Loose Ends Ch. 14byTangledinYou©
This wasn't a song about lust. It wasn't about longing, about the thawing of a heart that was frozen with little more than a momentary touch of fire. It was about someone that had already been captured. It was about something deeper than a bodily caress. It was about love, and his heartbeat echoed the music. He knew this feeling. He knew this grief, this loss.
He stared at her, this girl he'd known inside and out, and realized that she must finally know what it meant to lose what she'd so carelessly fractured in his own life. Love. Meredith was nothing if not able to twist the truth to suit her own needs, even if it was for the music. But the paradox was that she did indeed manipulate what was real. It was a selfish brand of honesty, one that always infused her lyrics, one that had exposed the blind spots in his relationship with Nicole. He knew this was real, that this song was for someone. He almost felt sorry for her, but he smirked that pity away. Karma did exist after all. There was that, at least.
There wasn't much time to focus on her anymore. His set was next. The crowd was screaming as the last notes sounded. Meredith was saying her 'thank yous' and preparing to exit the stage. She locked eyes with him as she passed him by. It was like she'd been exposed, like she could tell that he understood it wasn't just a song. Still she held his eyes as she passed, gave him a subtle nod, and then disappeared further backstage, towards the green room. He pushed her from his mind. He had a show to put on in ten minutes. He had his own sad love songs to think about.
But later that night, when Gabriel was making his way to his hotel room, he'd be forced to think about Meredith and her song again.
He'd just left the party in Jonny's room early, when he caught sight of Meredith in the hall. Her arms were on either side of her friend Amber's head. Amber, who was a staple of every gig because she never left Meredith's side. Cute, red-headed Amber, who was looking less like Meredith's best friend and more like her next conquest. It looked for a moment like Meredith was going to seal the deal. Her body was moving closer to the shorter girl, her hips curving in to tentatively caress hers. She whispered something and just at that moment, Amber realized they were being watched. She turned to see Gabriel, cleared her throat and then looked at Meredith. He didn't hear what she said, but it was accompanied by a shake of her head and a gentle shove of Meredith's arm so that she was free.
"Amber, c'mon! Hold on a second," she called as she walked fast away from Meredith and around the corner.
"Trouble in paradise?" Gabriel asked. Meredith spun around, her ice blue eyes on guard, but her body facing him fearlessly.
She sighed and looked after Amber's retreating form one last time, before turning back to him. "Something like that."
Gabriel shook his head and started to stumble past her. "I guess there isn't a relationship you can't find a way to fuck up. Including your own. It's comforting actually."
She licked her lips and shook her head as she looked away.
"Aw c'mon, you're making this too easy, Mere. You're not even trying to fight back."
"That would just give you too much satisfaction. And that's not something I'm in the mood to give. Try again me again tomorrow, lover" Meredith said with a seductive leer. But her heart wasn't in it. It was obvious. So obvious, that as she walked to her door and started to insert the key card, Gabriel felt compelled to ask her a question.
"You in love with her?"
The immediate halt in her in languid movements was answer enough. She turned to face him, never one to back down from a challenge.
"Why do you give a fuck?"
"Morbid curiosity," he answered. "I want to know if a stone cold bitch like you could possibly know what it's like to get your heart stomped. Assuming you have a heart."
Gabriel grinned just as seductively around his beer bottle before taking a swig. Then he waited for Meredith to storm back into her room, wounded yet again by his cruel words and complete dismissal of her. He could see it when she looked at him. Sometimes he could almost taste her wish for the past to come back, when they would fuck like crazy and pretend they didn't care about a thing from one moment to the next. He barely acknowledged her presence, and when he did it was to cut her down. She never took it lying down though, though they both knew it still stung her deep down. This was the point in the game when she would flip him off and say something clever and snide before slinking back into her snake hole. This is when she would pretend she felt nothing, when they both knew better.
Instead she considered his question, then confessed softly, "I love her very much. But the only ones that are entertaining the idea that I'm actually in love, are you and me. Amber's not quite buying it."
Gabriel snorted. "How she could doubt you is beyond me."
