Author's Note: Be warned. This is LONG.
She found him huddling inside a telephone booth, one of those rare relics that somehow managed to survive in a world where cell phones were the driving force. She hadn't realized that this was the man she was looking for her whole life. Instead, she thought he was a creepy stranger, one standing in her way of making an emergency phone call to get her car fixed after it had not so gracefully died on her in the middle of the road. She had also forgotten her cell phone that night, which led to her walking a block from her car before she found the nearest telephone booth…
Which was occupied by him, some man who was most likely homeless, she thought. She waited for a few minutes outside the booth, hoping that the man was making a quick call. It took those few minutes for her to notice that he wasn't even using the phone. Instead he was staring at it with such intensity that she was sure he was not only some homeless man, but someone crazy too.
It took a few knocks on the door for him to realize that there was someone outside. When he finally slid the door open, he poked his head out and squinted at her.
"I'm sorry, but could I please use the phone?"
His eyes concentrated on her, yet he was not saying anything, as if thinking she was some figment of his imagination. Probably the drugs doing weird things to his mind, she thought.
Then, his answer surprised her. "No." With that he closed the door and turned back to his previous task of focusing on the telephone with the same amount of intensity, if not more.
In normal circumstances, she would have let it go and walked on to find another payphone, one that would be unoccupied. But that night she was tired, cold, and all she wanted to do was get home and sleep. So she found herself knocking once more.
"What?" He poked his head out again. "Can't you see that I am busy?"
"Staring at a phone? Yes, I see that," she replied. "Look, I just need to make a quick call, and after that you can go back to looking at it."
His eyebrows raised and a smirk formed on his face. It was then that she took a good look at him. Brown eyes, short black hair that looked as if his fingers ran through it a thousand times, and a well defined jaw structure. He was attractive—if he wasn't crazy and all.
"I'm waiting for a really important phone call that may perhaps change my life, so I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to say no." With that, he shut the door on her face.
Crazy and rude, she thought. Still, she didn't like the idea of walking around some more to try and find another phone. There was a perfectly good one right in front of her and she be damned if she wasn't going to use it.
So she knocked yet again, this time harder, louder, and with more attitude. He in turn opened the door once more and glared at her.
"Just let me use the damn phone. It'll only take five minutes. My car broke down and I really don't want to be here and I don't want to have to walk around until I find another pay phone. So get your ass out of there!"
It all happened fairly quickly. First she yelled, then he yelled back no, and suddenly she was grabbing his arm and pulling him out of the booth while he used his other hand and held onto the door.
"For a girl, you are freakishly strong!"
"That is so sexist!"
"Just let go. I'm waiting for an important call."
"If you had just let me call earlier, I would have been done and you could be waiting all night here without any interruptions. You're just making things difficult for no reason!"
And it went on and on and on. Finally, using whatever strength she had left, she made one last tug, which brought both of them down to the ground. Somehow she found herself lying on top of him and both of them groaned in pain.
"This is not my day," she moaned as the pain behind her head subsided.
"You're telling me," he muttered.
As both of them sat up and dust the dirt off their clothes, they were each trying to come up with a convincing argument to get the other person to leave. Yet, just as they were about to get into round two, a short heavy set man rushed by them and went into the phone booth, closing the door shut.
The two of them looked at each other in disbelief and after a beat, they rushed to their feet and started to pound on the booth.
"Excuse me but we were using that!" She cried.
"There's a line here buddy!" He said.
The man had the phone cradled between his ear and shoulder as he shrugged at them.
"You both were too busy fighting and no one was using it. Therefore it was up for grabs. Sorry, you will just have to wait." And with that he turned back to calling whoever it was.
"Great," she said, turning to the guy next to her and glaring at him. "Look what you did!"
"Maybe he'll be quick." Immediately after he said that, however, the man in the phonebook pulled out his bag of quarters and waved the bag at them, signaling that he was not going to be finishing any time soon.
"All I wanted was to just make a call to get my car fixed," she muttered, close to tears. "I'm never going home."
There was a moment of silence before the boy next to her looked at her with a small twinkle in his eyes. A slow grin emerged before he asked, "Wait, did you just say you have a car?"
His name was Wyatt and her name was Paige. When people ask them how it was they came to be roommates with each other, Wyatt would always answer, "It was fate." Paige, on the other hand, always scowled and answered bluntly, "He was stupid, didn't let me use the payphone, and somehow I got stuck with him."
What really happened was that Wyatt had some knowledge about cars. After taking five minutes to convince Paige that he wasn't crazy and merely just wanted to help fix her car in exchange for a ride, Paige agreed. It took another hour for them to walk to her car, for Wyatt to look under the hood and tinker with the engine, before they both set out for the road.
"My girlfriend and I had a fight," he explained in the car as Paige drove. Paige didn't ask for details nor was she keeping up her end of the conversation. But Wyatt was jittery, anticipating his reunion with his girlfriend, and when Wyatt was nervous, he liked to talk. "She left for California about three months ago; she's going to school here. We're both from New York. I told her that I wanted to come to California and live here with her. She didn't want me to throw away my life for her. So I decided to surprise her. I just got off the plane actually. And I called her and left a message on her phone to call me on the payphone. And here we are." He had sold pretty much everything of his that was valuable to make it to California. His parents were living in Florida and they weren't on speaking terms. They didn't support his decision of dropping out of medical school to pursue a dream of being a photographer.
Paige was quiet and she kept her thoughts to herself, but frankly she thought that Wyatt was a bit eccentric for her taste. Had she been one to have friends, Wyatt would not be one of them. She also thought him moving to California for a girl was an idiotic move. Anything one does in the name of love is always considered stupid, according to Paige.
"Anything for love right?" Wyatt asked her. Paige didn't have the heart to wipe the puppy dog look from his face, so she gave him a tight smile and said, "Right."
When she pulled in front of the apartment building Grace, Wyatt's girlfriend, was staying, Paige drummed her fingers on her steering wheel, not quite knowing what to say. Wyatt stared out the side window, his eyes taking in the building and his right leg moving up and down.
"Here we are," Paige said. "You ready?"
"Yeah, I am." He continued staring at the building and not making a move to grab his backpack and duffle bag.
"Do… you… want… me to go with… you?" Paige asked slowly. Deep down she just wanted him out of her car so she could press down on her gas pedal, but she felt she had to be supportive and nice to the guy.
Apparently, her offer to help was enough to snap him out of his reverie because he went, "Huh?" Then shaking his head, he grabbed his duffle from the backseat and opened the car door. Turning to her, he smiled and said, "Thanks for the ride."
"Thanks for fixing my car," Paige returned. "Good luck. I hope everything works out for you."
"Thanks. Hey, if we ever see each other again, let's grab lunch or something. On me."
"Sure," she smiled. But deep down they both knew they were just making small pleasantries and in reality if they ever saw each other again, they would probably pretend they never met before.
Paige watched him walk up the steps to the apartment building. Someone was already exiting the building and let him in so that he didn't have to buzz for his girlfriend. Just when he disappeared from her view, Paige started her car engine and was about to drive away when she noticed a lump on the floor of the passenger seat. Wyatt's backpack.
Groaning, she turned the engine off and grabbed his backpack. She desperately wanted to be home, but she couldn't bring herself to drive away. She soon found herself walking up the apartment steps and looking at the intercom list of names to find what apartment Grace was in. She was about to press the buzzard but someone left the building and allowed her in.
Perhaps Wyatt was right and Fate was responsible for their eventual friendship. Fate brought her upstairs at the exactly the right moment to hear a girl's voice saying, "Wyatt, you shouldn't have come. I didn't want you to find out like this."
And then Paige heard another voice, male, and it wasn't Wyatt. "Babe, who is it?"
"No one," Grace said. Paige was still standing on the staircase below, but she could hear everything.
"How long?" It was Wyatt. His voice was small, calm, but a bit shaky. Paige wanted to leave. She felt ashamed of eavesdropping, but at the same time she couldn't help but listen.
"Two months," she answered him. "It wasn't working Wyatt. You just kept insisting it would and I didn't have the heart to tell you. I'm sorry."
There was silence before Paige heard shuffling and suddenly she was facing Wyatt while hearing Grace calling, after him from her door. His face was grim and despite his eyes looking at her, she knew he wasn't there. Without talking, Paige turned around and began to walk down the stairs; Wyatt followed. They went back into her car and Paige started the engine and drove off.
He didn't have a place to stay; both of them knew this. Wyatt didn't care where he ended up that night. He could have slept in an alley with his bags for pillows. His heart and mind was elsewhere.
Paige didn't know this man. What she did know was only a few hours' worth of information. Paige wasn't one who made friends with strangers. She didn't make friends at all. Paige only relied on herself and her instincts to get her through life. Solitude was her course.
But her instincts were telling her that despite Wyatt being a weird, strange guy, he was also one who just had his heart broken. Love screwed you like that. She should know.
So they didn't speak to each other as Paige drove them to her apartment. When she parked, she just looked at Wyatt, who was staring aimlessly out of the windshield.
Sighing, she grabbed his duffle from his lap and said, "Come on. You can stay the night."
She got out of the car and she took a few steps towards her apartment building before stopping and looking back at her car. She didn't know if Wyatt heard anything she said and she wondered if she had to take him to the doctor or something. Perhaps he snapped.
