Loose Ends Ch. 12byTangledinYou©
Twisting beside myself.
Stop that now.
You're as close as it gets
Without touching me.
Oh now don't make it harder
Than it already is.
I feel a weakness coming on...
Imogen Heap "The Walk"
Nicole giggled. "How many times do I have to tell you, I'm fine!"
Travis leaned in again, kissing Nicole's cheek and stroking hair from her soft face. He sat on the edge of the bed beside her, tempting them both with the idea of staying with her for the day instead of rushing off to work.
"You sure," he said sweetly, a full smile with only a slight hint of naughtiness curving his soft lips. "I can take off again if you want. Cook for you, feed you grapes..."
Nicole sighed around a laugh when Travis' mouth grazed the sensitive skin of her neck. It was a tempting offer, no question about that. It was nearly a week after the accident and already she felt like she was back to her old self. It didn't hurt that her boyfriend had been there to help her, making her equal parts guilty that he felt the need to dote on her, and grateful that he was there and seemed to have relaxed some since the rush to the hospital. He was definitely tense and rattled at first, and she'd been scared that it had been because of something he wasn't saying. Had he seen what was inside the box? Had he had some sort of weird talk with Gabriel? It would have explained the similar tension Gabriel had displayed before he kissed her cheek and said goodbye that night. But, to her profound relief, Travis hadn't mentioned anything about the box. So, she'd gotten lucky again. Lucky she had Travis.
Lucky Gabriel was there too...
Nicole pushed Travis away and gave him a sweet kiss on his lips, nearly chaste, if not for the slight rumble in Travis' throat, the snake of his tongue against her upper lip.
"You have to go to work. I'm just a poor writer with limited income and you've already done so much for me."
"I could do more," he whispered, but he pulled away, the siren call of hourly income summoning him to the office.
"When you get home from work, you can do as much as you want," she whispered back. "But you have to go before you're late, and I should try and work today too." She eyed her laptop with exasperated longing. She had some serious catching up to do with her latest project.
Travis sighed, but gave her a good natured grin. "I'll take you up on that. And if you need anything, anything at all, call me. Okay?"
Nicole bit her lip and nodded. The softness in his eyes had taken on a slight edge, an edge reminiscent of the one he'd had when in close proximity to Gabriel that night. Call him. Not Gabriel. That's what that look and those words meant, even if he was too sweet to say them. She'd gotten a reprieve from reconnecting with her first love because in a time of crisis he'd been the one to come to the rescue. But it must have stung her current love to not be the one to save her this time, when that in so many ways had become the thing he prided himself on.
He started to rise, but she grabbed him by the tie, pulled him to her. Her fingers did a slow crawl up the fabric, and her lips danced over his.
"Mmm," he groaned, the sound pained and hungry. "You're not making this easy, baby..."
When he pulled away, she found herself staring into the comforting blaze of his blue eyes. Her fingers stroked up his neck, the strong angle of his jaw.
"I love you," she said softly. Suddenly.
No warning. Just the slightest hesitation as the words escaped her mouth. Wonder and the thickness of the phrase slackened her jaw. It had been so long, so very long, since she'd spoken those words to a man, and the surprise surrounding her blurting it out now didn't escape either one of them.
"What?" he mouthed, the sound little more than a sigh, a whispered exclamation.
What did you just say...
She swallowed, shrugged slightly and shook her head. She felt so overwhelmed when he smiled that her eyes began to tear.
"I...I'm sorry you had to wait so long for me to say it back, T."
His smile broadened. His eyes searched hers. "It's okay. It was worth the wait. Just...say it again..."
This time when she said the words they were in between full kisses, sighs for breath.
"I love you."
There. Already it was becoming easier to speak the truth. Already it was becoming easier not to be afraid.
"...anyway, just wanted to check in. Hope you're feeling better, and I'll talk to you later," Gabriel said. He bit his tongue before he let the word "sweetheart" escape his lips and then hung up the phone.
