Worth a Thousand Words


Challenge #27 - No Need to Say Goodbye

Inspired by the song "The Call" by Regina Spektor.

Description: Goodbyes are the hardest. Unfortunately for our protagonists, they will have to bid each other adieu and it is unlikely that they will ever see each other again.

Requirements:
1) An actual parting between the protagonists -- whether they come back together or not is up to you. (Read the second stipulation under "Optional".)
2) A creative way of saying goodbye without actually saying it (read the second stipulation under "No" for details)
3) The reason for the parting has to be WILLING -- this means that nothing is forcing one to leave the other. It must be out of the character's own volition.
4) Cell phones must make several appearances.
5) Setting must begin in the Fall/Autumn season

Optional:
- Both are leaving for different things, instead of one leaving the other behind.
- They are reunited. If you choose to do this, however, they must be separated for at least a year. (Absence makes the heart grow fonder, anyone?)
- Cell phones are a key part of the story.

No:
- Airport/bus terminal goodbye scenes
- actual usage of the word "goodbye" or any of its variations in any languages (this includes "see you later", "'bye", "farewell", "arrivederci", "adios", "hasta la vista", "adieu", "aloha", "au revoir", "auf wiedersehen", "adeus", "paalam".. whatever else you think of) by either protagonist in dialogue
- text messaging or chatting online. As much as I love to do both, I hate seeing it in fiction.


The noise made it impossible to concentrate.

Meghan stared at her computer screen, wishing her French essay would do the unfeasible and write itself. Through the walls, bass and obscenities pumped. She could hear laughter and the occasional shriek from the lawn a story below her window.

As always, the party rocked and rolled at her apartment, her two roommates a little less than studious. She hadn't been downstairs – and didn't intend to make an appearance – but she could see the scene as clearly as if she'd been standing in the center of it.

Bodies. A crushing press of bodies sprawled across cheap micro suede couches, pushed against walls, tongues tangling and breathing brief. Others lined like chess pieces clustered off the board, discarded in their haphazard groups. Still others would be sprawled across the patio furniture on the porch and leaning against support posts where they could find an inch of space.

Liquor bottles would bunch on kitchen windowsills, loll across counters, and spill across the table in a jumbled semblance of a bar. She already knew the refrigerator was stocked full of beer. The kegs had been delivered while she was still doing research in Berkeley Hall.

Summer session had ended a week ago and the fall semester crept upon them. This would be the last weekend before freedom in May. Meghan had one last French paper due before she could truly say that she was done. Since the course technically counted toward the fall semester, her professor had been generous enough to give them a few extra days.

Now she just had to ignore the noise pounding through the walls and into her skull and get it finished. And ignore her damned cell phone, too. Seriously, if he sent her one more text, she might throw her phone through the window at his head.

As if on cue, his ring tone blared from the sleek device beside her. She ignored it. Her jaw tightened and she pounded out another sentence. Behind her, the door creaked open.

"What are you doing in here, Megs?"

The owner of the voice ambled across the room until he was standing behind her, his hands resting hotly against her bare collarbone. One thumb swept across the nape of her neck. Her muscles involuntarily tensed.

"Working," she responded shortly, eyes glued to the screen. The computer hadn't been nearly as interesting sixty seconds ago.

He sighed. "Come on, Megs, don't be like that. My plane leaves tomorrow at seven in the morning. Can't this wait until after?"

If possible, she tensed even further. "It's a ten page French paper, Colin. It's due Monday."

"You have three sentences."

"Thank you for stating the obvious." She shrugged his hands off her shoulders and swiveled to face him, taking in high cheekbones and slightly glazed eyes. "Why aren't you downstairs celebrating your last night in this hellhole?"

He made a face at her, dropping heavily onto her bed. "Cute. Maybe because a certain someone isn't downstairs celebrating with me?"

"A certain someone is being left behind."

"Megs—"

She cut him off with a sharp wave of her hand. He was just tipsy enough that he didn't even protest. "I know, I know. This is a great opportunity, you need to start your career, blah, blah, blah. Just because I'm happy for you doesn't mean I have to be happy about the situation."

