Okay so this is the final chapter of the story! It is super long because I couldn't decide where to split it and also I'm going overseas in a few days so I really don't think I'd be finding time on my sojourn to actually post it. Thank you to everyone who has read or reviewed, keep them coming - it makes me want to update sooner!!!
I hope you all have a safe and wonderful christmas and new year!
Jorgia aka procrastinatenow.
I swear to god, this last month has passed agonisingly quickly. Not even going to classes has been a drag. I've found myself actually willing them to go longer (weird, yes - cause for concern, definitely). It's bloody ridiculous how much I am not looking forward to this book launch which has now turned into a miniature exhibition for Jay's art. This means there is absolutely no way I can duck out of it without looking like a horrible friend. I looked into the mirror critically, turning from side to side,
"Do you reckon this looks okay?" I asked Meg who rolled her eyes,
"Don't be such a berk, Dakota, you look fabulous. Every eye will be on you." I grunted at her,
"Okay, so probably all eyes will be on the author - I can't remember his name -"
"Roman Black." I said automatically. Meg gave me a strange look which I guess is justified because I have been avoiding any and all information which was offered to my about the book launch for the last month. My knowing his name off the top of my head was a bit odd.
"Yeah, him. And hopefully Jay's work. I'm so excited for him!" She gave me a pointed look.
"Me too." I contributed obediently. And I was - extenuating circumstances forced me to view the night with a degree of aforementioned dread.
"I don't know what is going on with you recently, Dakota, but if you ruin this night for Jay he will not forgive you for a very long time." When did Meg get so stern? I sighed,
"Yeah I know. Just ignore me. I've got some stuff going on but I'll be on my best behaviour tonight. Just call me queen of low profile!" I ended on a fake cheerful note which did nothing to reassure my friend who mumbled 'whatever' before charging out the door, yelling,
"We're going to be laaaate!" I groaned and followed - now or never. Please let me trip and break my leg. I'm sure hospital is a gooood excuse.
The gallery where the launch was being held was in Claremont - home of designer labels and hip pubs. Also my old orthodontist. Meg and I had taken the train so we sauntered the couple of hundred metres down the street to the chic little gallery on the main street, taking our time. Well I sauntered, Meg staggered - she had decided to wear the biggest heels known to mankind and was really struggling to walk. The gallery was softly lit and packed with people wearing black - black suits, little black dresses - not much imagination in that, people! Actually, I was feeling a little conspicuous in my emerald green number upon seeing everyone else. Even Meg who was usually all kinds of colourful was getting her class on with a fabulous black and silver concoction.
The first person I saw as I walked in the room was Roman swanning about beaming and shaking hands. He towered over everyone else and I decided he was too tall for his own good. Another fault - my, my I am getting picky. I noticed a couple of other sulky looking people and concluded they must be the other competitors who he'd trumped out in the end. A feeling of pride washed over me before I brutally repressed it, settling for scowling across at Rome. I swear he felt my death glare because at that moment he glanced up over some guy's shoulder and looked straight at Meg and I. Then he beamed and excused himself from whatever riveting conversation he was holding and began heading our way. My heart skipped a beat I am ashamed to say. What does he want from me? I've already provided fodder for his bloody award winning novel and its cover artwork! Anyone would agree that is enough to warrant a life free of harassment. Anyone but Roman, apparently.
"Meg, Dakota!" A highly excitable Jay bounced over, commenting snidely on our lateness. I wiped the scowl from my face, beaming in real excitement and pride at my friend.
"I am so proud of you, Jay! This looks fabulous." I was sincere - his artwork was positioned throughout the room along with quite a few large posters of the novel's cover.
"Thanks. We almost didn't get it all up in time. Talk about stress. I swear I only have half the hairs left in my head." I eyeballed his thick brown hair,
"Looks okay to me." Meg grunted and unceremoniously shoved me out the way, pulling Jay into a big bear-hug.
