It's an ordinary day. There are clouds in the sky, but they aren't ominous or foreboding. Even if I was completely paranoid, I could see no reason to stay at home and hide from the world. As it was I'm only slightly paranoid, so I went to school and got on with my day.
Sometimes the past just bites you in the ass at four o'clock on a Tuesday afternoon.
I had just finished setting up my experiment to run overnight and took the elevator up to my office to grab my coat and head home. The thing about elevators is that awkward conversations tend to occur. The three main topics typically include; "Woops, I went to the wrong floor", "Wow, these things take forever" and - my personal favourite - first year students asking for directions. Apparently, I look like the kind of person who always knows where the washroom is. Fortunately, I have found headphones to be the perfect stranger conversation deterrent, whether music is playing or not.
Leaning against the elevator wall, I wait politely as the car unloads on the fourth floor. Finally disembarking, I look up at my shared office door and I feel the blood drain from my face. There he was, all six feet eight inches of him leaning against the cream-coloured cement wall. He has filled out since I had last seen him, muscles visible underneath his black leather jacket where there used to be just skin and bone. His blue eyes search mine out and a half-smile emerges on his face. In my shock I can only come up with one word.
"No," I murmur walking slowly past him into the open office towards my desk.
"Hey Ray-Ray," he says, his voice still deep and gravelly.
"No, no, no. Not happening." I continue walking faster grabbing my coat off the back of my desk chair. I wave goodbye to the other members of the shared office before reaching for my bag. Turning around I walk right past him struggling to shove my second arm into the coat sleeve. Walking briskly now, I head into the stairwell. The echoes of my footsteps are joined by the sound of another's and I know he's following me. Suddenly, I'm yanked backwards by my right arm and spun around to look at the face that had haunted me for years.
"Where the hell do you think you're going, huh?" He asks, frustration seeping into his voice. Bringing his other arm to my left shoulder to keep me against the wall, he looks me straight in the eyes. The force of his gaze hits me like a shot to the heart. "I find you after all these years and you run away at first glance?"
"I'm relocating myself." I reply quickly, trying to keep my tone light. "My first instinct was to run and book a plane ticket to Bali and never come back. However, I sort of need to stay here to get my degree. So, I'm going to find someplace I can yell at you without people thinking I'm a crazy person."
"You are a crazy person." He smiles at me while loosening his grip. I slid away from him, carefully ignoring the curious glances of the students walking by.
I look back at him and can't help but emit a small sigh. Memories of times gone by fly through my head and I quickly turn away. Buttoning up my coat, I keep my eyes trained on the dirt streaked floor. "I am what you made me."
"I was an idiot." The remorse in his tone evaded my defences. Don't look at him. Don't let that voice manipulate your emotions. Don't remember what happened. I walk down the stairs, counting my steps as we descend.
I finally succumb to the impulse to say exactly what we are both thinking. I mutter softly towards the ground. "You were something much worse."
"Save it." I snap, the use of my old nickname breaking me out of my silence. I pause briefly and look back at his lanky form before continuing, "Follow me, or not, whatever."
I start down the last flight of stairs and walk towards the parking lot across the road where I had parked that morning. His footsteps continue to follow me as I watch his shadow spread out in front of me in the late afternoon sun. His long legs have no trouble keeping up with my brisk pace.
Finally, we reach the car, I unlock it, and get in the drivers seat. I stare resolutely at the steering wheel. A moment later I watch him squash himself into the passenger seat. I focus on his knees, softly thumping the bottom of the dashboard in a nervous rhythm.
"I'm assuming saying that you're tacky and I hate you won't make you go away?" I break the silence along with a sigh.
"Quotes from Jack Black movies; not exactly a deterrent in my book."
"I remember. Not that I want to. It's just…I've known you since we were seven. Seven and stupid." Now that the silence was broken, my tendency to ramble had caught up with me. I had long since learned to dissociate the little boy I had known with the man before me. It was dissociating myself and the man before me that was the problem. "Before I went full on nerd and you didn't do drugs..."
"I'm clean now." He said quietly. "I haven't touched any of that crap since that night."
"What do you want, Dex?" I ask, turning towards him. My voice grows stronger in my anger. "Why are you here?" I'm not expecting an apology, or even an admission. I don't know what I'm expecting from him, really. All I know is that Dexter McLaren was back, and he still confuses the hell out of me.
He looks at me. It feels like his eyes are searching for something hidden inside me, something I had buried a long time ago. After a few moments, he finally replies. "I had a revelation."
