Challenge #23: "So Many Songs, But I'm Feeling So Lonely!"
General Idea: Write a one-shot based on a song, either one from the SKoW playlist or another of your choice - as long as it's even remotely related to love, it'll do.
- The story must follow the plot of the song
- the title of the song must be the title of the story, or at least a part of it (ex: Walking By: Pete's Story, with the song in question being "Walking By" from Something Corporate... you get the gist)
- You must use at least three lines from the song as narration or dialogue. Be sure to bold or underline them. I italicized them.
- give us what song you're using at the beginning of the chapter, along with all the usual SKoW challenge requirements
- must be at least 6000 words
- This is not a "songfic" so no free-hanging verses in the middle of the story (all song lines added in must make sense and flow with the rest of the story).
Challenge Response: The song chosen is 'As Lovers Go' by Dashboard Confessional.
(As Lovers Go)
The first time
The first time I saw her was outside Caper's tailor shop. She was standing wide-eyed in front of the window, a small 'Oh' rounding her glossed lips. I followed her astounded gaze and saw that she was staring at a white wedding dress in the window. I could see her shock: that wedding dress was hand-made by Caper and one of her favorites. It was a strapless white bodice with a Cinderella type skirt, all wispy and dreamy. A single silver rose was embroidered on the bodice, a bit to the left on the waist. It was simple and elegant and even I had to admit that it looked gorgeous whether a mannequin or a live woman was wearing it or not.
I looked back at the girl and saw that she was worrying her lip with her teeth which protruded a little. She smiled a little wistfully and then turned away from the dress; her eyes met mine just as Caper called me from inside.
I heeded my sister's call, but not before I sent the girl my customary wink and smirk.
Seven weeks later
I was standing behind my friend Jolene at the bookstore on Eleventh Street. She was chattering on and on about some new pop CD that had come out and I was staring across the shop in boredom. Honestly, I loved Jolene to death – she was one of my closest friends – but sometimes the fact that she was a girl really bummed. I mean, seriously, girls had an indefinable talent for talking without losing breath, focus or steam. I got full meaning of that whenever I was around Jolene, the girl who got suspended for talking too much in class back in high school. Yeah. And we went to a public high school with the most lenient teachers ever.
In any case as Jolene nattered on, I surveyed the room disinterestedly once. And twice. And then I saw her again.
She was looking at a vintage record case this time. She was dressed in a soft blue summer dress, her raven hair tied loosely into a bun. A lock fell across her face, hanging past her round glasses. She was grinning a triumphant grin and something about that smile kept my eyes trained on her.
"Hey," Jolene waved a hand in front of me, frowning. "Yo jackass, you weren't listening to a single word I was saying were you?"
I shrugged, still looking at the girl. Jolene followed my gaze curiously and grimaced when she found my object of interest. "Oh no Ian, not now. Please," she stated flatly, glaring at me a little. I smiled and turned my eyes away from the girl. "I wasn't going to do anything; I was just looking," I smiled at Jolene who just humphed disbelievingly before turning herself to scrutinize the girl with interest.
"She doesn't seem like your usual type," she commented carelessly. I shrugged again.
"Like I said, I was just looking."
"When guys 'just look'," she turned her stern gaze back on me, "it isn't 'just looking'. In any case, who is she?"
"I don't know. I saw her at Caper's shop a few weeks back."
"Hmmm," Jolene looked at me contemplatively. "She really isn't your type."
"Kind of established that already."
"Okay," she smiled suddenly. "Go talk to her."
I stared, aghast. "What?"
"Go on," she urged. "Go. Go talk."
"What're you crazy? I just said I was looking."
"Ian," she glared, "Don't make me force you."
I was half tempted to defy her and stay put but I suddenly recalled a recent event where Jolene stole all her little brother's action figures and held them hostage until he had finished all his homework and projects for that week and the next. I shuddered: the poor boy had suffered quite a bit. There were original Spiderman and X-Men action figures among his collection, ones that even guys of my age would die for. That certain event made me grudgingly turn away from Jolene –but not before giving her a full-fledged I-hate-you-you-dumb-ass glare – and proceed cautiously towards the girl.
She didn't notice anything until I was standing uncertainly right beside her. Then she looked up at me, her eyes quizzical and brown behind her glasses. "Can I help you?" she said. Her voice was soft and low and, for some reason, reminded me of my mom tucking me in at night when I was seven.
I flushed a little. Sometimes it just sucked being the guy and having to make the first move. "Hi." Pause. "I'm Ian." A longer pause in which she continued staring at me quizzically as if wondering whether I was a psycho rapist or not.
"Um, hi…?" she ventured, clearly uncertain as to what was happening. I flushed again.
