Broken Vows Chapter 6

Republisher’s Note: Danny and Michelle meet to talk the day after the Bauer BBQ.

Broken Vows – Chapter 6

Danny arrived at the park early, but sat in his car for a few minutes because the last thing he wanted to do today was appear eager. He was a mess; he hadn’t slept all night, as his mind had been racing – What did Michelle want to tell him? Why had it had to feel so perfect to hold her in his arms again? And what kind of heel was he to treat Dee the way he had yesterday? She had been nothing but a devoted friend to him, and he had basically told her as he dropped her at her door last night that he was too confused by the reappearance of his ex-wife to be able to see Dee for awhile. All it took was five minutes in the same room with Michelle and his entire life was turned upside down again. Just like old times, he thought.

Michelle had also arrived early, having walked over after riding to Cedars with Rick that morning. She had so much she wanted to say to Danny that she really had no idea how to begin. She sighed and hugged her arms around herself as she sat on the edge of the stone fountain, waiting. The surge that had passed between them at the slightest touch, the warmth and safety she had felt in his embrace, had lingered with her throughout the rest of yesterday’s barbecue. Then last night, lying in bed, it had become clear to her. She knew what she wanted – she wanted Danny, back in her life. The hard part, she knew, would be getting him to admit that he wanted to same thing, and she also knew that there were certain things that she would have to own up to in order to accomplish that. She had a feeling that things were going to get ugly before they could get better, that there was a lot of metaphorical muck between the two of them that would have to be dredged, but she was up to the effort if it meant another chance with Danny.

They saw each other at the exact same instant, as Danny came walking across the park green, looking achingly handsome and more casual than Michelle had ever seen him –outside of their bedroom, at least — wearing close-fitting, worn blue jeans and a white cotton t-shirt. To Danny, Michelle was a vision in her pale lavender sundress, which appeared to be made of shifting layers of diaphanous material. The sound of children laughing on an adjacent playground filled the air, and Michelle caught herself imagining that one of those small, happy voices belonged to their child, that they were just a carefree young family enjoying a beautiful summer day at the park.

“Hi,” she said when he reached her. She willed herself not to lose her nerve, to have to courage to say what had to be said.

“Hi,” Danny stifled the impulse to tell her how beautiful she was. He sat down next to her, careful to maintain a safe distance, and tried his best to sound be brusque. “So, what is it that you have to say to me?”

Michelle carefully crossed her legs, buying herself time to collect her composure. She shifted her position so that she could look Danny directly in the eye. “Danny, first of all, I wanted you to know that I am so proud of what you’ve accomplished with your life. When I left, I thought you were so far gone into the family business that you’d never be able to get out, and instead, you turned it all around. You really are a remarkable man.”

“Thank you, Michelle, but–” Danny shifted uncomfortably.

“Please, hear me out, okay?” She paused, waiting for Danny’s nod of assent before continuing. “I know that you think I bailed on you, that I didn’t love you enough to stand by you in what I can now see clearly was your darkest hour.” She inhaled deeply. “And you’re right. I let you down. I let us both down, and I will never forgive myself for it.”

Danny was taken aback. Whatever he had expected, it hadn’t been for Michelle – strong-willed, sometimes maddeningly righteous Michelle – to take this blame.

Michelle went on. “I’m not saying that we weren’t both at fault to some extent. You did keep things from me, you broke promises, and you fell so easily back into the ‘Santos way.’ And that terrified me. I didn’t feel like I had any choice but to get away from you.”

Danny couldn’t keep quiet anymore. He threw his hands up in the air, then stood and brought them to rest on his hips, looking down at Michelle. “Why? Why, after everything we’d been through, did you just decide that there was nothing redeemable in me after all? I know I hurt you, I know I let you down, but how could you – my wife — the woman who once told me that I was the best thing that ever happened to her, who vowed that she’d rather die with me than live without me, just give up on me? I had given up so much for you, walked away from my family, the only way of life I knew, for you – and I did it willingly, gladly. And every time I screwed up, even a little, you’d threaten to leave me – that was always your first response.”