"Stop monopolising the talent, Meg." I said sarcastically as she flipped me off over Jay's shoulder. We were getting on like a house on fire these days. They finally let go just in time for Jay's face to light up as Roman approached. I paled, how was I supposed to act?
"Guys this is the author, Roman Black." Jay began introducing - when had he developed manners? "And Roman these are my best friends - Meg and Dakota." Roman smiled devastatingly at Meg and my stomach tightened a little (not jealousy, I swear),
"Pleasure to meet you." He bowed slightly over her hand before turning his gaze to me.
"Dakota, nice name. Do you have a connection with America?" Forget Jay, when had Roman learned manners?
"No, not really. My parents just liked the sound." Then snidely I returned the question, "Roman..." I pondered, "Do you have a connection with Italy? You're smooth enough to be mafia..."
"Don't know about that," He replied smoothly, still not letting go of my hand which felt like it was about to fall off from all the heat his was generating, "But I am related distantly to Caesar." I raised an eyebrow and delicately removed my hand,
"Wasn't he gay?" I asked. Roman laughed,
"No, but he was a tyrant."
"Okaaay." Interrupted Meg. She and Jay had been watching the two of us like a tennis match. "You guys know each other?" She questioned, her eyes alight with curiosity. I made my face carefully blank and pretended to be fascinated by a woman trilling to her husband about one of Jay's drawings.
"No, no I don't think so. Pretty sure I would remember a girl like Dakota." Roman answered calmly. Clearly Meg and Jay thought he was flirting with me because both their jaws dropped. Jay recovered first,
"Excellent, well... Meg! Do you want to grab a drink with me?"
"I'd love to." I made to go with them but Meg very obviously stomped on my toe and hissed "Stay." I scowled at their backs and turned to a highly amused Roman.
"I like your friends." He said approvingly, "Very subtle."
"Shut up," I muttered, "What was with that whole 'where did your name come from' thing?"
"What? I was just making conversation." He asked innocently, moving a step closer to me. I obligingly moved a step back, straight into the wall. Rome grinned, clearly reveling in my discomfort.
"Don't give me that. They thought you were flirting!" I hissed pointing at Meg and Jay who were watching us avidly from across the room, glasses of wine in hand.
"Perhaps I was." He replied lazily. I rolled my eyes,
"Whatever. I'm off. Leave me alone, please." Roman laughed and murmured,
"My party, Dakota, I'm allowed to talk to whomever I like."
"Not me you aren't." I snapped, stalking off into the mingling guests. I reached the bar and grabbed a flute of champagne.
"You two are dead!" I fumed as I reached them. I received two wide eyed, unflappably innocent looks.
"Pardon?" Meg asked, a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.
"Why did you leave me alone with him?"
"Dakota! He was all over you!" Jay said in apparent delight.
"Yeah, like a bloody rash." I muttered.
"Oh come on, Dakota, he was gorgeous and he barely looked at me. He was eyeing you up the entire time." Meg said happily.
"You still shouldn't have left me with him." I maintained.
"Um, why? He's gorgeous, really into you - he's still watching you now - and a nice guy." Jay said frankly. I squawked at him -
"Are you joking? He was so arrogant and slimy and... and..."
"And what?" Meg looked at me as if I'd grown a second head. "Grow up Dakota, you are not in third grade any more - you are old enough to know there is no such thing as boy germs."
"I didn't say anything about boy germs." Yes, my middle name is 'stubborn'. Jay and Meg looked at me in that stern, disapproving way they always did when I said something stupid. That look always melts me. "Fine! I acted like an idiot."
"Thank you. Now go talk to him." Meg ordered. I risked a glance in his direction. He was talking to someone important looking.
"No can do. He's talking to someone important looking." I beamed at her annoyed expression. Jay sighed,
"You are impossible." I shrugged,
"No, I'm really not." I agreed happily.
This went on roughly for the next half hour. I browsed Jay's pictures loyally accompanied by either Meg, Jay or both. They harassed and pestered but luck was with me and it didn't matter how much networking Roman managed he always failed to be on the same side of the room as me. Meg and Jay both noticed my persistent avoidance.
