Over two months ago I had the pleasure of seeing If/Then on my first trip ever to New York, and I've been meaning to write something about it for ages, but as is always the case, life got in the way. As the song goes, though, here I go. So here's my first contribution to the section, but hopefully not the last. This one is a missing scene of sorts to Some Other Me, but it shouldn't be much of a spoiler if you know the cast recording, which I assume that you do. The characters are sadly not mine. Please review! I really hope I got this right…
He was sitting at the park, sipping his espresso, his third already although it was barely two in the afternoon. The day was lovely, sunny but with a bit of a chill still, a perfect day mid March. A weather fit for writing. His notebook was laid open on the bench next to him, and he scribbled another line in it every now and then, but his pace was slower than usual. He was distracted. He had been distracted for the past four hours and forty three minutes, ever since he received her first text.
It wasn't such an odd text to be honest. Brief, as her texts had always been. He knew how much she had loathed texting, how time consuming she had found them in her constantly busy schedule. A businesswoman through and through, her cell phone was like an extra limb. He was the complete opposite, and hated to be controlled by any sort of device, as useful as it might be. One day he'd burn the damn thing, or throw it under the wheels of a taxi speeding by. People would just need to contact him in some other way. If it was so important to them, he figured, they'd have to make the effort.
How have you been? Only four words, but they caught him off guard nonetheless. It had been nearly a month since he had last seen her. Nearly a month, and then this. He figured her new position at work was keeping her busy, but this was the longest they had been apart since she was back in New York. Even when they didn't get a chance to meet for coffee or a quick meal, they texted each other at least twice a day, morning and evening, just to check on one another. It was a habit of hers he had found endearing, especially given her revulsion of texts; endearing, and so easy to get sucked into.
Hey, you. Long time no see, he texted back. He wanted to say more, to ask if she was okay, but he held back. She had detested long replies. She would just ignore his questions and reply in her usual four word style. Besides, any such message on his side would make him appear pathetic and even worse, needy. He didn't want her to know how worried he was becoming upon not hearing from her for so long.
Pathetic he might be, but he knew her well, a fact which made him secretly proud. Her reply didn't even acknowledge his comment. Meet me at the park at two? It was a question, not a demand, as if she wasn't sure he would say yes. It saddened him that she didn't seem to know him as well as he had known her. Didn't she know he'd come see her even in the middle of the night if she asked? Hadn't he done that enough times for her to know that?
Sure, of course, he replied, feeling more pitiable for agreeing so quickly, but he didn't really dwell on that because there was a nagging sensation at the back of his mind, one he couldn't shake off, not even as he sat there waiting. Something was wrong. He wasn't sure what or why, but something just felt… off.
He sipped his coffee and looked around in the general direction he knew she would come from. He glanced at his watch; two on the dot. She was the one setting the time of their meeting, and she wasn't normally late, but after their brief exchange he wasn't sure what to expect. But then he looked up again and there she was, rushing towards the park from Fifth Avenue, looking slightly breathless as her eyes flew around the park, searching for him. When their eyes locked he raised his arm slightly in half a wave.
His heart was missing a beat at the sight of her, as always. She was wearing jeans and a dark green cardigan that made her hazel eyes glimmer. Not her work clothes, but it didn't strike him as unusual. Maybe she didn't come from the office. For a moment, he scolded himself for worrying so much. She looked fine. The only thing that might be wrong with her was the fact she was wearing jeans before seven PM.
They said hello and he leaned forward to kiss her cheek, to wrap his arms around her, a motion as easy as breathing to him. But instead of leaning into the embrace as she had always done, she froze, and his heart froze along with her. Slowly, awkwardly, he pulled back and told her to sit down. "Coffee?"
"No, thanks," she replied softly.
There was the tiniest pause, one he felt obliged to break. "How's work?" he asked. This wasn't his favorite topic, but he knew this was a sure way to make her talk. "How's Stephen?" he added before he managed to stop himself. He couldn't help venom from sneaking into the question. She narrowed her eyes as if she noticed.
"Work is fine. I haven't seen Stephen in a while."
This was news to him, something he wished to dwell upon. Somehow he managed to contain himself though; he didn't want to fight with her. So he changed the subject. "This isn't your usual work gear."
Her eyes widened as though his observation surprised her. Then she shook her head. "No, I… I've been working mostly from home this week."
