Loose Ends Ch. 14byTangledinYou©
Well, here it is, the final chapter of Loose Ends. Been a long time coming and I want to thank all of you for reading and staying with it. Thanks to Soular, TheKiss, and August Bouvier for being my trusty readers and writing buddies. And especially, thanks to you guys, the readers, for being so unbelievably awesome. I appreciate every kind word and the time you take out to let me know what you think. Thank you all so much. I hope you enjoy.
Got this way, up front but never true.
God, I'm wrong, it's just the way I am.
Crashing down any chance you'll hear.
Caving in any chance that you,
Could see inside of me.
And I, I'll know what to say,
It's fine, this isn't Hollywood.
So fine, getting in your way...
Nicole watched Trish's reflection watching her as she smoothed out her dress for what had to be the twelfth time.
"You look great, you know. So, why are you being so fussy?"
"I'm not being fussy," Nicole argued absently. She was rubbing a hand over the stubborn flesh of her lower abdomen. There would never be enough crunches in the world to make that completely flat like Trish's, would there?
"I'm just going to skip ahead to the part where I ask you if you talked to him yet, since that's obviously what all the figidity-ness is all about."
Nicole actually gave Trish a look that managed to beg and warn her all at once to shut the hell up.
"This is Jackie's day. I'm not going to turn this into another opportunity to have an angsty conversation about Gabriel." She turned back to the mirror and rifled through her purse for her lipstick. "Frankly, it's really old and tired. There's more to life than him and the brief period we were together."
Trish's audible sigh ruffled her feathers, but neither of them said anything else about Gabriel. For better or worse she was right. It had gotten old. The pining and nervousness, her friends wondering what they were thinking when they broke up, and watching their every interaction for signs that they would realign themselves to a path of love and reconciliation. All of it was just silly and childish after over a years worth of time apart.
Unless you count that one night...
She was almost too tired to push away the memories. So she closed her eyes and let the images come unbidden. For just a moment...
She was on top of him, dancing to a beat only they could feel and hear. His breath was in her ear as he pressed her down beneath his weight, and thrust all of his passion into her. The sound of his moan was desperate and clear, as if he were falling apart and she was the only thing that would piece him back together when he came. She could feel his sheets twisting in her fingers and between her teeth as she willingly screamed for him the way he ordered her to. The taste and smell of sweat, the exhale and shudder of their breaths were caught in their raw throats. And then there was the touch of his skin under her fingertips, and the way his fingers interlocking with hers, like his eyes did as she fell, and fell, and fell...
She breathed in, breathed out. Told herself she would be alright. It was like coping with a panic attack. All she had to do to get through it was remind herself that this was the present, and that she was going to be alright. Even when Gabriel's smiling face flashed before her closed eyes, she held onto the chant. The past was the past. His smiles, his tears, and the feel of him just holding her the way a friend would; it didn't matter now because the past was the past.
Even though she told herself this, sometimes it was those images that hurt most of all. The tenderness he used to show her, the love and sweetness wrapped up in even the dirtiest of their deeds.
But those moments were just fragments from another life. She opened her eyes, and stared her reflection down while she applied the simple shade that brought out the natural pink hue of her lips. The past was the past, was the past.
She blinked hard, put her mask back on, and followed Trish out as if Gabriel's name had never entered her mind. That determined smile was in place and didn't falter for much of the night. She watched her sister and brother in law dance their first dance to 'Always and Forever'. She danced with her nephew, twirling in her dress as he twirled, and clapping as he thrust his arms in the air, stomped his feet at odd moments and grinned up at his adoring Auntie Nikki. She did the electric slide and the Macarena, and drank three glasses of champagne while she laughed and remembered the old single days with Jackie and the bridesmaids.
Travis wasn't by her side for much of the night. At least, not the way he would have been if they were the couple they used to be. He didn't feel like dancing. He didn't have much to say to her, so he talked around her, to whatever group happened to be converged on them at that moment. It hurt to see him as he truly was. Clever, funny in that deadpan sort of way, laughing and being appreciated because he didn't have to be cold or guarded. It hurt to see his smile directed at everyone else but her.