"Go over there and talk to him!"
"Why are you being so stubborn?"
"I don't like him."
"You only spoke to him for three minutes!" Meg said in exasperation, throwing up her hands almost knocking out a little old lady whom she apologised profusely to.
"It was long enough to tell."
"It was not."
"Was... argh! Just get over there now or I won't go see Dead Letter Circus with you!" I winced, that was a low blow. Meg was known for her absolute dislike for any music heavier than say, Death Cab For Cutie, but I was dragging her to Dead Letter Circus with me later in the week. "Right now." She growled. I looked up in hope at the sound of a tinkling glass.
"No dice!" I sighed in relief, "Speeches are starting." Meg growled again.
"You won't be so lucky next time."
"Whatever." I replied smugly.
We cheered loudly when Jay was introduced blushingly to everyone with Roman saying many flattering things about his work. I muttered maliciously under my breath about everything Roman said, taking great pleasure in mocking him mercilessly.
"Shut up." Meg hissed at me after I produced a solid string of expletives describing his arrogance. I don't she got the exact words but she would have to have been deaf to not hear the tone.
"What? He's an ass." I said lowly, as if that justified anything.
"Quiet." I scowled at one of Jay's paintings until the speeches ended. I joined in the round of applause at the end - I wasn't to begrudge him that at least but I avoided eye contact - I knew he was staring at me because Meg kept nudging me and saying rather irritatingly,
"Look at him - he's practically burning a hole in you - Dakota, he's undressing you with his eyes - just look at him already!" I wasn't impressed with the undressing me comment - he'd done enough of that with his hands to last a lifetime, although Meg wasn't to know that.
"Okay. Let's go." I said, faking a yawn as soon as speeches were over.
"Let's not." Jay disagreed, appearing at my elbow. I sent him a startled look,
"Where'd you pop from?"
"Honey, I'm like batman - I'm here, there and everywhere!" I told him to go jump off a bridge in a friendly way before heading off to get another drink. I was slowly but surely getting completely trashed. Common sense said no, my nerves screamed yes.
I was chatting happily with one of the science professors from uni who was a bit of an art connoisseur and one of Roman's lecturers when I felt him at my side.
"Roman!" She gushed, "One of my very own students publishing a book!" He smiled awkwardly, I guess he'd been hearing similar comments all night.
"Yeah... I wasn't really expecting it." I snorted into my champagne,
"Modest, modest." I mocked. The professor looked at me edgily,
"Excuse me, I see a colleague I need to speak with." She sidled off leaving me to Roman's mercies. I promptly turned my back.
"Come on, Dakota, you can't ignore me forever."
"Yes, I can."
"No, you can't." Not wanting to start another of those kinds of arguments I mulishly took another gulp of champagne.
"Watch me." I replied stalking off again. I didn't get far - he grabbed my arm under the pretense of steadying me - I was, admittedly, rather unstable on my feet.
"Please Dakota, just talk to me a bit."
"Where's your little blonde girlfriend?" I asked waspishly, turning to face him and trying not to be overwhelmed by his good looks in my inebriated state.
"Blonde girlfriend?" He looked confused, "Oh, her. She wasn't a girlfriend." I waited for an extension on that but it didn't seem to be forthcoming. When he said no more, I started to walk away again, draining the rest of my drink as I went.
"No way. Come on, your glass is empty. Let me get you another drink."
"How generous," I snapped sarcastically, "Are you forgetting it's an open bar?"
"The tab ran out two hours ago." He said, "How have you been getting drinks?" I blinked,
"Well, I haven't been paying for them." I said uncertainly and turned to look at the barman who winked at me suggestively. I turned back to Roman, horrified. His look matched mine.
"Did you know he was buying drinks for you practically the whole evening?" He asked.
"I had no idea."
"Shit." I muttered, hiding behind Roman from the barman's leer.
"Come on, it's not so bad. I'll get you another."
