Chapter Thirty-Nine: Unprecedented
Dr. Mic Gordon
All the scenes in my life began to look the same. Aubrey and I had been broken up over a month and it had been three weeks since she left for Los Angeles. In that time, I did very little that wasn't repetitive or monotonous. I taught my classes, went to faculty meetings, I caught dinner on occasion with a friend from Boston, and most nights, I wound up at Sisters or supervising a rehearsal. The days started blurring together. I could say I was depressed but that wasn't it. I was just getting on. Pushing through. Trying to stay in motion.
That night, I found myself at Sisters. I told myself I was going there to try to meet people but I don't think I bought that for a second. Still, it was safer to say I was "putting myself out there," instead of admitting the real reason, whatever that was.
"What can I get for you?" Spike Skull was behind the counter, just like he had been all those months ago. I had found out some time before his name was Tom, but I preferred the super-villain alias I had given him the night I met Laura. He set a cocktail napkin down, giving me an expectant look.
I ordered a beer, pulling some money from my wallet to hand over. Spike Skull shook his head.
"Already paid for." He gestured with his thumb towards a woman sitting around the corner of the bar. When she saw I noticed her, she gave me a flirtatious grin and a small wave.
I hated when this happened. I always felt like people should have to wear ribbons or something to signify if they were available enough to accept a purchased drink. That way, everyone would be in the know and I would be able to enjoy a beer in peace.
I shoved my money into Spike Skulls' hand. "Tell her thanks but no thanks."
He shrugged and took the cash, heading over to the woman by the bar and refunding her money. I sighed. It wasn't that she wasn't pretty, on the contrary, I found her very attractive. Her brown hair was cut into a stylish bob and she was probably a few years younger than I was. She looked slightly shorter than me and I could see deep brown eyes contemplating my reluctance. It wasn't anything about her. Like most things in my life, this was all about me.
The woman sauntered over. "Too butch to accept a drink from an interested woman?"
I laughed, wishing it was just machismo that had caused my unavailability. "Your offer was very kind; I'm just not in a position to accept it."
"I'm Meghan." The brunette—Meghan—offered her hand. I shook it.
"I'm unavailable," I replied.
"That's a strange name," she teased, picking up the obvious joke. "I've never met someone named unavailable."
"Well, it's aptly picked in my case."
"So what's the problem?" she asked, prodding me with a mischievous grin. "You've got a girlfriend? I can work with that."
"Nope, no girlfriend," I answered simply.
"Well, that's the most common cause of unavailability," Meghan remarked and furrowed her brow. "What other reasons are there?"
"I'm just… not in a position to accept your hospitality." Meghan kept her upbeat smile but I saw some disappointment flicker across her face.
"Anything I can do to change your mind?"
I shook my head. "Thanks for the offer."
"Why are you out here anyway?" Meghan wanted to know. She wasn't upset. If anything she was curious and slightly annoyed. "Why come out to a place like this if you're not looking for someone?"
"I am looking for someone." I raised my eyebrows, making a helpless face and admitted to her what I hadn't been willing to verbalize to my friends or even to myself. I was at Sisters because I wanted to see Laura. "It's just I have a specific person in mind."
Aubrey and I saw each other every day in the two weeks between our break-up and her departure for Los Angeles. We weren't trying to work things out, we just needed each other. We were both heartbroken and needed comfort from someone with whom we were truly close. We were the only people like that to whom we each had immediate access and so we found ourselves leaning on one another.
In all that time, Aubrey never once asked me if I'd changed my mind or suggested our break-up was just a one-off tiff, a mistake, a result of nerves. I knew why she didn't ask. It wasn't because she thought I was steadfast in my conviction. In fact, I'm sure she knew that with minimal effort, she could shame me into staying with her, out of a sense of honor or obligation to our history and because I did still love her. But Aubrey didn't ask. It was because it didn't matter what I thought. She'd made up her mind, too.
"Do you want me to drive you to the airport?" I asked Aubrey. She was leaving the next day. I was helping her clean the apartment she had sublet during her time here. Aubrey paused in her sweeping and shook her head.
"No." The reply was gentle but firm. "Dad's going to drive me."
I nodded. "That's good. He'll like that."
I went back to cleaning her windows, spritzing them with Windex before wiping them dry. They made small squeaking noises. I hate the smell of cleaning solution and the way it dried my skin out but this was the least I could do. I felt terribly guilty about everything. She was leaving and it was because I had all but requested it. I wanted her to go as desperately as I wanted her stay. I worried things would be different the moment she stepped on the plane, that I would regret my actions at once. Yes, Aubrey was leaving. I knew she was going. I had helped her pack her things, watched her ship them, and come back to clean an emptied apartment. I knew she was leaving and that it had been mostly my choice but once she got on the plane, I would have to live with my decision.