"Really? How come?"
He waited for more, but she didn't elaborate. Tension was growing palpable between them, odd and unfamiliar. This couldn't be because he stupidly mentioned Stephen; it had started way before. It was almost as if she felt uncomfortable to be around him. She was shifting her brown, worn out leather bag to her lap, but kept clinging to it, as though she was scared someone would try to tear it out of her grasp. She seemed almost nervous, which was unlike her. He observed her with a furrowed brow. Now he could see that she wasn't as well as she seemed from a distance. There was unmistaken darkness underneath her eyes as if she hadn't slept in days. She had always been fair skinned, but now she looked pale, almost translucent in the afternoon sun.
"Are you okay?"
"Fine," she replied a little too quickly, then shook her head as if she knew how lame it sounded. "I was… at the hospital for a few days last week."
"At the hospital? Beth…" His voice trailed off, his head reeling. He knew something was wrong, but he had expected exhaustion, mild flu, even her ex husband flying in from Phoenix to confront her, but not this. "You haven't said anything. You haven't called. I could have…"
"I didn't… I wanted to do this on my own."
Her words confused him. They implied intent, not the spontaneity he had associated with visits to the hospital.
"I didn't even plan to tell you about this, but I can't stop thinking about it and I realized I couldn't keep this from you."
"What are you talking about? Keeping what from me? You can tell me anything, you know that," he said, reaching out to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. She flinched as if this gentle motion hurt her, but he let his hand linger against her cheek nonetheless.
"Lucas, don't," she whispered. She wrapped her hand around his and slowly lowered it to his lap. She was about to pull her hand away, but he was quicker. He laced their fingers together, locking her gaze on hers.
"Beth, what is it?"
She stalled, then sighed, as though she realized she couldn't get away with it. She hesitated for a moment longer before she spoke again, softly, her voice nearly a whisper.
"Do you remember that evening a while ago, when I asked you to come over?"
She didn't need to say more; he remembered every detail of that night. Probably more than he should. But that was nearly two months ago, and it had never happened again. What did this have to do with anything?
She was fiddling with the hem of her cardigan, with the zipper of her bag. Stalling again, it seemed. A man on a bicycle wheezed by and they both looked after him, distracted for a moment. On a bench nearly, a young mother was trying to coax her toddler son to tie his shoelaces. She was observing them for a second, then looked away with something like pain in her eyes.
Her reaction triggered something deep within him. The thought that followed came out of nowhere, and his eyes widened at the possibility. "Oh my God," he murmured.
She turned to look at him as if the sound of his voice startled her, and there was a flicker of something in her eyes, something that could be hope or horror, and he knew that it was more than just an improbable speculation. "Beth, are you…" His voice trailed as he watched her cringe again. "Are you pregnant?" he whispered, as if any louder tone would break the spell, would make this any less true. Because this was the truth, he could feel it. This was what she had been hiding, this was why she had been acting so strange. This was what she had come here to tell him.
But her face crumpled at the question, rather than lit up. Her bottom lip began to tremble. Her fingers gripped her bag so tightly that her knuckles turned white. He was so taken aback by his revelation at first that he failed to see all that, and it wasn't until her eyes filled with tears that he realized something was wrong. "Beth?" he asked, and a part of him already knew that he hadn't heard the end of it.
She looked away from him as the tears kept falling. She wiped them away angrily, as if she refused to be distracted by them, as if this wasn't something to cry for. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
"Sorry?" he echoed. His heart was racing a million miles an hour. There was this constant ringing in his ears. And then he just knew. "Beth, what have you done?"
Her words resonated in his head, and they were filled with new meaning. I was at the hospital for a few days last week. I wanted to do this on my own. And although she hadn't even admitted the first part of his speculation yet, he had a feeling he knew exactly where this conversation was going.
"You were going to keep this from me." This wasn't a question. She had just said it herself; it was the one thing she had said so far. And she was crying harder now, which he considered an admittance. He didn't want to be angry with her; goodness knows he had been in love with her for over a decade. But at the moment, he was livid. "You thought, what, that we could get on with our lives and I would never find out?"
