Word from Fido: Oi mates! This is a tiny one-shot I wrote to get my juices going (cuz, as those who know me know, I am really slow at updating). I hope you enjoy this short oneshot. With all my love,
The microwave beeped obnoxiously and my stomach instantly growled with approval. With a victorious sigh, I thanked God for the excuse to ditch the oversized books. As much as I found Darwin's theory of Evolution fascinating, reading three books about it wasn't exactly my slice of pie.
I stretched as I got up, my knees creaking and my back muscles moaning with relief. At this rate, I was going to graduate from university a cripple. I wiped the eraser bits off of my notes and placed them between two pages of the gargantuan book.
I made my treacherous way to the kitchen, dodging various piles of empty DVD cases and unwashed clothes. Not for the first time, I was grateful that my mom never dropped by unannounced. She'd have a real fit if she saw the mess in this place…
Suddenly, I heard the door open and bang against the wall with enough force to make me cringe.
"Wolfe! Get your sorry ass over here this instant!"
The voice was laced with such anger that I gulped. Forgetting about my meal, I scurried into the hallway. Although I hurried up, I tried to be as silent as possible. When she was angry enough to use my last name, any noise might propel her into a maelstrom of destruction.
I slowly turned a corner and breathed a sigh of relief when she failed to throw a shoe at me. Instead, she tapped her foot and crossed her arms, nostrils flaring with irritation. Carmen Stuarts was renowned for her bad temper. She was known to have clobbered a total stranger because he "gave her a weird look". When she got pissed, it was safer to just duck your head and pretend to be terrified.
Despite her threatening posture, however, I couldn't help but grin. She was soaked, from head to toe. Her red hair clung to her face, baggy jeans dripping on the carpet. The thin jacket she was wearing was sagging with the weight of the water.
"You look like a drowned rat," I said. "Is it raining?"
"No, you great big oaf," she growled, "I just felt like taking a shower with my clothes on."
I laughed and she smiled a little bit, her anger slowly evaporating. Quick as she was to anger, she was even quicker to laugh it off. She took off her coat and confirmed my guess that it was completely useless. That is to say, her t-shirt was clinging to her skin and dripped even more water than her pants already did.
"What are you doing here?" I asked as she removed her shoes with a wet squelch.
"Mindy's boyfriend dropped in for the weekend, so I pretty much ran for the hills."
"Smart move," I agreed. I took a few seconds to consider her pitifully wet appearance, then commented: "If it's raining so hard, why didn't you just take the car?"
I wished that the words would come right back in my mouth the second they left. Carmen's previous anger returned with an encore as she almost yanked my coat off the rack. My heart went out to my poor leather coat, but I didn't move a muscle as she flipped it around and around in her hands until she found the pocket.
"What are you looking…" I started, but almost bit my tongue when I cut off my sentence.
She dropped my coat and dangled a set of keys before my eyes. A low hiss escaped her mouth.
"I did not take the car, Gordon, my keys are in your coat pocket."
I gulped again. "Well," I tried, "you can have them back, if you want…"
She rolled her eyes, but otherwise did not make any threatening moves. Without any more ceremonies, she kicked off her shoes, peeled off her socks and let herself in my apartment. I let her walk past me and followed her quietly. She strutted all the way to the living room and she scoffed.
"Gordon, this place is a pigsty," she scolded. "You should really pick up your clothes, you know."
"Half these clothes are yours, you know," I mimicked her tone.
She grinned impishly and bent down to some of these said clothes. She rummaged through the pile, pulling out various pieces and bringing them to her nose, then throwing them away with a disgusted grimace.
"I don't live here," she responded to my comment. "It's not my duty to clean the place."
"A good guest wouldn't litter the host's place," I countered.
"But Gordon," she protested as she threw a pair of jeans over her shoulders, "I'm so much more than a guest."
It was true, too. Carmen spent so much time here; she was almost part of the furniture. I wisely chose not to share my thought.
With a satisfied nod, she picked up a t-shirt and added it to her jeans. Flippantly, she jumped up and walked back into the hallway, evidently making her way to the bathroom.
"That's my shirt," I called after her.
"Well, it looks like a girl's shirt, so people won't notice."
