Clarke was thoroughly confused.
"Costia? Lexa's Costia?"
"Well . . . yes, I suppose that's accurate. That's how you would know me."
Clarke could hear her accent clearly now. The delightful, almost sing-song-y quality of her voice. But recognizing the caller did not clear up her confusion. Why was Costia calling her?
"Oh okay. Um, hi Costia," Clarke said, hesitantly.
There was a moment of awkward silence as Clarke waited for the other woman to start talking again. Perhaps to explain why she was calling. But after not hearing anything for long seconds, Clarke asked, "So . . . what can I do for you? You said you needed to tell me something?" She heard throat clearing on the other end of the line.
"Yes, that's right," Costia said, cautiously. "I have been talking to Lexa and she seems somewhat . . . different, I guess. These past few months. She says you two have been seeing each other more lately, and I suspect that might be the reason."
Oh. Clarke suddenly realized what this call must be about. She and Lexa had been spending more time together lately. Though they were as platonic as could be, she realized how this might seem to Costia. The idea of one's girlfriend spending time, no matter how innocent, with an ex must not be so appealing. Especially considering Lexa and Clarke's past, she really could not blame Costia for feeling uncomfortable.
Clarke suddenly felt a nagging feeling in the pit of her stomach. The fear of not being able to see Lexa again engulfed her. She felt an overwhelming need to explain herself, to stop what she knew was about to happen.
"Costia, wait, please let me explain," she blurted out. "Yes, Lexa and I have been, hanging out, I guess, and seeing more of each other, but most of the time, the rest of our friends are there, and, and I promise, we never, ever did anything. Lexa would never do something like that to you. I wouldn't either."
"And please don't blame Lexa for this," Clarke said, cutting her off, desperate to make everything right. "I was the one who initiated most of our meetings. I wasn't trying to . . . I mean, I never had any ulterior motive. I know you two have a good relationship and you have been so good to Lexa. She adores you. I would never disrespect what you two have."
"Clarke, stop, please," Costia said quickly, jumping in when there was a slight pause in Clarke's frantic rambling. "I'm not mad at you. Or Lexa. Honestly, I have no reason to be. And I am certainly not upset at the two of you spending time together."
"Oh," Clarke managed meekly, all the wind having been taken out of her sail. She could feel her rapidly beating heart slowing down as she realized that there was no imminent threat of losing Lexa's company. Then her brows furrowed in confusion. If that was not what Costia meant, what was she talking about? Did her rambling make things worse?
"I was just calling to say that Lexa has been really happy these past months. She seems more cheerful and lively, as if some weight has been lifted off of her. I haven't seen her like that since . . . well, I actually don't think I've ever seen her quite like that." Costia paused a second as she considered the fact that she had never seen Lexa quite as happy in their entire relationship together. Smiling to herself, she became even more determined in her goal. "And I think you have a lot to do with it, Clarke. It makes me really happy to know that she has someone there for her now."
Now Clarke was quite baffled. Costia was not jealous? She was . . . happy? That Lexa has been having fun with her ex?
Costia continued, "When we were still together, Lexa always seemed happy enough, but I could still sense this deep sadness in her. I knew she was not over you. I thought I could help her out of that sadness, but as it turned out, I really couldn't. I think you are probably the only one who can. Seeing how she is now, I know that I was right." Costa paused to let that sink in. "Anyway, I know she said you two are only friends, but I thought you should know that. I think you're still very much in her heart, Clarke. She just won't let herself admit that. But whatever becomes of you two, just please don't hurt her again. She's such a sweet soul. She won't be able to get through something like that again."
That was a lot of information to take in. But one thing Costia said stuck out to Clarke.
"'When you were still together?'" Clarke repeated, wondering if she was overreading Costia's words. "As in, used to be?"
"Yes, when we were together in London. When we were still dating."
"You're no longer dating?"
There was a pause, as if some realization had dawned on the caller.
"Clarke . . . Lexa and I are not together anymore. We haven't been for a while now. Not since she moved back to the states." There was no response, so Costia continued, "I take it from your silence that she hasn't told you this."
Still no response. Costia pressed on, saying what she really wanted to say, "She told me we couldn't be together because she didn't know how to love anymore. But Clarke, I think the truth is, she just never stopped loving you."
One year after Lexa left
Clarke sat at her usual table, staring at the cup of steaming coffee in front of her. She slowly traced a scratch on the tabletop with her index finger. She remembered making that mark, accidentally of course, during one of her first few drawing sessions here while she was waiting for Lexa. She had been distracted by a brunette with a similar build as Lexa's walking by. She never quite told Jasper, instead choosing to surreptitiously cover it with her arms or books or drawing supplies whenever he was near. She wondered if he ever noticed.