He leaned his head back against the wall, feeling his stomach churn. And whether that queasiness was because it had been a day since he heard from her, or if he was bothered by how acutely he was suffering from not hearing from her, he couldn't say. It was just a morbid sense of dread, a silent countdown that started the moment Travis confronted him that made him start wondering if one day he would call and that would be the last time he was able to talk to her. It seemed to catapult his desire for her to nearly obsessive proportions...if he hadn't already been there before.
He couldn't get his mind off of her. He went to bed thinking about her lying in a small puddle of her own blood, fear of time and mortality choking down the impulse to sleep. He'd wander around his apartment -- soon to be old apartment -- and ran his fingers over his packed things, iPod blaring in his ears to drown out the sound of his own relentless thoughts. He'd find himself playing the restless artist game as he attempted to wear himself out with productivity. Pick up the guitar, strum quietly, set it down, try and write lyrics, set the pen down, pace and growl to himself that all he wanted was just a little rest. Just a couple of hours where he didn't feel his mistakes so potently. Why couldn't he have that? Why couldn't he have a little bit of mercy, when he was trying so very hard to be good and move on?
When was this ache going to fade away?
"How come you don't invite her to come out with us," Jonny asked when Gabe had peeled himself off the wall and come back into the studio. Jonny didn't even look up from the notations he was making before he went back tapping his fingers against the piano keys. He shook his blond hair out of his eyes and then played the haunting melody he'd been working on, making chills run over Gabriel's skin effortlessly.
Seeing Jonny hard at work was always a slightly comical sight. Usually he was a bundle of energy that you could hardly classify as serious. But when he sat in front of the instrument he'd been playing since he was eight, coaxing out the melodies and lyrics that swirled through his head, it was a revelation. Gabriel's fingers itched to lace his own musical contribution over Jonny's, subtle flashes of Nicole's smile and eyes already made him think of lyrics.
When Gabriel didn't answer and instead went to pick up his guitar, Jonny turned his eyes to look at him, fingers still caressing the keys while he lifted an eyebrow and waited for an answer.
"Seriously, you guys are friends now, right?" Q asked from where he was leaning against the piano on the other side of Jonny.
"Yeah," Gabriel nodded, sliding the guitar strap over his shoulder, "but she's resting and then there's her boyfriend, you know?"
"You mean, The Warden?" Chase said around a cigarette while he tuned his bass. "Shit, I can't believe you guys aren't best friends already."
Chase had taken to calling Travis "The Warden" ever since they met at Gabriel's birthday party. He, like Gabriel, was not a fan of Nicole's new man, if only because Trish hated having to chose between hanging out with her best friend and her boyfriend, and took that out on him on occasion. And though he would die before he said it out loud, he was unflinching in his loyalty to Gabriel. No one spoke about it directly anymore. But they'd all been there to see Gabriel try to recover from a broken heart. They were all still waiting for a real sign that he had.
Nuke chuckled while twirling one of his drumsticks. "He's just...a little tense around Gabriel that's all," he mused, playing Devil's advocate. "I talked to him though and...he seemed cool."
"'Cause you're a traitor," Jonny said absentmindedly, making another notation before rubbing his nose and playing the new phrase all the way through.
Gabriel's jaw clenched a bit and he looked up to meet Nuke's eyes. He knew what he was trying to say, even if the others didn't.
She's found a decent guy. She's gonna be okay, even if she's not with you.
That's what you want right?
And perhaps that was what he wanted. If he couldn't have her, shouldn't he want her to be happy with someone that would treat her right?
Nuke shrugged, and gave him a sympathetic look, before letting the music take the forefront of his mind. He nodded along and then started a drumbeat that faded into the background. Soon Gabriel was following along, then Q, then Chase, helping him forget for a while. They did such a good job that he didn't even realize Nicole had called him back until hours later.
Nicole stared up at the familiar building and a pang of doubt hit her. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. How going out to lunch with the guys could be bad she couldn't say, but she was supposed to be working. That all went out the window the minute she got Gabriel's message. Now here she was, the day after, rubbing the scar that fell just below her hairline, and smoothing out her clothes in the large entrance windows that served as her mirror.