"Thanks." I muttered, needing to drown my humiliation just a little bit more.
"No worries." He smirked and headed up to the bar. He was talking to the barman for far too long to order a simple glass of champers. When he came back the barman was looking chastised and was completely avoiding my gaze. I watched Roman weaving through the crowd towards me and I was struck by his looks anew. Stupid, stupid men. Why must they be so necessary in life but so bloody hard to be around? I drained the glass he gave me, ignoring his cautions about taking it easy.
"Whatever," I snapped, "Like I give a shit what you say." I ignored the hurt look on his face and marched off to find Meg or Jay.
I found Jay first who was chatting up some girl. I ran into him accidently and almost fell down,
"Whoa, Dakota, you are smashed. How much have you had to drink?" I looked at him for a few moments and decided my vision was too clear.
"Not nearly enough." I spun around and made to go to the bar but he caught me again.
"I don't think so. You need to get home."
"I do not!"
"Yes, I really think you oughtta."
"Whatever, where is Meg?"
"She's already gone." Jay said patiently.
"She's already... what? Why did she go? She wouldn't let me go! Dirty, conniving..." I muttered. Jay sighed and turned to the girl,
"Look I'm really sorry but I need to take her home." The girl questioned him, looking put out. "She's my friend, I have to." I just stood and scowled, I couldn't break Jay's grip on my arm.
Jay had just about finished exchanging numbers with her when an annoyingly familiar voice invaded my drunken thoughts.
"I can take her if you want." Roman offered, propping me up when I turned a bit to quickly to look at him and leant alarmingly sideways. Jay looked relieved,
"Could you? No, you can't! It's your party." Roman shook his head and smiled,
"It's winding down now and I'm screwed, it's a good excuse to leave."
"I am not an excuse for anything!" I said angrily. Jay looked confused,
"What are you on about?" Then he sighed and looked at Rome, "I'm sorry man, she isn't normally like this... I have no idea what has gotten into her today."
"No worries, mate. I can get her home and I'm sure she's perfectly charming when she wants to be." I rolled my eyes rudely,
"You wish," I spat.
"Well I do." Said Jay angrily, "You're making a complete idiot of yourself, Dakota." I scowled at Jay and left the party without so much as a goodbye.
As I walked down the deserted street I heard footsteps jogging up behind me.
"You were very rude to your friend, Dakota."
"You put me in a bad mood, Roman."
"Stop blaming it on me."
"Stop following me around then." I snapped, facing him. I felt much better once getting out of the stuffy gallery and into the crisp night air.
"Come on, Dakota, can't you let it go? Can't we go back to the way we were?" I looked at him in disbelief. If it ever got out that the story he'd written was based on us I would be a laughing stock. I'd be the whore of town and he wanted to go back to the way things were.
"You want me to forget it? You want me to just disregard those words you wrote about me, thought about me?" I asked walking towards him - he nodded at each question, backing away from me until he hit the wall. "That's why you offered to take me home, isn't it? Hoping I'd be too drunk to say no. Hoping I'd fuck you and then wake in the morning in your bed with things back to normal." I pressed my body up against his and heard his sharp intake of breath. Yeah, I still had an affect on him. I reached my hand up, cursing it silently for shaking, and traced his cheekbone before running my fingers through his hair. He leant his face against my hand and his eyes flickered shut. I went to take my hand away and step back,
"No." He groaned, pulling me against him again with one arm while the other captured my hand again, pressing it to his cheek where he nuzzled against it, kissing the palm ever so lightly.
I was shocked at his actions - it was desperate and vulnerable and was taking the edge off my anger. I pulled back a little and his eyes flew open,
"Just stay with me, Dakota, stay with me tonight." I looked into his desperate hazel eyes and flinched back,
"No, I can't forgive you Roman." Even to my own ears it didn't sound as if I meant it.
"I never meant to hurt you... I thought you'd be proud of me." He whispered, still holding me tight against him. I sighed and looked down,
"I am proud of you. I just - I'm hurt too. What would you have thought if I'd written a story about you being a complete man-whore? Maybe adding in that you beat up on your girls too?"
