Chapter Two: Lukewarm

Mack, Now.

                Waiting rooms are pastel swirls to me. The smells of hospitals have long since intoxicated me. I got used to losing my senses in them in the long months before my mother's death. And now this waiting room- a hall really- with its bland pastel blue chairs have swirled just like every waiting room in every hospital in every town in the entire world.

                Looking up from my hands, I saw Dagmar walking towards me with tentative steps. Maybe they just seemed tentative. "Here," she said gently, handing me one of the two cups she had in her hands. "Cocoa."

                I take the cup from her. It's got an ad for some allergy medicine on it. "Do you…" I force a smile. "Have any marshmallows?"

                Her smile comforts me, making me feel warm for a second. I've felt so cold for so long. "I'm not drinking coffee, am I?"

                "You…" I breathe a sigh of comfort. "Are so weird."

                "Yeah," she agrees, nodding congenially. "But that needn't be so bad."

                "Yes," I murmur softly. "It needn't be." She gives me another friendly smile and then starts writing with a pen that advertises relief from heartburn onto a piece of paper that promises relief from backache. But Dagmar doesn't have back problems, and she doesn't get heartburn.

                I feel a strange twinge of guilt that I'm letting myself take comfort in her smile. I don't… I don't deserve this from her. I know Dag doesn't think I feel things but… I do. I feel the things she thinks I could never feel. Guilt, pain, sadness, need… regret.

                Oh, God, I regret so much. But I can't let it show. I always said to people, to my friends, regret nothing. But I do. There are so many things in my life that if I could… I would go back and do differently. Things I might have done. Things I might have stopped. All things the things I should have said. But then, talk is cheap and so are dreams.  Love is fickle and so am I. We all want what we don't have. And then you get what want, but it's not what you thought it was and you never get what you needed to begin with. Just like I don't want her loving me, but I need her to, and she says she still does sometimes, and I'll take what she can give. It's a sad case of almost. I could almost have had Dag.

                Sometimes I would look at Dag and realize that everything I was looking for in a person, someone else could find in her. And so I moved my eyes to people I thought I could have. Gabe and Cordelia. And I loved them so much. Everything I was looking for in a person, I found in them. Except love.

                Never love.

                I watch Dagmar writing. Her penmanship was always so fancy and perfect. It reflected the simple elegance of the words she tried to put down. It made me sad when she had told me she had stopped writing poetry. I'd always been fascinated by the words she chose to write.

                "What are you writing?" I ask timidly. I don't mean to sound timid, but… I'd just gotten so used to being yelled at.

                She looks up at me. "The truth." She rubs her forehead in a move I recognized as fatigue. Dagmar used to get so tired sometimes. "I'm okay with the idea that there is no absolute truth sometimes. But I think if I write long enough, I might figure out what the truth is."

                "I think I'd forgotten what truth even was." I smile sadly when I realize that's true and sip the cocoa for the first time. It's hot enough that burns my throat as it goes down. "I can't say I know the truth."

                "Maybe someday we'll figure it out together." Another encouraging smile. I'd always hated the term devilishly handsome, but maybe that's because it reminded me of Dag. She had this classic masculine looks about her, but enough to preserve some semblance of femininity and… and mischief.

                And I wonder for a second if I was ever so in love that it hurt to breathe.

                I don't think so.

                I really thought I was in love with Gabe. He was devilishly handsome too, all he was missing was the pitchfork. And I thought I would never love anyone more than him, that night we were standing in the backroom of my father's bicycle shop and he told me he loved me.

                And I didn't love him. But I was so sure I did. And so I wonder if I ever loved anyone.

                But I did. Because the second I wonder if I know what the hell love is, I see Cordelia's face in my mind and I know I did. God, did I. But like Dag is so quick to point out, I've got a funny way of showing it.

                I look over at Dagmar again, spilling so many words against the paper. I wish I had something like that, some way to escape reality, but I don't.

                Setting the cocoa down, I rise slowly and walk across the hall, my shoes clicking against the tiles, and open the restroom door. I grip the counter by the sink and force myself to look in the mirror.

                I feel so cut up on the inside. I run my hands over my face, trying to sooth myself. My hands are so cold, and I don't think I'll be all right until they're warm again. I'm too cold to melt. I hate this. I hate here, now, I hate it all.

                Dagmar's searching for the absolute truth. Even though there isn't one. There is no absolute truth. There is no right answer, and no one on this Earth knows everything that's happened. No one on this Earth should.

                I just wanted to… I wanted to forget, you know. And I don't see why forgetting isn't good enough for her.

                "It shouldn't be good enough for me," I whisper to the mirror. "Because I know you never will forget. You never will.  It's not good enough." I run my palm over my forehead and I'm amazed that my icy eyes are warm enough to cry.

                It's just… all this time it's been on the inside. I was so happy that I was cold. Because I got the icy freeze, the chilly apathy, and I didn't have to feel. And then it's forever? It's not forever. It could never be forever.

                "But it is…" I whisper. "Because the road always comes back to you." I look in the mirror again and I hate the way I look when I cry. Scooping water from the faucet, I splash it on my face.

                "Look at you," I whispered to myself, breathing low. "Look at how you've lost control again. Look at how you dropped the ball, smashed everything to pieces. Just like all of your promises." I laugh bitterly and stare up at the mirror. Face damp from water and tears. I splash more water on it, washing all the tearstains away.

                "Promises." I shake my head and try to feel cold again. I can't. I'm cold already, but not cold enough to freeze. Just… not even really cold, but lukewarm and empty. And that's no way to be.

                But it's the only way I can still feel and I'll take what I can get.

                Slowly, I turn and walk back out the door. Dagmar stands up when she sees me. She used to do that on dates… always the gentleman. But this time she opens her arms, inviting me to fall in them.

                "Mack," she says softly. Like a statement. Like everything she needs to  say is in that word, and maybe it is.

                I know I shouldn't go into her arms, because I don't deserve it. We're both leading each other on, and it's only going to hurt both of us. I need to start remembering everything before I remember that. I forgot so much, and it's all coming back to me.

                But… in her arms is a good place to start remembering.