"I love you, Megs."

She looked at him lying against her tangled green comforter and felt suddenly guilty. "I know."

He patted the space beside him and reluctantly, she moved to join him on the bed. The inches of space she left between them were only temporary. She hadn't so much as dropped her head on the mattress before he was pulling her closer, fitting her against his side and pillowing her head with one lean arm.

She didn't have the heart to tell him that his shoulder was too muscular to be comfortable, or how much she would miss him in eight hours.

He broke the silence first. "Do you remember the first time you met me?"

"Not really," she responded.

He laughed. "I'll never forget it. Chad was ranting about some retarded football game, you know? Raving about missed field goals and how shitty the defensive line was. I don't even remember who was playing. You walked into the room, completely straight-faced, and told us all, 'Good morning.'"

She shifted her head so that she was looking at him, the tousled ends of his jet hair brushing against her cheek. "You remember that? Why?"

"Because it was eleven o'clock at night and we all thought you were crazy."

One corner of her mouth tilted up. "It was morning somewhere."

"That's what you told us then, too."

With a strangled sigh, she tangled his fingers with hers. He squeezed gently and didn't pull away. "Doesn't make it any less true."

"You told us that, too."

A grin lit up her face and she jabbed him lightly with her elbow. "You love me because I'm predictable."

He snorted. "That is certainly not an adjective I'd use."

She frowned down at him, auburn hair dripping in a curtain around her, propping herself up on one elbow so that she could meet those wood smoke eyes without straining. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Oh, please." He yanked her back down next to him, effectively ruining her haughty stance. "You say that like you don't try to be random. I know you better than that, don't I?"

She sniffed. "You don't know me at all."

"Yeah, sure, Little Miss Let's-Take-a-Road-Trip-at-Three-o'Clock-in-the Morning. You're a complete mystery to me."

Laughter poured out. "You were such a good sport about it."

His brown eyes twinkled. "I'd say. I woke up and we were in Kansas."

"There is nothing wrong with Kansas!"

"Not at all," he agreed. "The problem was that you didn't know how we got there."

She levered herself up on an elbow again, grinning down at him, aqua eyes sparkling. "That's what road maps are for. We found our way back, didn't we?"

"Five days later after a scenic side trip to New Orleans." He reached up and tugged a lock of her auburn hair. "And, of course, we had to stop to buy the road map."

She rolled her eyes. "That was the whole point."

"Of course, it was. You were just waiting to find someone who was enough of a sucker to go along with you."

"Hey, if the shoe fits—"

He shook his head, using one arm to subtly pin her in place, rolling her back until she was essentially snuggling against him. "And what about the tree you stole from the state park?"

She frowned, nudging him with their entwined hands. "I wouldn't exactly say I 'stole' it. It was more like a… relocation."

His full mouth twisted wryly. "Yeah, into a Tupperware container with dirt you stole from a construction site. You know that's a misdemeanor, right? Hell, I'm friends with a criminal."

"As I remember it, you helped," she teased. Memory softened her features and made her eyes sparkle. "I'm pretty sure that makes you an accomplice."

He waggled his eyebrows at her. "Baby, I'll be your accomplice any day."

She sighed and turned her head away. "Not from San Francisco, you won't."

They fell silent, the noise from the party pulsing around them. Her cell phone went off again, but she ignored it. It was probably one of her roommates trying to coax her out of her room. But the person she really cared about seeing was already with her.

He stroked his thumb across her knuckles absently, his other hand tucked behind his head. From where she lay against him, she could feel his heartbeat throbbing against her cheek. Misery clogged her throat.

She was going to miss him. She hadn't told him that intentionally. She knew it was childish, just like she knew he was waiting to hear it. But the vindictive part of her wanted him to hurt as much as she did, and if that meant leaving those words unsaid, so be it.

He wasn't leaving to hurt her. She got that. But, damn it, couldn't he have told her sooner? He'd known two months before he'd sprung the news on her. Two months! She still couldn't figure out why he'd waited so long to tell her he'd gotten the job he'd been dreaming of. Why he hadn't shared it with her.

