The Dean Problem
"You know, it's been a while since we had the chance to do this."
Dean sat down in his seat, watching his companion do the same. "We've not been out for a nice meal like this in forever, Nancy."
It was later the same evening and, with reservations already settled, the couple had arrived at the Nightingale restaurant, a well known romantic hotspot for celebrity rendezvous.
"I know we haven't." Nancy pursed her lips, absently inspecting the wine glass that stood at her right hand. "We've both been pretty busy, mind you. I've travelled and so have you. And we've had work. You know, we can't live in each other's pockets...we've never needed to."
"No, we haven't." Dean agreed. He paused.
"Nance, about the Music Bizz article..."
"What about it?" Nancy set the glass down, meeting his gaze with an apprehensive one of her own.
"Do you think that they're right?"
"About us and our potential as a couple."
"Oh, I don't know." Nancy sighed. "The media like playing games with anyone's love life. Do they really know either of us well enough to guess? It was just an article, Dean. I wouldn't worry overly about what it said."
"I realise that." Dean eyed her keenly, reaching across the table to take her hand. "I'd like to think that I know you better than they do."
"You do." Nancy told him quietly. "Better than most people ever will, Dean. That's the honest truth."
"As you do me."
Dean fell silent for a moment, running his fingers over hers as he considered.
"We've never really talked about this." He said at length.
"The whole future thing."
"Yes, that." Dean agreed. "And maybe it's time we did. I mean, if anyone should know where our relationship is heading, Nance, it's you and me."
"Okay, I guess I'm with that." Nancy agreed cautiously. "Though I suppose it's never really been an issue before, has it? Or..." She faltered, eying him carefully. "Or has it, Dean? Backstage at your show, you were talking pretty seriously. You've never been that way before. Is it just me not seeing it, or did the article really make you think on it?"
"A bit of both, I think." Dean admitted. "I've always known that one day that's what I want, Nance. I won't pretend otherwise. I want a wife and children. A family. And I'm twenty seven this year. I suppose the article just reminded me that the question is still there."
"Twenty seven isn't old, you know."
"No, I know, but Mum and Dad were married by the time they got to that age." Dean said matter-of-factly.
"We're not your parents." Nancy bit her lip. "So get to the point. What are you saying? That you think the magazine is right? We should be talking about rings and walking down the aisle? That I should be stocking up on maternity wear or whatever it is you buy when you start a family and prepare to be Mrs Stacey?"
Dean did not answer her immediately. Instead he looked at her long and hard. At length he shook his head.
"I'm not asking you to do any of those things." He said softly. "Because I can see it all too clearly in your eyes...it's not what you want. Is it?"
"I don't know what I want." Nancy admitted. "I'll be truthful. When that thing first came into print, it freaked me. Our relationship has always been safe...safe and uneventful. I could handle that. But commitment...something like Copper and Aaron have...that's a huge deal. A really huge deal. And...and no, I'm not sure it is what I want. Not...not yet, anyway. I'm a writer...music is my life. I have way too much to do before I think about family. Maybe one day I'll feel differently, but nothing could be further from my mind at the moment than children."
Her brown eyes softened.
"I'm sorry." She added gently. "I guess I've treated you pretty badly on that score."
"How do you mean?" Dean was startled.
"I've always known somewhere inside of me what it was you wanted from the future." Nancy spread her hands. "And I've known too that it wasn't a step I wanted to take. But I've avoided the issue, to keep us safe and on the level."
She sighed. "And that just isn't going to work any more, is it?"
Dean bit his lip.
"I'm not sure it is." He acknowledged. "Which is a damn shame, Nancy. I'm fond of you. I've always been fond of you. I love you in so many ways...and I know you love me, too. But it's not always enough, is it?"
"I guess it isn't." Nancy swallowed hard. "Oh, dammit. I'm not crying over this! Not in a public place!"
Dean grinned, picking up his napkin and holding it out to her.
"Here." he said.
"Thanks." Nancy took it, wiping her eyes then folding it absently between her fingers. "So...so are we breaking up? Or...what?"
