Express Lane Ch. 06byRaLaWrites©
I would like to apologize for the very long delay in updating the series. After moving and starting another year of college, I haven't had time to do much. I hope this chapter compensates for the wait, just enough to tide you over until the next one.~ RaLaWrites
Larissa was stiff as she sat down in the small boutique. Her face was expressionless, only occasionally changing it to flash a forced smile to her mother and Joanna.
"Rissy," her mother pleaded. "We are in here shopping for your graduation. The most you could do is act like you're semi-excited."
"I know I am," Joanna chimed in, holding up a shimmering metallic dress to her body. "There's nothing I love more than shopping."
Larissa sighed. "I'm fine, Mama. I don't really care what I wear on that day."
"It seems to me you don't care about much anymore," Joanna said. In a rare act of kindness, Jo sat next to her forlorn sister, putting an arm around her shoulder. "You have to let it go."
Let it go. For the past six months, she had heard that phrase more times than she could count. She chanted it in her head like her personal mantra. Yet it did nothing to ease the pain.
Six months had passed since Noah and Rory left for Nevada. To call his decision a complete shot to the heart would be an understatement, yet accurate. She could remember the phone call like it was yesterday, mostly because she was expecting Noah to take up the offer she'd extended to him. Everything was still so vivid in her mind.
"Hey," Noah answered. His voice was unusually shaky but Larissa could probably understand why. Getting rid of Crystal probably wasn't the easiest task in the world. "You sitting down?"
Larissa nodded. "Yeah. Listen, before you say anything, I just wanted to tell you there's no reason to be ashamed. I don't have a problem letting you and — "
"Wait. Larissa... fuck."
She could tell by his voice that he wasn't ashamed. He was hurting. It didn't take long for her to put the pieces of the puzzle together. He decided to take up Crystal's offer after all.
"God," Larissa whispered. "How long? How long did it take you to make this decision?"
"I... I didn't know until yesterday night," Noah sputtered. "Please listen to me. I have to do this for Rory. It has nothing to do with me or you, but it's all about him. Ris," he sighed. "I care about you so much. Don't ever question that. I need to make the best decisions for him, that's all."
It didn't take long for Larissa to feel the familiar sting of tears threatening to spill over. She couldn't yell. She couldn't scream. She couldn't get angry. He was right.
"Then do what you need to do for you and Rory. Just tell me one thing," she said, stifling her sobs. "What was the other night? Hmm?"
"The other night was unfinished. I didn't even get a chance to do or say half of the things I want or need to."
"And unfinished it will stay," Larissa snapped. "I have things to do, so I have to let you go."
"Wait! Jesus Christ, at least give me a chance to explain why I'm doing this!" he pleaded.
Stopping only to wipe her tears, Larissa scoffed. "I don't need an explanation. Goodbye, Noah."
Joanna wiped a single tear from Larissa's face. "Oh, Ris. Come on. At least try to be happy."
She nodded. Noah's decision may have caused her pain these last six months but she refused to let it affect her this week. She'd worked long and hard for her degree and damn it, she wanted to celebrate. She stood up from the quaint sofa and walked over to the endless racks of formal dresses. "I never thought I would say this in a million years," she said, pulling a baby blue dress from the rack, "but you're right, Jo. This is my time and I'm going to enjoy it." There is life after Noah, she thought to herself. I just haven't started living it — until today.
With hands in pockets, Noah peered out of the window of his top floor office. Paradise, Nevada was accurately named and captivating. A big tourist staple, it mimicked the fast pace that New York possessed, yet had the hospitality of Georgia and the leisurely feel of Hawaii all rolled in one.
But he hadn't enjoyed himself in all six months of being there.
Turning away from the window, he was met by a full length mirror. If he could put his current self next to how he looked six months ago, not even Noah would know they were the same person. His wiry frame had bulked up considerably; not body fat, but muscle. A result of going to the gym four nights a week to relieve the stress he felt from his job and lingering unhappiness. His once short brown hair had grown, which often bothered him. He wasn't used to having strands of hair in his eyes this much, but he wanted something to compensate the lack of his beloved piercing that Crystal's father forbade him to wear. 'Unprofessional' was the exact phase that Russell used.
Though, what did remain with Noah those past six months was a feeling of discontent.
A beautiful office, a high-paying salary, a stunning condo and an expensive private school for Rory. All of these things he had, and none made him feel even slightly indifferent about the decision he made.
The grating buzz of the intercom made Noah's gray eyes glare in its direction. His secretary, Sarah, habitually bothered him about the littlest things. He imagined this time was no different.
He pressed a button with his thick index finger to respond. "Yes?"
"Mr. Gallagher, Ms. Smith is on the line. Would you like for me to tell her you're busy?"