"Ha. Haha. What the fuck are you doing here anyway," she asked. "Don't you have places to be, people to do? You're quite the man-whore these days."
"Nope. Thanks to you I'm not tied down to anyone in particular, so my schedule is pretty flexible."
She leaned against the opposite wall, staring him down while he gave her a big cheesy grin before tipping back his beer. Soon the silence between them became deafening. Two sets of ice cold eyes were staring each other down from opposite sides of the hallway, unwilling to concede defeat.
"You really did love Nicole. I didn't realize that until it was too late," she said finally. "This isn't what I wanted, you know. To see you all broken hearted."
"Who says I'm broken hearted? I'm just living life the way it was intended to be lived. One day at a time. No hangs up, no regrets. No obligations to weigh me down," he replied with a shrug. "You at least had that part right."
"I was high half the time, drunk the other half, and I didn't know what the fuck I was talking about. You didn't put much stock in my judgment before. Why start now?
"That supposed to be an excuse? Is that supposed to explain it all away? You were fucked up most of the time, so it doesn't count?"
She shook her head. "No. Nothing can explain away what I did to the two of you. It was wrong. And I regret it."
"Well, stop the motherfucking presses, folks," Gabriel said with a chuckle. "Meredith Rowe admits she's wrong and apologizes. We should go check if the sky is still blue or something."
"I am sorry, Gabriel. And if there's a God, She's definitely making sure I pay for what I did." She caressed the rosary tattoo on her wrist absently. "The irony of you being here to see my ultimate rejection wasn't lost on me."
All sense of mirth slipped away from his face. "You think some little lover's quarrel between you and your latest crush makes up for you sabotaging my relationship with Nicole? All so you could have me back as your fuck buddy?"
It was Meredith's turn to laugh, though it was of a sadder variety. Her eyes focused on his, but all of their steely defensiveness was gone.
"No. it doesn't make up for it. But you should know, that cute little red head is not just some crush. Amber was, and is, my best friend. When everyone else left, or died, or just proved that they weren't worth the time, she stuck around," she said softly.
Gabriel was shocked to find her eyes glassy with emotion, and Meredith turned away before he could see the full brunt of her loss. It was the first time he'd considered the people she couldn't hold onto; Meredith's mother, Amber. Even Gabriel himself, though he'd been little more than a coveted plaything. From Meredith's angle, there weren't a lot of people that stuck around for longer than a season. They'd never delved deep into their own wounds when they were hooking up. It wasn't that kind of relationship. Still, he knew hers were there under the surface. You didn't get an emotional wall as strong as hers without having a reason to build it in the first place.
"I didn't know I loved her at first," she continued, staring off into the direction Amber had retreated to. "I thought it was just what I felt for you. This desire to feel something, anything stronger than getting high, or a random hook up. I thought I just wanted to possess another toy. And you know me. I've never been afraid of trying to get something I want. Not until her."
Meredith turned back to face him and swallowed deeply. "You see I just told her tonight, for the first time, that I think I'm in love with her. And you know what she said?"
She grinned mirthlessly and waited for him to ask her.
When he didn't she said, "She told me that I didn't really know what love was. In fact, she brought up what happened with you and Nicole to illustrate one of my many displays of selfishness. Apparently, a person that would be so willing to tear two people apart for fun can't know much about love. And maybe she's right," she said with a shrug, a gesture that made her look startling like a young girl. "She knows me better than anyone."
Well, this was just fucking sad. It was like kicking a baby when it was down and then stealing its candy....and then kicking it again.
"Maybe," was all he could say. He didn't have the heart to call her names or cut her down, but he wasn't going to comfort her either.
"Oh, now who's not even trying? You could totally be basking in this if you wanted to."
"What ever gave you the impression that I truly got off on other people's misery?" he asked. "Even if it is you we're talking about."
Meredith just sighed. "Must be confusing you with me. The old me anyway."
"The old you?" Gabriel repeated with a chuckle. "I'll believe it when I see it." He pushed himself off the wall and started to walk back to his room.
"I hope that you and Amber are wrong about me," she called after him. "And I hope you know that I'm sorry about everything. It was fucked up, Gabe. I wish that I could take it all back."