"Will you come visit me in Los Angeles?" Aubrey asked, shaking the dustpan into a trash bag.
"To try and work things out?"
Aubrey shook her head. "No. I just think I'd enjoy your visit. We're always going to care about each other, Mic."
'That's true." I set the cleaning supplies down and ran a hand through my hair, trailing it down to grip my neck. I felt trapped and cagey but I was almost comforted by how calm and ethereal Aubrey had been during this time. Sure, she had been sad and hurt. We had both cried during the last few weeks but she was better at accepting this than I was. "You've been so kind to me during all this, Aubrey."
Aubrey didn't reply at first. She looked away. Sunlight streamed through the newly cleaned window, exposing the dust her sweeping had unsettled. It glinted on the hardwood floors. The room was bare without Aubrey's possessions. All that remained was basic furniture which came with the rental. The walls were overwhelmingly white without her pictures and paintings. I felt like I must be emptied out the same way inside.
Aubrey sighed. "You were awful to me about Layla."
I hadn't expected that and my stomach twisted in knots. "Yes, I was."
"I'm not trying to make you feel bad about it," she replied quickly. "You were hurting and it was a long time ago but you were so angry… You blamed me for takings things I need but, Mic, a lot of those things were good. I hope that's true for you too. I hope the things you decided you need turn out to be good."
"I hope you find good things too." I did. I moved towards her. She set the broom aside as I did, intuiting my approach. I took her hand. "I'll come see you in Los Angeles."
There was very little else to say.
"I'm sorry," I told her, because I couldn't think of anything more to add.
"I know." Aubrey leaned over and kissed my forehead. "It's okay, Mic."
It wasn't. It might have been correct or right or the best thing to do but that didn't make it okay that we were both hurting. Hurting is never okay.
"I love you." That proclamation seemed as simultaneously important and irrelevant as my apology.
"I know," Aubrey repeated and she smiled. "I still love you. You'll always be in my life, even if how and why has changed and won't ever go back to what it was before."
That comment caused pangs of guilt and longing to erupt throughout my body. Things would never be the same.
"It won't ever go back to what it was," Aubrey emphasized. She had made up her mind about that. "But… we're still forever, in our own way. Always forever."
"Just one more," I told Spike Skull, setting down the requisite cash. He nodded and went to get the beverage. I had wasted two hours of the night people-watching and enjoying some slow music from a local bluegrass band. It could have been worse. Meghan had moved on to another target long ago.
As I sipped the beer, I wondered if I should have rejected Meghan, if it would have been all bad to move on and start conceptualizing how I would look with other people, people who weren't Aubrey or Laura. It didn't make sense to keep pining. Aubrey was in Los Angeles and besides, when I was honest, I didn't really want her back. I wanted the idea of what we used to have back and that wasn't possible.
As for Laura, well, I'd been hoping she'd show up every time I ended up here. She hadn't. Why would she? Last time we spoke she had a girlfriend, that obedience school woman. Amelia? Emily? Emily. I was certain they were still together. Who besides me would be foolish enough to chuck Laura? I had no way of knowing if she was interested in me or not. Sure, I could have just called her but I was never good at picking the obvious or simple option. Besides, even if I was, Laura had asked me to stop hurting her and I couldn't help but think that calling her when I didn't know what her situation was or how to verbalize my feelings might be doing just that.
I still missed her.
I decided to use the weekend to figure out what I should be doing. I had plans to go away to New York City. Jason had moved there a few months ago and had increased in his insistent demands that I visit sooner than later. I had made plans to see Jacob as well, to meet his family. I was excited. New York was no longer Aubrey's domain or the place where Jacob might be lurking behind every corner and I was excited to stop avoiding it. Maybe a weekend away would clarify things.
I set a tip down for Spike Skull but I wasn't ready to go quite yet. I still had most of my drink left and besides, all I had to go back to was an empty apartment. I would probably grade or call Aubrey. We still spoke often as she tried to force our evolution into simply being good friends. I was going along willingly but I was still confused about everything. Maybe that was the most compelling reason to take up with someone new.
I took another sip of beer and rolled my eyes. I had nothing to complain about. The break-up sucked, especially compounded with my lingering pain over Laura, but everyone's break-up sucks. My life was actually very good. I had signed a new contract at Ashton, I had made an effort to hang out more with friends from Boston, I was reconnecting with my long-lost best friend. I was able to still have Aubrey in my life and that was important. Hell, even Tory was making an effort to improve our damaged mentorship. Things were pretty good.
I still missed Laura.
Just as I was about to down my beer and get up to go, I heard a voice behind me, as if I had wished it into existence.
