The Original Ending

The Original Ending

I know a lot of people were somewhat disappointed in the ending of Damsel Under Stress, but that wasn’t the end of the series, and it set up some fun stuff. If you thought the ending in the book was depressing, take a look at what I originally wrote (I was going through some tough stuff when I wrote the first draft of this book, and it really shows). This veers off from what’s in the book at the point when Katie decides to go to the office. In this version, she stays at home …

The phone rang, and I was surprised to hear Merlin’s voice. “How are you faring?” he asked.

“I’m okay. Still tired. My roommates took the news about magic pretty well, and they don’t seem to have any grudges about what I did under Ari’s influence.”

“I’m pleased to hear that. I believe you handled the situation admirably, from determining the problem to helping find the solution. You even helped salvage the operation by capturing our prisoner.”

“I was highly motivated. I’m just worried that Owen was willing to let them go.”

“Yes, that is a concern. He cares for you, and that can be dangerous under these circumstances if he puts his personal desires ahead of the greater good.”

It was exactly what I’d been thinking, but I didn’t like hearing it confirmed. “I think I might be in the way,” I said. “Whatever I bring to the table in terms of magical immunity might be outweighed by the fact that the bad guys now know that Owen will choose to save me instead of choosing to stop them.” I took a deep breath and threw out the idea that had been stewing in my head all morning. “Maybe I should take myself out of the picture for a while.”

“That might be the best option,” he replied somberly.

My breath caught in my throat. I hadn’t really wanted him to take me up on the offer. I’d hoped he’d say it wasn’t necessary, that he had a plan for dealing with the situation, and then I could stay, guilt-free. He wasn’t supposed to agree with me. “If you think it’s best,” I hedged.

“I’m primarily concerned for your safety. Mr. Palmer can take care of himself, and I have full confidence that he will eventually prevail. But now that our enemies can be sure where you stand in his priorities, that makes you even more of a target in the future.”

“Okay, then. I guess I could go back to Texas for a while, at least until things settle down here. My parents will be glad to see me.”

“Excellent idea. I do hate to see you go, for I’ve found your input quite valuable, but for the time being, it would be best for you to be away. Kim is handling your tasks well enough that I believe I can get by without you.” And there she’d done it. She had my job. It was almost enough to make me change my mind and stay, regardless of the consequences.

But this was for the greater good, I reminded myself. It wasn’t about how valuable I was. “Then I suppose you’ll let me know when it’s safe to come back?” I asked.

“Certainly, and I may wish to consult with you from time to time.”

“Well, then, uh, I guess it’s bye for now. Go out there and beat those bad guys.”

When I got off the phone, I realized I should have asked about the logistics of my departure. Then again, they might have hooked me up for a cross-country trip with Rocky and Rollo instead of buying me a plane ticket, so I decided against calling back. Besides, it somewhat reduced the dramatic self-sacrifice and martyrdom if someone else paid the way. I wasn’t prone to dramatic gestures, so if I was going to make one, I might as well do it the right way.

I knew I couldn’t afford a last-minute airfare, but I got out the phone book and called Greyhound to check the bus schedule and make a reservation. Then I pulled out my suitcases and started packing. I didn’t try to take everything; I wasn’t planning for this to be permanent. I hesitated over the single red shoe, then put it in my bag as a souvenir of my crazy New York life.

It was funny how much I’d managed to survive before without leaving New York. I’d been determined not to let Mimi get me down. No matter how much I’d hated my last job, I’d seen going back to Texas as a failure. And now I’d chosen to do it, just at the time when I should have been on top of the world. I had a great job and a great boyfriend, and I was finally making enough money to make living in the city almost feasible. But I was also standing in the way of something important, something bigger than my own wishes and desires.

I sat down at the kitchen table to write a note to Gemma and Marcia. I hated leaving them without my portion of the rent, but I knew they could afford the place without me and would both have more room. In fact, I was what had been holding them back from getting a nicer place. They knew I couldn’t afford to pay much more in rent, and so they’d stayed in a cruddy apartment that was way too small for two people, let alone three. I only had to brush tears away twice while writing the note, so I felt I was doing pretty well.

A ringing phone interrupted me before I could finish the note. I answered it without thinking, and then immediately wished I’d learned to screen calls the way Gemma did, for it was Owen. “How are you doing?” he asked, his voice so full of concern that it carried over the phone.

“I’m okay,” I said. I thought I should elaborate some on that, but I was at a loss for words, so I kept my mouth shut.

He let the silence linger for a moment or two, then said, “Good. You know, I can’t necessarily give you some hammock time, but how about going up to see James and Gloria this weekend? There’s some open space, fresh air, a nice back porch, though probably too cold for you to read on. We could even borrow their car and go driving in the country.”

I closed my eyes in mental agony. Not for the first time, I wondered if he could read my mind. Actually, I was sure this was just a case of him getting me. He knew exactly what I needed. The problem was that he didn’t know what he needed. “That does sound nice,” I acknowledged. This was the perfect opportunity to tell him what I’d decided. I even opened my mouth to explain that, as nice as it sounded, I wouldn’t be able to do it because I’d be on my way to Texas. But no sound came out. I knew I wouldn’t be able to tell him directly. I’d cry, or he’d talk me out of it.

“Can I get back to you on that?” I said instead. “I know you’ll want to give Gloria fair warning, but I’m not sure what I’ll be up to by this weekend.”

“That’s okay, and she doesn’t need that much warning, as long as I let her know before we leave for the station.”