But when she glanced over at her car, Wyatt was already getting out. Hoisting his backpack over his shoulder, he looked at her and gave her a smile that didn't reach his eyes. Then he followed her into her apartment building.
He was supposed to have left the next day. At least that was Paige's plan.
Wyatt ended up staying for five years.
Paige's apartment was a one bedroom with a modest kitchen and living room. Her couch was a second hand pull out bed and she had gotten it from a garage sale. It was nice and though she never had guests over, she liked having a back up bed just in case. She just never thought the bed was going to be for a permanent roommate.
Paige didn't sleep that first night Wyatt stayed with her. She couldn't help but become paranoid that Wyatt's emotional experience would make him crazy and he would go after every female specimen in sight. When she emerged from her room, Wyatt was already up and instead of looking like a mess, he was dressed in clean clothes, showered and shaved. He was also in the kitchen, making breakfast for the two of them all the while whistling as if he was having a great day.
"You look… happy," Paige said cautiously as she approached her kitchen counter. Instead of looking as if you got your heartbroken last night, which you did.
Wyatt slid some eggs from the frying pan and onto two blue plates that already had sausage and pancakes on it. He was standing on the other side of the counter and began to clean up around him. "I'm… coping. We had a good run and I have nice memories of us. Why dwell on the bad stuff?"
Paige couldn't help it, but she cried out, "Because she cheated on you! And you just found out yesterday! How can you be fine with this? Doesn't it make you hate the female species? Don't you want to like get drunk and bitch about your ex-girlfriend?"
Wyatt looked at her as if she was the crazy one. Smiling, he said, "Take it easy. I'm still trying to get over it. Grace is my first love. But her cheating on me wasn't entirely her fault. We were having problems and she wanted me to face it, but I was just in denial about it. But hey, just because it didn't work out between us doesn't mean that's it right? There's still a happy ending out there."
Hearing his optimism made her mad suddenly and Paige found herself scoffing. "There's no such thing as happy endings."
Wyatt was putting the pan in the sink and after hearing her say that, he turned and examined her. Paige couldn't help but feel small under his scrutiny and suddenly she wanted to disappear from him.
"Sure there is," he said, his tone light and somewhat teasing. He tilted his head at her. "Haven't you ever watched all those romantic comedies? True love always ends happily."
Paige shook her head and crossed her arms, feeling defenseless for some reason, despite knowing that he was the one who was the fool. She knew better that love wasn't all flowers like he was making it out to be. "It doesn't work that way. Sometimes you just don't get the happy ending."
A pause settled between them as her words lingered in the air. She watched him, his hands in the pockets of his black jacket, his eyes wandering across her face. Then, he took a few steps forward, a small smile formed on his face as he leaned towards her, arching his back a little so he was face to face with her.
"You always get the happy ending," he said. "It always comes eventually. You just have to have faith." And with that, he straighten his back, cleared his throat and then he took one of the two plates in front of him and set it in front of her. Handing her a fork, he said, "Eat."
She didn't know whether to throw the fork right back at him for being so foolish or smile at his naive faith in love.
It would take her the end of the night when she was lying in her bed and Wyatt was snoring away contentedly on her pull out couch that she realized he never left her apartment building and she never asked him to leave.
"So are you going to get a job?" Paige brought up the subject four days later after Wyatt's first night at her place. Every day she woke up determined to get him to leave, but somehow he would always be in the middle of an activity (taking pictures, cooking, dragging her out and making her walk around). He was always asking questions, filling in the silence that normally surrounded her. It unsettled her how he made himself so comfortable at her place and how she was powerless to stop him.
But deep down, she couldn't make herself hate him for it.
Still, despite resigning herself to what seemed to be Wyatt's temporary stay with her, she wanted to make sure Wyatt pulled his weight around the place.
"The rent is $800. It's cheap because the landlord is a family friend. We can split it $500 to $300 if you want since I get the room to myself," she continued over breakfast. "But do you have any plans now that you're here? And are you even staying here? Now that you and your ex- are over, are you going to head back to New York?"
Wyatt chewed on his toast as he mulled over her questions. Then he shrugged. "I haven't really thought about it yet. I think I'll stay. Might as well see what life has to offer me here. It's like an adventure."
"How can you not have a plan? You're 23; you're an adult. You need a plan."
"What, do you have a plan for everything?"
"I at least have a job. I'm a grade school teacher. You need to get a job to at least start your life here. You need to save money, for emergencies, expenses, rent."
"Relax. I'll find a job and pay half the rent. Happy?" And with that he gobbled up whatever was left on his plate. Sickened at the view, Paige lost her appetite. She handed over plate, which Wyatt happily devoured as well.
Within three days, Wyatt had two jobs: working part time for a small circulating magazine taking pictures and helping a photography professor at a local community college. When he got his first job, he came back to the apartment, happy and smiling, saying to Paige, "See? You owe me dinner. Let's celebrate."
Paige grudgingly complied.
"You're messy," Paige cried, picking up some of Wyatt's dirty shirts off the floor around the couch. "Can't you clean up your stuff every once in a while?"
"Not my fault I don't have drawers or a room," Wyatt responded back. "Besides, it doesn't hurt to be messy once in a while. You really ought to live a little." With that, he took the shirts from Paige.
"Living a little doesn't mean being messy," Paige said, rolling her eyes. "It doesn't hurt to be clean and neat."
"If you're messy, you're happier. It's a scientific fact," Wyatt said, grinning. He dropped the shirts he was holding back on the floor.
"No, it's not," Paige said, her hands curling up into fists. She really wanted to pummel him. "You are such an idiot!"
Suddenly a twinkle appeared in his eyes and Paige wanted to run into her room and close her door. But she stood her ground and waited.
He took a step closer and picked up a blue shirt that was lying on the floor between the two of them. "How about we make a bet? If I win, you have to be messy for a month. If you win, I will be clean for a month. Deal?" After deciding to compete over a game of monopoly (apparently Paige never played it and Wyatt insisted on buying the game to show it to her. It sparked a marathon of monopoly playing that lasted the whole night and the two of them feigning sick so that they could sleep in and not go to work to recover from the game), Paige grabbed the other end of the blue shirt and they shook on the bet.
By the end of the night, Wyatt won and Paige declared her hatred for monopoly. For the next month, she had to drop things on the floor, leave the dishes in the sink, and prevent herself from cleaning up after Wyatt. Wyatt also checked her room every day to make sure she had clothes everywhere and that she did not make her bed.
The month was torture for her while Wyatt loved it. Of course, once the month was over, they had another bet, this time over who finished the crossword puzzle fastest. Paige won and Wyatt finally felt the pain she had to endure.
Wyatt began to date again after eight months of being on his own. When he finally moved on it was with a student in a photography class. Her name was Kaley and she was smart, beautiful, and loved talking about pictures with a passion. Wyatt was falling in love again.
Paige watched from the sidelines, and while she was glad that Wyatt was happy, a part of her was still skeptical. She couldn't help but think, 'Love always ends up burning you and it never works out. Look at the divorce rates and everyone breaking up left and right.'
Wyatt would have two serious girlfriends during the five years he lived with Paige. His relationship with Kaley lasted a year, but it ended after she received a scholarship for a school in England. Already having experienced the failure of a long distance relationship, Wyatt didn't want to hold Kaley back, so he let her go.
The first break up, Paige helped Wyatt cope by buying him lots of his favorite beer and snacks. The night he broke up with Kaley and the night Kaley left for Europe, Paige and Wyatt got drunk. Paige would listen to Wyatt as he lamented over his love and how he wished he could go with Kaley. But deep down he knew her path and his weren't meant for each other. After talking about Kaley, the two of them would start telling stupid jokes and singing horrible love songs together.
As they laid on his pull out couch, their heads touching each other's and giggling every so often, Wyatt drunkenly asked Paige the one question he always wanted to ask her, "Have you ever loved anyone?"
He noticed how Paige had no friends and during his time staying with her, he never once saw her go out on dates or bring boys over. She had acquaintances, coworkers, who she occasionally talked to, but no one close besides Wyatt. But he knew that there was something about Paige's past that kept her from believing in love, and he wanted to know. Perhaps it was her parents, who were divorced. Still, he didn't know the whole story behind that. He knew, though, that asking her questions about her love life and about her parents would mean risking their friendship. There were times when things got too personal, when Wyatt knew too much, that Paige would pull away. So he waited and patiently took whatever information she offered him, believing one day he would know all of her.
When he asked his question, Paige no longer giggled. The drunken smile on her face slowly disappeared and Paige grew somber. Her head was fuzzy and she was still out of it, so she found herself revealing bits and pieces.
"Once," she muttered. "College."
"What happened?" Wyatt pressed on. Even in his drunken state he knew he was pushing his limits, but he couldn't help it.
She shrugged, giving a fake a laugh that sounded more like an anguished cry. She slowly sat up and her long black hair got in her face. Brushing her tangled hair aside, she glanced sideways at Wyatt and shook her head, again smiling her broken smile. Grabbing the beer bottle Wyatt was holding, she took a sip.
"He just woke up one day and didn't love me anymore," she said. "Just like that." She snapped her fingers. She felt something wet on her cheeks.
Wyatt got up on his elbows and stared at her. Instinctively, he reached one hand up to her face and his thumb brushed across her cheek and he wiped away the tear.