"Hey, Doc." Tory was standing in the doorway of my office. I gave her a smile in greeting and waved her in. She took a seat in front of my desk. It had been three weeks since the blow-up in my classroom and we had been working on being kind towards one another in class but she hadn't done anything as bold as coming by my office. "I wanted to know if you had a chance to look over my term project draft?"
"I was just about to get to that," I told her, holding up the stapled pages of her project in my hand. "I'm sorry I haven't graded it yet. This week has been exceptionally busy."
"It's okay," she replied quickly. I sensed at once it wasn't the project which was important to her.
"It's good to see you out and about." I commented dryly, but with a teasing edge. Tory had been on lockdown for a week for skipping school.
"Yeah, Dr. Sabiano let me off over a week ago," she explained. "A reward for serving out my sentence with honor and dignity."
"Well, she's not unreasonable." I forced a friendly smile. "Why did you decide to skip school anyway?"
"Well, that's kind of your doing," Tory remarked sheepishly. "Not that you'd condone the action but… I was thinking about what you said about asking for what you want if it's worth it and I went to go ask for something."
"And did you get it?"
Tory nodded. "Yeah. It's not what I thought it would be though. Remember what you said about things working out not being the same as getting what you want? You were right."
"My favorite words." I tilted back in my chair.
"The same's true for you too, you know." Tory's tone was filled with empathy. "I mean, you said you would miss Aubrey. Maybe you should ask not to miss her."
"I would," I replied softly. "If I thought that was something either of us were capable of giving. But it's not. It's also not what I necessarily want the most, even if I do want it."
"There's that other woman, isn't there?" Tory asked.
"What do you mean?" I didn't want to give her any more information about my life than she already had. On one hand, I was touched that she cared as much as she did. On the other, I was still unsure if it was appropriate.
"At Sisters that night, that woman you were with before Aubrey was there and when she saw you with that other woman… She looked so sad." Tory trailed off. I felt waves of heartache ripple through me.
"Laura, yes," I replied, wanting to give such a wonderful woman the respect of being called a name, made real and concrete, not abstractly reduced into an extension of myself and my mistakes. "Her name is Laura."
"Maybe you should ask her for something then." Tory's comment made everything sound so simple.
"It's complicated," I replied even though it probably wasn't.
Tory shrugged. "Sure." There was a pause. "I brought you something."
She reached into her backpack and produced a CD case. "I made you that mix I said I would."
I suppressed a small, affectionate laugh and took the disc from her. "Thank you, Tory."
"I think you'll like it."
"I'm sure I will." Inspired by her generosity and effort, I opened my bottom desk drawer, where I kept a stock of my favorite albums for when I needed to push through some work. With some careful thought, I picked one out.
"Give this a listen," I said, handing her a Dead Kennedys album. "It's a good start for your education into the classics. Bring it back for lesson number two."
"Thanks." Tory's ears tipped red. She was clearly happy by the attention and my willingness to bond over music. "I'll do that."
I smiled. Small efforts paid off. Things worth having were worth working towards.
"Hey, you," I heard myself reply but I wasn't there. I was being taken in by her, being rocked by the realization of how much emotion she evoked from her, how deeply I felt those feelings. The second I saw her, all my doubts and confusion vanished. I knew it was her, that I wanted her. She was the clarity for which I had hoped.
"Is this seat taken?" She jerked her head towards the stool next to me.
"It's yours." I was suddenly incredibly aware that this was where had met. It seemed like a lifetime ago. Several lifetimes.
Laura set her purse on the counter and shrugged off her jacket, draping it over the stool next to her. She sat down.
"Can I get you something?" I offered. Laura nodded and ordered a seltzer with lime from Spike Skull.
"I hear you've been hanging out here a lot lately," Laura remarked. I couldn't read her tone of voice or her face. Spike Skull returned with the drink before I was ready to answer.
"Yeah, I've been coming out a lot." I felt guarded suddenly, like every sentence would determine my future with her.
"So are you legitimately stag or just cheating on Aubrey again?" Laura asked. Her delivery was still neutral but there was obvious bitterness in the comment. My heart hurt. I had caused that bitterness.
"Aubrey moved to Los Angeles. We broke up." I stared straight ahead. I was afraid I'd lose myself if I looked at her. "But I'm not here trying to find a date, if that's what you think."
"Then why are you here?"
I steeled myself and turned to face her. "I was hoping I'd see you."
Laura softened but didn't let up her verbal repartee. "There's this thing called a phone that might have saved you some time."
"I couldn't call you," I admitted. I gave her a wry, apologetic half-smile.
"When all this started, you told me to lose your phone number." I cringed at the memory. "You were right when you told me to do that. I behaved very badly."
Laura stirred her seltzer with her straw absently, considering. "You didn't listen before. Why start now?"
"Because you asked me to stop hurting you so I… I was trying not to."