I raise an eyebrow at his word choice. "A revelation that required you to track me down after years of being incommunicado?"
His steely blue eyes capture my own. He takes a large breath before continuing. "I've come to the conclusion that I'm in love with you."
"Bull." I reply instinctively. My brazen tone attempts to cover my conflicted insides. It feels like I've been sucker punched in the gut. Five years ago, I would've done anything to hear those words. I did everything possible to hear those words. Years of Dexter-induced melancholy threatens to overwhelm my shock. I can't let him win again. I can't let myself be some pawn in his chess game.
"No, it's not. It's a fact." He replies, reaching for my hand resting on the middle console. I pull away quickly. I try to ignore the short spark between us as our fingers brush briefly. His tone has become lighter, almost mocking my shock. "I finally came to terms with it, and I thought you ought to know."
"When you love someone you don't get them trashed, fuck them in a goddamn rhodendron bush and leave before they wake up. Ergo, you don't love me." I bite out, letting my anger wash away my shock. I can do anger. Want to avoid becoming a crying wreck, let anger take over.
"Yes, I do." He quips back. "Ray-Ray, you have somehow turned out to be the love of my life."
"No. You don't get to tell me you love me after five years of total radio silence and expect that to make everything okay. I'm not that sycophantic idiot that made moon eyes at you for all of high school." I explain icily. My ire grows stronger in the face of his nonchalant manner. "And my name is Regan, not Ray-Ray!"
"I'm. Not. Finished." I've hit my stride. Everything I've wanted to tell him since that night is coming out all at once. "I'm the girl that got a little too drunk, and trusted you a bit too much. Dex, I've always been messed up when it came to you. Ever thought about what it feels like to wake up half-naked in the bushes in the middle of nowhere? No idea of what happened the night before. Alone! I was cold, alone and in some serious pain."
"I fucked up, okay!?" He yells back, the fire from years gone by visible for a brief moment. He emits a soft 'fuck' before rubbing his forehead in frustration. The next words that came out of his mouth were much softer. "The minute… the second, that I-we… finished I knew I had fucked up. I didn't deserve you, not even then. I held you in my arms and you just felt too damn breakable for me to keep."
"You took my virginity. I wasn't a goddamn china doll." I retort, fighting the urge to process his words further. Despite my strong words, my eyes stay locked on the indents of the steering wheel.
"You were leaving." I feel a calloused hand cup my cheek, gently pulling my gaze back to Dex. "Hymen or no, you were going. You had made pretty fucking sure everyone knew you didn't plan on coming back!" He was right about that at least. The day I had gotten my acceptance to university, my dreams of escaping Newchester had become reality. The only reason I had to stay was sitting beside me right now.
"I was going to university an hour away, not the moon!" I rip my head away from his hold. I cross my arms, trying to keep myself together.
"You were too good for me." His constant insistence that I was somehow better than him annoyed me. I had been the class band geek. He was the popular athlete. He had hit puberty early, and it had been very kind to him. I had been an awkward mess in too much eyeliner. My golden-blonde hair had barely recovered from the damage I had inflicted upon it during those four years of high school hell. It's amazing how you can reinvent yourself as an almost adult. Learning not to mix stripes and plaid was one of the first lessons my roommate had given me in first year.
"That is a load of shit and you know it." I reach down and fiddle with the zipper on my sturdy, brown leather boots.
"You're so damn smart and gorgeous." I pause at his switch to the present tense. "You were going places and I wasn't. It fucking hurt to know that I was never going to be good enough for you."
"Says the prom king," I quip back. Secretly, I enjoy the dismissive snort he releases at my rebuttal.
"I was so fucked up back then, they could've named me the king of fools and I wouldn't have known the difference. You would've gotten tired of slumming and drop me like the sack of shit I was."
"How the hell would you know that if you didn't stick around to talk to me? Five years is a long fucking time to wait."
"It took five years for me to become even a fraction of a percent worthy of what you gave me."
"Dude, you sound like a girl." I try to distract him, resorting to a tried-and-true insult. He groans, obviously frustrated I wasn't playing his game.
"Do you remember in the eighth grade when we got stuck on the elevator together?" He asks, changing tact. I frown at the sudden change in topic. I recollect another day such as this where he had won yet again.
"Of course I remember. I took a book out of my bag to read, and somebody didn't like being ignored." I give him a pointed look. "So you took my first kiss." It's one of the things that had made me love him for so long. He was impulsive, while I was cautious. I had been a moth caught in his flame, trying to touch the heat without getting burned.