Michelle felt tears rolling down her cheeks. That didn’t take long, she thought, standing up and reaching out to him. Her heart broke a little more when he flinched away from her hand. “Danny, you have to understand, it seemed to me like you got sucked right back in so easily. Especially after your mother died, I felt like I was finally realizing that you couldn’t ever really walk away.”

Danny shook his head fiercely. “No. It wasn’t that I couldn’t ever get away, it was just that you wanted it to be instant, overnight. Like I could just snap my fingers and be done with it. It doesn’t work like that, but you never wanted to hear that. You made it an all or nothing choice. So for a long time, I told you what you wanted to hear, and in the meantime I had my mother, my sister, my grandmother, my father’s memory – not to mention the Sandovals – all pulling at me, and I was left to fight all that alone, even when you and I were still together.”

Michelle nodded. “I know that now. I can see it now, but I couldn’t then. I wanted to believe that love was easy, that it should be easy. And there was something else going on, Danny. After your mother was killed and I lost our baby, I was in shock. Real, physical shock. Things just kept on happening to us so quickly, I never had a chance to deal with the fact that your mother was shot standing just inches away from me, that she died in my family’s backyard, and then that the baby that we had both wanted so badly, our hope for the future and the proof of our love, was gone. And when all of that stuff with Xeno and Tony happened, I just snapped. I just wanted all of the pain and violence to end — that was all I could think about. I didn’t have any room in my mind for love, because look what believing in love had gotten me.”

Her face was covered with tears, and Danny felt his anger subside. Tentatively, tenderly, he reached over and wiped each of her cheeks with his fingers.

“Danny, being away all these months, I had a lot of time to think,” she continued. “And I saw that the way I reacted was classic Bauer – when life gets hard, we run away. That was my father’s solution, and it was Rick’s once, too. Why stick around and deal with things? Why let people disappoint you? Cut them off, shut them out, get away, move on. That’s what I grew up seeing, especially after my mother died. So I was just as guilty as you were of not being able to overcome my upbringing, my family’s ‘code.’ Marriage is a commitment to hang in there, even when things stop being all hearts and flowers, and I forgot that. I let my fear get in the way and hid behind my moral outrage. And I am so, so sorry.”

Danny felt tears springing to his own eyes. “I’m sorry, too, Michelle. I’m sorry that you couldn’t believe that our love was enough to get us through. I’m sorry that I had to work my ass off for the life we always wanted — without you at my side, where you’d vowed to me you’d always be.”

At that, Michelle actually sobbed out loud. “You had to, Danny. Don’t you see? You had to do it for yourself, otherwise you might never have done it, or we both might’ve always wondered if it was really what you wanted,” she choked out. “One way or another, it always would’ve been between us.”

“I know,” Danny said, and took her hand. “But you didn’t let me finish. I’m also sorry for everything I ever kept from you, for not letting you be the true partner to me that you wanted to be. I’m sorry for being too blinded by my own pain and confusion to see yours back then. And I’m sorry for making promises that I knew in my heart I couldn’t keep.” He shook his head sadly. “For two people who thought they had love all figured out, we really screwed it up, didn’t we?”

“Yeah, we did,” Michelle sniffled. “Danny … do you think … do you think it’s too late for us now?” She held her breath after she said the words, waiting for his answer. It felt like her entire life, any chance she had at future happiness, was suspended in that moment.

Meanwhile, Danny was engaged in an internal battle with himself. There were a million reasons that yes, it was too late for them, but with her standing here in front of him, her hand warm and soft in his, he knew that he had never stopped loving her, not from the very first moment he laid eyes on her. She could so easily break his heart again. But there was a tiny, open window in his heart — a window through which he could still see the future they’d dreamed off once. He could not be the one to close that window.

“I don’t think it’s too late for us. Not if we don’t want it to be.”

Michelle smiled shyly and reached out to touch his face. “I don’t want it to be. Do you?”

He put his hand over hers on his cheek and planted a gentle kiss on her palm. “No, I don’t,” he said.

Although neither of them was brave enough to give voice to it yet, there was loving shining in their eyes, and standing there together, they both had the same thought: Where there’s love, there’s hope.


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