Thinking of Gloria made me remember that odd conversation I’d overheard there. There were still parts of it that didn’t make sense to me, but I thought I knew now part of what they’d been talking about. They knew Owen was meant for big things, and that he had big things to do. Everything they’d done in bringing him up was to prepare him for that, to make him the kind of person who could face evil without being tempted by it. That was the reason behind the tough love and high standards. Gloria, I was sure, would approve wholeheartedly of my decision. She’d ache for her boy’s pain, in her own stoic, quiet way, but the greater good was all-important. Maybe she was the one I should tell about this.

“Okay, then,” I said after a while, not sure what else to say. “So, how are things with you?”

“Ari’s not exactly spilling her guts, but she is talking. She doesn’t seem to know that much about what’s going on, but she is grudgingly and gradually telling us what she does know. If she’s telling the truth.” He sounded tired, like he’d been on the receiving end of it all. I’d found a few hours with Ari exhausting when she was my friend, so I could only imagine what his day must have been like.

“Better you than me,” I said. “But I guess she really must like him.”

“Like him? She’s telling on him.”

“If she were in this because she believed in the cause, she’d be playing the stoic martyr right now. But she’s hurt by the way he treated her, so she’s lashing out. She’s in this because, for whatever odd reason, she likes him, not because she believes in what he’s doing.”

“I hadn’t thought of it that way.”

“Women can do funny things when they’re in love.”

“I suppose so. Oh, and a huge bouquet arrived for her. It looks like the fairy godmother is already at work. I got rid of it, though. I doubted she’d be more prone to cooperate if she thought he really had sent her flowers.”

“And I think it’s a safe bet that he wouldn’t have sent her flowers, not there.” I had a bus to catch, so I said, “I’ll talk to you later.”

“Take care of yourself,” he said, and again I wondered how much he knew or guessed, because it sounded more like a serious send-off before a long-term absence than it did a casual sign-off. That was the problem with being involved with a magic man. You never could be sure. I hung up the phone, finished my note, then put on my coat and collected my bags.

I almost faltered as I opened the front door for the last time. “It’s better this way, better for everyone,” I told myself out loud. Owen could do his work without having to rescue me. I wouldn’t be chased constantly by the bad guys. Gemma and Marcia would have a better living environment and would be in less danger without me around.

While it did help me get the nerve to walk out the door, it wasn’t encouraging to realize that some of the people you cared the most about would be better off with you gone.

I splurged on a cab to take me to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. I didn’t feel like wrestling two big suitcases on the subway. As I gazed out the window on the trip to the bus terminal, the grayness outside became almost oppressive. Why hadn’t I noticed that before? I’d started to think like a local, but now, before I was even out of town, I already saw it through outsiders’ eyes. The city was gray, noisy, dirty, smelly, and crowded, and it was full of so many weird things that even jaded New Yorkers would be astonished if they learned the truth. My immunity must have returned, for I was pretty sure I saw at least one Spellworks ad on top of a cab that passed mine.

My biggest worry was how and when to tell Owen that I’d left and why, especially when I’d talked to him after making the bus reservation. A letter would probably be best, I decided. That way, I could get everything out without interruption and without crying. But should I tell him the truth? I doubted he’d see things the way I did. He wouldn’t realize the danger I posed to him. He wouldn’t want to see things that way. He was usually so unselfish that he’d feel he should be allowed at least one thing in his life, and under any other circumstances, I’d agree with him.

But any other excuse would only hurt him. Surely he understood the cause well enough to see the truth in what I was doing. I was getting out of his way to give him the opportunity to do what he needed to do. And then when everything was okay, we could be together again. That ought to provide him more than enough motivation, and he had seen that we’d end up together, so we both knew this wouldn’t be a permanent good-bye, unless his ESP was faulty.

“Hey, lady, we’re here.” The voice of the cab driver shook me out of my thoughts. I paid him off, then took my bags and went looking for the ticket office. By the time I got all that taken care of and found my bus, it was already loading, so I didn’t have to wait around very long.

As the bus pulled out of the city after making several stops in the general metropolitan area, it seemed I saw more and more gray. Even the countryside, where the snow remained white, was sadly colorless. After a while, I realized that maybe the oppressive grayness was inside me, not in the city itself. But it was too late to turn back.

At each stop where we stayed long enough to get off the bus, I worked on a long letter to Owen. In the middle of the next day, I called my parents from some bus terminal somewhere. I’d completely lost track of where I was. I mailed the letter to Owen from that same terminal, sending it to the office because I wasn’t sure of his home mailing address.

The following morning, I stepped off the bus at the station in the city nearest my hometown and straight into my father’s arms. “It’s good to have you home,” he said, giving me a good squeeze. “We’ve really missed you.”

“It’s good to be home. I’m already feeling warmer.”

He collected my luggage and walked with me to his truck. “Your nieces and nephews were hoping you’d bring some snow with you.”

“And I’ve been hoping you were saving some sunshine for me.”

“Oh, there’ll be plenty of sunshine. A bit too much, what with the drought we’re having.” He heaved my bags into the back of his pickup. “Your mother is cooking the breakfast to end all breakfasts for you, so I hope you’re hungry.”

I immediately thought of Owen’s breakfasts, the meal he specialized in. It really was better this way, I told myself for the hundredth time as I slid into the passenger seat of the truck. It was better for everyone.

But that didn’t make it any easier.

I hoped Owen got his act together and beat the bad guys quickly so I could see him again.