A/N: Aloha everyone. Here's a short story for you guys off the track of This Storm. I wanted to try something different. It's more bittersweet than anything else. Enjoy.
Everyone said they made a lovely couple – that they were "picture-perfect" and just right for each other. And he supposed they did look rather good together, though the thought tore at his heart. She was beautiful as always, today a breathtaking vision in a floor-length, flowing white strapless dress (she always was a bit on the unconventional side), her dark brown hair cascading down her back and brushing her shoulders in gentle, loose curls. And, of course, he looked right smart in his tux. Everyone said so.
Well, guess what? He was getting pretty damn fed up with everyone.
It wasn't fair.
That was the only thing that he could think of as he watched them dance. It was a childish mind-set, perhaps, but God help him if it was fair that he had known her first, that he had loved her first, yet here he was, sitting at their wedding reception, watching the love of his life and his best friend dancing together.
But, he thought, taking a sip of champagne, he would be happy today for the two of them. For the two most important people in his life.
He pulled their wedding invitation out of his pocket – he had brought it along, though it was useless now:
to the wedding of Lawrence Dixon and Mia Cornetti
on the 27th of January, 2004…
He couldn't bear to read any more. He folded it back up and stuffed it in his pocket, where it belonged – maybe he would keep it as a sort of morbid memoir to the worst day of his life. Not everyone got to keep something from the worst day of their life, he supposed with a sardonic chuckle. He released a deep sigh, sitting back in his chair and continuing his observations of Lawrence and Mia. There were other couples out on the dance floor, and he figured as the best friend of the two newlyweds, it was expected for him to be out there too, but he couldn't – not now. Perhaps later. For now, he melted into the background, simply a pair of eyes drawn only to them.
It was a slow song, and they were dancing very close together. He watched as Lawrence said something to her that made her laugh. Her sparkling emerald eyes traveled around the room and, of all things, her gaze collided with his.
'Hey Gabe,' she mouthed over Lawrence's shoulder, smiling at him.
'Hey Mia,' he mouthed back, giving her a forced smile that she saw right through.
She frowned at him and cocked her head slightly – 'You okay?' she asked silently.
It was funny how they could communicate this way, reading each other's lips and expressions, but then again they'd always been able to do it. The sentiment prompted the smallest of smiles to grace his lips. He nodded back at her – 'I'm fine.'
He watched his beautiful Mia and her new husband dance a few more songs, but then she excused herself from Lawrence and made her way over to him.
"Hey Gabe," she said aloud this time, sitting down next to him. She smiled at him radiantly.
"Hey," he greeted her. "How's it feel, being married now?" he teased her, though it tugged at his heartstrings how happy she looked.
She laughed lightly. "Um," she said tentatively. "Not as different as I thought it would be?" It was almost a question.
He chuckled. "Done dancing?"
"Just taking a break," Mia replied. "Lawrence never gets tired. I don't get it," she said, looking toward the dance floor.
Gabe followed her gaze to where Lawrence was dancing with his cousin, talking with her animatedly the whole while.
"Yeah," Gabe chuckled. "It's for shin-digs like this that he starts working the old charm. Gets the girls every time."
"How come you're not out there, huh?" Mia asked playfully.
He shrugged, playing along. "Don't feel like it. Besides, you know you're the only one for me," he said with a dazzling smile and a suggestive wink.
"Gabriel Lucas Childress!" Mia laughed, slapping his arm.
He laughed with her. It was a game he often played with her, pretending that they had a secret, steamy affair. 'If only you knew,' he thought sadly.
"So, Mrs. Dixon," Gabe began, but never got to finish.
Mia groaned and interrupted him. "I am Mrs. Dixon now, aren't I?" she said. "I feel so old. I can't believe it. I'm a Mrs."
He chuckled, putting an affectionate arm around her shoulder. "For what it's worth, you'll always be Miss Mia to me," he grinned, his heart shattering into a million pieces beneath the façade.
"Aw, thanks Gabe," she murmured, reaching up a kissing him on the cheek.
"You're welcome," he whispered. "As long as you don't forget me after you ride off into the sunset with your knight in shining armor over there." He nodded at the lanky form of the groom on the dance floor.
Mia looked at him, shocked. "Gabe!" she said. "I could never forget you. Is that what it was all about?" she asked, realization dawning on her features.
"What what was all about?" he asked, puzzled.
"Remember? 'You okay?'" She mouthed the last bit.
"Oh," was all he could manage. Gabe shrugged. The woman could see through him too easily.
"It is, isn't it?" Mia said, her gaze turning sorrowful. "Gabe, you and me and Lawrence will always be the best of friends. Just because he and I are – are married now, that doesn't change anything. I'm so sorry," she said, furrowing her brow and hugging him around his waist. Automatically Gabe wrapped his arms around her too. "I should've realized." She buried her face in his dress shirt, but he pulled away slightly.
"Hey," he chuckled sadly, chucking her gently under the chin. "You're going to ruin your makeup. And that would be a shame, because you're lookin' mighty pretty today, Miss Mia."