"I don't know what I thought," she managed, and there was certain helplessness in her voice. She looked so incredibly fragile. "The only thing I knew for sure was that I couldn't get through with this. And I had my job to think about – "
"Your job?" he echoed, disgusted. "You mean to tell me that this promotion was more important to you than – "
"This promotion means everything to me!" she cut him off ferociously. "You know I worked my ass off to get it, I couldn't just let it go!"
"Who asked you to? This has nothing to do with your job!"
"This has everything to do with my job!"
"How can you not see how wrong this is? How could you not tell me you were pregnant with my baby…" The words stung more than he thought possible. It was one thing to think about this, and a completely different thing to say it out loud. And then something else occurred to him, and he gave her a closer look. "Or maybe this is just it. Maybe you weren't even sure it was mine."
He didn't really believe it, though. He knew that there was no way this was Stephen's baby. She might have had a little crush on him, but she wasn't as foolish as sleeping with a married man. Nonetheless, his words had the desired impact. Her eyes narrowed; for a moment he was sure she would slap him. Then determination was gone and something much more vulnerable replaced it. "Why are you being so nasty?" she asked, her voice quivering again.
"Why are you being so heartless?" he countered. He saw that the question hurt her, but he was glad of it. He wanted her to be hurt, to feel as betrayed as he was feeling right now. He could barely look at her. He kept his hands in his lap so she couldn't see them trembling.
If he was completely honest with himself, it wasn't as if he had particularly considered becoming a father at that point of his life. He hadn't been yearning for a child or a family of his own. He wasn't even been that fond of babies. But knowing that the universe had given him this chance, and with this woman he had loved for so long… How could he not seize this opportunity, hold on to it with all his might?
The touch came out of nowhere, especially given the way she had shied away from him earlier. Now she had taken advantage of his reverie and reached for his hand; by the time he realized it, it was too late to pull away. He was forced to meet her gaze, which was intent despite her tears.
"Will you ever forgive me?" she asked, and her voice betrayed her collected façade. Her lips were still trembling, and her gaze was pleading, heartbreaking. She knew just the power she had on him. And in that single moment, he hated her for it.
It took everything he had not to pull her into his arms and let her cry it out, or tell her that yes, of course he would forgive her. Instead, he pulled his hand away and kept his eyes cold. "Not yet," he said.
Mustering every bit of willpower he owned, he got up and left, walking out of the park without looking back.
He remembers it as if it has all happened a few days ago. He's even sitting on the same bench. Their conversation echoes in his head as he sits there and waits. After two years of ignoring her emails and screening her calls, he is finally ready to confront his demons; to confront her. And so, he has texted her. How have you been? Only after sending it, it dawns on him it is the exact same message he has received from her that day.
As he sits there he realizes he's fidgeting, and this fact irritates him. He shouldn't be so nervous about their imminent encounter, but he is. He has no idea what he will do, what he will say to her. Will he kiss her cheek and hug her as if nothing has happened? Will he find himself helpless against her as he has always done?
And most importantly, does he initiating their encounter mean he has indeed forgiven her? It must mean that, in a way, otherwise why bother? One time of looking at her wounded eyes was enough for a lifetime.
Sitting there he feels every day, every moment, of these past two years without her. He has followed her career online of course, but that's hardly the same. He misses her. He misses her laughter, her texts. He even misses teasing her about Stephen. But does missing someone mean forgiving them? He isn't sure. Writing about her in his book has helped relieving his fury. He feels calmer now, somewhat more at peace, although he suspects it's only temporary. The irony is laughable. He's always teased her about being obsessed with what ifs and should haves, but in her absence, he finds himself doing the same.
He glances at his phone. Two years later, and he's still attached to the damn thing; hasn't gotten rid of it after all. He's checking the time, but also secretly looking for a text he's missed, from her, cancelling their meeting. Given his behavior these past two years he can't blame her if she does, but he doesn't think she will. Her texts haven't changed in all the time that has passed, but he can still read way beyond the four word replies. He knows she has been waiting for this message, this opportunity, and she isn't going to let it go.
So does he forgive her? Will he ever be able to? He doesn't know. All he knows for sure is that he misses her in his life. The message she has left in his voicemail has been a wakeup call of sorts, and while he's terrified of what will happen as soon as she arrives, he's also looking forward to it. And maybe they'll be able to start over. Look into each other's eyes and pretend it has never happened.
Only it has happened. And the consequences torment him to this day.
He might be able to forgive her, he decides then. But he won't be able to forget.