That probably hurt most of all.

She'd had less than a week to come to terms with it. Meanwhile, he'd been apartment hunting, arranging movers, and taking care of the hundred little details that came with moving to the opposite side of the country. All without a single word.

He was the first to break the silence. "You know, you can come visit if you want."

The hesitancy in his voice stung her. If she wanted. As if she wouldn't want to. They both knew it would never happen.

When she answered, she kept her voice purposely light. "You know you'll forget about me as soon as you get out there," she joked. "You'll get a new set of friends and a girlfriend and the last thing you'll think about is poor little Meghan in Podunk, West Virginia."

"Ha," he retorted. "Like you won't have a new best friend next week."

Shifting, she frowned down at him. "You really don't think that, do you?"

He tried to laugh it off, but she saw the truth of his words reflected in his coffee eyes. "You're always surrounded by eight hundred people. Why would that change just because I'm not here anymore?"

She raised a haughty eyebrow. "Nope," she responded resolutely. "No one else would have helped me dye my hair blue for the Homecoming game. I think you're safe."

Now the smile did reach his eyes. "Is that all it takes?"

"Eh, aiding me in my felonies probably sealed the deal."

"Then I'm glad I was there for all of them." He tightened his arm around her briefly. "I'm not sure what I'm going to do without you."

"Figure out how to use a telephone?"

"Cute," he answered, poking her just below the ribs. "You hate the telephone, so that won't do me any good anyway. How many times has it gone off since I got in here?"

She squirmed away from him. "Well, if you stop poking me, I might answer your calls." Her blue eyes turned serious. "Besides, I live with those people, not you. Being all the way across the country makes you special. But only if you promise not to leave me voicemail, 'cause you know I won't listen to it anyway, and it'll just clog up my mailbox."

"No voicemail. Done." He yawned. "And maybe I'll even start using that instant messaging crap you're so fond of."

"Hell will freeze over first." She hesitated a moment. "Shouldn't you be going back out to the party?"

He shook his head against the green flannel and kicked off his flip-flops. "Nah. I'm okay right here."

"Can we at least move onto the bed? My ass is falling off." With a resigned sigh, he hooked his arm more securely around her and hauled her up until both of their heads were level with the pillow. "Thanks."

He grunted in response.

She knew he was falling asleep, but she couldn't stop the next question, the one she'd been dying to ask. "Why didn't you tell me you were leaving?"

He stayed quiet for so long she thought he'd already dozed off. "I didn't want to hurt you."

"And not telling me was any better?"

Exhaling, he tucked her more firmly against him. "You want the truth? I was selfish, okay? I knew how unhappy you'd be, and I didn't want to see you staring at me with those big blue eyes looking like I'd just kicked your puppy. I wanted two more months with my Megs, without all the other shit."

She digested that for a few seconds. "Well, not telling me sucked, just so you know."

"Mmm. Knew you'd be mad."

"Colin?"

"Mmm-hmm?"

"I love you, too."

He pressed a sleepy kiss against her forehead in response and tightened his arms around her. Soon, Meghan heard his breathing deepen, his chest rising and falling slowly. Tomorrow he'd be gone.

He'd said he didn't know what he was going to do without her, but Meghan was at a loss as to what she'd do without him. When he said she had friends, he was right. She had any number of random acquaintances that she spent time with on a regular basis. But when it came to last minute plans and her crazy schemes, he was the only one she could ever count in without even having to ask.

The screen on her computer flickered into darkness, the green light at the base of her monitor blinking steadily. She could hear the vague hum of the machine between the pulses of bass traveling from downstairs. And above all, Colin's steady breathing.

Just as Meghan drifted off to sleep, her cell phone went off for the fifteenth time. She crawled over to the bed, only half-coherent, and adjusted it to its vibrate mode.

When she woke, it was still dark out, and she squinted at the clock. An incessant noise had woken her up. After a moment, she recognized it as Colin's obnoxious ring tone. Suddenly, the time registered. Oh, shit.