"I know, I know," His voice cracked a little, "I wasn't thinking and I wish I could take it back." An incredulous look on my face, I turned my head up to look him directly in the eye.
"Are you serious?" Rome considered it for a few moments,
"Yeah, I would take it back if it meant you were with me again." He brushed a kissed to my forehead - the familiar gesture getting my blood running hot.
"The sex meant that much to you?" He started and then scowled,
"It was more than sex and you know it." I shook my head,
"It wasn't supposed to be. It was never supposed to be!"
"Yes, but it was!" He whispered fiercely before pressing his lips to mine passionately. For a moment I forgot myself. For a moment I forgot my hurt and anger.
Then I jerked backwards and walked away. For several long seconds there was no sign of movement behind me but then he ran to catch up, standing in front of me. He flung out his arms dramatically and said loudly,
"What do you want from me, Dakota? I've apologised, I've groveled, I've given you time and space. What do I have to do to make you want me again?" Bloody tear ducts, they never worked when you needed them to and always went into overdrive at the wrong moments.
"I... I..." My stuttering and spluttering was pathetic. He groaned softly and gathered me up in his arms, wrapping them tightly around me.
"Oh please don't cry, Kota. Come on, let's get you home. I'm sorry - I shouldn't have said all this." He sounded so sincere, this made me cry even harder. He rocked me back and forth, patting my back and whispering words of comfort. Slowly he lead me to his car, his arm still around me as if afraid to let go. Rome drove obediently to my apartment building and stopped in front, then turned to look at me. My tears had dried up for now, but I felt as if they would start again at any moment. I opened the door and then glanced across at him - he looked as miserable as I felt. My hand reached across of its own volition and brushed a stray hair on his forehead.
"I'm sorry, too." I whispered before bolting into the building and up the stairs.
I don't think it's possible for a person to be more miserable. My head feels clogged and every thought takes a downward turn halfway through. I feel lazy and grumpy, snapping at Katie every chance I get at home and avoiding Jay and Meg altogether. Katie's right pissed off at me - barely comes home anymore. When she does she tries to get me to talk about it. Yeah, like I want to talk about it. What would I say? 'I feel like shit because I've realised the relationship I have with guy I've been screwing for the last few years, no strings attached, has suddenly developed a lot of very knotted wire cables. I want him and he wants me, but he wrote a story - which has been published - about me which labels me a raging whore. I called him a lot of rather insulting names and now I'm having trouble forgiving myself let alone him. So yeah, that's why I'm being such a miserable cow. Hey, you asked...' My problems aren't anything compared to a lot of people in this world but they are my problems and problems just the same.
"Right!" Katie yelled the next afternoon after I'd been sulking in front of the television, bursting into tears every five minutes, "I've had it! Would you just bloody get over yourself?" I looked at her blankly, thinking about the night outside the gallery. I vaguely scrubbed the tears from my cheeks. I am such a goddamn sad sap.
"You know what! I am sick and tired of you, Dakota. You need to get past whatever is getting you down. I am your friend and you are beating yourself and everyone around you up over something that can't be half as bad as you make it out to be." I glared, how could she be so presumptuous, thinking she knows what's going on? I ought to kick her ass.
"Like you know anything." I snapped.
"I know that you've changed. You're a different person than you were three months ago - not a better person, Dakota." Okay. Well, that was blunt.
"I'm not - I don't -" I stuttered. Meg and Jay had been steering clear of my moods lately - treading carefully. I wasn't sure of how to react to some shrieking at me outright that I'm a shit of a person without Roman. "I'm sorry, Katie, okay? I've been horrible - it's just I'm working through some things and -"
"No you aren't."
"You aren't working through them." Do I tell you how to live your life?
"I - I - Yes I am!" Damn straight I am. One more litre of icecream and Roman won't even recognise me.