"I really don't know what we're doing." Dean admitted. "Like I said, I love you. That's something that probably never will change. But just like you've known what I wanted, I guess I knew what you wanted, too. So we've neither of us been honest with each other. And...well...that's not a healthy way to continue a relationship." He gestured to her. "When we began going out, you were still a teenager and I was in my early twenties. It was way too early to start talking about any kind of future plans. But time has gone by and things are different now. We're both older. And it's time we both faced up to the fact we're not compatible. Not for the long haul, anyway."
"I guess you're right." Nancy agreed softly. "I've noticed, you know, that things haven't been the same for a while. When we started going out it was fun and new and, well, it was simple and easy. More recently it's been like we've taken each other for granted. We don't call each other so much, or go out very often. Or..." She pinkened. "Or the other thing. We haven't done that in a long while."
"True." Dean looked rueful. "Zoe has mentioned to me that I seemed to be neglecting you. The trouble is, though, I wasn't. Just like you weren't neglecting me. We just...had other things that were more pressing."
"Gee, I guess we're really not gonna make it down the aisle this year then, are we?" There was a note of irony in Nancy's voice, and Dean laughed.
"No, I don't think we are." He agreed good-humouredly. "But if we're breaking up tonight, Nance, I want it to be on good terms. You and I, we've been too close for too long not to stay friends, at least."
"I don't think that's an issue, you know." Nancy rested her chin in her hands. "In a way it's what we've become. We just didn't want to admit the spark had gone, because it would mean doing what we're doing now, and calling it a day. And I don't think either of us like violent change...that's one thing we do have in common."
"It was easier to carry on." Dean agreed. "But at least we're making a clean, honest break of it. Neither of us have cheated, neither of us have broken each other's heart over it all. Just a parting of the ways...and not all ways, either. Can we make it like that?"
"I think so." Nancy grinned. "Honestly, in a way I'm relieved. I mean, after that article came out, I was half afraid you meant to propose to me. And I wouldn't have known what to have said to you."
"Someone will one day, you know." Dean told her gently. "You're a pretty girl with drive and spark. You're going to attract more than just me to your side."
"Well, maybe by that time I'll be mature enough in a relationship situation to know how to deal with it." Nancy shrugged. "Right now I can't picture me ever getting married, but then, Mom never expected to meet Dad. I guess it could happen."
"And then there's you." She said playfully. "The heart throb that everyone's hated me for snagging for long enough. Back on the market - you're going to have a field day. That is..." She paused, eying him slyly. "Unless you've developed a fondness for your recent co-host."
"Rose?" Dean looked startled. Nancy nodded.
"Yes." She agreed. "You've spent more time with her than me of late."
"Oh, I'm teasing you." Nancy dismissed it with a gesture. "It might be true, but I know you wouldn't be anything other than a gentleman to either her or to me while we were still going out. And besides, it doesn't bother me in the least that you've continued to hang out with her even since she stopped guesting so often on your show. That's a clear sign if nothing else is that we should break up."
"I suppose it is." Dean was rueful. "I do like Rose, Nancy. I like her a lot. But it's like you said. I was spoken for, and at the time, so was she. It's a professional chemistry that's blossomed into a good friendship."
"Well, if you wanted it to be more, now you've your chance to do that." Nancy told him firmly.
"Right now I want to sort out my head regarding us, and getting out of a major long term relationship." Dean admitted. "And I'm sure you do, too."
"My focus is my music." Nancy looked sheepish. "I think it always has been. I've been warned by so many people that I'm going to wind up making myself lonely if I always put it first, but there is no other way of doing things for me, Dean. I can't help it. It's so much a part of who I am that I'm always going to give it priority." She shrugged. "I look at Syl's mother and I know that her marriage broke up in part because Mary is a musical genius and her husband never understood her. And she's one of the nicest people in the world - I'm far more wary of people and far more likely to snap their heads off when I meet them. That being the case, I'm prepared to end the old spinster, penning manuscript till the day they screw me in my coffin."
"Cheerful stuff." Dean said wryly. Nancy laughed.
"Isn't it?" She agreed. "But that's okay. By then you'll be married with seventeen kids and I'll come hassle you whenever I get bored."
Dean clasped his hand in hers.
"It's a deal." He agreed. "I'll hold you to it, too!"
