A/N: Alright, people. I suck, I know. This little beauty has been a distraction from Where She Belongs for about a month now (except for about ten days where I didn't write. A. Single. Thing!) Blame Dustin Lynch, his song Waiting, and a good chunk of his debut album, for inspiring this story. Also Imagine Dragons, Brantley Gilbert, Garbage, The Civil Wars, The Eli Young Band, and a few others. I obsessively listened to the same 36 songs while writing this. And somehow I still love those 36 songs as much as the first time I heard them.
This is, I think, the shortest story I've ever written, coming in at less than 25,000 words. Originally I thought it was going to be a one-shot(something I'm bound and determined to write one day!), just the first section of this chapter, but I couldn't leave poor Noah hanging. This chapter is where the song mentioned above most heavily influenced my writing, although there are a few other spots throughout the story, as well the title.
I hope you all enjoy it, and I'll post a chapter every couple days. Be warned—they are, for the most part, pretty short in comparison to my previous stories.
Listening, from his position on his living room couch, to the sound of her car engine fading away down the street, Noah couldn't believe Grace had actually left him. Words threatening to do just that if he didn't change his ways had, more than once, escaped her mouth during a fight, but she never followed through on them for longer than it took her to use up all the clothes she had jammed into an overnight bag before stalking out. He never thought she would.
But now she had, and he was...lost.
Noah looked around the room where he sat, noticed for the first time all the little homey touches Grace had added to his bachelor pad décor when she moved in. Scented candles and pictures in frames and colorful, unnecessary throw pillows; it struck him as unbelievably sad that the only reason he saw them now was because they were gone. All that remained of their presence were voids in the thin layer of dust covering the furniture and the empty spaces on the couch.
Grace, when she walked out the door this time, had taken more than an overnight bag. She had taken everything she owned, boxes and bags full of her stuff, packing it all into a car it took her several treks in and out of the house to fill. Meanwhile, he sat, numb and dumb, on the couch, waiting for her to tell him it was all just a joke gone too far and to laugh that laugh he loved.
Hours later, Noah was still waiting. Waiting for Grace's headlights to come down the street, for her to call and tell him she had changed her mind, for him to wake up from this nightmare he currently found himself in.
At some point he stirred enough to grab a bottle of whiskey from the cabinet above the fridge. He sloshed several fingers into a glass, and sat back against the cushions to stare out the front window into the dark. She would come home soon; he just knew it.
The sun was rising over the horizon, the glass still sitting full in his hand, before he reluctantly gave up his vigil. He climbed to his feet, stretched out the kinks in his back and neck from sitting in place for so long. Even as he told himself to forget her, that it was her loss, that he wouldn't be there when she came crawling back, he knew when night rolled around again, he would be back in that same spot on the couch.
Leaving Noah was the hardest thing Grace had ever done. As she drove away from the house where she had been so happy—even when she was miserable—despite the backseat and trunk full of her things, she felt as if she was leaving parts of herself behind. In reality, there was nothing left for her there; she had packed up all her belongings so she wouldn't have that as an excuse to go back. She was weak enough where Noah was concerned that, if she went back, she would stay.
Noah was everything to her. More than food, water, breath, he was what kept her going, what made her occasionally tedious life feel meaningful. The love they had shared, the house they had made, the family they would've grown. All of it was gone now, and she knew it was unlikely they would get it back. Her heart was in pieces knowing that, knowing she had left him bewildered and just as heartbroken as she.
Throughout all his bullshit, she had never once doubted Noah loved her. But, as much as she hated to say it, he didn't love her enough. Not enough to give up his drinking or his staying out at all hours of the night. Not enough to stop flirting, with her standing right in front of him, with anything in a skirt.
Grace wasn't a total bitch. She didn't want him home every single night with her, or expect him to take her along with him every time he went out with the boys. But she did expect the man she loved, the man who loved her, to treat her with respect. To not laugh off her concerns when she said she worried about how much he had been drinking lately, and how it hurt her when he let strange women hang on him when they were out together.
More than that, she expected to trust the man with whom she shared her body, to whom she had given her heart. At least enough that she didn't feel the serious need to get tested for an STD when a condom broke during sex or, after four years together and using other methods of contraception, that she felt the need to use condoms at all.
