|Phantom Heart Syndrome
Author: aprilsunshine PM
Owen makes up for a missing arm with a healthy serving of spite and sarcasm. And as irreverent and uncompromising as he may be, he might be Quinn's best alternative to her rash of dead end jobs, psychiatric medications, and unhealthy relationships.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Humor - Chapters: 14 - Words: 28,308 - Reviews: 59 - Favs: 37 - Follows: 68 - Updated: 04-29-13 - Published: 04-11-10 - id: 2795795
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
After they had looped the area around the lake, Owen led Quinn down a dirt path that eventually fed into a cement sidewalk. Though the countryside seemed to have soothed some of Owen's nerves, Quinn struggled to keep pace with his quick, almost evasive strides. Quinn thought morbidly of a rampaging moose goring her to death while fleet-footed Owen escaped with ease. While she imagined the extent of bodily damage a bull moose related death would have caused, she felt her feet slip on suddenly slick ice. Though she thudded gracelessly onto the ground, Owen hardly seemed to notice.
"This is town," he said nonchalantly as Quinn rubbed her assuredly bruised butt. "Do you want more coffee?"
"Jesus, it's icy!" she cried.
"Do you want more coffee?" he repeated. He looked down at her, attempting neither to help her up nor advance further down the pathway.
"As soon as my ass recovers from being tenderized."
"I'd lend you a hand, but I'm running short these days."
"Oh, you're so clever, Owen. And again, so shockingly unspoiled by the cruelties of the world. How, oh how do you spare me such compassion?"
"I am pretty great," he said. "Hurry and get up. We're late."
"Get up, get up," Owen said like an impatient child.
Wincing, Quinn rocked onto her feet and gingerly stepped away from the icy patch and followed Owen, whose eyes darted towards town.
"I thought you said you weren't in a rush," Quinn said as she jogged beside him.
"I'm a liar."
"Aren't my dumb lies enough for the both of us?"
He ignored her as they walked into a small restaurant called Lily's. The heating rippled through the cold wind that accompanied the slamming door. Quinn felt snow and ice thaw to droplets in her hair and began to fidget as the melt seeped through her clothes. A woman with a mass of ash blonde hair, tired grey eyes, and dull ivory skin stared at them fixedly. Owen stared back.
"My, my," the woman said as a wolfish grin appeared on her face. "Look who it is."
"Hi, Lily," he said. He stepped forward and they hugged. As if abandoning her entirely, Owen disregarded Quinn's presence and walked with curly-haired Lily to one of the empty tables. Owen sat on one side of the booth, Quinn sat on the other, and Lily hovered, leaning on the table.
Quinn hadn't been able to make eye-contact Lily or Owen, but she watched them both in anxious expectation. She didn't understand why she had been blushing uncontrollably ever since she had walked into the restaurant. She didn't feel uncomfortable. A feeling of discomfort would have implied some sort of acknowledgement or significance; Quinn felt like she did not exist.
"You look terrible," Lily said to Owen. "You really, really look like shit."
"You've aged pretty badly yourself. Though the cirrhosis gives you a really great look of terror and irritability."
"You're a fucker if I've ever met one."
"Do you mean 'lover'?"
"No. I absolutely meant 'fucker.'"
"How've you been? Business looks great," Owen said dryly. The only other seat in the midsized restaurant was occupied by an elderly woman nearly swallowed by her enormous black shawl.
"I've been great. Divorce has been great."
"Was this before or after you got to keep the house?"
Quinn stared at the pink lipstick that had bled beyond the confines of Lily's lips, unsure of whether Lily and Owen were going to step outside to duel or hug again.
"It doesn't really matter," Lily replied. She pointed a thin finger towards Quinn and whispered to Owen. "Who is that?"
Owen finally lifted his eyes to Quinn and then back to Lily. "Lily, this is Quinn Gallagher. We're… Well, I'm not entirely sure what we are at the moment. Quinn, this is Lily Simon. My sister-in-law."
Quinn attempted a smile though her cheeks quivered as Lily regarded her. Her enormous grey eyes seemed to blaze in their sockets and Quinn was stunned still. Lily's ironic and unhappy disposition suggested an intimidating mix of cruelty and faded beauty.
"Hello, Quinn," Lily said smoothly.
Quinn nearly swallowed her tongue. "H-hi."
"What an Irish name: Gallagher. McGovern and Gallagher… Sounds like a real lace-curtain pair."