Those first three months of waiting were the hardest. She still had so much hope every time she came, which only made her disappointment that much more immense at the end of the day when Lexa did not show up. She later learned to temper her hopes, if only to be able to manage her inevitable let down. She soon learned to make her Sunday activities at the cafe almost routine.
Today felt different though. She looked around the cafe. The leaves were just starting to fall, and the air was cool but not biting. With a cup of coffee warming her insides, she should feel content, but there was a sense of disquiet swarming through her.
It had been exactly a year since Lexa left. Every other Sunday before had felt the same for a while now, but this Sunday, she felt a deep heaviness in the air. A year just felt so much more final, so much more definitive, than months. Lexa had been gone for a year. Not just months anymore. A year.
Clarke ran both her hands through her hair and leaned her elbows on the table, cradling her head. What had her life become? She had been with the love of her life, and was happy, blissful even. She had goals and had a reason to work towards those goals. Now, she felt like she was just going through the motions expected of her. She felt like a shell of the person she once was.
Gosh, she really missed her. She had tried to preserve all things Lexa in her apartment, but she could sense her slipping further and further from her life. The scent of Lexa in the apartment they shared was long gone, despite Clarke's attempts to use the same products Lexa had used. Sometimes she found herself forgetting the sound of her voice, which always led her to frantically listen to her saved voicemail over and over again. And now, even her face seemed faded in her memories.
Did time really heal all wounds? The sudden thought that she could lose this pain that was fueling her motivation to continue to wait for Lexa frightened her to no end. What if she did not want her wounds to heal?
She popped her head up so suddenly that she almost knocked the plate out of Jasper's hands.
"Whoa, Clarke!" he said as he quickly stepped back, expertly rebalancing the plate filled with a chocolate croissant and moving it away from her head.
Clarke looked disoriented for a second until her eyes focused on her friend and she realized what almost happened. "Sorry, Jasper. Are you okay?"
Jasper nodded as he sat the plate down onto the table. Clarke did not notice though as she was already quickly packing her belongings into her bag.
"Are you leaving already?" he asked, confused. She had only just gotten there. "Is everything okay?"
"Yes, yes, everything's fine," Clarke said, rather unconvincingly in a slightly frantic voice. "I just have to go now. Sorry for the croissant. Can you just put it on my tab? I'll take care of it next time." She pushed her chair back and stood up hastily. She leaned over and gave Jasper a quick peck on the cheek goodbye and was walking away before he had a chance to respond.
He turned to call after her, holding up the plate. "Do you want me to put this in a to-go bag for you?"
But she was already beyond earshot.
Clarke left the cafe in such a rush that it was not until she was near the spray fountain that she realized she did not know where she was going. She only knew she had to do something to ease the anxious and unsettled feeling in her chest. She slowed her pace to gather her thoughts.
As she tried to take deep, calming breaths, the noises of the park that she had blocked out in her haste slowly came back. She glanced around her and saw that she was surrounded by park patrons who had come out to enjoy the lovely weather. There were children running around the fountain trying to catch the droplets of water that sprayed out. Then there were parents trying to keep their children from falling in. And on the other side, she saw a group of friends making wishes as they threw small coins into the fountain.
She reached in her pocket and felt her hand closed around a coin. She pulled it out, rolling it around her palm as she contemplated her options. For reasons unknown, the small movement soothed her heart and cleared her mind. She turned around and closed her eyes, silently making her wish. Then, in one fluid motion, she gently tossed the coin up and over her head. She heard the splash but kept her eyes closed for several moments longer. When she opened them again, it was as if she was seeing the world anew.
She knew exactly what she needed to do.
Clarke looked around the room as she sat waiting in the special parlour chair. She had her shirt off over her right shoulder and was leaning forward against the chair support designed for her positioning. The walls were covered in pictures. Some were just design patterns, but scattered throughout were pictures of real people showing off their new tattoos.
She wondered if this was the same room Lexa had been in. She knew the artist, Sofia, was the same one. She remembered the name Raven had given her.
She came to the tattoo parlour right after her walk in the park. She was lucky that the artist had a cancellation, and that, as a friend of Gustus' (Clarke remembered to mention this), she was given some special leeway in her rule that her clients had to wait at least 2 weeks after making an appointment before they could get the tattoo. She was asked multiple times in the registration process if she was sure this was what she wanted.
Clarke had not been more sure of anything in a long time. She looked at the piece of paper she still held in her hand. She had made the sketch quickly before coming, but she knew it was exactly what she wanted. The tattoo artist had taken a look at it, noting that its simplicity was another reason she could fit Clarke in last minute.
The sketch showed a fountain pen, simple and minimal, in the same style as the paintbrush she drew for Lexa. In place of the flowing brush though, there was a fountain pen, similar to the one Lexa often used to write her stories when she had writer's block and needed to write away from her laptop. And in place of trailing paint, there were two letters. Whereas Lexa's paintbrush tattoo had C.G. inscripted on the brush handle, Clarke's sketch showed that she elected to have L.W. be the inscription written by the pen.