It had been a long time since she stood outside the studio where Fool the World made its magic. She had the strange feeling that she was in an alternate universe, body snatched into another reality. How else to explain feeling like a stranger in a place that was once a part of her past? How else to explain the way it felt to look at a man she used to eat, sleep and breathe, and feel like all of that was a mistake?
She saw the catalyst for this strange feeling in passing when she entered Phantom Records. Far in the distance, down the hall and leaning against the wall, talking to some bad ass male equivalent.
She looked every bit the rock goddess that beat her innocence to a bloody pulp and left it for dead in that hotel room over a year ago. Her hair was black now, matching wonderfully with her loose fitting green t-shirt and black jeans, her pale skin luminous against the dark palette. And like always, her eyes didn't miss a thing. They must have seen Nicole's disdain shift the very air around them.
She turned away from her conversation with the guy, which looked heated, and looked down the hall just as Nicole decided taking the stairs would be a good idea. Meredith stilled, her spine elongated and she came out of her slouch against the wall. Even from this distance her ice blue eyes were penetrating. But Nicole had learned a thing or two from this girl. She knew how to look through a person, see deep down and make them feel it. She paused at the door, her eyes penetrating Meredith's, and she let all of her anger and hatred coat her gaze. She let it seep in until she saw the almost imperceptible shrink Meredith's stature, the slight aversion of her ice blue eyes. Then she turned and took the stairs.
Her legs were shaking and so was her hand on the banister, but she didn't slow down. She didn't dare in case that blast from the past decided to follow her. She didn't dare stop lest come face to face with her own homicidal urges, or the fact that she was so angry because if she could, if she had it all to do over again...if she could have him and that night back...
Deep breaths, she murmured to herself when she made her way upstairs, to the hall where Fool the World were recording. Deep, calming breaths, and no crazy thoughts. She was beyond looking back. And thankfully, she could still hate Meredith and not want to change the way things were now.
Finally she reached her destination, and was let in to studio by Otto, one of the bands favorite producers to collaborate with. She didn't know him that well, but she saw him at the occasional party and he always seemed nice, was always good for a little idle chit chat or rousing debate on music in the circle of their friends and acquaintances. He was an interesting guy, a wiry redhead with hawk sharp gray eyes and a gravelly laugh. He looked ridiculously young but he'd already worked with some of the best names in the current music scene, a perfect match for a new band that was already making historic waves with their first album.
Q was doodling on a sketch pad, Chase was playing his guitar while a computer played back a synth beat for him, which Otto promptly set up shop at again, and before she could say 'hi' to all of them Jonny was grinning from ear to ear and wrapping her up in a big hug. She smiled and laughed at the way he sang "Darling Nikki!" and choked back the lump in her throat. Nostalgia was a bitter pill and she was going to have to get used to it. She wasn't like Trish, who was meeting her at the studio to have lunch with the guys too. She wasn't a part of the band by proxy anymore. The reason why was in the booth that Nuke was just leaving, finishing up the end of the new song.
"This one's one of my favorites," Jonny said, nodding towards the glass box of creativity to indicate the song. She laughed as Q gave up his seat for her while giving her a brotherly pat on the head, then straightened her hair and turned her attention back to Jonny. "Gabe actually came up with most of the lyrics. And I was working on this melody the other day, just kinda got stuck in my head, you know? But Gabe added on this really haunting...shit, you gotta hear it..."
Jonny gave her a set of headphones and let her listen. She'd never actually gotten a chance to see them at work in the studio. In the past she was usually catching him just as he was wrapping up, or she was smiling at him while he pulled on the last of his clothes and headed in. This was a different thing entirely. She was in the midst of watching him layer his solo onto the track the band was laying down. She watched the subtle artistry of his fingers over the strings, the way they vibrated under his touch and then sang out when he released them. The notes faded and then broke out into the silence of the room again. His eyes were closed his head nodding along to the music in the headphones. She realized her lips were parted and her eyes were glued to him, which made her sit up straight, clamp her mouth shut and divert her eyes to the wood and glass of the booth he was in, trapped in his own world of music and creation.