Her eyes filled with tears, and he watched her, alarmed. "God, I'm sorry Mia, what did I say? I'm so sorry, please don't cry –"
"Gabe, what am I going to do without you?" Mia said with a wistful, teary smile. "It will change, won't it? – with Lawrence and me moving out, we're not going to see each other as much anymore, and I won't get to yell at you for leaving your razor uncapped in the shower, or for washing the dishes but not drying them, or for watching TV in nothing but boxers and socks especially when you know I'm bringing Tori home for a hang-out afternoon and then you two get into a huge row –"
The two of them laughed, and Mia swiped at her tears. Tori was Mia's good friend who Gabe absolutely could not stand. The sentiments were returned. Every time Mia brought Tori to their apartment, Gabe would strip down to his boxers and lounge around on the couch, knowing it would get on Tori's nerves and that invariably she would yell at him to "go put on some clothes and stop scarring innocent bystanders for life". Well gee, it wasn't Gabe's fault if paranoia sometimes took over and that it seemed the despicable woman was trying to steal Mia away from him. Because she was. He knew she was; he could see it in her eyes. Stupid Tori. The wench had actually been the maid-of-honor.
"Is that all I'm good for? For you to yell at me?" Gabe joked.
She slapped him again on the arm. "Shut up," she retorted, her voice wavering, "You know that isn't it at all."
"Mia, don't cry," he murmured, wiping away her tears with the pads of his thumbs. It only made them come faster. "Please. Today is supposed to be the happiest day of your life. Don't cry."
She laughed through her tears. "I promised myself I wouldn't break down, and I thought I had made it into the clear when I got through the ceremony without bawling my eyes out, but all it took was a few simple words from you to make me turn on the waterworks."
"I'm going to miss you, Mia," Gabe said softly after a moment, gazing into her dark emerald eyes.
"Not as much I'm going to miss you, Gabe," she sniffled. He handed her a napkin.
She gave him a shaky smile. "My mother is going to flip when she sees that I'm using these napkins as a tissue." It made him grin.
"Well, let her flip," he said.
After she calmed down a bit, he said, "Come on. Let's dance." He stood up and offered her a hand.
"Are you serious?" she giggled, but had already taken his hand.
"Anything to cheer you up," he returned charmingly.
"Okay, Mr. Childress," she said, standing up with him. "Sweep me off my feet."
He led her to the dance floor, and, as if on cue, the music turned slow.
Gabe performed a ridiculous bow and she laughed. "May I have this dance, milady?"
"Of course," she replied with a wonderful smile that made his heart ache.
His left hand found her right, and his right hand settled on the small of her back just as her left came up to rest on his shoulder.
Come away with me
in the night.
Come away with me, and I will write you a song.
"I love Norah Jones," Mia sighed softly.
"I know," he replied, smiling down at her slightly.
Come away with me
on a bus.
Come away where they can't tempt us with their lies.
It hurt. It hurt so much that they were dancing together, a slow song nonetheless, but that she would never think of him as anything other than her best friend and the big brother she never had. It hurt that his very own other best friend had stolen away the heart of the woman he had fallen so irreversibly in love with.
I want to walk to
with you on a cloudy day,
In fields where the yellow grass grows knee-high,
So won't you try to come?
Come away with me and we'll kiss,
On a mountaintop.
Come away with me and I'll never stop lovin' you.
There was a quiet musical interlude.
"Gabe," she said, her voice barely audible.
"Yeah, Mia?" he said, his voice just as quiet.
She had closed her eyes. If he turned his head just a little to the right, he could glance at her left hand that was settled on his shoulder. And he could see the ring on her fourth finger.
"I love you," she said, the words slipping easily from her lips.
"You know what I mean, don't try to make a joke from it," she whispered, her eyes still closed. A soft smile stole across her peaceful features.
He did know what she meant. She meant it in the way that she loved him as a dear, good friend, but nothing else. It pained him to hear those words. He would rather have had her tell him that she hated him with all the passion in the world. At least then she would be feeling some passion toward him. But love… this love… it just wasn't bearable.
"I love you too, Mia," Gabe replied. His voice became so quiet he almost mouthed some of the words, but she still understood – "More than you'll ever know."
She opened her eyes and smiled up at him, then kissed him again on the cheek.
And I want to wake
up with the rain falling on a tin roof,
While I'm safe there in your arms.
So all I ask is for you
To come away with me in the night.
Come away with me…
The song was over.
"Mia," Gabe said.
"Mia," he said again firmly, his heart heavy, weighed down with too many emotions. "I have to go now."
She looked at him, surprised. "What, now? Why? Where?"