The distrust would've been easier to handle if she didn't love him, if she never had. That wasn't the case, and so she had made the impossible choice to leave before he destroyed everything she felt for him with his carelessness.
The drive across town to the place where she would stay until she got back on her feet was an endless one. An eternity or two long, at least. Finally, she pulled into the driveway of the Craftsman-style bungalow behind a four-year-old Camry with a Baby on Board sticker on the back bumper.
She sat for a moment, admiring the freshly painted trim on the porch, the bright flowers growing profusely from wooden planters on either side of the front door. The neighborhood was an older one, quiet, with ancient oak trees shading the yards and arching out over the street. The front door opened, drawing Grace's attention.
Seeing her older sister standing there, she forced herself to turn off the engine. In the back of her mind, she had the thought that if she turned around right now and went back, Noah would take her in. Instead she got out of the car, the straps of her purse, laptop, and overnight bag slung over her shoulder.
"Hi, Faith," she greeted reservedly when she mounted the three steps up to the porch.
Faith's expression was sympathetic, but approving as she saw through the car windows the packed backseat. "You actually did it. Good for you." Her sister stepped back, opening the door further to let her younger sister in. "How did he take it?"
Grace just shook her head and started to cry.
A few days passed, a week, two, a month. Still Grace didn't come home. Noah hadn't heard a word from her, hadn't seen hide nor hair of her. Except for the small, overlooked bits and pieces of herself she had left behind. Each one had a memory attached, sending fresh stab of grief through him upon discovering them.
The half-empty tub of her favorite ice cream in the freezer evoked nights spent on the couch, watching movies and sharing a spoon; he didn't even like cookies-and-cream, but he finished off the container, telling himself the pain of a brain freeze caused the tears staining his face. A razor blade cartridge beneath the bathroom sink brought to mind watching, fascinated, from the doorway as she sat on the side of the tub, legs foamed with shaving cream, running one of her fancy shavers up the long line of her leg. Upon finding a silky red pair of her panties in the clothes dryer and remembering the last time he had stripped them from her body, a bittersweet smile curved his lips before he crushed the fabric in his fist and tossed the panties in the trash; hours later, he pulled them out and put them back in the laundry to wash again.
Noah was miserable without her. That misery only deepened after dark, when he sprawled out, drunk, on the couch. It was mostly a habit now, one he couldn't break. Down inside, he knew the sweep of her headlights across the front of the house wouldn't come, not ever again. Night after night, he told himself to give it up, to get to bed. But how was he supposed to sleep, alone and lonely, on the mattress they had picked out together?
Get drunk, go to sleep, go to work; repeat. The repetitive cycle of Noah's days blurred them together. The same would've happened to the nights, but for the moon that waxed and waned, marking the passage of time while, watching out the window, he waited.
His buddies called, trying to be sympathetic. They said he was better off without her, urged him to come out to the bar, take his mind off things. Suggested he pick up a girl, fuck Grace out of his system. Eventually he stopped answering his phone; the idea, their invitations, held less than no appeal. Ironic, considering one of the reasons she had left was because he went out too much, drank too much, flirted too much.
Those were the reasons she gave him as she walked out the door. It took time, but he gradually came to see, with vision fogged by whiskey, that the reality wasn't a matter of too much, but of not enough. Though he had loved her with everything in him, he hadn't shown it enough, hadn't made her feel it enough. Just...hadn't been enough.
It was a tough pill to swallow.
The days were endlessly long. Without Noah's warm, comforting presence beside her, the nights were even longer. But they passed. And that was all Grace could say good about them.
Her girlfriends gave her platitudes about it getting better after time. Even knowing that they were right, that it would get better, easier, as the days and weeks and months passed, she knew she would never be completely over him. There would forever and always be a Noah-shaped hole in her heart.
There were no delusions in her mind that they would fix this. That he would fix this. Because the simple fact was that it wasn't a problem they could solve, not anymore. Making the decision to change his life, his ways—hell, to just realize he wasn't twenty-three anymore—it was all up to him now.
And that, almost more than giving him up, broke her heart, because she wasn't sure he would.