When it was time to leave Monte Vista, Cara had considered going home to Santa Fe but decided against it. She wasn’t ready yet. She didn’t want to have to explain to her family why she’d broken her engagement to Donatello. She was ashamed of allowing herself to remain in an abusive relationship for as long as she had.
She’d sent her new address to her parents and told them that she intended to remain here for several months. She’d hoped that her sadness and depression would leave after being here in this lovely village and beautiful part of the country, but it hadn’t. She felt deep loneliness and sadness.
“Honey, no matter what has happened, your father and I love you. You can always come home and stay as long as you want. You don’t ever have to say a word about what you’ve been through. We will always be there for you no matter what.”
“I know it was.”
Then it was like a flood inside her was released and Cara told her mother everything. Alissa felt anger, sadness and self-reproach when Cara told her what had happened between herself and Donatello. She was so furious with Donatello for daring to touch her daughter that if he were in the room, she would flay him with her bare hands! Alissa’s hand was shaking when she took a drink of her coffee to calm herself enough to speak with Cara.
“It’s not your fault, Mom. I let myself get sucked in. I guess I was lonely, but that too was my own doing. You told me to be balanced and remember to have fun, but I didn’t listen. Maybe if I had, I wouldn’t have been so vulnerable for Donatello to take advantage of me.
“I guess one good thing came out of it. Now I know what I do not want in a relationship. I won’t ever allow myself to be taken advantage of again. Please don’t blame yourself Mom. Your example has shown me that I can get past this. Thank you for coming here, Mom. I really needed you here with me.”
Alissa realized more than ever that parenting was a constantly evolving responsibility with on the job training. So she had a serious talk with Cara about standards and boundaries in romantic relationships. Of course she’d had a “birds and the bees” discussion with Cara, but clearly that was not enough to protect her from a predator. She wished she had had this conversation with Cara years before now. Cara had had to learn the hard way.
Alissa would not make that mistake with her children again. When she returned home, she intended to have a serious talk with each of the others privately. That included Shawn and Sharlee. If they already knew what she planned to discuss, then that was good. She didn’t intend for any of her other children to make the same mistakes due to a lack of knowledge or experience.
“Cara, you have probably already learned these things after your bad experience with Donatello, but just in case you haven’t, I want to emphasize them to you. If any man tries to change you, dump him. You are an intelligent, talented and beautiful young woman. Any man who cannot see that does not deserve your time. If he dares to hit you, he doesn’t get a second chance. You kick him to the curb and don’t look back! Don’t let anyone ever mistreat you or disrespect you emotionally or physically. You never have to settle for less than the best.”
Cara was surprised that just talking with her Mom and telling her what had happened had already made her feel hopeful again. Alissa stayed with her for a week. Cara still didn’t have any definite plans, but she did feel like herself again. She promised her Mom that she would talk with her regularly and let her know when she decided what she wanted to do.
Alissa hated leaving Cara, but out of all of her children, Cara was the most independent. So she reiterated to Cara that whenever Cara wanted, she could come home. Cara thanked her. After her Mom left, the flat felt empty to Cara. She knew she didn’t want to remain in Italy, but she still didn’t want to go home either.
Alissa and Serina Broke spoke every week now that they had reconnected. Alissa and Dale had visited Trigger and Serina several times, and they had visited the Stallworths several times too. A few times, they had had dinner with Jared when he was visiting his parents. They thought that he had grown into a fine young man despite the things that the press and tabloids sensationalized about his life.
After Alissa returned from visiting Cara in Italy, she and Serina had had a long conversation. Without disclosing Cara’s confidences, Alissa had told Serina that Cara’s relationship with Donatello had been very difficult and that it was completely over. She told Serina that Cara had not yet come to a decision as to what she was going to do now.
Serina said that Jared had had a very difficult period in his life too, and she told Alissa something in confidence that they had managed to keep private from the public. Alissa assured her that she would not share that information with anyone else.
They admitted to each other that they believed that Cara and Jared would make a wonderful couple and be happy together. However they both knew that if they tried to play matchmaker, both of their children would be upset, and it would probably backfire on them. Besides, Alissa felt that it was too soon for Cara to enter into another relationship. Cara still needed time to recover from her break-up with Donatello.
“She seems to be in a sort of limbo. I don’t think she has the drive right now to progress in her career and definitely not a romantic relationship. I know that some people can be happy their entire lives without having a long term committed romantic relationship, but I know that Cara is not that type of person.”