"No, you're not, you're getting torn up over whatever's happened and you're letting yourself be completely miserable. I think you need to get a grip - just confront whatever it is that's affecting you so badly and deal with it." Katie said forcefully, looking me straight in the eye. I sighed,
"You're right, of course, it's just... difficult."
"I know. You're a good person Dakota, a strong one, you'll get through it." I looked into her calming brown eyes and then down at her sensibly sneakered feet,
"Yeah, I guess I will."
I hurried out of the building and down the street to the bus stop. Maybe a kick up the ass was what I needed. I swiped my card and sat down, ignoring the squealing children in the seat in front of me. My heart was beating faster and my skin felt clammy. I shoved my headphones in and put on music which would drown out my thoughts - Dead Letter Circus would do the trick. I whispered the words to myself as the bus went ever forwards, weaving through the streets of the city. Finally I reached up and rang the bell, standing to exit the bus. I narrowly avoided treading on a dirty toddler before tumbling out the bus onto the sidewalk. I stumbled a few steps then righted myself, staring up at the pale cream building before me.
"Okay, Dakota, the time is now." I entered cautiously, nodding to another tenant as they thumped down the stairs.
Climbing the staircase to the third floor it felt longer than ever before. I almost dreaded that he would be home. The bravery Katie had knocked into me was fast deserting - I wish it were like energy and could come in a can. I stood outside his ugly wooden door for a good five minutes before knocking. It wouldn't do to just barge in with the spare key - this was a serious business.
"Hey - oh." He opened the door with a smile but it soon dropped from his face as he saw me. I cringed inside - he looked as terrible as I felt. His light brown hair was knotty and matted, his skin was pale, his cheeks slightly hollowed and they were covered in a few days worth of stubble.
"Hello." I whispered. Rome just stood there looking at me. "Can I come in?"
"Yeah. Yeah, okay. Come on in." He stood to the side and I slipped past, brushing his arm on the way past. There was no cliched electric shock but I was sure as hell aware of his warm skin against mine.
"What are you here for, Dakota?"
"I - I wanted to talk to you." I managed to choke out, startled by his aggressive tone. He glared at me and crossed his arms over his chest, almost protectively.
"Well, talk then." His carefully blank expression was a killer, I felt like bursting into tears again but I didn't - I held them back and swallowed my pride.
"Roman, I came to say... well, I came to say I'm sorry." I blurted out looking away from him. "I've acted like a complete lunatic the last few weeks and I want you to know that I forgive you for what you wrote and that I'm sorry for the way I've behaved." There, it was out. Out of my mouth and out of my hands. I've never noticed how particularly fascinating Roman's carpet is before now. I dug my toes in and tried not to count the seconds of silence as they passed.
Roman didn't move a muscle. He didn't speak, he didn't react at all. I sneaked a peek at him before lowering my head again.
"Say something." I whispered. My heart was going nuts - like I was at a concert and the bass was thudding through me.
"I don't know what to say." He finally admitted, shrugging weakly, hovering by the door as if he was scared to move.
"Say... say anything! Forgive me. Scream at me. Tell me get out. Tell me that you never want to see me again! Say something!" I said desperately, taking a step forward.
"No, I don't want you to leave." Roman looked me in the eye - his hazel ones were piercing and stabbed straight into me. "Dakota, I like you, okay?"
"I didn't realise I did until... until I didn't have you." Roman walked forward, stopping just before me. I smiled a little -
"Funny how things like that work." I whispered, looking up at him.
"Sure, hilarious." He muttered, eyes not leaving my face.
"What does this mean?" I asked gesturing between the two of us.
"I expect it means I have to tell my mates that you're exactly my type." He murmured with a smile. I beamed and stood up on my tiptoes and kissed him lightly on his lips.
"I like the sound of that." I admitted. He wrapped his long arms around me and pulled me close, tucking some hair behind my ear. Rome returned my kiss with a sight more ardor, lifting me off my feet. I broke away, laughing.
"Hey," He said seriously, looking me in the eye and placing me carefully back on my feet, "Do you wanna fuck?"