Crystal. Noah could do nothing but sneer at the mere mention of her. The only good thing about "living" with her is that she was never there. With her father paying for non-stop vacations around the country, there was no way for her to. She only contacted him for important reasons.
"No," he sighed. "Let her through."
After a few moments, her nauseatingly happy voice boomed through his speakers. "Hi, snookums! I just got back from L.A. and I bought you and Rory the most incredible stuff! Oh, and last night, I —"
"Crystal," Noah interrupted, jotting notes on his pad. "I'm very busy. You had something important to say?"
"Well, I was thinking. Paradise is perfect but everyone needs a trip now and then. Where do you want to go?"
Noah froze. His vacation was fast approaching, but he hadn't thought about travelling anywhere. "I'm not sure. We'll talk about it later. I have to go." Ending the call, Noah sat back in his chair, hands behind his head. As he looked down at his notepad, he sighed. He'd scribbled Larissa's name repeatedly. The first three months, he pretended he didn't care. The last three, the pain was condensed to a dull throb that crept up on him every so often. He couldn't get her out of his system.
But then again, to stop loving her would be an impossibility.
He'd wanted to call her, e-mail her, visit her. He tried the first two with no luck and couldn't bear the thought of dropping in unannounced. What if she was involved with someone?
Looking over at his calendar, Noah's eyes scanned the days. It was the last week of April, with May fast approaching. If he was right, Larissa would be graduating this week. That made a better alibi to come and see her than just doing it for nothing. He reached for the phone, nervous, hesitant. Dialing her number slowly, he took a deep breath and waited as the phone rang.
It was Joanna. Not Larissa, but it's a start.
A pause. Finally, she responded. "Noah?"
"Yeah. Is Larissa there?"
Before Joanna could answer, he could hear her. Her voice was faint, but clear in the background as she called out to her sister.
"Somebody for me," Joanna said. Rapid footsteps followed and finally, she continued. "Now don't say anything," she said in a whisper. "I know you probably want to talk to her but trust me, if I give her this phone and say you're on the other end, she'll never talk to you."
"I'll take my chances," Noah responded. "I need to talk to her. I wanted to come back for her graduation. She's graduating next week, right?"
"Yeah, she is. Just got back from buying her dress. Noah, listen. If you want to come, just come. You know how stubborn Rissy is. If you ask her, she'll tell you no."
Noah groaned. He never thought he'd say it in a million years, but Joanna was right. "Yeah. I guess that's keen advice."
"Well, of course! This is me you're talking to. Now here's the information..."
Larissa was nervous as she waited in the audience, complete with cap and gown. The anticipation of walking across the stage with her Mom, Dad, Joanna and brother Kevin watching was too much for her to bear. Nothing could make this day more special than it already was.
As 'Pomp and Circumstance' began to play, the graduates stood and walked, one by one, to accept their degrees. The auditorium door opened, but Larissa couldn't see who entered. Most likely a late arriving family member. As her name was called, she could hear her family cheer. Accepting her degree, Larissa waved to them and stepped down.
When the ceremony ended, Larissa changed into the low-cut, baby blue dress she'd picked out that day in the boutique. It hugged all the right curves, but covered up just enough so that it was tasteful and right for the occasion. She was greeted by Joanna as she walked outside.
"Hey Jo. Where's Mama and Daddy? Kevin?"
"Hey smarty pants," Jo teased. "Um... they went back to the house."
"I thought we were going to go out to celebrate, though."
"I know, but they wanted to er... freshen up." Joanna was horrible at keeping secrets and even worse at lying, but somehow Larissa didn't notice today.
"Okay. Well, let's go." On the drive home, Larissa was tipped off by the many cars that lined the street. "Oh lord. A surprise party? And you didn't tell? What's the world coming to!"
Joanna gave a nervous grin. "Oh, that's not the only surprise you're in for. Trust."
Walking up the porch steps, Larissa smiled broadly as she opened the door. Dozens of people hopped out of hiding spots at her arrival, with cries of 'Congratulations' ringing throughout the house. She wasn't used to being the woman of the hour but there were no complaints coming from her that day. As she walked in and greeted everyone, she noticed someone she wasn't familiar with standing in the backyard. Most of the partygoers were in the dining and living rooms. The mystery man had his back turned, and as she approached the back door to walk out, she called out to him.
"I didn't know the party was outside."
He turned around. Larissa's eyes had trouble focusing, but as she realized who it was, she felt weak.
Noah. A much more in-shape, shaggy haired, healthy and happy looking Noah. A cigarette dangled from the corner of his mouth. He flicked the ashes from it and smiled at her. "Didn't want to smoke in the house."
Frozen in place, Larissa took in the sight of him. She didn't know exactly how to feel, but she did know her proclamation earlier about the day not being more special than it already was had been proven false.
But was it for better or worse?