At that moment a waiter paused at their table with menus, and Dean took two, handing one to his companion.
"Considering we've just broken up, we're remarkably upbeat." Nancy mused once they were alone again, opening her menu and scanning the list of main courses.
"I know. Ironic, isn't it?" Dean grinned. "Far more so than we were when we got here, actually."
"Life's odd like that." Nancy decided. "Syl will probably go mental when she finds out we came to the most romantic restaurant in Los Angeles to break up, but hey, since we're here, we might as well eat. And since this isn't a date anymore, do you want me to foot my half of the bill?"
"No...no." Dean shook his head. "You said I was a gentleman - so let me prove it." He winked. "Last time, to seal the deal. All right?"
"All right." Nancy agreed. "Our last time out as a couple. Though, I hope, not the last time we'll hang out together."
"Definitely not." Dean shook his head. "Even if it does mean reams of press exclusives claiming we're back an item."
"Well, since when have the press known what's going on?" Nancy rolled her eyes. "Honestly, if they ask us why we've split up, let's tell them it was all the fault of the Music Bizz article. That should set some tongues rattling."
"Yes." He agreed. "You know, I've missed this."
"You and me out together, bantering and talking as if there's nothing else to think about."
"Well, now there isn't." Nancy said simply. "Shall we order?"
"So, what's Alex's mother like?"
As Sadie pushed open the door of the lounge, Topaz cast her a grin, glancing up from where she had been reading to her young daughter. "You're later back than we thought you'd be - so obviously she didn't eat you."
"No, she was really nice." Sadie took off her jacket, dumping it down on the chair and then taking a seat herself. "I felt guilty, actually, for fearing the worst. We got along pretty good."
"Well, that's a good sign, right?" Topaz asked. Sadie nodded.
"I think so." She agreed. "I just can't help wondering if I'm doing something really bad by not telling her everything about me. She was so sincere, Topaz, and really honest with me. I wish I could be the same way but I'm a bit afraid to be."
"Well, noone's asking you to bare your soul to a stranger on the first encounter." Topaz said wisely. "If it's right to tell her later on, then you'll find the way to do it. But for now, the fact you've met and it was okay is the important thing."
She hoisted her daughter up onto her lap, setting the picture book aside.
"And it probably meant a lot to Alex that you were there."
"It did." Sadie agreed. "All in all, I think it went okay."
She glanced around her.
"Where are Syl and Nancy? And Cyn?"
"Nancy had a call from Dean earlier and she's gone to dinner with him at Nightingale's." Topaz grinned. "Though she assures us it will have nothing whatsoever to do with matrimony. Syl's upstairs, watching a DVD in her room. I was busy with Hollie down here and she wanted some space, so."
"Cynthia I haven't seen. I'm guessing she's working late again."
"Poor Cyn." Sadie looked sympathetic. "It's all she seems to do at the moment."
"Maybe it's a practical way of getting over Jerrica." Topaz shrugged. "She's not quite like we are. I vote we let her deal with things her way and don't question her too much."
"I agree." Sadie nodded. "Though if she starts to burn herself out, we might have to intervene."
"True, but I don't think it'll get to that level." Topaz grinned. "No, Hol," As her daughter picked up the discarded book, beginning to chew on the spine. "We don't eat books."
Gently she pried it from the infant's tiny hands, and Hollie's lip began to tremble.
"Where's her pacifier?" Sadie asked.
"Kitchen." Topaz grimaced. "She tossed it out onto the lawn when I came in to feed her earlier...I haven't had a chance to sterilise it yet and it's the last one she's got. She's developing quite a habit of playing hide the pacifier."
"She's probably tired. It is almost eight thirty." Sadie glanced up at the clock. Topaz nodded.
"Maybe I should go give her her bath and put her to bed." She agreed. "I just hoped Cyn might be back by now - Hollie likes saying goodnight to her before she goes to sleep. But I guess you're right - Cyn will just have to trot on up later."
"I'll help you bath her, if you like." Sadie offered. "I like spending time with Hollie."
"Thanks, Sade. That'd help." Topaz looked grateful. She got to her feet, adjusting her grip of her daughter so that the small girl could not wriggle free. "Okay, Hollie, we're going to play with the ducks and the boats and then it's time for bed. All right?"