"Guess I wasn't enough," she muttered. She took in a deep breath and made herself look at Wyatt, wanting him to see her brave, to show that it didn't matter to her anymore.
But Wyatt saw the truth. It still mattered.
Then he whispered, "You can't possibly believe that."
His hand brushed her cheek and Paige felt warm. Wyatt continued to look at her, and Paige felt herself slipping away. Paige's heart began to beat erratically and she was suddenly very afraid.
She pulled away from his touch, and handed him back his beer. Clearing her throat, she wiped her cheeks for any other traces of tears and faked a smile.
"I think I need to go to bed," she said as she got up. Avoiding Wyatt's gaze, she kept her tone light. "Go to bed and tomorrow everything's going to be better. Try not to dwell on Kaley too much." With that, Paige walked to her room, leaving Wyatt to wonder exactly what just happened.
Sometimes Wyatt would drag Paige outside and make her accompany him as he walked about the streets and neighborhoods, just taking pictures of people and things. Wyatt alternated between being professional and being an ordinary tourist. He found everything beautiful, even the ugly. He would often make Paige drive him to a random neighborhood or city (sometimes close, sometimes far) and they would spend their Saturdays walking around, looking. At first Paige hated the excursions. It usually required Wyatt barging into her room and waking her up early. But eventually she began to enjoy their trips. It was always the two of them and she secretly liked watching Wyatt at work. He was different when he took pictures. Instead of being silly and idiotic, he was passionate and dedicated.
Wyatt told Paige that his favorite pictures are the ones that captured the small moments: family gatherings, kids playing on the streets, and the typical ones with friends posing in front of a camera smiling. Those moments are always captured on camera because people want to remember the happy moments for as long as they live. Each photograph of smiling faces tells a story, that moment of happiness that they wish to last.
Wyatt especially loved bringing his work back home. Often this meant taking a bunch of random pictures around the apartment, from the furniture to the bowl of fruits to Paige. Paige hated having her picture taken and she always yelled every time Wyatt captured a picture of her.
Paige remembered in particular the two of them sitting on the couch. The television was on some random sitcom that neither were paying attention to. Wyatt was busy scrolling through his camera looking at the pictures he took while Paige was reading a book. Wyatt came across a few pictures he took of people taking pictures of their friends, posing in front of buildings and statues.
Smiling, he straightened up on the couch and told Paige to take a look at his camera. Sighing, she set down her book and scooted closer to him to look. Unexpectedly, Wyatt swung his arm around her neck and pulled her face towards his.
"Say cheese," he said as he lifted the camera in front of them, ready to take a picture of them.
"No!" Paige cried, struggling to move away from him. She placed a hand over her face, blocking the camera's view of her. "I hate it when you do this." Wyatt was strong however, and she couldn't move away from him. "I despise you!"
"No, you don't." Grinning, Wyatt, placed a tighter hold on her. "Look, stop fighting and take a nice picture with me, where you actually try to smile and look happy, and I promise not to take any more random pictures of you."
"I don't trust you," she said, still struggling.
"I'll also be clean for a week," Wyatt offered. Paige stopped hitting him and stilled.
"Two weeks and no more pictures. Take it or leave it."
After a minute of contemplation, Paige reluctantly nodded. "Fine."
And so after a struggle that lasted a good fifteen minutes, Paige smiled as Wyatt placed his cheek against her head and grinned happily as he took a snapshot of the two of them.
Despite Wyatt's happy go lucky nature and his constant chattering, his relationship with Paige wasn't all about them bickering with each other. It was also about the quiet moments.
Sometimes, for work, when both of them woke up early, they would not talk for the whole morning. Their breakfast ritual was a silent dance in a way, as they passed each other the milk, the cereal, the bowls, and spoons without exchanging a word, making their way around the kitchen and grabbing things here and there.
Or when Wyatt woke up with a hangover (usually anytime he went out with his guy friends, getting over his girlfriends, etc.) Paige would just hand him a glass of water and an aspirin without lecturing him until his headache was over.
From work stress to emotional distress, they would come home, sense the tension in their roommate and they knew that it wasn't a time for words. Instead, they would walk over to the fridge, take out a tub of ice cream or a bottle of beer, sit next to the other on the couch and shared the dessert or the drink.
It was the other's presence that made things better. And after five years, it was still the best remedy.
Wyatt's best friend Tom from New York came to visit him about a year after Wyatt established himself in California. Tom was also an artist (painting being his forte).
Upon Tom's visit, he found his best friend to still be his happy self, but he found it odd that Wyatt was staying with someone as uptight as Paige.
Tom crashed at the apartment, but Paige's welcome was hardly warm. Paige often retreated to her room and barely spoke more than a few words to him. Tom couldn't fathom how Wyatt could get close to a girl like her when back home Wyatt surrounded himself with more outgoing people who lived their lives as if each day was an adventure.
When Tom and Wyatt were out at a bar, catching up on old times, Tom asked him how he came to be friends with Paige.
Wyatt grinned and shrugged. "Guess it was fate." Then seeing Tom's incredulous look, Wyatt laughed. "I don't know how to explain it. She's not what she seems."
"You mean uptight?"
"Yes, she can be uptight and she can be antisocial," Wyatt agreed. "And I can probably list a bunch of other flaws she has."
Wyatt pursed his lips and then shrugged his shoulders once more. "She's… So much more than what she shows people."
Tom didn't get it and the only thing he could think of as an excuse for his buddy was that California just changed him. But the next morning, when the two woke up to their own excruciating hangovers, Paige was standing before them (Wyatt was on the floor while Tom had the bed) holding a tray with two glasses of water and a bottle of aspirin. As Tom took his pill gratefully, he noticed Paige also made breakfast for all of them. His dislike for her slowly washed away and the more he watched Wyatt interact with Paige, he couldn't help but sense something else going on. But he didn't say anything. His friend was happy and that was what mattered.
Besides, Paige wasn't so bad after all. Before Tom finally left to go back to New York, she was holding actual conversations with him and smiling. She even told him to come back anytime and offered her apartment for his stay again.
Before Wyatt, Paige never really celebrated any of the holidays. She would try to avoid going to visit either one of her parents, and if she was let off the hook, she would order take out and spend a quiet evening at home in solitude.
With Wyatt, while it was just the two of them, ordering take out was out of the picture. The first year, Wyatt seemed homesick and he lamented on how he missed celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas with his friends. Feeling bad for Wyatt, Paige found herself doing Thanksgiving shopping and looking up recipes online. That first year, Wyatt woke up to the sound of turkey crashing to the ground and a string of expletives coming out of Paige's mouth (which became tradition).
In the end, Wyatt took over and Paige followed his lead around the kitchen. They made too much food that lasted them for days, and it was the first time that Wyatt felt at home in California. It was also the first time that Wyatt realized Paige cared for him, despite all her rhetoric to the contrary.
Meanwhile Christmas Eve was spent walking around town with Wyatt taking pictures and then doing last minute grocery shopping. On Christmas day, they spent the morning and afternoon cooking, and it was at night that they opened gifts. Wyatt's gift to Paige was his favorite photograph of the year he took. Paige's gift was a little statue of liberty, to remind him of home.
For the next four years, little things changed. As Wyatt made California his home, he began to make new close friends, particularly a group of four guys who had their own band (Troy, Alex, David, and Finch). The guys soon became part of the holidays, coming over to share dinner with them.
Still, one thing always remained the same from that first year. Every Christmas night Wyatt and Paige would exchange gifts. Wyatt's gift was always another photograph, and Paige was always something to remind Wyatt of home.
Wyatt's presence in Paige's life resulted in Paige opening herself up to those around her. Life for Paige was always spent in solitude, which she never found to be a problem, despite how the loneliness would set in once in a while. At work, she focused on her students, and she would only talk a little with her colleagues, but she never had lunch with them or went out for drinks.
But as Wyatt introduced craziness into her life, Paige found herself bonding with her colleagues by talking about Wyatt. A colleague would mention something about a show, and Paige would find herself expressing her own opinions about an episode because her roommate loved the same show and made her watch it. As time went by, Paige found herself having company for lunch and she soon had friends at work.
Paige soon noticed how she was no longer quiet and keeping to herself. Instead of sitting at the usual table in the corner of the lunch room, she sat in the middle, with other girl colleagues, gossiping and laughing about silly things.
Wyatt also brought other people into her lives, like the guys. Soon she found herself inviting her work friends to the concerts the guys would hold or to any art gallery showing Wyatt wanted to check out.
Because of Wyatt, Paige also met interesting strangers she never would have met otherwise like those on the streets Wyatt took pictures of. And through the lenses of Wyatt's camera, Paige also saw the world in a new way, beautiful, ugly, tragic, and happy.
Wyatt changed her…
It would just take her a while to realize just how much for the better it was.
It was easy to see how much Paige changed because of Wyatt, but with Wyatt, one had to perhaps look through the lenses of his camera and focus in on Wyatt's life to see how he changed because of her.
With Wyatt, one had to look at the small things. Back in New York, Wyatt lived day to day on not knowing what he was going to do. He thrived on unpredictability and staying up till dawn each night. He always surrounded himself with people, friends he had since his childhood and friends he barely made that moment. He shared everything with everyone; silence was not an option, and often each night he drank himself along with his friends to a drunken happy stupor. Ultimately, Wyatt was a happy guy with no issues or pain. He put his whole heart into having fun and into loving those around him. Nothing could get him down.