But nothing hurt as much as making her way through the reception hall to pee, coming out the bathroom, and finding the man she'd been avoiding leaning against the wall watching the festivities. Their eyes met as she was coming down the hall that led back into the fray of partiers.
What did one do in a situation like this? Could she just nod, say 'hello' and push back through the crowd? Would it even be possible to do that much? He must hate her after all she'd done, and she still wasn't well versed in "wounded ex" protocol. Not when it came to this man.
She had to take another deep, cleansing breath and remind herself that this wasn't about him and her. This was a celebration of true love and true commitment, not another opportunity to mourn the opposite. And it was bound to happen that they would be near enough to each other to talk. He was a friend of the family, he wasn't going away, and the least she could do was be kind to him. If he wasn't willing to reciprocate, well then, that was only what she deserved. She wasn't going to be a coward. That's what had caused so many messes, so much heartache in her life: cowardice.
She involuntarily scoped out the party when he turned away from her. He'd gone back to watching his current girl of the week dance with some other male guest. Travis was no where to be seen. He might have gone out to make a phone call. There was a project he was working on that required a lot of after-hours attention these days. It was part of the reason she didn't see much of him anymore. Aside from him blatantly avoiding her by hiding out in his favorite bar.
She took another deep shaky breath and made a bee line for him.
Quick and short. Like pulling off a Band-Aid. 'Hi' and 'Bye' and little else in between...
The word came out awkwardly, a croak of sound from her lips. It managed to be too loud and wimpy sounding at the same time. Not smooth at all. But it had the desired effect. He acknowledged her existence, however begrudgingly, as she cleared throat.
"Nicole," he said with a nod. He took a sip of his champagne and went back to his spectator sport. She tried to ignore the sexy smirk that spread his lips and the sight of his new girl swaying seductively. She was ready to turn away, to run after tossing out a pleasantry that she would barely wait for him to answer.
"How've you been?" he asked her suddenly.
Huh. A question. One he expected an answer to by the looks of his waiting glance. That was unexpected.
Miserable. Lost. Half whole.
"I've been good," she managed, still confused that he'd care, let alone bother to ask. "Doing alright, I guess. Just working on the next book. Looking after Preston here and there," she said motioning to her little nephew, the ring bearer. "Just trying to stay busy."
He nodded. "Same. Busy, busy. Looking forward to touring now that the album is done."
"That's good. That's great. I'm really happy you're doing well. And I can't wait to hear your music again."
Her skin warmed when his eyes held hers, deep and penetrating. As if he was searching for something, for her. They'd always been such beautiful eyes. Molten chocolate to her nearly black-brown. How did she ever find the strength -- or was it stupidity -- to turn away from this face? How could she have seen these eyes filled with tears that matched her own, seen love in them, and now stand here as if it were all a dream? Making small talk. Seeing him so guarded and cool, where once there'd always been warmth and kindness that could so quickly turn to fire and need.
He looked down at her with an ironic cocktail of disdain and nonchalance, as if she were an annoying fly whose presence he'd come to accept. "Yeah?" was all the encouragement he seemed willing to muster.
"I-I...I just wanted to say...you..."
He quirked an eyebrow at her and she swallowed and choked on her own spit. She coughed sputtered and looked away from the molten chocolate of his eyes.
"I just wanted you to know I'm glad you were here. That you look really nice," she managed to say through the blaze of embarrassed heat that covered her skin. "It's good to see you again, doing so well."
He did look so good. His hair was an inch longer than when she'd last seen him, truly shaggy now, but still that glossy, chestnut brown that shown healthily in the evening light. A five o'clock shadow of stubble graced his chin. She was unused to it since he usually preferred to be clean shaven, but it didn't take away one iota from his beautifully chiseled face. It didn't hide the indent in his chin, the one she kiss sweetly so many times before. It seemed nothing could have made him look less than the image of her fantasies, especially when the ruggedness of his shaggy hair and stubble was the perfect contrast to how handsome he was in his black tailored suit. The tie had long since been abandoned and the top buttons of his crisp white shirt were undone. She could see the black cord of his necklace and a peek of the silver pendant. Her eyes were powerless against the sight of his coffee and cream colored skin and her tongue skimmed the roof of her mouth, remembering how it tasted.
