"Not TOO quiet, I hope." Becca grabbed his hand and began to lead
him back towards the bedroom.

x x x x x

"I love you."

Frohike had made this statement several times during the day. Dee
could only reply, "I know" or hug him tighter in response. She
still struggled to be able to get to that point where she was
comfortable with saying those words, where they had meaning and
substance. She felt that there had to be something missing within
her to not be able to respond in kind.

"I love you, and I want to marry you."

Dee was slightly stunned by his statements. She hugged his arm
tighter to ther chest but did not say anything.

"Jesus Christ, woman, what is it going to take to get a response
from you?" Frohike withdrew his arm from around her and hurriedly
got up off the couch. "Yes, no; you do or you don't. Just tell
me what is going on."

Dee knew that if she did respond to him at this point, it would
have been hollow. It would have simply been to repeat what he
wanted to hear anyway instead of an honest answer. And right
then, she did not have an honest answer. She could only sit there
and look up at him, biting her lip and hoping that the anger that
she was staring into would subside with her confused appearance.

It did not. "Fuck this." Frohike grabbed his jacket from the
chair and left the apartment, slamming the door on his way out.

She winced as the windows shook at the force of his exit. Way to
go, Dee; you've done it again. What is the matter with you? The
guy just wants to know where he stands. Dee leaned back on the
couch, both hands covering her mouth. She sat there for a moment,
taking deeper breaths and trying not to hyperventilate.

Byers, in hastily pulled-on jeans, reappeared in the kitchen
doorway. "Is everything OK in here?"

Dee found herself saying, "I don't know."

He stepped into the living room and looked around. "Where's
Frohike?"

Dee repeated, "I don't know."

Byers took one look at her and realized that something had gone
terribly wrong. She looked as if she had been stuck in that
crossroads where she would either break down and cry or get up
angry and start throwing things. She *looked* as if she had been
punched. He had only heard Frohike's voice echoing down the
hallway so it was a safe bet that he was the one who got mad and
walked out. Frohike rarely lost his temper in front of others,
but it was often quick and violent when he did; Byers had
witnessed it firsthand on more than one occasion. But he could
not believe that Frohike would go so far as to physically harm
her.

Byers took a few steps across the room towards her. "Are you OK?
I mean, he didn't . . . Frohike, he didn't hit you or anything?"

"Oh, god, no, nothing like that." Dee leaned forward to bury her
head in her hands and then quickly looked back up at him. "I'm
just going to sit here for a few, and then I'll leave. I don't
want to keep you . . ." Embarrassed, she looked back down at the
floor.

Byers and Dee shifted their attention to the sound of a key
unlocking the front door. Frohike entered, then halted when he
noticed Byers in the room.

Byers took a step towards him. "Want to tell me what this is all
about?"

"I've come to take Dee back to her hotel."

Byers glanced back at Dee. "She can stay here, if that's what she
wants. Or I'll take her back."

"No, I . . ." Frohike began.

Byers interrupted. "Listen, I don't know what just happened here
but . . ."

"That's right; you don't." Frohike bowed his head and sighed.
"Sorry." He then looked at Dee. "What happened is that I got
selfish and impatient, and then I got mad. We keep replaying this
scene. I want answers but then I'm not willing to wait for them.
I've already lost over eight years because of this." His voice
began to crack. "I had to come back. I knew where you were."

A small strangled sound came from the far side of the room; Dee
had finally chosen the road to travel - to break down and cry.
Frohike brushed by Byers and crossed the room, enfolding Dee in
his arms. Byers backed out of the room but remained in the
kitchen, listening to the whisperings of a couple with a long
history getting reacquainted. After a few minutes, he watched
them cross the room and leave.

Byers was halfway back to the bedroom before it hit him that
Frohike still had a key to his apartment.

x x x x x

They drove across town to her hotel in silence. Every now and
then, Frohike would reach over and give her hand a squeeze, and
then he would resume driving.

He loved her and wanted to marry her. Ten years ago, she would
have killed to hear him say that. Now, older, wiser, and not as
desperate, she no longer had to kill because he had said it. And
meant it. This is what I wanted, but it's happening much sooner
than I thought. Now there were some issues that needed to be
brought up and quickly, before all of this got out of hand.

Frohike parked the car in the hotel parking lot. Dee reached over
to grab his arm before he could get out of the car. "There are
some things that I need to tell you. I didn't want to blurt them
all out at once. I thought that I would have time to get
comfortable enough to tell you, but . . ." Dee fought to regain
her composure and continued.

"I really do love you, Mel; I'm quite certain of it. I know that
I can't always vocalize it, but I know that I do. It's never been
an easy thing for me to say to anyone, and I know that you need to
hear it more than I do." Dee withdrew her hand from his arm and
buried her hands underneath her legs. "And I'd marry you
tomorrow. But I can't."

"Can't or won't?" Frohike asked shakily.

"Both."

Frohike could not believe where his mind was wandering. "Does
this mean that you're already married?"

"No," Dee whispered, "but I was."

Frohike closed his eyes and leaned on the door beside him. That
accounts for some of the time lapses when they were getting the
other caught up with what they had been doing. That explains the
abruptness of that remark last night when they started to talk
about other relationships. It had never occurred to him that she
would ever get married. She had always resisted the notion that
all girls would automatically get married when they grew up.

And so she told him. "I told you that I moved back near my
parents after I left you. After a while, my mother started to
introduce me to people, to take me places. She was just trying to
get me out of my apartment, not to fix me up with anyone
in particular. I met someone who . . . apparently . . . was as
lonely as I was." Dee smiled and shook her head. "My mother kept
asking me if I thought that I was doing the right thing. She
would never come right out and say that I was wrong, that I was
substituting someone else for you. She had to have faith that I
knew what was going on."

"I knew that there was something I really liked about your
mother."

Frohike and Dee looked at each other and laughed. "We figured it
out pretty quickly that we had made a mistake. It was all over
but the paperwork within six months. I left Atlanta, got a job in
North Carolina. Been there ever since."

She continued. "I can't marry you because I want to have more
time to get to know you. I know that sounds odd, but we're not
the same people we were, and I just want to know more. And I
won't marry you because I need to be sure that I'm doing the right
thing."

Frohike nodded in agreement. "I can live with that."

"And right now," Dee added, "I'm freezing. I'm going up to my
room."

Frohike walked her to the lobby and escorted her upstairs. Dee
unlocked the door, entered her room, and held the door open.
Frohike took the cue and followed her.

There are some things that one does not forget about another over
the years.

Dee woke up in the middle of night and curled up behind Frohike.
With one arm wrapped around his sleeping form, she nuzzled against
the back of his neck. "Can you hear me, Mel? I love you. Did
you hear what I said?"

The squeeze of her hand gave her the answer.


end