"Exactly, I've taken too many firsts from you." Dex intones, brows furrowed. He continues darkly, "Selfishly, I want them all." My heart skips a beat. I have to stop this. I don't think my heart can take much more of his confessions and remain whole. It took too many years to pick up the pieces the last time.
"I assure you, I would go to hell and back again before I would let you come near me again." I seethe, keeping my arms wrapped around myself. I refuse to look him in the face after my rude remark.
"Road trip to Nebraska?" He asks, only a trace of hurt cutting through. A small laugh escapes my lips before I can resist.
I compose myself before replying. "You can go wherever you want. Now if you would kindly, and I know that's a stretch for you, get the hell out of my car. My life too, actually."
"No." The word reverberated through me, sending my mind in circles. I try to compose myself. I need to end this before I break.
"You don't have a choice. I'm done, I'm through. I've spent years thinking about what I was going to say if I ran into you, and I said it. I speak fluent emotional girl, so I know."
"I want to be with you." He replies gruffly, reaching out for me again. I pull away from him in turn. I want him, but I know I shouldn't. We have a history, and I know exactly what he is capable of. My brain is fighting with my heart for dominance. My mind remembers the pain he caused. However, my heart remembers the electricity we shared and longs to recreate it.
"Not an option."
"I think it's a great option." He teases, casually tucking a stray curl behind my ear. It's not fair. He can show up out of nowhere, tear me apart and act like it's nothing.
"It's an option that requires mutual consent, and I don't consent!" I fire back at him, the tears I had been holding back now beginning to break through. "Why now, Dex? Why did you let me pick up the pieces just to rip them even further?" I lock my fingers around the steering wheel, trying to ground myself. I feel a tear taking a meandering path down my face, soon followed by a cascade. I choke on my next words, and know it'll be a struggle to get this out now. "What you did, it destroyed me. I waited for you. I waited months for you to come back to me. Now you're here and I just can't risk becoming that girl again. I can't be that broken mess anymore." I must look like pure chaos, tears and snot mingling, trails of eyeliner running down my cheeks.
I feel arms wrap themselves around my quaking body. They pull me towards his familiar warmth, and I allow my head to rest in the crook of his neck. My arms are captured between our torsos. A hand gently strokes my back, soothing me despite myself. My fingers knot themselves into his soft cotton shirt.
"I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry." I feel the rumble in his chest, as his softly spoken words pierce my pain. We stay locked in strange comfort as my heaving sobs give way to soft sniffles. I break away slowly, settling back into my seat. Silence prevails as we continue to play emotional chicken.
"I moved to Yellowknife." He says finally, answering my almost forgotten question.
"Yellowknife?" I ask softly, intrigued and slightly bewildered.
"Yeah, I did my electrician's apprenticeship up there. I had to. My mind was just so fucked up with the drugs; the only way I was going to pull myself together was to get the hell out of Newchester. I was going to tell you…that I was going. That's why I went to see you that night; I was leaving the next week. You were moving for school in a couple days and I didn't want to leave without saying good bye."
"Why didn't you tell me?" I question delicately, not wanting him to get spooked. The reason I had craved to hear for so long was finally here. Damn if the masochist in me didn't want to hear it.
"You should've seen you, talking about going to school. It was mesmerizing, seeing you so excited to escape. There was this…look in your eyes I had never seen before. So, I kissed you, like I had wanted to since I had stolen the first one. Then things got further, we got drunker and we got horizontal. I couldn't help but think what if you were excited to escape me too? It was your version of goodbye. I couldn't help but steal one last memory of you before I was nothing more than dirt in your rear-view mirror."
"And then you waited for me to fall asleep, and left," I interject calmly. He sighs, rubbing the back of his neck. When he continues, he stares resolutely at the dusty dashboard.
"Yeah, I left. Then I got to Yellowknife, after spending the week moping at home. What I found was: I didn't miss the drugs or the alcohol. I missed you." He turns to look at me, as if ensuring I'm listening. I will not cry is quickly becoming my new mantra. I nod back at him, encouraging him to continue.
"I'm addicted to you. I tried dating while I was up there, but it didn't work out. Our mom's still talk sometimes, I got updates. You should really re-evaluate your Facebook privacy settings by the way. I tried reading that research paper you got published, didn't understand a word of it but it sounded smart." I can't help but smile that he had tried to read scientific mumbo-jumbo for me. "I thought that if I kept up with your life, when I got back…But by the time I got back for good, you were dating some red-headed frat boy."