"So do you," he said to her surprise. Her eyes snapped up to his, to the soft smile that graced his lips. He'd just given her a compliment, she realized.
She glanced down, gave the skirt of her butter-cream yellow gown a nervous tug and swish.
"In fact, you look almost as good as the last time I saw you," he whispered. "You remember the last time we were together, right?"
It took a second for the words to register, for the heat to blaze hotter on her skin and then pulse like a heartbeat encasing her body.
"You looked really pretty coming on my cock sweetheart. Begging me not to stop fucking you while Travis was waiting for you to come home."
She nearly fainted when he smiled at her, that full, heartbreaking smile that still made her pussy pulse despite the vicious truths he spat at her.
"Does he know that I came inside his girlfriend?" he asked softly, leaning over to speak directly into her ear. She wished she could say she was paralyzed by shock, but that wasn't it. Her body shivered with revulsion at his words; it knew better than to stay put and take this abuse. But the nearness of him, the scent of him, his voice...It was like a vital spark that she'd deprived herself of. It was like—
That's why she'd denied this feeling. In her confusion she'd pushed him away, when all the powers that be were telling her she should be beside him. She'd been emotionally flaying herself since the moment he'd told her to leave and go back to Travis. And now she stood and took more well-earned punishment from Gabriel, the man she loved, even now.
"I'll take the dirty look he's shooting me right now as a 'yes'. He pulled back just enough to look at the side of her face. "Did you fuck him that night too?"
She didn't dare meet his gaze, didn't dare validate that awful question with a response. Of course, he knew the answer anyway. He knew her so well.
"No, you wouldn't have done that, not sweet little Nicole Langley."
He gave her a soft chuckle, the evil twin of the sweet laughter she remembered. She would have given anything in that moment to hear his genuine laugh again, not this pained and bitter shadow of it.
"So how did he find out?" he continued. "Did he smell me on you? Or maybe he just recognized that well-fucked look you have when I get done with you, little girl—"
"That's enough!" She ripped herself backwards, knocking into someone passing by. She bit her trembling lip and looked over her shoulder. Sure enough, Travis was there turning his blue eyes into daggers that would have pierced Gabriel's flesh, if it were physically possible. He started to approach, then looked at her and stopped, waiting. Waiting for her to prove the loyalty he doubted since the day she screwed up a years worth of purging the influence of Gabriel Roberts.
"I never meant to hurt you, Gabriel. I don't know what to say or do to make it up to you..."
He leaned back against the wall and let his eyes take a languorous dive down the length of her shaking body. He took his time lifting his gaze from her open toe stilettos, up her exposed calves, her bare knees, the full skirt of her dress, the generous curve of her hips and breasts. His deep brown eyes practically licked the bare skin of her décolletage and neck, until he was staring her dead in the face, daring her not to understand what his look meant.
"I know how you can make it up to me, if you're really sorry. But I don't think Travis would appreciate the only kind of apology I'll accept from you."
She wanted to be sick. Because she couldn't look away. She couldn't deny that even though she was angry, hurt and shamed before him, she was also hungry. Starving to turn that nasty smirk into a smile of approval and desire. She wanted to make him swallow his words and beg her to finish what his words had started. God, when was the last time she'd been touched, or looked at with anything other than thinly veiled disdain by the person she was with?
Not since the night Gabriel was so vividly bringing up now. Months. It had been months since she'd been loved freely and completely.
What did you do? Why did you run scared if this was going to be the result? You should have just stayed with him.
Caught between an icy blue glare and a deep brown accusatory look, it seemed that the dumbest thing she'd ever done in her life was hesitate when Gabriel told her he loved her.
You're not strong enough for this...You never were...