He turned to face her. Maybe she did mean it.
"You should be sorry," he replied. "But save your pity for yourself because you're gonna need it. Karma really is a bitch." He turned away, took another swig of his bear. "Trust me, I know."
He was thinking about Marta, about the way he'd treated Meredith, however sound his fears had been about her. He was thinking about Nicole, a girl he'd lost because of his own brand of penance for his selfishness.
Meredith could be sorry all she wanted, but it wouldn't change anything. He was paying the price for his own deeds in the end.
Days passed into weeks, one after the other. Each one was like the dull thud of a weakened heart, slow and painful, but somehow tolerable. It became the way of things for Nicole to wake up in the guest bedroom of her sister's home, stare out at the rising sun, then force herself to go back to sleep and block out sadness. Then she would get up and attempt to eat, struggle to write a page or two, then fall back asleep again. It was a post breakup coma that rivaled that of her breakup with Gabriel. If nothing else, it was proof that she had actually loved Travis.
Not that it mattered in the end. Fat load of good it does to love anyone. It all just ends up the same way...
She turned her eyes away from the window and wiped away a tear that snuck out of her weary eyes. She wished she could escape, just get in her car and drive away. Get on a plane and fly into another life, into another person's body. Maybe she could get it right if she could just start over, if she could just be someone else. Anyone else but this broken person.
She turned away from clouds moving rapidly behind the trees and over the sun, and stared at her computer screen. The cursor blinked on the blank page, taunting her. The characters in her head were silent, and no amount of coaxing would make them come out of hiding. A laugh escaped her unused throat and she shook her head.
How did one find the heart to write about true love when they weren't even sure it existed? That was the burning question wasn't it? She was trying to figure out how her characters could talk to each other in the most authentic way, but all that ended up happening was she closed her eyes and thought of all the love she'd lost, all the mistakes and broken promises. When she opened them again, they were still there, and she was sitting crossed legged at her desk in sweats, a baggy t-shirt, and a haphazard ponytail, alone. People were waiting for the next book. People were waiting for her to start living again. And one of them was inviting themselves into her room at that very moment.
"We're going to the park. And you're coming along," Jackie said.
"Nope. Not today."
She heard an exasperated scoff behind her. "You are not staying cooped up in this room today while you pretend to write and lament your fate. You're going to get some fresh air and take in this beautiful day."
Nicole glanced out her window, feeling her chest constrict. She felt borderline agoraphobic right now. Quiet, secluded spaces were what she craved, not wide open ones.
"Not today," she repeated. There was a finality in her voice that anyone else would have heeded. Anyone but her viciously overprotective older sister.
"Fine. If you won't listen to me, listen to Preston. Come here, baby."
Nicole turned to see her nephew walking into her bedroom before Jackie lifted him into her arms.
"You wanna go to the park don't you, sweetie?"
"Can I have some ice cream, Mommy?!" he asked excitedly, the syllables meshing in that adorable way of toddlers the world over. Ice cream and the park were synonymous in his young mind.
"Let's ask Auntie Nikki. It's up to her, okay?"
When she turned to shoot a dagger filled gaze at her sister, she was met with a droll look that said, Checkmate, heifer. There's no way you can turn down my secret weapon child. And just to emphasize this point she walked to her and held out Preston, who immediately smiled rays of sunshine at Nicole before wrapping his little arms around her neck.
Of course, Jackie was right. She wasn't going to deny the child ice cream at the park just because her life was a shit sandwich.
"Auntie Nikki? Can I have some with the sa-rinkles on it?" he said and she laughed at his customary mispronunciation of the word 'sprinkles'.
"If you give me a kiss, then of course you can," she said, and was surprised when her throat closed up and her eyes grew teary as he nodded and kissed her on the cheek enthusiastically.
It was so easy for him. The world was made up of definite truths and simple pleasures. He knew that he was loved, and something like ice cream with sprinkles could light up his world. She wished she could bottle up that innocence and store it forever.
"We're leaving in half an hour, okay?"