And the same was still true. Wyatt continued down his path of optimism, and every day he tried to push Paige out into the world, despite her protests. At the same time, Paige's insecurities brought Wyatt down to Earth. If anything, Paige's distrust of people made Wyatt understand people. He always saw things and people in the world in rosy colors and often his attention was on those who saw things the same way he did. Yet, with Paige, she made him see those he never saw before: the quiet ones in the corner, the ones who were shy, afraid, pained—the ones you never notice, but once you did you wished you noticed sooner.
And because it was so hard to have Paige reveal herself, to open up and show concern for him because when she does, it scares her so much, Wyatt realized how such small acts, like cooking him dinner or staying up late to wait for him to come home because she was worried, but ultimately she'd end up falling asleep on the couch, could mean so much.
Paige was also such a homebody that it began to rub off on Wyatt too. He found himself over the years preferring to stay home most nights instead of walking the streets till dawn.
Wyatt believed in living your life to the fullest, but Paige made him realized that it did not mean having to have a wild adventure every night. It meant taking a pause once in a while and taking in everything, especially the small moments.
If anything Paige made him appreciate life all the more.
Wyatt was good looking, a charmer, sweet, and all the girls around him knew it. After Kaley left, Wyatt had other dates, but all those girls ended up being friends more than anything. In the end, he always came home to Paige who would always be sitting on the couch with a cup of tea, ready to listen to his complaints about the girls.
Deep down it bothered Paige a little each time he went out with another new girl. Paige always attributed it to her view on love, how easy it was for people to get over a relationship and jump back into the dating game so quickly. She thought her uneasy feelings were perhaps disappointment over Wyatt being just like everyone else, proving how fickle love was.
Then Alexis came into the picture and Paige soon realized her feelings were much more than just disappointment.
He met Alexis after three years of living in California on one of his trips to town. Paige had a teaching seminar to attend to and couldn't accompany him. Alexis was a waitress at a small café and she was sitting at a small table outside during her break, writing on a notepad. She was a singer and song writer who would perform on stage every so often.
Wyatt took pictures of her, captivated by her soft beauty, curly auburn hair, snowy skin that seemed to glow, and a look of contentment as she scribbled away lyrics on her pad. So much so that he wasn't looking where he was going, and tripped over a dog. Alexis looked up at all the commotion he caused and the next thing he knew, she was attending to his wounds (a scraped hand) and he ended up spending the whole day with her, waiting for her to get off work, and then walking around town talking.
Paige ended up sleeping on the couch, waiting for his return, and feeling a bit worried because he didn't call her to tell her where he was (and she didn't want to call him and seemed like a worry wart). When he did come back, she woke up and found an excited Wyatt telling her all about Alexis. Seeing how happy he was, Paige felt uneasy, perhaps more than ever before. Still, she didn't say anything and forced herself to smile.
The first day Alexis met Wyatt was also the first time she heard of Paige. He told her that Paige was one of his best friends and how his adventures in California often had her by his side.
After being together for two weeks, Wyatt brought back Alexis for Paige to meet. It wasn't until Paige saw the two of them together that Paige began feeling her heart twist in an uncomfortable way, but Paige didn't allow herself to dwell on the possible reasons for it. Instead, she smiled her way through the encounter. Alexis was beautiful, sweet, and Paige couldn't help but think that she was perfect for Wyatt. Her heart ached at the thought.
About six months into their relationship, Alexis began to feel uncomfortable with Wyatt's relationship with Paige. The guys from the band, Alexis, Wyatt and Paige gathered around their apartment one night and began playing random games. Finch, wanting to test out Wyatt's relationship, decided to do a trivia game to see who knew Wyatt the best. Everyone would write down their answer on a notepad and Wyatt would write his answer down as well. They would all reveal their answers and see who matched Wyatt's answer.
Alexis was holding her own until they got to the question, "What is Wyatt's favorite, peanut butter or jelly?"
When it came time to reveal their answers, all the guys and Alexis wrote down, "Jelly." It was an easy question. One of Wyatt's favorite snacks was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, with emphasis on the jelly.
But Paige wrote down "Peanut Butter" and surprisingly that was Wyatt's answer as well.
"Wait, you love jelly though," Alexis said, confused.
Paige answered for him. "Jelly was his favorite until he made himself a sandwich a few days ago with too much jelly, which ended up staining his favorite white shirt. So now he is mad at the jelly and decided to start a newfound relationship with peanut butter."
Wyatt laughed and shrugged. "That's true. I just couldn't handle it after that."
They all laughed while the guys moaned at the absurdity of Wyatt's reasoning. They went on about the unfairness of the game since Paige knew too much about Wyatt.
It was then that Alexis started to look at Paige a bit differently, that she seemed to be more than a best friend to Wyatt. That night, she watched how they interacted with each other. She noticed how Wyatt laughed more with Paige, how Paige knew so much about Wyatt and vice versa, and how Wyatt was so considerate when it came to Paige (like picking off the olives from a slice of pizza before handing it to Paige).
As weeks passed, Alexis noticed things more and more. She noticed how Paige was always brought up in their conversations at least once. She noticed how Wyatt would order Paige's favorite food to take home if they happened to be in her favorite restaurant or buy a book Paige said she wanted if they happened by a bookstore. Wyatt always seemed to set aside a day of the week to hang out with Paige and she realized how he kept his Saturday trips to just him and Paige.
And as their relationship progressed, it began to bother her how she was never able to spend a night at Wyatt's place because he didn't even have a room and it felt weird for him to have her sleep over. Yet, what bothered Alexis the most was that at the end of the night, Wyatt would always come home to Paige.
The more Alexis fell in love with Wyatt, the more she wanted to be the person Wyatt turned to in his times of need. But she felt she would always be second best when it came to Paige. When her insecurities finally got the best of her, she found herself suggesting that Wyatt moved in with her.
"What brought this on all of a sudden?" He asked her.
It hurt her to see how Wyatt didn't immediately jump at the idea of the two of them living together.
"We've been together for over a year. I want to be able to come home to you at the end of a long day's work, to wake up to you being my side," she said. "I love you."
"I love you too," Wyatt said softly, leaning in and kissing her forehead. Yet, when she looked into his eyes, Alexis saw that there was something holding him back.
"You can move into my apartment," Alexis continued. She felt herself reaching out, refusing to let go. There was a sense of urgency within her and she felt she would lose him if she couldn't get him to say yes. "And it's kind of ridiculous how you don't have your own room after five years of living with Paige. Don't you want to finally have an actual bed?"
"That would be nice," Wyatt agreed. Alexis felt her heart lifting, thinking he was going to say yes. "But—"
"But what?" Alexis cried, jumping up from her seat. "Why don't you want to move in together? What's keeping you back? Is it Paige?"
There was a pause and Alexis felt as if she would suffocate. But just when she felt herself ready to crumble, Wyatt enveloped her in his arms and as he held her, he said softly, "Alexis, this is the first time I really felt the way I do when I'm with you. I never went this far before... Nothing's holding me back. Let's move in together."
On the surface, the words comforted her. She hugged him tighter and wished he never let her go. Yet, deep down, there was fear; fear of the unknown, of the truth lurking behind the darkness, that once uncovered, her heart might not be able to take it.
It was supposed to be a surprise. Paige had it all ready. She had the pictures of the new apartment in a manila envelope and she was going to casually put it on top of the pizza box so that when Wyatt came home, he would see it.
Whenever Wyatt couldn't find something of his, he would complain about not having his own room. Paige went through the first year living with Wyatt believing that his stay was only temporary. It took the second year for her to warm up to the idea that he was going to be around for a while. Still, she didn't find another apartment because it scared her, the thought of rearranging her life for him. For the first few years, she couldn't help but think that one day she would wake up and he'd be gone. So, she thought, why bother with finding another place?
But he stayed, and then one day she woke up and she found herself no longer thinking he wasn't going to be there. Now, she finally thought it was time for Wyatt to have his own room.
She was in the kitchen when he came home and was getting the drinks and plates ready for dinner.
"Hey," she called out to him. "I got dinner, pizza. Hope that's okay."
"That's great," he said.
She heard shuffling around in the living room and she started to get nervous as she waited for him to come into the kitchen and see the envelope of pictures.
"Paige, I need to talk to you for a second," he said. Something in his tone of voice made her freeze. And suddenly the fear that disappeared so long ago was resurfacing.
She walked out of the kitchen and found him standing before her. There was sadness etched across his face.
"Alexis and I have been talking," he said. He couldn't look at her in the eye. He couldn't seem to get the words out, but Paige already sensed his words before he even spoke it. She braced herself.
"We're thinking … I'm thinking… I mean I—I," he stuttered. He paused and then took a deep breath, "I'm moving in with Alexis."
And she felt the fear finally washing over her and knew at that moment, everything changed.
The apartment felt empty and cold as if she hadn't lived there for over five years. Before she had met Wyatt, Paige had lived in the apartment for only two months. It didn't feel as new to her or foreign as it did the first night Wyatt left.
Sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall with the window above her, Paige observed the apartment. The quiet of the place molded itself around her and she felt herself absorbing the loneliness.