"I'm half Swedish, too," Quinn said.
"Hmm." Lily made a disinterested mutter and said to Owen, "You know, for a second, I thought you were back with prostitutes."
"Rough economic times," he said. "And I prefer to call them 'women of the night.' It seems more romantic."
Quinn was unsure what to make of their banter. She looked up at Lily again. "Y-you don't look very much like Tasha."
Lily's eyes narrowed and she crossed her arms. "Well, of course not. I was the uglier one. Stupider, too."
"Oh…" Quinn replied. Lily and Owen laughed as if "oh" had been the punch-line they'd been waiting for the entire time. While Owen kept a small smile for a few seconds, Lily's laugh lines hardened almost immediately to stoicism.
"What do you do for a living?" Lily asked.
"I'm… I teach dance sometimes at an academy. I used to be a bank teller but I-I quit."
"To teach full-time?"
"Not exactly. Mostly because I didn't like the job very much."
"Do you plan on working soon?"
"I don't know. I've got some things to figure out before."
Lily clicked her tongue sharply. "Well, good luck figuring things out. I would just avoid figuring for too long."
"I'll get you two some coffee," Lily said before turning on her heels and striding away.
"Is she planning on poisoning mine?" Quinn asked Owen.
He smiled at her. "Are you mad?"
"Shouldn't I be?"
"Because she looks like she'd drop me in a vat of boiling oil. Is she always like this?"
"No. She's usually a peach, but I guess you're not really impressing her too much. Given that you're not Tasha, I guess."
"Can she blame me for that?"
"Sure. Women find a way to blame someone for everything."
"Can we leave soon?"
"Aww, come on. She's a good lady."
"She's my family."
"Well, she's not my family."
Owen shrugged. "I don't know what to tell you."
"Do I… Do I embarrass you?"
"What do you mean?"
Quinn let out a humorless laugh. "Come on, Owen. You know what I mean. Did you really need to ignore me for your sister-in-law? You let her roll me out like a pie crust."
"Lily is important to me. You are important to me. Get it?"
"She's my family. This? This is my clumsy attempt to introduce you to my family."
"You're not always very bright," he said.
"No. I'm not."
"Lily means well. She always has been Team Tasha even without Tasha. I know how it feels to be on the losing team. I can promise there wasn't a single argument that I won as long as Lily was a phone call away."
"So we're Team Loser?"
He smiled. "So it appears."
Lily returned with coffee and placed their mugs carefully in front of them. "Here you are. Anything else?"
Owen shook his head and looked at Quinn. Quinn shook her head, holding her breath as Lily regarded her silently. Lily clicked her nails on the tabletop before leaving the coffee pot on the table and returning to the front of the restaurant.
"Are you embarrassed by me?" he said.
Quinn picked at a spot on the table and cleared her throat. "Sometimes."
"Because of my arm?"
She shook her head. "No."
"Because you make me feel like a kid," she said. "A stupid, selfish brat."
Quinn smiled and kicked his foot under the table. "Get over your arm. It's gone. Don't be embarrassed. It was an accident."
"If I had anything to show for it beside a cauterized stump maybe I'd be less self-conscious. But I don't have that totaled car, I don't have Tasha, I don't have anything that might indicate that I'm not a freak."
"What's so bad about being a freak?"
"Isn't that what I'm for?"
"I don't always know if I can depend on you to be honest and I'm not much of a gambling man."
Lily approached their table once more and left two slices of lemon merengue pie. The whipped cream was dolloped over the rich poppy-yellow slice of pie. The scalloped piecrust glimmered a golden-buttery yellow. Quinn nearly vomited at the sight.
"I can't eat this," Quinn said.
"You're going to eat it," Owen said in-between a particularly large forkful of pie. "Eat it."
"No. I ate already."
"You've had nothing but coffee and liquor for the past god knows how many hours."
"Unless you can filter bacteria in the air like whales can filter seawater for plankton, I have to call bullshit on that statement."
She stared at the plate as if she had been served a cup of rusted nails. She pushed it towards Owen and drank more coffee.
"Owen. I'm not eating that pie."
"Well, this is going to be a long day in this restaurant. Eat or be eaten, Quinn Gallagher."
"Eaten? By whom?"
Quinn swallowed and slowly began slicing the lemon merengue pie into small pieces, arranging and moving the bits around the plate. She scraped the fork against her plate and brought it to her lips. The tart-sweet filling of the pie sparked on her tongue, her mouth watered but she put the fork down again. "I'm done."