Nicole nodded and forced herself to get dressed. Jackie packed up snacks, and kissed Ian goodbye as he headed out to play basketball with a few of his friends. Every bone in her body seemed to ache with the imposition of moving, and pretending like she wanted to do anything other than curl up into a ball. But she reminded herself that it wasn't all about her, that Preston was getting settled into his car seat in anticipation of a fun afternoon.
That didn't stop Jackie from taking this opportunity to start delving into her fragile psyche.
"You look a little better today. You should try the whole showering and getting out of the house thing more often."
"It's only been a couple of weeks, Jackie," Nicole said as she glanced out of the passenger side window. "I'm still moving things out of our apartment. Now's not the time to give me 'the speech'."
"What speech would that be," Jackie asked drolly, before turning the corner. Behind them Preston was laughing at the giant turtle in 'Finding Nemo', his favorite movie to date.
"The speech about how we were never right for each other in the first place, and how it's finally time for me to move on. Live life to the fullest, and all that crap."
"You said it, not me."
A long, audible sigh was Nicole's response.
"Aren't you about tired of brooding? This lonely hearts club thing you're rockin' has gotten old, and can be traced back to you're first big breakup with Gabriel. That's nearly two years, Nicole."
"I know how long ago it was. It's not necessary for you to remind me every time we're in the same space for longer than five minutes."
Two more sets of lights and they would be at the park. She just had to hold on until then.
"You think I get some kind of pleasure out of your unhappiness?" Jackie asked, and judging by the soft lilt in her voice, she was hurt by the implication.
"No. But I don't think you're helping by shoving the fact that I'm unhappy in my face. It's not like I don't realize it. It's not like I don't want to change it. It's just too soon to do anything about it."
"I think that's a cop out. You have to take some responsibility for the fact that you're wallowing in misery and it's not getting you anywhere. And neither did burying your face in a relationship with Travis."
"Don't. Do not talk about him like he was just some sort of pawn. I loved him. A part of me still does, and if you had any idea what I put him through..."
That, unfortunately, caught Jackie's attention. Nicole could feel her sidelong glance and she ignored it so intently that it seemed the passing scenery of trees and mailboxes was as riveting 8th wonder of the world.
"What could you have possibly done, other than just not love him as much as you loved..."
Ah, shit. You talk too fucking much, you should have just let her run off at the mouth. You should have just nodded and said 'uh huh, yup, you're so right'. But no. You had to argue with a fucking attorney. She does this for a living. You make no sense! At all!
"That was an awfully cryptic statement, little sister. Is there something you're not telling me?"
"I don't want to talk about it. Some things are just none of your business."
Jackie looked at her with a shark's centeredness as she parked her car. Behind them Preston laughed again, as if mocking his Aunt's attempt to assert familial dominance over his formidable mother. Silly woman, don't you know who she is?
"I'm not playing around, Jackie," she said, only to turn and see her older sister had caught the scent of blood and was going in for the kill. "I mean it, Jackie. I'm putting my foot down this time. Period."
Approximately twenty minutes later they were sitting on a park bench. Preston was eating ice cream with "sa-rinkles" in his mother's lap, Nicole was covering her head in her hands, and Jackie was staring in abject shock at the playground before them.
"Unbelievable. I cannot believe this, and I don't know what's worse; the fact that you actually fu—f-fill-in-the-blank with Gabe," Jackie said, censoring herself for Preston's sake, "or the fact that you're just now telling me. Maybe it's the fact that I didn't see it sooner. Being all domesticated is dulling my perceptive edge when it comes to gossip. This is not good—"
"Can you please stop talking!" Nicole's muffled wail sounded from behind her hands. "This is my life you're mocking here."
"I'm not mocking you, I'm just in shock, Nikki. And... somewhat relieved, I guess."
"Relieved? What the fu—um, heck are you talking about?"
Jackie wiped absently at Preston's mouth and the rim of his ice cream cup with a napkin.
"I thought you were just completely in the dark about yourself when it came to Travis, but I was mistaken."
"Why do you always have to do that? You've been nothing but antagonistic and negative about him from the start. Throwing back in my face every chance you got how wrong he was for me."