There was so much she wanted to say, but the words could never leave her throat. As her eyes wandered to the couch and imagining how Wyatt used to lay sprawling over it, Paige felt tears prickling behind her eyes. Yet, she refused to cry just like how she refused to do so many things.
Their goodbye was short, impersonal. The moment he told her he was leaving, something within her closed off and she retreated to the girl of the past who never allowed anyone in. She couldn't help the pain that came along with his goodbye and she felt she was being abandoned all over again.
She missed him and she wanted him to stay. But the words, "Don't go," could never leave her throat.
He felt her pulling away; closing off to him and it was enough to break his heart.
He wanted to tell her he wasn't leaving her, that he would always be there. But sometimes words sound empty even before you speak them, and he knew that she wouldn't believe them. Despite what he told Alexis, a part of him, a big part, wanted him to stay with Paige and have things remain the same…
Whether that part of him was the caring, friend part he didn't really know. For some reason he was scared to find out the truth.
They didn't see each other for almost a month after he left. He tried calling, but he always got her answer machine or voicemail. Each message he left ranged from the mundane to stupid jokes, but it always ended with, "Just call me back… I miss you." And each message he left was replayed more than a handful of times to break the silence in the apartment as if he was still there, by her side.
She wanted to call back, but something always held her back. The excuses went from, "He needs his time with Alexis" to "Alexis wouldn't like it if I take him away from their time together" to "I'm tired, maybe next time." But deep down, there was really one reason for all the "almost" calls. It had something to do with the aching in her heart, the fear that the feelings she had was more than friendly, that she wasn't just missing him, that maybe she was feeling more than she ever felt before.
Yet, the idea that she loved him made her hate herself. It made her relive memories she hated reliving. And as much as she missed him, she wanted to avoid him more.
Alexis knew it wasn't working. Each time she saw him checking his cell, looking at a book but not reading it, picking off olives on his pizza, or just looking at his pictures… She knew he was really thinking about Paige.
Her heart was breaking, but she kept enduring. She knew it wasn't working, but having him by her side was enough for her…
At least that's what she kept making herself believe.
When he had enough, Wyatt decided to take matters into his own hands by sitting outside of her apartment for a few hours, waiting for Paige to come back. When Paige returned home, she found a sleeping Wyatt. She had paused, looking at him, but keeping her distance. She debated between waking him and sneaking past him. She chose the latter.
Just when she was next to him, Wyatt's hand suddenly shot up and grabbed a hold of her ankle. "You've been avoiding me," he said, startling her. His eyes were still closed and his head was leaning against the wall by her door. He then opened his eyes and, not bothering to wait for her response, he smiled up at her. "So you going to let me in?"
Once inside, Paige tried to come up with a good excuse for her behavior as she made them coffee while Wyatt took in the apartment. Everything looked the same except all of his things were no longer cluttering the living room.
"Nothing changed," Wyatt commented, breaking the silence between them.
"Well, you know me," Paige said as she handed him a cup of coffee," I like to keep things the same even when things… aren't."
"How have you been Paige?" Wyatt said, now becoming serious. She looked the same as always, her hair tied up, wearing a grey sweatshirt, and looking as somber as ever.
Paige averted her eyes and took a sip from her cup. "I'm fine. Everything's been good. A little quiet since you've been gone, but I'm getting used to living alone again."
"Why haven't you returned any of my calls?"
She wanted to lie, to give him a good excuse, and she knew he would take whatever she gave him. But she couldn't lie so she settled for the honest truth.
"I need to get used to not hearing you're voice, to not having you around," she said. "And I know that if I call you… It'll make it harder to move on." She looked up at him and he saw how her eyes shined. "I know it's stupid but—"
"It's not stupid," he cut in. "I get what you mean. It's hard for me too." He walked over to the couch and sat down, sprawling over it like he used to. "Sometimes I forget that when I go home, I'm not going home to here anymore."
People ask them what makes their friendship work. For Wyatt, one of his reasons had to do with the quiet moments, which Paige was so good at. That night, there were many more things that they probably should have said to each other, but they didn't. Instead, Paige walked over to the couch, sat down, and turned on the television. And they were quiet, watching an uninteresting movie and just sitting next to each other, pretending for that moment that things were the same and it was just the two of them.
They didn't see each other again for another few weeks. She needed to move on and he needed to realize that going home didn't mean coming home to her.
His name was Peter and she hadn't heard from him since college. He was the first boy Paige ever loved and he was supposed to be the last. He broke her heart and sealed her belief that love was only a momentary feeling that never lasts.
But she saw him again after all those years at work. School had ended and he was picking up a little boy who turned out to be his stepson. He had gotten married only a few months ago.
When he saw her, he came up to her as if they had no past connection other than the fact that they went to the same college. He tried to carry on normal pleasantries, catching up on old times, but Paige couldn't carry the conversation let alone breathe properly. A friend who was also a colleague had to fake an excuse and take her away. Once she was away from him, Paige excused herself to go to the restroom and once she found privacy in a stall of her own, she sat there, trying to get rid of the old memories that suddenly replayed in her mind.
That night, she got very drunk.
Wyatt was on his way to pick up Alexis from work. They were supposed to go and have dinner with her parents that night, but just when he was almost reaching Alexis, he received a phone call from the bar he liked to frequent. Sighing, he answered thinking that one of the guys from the band must have gotten massively drunk and gotten in trouble with the bartender.
"Wyatt?" A man with a deep burly voice asked. It was his favorite bartender, Joey.
"Hey Joey," Wyatt answered as he waited to hear one of the guys (most likely Finch) to grab the phone and start singing to him. "Which one of the guys is it this time? Or is it all of them?"
"Actually it's none of them. Uh, I think you might want to come by and pick up your friend. She had a little too much to drink and since you are her number 1 on her speed dial—"
"Wait, are you talking about Paige? Paige is at the bar right now?" Before he knew it, Wyatt was already making a u-turn and headed towards the bar, which was in the opposite direction of where Alexis was.
"I'll be there in ten minutes." He went on to call Alexis, who, he knew, wasn't going to be happy with the change of plans. But in his mind the image of Paige crying over a glass of alcohol was enough to keep him driving towards her and away from his girlfriend.
"WYATT!" Paige cried happily when he appeared by her side. The smell of heavy alcohol laced her breath. Wyatt knew that whatever it was bothering her must have been bad. Paige rarely drank, mostly because alcohol would make her lose control and let down her defenses.
After thanking Joey and paying for her bill, Wyatt had to throw Paige over his shoulder to take her out of the bar. Paige was too drunk to put up a good fight and once in the car, Wyatt drove back to her place.
"You have a car? When did you get a car?" Paige asked, moving wildly about, touching all the car's surfaces and making "oh" and "ah" noises.
"Just recently," Wyatt said through gritted teeth. He was trying to pay attention to the roads while trying to make Paige stay still and seated. "Paige, can you sit still?"
Ignoring him, Paige began to sing and giggle to herself as she lunged to the backseat.
The trip back to her apartment took longer than expected. Wyatt had to stop several times to get Paige to settle down and at one of the stops Paige had to throw up. By the time they reached her place, Wyatt was tired and Paige was almost unconscious.
After going through her purse and finding the keys, Wyatt had to juggle holding Paige over his shoulder and opening the door to the apartment. Once inside, Wyatt deposited her on the couch and went to get her a cup of water.
By the time he got back, Paige was slumped over the side of the couch and staring aimlessly in front of her. No longer was she giggling like a child, instead she looked as if the whole world was on her shoulders.
"Here Paige, drink this," Wyatt said as he tried to put the cup to her lips. However, Paige began to make whining noises and pushed his hand away.
"I don't want water," Paige cried. "I don't want anything."
After several attempts and no success, Wyatt finally gave up. Finally he settled on just trying to get some answers out of her.
"Why did you drink so much tonight?"
Paige smiled lazily and laughed. "No reason," she said in a sing-song voice.
"Come on Paige, you don't drink unless life is really bad or if I make you."
Paige continued laughing, but when it seemed like she wasn't going to tell him anything, Wyatt sighed and was getting ready to leave. Just as he was about to get off the couch, Paige seemed to sober up a little and began to mutter, "I saw him again."
Her voice made him pause and he knew there was no mistaking the vulnerability she was feeling. She sounded like a lost little girl and Wyatt knew this was one of those rare moments where Paige was completely defenseless.
"I didn't see him for so long and suddenly he's there," she whispered as if she was telling a deep dark secret. Her eyes were watering and a tear fell.
"Who?" Wyatt reluctantly asked, afraid that his voice would break the spell and Paige would close off once more. But it didn't, and Paige continued unraveling before him.
"Peter," she revealed. Her eyes looked passed him and she was off into the past. "I loved him a lot but he didn't love me." She shook her head, saying the words as if she was tasting the bitterness in them. "He just went up to me one day and broke my heart. Just like that." She brought her two hands together to make a loud clap. "POOF! Gone."
Wyatt didn't know what to say. He tried searching his brain for a lame joke, something to cheer her up, but he was coming up with nothing.
Paige suddenly sat up and she seemed riled up. "And you know, I was doing fine all on my own before I met him. I was never going to fall in love, you know, because of my parents."
Paige never revealed anything about her parents, that and her college experience were the only two subjects Paige kept closed from him. And now here she was, telling him everything he wanted to know about her.
