By the time you receive this letter, I will likely be dead. I wish there was an easier way to say that but there’s not.
I meant to write you this letter so many times, but I wasn’t quite sure what I would say. I always thought that I would
have plenty of time. Now here I am near the end of my life and I’m finally getting around to doing what needed to be
done. I’m just sorry that it’s too late. I want you to understand that it was never you that I hated. I was hurt
and angry. I needed someone to blame, but I could never hate you. You were my best friend, and these past years have been
lonely without the joy that you brought to my life. Life went on and I lived it the best way I knew how, but there was never
another to take your place. You have no idea how truly sorry I am for the rift that was between us. I know that I drove you
away and I will meet my maker with the terrible regret of that. I hope that you can find forgiveness in your heart for me
and accept the gift, which I have left you in my will. Please come home as soon as you get this. If you hurry I may get to
say goodbye to the best friend I’ve ever known. If by the time you’ve gotten here I am gone, please take care
of the treasure I left you. It was my most cherished possession in life and I hope that you will embrace it and allow it to
bring you much joy. Please don’t let hard feelings prevent you from following through with a promise we made each other
when we were kids.
Tessa Burke set the letter on the table and stared at it. It had been years since she had heard from Annie. When she left
Chattanooga she didn’t look back. All the people who blamed her for what happened could kiss her ass for all she cared
including Annie. But as soon as the thought entered her mind, guilt assaulted her. Ten years had passed since she was the
nineteen year old girl that left town with a chip on her shoulder and something to prove.
Los Angeles had been good to her. It wasn’t long after she arrived that she had gotten her first break. She had arrived
at the casting call hours before its advertised time. Seven hours later, she left the audition feeling deflated. After messing
up her lines more than once and being unable to continue due to an obnoxious case of hiccups, she was sure that she wouldn’t
get the part. Tears had streamed down her face as she made her way to the low rent district. The pep talk she gave herself
has dried her tears and she had almost convinced herself that she would enjoy another serving of peanut butter and jelly and
When darkness fell over the apartment, she had climbed in the bed of blankets on the floor and closed her eyes. Tessa remembered
the prayer she had said that night. God I don’t know what I’m doing or where I’m going, but I know that
if you only give me a chance I’ll make you proud. I’ll be kind and generous and I’ll try to make you proud.
It was a prayer that God had seen fit to answer with an early morning phone call the very next day.
Stunned, Tessa had blindly accepted that small role, never dreaming that ten years later she’d still be there. In that
ten years she had done her best to fulfill the promise she made God that night. Affectionately, others had called her the
Mother Teresa of the soap world ¬¬ it was a name she took great pride in. Her eyes flickered to the letter sitting nearby.
God why do you have to ask the impossible? She felt her eyes roll and she knew that there was no option. Tomorrow, she would
book her flight to Chattanooga.
* * * *
“Tessa you’re in the middle of a major storyline! It will take time to find someone to temporarily take your place.”
Ron Greer pleaded with her. A deep sigh escaped her and she tried to reign in her irritation.
“I don’t ask for much Ron. I’ve worked on this show for ten years now and have taken very little time off.
It’s not like I took a notion to run off and take a frivolous vacation. I have to take care of some business.”
Ron eyed her for a moment. She could see the suspicion enter his eyes. Chewing her lower lip she met his gaze head on. “I’ve
never known you to be so secretive Tess. You are one of the friendliest, most open women I know. What’s up with you?”
Tessa sighed. If she wanted the time off, she was going to have to tell Ron the story. “I got a letter from a friend
in Chattanooga. She’s not well and needs me to come home.”
“I thought you didn’t talk to anyone from back home.”
Tessa turned away but not before she saw the look of confusion twist his features. “It’s just something I have
to do Ron. Annie may be dead already. But she had a reason for asking me to go home. I need to do it. If I don’t, all
the rumors will start up again and they’ll all think I was too ashamed to come home.”
Ron’s hand settled on her shoulder in a comforting gesture. “Why do you care what they think Tess?” He asked
She turned to look at him. His dark hair was shaved close to his head. His blue eyes were soft and warm. The wire-rimmed glasses
sat low on his nose and the fatherly like quality of him had always endeared her to him. He was so understanding, opening
up to him was easy. He had taken over as the head writer of And So It Goes four years ago and they had become fast friends.
He was one of only three people who knew the whole story of why she had left Chattanooga.
“Tess you don’t have to feel guilty. It wasn’t your fault. People were wrong to blame you, but you were
an easy target. If anyone should feel guilty, Tess, it’s them. They drove you away and made you feel like a criminal
and you’re not. You are the sweetest, most honest person I know.”
She raised her hand to cup his cheek. With the pad of her thumb, she swept the hard lines of his cheekbone. “You’re
a good friend.”
“When does your flight leave?”
“And you’ll call me everyday with an update?”
Ron sighed, “I don’t understand why you feel so obligated, but I guess that’s just who you are. I hope Jolie
Maynor is available.”
Tessa raised up on her toes and pressed a kiss to his cheek. “Thanks for understanding.” She whispered.
Tessa saw his half smile and knew that he really did understand. She turned and made her way out of the office before the
tears that threatened spilled over her eyelids.
* * * *
Leaning back in the narrow seat on the plane, she closed her eyes. Her stomach lurched at the expected jolt when the plan
touched the ground in Chattanooga. Taking several deep calming breaths, she tried not to focus on being back in the place
where she was raised. She couldn’t really think of it as home. Home is a place where you’re happy. Chattanooga
was not that place.