"I'm sorry," I rushed, suddenly getting the confidence to just speak frankly. "I was, um, looking at you a while back and my friend told me to come and talk to you. She's, um, watching us right now." I threw a discreet glance over my shoulder and confirmed it. The girl in front of me looked as well and giggled a little.
"Ah," she said. "Why exactly were you looking at me?"
"I'd seen you before and you looked nice," I said without thinking. Then I flushed red once more.
She, on the other hand, turned a delicate shade of pink, very visible due to her pale skin. She smiled and held out her hand politely.
"I'm not sure whether to believe you or not but you look harmless," she seemed to hesitate for a second and then went on, "I've seen you before too," a cheeky smile, "and my name is Sophie."
Two months later
"DYLAN WILL YOU HAND ME THE CLOTH OR NOT?"
I winced, watching Jolene rage and storm at her co-worker, who also happened to be one of my best friends. I really couldn't blame her though: Dylan was a slow, lazy ass who was hopelessly in love with her. It didn't really help that the only way he knew how to express his feelings was to infuriate her and make her really riled up. I pitied the guy but he wasn't going to take my advice to just ask her out like a normal guy. No. He was a total wimp when it came to Jolene.
"Okay, here," he finally handed the cleaning cloth over, grinning like the Cheshire cat all the while. Jolene snatched it out of his hands with a exasperated sigh and started to rigorously clean the top of the counter. We were in the pet shop that Jolene and Dylan worked in. The shop belonged to Dylan's dad, Mr. Daley. Dylan didn't normally work there but his sister Louise had gone on a trip to Paris with her class and he had been home from college so Mr. Daley said that he had to pitch in. Jolene had already been working there for about a year.
"You," she now pointed at my nitwit best friend vindictively, "are a loser. A sore, lazy-assed, loser who has no life whatsoever. Just go and check on the dogs you loser."
"You hurt me Jolene," said Dylan, holding his hands over his heart dramatically. Jolene huffed while I slapped him on his head. "Shut up and get back to work you dawg," I said. He grinned, saluted Jolene – who glowered at him – and sauntered leisurely away to the back of store.
"He is such a loser!" Jolene fumed, throwing the cloth back behind the counter.
"He's an idiot," I nodded in agreement, although inwardly smiling at her infuriation. Jolene pondered gloweringly for a few seconds before she remembered what she was saying before she shouted at Dylan.
"Right," she said, looking at me and brightening up. "What was that about Sophie again?"
I rolled my eyes. "You said it was really amazing that I'd stuck with her so long."
She nodded. "Yeah, I remember. And I repeat my astonishment."
"It's not like we're dating Jolene."
"Really now?" she said slyly. I looked at her warily, not knowing how to respond to that positively devious look in her eyes. I mean… girls don't have psychic powers or anything. She couldn't possibly know how I felt about Sophie right?
It had been two months since Sophie and I had met each other and started hanging out. I liked her well enough, she was interesting, we had the similar (sort of) interests, although her opinions differed from mine. This led to inevitable debate, ones that I actually liked taking part in. We'd met up quite a lot of times, although a little less than I would have liked but then college life really did not allow much freedom from books. Sophie was nineteen, at least two years younger than me, and studying at a different college than me. She was taking mathematics as her major (mine was architecture) and was top of her class. In the small time we spent together, I came to know her hobbies and her interests, her philosophies and her beliefs, her life and her studies.
Nothing was boring to me.
That surprised me, because if I was to be truly frank, I would say that a girl like Sophie would never catch my attention and if she did, it would be dropped almost immediately. Sophie was a good, soft-spoken girl, one who listened to her parents without questioning and did not know anything about taking risks or living freely. She'd minded her curfew until she was 18 and then it was dropped. She still lived with her rich-ass dad and mom and listened to whatever she was told.
She made me want to strap her to my bike and go for a rendezvous ride to the beach. She made me want to take her to the amusement park and force her to ride all the scariest rides. She made me want to take her to the wildest parties (and watch her carefully all the while). She was so small and timid: she made me want to show her the wild side of life. Something she'd never seen before. Then, that gentle, timid, doe-eyed look would be gone. I would see her exhilarated. I wanted to make her feel that way.
But I knew that I would never do anything like that. Even in just a month, I felt this weird sense (or rather, need) to protect her all the time. My protective side had never come out before and now it did, full-fledged. Especially when she was around guys who saw her the way I did.
I'd hustled her out of a shop once when I spotted two guys checking her out, a slow appreciative smile on their faces. I resisted the urge to go back and beat them down and stayed with her. She had laughed, "Ian what's wrong?" I had simply gritted my teeth and walked to the next café.
But Sophie didn't know how much I liked her. Even I was surprised by the intensity of my feelings. But I had a feeling she thought that we were 'just friends' and although I really wanted to break that assumption, I was afraid. What if she didn't like me that way? What if she really did want to be just friends? I hated rejection just as much as girls did.