"I'm sorry. I can't stay any longer. Have a great honeymoon, okay?" He cringed inside. Their honeymoon – he didn't even want to think about what Lawrence and Mia would be doing the night they arrived at their destination. It tore him apart. "I love you," he said seriously. "I do. Call me the moment you guys get back. Tell Lawrence he'd better be there too when you call me so I can talk to him as well. Have fun." He kissed her ever so gently on her cheek. "You're his now. And he's yours. Just…just don't you two forget about me now, okay?" he re-iterated. "You guys are the best friends I've ever had. You…you make me laugh every day. Lawrence, he's loyal and good to me, and I love him like a brother. You two – deserve each other…you guys belong together." He swallowed, hard. "Have a good honeymoon. Goodbye." Goodbye, Mia. I love you. I'm in love with you and have been for the past four years. It just took too long for me to realize it, and now it's too late. Goodbye.
"Wait, Gabe, where are you going?" she said, perplexed when he pulled away. "Aren't you going to stay for the party afterwards? Remember, Lawrence made reservations to Olivio's. It's your favorite, and his too. We were going to go out for dinner…remember?" she said, trailing off.
"I'm so sorry, Mia," Gabe said. "You know I'd love to go. You know I would. But…I can't. I'm sorry," he said again. "Call me, yeah? See you later."
He backed away and melted into the sea of dancers, invisible now to Mia. It was too dark to see anyone anyway. His heart ached and his head pounded – would it ever go away?
'Lawrence, he's loyal and good to me, and I love him like a brother.'
Gabe's own words repeated in his head, and it only strengthened his resolve and determination to let his best mate and Mia be married and happy. Lawrence was, to him, one of the greatest people he had ever known, and his best friend in the whole entire world. Gabe would take a bullet for him, and knew that his comrade would do the same. That was why he wouldn't get in the way of the two of them. Lawrence was loyal to him, and Gabe would return the loyalty.
Speak of the devil. Gabe slipped through the door of the room where the reception was being held, and ran smack-dab into Lawrence. Literally. They both stumbled a little and Lawrence held him up a bit by the arm, chuckling.
"Whoa there, Gabe. You okay?" Lawrence grinned.
"Yeah," Gabe said, unable to hold back the smile that came every time the other man was happy, even though the source of Lawrence's happiness was that of his agony. They were contagious to each other like that – they were practically joined at the hip, and it was impossible to get the two of them to be on separate wave-lengths of emotion – if one was happy, inevitably the other one was as well, and if one was down, the other was too. "How are you?" he said, clapping Lawrence on the back. They hadn't seen each other for a while. After he and Mia had been wed, they had been surrounded by a flock of well-wishers. Gabe had been the first one there to hug them both and congratulate them enthusiastically, but after that he had been pushed aside by others.
"I am…I am unbelievably good," Lawrence smiled. "By the way, I want to thank you again for being my best man."
"Hey," Gabe grinned. "You know I was glad to do it. Besides, if you had had anyone else do it, I would've clobbered you."
"I know," the other man chuckled.
"Congrats again," Gabe said. "My little Dixon, all grown up!" He pretended to wipe away a tear.
Lawrence pushed him playfully and brought him down into a headlock.
"Okay, okay, uncle," Gabe laughed, his voice muffled.
He was released. Lawrence was chuckling too.
"Look, you know I'd rather be out here in the hall hanging out with you, but I think Mia might be missing me in there," he grimaced, jerking a thumb at the door.
Gabe wagged his eyebrows and was pushed again.
Grinning, he said, "Okay. I… I just needed to run out to the bathroom. Go in there and start cranking up that Dixon charm again."
"Alright man," Lawrence said. After a moment's hesitation, they gave each other a bear hug.
"I'm happy for you," Gabe muttered in the other guy's ear. "Really. It's nice to see you and Mia so ecstatic about something."
"Thanks Gabe," Lawrence replied. "That means a lot. You know you'll always be my best mate, above everything else."
"Yeah," Gabe said. "I know. And you know you're mine. See you in a bit."
With a half-wave and nod from each side, they parted ways.
After the other man had closed the door behind him, Gabe made a bee-line for the restroom.
"See, it wasn't a lie," Gabe said to his mirror image. He rubbed his eyes tiredly and splashed some cool water on his burning face. It was hard to lie like that to the two people in the world who meant the most to him. The façade was starting to crack.
"Not here," he muttered. He pushed open the restroom door, glanced down the hall on both sides furtively, and left the church, watching around carefully to make sure no one spotted him leaving.
It had been a beautiful wedding. As before mentioned, everyone had said that they looked perfect together. And Gabe was sure there had been a collective sigh when Mia had walked down the aisle, so beautiful in her wedding dress. She and Lawrence weren't religious, but they had just seen the church and instantly knew that they wanted to get married there. It was good thing the wedding hadn't been a disaster. Gabe had half expected it to be. But he was glad it hadn't turned out that way. Because if it had been, that would have been two disasters, and two disasters were really just too much to take in one day. Gabe thought it was good that the wedding had been beautiful and not a disaster.
Because it had been a disaster for his heart. And really, he thought again, one disaster a day was quite enough.
Once in the car, he backed out of the parking lot without a second glance at the building behind him. He knew he'd crack for sure if he did.
A/N: So, tell me what you think, please? I'd love to hear your comments. Thanks!