The door opened behind her and she turned around to see the tattoo artist walk in with her tray of instruments. When Clarke first met her, she realized that the artist looked very different from what she had imagined when Lexa recounted her tattoo story. Based on Lexa's horror story, she pictured a burly, muscular woman who was almost physically holding Lexa down as she drew the tattoo.
Instead, Sofia was a tall, slim woman, toned and athletic, with long brunette hair brushed to the side. She was quiet, but she had a definite charismatic charm. And Clarke could pick up a subtle accent, but could not quite place it. She was wearing a black tank top that revealed a few tattoos on her arms and back. Clarke saw a small star on her left wrist and an infinity sign on her right.
"Are you ready?" Sofia asked, setting down her tray and arranging the instruments in order.
"Yeah, I'm ready." Clarke nodded enthusiastically to demonstrate her sincerity.
Sofia gently took the sheet of paper from Clarke's hand. "This is lovely," she said, approvingly. "Did you draw it yourself?"
"Yeah, I did."
"I can't help but wonder, why someone like you, who has never gotten a tattoo before, would decide all of a sudden that she needed to get one right away?" She continued to look at the image of the pen. "And, of a last minute sketch."
Sofia clipped the paper to a small upright board she had positioned on the tray. She continued, "What is the meaning behind this image? Your name is Clarke, right? So I'm guessing L.W. is for someone special?"
Clarke thought about how she could possibly explain what all this meant.
"You don't have to answer if you don't want to. All I really need to know is that you're sure you want to do this. I can do this all in one session, and the area you're getting it on isn't particularly sensitive, but it is permanent, so I want you to be sure."
"I am definitely sure. I want to do this. I actually, um, I need this very much."
"Need this?" Sofia questioned, but did not press the blonde. "Okay, as long as you're sure." She turned to put on her gloves.
"Her name is Lexa," Clarke found herself saying. "She's someone very special to me." She turned her head to see Sofia had stopped what she was doing and was looking back at her, waiting for her to continue.
"She got a similar tattoo for me. A paintbrush. From you actually. I don't know if you remember."
Sofia's brows furrowed before a sign of recognition filled her face. "Oh, that Lexa? Oh yes, of course I remember her. She was so loud that she scared all the other clients. They thought I was torturing her in here."
Clarke smiled at the thought. "Yeah . . . that sounds about right. She's not the best with needles."
"I remember she was very nervous, but despite all the screaming, she did hold perfectly still for me to work. She told me she needed it to be perfect, because it was very important to her." Clarke's heart clenched thinking about what Lexa put herself through for her.
Sofia continued, "I remember the tattoo now. You're right, it was very similar to this one. Did you draw that one too?"
"Yeah, I did. Though, I didn't know it was going to be a tattoo when I drew it."
"She said something about it being a surprise gift. Now I know who it was for. I hope you liked it. Lots of blood, sweat and tears went into it. Mostly mine." She laughed. "So, a paintbrush for you . . . are you an artist?"
"And I guess Lexa is a . . . journalist?"
"Author, actually. She's very good."
Sofia nodded and spun her chair around to finish preparing. "You know, I have done a lot of tattoos for couples. You won't believe what some people think are good ideas. You two picked very tasteful and meaningful ones. Is this a surprise gift also for a special occasion?"
Clarke's voice was softer when she spoke. "No . . . Lexa's um, well, this is not for her. I mean it is, but not really, not in the way that hers was for me. I don't even know if she will ever see this, to be honest. This is really for me. I'm the one who needs this. It's a way to feel her close to me again, and . . . it's a way for me to remember, I guess. For when I feel myself forgetting."
Sofia gave an understanding, sympathetic nod. She did not ask any more questions as she went to work.
There was still some screaming with this one, but not as much.
The cool air was crisp and refreshing in her lungs as Lexa walked to meet Clarke. It was no longer uncomfortable to be outdoors, which meant Spring was coming early this year. She was glad, because she never liked the cold too much. It always made her take too long to get ready to go outside.
She turned the last corner and saw the theater in the distance. She thought she was early but she could see Clarke standing there already, waiting patiently. She looked quite lovely, silhouetted under the glow of the nearby streetlamp against the darkening sunset sky, her golden hair lightly tousled by the breeze. She was checking her phone with one hand and with the other nestled in her jacket pocket.
Lexa found herself stepping back slightly, becoming partially blocked from view by the corner. She did not know why, really, but she allowed herself a few more moments of observation. This image of Clarke, natural and relaxed, was quite comforting to the brunette.
There had been moments, in the past few months, when she felt this familiar sense of comfort when she was alone with Clarke. Each time it happened, she wanted to sit back and let it wash over her, wishing the feeling would become permanent.