The doors of the plane opened and she gathered up her belongings and stood. Tessa waited for her turn to disembark from the
plane. When she finally stepped through the corridor into the airport that she had left from ten years ago, it felt like she
had been punched in the gut. Few changes had occurred. When she sat down in a chair at the gate, she closed her eyes and could
see herself as a nineteen-year-old girl. It seemed like it was only yesterday that she had ran through this very corridor
in a hurry to catch her flight to LA. Long blonde hair hung loosely over her shoulders and tears dropped from her jade green
eyes. It felt like her world had come to an end. Somewhere between Chattanooga and LA determination had set in. She would
make it, no matter what it took. And so she had.
On unsteady feet, she rose and made her baggage claim. The blinking light on top of carousel number four had her moving that
direction. Recognizing several other passengers, she determined that she must be in the right place and stood back to wait
for her two suitcases to come through the opening.
“Tessa? Tessa Burke?”
She spun around and ran smack dab into a rock solid chest. Taking a step back, she slowly lifted her head and met the most
incredible eyes that were the color of toasted hazelnuts. Chiseled features defined a masculine jaw line, an aqualine nose
and high arched brows that reminded her of something akin to perfection. She worked with some beautiful men, but none even
came close to this one. His warn smile and intent gaze made some of the tenseness that had invaded her body upon landing dissipate.
“You don’t remember me do you?” The smooth deep timbre of his voice was unfamiliar to her. She felt her
brow wrinkle as she shook her head.
The name didn’t ring a bell. Part of her was relieved it wasn’t someone she had once known here in Tennessee.
“I’m sorry.” She shrugged and turned back to the luggage carousel. One of her bags approached her and she
moved forward between a stooped old woman and a young man that didn’t appear to be more than fifteen or sixteen years
old. Before she could grasp the handle, a tanned arm reached around her and pulled the bag from the belt. Tessa turned and
Nathan smiled down at her.
“We met at a charity auction in Los Angeles about six months ago. You’re friend Belinda introduced us.”
Tessa went to so many events and met so many people she didn’t recall the event he spoke of. Belinda was her onscreen
sister and best friend. Tessa spent a lot of time with Belinda and her husband Shane.
“I’m sorry, I still don’t recall.”
“It’s okay.” A sexy half smile turned up the corner of his lips and she felt herself smiling back.
Tessa turned back to the luggage just as her second bag drifted past. She followed it until she was within reach and grabbed
it off the carousel easily. Nathan followed her with her other bag. When she stepped away from the crowd, she lost her balance
and Nathan’s hands shot out to steady her. His touch was warm and inviting. How nice it would be to be held in those
strong arms She thought as she focused on the muscles bulging underneath the soft fabric of the T-shirt he wore.
Straightening herself she said “I’m sorry. I’m not normally such a klutz.”
A low chuckle escaped him. “I know, I’ve seen you on TV. Always so graceful.” A blush heated her cheeks
as it always did when her fans complimented her. Suddenly she felt like she was in a fishbowl and she turned to see two women
staring at her in wonderment. As if meeting their eyes gave them the permission they needed, they took the steps needed to
close the distance between them. Damn. So much for going unnoticed. Normally she didn’t worry about being recognized.
It was always a blessing to meet her fans. She had hoped to fly under the radar during her time in Chattanooga. She pulled
the baseball cap lower over her forehead and smiled at the women.
“Are you Tessa Burke?” One woman rasped out. It was obvious she was a smoker by the deep, scratchy tone of her
“Of course she’s Tessa. I’d know my Tessa anywhere. I watch you every day you know. It’s a shame that
you didn’t marry Carl. Such a sweet man he is.” The woman said with a pat to her arm.
It always amused her when fans spoke to her like she was her character. Nan Carlisle was a part of her, but she was definitely,
distinctly different. Although sometimes she felt few recognized the differences between her and the character she played.
Tessa smiled at the women and said, “Thank you. I’m glad you enjoy the show.”
‘Would you sign this dear?” The woman with the raspy voice asked holding out a pen and a napkin. With a bright
smile that she had learned to wear every day, she scrawled her name and watched as the two women waddled away.
“It must be hard.”
Tessa turned back to Nathan who watched her with a look of amusement.
“Being recognized everywhere you go.”
A light laugh escaped her and she shrugged. “I guess I’m not so good at going incognito. Actually, it doesn’t
really bother me. I like to meet my fans.”
“Can I carry that to your car for you?” Nathan asked as he motioned towards her bags.
“No. It’s okay. I can manage.”
“Well I suppose I should be going. I have an early meeting. It was nice to meet you, again, Tessa.”
“You too Nathan.” She watched as he turned and walked away.
It took over an hour for Tessa to rent a car and get to the hotel near Hamilton Place mall. A place that brought back many
memories. She stared at the bright lights of the surrounding area and marveled at how it had changed since she had been gone.
An unwanted pang of nostalgia hit her and she debated going to the mall where she and Annie had spent many an evening when
they were teens. With a muttered curse she swung her car into the red roof inn and stiffened her resolve to do nothing that
would make this visit more painful than it was already going to be.
The room was small but livable for the time she would be here. She wondered how long that would be. With any luck, it would
be just a day or so and she could get out of here and go back to her happy life in LA.
It was almost midnight when Tessa stepped out of the shower. With a big yawn she climbed into bed and sunk underneath the
thin blankets. She tried not to think of tomorrow when she closed her eyes but it was impossible. Visions of her life here
danced through her head. Voices rang in her ears accusing her It was your fault. You killed Adam. You’re not wanted
here. You’ll never be anything but a murderer. A tear slid from her closed eyes and she moved her hands to cover her
ears. It had been a long time since she had heard those voices.
Frustrated, she sat up and picked up the remote control. It didn’t matter what was on, she turned the volume up a few
notches and laid down. The noise from the TV drown out the voices in her head and she breathed a sigh of relief. Tomorrow
was going to be a difficult day and she prayed that she would have the strength to endure it.