Shooting up in the bed, she untangled her legs from his and punched him in the shoulder. "Colin, you idiot, you're going to miss your plane!"

He mumbled something in his sleep, but didn't wake. Outside, the sounds of the party still blasted.

"Colin, get up!"

He opened bleary eyes. "What, Megs?"

"Your plane!"

"Fuck!" He shrugged off the last vestiges of sleep in less time than it took to start a car. "What time is it?"

"Three. Go home, grab your stuff, and get to the airport," she answered, searching for the offending cell phone. "You've got time. Not much. "

"It's in my pocket," he said, climbing off the bed. "Come with me?"

She paused mid-motion. "To California?"

The pregnant silence stunned both of them. "No," he said slowly, "to the airport."

She sighed. "Let's not make this harder than it is. Just call me when you land, okay? Let me know you got there safe."

He stretched. "I really am going to miss you."

"I know."

"And I really do love you."

"I know."

He rubbed the back of her neck gently. "That's all I get?"

She turned so fast she nearly knocked both of them off-balance, flinging her arms around him and hugging him fiercely. They clung together for a full minute before she let go. "Better?"

He grinned at her. "Don't let anyone else dye your hair blue, okay?"

She sniffed. "Don't let anyone turn you into a criminal in Cali."

"Only you, Megs, only you."

Cocking her head at him, she held out a hand expectantly. "Cell phone."

He squinted at her, suddenly suspicious. "Why?"

She sighed impatiently and rolled her eyes. "Just give it to me, you freak."

Reluctantly, he handed it over. Colin's Blackberry counted as one of his prized possessions and even she wasn't allowed to touch it. She'd filched it enough times that she knew how to use it anyway.

Quickly activating the camera, she threw an arm around him and pushed herself up on her toes, all the way on point, something she hadn't done since high school, holding the pose just long enough for the Blackberry to flash. The burst blinded him, setting his eyelashes fluttering to ward away blindness.

"What was that for? Something to remember you by? Because I gotta tell you, Megs, you look like hell."

She grinned impishly at him, taking in his coal black hair sticking up in a million different angles, his heavily lashed dark eyes still studded with sleep. She could feel the tangles in her own hair and her skin screamed at the day old makeup she'd forgotten to take off last night. Glancing at the picture in the phone, she saw that it looked like she had two black eyes.

That grin widened. "Nope, not at all." She touched his cheek briefly. "This is so that you remember you always have something to come back to. If you want to, that is. I already know you'll remember me."

He looked down at the Blackberry in her hand and the picture now splashed across the screen. "Well, you've been calling it a hellhole for three years. With that makeup, you fit right in."

"Such a flatterer. And you're going to be late." She glanced down at the phone, then pressed it into his hand. "Here. Go."

He dropped a light kiss on her brow and then he was gone.

Meghan walked slowly to the window. Outside, in the glow of the tikki torches her roommates had staggered around the lawn, she saw him saying good-bye to old friends and acquaintances, exchanging hugs with girls and slapping guys on the back.

A smile tugged at her lips.

Through the pane of glass, she saw him get into his sister's car – his had already been shipped to California – and drive off. She watched the road long after he was gone, the streetlights only highlighting its emptiness.

On her desk, her cell phone started vibrating loudly, skipping its way in front of the keyboard on a kamikaze path to the floor. She ran to catch it, sweeping it off the desk just before it plunged to its doom.

An alert for a text message blinked at her. Curious, she clicked it open.

Inside the message was a photo from his sophomore year, her freshman year. The two of them were covered in mud, sprawled in the middle of a mud puddle, arms flung around each other. She remembered the scene from the Powder Puff game between the second and third annex in her freshman dorm.

Meghan was still sure he'd gotten some kind of community service hours for the torture they'd put him through. She looked at the photo and laughed.

Trust Colin to make sure the one he'd sent her was as completely appalling as the one she'd left for him.


I had fun with it, anyway. ;)

Much love,
-K