"You thought I was seeing Dave?" I counter with a laugh, wondering where Dex had gotten this strange idea. "We're just friends."
"We were just friends." He says darkly, his voice reaching guttural depths.
"And Dave likes dudes."
"Oh," he mutters, shaking his head. "My bad."
"Way to go McStalky."
"Shut up. So, no guys in five years?"
"There were a few maybes. But they kept not…" I hesitate, knowing what I say could make or break this moment.
"Not what?" His gravelly voice disrupts my silent reverie. His eyes capture mine, urging me towards the words.
I take a deep breath, accepting the consequences of what I was about to say. I look at him straight on, before continuing. "Not being you."
His lips crash into mine, in a soul-searing kiss. The familiar fire builds in the pit of my stomach before spreading through my veins. I moan into the kiss, closing my eyes, and I can feel the heat in the tips of my toes. Our limbs grapple for each other, my hands finding purchase in his thick brown hair. His hands grasp my waist possessively and I swear I can hear him growl. His tongue begs for entrance and I grant it whole-heartedly. This feels right. The electricity I feel between us, unique to him and him alone. When we finally come up for air, I'm more conflicted than ever.
"So, what does this mean?" Dex asks, as we fall back into our respective seats, his hand holding mine hostage. His thumb makes soft circles on my palm.
"I don't know." I mumble, trying to think straight. I run a finger over my bruised lips. "I just don't know, Dex."
"I think it comes down to one simple question."
"Which is?" I ask warily. I look outside and note that somehow I had missed the transition from day to night. I know the question, and I fear my answer.
"Do you want to be with me?" He asks in his deep voice laced with a vein of hope.
"Yes." I blurt out, before I can let logic get in the way.
"Great," he replies with a smile. I smile back, and we begin to kiss anew. All of a sudden, he stops, climbs out of the car and starts striding away. I can't fucking believe it. I fell for it again. I lost to Dexter McLaren, again. I sit there shocked for a moment before getting out myself and running after him. There's no way I'm going down without a fight this time.
"Where the hell do you think you're going!?" I stop running, out of breath and cursing my lack of athletic inclination. I scream at his retreating back. "You do not get to do this to me again! You sadistic asshat!" He finally stops behind a red pick-up truck and opens the protruding tailgate. I fall silent, my jaw possibly hitting the floor. He pulls out a large bundle of white flowers and grins back at my gaping stare. I watch as he all too slowly makes his way back to me.
"Sadistic asshat, huh?" He asks with a grin, holding out the bouquet of lilies for me to take.
"The flowers might help downgrade that to a simple jerk face." I reply, smelling the sweet scent of the lilies. I smile back up at him, before pulling him down for a lingering kiss. "Don't do that to me again, or I really will kill you." He laughs at my threat, his fingers forming patterns along my hips. I break away and head towards my vehicle.
"So, how long 'til I'm fully out of the doghouse?" He questions, following me back to my car and opening the door for me. At least his mother taught him something about being a gentleman. I lean against the side of the car and look up at him, and have a devious idea.
"Depends, you'll probably be on probation for awhile. How are you at changing fuses?"
"Baby, I'll change your fuse anytime of the week." I giggle at his poor attempt at innuendo.
"Great," I reply, getting into the car and settling in my seat. I lay the flowers carefully on the passenger seat. I begin to list all the repairs my apartment needs, starting with the most important. His face begins to fall, realizing how serious I was. "I blew up the fuse in the stove plug last week, and I have some light bulbs that need to be replaced. Oh, my shower definitely needs to be recaulked and grouted." I pull the door shut, and turn on the ignition. I quickly glance at him, standing there with his brows furrowed. I back out of the parking spot, laughing at the incredulous look on his face. I push down the button, lowering the car window.
"Coming?" I query with a wide smile and a raised eyebrow. I continue, trying to remain flippant. "Also, I haven't had sex in five years, since the first time kind of blew chunks, so you should probably fix that too." The smile that graces his face after that last statement would make the Cheshire cat proud.
"Regan Hadley, I'll fix anything and everything you want." He replies before running full sprint to his truck. I watch him stumble in the orange glow of the streetlamps. I laugh and wait for him to get in before putting my foot on the gas. I peel out of the parking lot, with Dex hot on my trail.
It may have been an ordinary day, but it's going to be an extraordinary night.