"You ate a smear."
"Is that even a quantity?"
"Apparently it's the serving size you abide by," he said.
"I'm not eating this, Owen."
"I'm a little stressed to feel hungry right now."
"Liar. You're starving. Your stomach's been growling since before we left the apartment."
"I'll eat later."
"I'm not fucking eat this shit," she hissed.
He narrowed his eyes and frowned. "Fine." He snatched her plate away and finished her portion. "Eat something else then. Anything."
"No, I'm really okay."
"No, don't push it," She snapped. "You can't fix everything at once."
"Sure. It's wrong to think that people need fixing. You're way of doing things has been working out fine."
She cast her eyes into her lap, stung. She took another drink of coffee and looked away from the table. "I'm trying," she said.
"Doesn't seem like it." He bit his lip. "Sorry."
"We're going to be alone forever," she said.
"So you are afraid of being by yourself."
"Of course I am. Everyone is."
"Then start doing things differently. You can't expect to get different results if you're always doing the same thing."
"Because that's the definition of insanity."
"Don't you get it? Change doesn't happen overnight. You're a real asshole sometimes and it's unfair. You can't tell me that you like me the way I am one minute and then hate me the next . If you can't wait for me to work things out at my own pace, then fucking hit the road and find someone who's at your level of sanity or adjustedness, or whatever. It'd be easier to work on my own peace of mind if you weren't such a sermonizing, bipolar fuckwit."
"Fine,' he growled. "Be alone then."
"Fine," she said.
"Pathetic bitch!" he called. The restaurant stilled and Owen met eyes with several displeased customers. Lily came over and slammed Owen's hand into the table.
"You're disturbing my guests," she said. "What's the matter with you, screaming 'bitch' like that?"
He put down the utensils. "I'm done."
"What just happened?"
"I don't know."
"Are you going to go after her? She looks like the kind to get lost in her own house."
"She is. What am I supposed to say to her?"
"How do I know? I just met her. Better question is why you don't know what to say to her."
Owen sighed. He pulled his arm through his coat and shrugged on one of the shoes he'd removed. "She's something… something… I don't know."
"Well, get her before she slips into a crack or something. The girl looks like she hasn't eaten in days."
"Probably true," he replied. "All right. I'll see you before we leave, Lily." Owen left the restaurant and rushed down the snow-laden streets, jostling an elderly couple on the way. After circling the town square, he found Quinn in front of a closed library, lighting one cigarette with the half-burned remnants of the other.
"Found you," he said.
She looked up long enough to flick her extinguished cigarette at his feet.
"Don't be," she said. "You're right."
"You're right too. It's your life. I shouldn't try to rush you into anything."
"I know that. I'm sorry, too," she said. "I wish I could keep up. I should be glad you're trying so hard to help me."
"You don't have to feel like you 'should' do anything for me. For anyone."
She shrugged and popped another cigarette out of the carton. "I am hungry."
"What do you want to do?"
"Aren't you cold?"
"An ice queen," she said wryly. "Sit next to me."
He scraped his boot against a patch of ice and wedged himself between Quinn and the grey marble statue. He propped his chin on her shoulder so his lips almost touched her ear.
"I'm only human," he said. "How could you think that I haven't thought about having sex with you? I would strip you down and screw you senseless right now if I could."
"Why won't you then?" she replied.
"Because I want you to stay."
"I will. I promise."
"That's the thing: I don't believe you." He lifted his head and she turned her head toward him. She stared into his eyes blankly.
"Why would I? You're ninety-six percent lies and about four percent body fat."
"I guess that's true," she said, sighing. "What if I lose interest in you?"
"That's part of the challenge."
"And if you lose interest in me?"
"Not very complicated."
She stepped on her cigarette with the heel of her foot and looked at Owen. "You're cute sometimes."
"Why the coy smile?"
"I don't know. It's just… Sweet. You're really sometimes very sweet."
"Am I sensing a rush of affection from you?"
"It's different. With you. It's been a long time since a guy has been just shamelessly sweet to me."
"I can't tell if you're kidding."
"Well, obviously you have very jagged edges. You're ninety-nine point nine percent jagged edges but… It works." She moved herself into his lap, smoothing her hand over his hair. Her smile broke into a grin as Owen's face alternately blanched and then flushed. "I cannot wait to have sex with you."
Owen swallowed tentatively, unsettled by her unusual behavior. "I-"
She kissed him.