I actually wanted to ask Jolene what she thought I should do but I knew she was going to crow over me. And I liked having my dignity.
So I just shrugged nonchalantly and said, "I have no idea what you are talking about."
Jolene seemed to 'think'. "Hmmm… does that sound like denial…? Oh yeah. It does."
"Jolene, you are crazy. And I still don't know what you are talking about."
"So you don't like Sophie?"
"What?" I was startled by her straightforward prodding. She smiled in triumph.
"Do you like Sophie or not?"
"Well yeah, but not in that way."
"In what way Ian?" she asked, cocking her head to the side innocently. I narrowed my eyes at her.
"I know what you're doing and it's not going to work on me."
"What am I doing?" Curse that convincing innocent tone.
"You're trying to trick me."
"Trick you into doing…?"
"Trick me into telling you that I li– Hey!" I glared at her. Jolene squealed and clapped her hands, laughing. She literally (yes, very much literally) danced around the shop (in which I was currently standing and watching my stupid friend make a fool of herself). Some of the parrots watched her beadily. The one or two customers in the shop stared at her in mingled fear and weirded-out-ness, while she giggled and clapped her hands like an idiot.
"Jolene," I scowled. "Will you cool it?"
"Oh Ian!" she sang. "Ian, Ian, Ian, Ian, Ian, Ian, Ian, Ian, Ian!" The last three times she emphasized my name like it had some deeper meaning. She danced to a stop in front of me, still grinning.
"I knew this day would come," she said gleefully.
At this point, Dylan came out holding a cuddly brown cocker-spaniel in his arms. "What are you guys talking about?" he asked, setting the puppy on the counter beside Jolene. She seized the dog and cuddled it, still in that gleeful, gloating manner. I scowled at her.
"Ian likes somebody!" she giggled, forgetting that she was mad at Dylan. He seemed to forget to annoy her in turn, staring in amazement at me.
"What?" he asked his tone incredulous. "You like someone? Like, like-like?"
His tone was so obviously shocked and disbelieving that it immediately put me on the defensive. "What, I can't like someone now?" I asked angrily.
Jolene instantly squealed and I regretted my foolish words. "So you do like her!" she cried happily. "Oh my god, Ian finally actually likes somebody!"
By now Dylan was grinning as well. "Man," he said with his Cheshire cat in place, "I never thought I'd see the day when Ian actually develops 'feelings'."
"I know right?" Jolene giggled, her earlier animosity obviously completely gone. "He's totally whipped."
"I'm not whipped," I said indignantly. "I just… sort of like her more than a friend."
"Whipped," she sang while Dylan watched with a smirk. I resigned to take their jibes and jokes with ill-humor. But then Jolene came to look at me with a half-serious expression.
"Have you told her?"
"What?" I was surprised.
"Have you told her?"
"No… I haven't."
"Why not dude?" this from Dylan.
"Yeah, why not?"
"I…" I shifted around uneasily. "I just– Well what if she doesn't like me in that way?"
"You'll never know if you don't tell her Ian," Jolene said, this time completely serious. I glanced quickly at Dylan; his face was uncharacteristically somber as he watched Jolene. When he saw that I was looking at him, he gave me a half-smile and a shrug.
"Jolene is right," he said. "Plus Sophie would be dumb to not to like you back. I mean, you've become firm friends with her within two months Ian."
"I know," I said quietly. I knew Dylan's advice was from the heart, although it was rather hypocritical. Dylan faced the same dilemma I did only with Jolene and for more than just two months. "But… I don't want to get hurt."
"Taking risks guarantees getting hurt Ian," said Jolene, suddenly nauseatingly cheerful again. "It is life darling."
"Its dahling Jolene," Dylan supplied with a grin. She cast an irritated look his way.
"You shut up." she growled, "and aren't you supposed to be in the back?"
I grinned as Dylan sauntered resignedly back to the back of the store.
One month later
It was a Friday and I was dead tired. I was stressed out and completely exhausted by the week. Even though my subject was technically easy, the college professors drove us hard. I honestly just wanted to curl up in my bed and sleep until the next three years were over.
The doorbell to my apartment rang. I groaned, but didn't get up. Two minutes later, it rang again, and then once more. I huffed, finally getting off my bed and ambled through my apartment to go to the front door.
Imagine my surprise when I see Sophie standing uncertainly in front of me. She took one look at me and her uncertainty seemed to melt away: she smiled. I gazed at her, baffled.
"What are you doing here?" I asked.
She smiled. "I know you're probably tired," she said, "but we haven't hung out for a while. So I decided to come here."
"But… how did you know where I live?" I said, frowning a little.