"Mom and dad both cheated, then they divorced, and now they keep marrying people they don't really love," rambled Paige. "It's all about sex and feelings that go POOF! Like Peter's feelings for me. But I thought he was different because he said we were different. But NO! We went POOF just like my parents went POOF! Just poofing everywhere," Paige ended anticlimactically. She slumped back as she grumbled, "Love is just all about poofing." She turned to look at Wyatt and her eyes watered once more as she pointed at him. "And you're going to poof too," she said right before she began to cry hysterically.
Wyatt didn't know what to say. All he could do was register the amount of times she said "poof" and how she was now crying so helplessly. Hating to see Paige in such a sad sight, Wyatt sat closer to her and took her into his arms, hugging her tightly.
"Hey, I'm right here," he whispered soothingly. "I'm not poofing anywhere."
Paige shook her head against him. "Yes, you are. My parents poofed. Peter poofed. So you will poof too. It's math."
Wyatt laughed, amused by her nonsense and overwhelmed by her tears. "That isn't how it works. Some things just don't work out and some things do. This—you and me—our friendship isn't going to poof."
Paige pouted. "I don't believe you."
"Yeah well, sometimes you just gotta have faith," Wyatt muttered. His cell phone began to ring, and seeing that it was Alexis, Wyatt excused himself to the kitchen. The conversation with Alexis was short and filled with tension with Alexis only saying, "If you're done, come home now," right before hanging up. Not wanting to think what was awaiting for him later that night, Wyatt just wanted to focus on the girl in the next room.
By the time Wyatt went back out to the living room, Paige had fallen asleep. He stood by the couch and watched her sleep, listening to the soft snore she emitted. And something within him stirred and he knew that things weren't the same between them and it wasn't because he had moved out.
Lifting her from the couch, he took her to her room and tucked her into bed. Paige would wake up the next morning with a massive headache and only the tiniest bit of memory that Wyatt took her home. She wouldn't remember how he lingered in her room, tucking a strand of her hair behind her ear that had fallen over her eyes, or how his hand caressed her cheek. She wouldn't remember the forehead kiss he gave her and how he lingered by her side, his eyes revealing feelings that were always dormant, finally coming up to the surface to be realized.
"Do you love her?"
He couldn't answer, knowing that the truth would hurt her. Yet, the longer he remained silent, the louder the truth rung out.
Alexis confronted him with the question the moment he returned to the apartment. It was three in the morning and she had been waiting for him, growing upset, heartbroken, and scared as time wore on. The moment he entered through the door, she knew that she couldn't pretend anymore.
"Do you love me?"
"Yes," Wyatt answered. "I do."
It was only seconds, the moment that changed everything. Alexis could have left things, could have accepted his answer, forgiven him and try to convince herself that it was enough. Yet, the two of them stood there before each other, hidden in half darkness with only a small lamp lighting the room. Alexis knew that even if she had accepted his answer, Wyatt wouldn't allow her to. Looking into his eyes, she saw the torrent of emotions running through him and she recognized most of them. She saw the pain, the regret, the reluctance, the self-hatred, and most of all the resignation to what he had to do and say.
He was so good, that she wanted to run from him, to keep herself in her fake bubble, to put her hands to her ears and refuse to hear.
"But?" She asked, her voice in anguish, revealing how she close to the edge she was. She refused to meet his eyes, trying to concentrate on a spot on the floor, trying to prepare herself for the blow.
'But not the way you should be loved."
Paige spent the next day cooped up in her apartment nursing her headache. She tried calling Wyatt several times to thank him, but he never answered. She began to worry over what she could have said when she was drunk or how foolish she must have acted. Once it became dark, her doorbell rang, and she opened her door to find a tired looking Wyatt holding a takeout bag.
Almost instantly Paige could tell something was wrong. As Wyatt set up dinner on the floor of her living room, Paige observed him. He was trying to focus the conversation on her, asking how she was feeling, and making fun of how drunk she was.
"Are you okay?" Paige asked when there was finally a pause in the conversation. "Did something happen?"
Wyatt took his time, acting as if he didn't hear her as he headed to her kitchen.
"Alexis and I broke up."
Paige was speechless. "W-why? I thought things were going well between you two."
Wyatt was rummaging around her fridge, trying to find some hot sauce. "We've been having problems. We just finally realized how big the problems were yesterday."
"Wait yesterday? Did it have something to do with me? Was Alexis mad because you had to pick me up from the bar? Did I do something really stupid? I could call her and—"
"It wasn't—it wasn't about that," Wyatt said, turning around and looking at her.
Paige didn't know what to say. It was strange to her, how he wouldn't share with her what happened between him and Alexis. He would always confide in her, but for some reason he wouldn't now. Not quite knowing what to say or do, Paige said the only thing that she could think of, "Do you want me to get some beer and we can get drunk?"
There was a pause, and Paige felt her stomach clench in anticipation.
Then with a small lopsided smile, Wyatt nodded.
"Yeah, I'd like that."
To outside viewers, things seemed to be back to normal between Paige and Wyatt. They joked around, laughed, and always seemed to be around each other. Yet, only those two knew just how much things had really changed. It wasn't just the two of them anymore. Instead, it was always them with other people. Wyatt still lived with the other boys and Paige kept herself from asking him to move back in.
Truth was Paige was afraid to have things return to the past, where it would just be the two of them. Already she ignored the aching in her heart when he was around her, how the slightest touch from him could send her heart racing. Paige knew the truth deep down, but she refused to acknowledge it. Instead, she did her best to run away from it. She just needed time, she believed, and then they can return to the way things were. But first she needed to make sure her heart wouldn't race for him anymore, that she would ache to hold him, to lay her head on his shoulder, and to not want his hands to hold hers.
So she did her best to always surround them with other people. When Wyatt showed up unannounced at her apartment, Paige would rush in and make up some lie about inviting other people over, then she would proceed to hide in her room "changing" all the while making frantic phone calls to everyone she knew to come over.
And while Paige did all she could to seem normal, Wyatt knew the truth. A part of him was becoming frustrated, wanting to call her out on what she was doing, but another part of him knew better. That part of him that kept him back was the part that was afraid of what might happen if he pushed for things to be revealed, for words to be said. That part of him, ultimately, was afraid of losing Paige.
So Wyatt did his best to play along with Paige's ruse. He pretended everything was fine, putting a smile on when friends intruded on their alone time, playing along with Paige and showing to the world how these two were still the best of friends. He did his best to hide the ache he felt inside in having to keep his mouth shut about he really felt. He tried to clamp down on the frustration that always bubbled up within him whenever Paige was near, yet trying to keep away from him. He did all he could to prevent himself from totally grabbing her and hugging her, never wanting to let go and wanting so desperately to never have to.
He believed that if he just took his time, Paige would finally come around. He just had to wait. He believed that despite all of Paige's reservations about relationships and her past, he would be able to show her otherwise. He just needed to wait for her to settle away her fears, to show her that he would always be there.
But the thing is, as much as Wyatt believed he could wait and as much as Paige believed she could erase what she felt, what you believe isn't always true.
"I can't do this."
Four simple words.
Four simple words laced in pain, tears, doubts, frustration, self-hatred, and so much other raw emotions to make the list go on and on. Four simple words that cut his heart and finally made him see how he couldn't wait any longer, how he couldn't do anything for a girl who didn't want anything to be done.
It was his frustration that finally did it, but the frustration was caused by Paige's fear once again. Wyatt had wanted to resume their Saturday field trips, something that stopped when he moved out. He thought that they could perhaps take a step towards to how things were, for Paige to finally start feeling comfortable with him once again and perhaps to show her how great it was when it was just the two of them.
But he didn't expect her to bring another friend, a new teacher who worked with her, along to their outing. In a way, seeing the new bubbly woman next to Paige hurt him. It seemed that in her effort to avoid any alone time with him, Paige was even willing to give up their sacred Saturday trips. No one was ever invited when it was just the two of them… Until now.
He didn't say anything the whole afternoon. Instead, Paige chattered away with her friend, filling in on the silence and doing her best to ignore how solemn Wyatt was. Yet, the moment the day ended, and the friend left Paige's apartment, and it was just the two of them, Wyatt felt his anger bubbling up. He watched as Paige fidgeted, reaching for her cell and he knew that she was just about ready to call someone else to come over. And he knew he couldn't take it anymore.
Wyatt grabbed the cell from her, and cut Paige off as she was saying, "I think Ben said something about coming over for a—"
"Don't," he quietly said. He didn't look at her. Paige was speechless, part of it due to his closeness to her and the other part due to the sudden seriousness of his demeanor.
"Paige, how long are you going to do this?" He turned to her, his eyes looking into hers. Paige took a step back from him, but immediately Wyatt took a step forward, his hands grabbing her shoulders to keep her still. "How long, Paige, before we can finally talk about it?"
Paige nervously swallowed, shaking her head and doing her best to avoid his eyes. Her heart began racing and she felt herself beginning to perspire. She decided to play dumb.
"What are you talking about, Wyatt? Why are you being like this?"
"Why are you being like this?" His grip on her shoulders tightened. He wanted so desperately to shake her and he would have if he thought it would make any difference.
"Look at me Paige," he ordered. Paige wanted to ignore it, but something about his voice made her realize that refusing to do what he said wasn't a choice. So she looked up, and her breath caught in her throat. Wyatt's eyes shined, and he looked as if he was in pain. She felt an urge to reach up and smooth out the wrinkles that had etched themselves on his forehead. His gaze narrowed in on her and he stared with such intensity that Paige felt hypnotized.