“Jared just finished getting his degree in architectural drafting and design. That’s something else that the press doesn’t know. He loves his performing career, but his father told him that he needed something else to rely on in case he ever decided to stop performing. We’re very proud of him for working so hard.
“Soon he’s going back on tour, but he’s very leery of the people that he has around him now after that bad experience. He needs people that he can trust. I was thinking that Cara might want to travel with him as his personal photographer. He had to fire his last one because she sold some of his pictures to a tabloid. They would be working closely together, and in time, something might develop between them. This way they couldn’t accuse us of matchmaking.”
Alissa thought about her suggestion and decided that it was a good one.
“I’ll suggest Cara to Jared’s manager, and then he can contact Cara to see if she’s interested. Even though I’m recommending her, he’ll want to meet with her himself before he mentions her as a possibility to Jared. I know he’ll think she’s a good fit for the position. Then he’ll set up a meeting between her and Jared.”
“I have a good feeling about it, Alissa. I think it will turn out well for them both. They will have a chance to get to know each other again. At the very least, Jared will have a great photographer whom he can trust, and Cara will have an opportunity to do some of the work that she enjoys until she’s ready to make a permanent career decision. She will also have time to heal.”
They talked together for a while longer, and then after they ended the call, Serina set their plan into motion.
Charles sat across from the young woman quizzically. She had a degree in photojournalism and an excellent portfolio. She was highly recommended by Lampert & Hamming Studios, Town and Country magazine editors and by editors at the Albuquerque Journal. They were all well respected agencies in their fields.
Still, he wondered why she would want this job. It didn’t exactly fit with her other spectrum of work. He actually felt that she was over qualified for this position. He continued studying her, thinking silently.
Her looks were stunning. He’d seen many attractive people in his line of work, and she stood out among them. She looked very similar to her mother.
It crossed his mind that Serina might be trying a bit of matchmaking. There was a reason for the expression “mother knows best.” Either way, he felt that Jared would be lucky to have someone with Cara’s talent photographing him.
He told her that the position would call for a lot of traveling because she would have to tour with Jared. She would need to be on call with very short notice. She’d have to sign a non-disclosure agreement. After the fiasco with Jared’s last photographer, the agency lawyers had devised an airtight contract. He told her the amount that the position paid.
“I have no objections to the job requirements.”
Cara had been shocked when Mr. Foster had called her about the position. It sounded like a perfect solution for her right now. It’d be nice to see Jared again.
“Since you two already know each other, I’ll leave you alone to talk.”
Cara smiled at Jared’s surprise.
“Mr. Foster didn’t tell you my name?”
“Let’s start over. I’m glad to see you again, Cara! How have you been?”
Cara laughed and smiled. Jared’s heart started beating faster.
Laughing again felt good to Cara.
“The last I heard is that you were engaged. Your fiance won’t have a problem with you being away so long on tour? If I were him, I would want you with me.”
He saw the smile leave her face.
“I’m sorry Cara.”
“Don’t be. I broke up with him.”
“Yes, it was.”
“Don’t feel sorry for me! I don’t need your pity nor do I want it!”
She hadn’t intended to snap at him like that.
She started to stand, but Jared stopped her.
He could see tears in her eyes. He didn’t exactly know what to say to her, but he knew that he hated seeing her so upset. She deserved so much better. Now that he had an opportunity to have her in his life again, he didn’t want it to slip away.
“Cara, when I look in your eyes, I still see that little girl who I crushed on years ago. I remember that you had a warm glow from within that drew me to you. I still see that glow, and I feel it again. For me, it doesn’t seem like years. I feel like I know you, and I still care about you. I hope that you know that no matter what happens, I will always be your friend.”
She didn’t say anything, and he knew it was because she was fighting to hold back tears.
“I don’t know what happened between you and your fiance. Maybe one day you’ll feel comfortable enough with me to tell me. I remember that we used to talk about everything! Well, everything that was important to kids. I’ll never forget how hard you fell for me.”
Cara laughed, knowing what he meant. The day that they met as children, she fell from the treehouse, and he caught her. She gave a genuine smile and looked into his eyes. He was still the same good-hearted person that he had been as a child.
Her experience with Donatello had made her doubt her own judgement, but she was happy to realize now that it had instead made her ability to read men even keener. She had also learned what she wanted in a relationship, and what she definitely did not want.