"Cynthia's not home yet." Topaz kissed her daughter gently on the forehead. "So Auntie Sadie's coming to play instead. All right?"
Hollie did not respond, but from her expression it was clear she was far from amused. Sadie laughed.
"Guess I don't cut it." She observed.
"Don't take it personally." Topaz looked sheepish. "Only Cyn distracts her with holograms and stuff and she loves it."
"She's the ideal babysitter, in that sense." Sadie grinned. "Though one day it's going to take some explaining."
"Yeah, it is, but I think Cyn plans on telling her the truth, when she's old enough." Topaz mused. "They are close, Sade - I'd like to think that Hollie could grow up knowing and trusting in Cynthia's secret, without it being a problem. Cyn certainly seems to think so, and I like that she has that faith in my little girl - enough faith to share all of herself with her."
"Cyn has a great way with kids." Sadie nodded, following her blond friend up the stairs to the bathroom.
"Well, she was programmed to be a mother figure. It's logical." Topaz shrugged. "Okay, Hollie." As the baby began to whimper. "I know you're tired - quick bath and then you can sleep. All right? But your hands are all sticky, and what you have on your feet I can only imagine."
She reminds me of my niece Megan, when she was little." She observed. "She'd be into everything, too."
"It's so hard to stay mad at someone who's just so cute." Topaz rolled her eyes. "Though I think Hollie's begun to work that out. I try to be firm with her, Sadie, but sometimes it's damn difficult."
"Well, when Cameron is in America, you can hand those things over to him." Sadie's eyes twinkled. Topaz laughed.
"That'd make me popular." She said ruefully. "You know, he emailed me this morning."
"Well, he wanted to say hi to Hollie..." Topaz paused. Her eyes sparkled. "And he wanted to tell me that he's passed his exams. He's a full blown doctor!"
"So it's all set? San Diego and all?" Sadie asked. Topaz nodded.
"Yeah." She agreed. "I don't know how it works, exactly, but I know he'll be a bit late out here to start with the other residents. That unnerves him a bit but the changeover between the UK system and the one over here means there's a bit of an overlap. The doctors are keen to have him, though."
"Apparently he was third in his class and graduated with the top degree he could. And honours, too" She added, a note of pride in her voice. "They reckon he's gonna make a great doctor."
"He also asked Hol and I over to England to help him pack up." She continued. "I haven't broached it with Misfits Music yet, but I'd like to take him up on it. Hollie's old enough now to brave an airplane, and I'd like her to meet her Grandpa. She hasn't met Keith yet, or any of Cameron's family other than Laura. And it'd be so nice to have a vacation with her without it being a tour."
"With her...and him?" Sadie raised an eyebrow.
Topaz rolled her eyes, pushing open the bathroom door and gently setting her baby down on the bathmat.
"He and I are platonic." She said dryly. "But yes. That'll be nice, too. I just hope Phyllis will give me the time to do it. The way Nancy was talking earlier about the company's take on Jewel and publicity and all of that, she might not want me out of the country. But I'll push for it."
"I'm sure a week wouldn't hurt, and none of us would begrudge you it. Not even Nancy at her most song-driven." Sadie said gently. "It'd be good for Hollie to see the other side of her heritage a little, too."
"That's what I thought." Topaz agreed. She grinned.
"Staying with Laura and Keith might be fun, too." She added. "I guess it isn't just you who's playing meet the family!"
Prologue: Flashback - Sadie's
Chapter One: Los Angeles, 2015
Chapter Two: Enter The Stray
Chapter Three: Flashback - Sadie's Song
Chapter Four: Nerves
Chapter Five: The Dean Stacey Show
Chapter Six: Flashback - School Concert
Chapter Seven: Sandra Bray
Chapter Eight: The Dean Problem
Chapter Nine: Cursed
Chapter Ten: Flashback - Stir
Chapter Eleven: Secrets
Chapter Twelve: Robin Vs Nancy
Chapter Thirteen: In The Line Of Duty
Chapter Fourteen: Flashback - Griefstruck
Chapter Fifteen: Aftermath
Chapter Sixteen: Jewel Consult
Chapter Seventeen: Forever Changed