"Wh-what do you mean?" She stuttered, her concentration waning as all she could think of how close he was, how his lips were mere inches away from her.
Suddenly, his eyes dropped from looking into her and down to her lips, as if he heard her thoughts.
"This," he whispered and he leaned in. His lips lightly touched hers, but the slightest pressure along with the surprise of his move was enough to make her gasp. The hands on her shoulders slowly dropped down and found themselves on her back, pushing her closer to him.
She should have pushed him away, but she couldn't think. For that one moment, all thoughts and fears flew out of her mind and all that registered was his touch and that was enough. Her eyes fluttered until they finally closed, and her hands slowly made their way around his neck. It wasn't until the kiss grew in its intensity that Paige realized what she was doing. Reluctantly, her hands moved to his shoulders and she did her best to push him away.
"No," she muttered as his lips broke away from hers. "We can't do this."
"Why?" Wyatt asked, his arms still around her despite her hands trying to keep him at a distance. "Give me a good reason why."
"Because," Paige said, trying to catch her breath. She tried to clear her mind and think coherently. "It wouldn't end well for us."
"How do you know that?" Wyatt cried, finally letting her go and stepping back from her. "How could you possibly know that when we barely even started anything?"
Paige felt tears prickling her eyes. She looked away from him as her fingers unconsciously touched her lips.
"Because look at the world," she answered. "Everyone's divorcing left and right. And it takes people about a day before they're onto the next relationship. Or look at my parents. Three divorces each, although Dad is probably going onto his fourth very soon. I mean come on Wyatt, the world is basically shoving it in our faces that love doesn't last. I mean, look at you!"
She instantly regretted saying it once the words left her mouth.
"What do you mean me?"
Paige sighed. She couldn't help but continue, if only to show him why she couldn't risk loving him.
"You had three girlfriends in the past five years. One cheated on you and then it took you a few months before you're onto the next."
"What's your point Paige? I moved on, but that doesn't mean I didn't love any of them. It just didn't work out."
"And that could be us!" Paige cried. She looked at him, wanting him to finally get what she was trying to say. "We could end just as easily. You'll end up hating me for all my flaws and we'll break up and you could move on from me just as quickly."
"Why are you always saying it's going to be me that ends it?"
"Because it will," Paige answered as she crossed her arms. She realized she was acting like a petulant child, but she couldn't stop.
"You don't know that," Wyatt said. "What do you want me to say Paige? Do you want me to say that if we break up, I'll mourn our relationship for years to come?"
"No! That's not the point," Paige cried, growing frustrated. She felt like crying, yelling, and breaking things all at once.
"Paige," Wyatt said, trying to make her see reason. "I can't guarantee that we'll last. But you just need to have faith. I love you. Flaws and all. And I believe that if we work hard at it, we could beat the odds. I have faith in us Paige. Can't you?"
Paige didn't answer nor could she look at him. His words sounded so good, but it wasn't enough. He didn't lie to her with false promises, but he didn't give her that guarantee she needed but knew didn't exist. Feeling the distance between them, Wyatt slowly felt himself losing grip on his hope for things to work out between them. The more he saw Paige running from him, the more he felt he couldn't keep running after her. Love wasn't about one side constantly fighting for the other. She had to be able to risk it for him too.
Wyatt took a deep breath before finally repeating his question for the last time.
There was a beat of silence. Then:
"Wyatt… I just can't."
Four simple words.
Four simple words spoken with Paige's broken voice.
Four simple words that made him finally see how he couldn't wait any longer, how he couldn't do anything for a girl who didn't want anything to be done.
The Gallery formally invites you to attend the Exhibit of a young promising photographer…
Paige's hands grasped the white invitation, creasing the perfect cardboard the words were printed on. Wyatt's exhibit was in a few hours and Paige was looking at the invitation for the hundredth time that day. She had received it a month ago, right before the moment Wyatt officially walked out of her life.
Paige closed her eyes, reliving the scene where after hearing her words, Wyatt quietly turned from her and walked out of her apartment. She wanted to run after him, to tell him she took everything back, but that crippling fear kept her.
Fear of love, fear of hurt, fear of losing Wyatt…
But hadn't she lost him despite everything?
Paige opened her eyes, once again facing the invitation. She didn't know whether to toss the card in the trash or to attend the exhibit. It was a big night for Wyatt. Finally, after years of hard work people were finally paying attention to him and he deserved it…
Yet, did he want her there? He had avoided her after what happened. She would show up whenever the boys' had a show or a party, hoping that somehow Wyatt would forgive her and things could go back to normal and they could be friends again. But it seemed the moment she stepped into a room, Wyatt sensed her presence and would find an excuse to leave or to make sure she would never catch sight of him for the rest of the night. Everyone else knew something was going on, but thought it best to leave the two of them to figure it out.
It wasn't until three nights ago Paige was able to corner him in a club where the boys' were throwing a birthday party for one of their girlfriends. Paige saw Wyatt going to the restroom and she quickly followed him, staking out by the door until he came out.
When he did, Wyatt eyes widened, but his expression quickly turned dark and he tried to excuse himself. Paige grabbed his arm and he stopped.
"Wyatt, how long are we going to be like this?"
Wyatt turned around and Paige couldn't help but take a step back from him. He looked so closed off from her, so devoid of emotion and of any recognition of her.
"Like what?" He asked simply as if not knowing what she meant. But she could tell by the tense way he stood that he was working hard to stay in control and calm.
"When can we be friends again?" Paige asked him. Yet, the moment she asked the question, she already knew his answer.
For a few seconds, the stoic façade crumbled and Wyatt allowed his frustration to show. His shoulders slumped for that moment before quickly straightening again.
"When I can finally learn to love you without being in love with you."
And then he walked away, leaving Paige to feel as if he was leaving her for good.
Each night, Paige cried herself to sleep despite telling herself millions of times how she was doing the right thing. She made herself relive her broken memories of her parents: the fighting, the cursing, the divorces, the tears. She would read magazines that listed the broken marriages of celebrities, how one actor was hooking up with someone else. She would even bring up her memories of college, how her first love broke her heart without a second thought…
Yet, she would find herself looking around her apartment, her eyes landing on every object reminding her of Wyatt. She would remember his jokes, his whining, his snoring, his food, the way he smiled and the way he yelled.
Each time she found herself desperately missing him, Paige would sit down on her couch and imagine him sitting by her.
That was what she was doing as she examined the invitation. Paige sighed, placing the card on the coffee table before leaning back on her couch. As she slumped down on the couch, Paige suddenly felt something hit her back, a bulky object of sort. She first thought it was the remote control, but that was already sitting before her on the coffee table.
Paige felt behind her back and once feeling the object, she grabbed it and pulled it out.
It was a disposable camera.
'Wyatt,' Paige thought, a small smile touching her lips. Despite all his fancy equipment, Wyatt loved using the disposable camera. They were light and informal, and he never felt pressured to take a good picture with them. He always had one or two during their excursions, taking pictures of bugs, people, trees, and everything in between. Only when he saw something really great would he bust out his huge camera to take a better picture of whatever it was.
Paige turned the camera over in her hand, her mind indulging in Wyatt memories once more. Suddenly, wanting to regain those feelings in the memories, Paige stood up and grabbed her purse. She was out the door before she really knew what she was doing.
The moment she was outside and the late afternoon sun hit her eyes, Paige's fingers tightened around the camera. Across from her was a man hailing a taxi, and Paige lifted the camera and took a picture of the yellow vehicle, which gleamed under the sun.
Then she found herself walking, taking in everything around her. And then she began taking pictures, everything random and meaningless. She took a picture of a dog peeing by a tree, of a jogger running by her, of a mother pushing a stroller, of people sitting outside a coffee shop.
Paige didn't know how long it was she walked, but suddenly she was at a park, about an hour walk from her place. Paige decided to take the little cement path that was laid across the middle of the park, enjoying the coverage of the trees from the sun. Paige took pictures of kids playing on the swings, bikers going by her, of families having picnics, and people playing basketball and tennis.
It wasn't until she was further in the park that Paige came across an empty bench that stared out to the little pond of ducks. Paige took a seat and then with her camera, caught a moment of a big duck eating a piece of bread thrown by a child with her father. Paige smiled, and leaned back. As the wind blew by hair, Paige sighed.
So this was Wyatt felt when he took pictures. How his mind wandered… How it felt to be able to capture a moment, despite how inconsequential that moment was. Paige wished Wyatt was sitting by her like he always did. He would be going through his digital camera by now, enjoying what he took and wanting to show her everything he took, despite it being about 500 shots to go through.
After, Wyatt would probably want to go and feed the ducks. He would want to run around and then lie on the grass, maybe scream something when no one was around. And he would somehow convince Paige to do it all with him, despite how she would find it embarrassing to do so.
Paige couldn't wait to develop the pictures, wondering perhaps if she actually did take a good photograph. She couldn't wait to show Wyatt, who would probably be proud of her for finally taking it upon herself to take pictures. He would probably say—
Paige's thoughts stopped. Wyatt wouldn't say anything because… He couldn't be near her anymore.
Suddenly the light feeling Paige was feeling slipped away replaced by a familiar aching in her heart.