“I need people around me that I can trust. My personal photographer will need to be there to take pictures at my concerts, professional events and sometimes for private events with my family. I’ve been betrayed in the past, and now more than ever, I need someone in this position that I can trust completely. I trust you, Cara, and I hope you’ll accept the position.”
Cara laughed too. Then Jared became serious.
He looked troubled. He didn’t want to scare her away. He already felt a strong connection with her and wanted to become closer.
He decided it would be better to show her rather than tell her what she still needed to know about him.
“Do you have any plans for this evening?”
“No. I wasn’t sure how this interview would go, and you and your family are the only people that I know here.”
“Why don’t you have dinner with me at my parent’s place tonight? I know my mom will want to see you. I bet she is the one who suggested that Charles contact you about the photographer position. Also, there is someone there that I want you to meet.”
“Sure. I’d like that.”
He told her that he’d pick her up at her hotel at 5:00. Then he called Charles back into the office to make the final arrangements for Cara’s employment.
“Cara! Let me look at you!”
She was smiling, and Cara could see that they were all genuinely happy that she was there. It was just what she needed. A little boy who looked about two or three came into the room and ran over to Jared.
Jared picked him up and hugged him.
“Cara, this is my little son Casey. Casey, this is daddy’s friend Cara.”
“Cara we’re all happy that you’re here, and that you’re going to be working with Jared.”
She carried Casey into the kitchen, and Jared took Cara outside to talk.
“Where is Casey’s mother?”
“I have no idea, and I don’t care. I know that was a shock, Cara. It hasn’t been easy keeping his existence from the press, but I didn’t want him hounded by paparazzi and reporters. So, I’ve paid a lot of money to keep it private.”
He paused trying to think of how to explain what had happened.
“When I reached 17, I think my popularity, my celebrity status went to my head. My parents were no longer in control of my activities. They tried, but I rebelled and didn’t listen. I guess you could say that I went a bit wild. There were a lot of groupies, parties and drinking. At least I didn’t fall into the trap of taking drugs although there was a lot of that around me too.”
He glanced at her and then took a deep breath. He didn’t want to tarnish her view of him, but she had to hear it. He didn’t want her to learn about it from anyone else. He wanted everything to be open between them.
“One night, I was at a party at Chris Brown’s house. We were tight for a while. Anyway, there were a lot of people there. There were a lot of good looking women like at all the parties I attended. I’m not saying this to brag, but it’s just the way it is for me. The women were all over me.”
He didn’t look at her. Cara could see that he was having a difficult time telling her what had happened.
Then he looked her in the eye.
This time her head and her heart were telling her to stay. This time she knew that Jared would not hurt her like Donatello had. This time she knew that Jared needed her and she… Maybe she needed him too!
“The party degenerated into pretty much an “orgy.” I ended up in a bed with…two women. I was totally wasted by then. I later found out that I was targeted that night. Over the years, I’ve had women stalking me. Even when I was a young teen.
“One of the women I slept with that night had not been invited to the party. She’d managed to slip in past security. She was an older woman, and I was just a foolish, rebellious seventeen-year-old. Evidently, she sabotaged the protection that I tried to use with her and intentionally wanted to get pregnant.
“A few weeks later, she contacted my agent and told him that she was pregnant with my baby. She wanted me to marry her, or she threatened that she would go to the press.”
He looked at her searchingly. He was relieved to see that she wasn’t disgusted by what had happened, but seemed to really feel empathy for him. He continued speaking. He wanted to get it all out in the open.
“My parents contacted an attorney. Because I was seventeen when we slept together, I was under the age of consent for the part of California where the party was held. So, my attorney threatened her with legal action if she disclosed any information about me or the pregnancy to any one. They demanded a paternity test as well. The test showed that the baby was mine.
“After the baby was born, she seemed to still believe that I would marry her. When she found out that that was not going to happen, she didn’t want him any more. She wanted to put my son up for adoption. No way was I or my parents going to let that happen. She agreed to give up her parental rights in exchange for a big settlement payment. She’s legally prohibited from disclosing his existence and can have no future contact with him, me or with my family.
“So I have my little Casey now. My parents have been a huge help in raising him. I’ve had to mature fast, but he’s worth all of the effort. He’ll be with me occasionally on tour. My mom will come with him to take care of him. I think she likes coming to see for herself that I’m doing okay. The press doesn’t know he’s mine. They think he’s my baby brother.”
“One day I do, with the right man.”