She shrugged. "I called your friend Jolene." I mentally cursed my interfering friend. Sophie and Jolene had already met and were on the road to becoming firm friends. It didn't help that Jolene was constantly plotting against me.
"Oh and," she grinned, "I brought this," she held up a DVD case, "and this," holding up a box of pizza.
The pizza (and maybe her smile) did it for me.
"Angel," I said, letting her in. I took the pizza from her and made for the kitchen after directing her to the living room where the 42 incher was. I'd worked throughout my high school life in three part-time jobs (all at the same time) to raise enough money so that after I finally escaped my humdrum life with my humdrum parents; I'd have enough money for whatever I wanted. So now, I had a fairly big apartment, my favorite 42 incher and my own car. Of course, I still had to work to keep my living.
I grabbed the pizza box and two bottles of Pepsi and joined Sophie in front of the TV. She'd already put the DVD in and the movie was starting to begin. I squinted at the screen and grimaced when I saw what it was. "Really Sophie? Stepmom?" I said skeptically.
She shot me a glare. "It's a really good movie. Plus, Julia Roberts is in it and that woman's a goddess in the film industry."
"Yeah but its all sap," I complained, sitting down beside her. She scooted an inch closer as I handed her one of the bottles. She poked me in the side. "You shut up you, and be glad I'm here at all." I laughed and let it go, eating a slice of pizza.
About twenty minutes later, Sophie was watching the screen intently and I was watching her just as intently. She was totally absorbed in the movie so she didn't notice me. I could feel my heart beating a little faster than normal and it bugged me. Why did I have to like her so much when she probably didn't even return my feelings? It just wasn't fair.
And she did look insanely good. Her black hair was shorter, around her shoulders, and curled a little at the end. It looked so soft and… pretty. I felt astounded; I thought the girl's hair was pretty.
I suddenly remembered Jolene's words. He's totally whipped. I frowned. Was I? I couldn't possibly be in love with this girl after just a few weeks of knowing each other. Surely you need more time than that?
"Ian?" I jolted out of my thoughts with a start. Sophie was gazing at me concernedly. "Are you okay?"
I attempted to smile. "Yeah sure."
"Hey," she suddenly sat up straighter, tucking her legs beneath her and pausing the movie, and looked at me earnestly. "You know you can talk to me right?"
I smiled genuinely this time. "Of course Soph."
"Then talk. I know something is up." She said, looking straight at me. I sighed and turned away from her, rubbing my face with my hands. The week's exhaustion suddenly caught up with me and I flopped my head back on the couch's headrest. Sophie looked at me even more concernedly and then hesitantly reached out. I watched her out of my peripheral vision, watching as she tentatively combed my hair back with her fingers. I sighed again, loving the feel.
"You look dead tired." She commented, still combing my hair slowly and gently.
"I am dead tired."
"Oh," she bit her lip, "maybe I shouldn't have come today then."
"No," I said firmly. "I'm glad you came."
"You are?" she asked, a little smile on her face. "Why?"
"I…" I trailed off, flushing a little. "What do you mean 'why'?"
"I mean, why?" she persisted. "You're dead tired, you probably want to sleep but you're still glad to see me. Wait a minute," she suddenly smiled brightly, her grin lighting up her whole face. "Does this mean we're really good friends now?"
I laughed lowly. "Sure." I felt so tired. I honestly did want to leave, get away from her. Every smile of her reminded me that my heart was pounding in my chest and I did not like that feeling.
"Ian, something is wrong!" She scooted closer to me, almost pressed against my side. Her hand fluttered to rest on my forehead and she brushed my hair back. "Come on, talk to me."
I suddenly resolved to tell her, to do it; just do it. I sat up, the movement bringing us slightly closer. "Fine, let's talk," I said, looking at her upturned face. For a short second, I reveled in the delight of being taller; I loved it when a girl had to look up to talk to me. Then I went back to business.
"Do you like me?" I asked straight away. I could see the shock unfold on her face. She started to stutter, "W-what ar-re…?"
"Because I like you," I said abruptly, looking away from her and sighing tiredly. "Hell, it might even be love. And it's freaking crazy because I don't feel this way, ever. Just ask my friends. I'm stone-cold." I looked back over at her with a small smile forced on my face, to see if she'd lighten up at the joke.
She didn't. She sat quietly looking at me. She was biting her lip, worrying it, not unlike the first time I saw her. But this time she was looking straight at me and I could read her emotions on her face. Uncertainty, hope, happiness, and then uncertainty again. I frowned. What was there to be uncertain about? I'd already confessed. She could either say she liked me or she didn't. It seemed so easy to me.
When she finally spoke, her words gave me a bit of hope. She said, "Are you for real? Because, look Ian, I've gotta be honest. You're wasting your time if you're fishing round here."