"I appreciate the effort." She sounded resigned, as if she were more tired than defeated. "I guess we end up hurt either way, don't we?"
"I guess," I agreed. I would have felt equally resigned but I was already too energized by being in her presence again, something for which I had longed these past months. "But it's worth it."
"Is it, Mic?" she asked. I didn't know if she was being rhetorical or not but she continued so it didn't matter. "All these months of trying to figure out if our relationship was as amazing as I thought it was for what? For you to buy me a seltzer and just sit there, offering me whatever it is you're offering?"
"I wish I had a better offer," I replied, my voice strained. Her frank assessment of the situation instantly zapped my energy. I suddenly felt insubstantial and shamed. "I wish I was more than this."
"It's not you that's not enough," Laura assured me quickly, squeezing my arm. The touch surprised us both. She let her hand linger, as if surprised by the jolt of emotions and then slowly let go. "It's not you."
"But it is, Laura," I disagreed, locking our eyes. I could still feel where her hand had been on my bicep. "I'm all I've got. What more is there to offer?"
Laura didn't reply. What could she have said? I didn't know what to say. I went back to my beer, taking small, tentative sips while she kept stirring that seltzer with her straw.
Finally, she let go of the straw and turned back to me. "What's the offer, then?" she asked, tapping into the attorney within her. "What's on the table?"
"That depends on a lot of things." I felt hopeful again. I felt like she had considered my proposal and might possibly be open to it. "How available are you?"
"Contingent on my mood," she replied. I couldn't tell if she was serious or facetious.
"What happened to Emily?"
"Oh, her?" Laura waived her hand in annoyance. "She's off U-Hauling it with some pediatrician in Waltham."
"Don't be," Laura dismissed the topic. "She clashed with all my favorite furnishings."
"Look, Mic," Laura forced an impatience into her voice. I could tell it was faked but it wasn't a joke either. "Say your piece already. I'll hear you out."
"I fucked up and I'm sorry. I behaved terribly." I bit my lip and tried to find the words with which to sway her to me. "But I love you. I can't undo anything but I do love you and if you let me, I'd try to make it all up to you. Oh, Laura, I wish I could undo it. I'd take everything back if I could."
Laura nodded. "So what's your offer?"
I blinked for a second, unsure of what she meant. Then I realized that all I had offered was apologies. I hadn't offered anything concrete which could move us forward.
"Can we go somewhere?" I asked. "Can I get you a cup of coffee?"
"I prefer tea." Laura's response was a stalling technique. I hadn't convinced her yet.
Laura sighed deeply and she dropped her head into her hands, propped up on the counter by her elbows. I didn't know what to make of that. She was stopping herself from falling apart but at the same time she was permitting herself to feel all of emotions. She stayed that way for what felt like hours but I knew it wasn't even a minute. Finally she pulled herself upright and turned to me. "Well, fuck it. I love you. So there you go."
"Really?" I had to verify it because I didn't believe it. I stood up. So did Laura. "You'll give me another chance?"
"I'm not making any promises, Barca Lounger," she said seriously. "But I do like tea. And I do love you."
"I think that could be enough. If you feel for me what I feel for you, I know it could be enough." I held up her jacket, helping her put it on with perfect chivalry. She grabbed her purse and I set my own jacket over my arm. She gave me an expectant look and we moved towards the door.
As we walked away together, I was aware that I was embarking on a journey far greater and more important that the pursuit of a quality cup of tea. I had made my choice and I was living with those decisions. I didn't regret it and that was something worth noting. I felt like I had conquered my past and so the odds were in my favor now that it was time to grapple with my present and, eventually, my future.
Laura's steps were long and efficient but something about the moment felt tentative. For the first time since she sat down, I was able to truly look at her, take her in and examine the ways in which she had changed in the time since last I had seen her. She had changed. I couldn't put my finger on it. Perhaps she'd simply had a haircut or lost some weight. Perhaps my memory just wasn't good enough to have ever fully imprinted everything amazing about her. Still, she was Laura. I recognized her. She was the woman I loved. She wasn't Aubrey but that was all right. I'd built my dreams around Aubrey but dreams are malleable. Circumstances—people—change.
Laura wasn't what I had spent most of my life imagining for myself. She was different and new and glorious and unprecedented and…
Something about her was perfect.
A/N: Well, there you go. I can now continue on without the ravaging guilt of having left a story unfinished, even if it's eight years late. Thanks for reading. It's always an honor telling people a story.
Please review if you enjoyed this ending and the story before it. I've posed some questions throughout and I'd still love to hear people's thoughts, especially now that it's over. I'm planning to write another draft of this which probably won't be posted here but if people want to read it, shoot me a message.
I am working on another story which will hopefully get posted soon. It's outlined, anyway, so look out for that or add me to your author alert if you'd rather make fictionpress do the looking-out. :)
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