I rolled my eyes, having learned long ago to appreciate her hurtful words as a mark of affection. I heard her turn on the shower and, incidentally, heard her swear as she argued with the showerhead. I allowed a small smile as I returned to the kitchen.
The door to the bathroom creaked open a few minutes later and she walked out, a towel around her shoulders to prevent any water from dripping down her non-wet attire. She looked ridiculous in a shirt that was three sizes too big and under a mop of her hair she had mussed about in her attempt to dry them.
She plopped down in the chair next to me and dove into the mac & cheese I had reheated for her. I handed her my half-emptied coke can, which she gulped greedily.
"When was the last time you ate?" I asked.
She shrugged, clearly not placing grand importance on the question. I kicked her shin under the table. She threw the now-empty coke can at me. It bounced off my forehead and fell to the floor. She glared at me in silence. I openly scoffed at her attempt to intimidate me, though I was really scared that she would just get up and leave in the rain. She was impulsive like that.
She gave in with another shrug, her glare softening.
"I ate lunch yesterday," she admitted.
"What about dinner? Breakfast?"
"I worked all afternoon yesterday," she said.
I rolled my eyes impatiently. "Didn't you eat afterwards?"
She lowered her head and looked distinctively like a chastened child. "I..um…well, someone called in sick at the last minute…so I offered to take the night shift…"
My first thought was to slap her upside the head. Her bowing form quenched the desire quickly enough. Now that she wasn't spouting out threats or insults, it was obvious just how tired she was. Her whole face seemed tight with fatigue.
"You should at least try to eat during your breaks," I said gently.
She grabbed her bowl and brought it to the sink, not making a comment. She didn't have to. I knew that she didn't even take breaks. I knew her boss paid her under the table to compensate. And God knew how much Carmen needed the money.
"You should let me help you out," I said.
I expected her reaction. She angrily stomped out of the kitchen, kicking the can across the room in the process. If there was one thing that Carmen Stuarts hated more than a lecture, it was pity. And Katy Perry, but that seemed irrelevant at the moment.
Carmen was one hundred percent insistent on going through university on her own. Her grades weren't good enough to get a scholarship and she had to struggle to avoid academic parole. She insisted on paying her part of the rent every rent, even if her roommate offered to pay for a while. I had tried to loan her money time and time again, but she refused categorically every time. It was admirable, if not deplorable.
I rubbed the side of my head with two fingers. This girl was going to be my death. With a resolved sigh, I rose and went back to the living room.
She was looking through the window, her back to me. For a second, I thought she was giving me the cold-shoulder.
Then I heard her a soft sob.
I longed to go to her, but I stayed myself. As I said earlier, she didn't respond kindly to sympathy. When it became apparent that she wasn't trying to hide her shaking shoulders, though, I started to worry.
"What is it?"
She took a shuddering breath but her voice was strong when she answered me:
My worry increased twofold. She never mentioned her boyfriend in front of me. Never. I didn't like him, and he didn't like me, so we were both perfectly happy to pretend the other one didn't exist. Sometimes I asked her about him, just to make sure that he was being nothing short of the perfect gentleman with her. He'd never given me reason to interfere.
The simple fact that she had mentioned his name was proof enough that he had done something incredibly stupid. I didn't allow speculations to cloud my mind though, and asked instead:
"What about him?"
Her hands come around her arms, as though she was hugging herself. She took another breath, and this time her voice cracked:
"He dumped me."
My legs worked of their own volition and carried me to her. She didn't budge, so I wrapped my arms around her shoulders and pressed her against me.
I felt pretty lame, but she took reassurance that I wasn't going to call her a drama queen. She relaxed a bit against me and took the invitation to continue.
"Last night, right after my shift."
A tear fell on my wrist and I squeezed her a little tighter.
"He told me…" she continued, "that we never got to spend time together. He said that I wasn't being fair. He asked me why I spent whole weekends with you, but I can't even spend one night with him…"
My throat tightened with protective anger.
"He had said that he didn't mind that I was busy. He had said that he trusted me, that he didn't care that I hung out with you…"
"The guy was a jerk, anyways," I tried.
She shook her head. "You know he wasn't. He was the best."