She swallowed hard, feeling like she was going to cry. A sad song, almost like a lullaby, a powerful, rocking lullaby, a labyrinth of sounds that was she powerless to find her way out of untouched. Just when she thought the beat would take her down a predictable path, something changed, the words hit her in the gut. It was like she'd heard the song before, even though this was her first time.
Maybe it was the words. Maybe it was how Jonny's voice was begging some unknown girl for one more chance, for time to rewind away from coldness, back to fire, back to promises of forever that were etched into the very veins of the woman he loved. Maybe it was because as the chorus swelled it was like a cry to the heavens, an admission of loss that couldn't be fixed without undoing what seemed forever done.
It's just a song. He's just another ex-boyfriend. This is no fairytale.
She didn't quite have to remind herself that she was done being the foolish girl so easily caught up in the spell of him. But it took more effort than she thought it would to stop looking at him, drinking him in like the first gulp of water after a long drought. Force of habit, and bad habits like this always died hard.
She just had to keep forging ahead. She had to remember that not too long ago she'd told Travis that she loved him, and she'd meant it. She smiled at the recollection, warmth and comfort telling her that she'd been right to say it. She didn't have anything to fear anymore, and every time she hung out with Gabriel it was more proof of that fact.
"Wow..." she said finally, pulling the headphones off before she really did cry. "That's amazing. I don't know how you guys do this over and over again."
"Who knows where it comes from?" Nuke said with a shrug. "One minute you think you got a decent song on your hands, and the next you find something even better that just feels right in your bones." He leaned down to give her a quick kiss on the cheek and a pat on the shoulder that once again made her miss them and miss this world.
"This one just kind of came out of nowhere," Jonny confirmed and nodded in agreement with Nuke's words, "and it's gonna replace this other song that was kinda 'meh'."
Nicole nodded absently at Jonny and turned back to the image of Gabriel.
"It's beautiful. Perfect."
Gabriel's eyes opened and met hers. He registered only the slightest flicker of surprise. Then he smiled lightly, finishing up the last great wave of the song. It was like he was looking at her and into her all at once.
"What's the song called," she heard herself ask.
Jonny grinned and pulled his seat up right beside her.
"Loose Ends," he said, then sang part of the chorus softly in her ear.
"I would tie all these up for you
For you, for you
"I didn't even know I had this much shit," Gabriel huffed after carrying yet another full to bursting box up a flight of stairs.
"Most of it's music," Nicole exhaled, equally winded as she dropped her box. "That's the last one. Fucking records, and CDs, and a million books. I don't know whether to laugh at how old fashioned you are, or hate you for putting me through this. You know you can store all this stuff on computers now, old man?"
He laughed and came to his full height to stretch.
"So, I hear, youngin'. So I hear. But, like you said, I'm old fashioned. I like to hold shit in my hands. I like things with a little history to 'em."
They took a minute to bask in the silence, the last of his belongings now safely out of the car and in his room to be sorted through. It was the weekend and Jackie, Ian, the guys from the band, Trish and Nicole had done the obligatory service that comes with being the friend of a person in the midst of big move. Nicole had been the last straggler to stay behind, offering to help sort through his music and books while Travis was having guy time with his friends.
Earlier that day there'd been an assembly line of people, each carrying varying degrees of heaviness into his new place. It seemed like it was going to take forever, but with plenty of hands and plenty of jokes to keep the mood light, they were nearly done with moving everything off the truck by noon. Then they broke for lunch. And for the first time in long time, the whole gang was all together again.
That had been his favorite part of this day. Everyone gathered around sandwiches and drinks, laughing amidst boxes and unpacked luggage. They made fun of Gabriel for managing to hide a mansion's worth of stuff in one bedroom, and all the girls made fun of him for not being able to decorate because of the male chromosome.
"Seriously, what are you going to do with all this prime real estate?" Trish asked, partially in awe and partially jealous. "You gonna leave those beams up or take them down to open up the space? Oh, and the kitchen! What about a black marble--"
"Slow your roll, Trading Spaces," Chase said, nudging her in the arm with his elbow. To the others, with a smirk, he said, "Trish is on a quest to conquer the world with interior decorating, one apartment at a time."