I looked at her, shocked. But as soon as she said it, I knew that I had just a chance, the small inkling I've been waiting for. And I said, "You must be mistaken, I'm not fooling… this feeling is real."
She stared at me. Five whole minutes passed and all we did was look at each other as if it was the first and last time. And then, finally, oh God finally, she smiled her mega-watt smile and jumped into my lap and kissed me full on the mouth.
I felt my tiredness fade away.
Five months later
We dated. Yup. Sophie and I dated, five blissful months in which I shouldered all the snipes, smug grins and side jokes from my friends. Five amazing months where we met up whenever we could and we'd either talk, not talk, or eat. And slowly, so slowly I didn't even realize, I fell in love with her.
It started with the little things. Sophie would smile and twirl in a new dress and I would feel my heart warm suddenly. Or she would open a new book, sniff at the pages and this I'm-in-heaven smile would come over her face. Or she would wave at me as she left on the bus and I would feel that mixture of worry, sadness, and contentment pile in the pit of my stomach. All the small things she did, I noticed, somehow, and I loved.
I didn't even notice until one day, while I was hanging out at the Daley pet shop again, my cell phone rang. I slid it open and barked, "Hello?" without checking the caller ID.
"Um, Ian?" a timid voice spoke into my ear. I sat up straighter.
"Soph?" I asked my voice uncharacteristically soft. Jolene and Dylan, those two retards who were standing in front of me, exchanged a small grin. I ignored them.
"Hi Ian," she replied, her tone cheerful in an unusual way. After all the time we spent with each other, I could read Sophie like an open book whether she was in front of me or not. She sounded nervous now.
"Sophie what's wrong?"
"What? Nothing is wrong… Nooo, why would you think that?" She was definitely nervous.
"Sophie," I said flatly.
She sighed, "Okay. You got me. I'm in the hospital."
"What?" I jumped of the chair with an exclamation. "Why? Are you hurt? Are you okay? Look just sit tight and I'll be there in exactly–"
"Ian, Ian," she interrupted me. I stopped talking. "I'm fine. Breathe, okay? I just accidentally sliced my arm and had to get stitches. I need you to pick me up, that's why I called. I'm at the Saint Cross hospital."
"I'll be there soon," I promised. I hung up to find Jolene and Dylan looking at me enquiringly. "She cut her arm," I explained, "She's in the hospital. I have to go."
"Man, you jumped like someone shoved a stick up your ass," Dylan commented. Jolene laughed while I glared at him.
"Thanks asshole," I muttered. Jolene giggled again.
"Chill Ian," she said, her eyes smiling. "We're just glad to see that you love someone as much as her."
I frowned. "Who said I love her?"
Dylan rolled his eyes as Jolene scoffed. "Seriously?"
"What? I don't love her. I just like her a lot."
"Oh yeah?" said Dylan, with raised eyebrows. "Do you usually ferry the girls you date from hospitals?"
"No. But my past girlfriends never ended up in one."
"Well, would you have?"
"I–" I stopped. I knew what they were getting at and the real answer was no, I wouldn't. I wasn't the caring, giving, doormat type of a boyfriend and I never was. But I would do anything for Sophie. In the short time she'd been in my life, she'd become everything. My friends, I loved beyond anything but Sophie was totally different. With her, I felt sane; I felt that I could be myself. All the bullshit in my past life, the life before her, it was nothing and I no longer cared about it. With her, I'd finally been able to get on with my life without constantly thinking about fixing my past, my relationship with my parents. She knew all about it, and she understood. She made me understand.
I stared, slightly open-mouthed at my friends. "I love her," I said softly, a muffled realization. They looked at me, Dylan with a serious expression and Jolene with a happy one. I looked at Dylan, my best friend since kindergarten. I knew that he of all people would understand how I felt. I mean, he'd been in love with the same girl ever since high school and even though he still hadn't made his move, he was definite about her. He could get me.
He grinned at me and gave me thumbs up. "Go on you idiot, your girlfriend calls you thither."
Jolene rolled her eyes. "I'm not sure 'thither' is even a word."
Dylan grinned. "It is. It's from archaic English."
"Why the hell do you know that?"
"Bye guys," I laughed and left before I could get drawn into their customary shout-outs.
I drove as fast as I could to Sophie. As I pulled into the hospital parking lot, I called her. "Hey, I'm here."
"What?" she sounded startled. "So fast?"
I smiled. "Uh-hu. I'm walking up to the counter as we speak. What's your room number?"
"I'm coming." I shut my phone and turned to the smartly dressed African-American lady at the counter. "Can you direct me to Room 227 please?"
She clicked through the computer and said, "Sophie Pritchett, Room 227. Um, that way." She pointed it out to me. I speed-walked to the room the entire way. When I opened the door to the room slowly, I saw Sophie sitting on the bed, looking down at her arm. I came into the room and she glanced up, her eyes lighting up. That warm fuzzy feeling returned.