"He didn't even like Italian food," I attempted to joke.
With sudden force, she turned in my arms and pressed her face against my chest. Her hands fisted in my shirt. Loud cries escaped her and I held her even tighter.
"I asked him to give me a second chance, but he…"
I cradled the back of her head, gently running my fingers through her hair. She shook almost violently against me. I imagined her, offering to take the night shift right after breaking up. I imagined her, going to bed that night knowing that she was alone. I pictured her, leaving her apartment to give her roommate some time alone with her boyfriend. I pictured her, walking in the rain with nothing but a little coat, holding in tears she was afraid to let fall.
Eventually, her sobs lessened. When they had completely ceased, she pulled away from me and wiped away the rest of her tears disdainfully. I reached over her shoulder on top of the television and offered her a box of tissue. She took one and blew her nose, nodding her thanks.
"I'm sorry," she said once she was done. "I shouldn't have blew up on you like that…"
I interrupted her, softly but firmly. "C'mon, Carm! We've been friends since high school. You know I'm there for you."
She still looked pretty embarrassed. I took her hand and made her sit down on the couch with me. She turned her face away from me.
"Still…you probably think it's just a silly break-up…"
"Hey!" I interjected. "You know I'd never think that." After a while, she nodded grudgingly. "And you were there for me last time my girlfriend dumped me."
"Gordon… your last date was three years ago."
I laughed and wrapped an arm around her shoulder, leaning back in the couch. She, in turn, leaned against me.
"You see?" I said. "I've been single for three years, and I'm surviving pretty fine."
It was the wrong thing to say. She sobered up instantly, shoulders stiffening. Her eyes swam with hurt and despair again. She tried to sit up but I forced her against me.
"Did he hurt you that bad?" I whispered, not quite believing that anyone could cause her so much pain.
"I know we only went out for ten months," she said quietly, "but I really thought that he was…well…"
"'The One'?" I supplied, making finger-quotes.
"I know it sounds childish," she blushed, "but I seriously thought that we would go far, you know? I really thought that I'd stay with him…"
She trailed off into silence. I played with her hair absent-mindedly. My heart ached for her. Even though I hadn't necessarily liked him, Derrick had been important for her. He had been a good friend on top of being a boyfriend… Her small voice brought me back to attention.
"I'm scared, Gordon."
And there was such a concrete fear in her voice that I automatically wrapped my other arm around her.
"Scared of what, Carm?"
"I'm so scared of being alone!"
She started to tremble again. I gave her another squeeze. More than anything, I wanted to make her feel better. More than anything, I wanted to give her the guarantee that somewhere, out there, there was someone that was waiting for her. I tried to tell her:
"Carm, you'll find that someone," I soothed. "He is going to be a hundred times better than Derrick. And he is going to love you so much, you won't even be able to stand it at first."
"Is that what you've been telling yourself for the past three years? That there's someone better out there than Jenna?"
I flinched when she said her name, but didn't comment. True, there had been a time where I had thought that no one was going to replace Jenna. When I had thought that it was the end of the line for me, when I had thought that I was doomed to stay alone for the rest of my miserable days. But I had gotten through that just fine.
I looked at the small girl, cradled in my arms. Despite the situation, I smiled at her. I had gotten through it…
Because I've got you, girl.
"Here, I'll make you a promise."
She raised an eyebrow, almost glaring at me. Still grinning, I lowered myself on the couch so that I could look at her directly in the eyes.
"I promise that you'll never end up alone."
She snorted instantly, which I had expected.
"What are you gonna do?" she scoffed. "Pull the perfect boyfriend out of a top hat?"
I rolled my eyes at her predictable sarcasm.
"I'll give you ten years to find someone," I continued.
This time, she positively sneered with disbelief. I looked at her dead in the eye and she met my gaze head on.
"And what will you do if I'm still alone in ten years?"
I answered without any hesitation, without a second thought.
"I'll marry you."
I braced myself for the oncoming verbal -and possibly physical- assault. Much to my surprise, she blushed. She blushed as I'd never seen her blush before. Her cheeks flooded with red and she hid her face against my side.
"Don't make fun of me," she mumbled.
"Hey," I grabbed her chin and tilted her head to meet my eyes again. "I'd never make fun about something like this."