If only she wasn't so afraid… If only she could just get rid of her stupid thoughts and fears and just take a leap of faith…
But there was too much evidence in the world telling her it wouldn't work. At least one day, perhaps there would be a chance Wyatt would forgive her and they could find a way to forget their feelings… But if things started between them and then ended… She would lose him.
At least now, they had a chance to be friends still… No matter how small a chance it was.
She would be able to get rid of that pain she felt… She would be able to breathe again… And Wyatt would one day not occupy her thoughts and she wouldn't be in love with him… She would want to hold him anymore and she wouldn't feel as if his smile could make the world good again.
Paige shook her head, growing frustrated with her thoughts. The pain in her heart seemed to intensify and it wasn't helping her to just sit there and wallow in her misery. Paige stood up, grabbing the camera in her hand and was about to walk back from where she came from, but Paige quickly stopped moving. Two people a few feet away from the bench caught her eye.
It was an elderly man and an elderly woman, slowly walking up the grass toward the cemented path. They were both dressed in heavy coats, the man wearing a brown cap and walking with a cane. The elderly woman had a scarf wrapped around her head, and she was holding onto the man's arm, helping him up the path. Once they got up, the old man took the woman's hand from his arm and lifted t up to his lips. He kissed her hand before smiling up at her, and the woman laughed before leaning in for a kiss on the lips.
Before Paige knew it, she was running up the path and standing behind the couple as they turned their backs on her, slowly walking down the path, away from Paige. Paige lifted the camera to her eye and through the little lens; she had the backs of the two couple within the frame, their hands clasped tightly together between them.
It was as if the moment her finger pressed the button and took the picture, something in her mind and her heart clicked as well.
A whirling noise came from the camera and Paige tore her eyes away from the couple to the camera. The film was rolling. That was her last shot.
Paige felt a big smile stretching across her face while she felt the tears blurring her vision. She felt as if her own mind was whirling, and looking back up at the couple, Paige just felt different. Everything just suddenly made sense and Paige felt as if someone threw water on her to wake her up. Looking at the couple, who grew smaller and smaller in her vision, Paige began to laugh in giddiness.
Paige looked at her wrist watch, realizing that she had only two hours before the exhibit started. She realized what she had to do and she began to run, turning her back on the elderly couple that changed her life without knowing it.
Her hand gripped the camera as Paige raced through the park and finally onto the sidewalk. She ran with all her might, ignoring the way her breath labored with each step, or how her side ached from the exercise she denied herself for so long. She didn't stop to take a break until halfway when she passed by a local drug store. She doubled back and went into the store, rushing to the one-hour photo center and quickly filling out an order for the camera. Once she finished, she ran out the store and headed back to her apartment to quickly change.
Paige didn't realize how long it took her until she was able to return to the convenience store to retrieve the photos. She had took too much time trying to pick out a suitable dress, before settling on a black dress and red coat Wyatt complimented her on once. She didn't even bother with her hair before running out of her building. She should have gotten a taxi, but her mind didn't allow her to think logically. Once she had the pictures in her hands, she just found herself running to the gallery, despite it being several blocks from where she was.
Instead, as her steps pounded against the pavement, the only thought that pulsed through her mind was, "I love him. I love him. I love him."
Somehow she made it to the gallery, but by the time she reached it, people were gathering outside already. Through the window she saw people already looking at the photographs, and Paige realized exactly where she was and what she was doing. She was sweaty from the running and she knew she probably looked like a mess. Yet, thoughts about her appearance took a backseat as the thought of Wyatt being so near her took center. Her hands felt clammy and Paige gripped the packet of photographs as if it was her only tether to reality.
Taking a deep breath, Paige looked down at her packet and took out the photographs and searched through for the picture she wanted. Once she had it, she put the rest in the packet and then, mustering up all her strength and repeating once more, "I love him," in her mind, she walked across the street and to the entrance of the gallery.
She handed in her invitation and barely registered the directions the gallery worker was telling her. All she caught was, "The theme throughout the exhibit is 'Happy Endings," which the artist wanted to showcase…"
Not bothering to hear the rest, Paige numbly entered the building and heading to the start of the exhibition. It was still early and a lot of the guests were clustering around the early photographs on the wall.
Paige stood in the middle, her eyes taking in the exhibit. Two walls stretched out before her, holding Wyatt's photographs. Looking at the photographs to her left then her right, Paige couldn't breathe.
The photographs were all the ones he gave her.
Paige began to walk down the room, glancing at the pictures, remembering each moment when Wyatt gave them for her. As everybody else took their time to read the description and examine the pictures, Paige kept walking. She knew everything by heart, each speech Wyatt gave her about why the picture was important. Even without reading the brochure, she knew… No, within her, she felt what it was he was trying to say.
The exhibit was arranged in which the photographs and wall spiraled to end in the middle. Paige must have gone through the exhibit quickly because suddenly she was at the end, with no one around her. The middle of the room had one wall and was closed in by white screens that were filled with flowers and vines. Before the photograph was a little white block that served as a bench.
Paige took in the screens, the flowers, and the bench before lifting her eyes to meet the photograph. When her eyes finally saw the last photograph, Paige took a deep breath and held it.
It was their picture, the one he forced her to take so long ago. They were on her couch. Wyatt's cheek was against her head, grinning happily with Paige smiling as well, despite showing hints of irritation. You could tell from the picture Wyatt was taking the picture of them.
It was a moment, just a moment between the two of them. But it was just the two of them, together.
Paige didn't realize it, but she was silently sobbing. Her hand reached out to touch their photograph, and despite how her vision was blurring, she could read the little inscription below the photograph.
My Happy Ending.
"So what do you think?" A voice came from behind her.
Paige turned around, and there was Wyatt, dressed in a dark pants and a white dress shirt. His hair looked as if he was running his fingers through it a few too many times. His lips tilted up on one side, and he gave her his signature smirk.
"I love it," Paige whispered. I love you.
Wyatt didn't say anything else, not asking about her appearance, about her tears, or why she was even there. He just stood there, not closing the small distance between them, and waited. Paige knew that it was up to her to take the step…
So she did. She took a step towards him and said, "I'm an idiot. I realized just how much of an idiot I was today."
Another step. All her thoughts became jumbled and the words kept pouring out of her mouth.
"All my life, all I could see was the bad. I could only see the ugly when it came to love and I just believed that being with people only caused heartache and it wasn't worth it. So I stayed alone."
One step. Two step.
"But then I met you. And you made the ugly bearable," Paige said. She felt herself beginning to smile. "And suddenly I didn't see just the ugly. I saw the good. I saw the laughs, the fun, the friendship… The love."
She took one more step and then she was before him. Wyatt stood still, watching her intently. He made no move to touch her and Paige didn't as well.
"I didn't believe that love could last," Paige whispered. "I didn't want to risk it because I didn't want to lose you. Because, Wyatt, you're not worth losing."
Slowly she raised her hand that held the picture she took and showed him the picture of the elderly man and woman holding hands as they walked down a path.
"But then I saw them," Paige continued. "And I just knew… I want this. I want the chance to hold your hand when we're old, to help you up a path, and to forever walk with you wherever you want to go so you can take whatever pictures you want to take. Because as much as I'm afraid to lose you Wyatt… The chance to have this happy ending with you… It's worth the risk."
The smile on Wyatt's face was slowly widening with teach word she said. He glanced at her then at the picture then at her again. Slowly, his hand reached up and cupped her face. His thumb wiped away a falling tear and Wyatt leaned in. With his lips only a breath away from hers, he whispered, "There's still no guarantee for us you know."
Paige nodded, her eyes dropping to his lips. "I know," she answered, looking up into his eyes. "But I think we got a good chance… Because, believe it or not, I really love you, flaws and all."
"Ditto," Wyatt whispered back before finally leaning in and kissing her.
And so there they stood before their picture, ignoring the slow trickle of people coming in to look at the end of the exhibit, only caring that somehow, they got to that moment.
She would always be the girl with her fears and he would always be the boy who was the optimist. And despite having the odds against them, they just had to look at their picture and believe that they'll get their happy ending…
Because, in the end, you just have to have faith.
Author's Note: I'm back! And if you have managed to actually read all of this, can I just say thank you! This was something I've been working on for so long and by the time I got half way, I found myself quitting (a usual thing that I do) and could not finish it. Somehow, I got my butt to finally finish it last night (despite having a paper I need to do) and I just want to get this posted despite not having had a chance to go over things to correct any obvious mistakes. I just need to feel as if it's done and it is, flaws and all.
So again thank you for everything. I decided to do the same thing as xoxluurve and create a formspring for people to ask questions if they wish. You can find me at .me/jennycraig10 . There's also my blog, which I am trying to revamp. I am never satisfied with my posts so I ended up taking off everything. I hope to start posting things once again, but more writing oriented instead of just blabbering on with my life.
Anyway, so I'm back. I hope to write a few more things before school starts. I know I say it a hundred times, but I hope that I can actually write throughout August. There's a few more oneshots I have in progress that I hope to finish and I want to write a longer story. I figure this was a good step in the right direction. I believe this is my longest oneshot yet.
Again, thank you for reading this and hopefully it wasn't too bad...
Oh and I didn't realize how the lines I placed for dividers in the story disappeared but now they're back and hopefully I caught them all!