"You're here!" she breathed, sounding relieved. I wrapped my arms around her, snuggling her close to me. "I'm sorry, but I panicked because I didn't have anyone to pick me up and the doctor said that I couldn't drive with this arm and I don't know, you were the first person I could think of and I'm sorry if I took you away from anything important or anything I just didn't know what to do…" she rambled on. I rolled my eyes and shushed her.
"Its fine, I wasn't busy," I assured her. "I'm glad you called."
"You are?" she asked, cocking her head to the side and smiling.
"I am," I smiled back. At that moment, the doctor came in. I turned to the side but kept Sophie close to me. The doctor glanced at me and gave that fatherly sort of smirk. "Alright Miss Pritchett," he addressed Sophie with a stern voice; "You can go now but make sure you don't use that arm of yours too much for the next three weeks. Young man," I started as he looked at me, "Make sure your girl here does as I say."
I nodded. "I will sir."
"Okay then. You're good to go." As he left the room, I helped Sophie up to her feet and grabbed her bag for her. I was about to leave the room, pulling her behind me, when she stopped and pulled me back. I turned, puzzled. "Is something wrong?" I asked.
Sophie smiled and shook her head. She reached up and wrapped her arms around my neck, being careful with her injured one. She stood on her tip-toes and looked straight at me and said, "I love you Ian O'Malley." Then she pressed her lips to mine.
She smelt like cream and roses as I kissed her back, holding her securely against my body. When she finally pulled back, she was blushing like that first time and I laughed, kissing her gently on the nose.
"I love you too Sophie Pritchett."
Two months later
"I want you to meet my parents."
Honestly those words are the scariest I've ever heard. They sent my heart pounding, palms sweating, eyes darting around for any escape… I stared at Sophie over my drink, completely flabbergasted. We were sitting at my favorite restaurant, Keller Chilies. Nice place to throw the bomb, Sophie.
She looked calmly back at me. "Look Ian," she said seriously. "I love you alright? I love you so much, more than I've ever loved anyone. And I want my parents to know that. I want my parents to know you. I just…" Here she bit her lip, "Look, I know I've spent my life being a doormat to my parents but after all they did give me life and provide for me until I was old enough to do so myself. And I want them to know the one I love."
I leaned towards her a little. "I know that Sophie," I said quietly. "But are you sure they will like me?"
"Of course," she dug her teeth into her bottom lip once more. "I– I'm sure they'll love you." The insecurity was never so clearer. I reached across and took her hand.
"I know you love your parents and you want them to approve," I smiled gently. "But after all, we have to be practical right? You know your dad wants you to either end up a super-successful business woman married off to an equally super-successful business man, or just marry someone of your class. Now I'm neither. And if we're going to think about a future together, you have to convince them to look at it your way."
She nodded slowly. "If I talk to them beforehand, will you come meet them?"
"I–" I honestly did not know. I was in love with Sophie; that was pretty clear. I wanted to propose to her soon, but I thought I should just wait a while because, after all, we've only known each other for a little less than a year. I knew that Sophie's father would never approve of me, whether she talked to him or not. After all, who would anyhow? I was in college, studying to be an architect. My future life might not be stable at all, and I might not even be able to provide for Sophie if we got married. And there was my family background. Who wanted their daughter to marry the offspring of a drunkard and a gambler?
But I knew that Sophie would never want to be with me unless I at least tried to be on good terms with her parents. So I said yes.
One week later
I drove up the driveway of Sophie's house – cough, cough, mansion – on my motorbike, feeling sick in the gut. You know that apprehensive feeling you get when you're going to the dentist? Yeah. I got that times million. Sophie had apparently given my name to the gatekeeper so I got past, no problem. Now for the parents.
As I got off the motorbike and parked it near the sidewalk and locked it, the front door opened quietly and a figure slipped out. From the way she came and hugged me I could tell Sophie was just as nervous as I was. So I refrained from spilling out all my worries on her and instead brushed her hair back and kissed her lightly on the nose. "Keep your fingers crossed, okay?" I whispered. She nodded, still gazing at me and a split-second before she let go, met my lips with hers in a hard, blazing kiss. Like she was saying goodbye, or hello, or ten millions of other things.
She led me up the stairs by the hand, fingers gripping mine tightly. I was dressed casual-smart: some clean pants, sharp suit-jacket and a light blue shirt. Something I'd wear to a collegiate professor meet. Sophie took one glance at me and I could tell she approved. But what about them?
Apparently, they were standing in front of the doors, waiting for us. Mrs. Pritchett was a normally dressed woman; the only sign of extravagance her earrings which were clearly real diamond earrings. Mr Pritchett, on the other hand, looked as if he was dressed for a business meeting. A sharp grey suit, hard I'm-not-here-to-play-around look on his face, and an icy smile made him the man I envisioned him to be.