And I knew that she knew that it was true. Slowly but surely, a spark of hope appeared in the recluse of her eyes.
"You really mean it?" she asked.
"Do we have a deal?" I replied.
Her eyes narrowed slightly. She sat back and contemplated me, the wheels in her head turning.
"I'd make a terrible wife," she said.
"You're the best friend I've ever had. After that, being a wife should be relatively easy."
"I can't cook."
"Neither can I. We'll deal with it," I breezily responded.
A small smirk twitched at her lips but she kept a stone façade as a front. The spark in her eyes had grown even more.
"I snore when I sleep," she continued.
"And I sleepwalk. We'll deal with it."
"I never do the dishes."
I gestured at the massive piles of clothes around the room.
"I'll wash the dishes if you do the laundry."
Now, a smile broke on her face. Evidently, it had become a challenge to her to find reasons why my idea was so ludicrous.
"C'mon, Gordon! We'd have to share… everything!"
"We're already sharing everything, idiot!" Her eyebrow rose at the insult, but I didn't let her the chance to formulate a reply. "Look at us! You're wearing my shirt, you're eating my food, you confiscated my goldfish when I forgot to feed it too many times…"
"You have my car keys," she continued with a small laugh, "you pay my cell phone bill because you make more calls than me, you know my class schedule more than I do, you go to the parent-teacher conferences instead of my father…"
"Let's face it, Carm, we already live together. Half your clothes are here; my good pillow is at your apartment. We've traded CDs so many times we don't even know which one belongs to whom. We've dealt with everything so far, we can deal with everything else."
I sobered up and her smile faded slightly at my sudden seriousness. All kidding aside, she seriously considered all the pros and cons. She could get quite analytic about these things.
"It's easy to promise all these things, Gordon." She seemed sad, as though waking up from a dream. "But it's hard to keep them. Life doesn't necessarily go according to plan."
"I know," was my simple reply.
I prayed. I prayed that she understood that I'd do anything for her. That nothing would stop me from making her the happiest woman. Heck, if I was willing to marry her, I was willing to do pretty much everything. There were so many things I wanted to tell her, but the words would not pass my throat.
I'll give you everything, Carm. I'll give you your little white house with the picket fence. I'll give you the small dog you've wanted since you were a kid. I'll give you the kids you've been dreaming of. I'll be the man you've been wishing for all your life.
I'll be the one that will cheer for you when you get ahead, and push you when you fall behind. And when you can't go on anymore, I'll be the one to carry you. I'll turn your tears to laughter, your doubts to trust, your despair into hope. When you fall apart, I'll be the one to help you find yourself.
Because I love you, and there's nothing I wouldn't do for you.
My throat tightened with emotion, but I choked it down. I pulled a strand of hair from her face. She smiled softly. Her eyes held an unusual warmth as she leaned over. Her hand grabbed the back of my head and she pulled me forward. Lightly, she planted a kiss on my cheek. It was my turn to smile.
She placed her forehead against mine and met my eyes. Her proximity would have made any guy uncomfortable and I squirmed. Her hand kept me at bay.
"I love you," she said, putting great emphasise on every word.
A shiver ran down my spine. I almost protested when she let go of me and got up. Putting her arms over her head, she stretched with a groan, surely fearing an awkward moment.
She extended a hand towards me.
"Let's go for a walk," she requested.
"It's still raining," I replied without taking my eyes off of her. "You just took a shower."
"Deal with it," she grinned.
She didn't mention my promise, didn't speak a word about it. She didn't have to. Her smile was enough.
I held no illusions. I wasn't a miracle worker. I wasn't going to make the pain of Derrick's break-up disappear. I could never replace the guy, even if I, at least, liked Italian food. There would be moments where she would miss him, where she would feel completely alone, and there wasn't going to be a thing I'd be able to do about it.
What I could give her was a guarantee. A guarantee that I would be there. Some days it won't be enough and some days it's going to be all she needs. At least, she'll never be alone. It was the most I could offer.
I got up and grabbed her small hand. She dragged me out of the room with a giggle, probably putting her plan into place to push me in a puddle.
I didn't mind. No matter what came up, I was plan B.