But something in her rebelled. Something propped her backbone up when she felt like crumbling. Something made her face him and speak firmly, like the strong woman she'd been pretending to be all this time.
"Since you're so keen on rehashing our history, Gabriel, why don't we start from the beginning? It's only fair, right?"
His face softened then hardened just as quickly. Meredith Rowe, the queen of the emotional quick change, would have been impressed.
"It was you that didn't give me a second thought in the beginning. You, who might not even have noticed me if you hadn't caught me in a... compromising position. You, that said you didn't want to ruin anything with a real relationship, but continued to fuck me anyway when you could fit me into your busy schedule."
She was gaining speed now, hurtling away from the guilt. She was reminding herself why she was so hesitant to jump head first into a love she never quite believed she was good enough for.
"It was you, who let me wait for you while you traveled the world, and did whatever you wanted with whoever you wanted. Called yourself giving us freedom when the only person who was free was you!" she whispered loudly with a jab to his chest. "It was you who waited until someone else finally stepped up to the plate to give me what you wouldn't, what you refused to give me. You waited forever to tell me you loved me, and you kept secrets from me because that's what was easiest for you."
His jaw clenched and she saw him swallow. It gave her courage to continue even though her field of vision was becoming glassy.
"And let's not forget how well you took it the first and only time I let you know just how insecure and hurt I was. You forced me to show you how powerless I was against you, how much I loved you and wanted you in spite of myself that night...And even after all that, you still couldn't promise me that you would be there with me till the end," she said, and her voice cracked, recalling how he'd told her he didn't know what he wanted.
He didn't know if he wanted to commit to 'forever' with her. He didn't know if he could, if he was good enough for her. Deep down, all she'd heard was that he didn't love her enough not to hurt her. She wasn't ever going to be enough.
"You weren't even willing to try, Gabriel, not really. Not until it was too late."
The truth hung in the air, thick and unrelenting, and each of them relived that angry night of sex and trusts broken in the face of Meredith Rowe's manipulations. Bitter words, accusations and fear had been unleashed as a result, and she'd run from it all as soon as she was able physically able.
And then there was the talk that came after, when Gabriel had followed her home. The uncertainty he'd expressed about their future, when all she wanted was for him to say that he wasn't willing to let her go no matter the cost, had crushed what little was left of her hope. He wasn't sure. It was the beginning of the end of them.
"Is that right, Gabe? Did I cover everything? Because from the looks of it, what I should really be sorry for, is being the dumb bitch that gave you everything you wanted from the jump. I should apologize to you for being spineless, naïve and full of hope that I was going to be enough for you if I just did things your way."
There was a noticeable shift in his body language, a sigh that could only be categorized as regret. An apology was forming. She knew it the second his eyes lowered from their steady gaze into hers, and she felt awful at once. Even after everything she'd said, she still felt like the guilty party. She'd willingly done all of those things for him, had even been willing, misguided as she was, to bend her body to what she thought his needs were. She was the fool in all of this, and yet here he was, made to feel like the big bad wolf again.
This wasn't how she wanted this to go, but he was already speaking over the apology formulating in her head.
"You're not dumb, Nicole. Maybe you had too much faith in me. Maybe...maybe I'm guilty of taking advantage of that, when all I ever wanted was to be good enough to deserve what you gave me. But I loved you," he whispered softly. Adamantly. "No one could ever love you as much as I did."
There was a long pause, a moment where she held her breath, waiting. It seemed that her life was made up of the moments she was waiting for him, longing for him. He started to open his mouth and say something, brought his eyes up to hers, then looked over her head and turned into the human equivalent of stone. Whatever that moment would have been before he caught sight of Travis behind her faded into ether. Just like their future together.
"Whatever bad blood we had between us, whatever hurts or resentments I wish I could take back, at the end of the day you have to live with the fact that you wouldn't let either one of us make amends, and be happy together. You finally had all the power, the final say, and you made the wrong choice, just like I did so many times before that. We both had a shot to make it right. And we blew it."