We stood there facing each other, Sophie nervously looking from her parents to me and trying to hide it, Mrs. Pritchett smiling and watching me, and Mr Pritchett glaring at me. I just felt like I'd been forced to stand under the spotlight for too long. I nudged Sophie subtly and she jumped like a hare, hurrying forward to introduce us.
"Mom, Dad, this is Ian O'Malley," she said, tugging me forward a little. "Ian, meet my Mom and Dad."
Mrs. Pritchett moved forward and held out her hand politely. "It's very nice to finally meet you, Ian," she said, her words emotionless and polite. Her husband, on the other hand, moved forward to clasp my hand in an iron grip, not saying anything at all. He held my hand firmly for three whole minutes, just staring at me. I stared back, not breaking eye contact. When he finally pulled back, I smiled. He didn't.
"Um, Dad…?" Sophie ventured, anxiously. He looked at her and his expression didn't change as he said, "We'll see." The parents turned and started to walk away, apparently towards the dining hall. I looked after them, my feeling of apprehension increasing and making me feel almost sick. Sophie bit her lip and looked up at me. I tried to comfort her. "Did I pass the initiation rite then?" I joked. Her smile was as feeble as my joke.
Dinner seemed to have a stone-cold atmosphere. I sat beside Sophie while she and the mother sat on either side of Mr Pritchett who sat at the head of the table. The food served was something I would probably be served at a restaurant that was liable to suck up my entire one month's salary in one meal. The only noise heard was the clink of glasses and knives and forks hitting each other.
When dessert came around, Mr Pritchett finally looked up at me, his gaze stern. "So, what is it that you do Ian?" he said, his tone freezing civility. I looked up at him.
"I'm studying architecture at UY, sir," I replied politely. His eyebrows shot up.
"Architecture?" he said, his tone hinting at disbelief, "And do you think it's a satisfactory subject to study?"
"I believe so, yes."
"You are thinking of a future, aren't you? And to have a wife and children?"
I flushed but stood my ground. "Yes I am."
"Then why would you choose such a…" he paused disdainfully "distasteful subject?"
I sat up straighter. "I don't believe it's a distasteful subject, sir. Being an architect might be hard at times but you must remember that most architects have reasonable wages."
"Enough to support a family?"
"And what about your family, boy?" he said icily, his eyes narrowed. I bristled but stilled as Sophie held my hand under the table and squeezed gently.
"What about my family sir?" I responded, struggling to keep my tone civil.
"What does your father do?"
At this point, Sophie's clutch turned into a claw and she practically twisted the fingers off of my hand in her anxiety. I shook her off gently just as she said softly, "Dad."
He ignored her and continued to look at me piercingly. "What does your father do?" he repeated.
"H-he doesn't do anything," I replied, my voice quiet. The silence that followed seemed to be ringing, Mr Pritchett staring at me and Sophie looking fearfully at him. I kept my gaze trained on my spoon.
"He does not have a job?" the father finally said.
"No." I hesitated but then decided to go on. "My father… is separated from my mother and he's… rehabilitated. My mother was a teacher."
Again, another silence. This time it was Sophie's mother who broke the silence. So far, she'd been content to watch me with that vacant stare of hers but now she broke into the conversation.
"Was, dear?" she asked, her voice as soft as Sophie's. I looked at her, embarrassment flooding my cheeks red. Sophie sighed beside me and spoke for me.
"She's dead mom," Sophie said, a small glance at me. "She died two years ago."
"Oh dear, I'm so sorry," she replied, sounding genuine. "How did she…?" She trailed of tactfully. Sophie hesitated but this time I was the one who answered.
"She committed suicide," I ground out through gritted teeth. "She committed suicide because she found out that she could not pay her gambling debts."
The following silence was not broken until dinner was over and the four of us had quietly returned to the front hall of the house. I stood stolidly looking at Mr Pritchett as he gazed back blankly. Mrs. Pritchett spoke, "Ian, I hope you had a good time. You would not stay for a couple of hours?"
"Thank you ma'am," I nodded, smiling a little. "But I have an exam coming up that I have to study for."
"As you wish," she tilted her head. The father gave me a nod that was a clear dismissal and then the two of them left, leaving me and Sophie behind. The two of us walked out of the house and went down the steps to my motorbike. I exhaled unhappily as Sophie turned to look at me with an anxious smile. "That was a disaster," I said softly, wrapping my arms around her as she wrapped hers around my neck.
"I think it went… well."
"Sophie," I said flatly. "You and I both know that the aftermath of this is not going to turn out well."