After him telling her such a deeply personal part of his past, she felt like she could tell him what had happened between her and Donatello. It didn’t feel strange that even though they had just reconnected, they were sharing confidences. So Cara opened up to him. At some points while speaking, she cried. Jared listened in shock, anger and deep empathy.
“Cara, I don’t understand how any man could hurt you like that…,” his voice broke with deep emotion, “I promise you that I will never hurt you or let anyone else hurt you now that you’re back in my life.”
For the next year and a half, Cara went on tour with Jared, and she enjoyed the new type of job experience. Their relationship progressed slowly. It hadn’t been easy for Cara to completely open up her heart again, but Jared had been patient. By the end of his tour, they were dating exclusively.
“Cara, thank you for working with me during my tour. It would not have gone as well without you, and I’m not just saying that because I’m in love with you. You are extremely talented.”
“Thank you, you made it easy for me because you’re so hot and photogenic.”
“Hun, you know you can ask me anything. I’m always honest with you.”
She was surprised by the question and by the fact that it had been a long while since she’d even thought about Donatello.
She always wanted to be as open with him as she could be.
“I’ll admit that the first couple of weeks after our break-up, I would occasionally crave being with him, or I should say that my body would crave his. I’ve said it before that he was like an addiction, and I’m so happy to be free of him! It was not a healthy relationship in any way for me. He didn’t love me. He tried to control me, and I think he saw me as some kind of a trophy because I was so much younger than he was. I didn’t love him either, Jared. I’m in love with you. Please believe that. What we have together is completely different and precious to me.”
She smiled and her faced glowed with happiness. Jared was thankful to see her so happy. Now he knew that she had totally recovered from her experience with Donatello. Her heart was completely his, and he felt the same way about her. Her happiness was important to him, and he wanted her to achieve her dreams just as he had achieved his.
“You told me that you had intended to travel around the world and freelance after you got your degree. Donatello interrupted those plans. Touring with me was also a break in those plans. Don’t you think that now is a good time to get back on track with your dreams?”
“I know what you’re trying to do, and I love you even more for it. One thing that Donatello told me is very true. He said that sometimes plans change and for the better. I want to show you something.”
She went and got her portfolio. She showed it to him. She had pictures that she had taken in every city that Jared had performed while on his tour.
“Like I said, your talent is amazing.”
“So is yours, and thank you, Honey. That means a lot to me. Look more closely at the pictures. They are dated.”
“You took a lot of these on the tour?”
“Yes, sometimes while you were in rehearsals and meetings, I went out and took pictures in the different cities and towns that we visited. I’ve already sent pictures to some major magazines and newspapers that interest me. I should be receiving word later in the week as to whether they want to purchase them. I know that if they purchase them, they will want more. I was going to tell you after I heard back from them. You’re already helping me fulfill my dreams too.”
Jared kissed her.
“On whether you like the fringe benefits.”
“I love the fringe benefits.”
When the song ended, he introduced her to the audience as his girlfriend and told the story of how they had met as children.
“From the time that you fell from the sky into my arms, I knew that you were a beautiful angel sent for only me. I don’t want to live another day without knowing that you will always be a part of me. That we will build and share a life together. That we will help each other fulfill all of our dreams. I’m in love with you! Cara please be my wife! Please say that you will marry me!”
Cara told him softly. “I love you, Jared.”
Everyone was clapping and some were crying! Jared’s concert was televised, and he had told their families and friends to watch it that night. They were all overjoyed! Alissa had called Serina, and they had cried happy tears together over the phone.
Cara was pleased to discover that she was enthusiastic about planning this wedding. Her attitude and excitement were totally different from when she’d been planning to marry Donatello. She was happy and wanted everything to be memorable and special for herself and Jared. She wanted a beachside wedding.
She couldn’t wait until she was his wife. She never had to wonder if he truly loved her. Even when he wasn’t saying the words, Cara knew he loved her by the way that he looked at her and the way that he treated her.
Casey would be living with her and Jared after their wedding, and she had become close to him. He was an active, loving child. She didn’t want him to doubt that she loved him as much as any future children she and Jared planned to have. So she’d explained to Jared that she wanted to legally adopt him. Jared had agreed happily. After the adoption was final, they had sat down with Casey and explained that out of all the little boys in the world she had chosen him to be her little boy, and that she was his mommy now. Casey had been excited and happy that she was his mother and had immediately begun calling her mommy. They were counting down the days until the wedding!
The wedding is in the next chapter. There were too many pictures to add it in this one. 🙂