She sighed. "I know. But right now… I don't care." She stood on her tiptoes to press a kiss to my mouth. I held back a little and said, "Wait." She pulled back.
"Just promise me this, Soph," I hesitated. "You'll tell me if anything goes wrong alright?"
She nodded seriously, with a faint expression of sadness and vulnerability. "I promise."
The kiss we shared before I left her standing on the steps felt so much like a goodbye that it hurt my heart.
The last time
She was crying and my heart was sinking fast. She was crying and I felt like punching a brick wall just to hurt more and more. She was crying and I knew the words she was going to say.
"I love you," I said urgently before she even said a word. At my words she sobbed even harder, I wanted to enclose her in my arms so bad.
"Ian…" she sobbed. "Ian, Ian…"
"I love you Sophie, I love you."
"Ian he said I have to break it off with you," she cried. I knew it. "He said that you're not the right man and that I can't see you anymore… oh Ian, Ian!"
"I…" I didn't know what to say. I closed my hand into a fist and pressed it against my forehead. "I love you Sophie."
"I love you too, I love you, I love you…" she sobbed. Those words just couldn't give me comfort anymore. Words meant nothing if I couldn't have her. But I wouldn't let her go. I wouldn't let her be 'The One That Got Away' when she was the first person I ever loved truly, the first person to get me. I won't.
"Sophie," I said gently as she cried. "Sophie, please stop crying."
After a few minutes, she did. "Sophie," I said, "Do you remember the tailor's shop we first saw each other at?"
"A wedding boutique?" she asked.
"Yes. Can you meet me there in two hours?"
"I…" she trailed off uncertainly. A pause and my heart pounded fearfully. "Yes." She said decidedly and I could breathe.
"Two hours Soph," I said before hanging up.
I got there first. Caper's shop was closed (it was sometime around 12.30) but the street lights were on. I took to watching the stars. I'd come telling Caper what I was going to do. She had taken one look at me and understood.
"Love isn't something you can let escape Ian," she smiled as her husband came up. He wrapped his arms around her and I felt myself smile, slightly, to see my sister. Somehow, we'd found the loves that our parents never did. And I wasn't about to let that go anytime soon.
I waited there twenty minutes when I heard shoes tip-tapping against the pavement towards me. I kept my eyes trained on the ink sky, not daring to turn around and smash my dreams into smithereens just yet. She wasn't going to come; she might; she wasn't; she might…
I looked up.
She had never looked quite as simple as she did now. She was wearing the simplest yellow dress ever, her hair loose around her face and in her hand a big bag. Her expression was plain.
I got up, dusting my pants and then stood just looking at her. She didn't say a word. As I looked around at Caper's shop, I commented amiss, "That's my sister's shop you know."
She looked at the shop with surprise. "Caper?" she asked, "You never told me."
I shrugged. "She loved designing wedding dresses."
She smiled wistfully. "I loved that wedding dress that I was looking at the first time… we saw each other here."
I smiled wistfully too. "I know."
Again, we lapsed into silence. I didn't want to say the words just yet, let her have a moment of peace with me. But Sophie wasn't one for silence so she spoke up pretty soon,
"Ian. Tell me what you brought me here for."
I sighed. I wasn't going to waste any more time and beat about the bush. I looked her straight in the eye and said, "I want you to come with me."
She frowned, she didn't understand at first. "What do you mean?"
"Sophie I want you to leave your home and come live with me. Come with me."
She understood. Her eyes widened. "Leave?" she said incredulously. "Leave with you? My parents are paying for my education, I can't leave."
"Then we can't be together anymore."
Her mouth worked up and down but no words came out. I could feel a lump in my throat and I swallowed. She gulped and said, "No." In that moment I felt happiness so blissful…I loved her so much. Her answer stimulated me to work harder.
"Sophie, we've known each other a year, but you've grown to be everything to me. Everything," I repeated, looking at her seriously. "And I've gotta be honest; I've been waiting for you all my life. For so long I thought I was asylum bound, but just seeing you makes me think twice. And being with you here makes me sane; I fear I'll go crazy if you leave my side. You've got wits, you've got looks, you've got passion; but are you brave enough to leave with me tonight?"
"But I…" she said uncertainly, her cheeks flushed. I felt frustrated. This was so simple. I didn't know why she had to make everything so complicated by hesitating. I decided to do what I should have done ages ago. This wasn't time for romance, or orthodox courtesies. This was time to act.
So I looked at her straight and said, "Sophie I love you. I love you like I've never done before. So I'm asking you to marry me."
She froze her eyes wide and afraid. "What?" she breathed.
I strode over and held her gently by the arms. "Marry me." I repeated.
She stayed quiet. Ten minutes, or maybe ten days or years it felt like, she kept silent, just studying my face as if trying to memorize me. She opened her mouth, her rose-bud lips.
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