She found that becoming friends again with Clarke was not hard. It was actually so easy that it surprised her. It was easy to say yes to an impromptu weekday lunch, yes to weekend coffee, yes to a farmer's market run, yes to staying behind for an extra drink after the others left, yes to trying a new restaurant that was so out of both their way that they had to drive an hour to get there. Together, of course. And yes to this movie and others before it. With just the two of them ("because our friends wouldn't want to watch it anyway," Clarke had said).
Lexa smiled to herself as she remembered walking in on Raven's scolding of Clarke after the last movie they watched without her ("You knew how much I wanted to watch that movie, Clarke!"), and how Clarke had tried, unsuccessfully, to shush her in Lexa's presence. Clarke had always been the one to ask her, and Lexa never found herself suggesting to extend the invitation to their friends.
She pulled her light jacket closer together as she finally stepped around the corner. Just as she was about to call out to Clarke, the blonde looked up from her phone and met her eyes. She instantly smiled and waved. Lexa returned the smile and quickly closed the distance between them.
"Hey there. Have you been waiting long? I thought we said eight o'clock."
"Oh don't worry, we did say eight." Clarke turned off her phone and placed it in her pocket, giving her full attention to Lexa. "I just got here a short while ago. Not long at all."
Clarke was looking at her with an inscrutable expression. A small smile played on her lips, seemingly contained. Her blue eyes were warm and clear, and seemed to pierce through Lexa more than they usually did. Lexa fidgeted under her gaze and made to move towards the line forming in front of the ticket booth. Clarke followed behind.
Neither attempted small talk while they waited. It was not long before they approached the front of the line. Lexa reached for her purse, but immediately felt Clarke's hand on hers, gently stopping her. She felt warmth spreading from where Clarke's fingers touched her skin. She looked up at her, eyebrows arched inquisitively.
Clarke explained, "Here, let me get our tickets. I was the one who suggested this movie after all. And you were nice enough to come watch it with me. Nobody else wanted to." Lexa did not have to know that no one else was asked.
Lexa nodded with a grateful smile. "Thanks. I got the popcorn then."
"Only if you get it with extra butter."
"Well, yeah, of course, Clarke. How else can one eat theater popcorn?"
Clarke pretended to think for a second. "I think I remember a time when someone thought additional butter was unhealthy and unnecessary."
"That was before you showed me the errors of my ways. But I do have to spend two extra hours at the gym after this." Lexa waved her hand over her body casually.
Clarke looked at her incredulously. "Lexa, you look incredible. Like, beautiful."
Lexa paused at that, unsure how to respond.
Clarke seemed to realize what she said and quickly started to explain herself when they were interrupted by a loud "Next!" from the ticket clerk. Flustered, Clarke quickly made her way to the front of the ticket booth, with Lexa following close behind.
As they walked out of the theater, Lexa glanced at her watch. It was almost ten. She felt a little sad that the movie was over and the night was ending.
Before she could ask what Clarke thought about the movie, she heard her speak first. "Do you want to get some dessert maybe? I know a place close by that has some really good pies and ice cream."
It did not surprise her at all how easy it was to say yes.
They ended up seated across from each other in a 1950s diner booth, each with her own cup of ice cream served in vintage style glasses and garnished with a cherry on top. A mostly empty plate covered with pie crumbs sat on the table between them.
I guess it is three hours of gym now. Lexa thought, looking down at the table. She did not regret it though. Clarke was right; the pie was delicious.
When she looked up, she found Clarke looking at her with the same expression as earlier that night. With the lights of the neon signs shining in through the window, dancing playfully across the artist's face, Clarke really looked a vision.
Lexa felt herself swallowed thickly as she averted her eyes, distracting herself with scooping the cherry on her ice cream.
She only looked up when she heard the clink of Clarke's spoon on the table.
"Hey, um, Lexa? There's something I want to tell you."
Lexa could hear the earnestness in Clarke's voice. Intrigued, she nodded and put her own spoon down to give her undivided attention to the blonde.
"What is it? Is everything okay?"
"Yeah, everything is fine. Kind of." Clarke rubbed the back of her neck. "I just thought you should know that, um, Costia called me today."
"Costia?" Lexa asked, confused. She felt the need to clarify. "From London?" They could not possibly be talking about the same Costia. Why would she call Clarke?
"Um … yes, that Costia. I don't know many Costias." Clarke chuckled nervously. "So, yes, that Costia. Your Costia."
"Oh okay." Lexa paused to digest that bit of information before asking, "What did she say?"
Clarke seemed to take a moment to consider her words. She pushed her cup away and leaned forward in her booth.
"Lexa, I just want you to know that I am truly so grateful that we have been able to do what we have been doing. I'm grateful to be able to spend time together and be comfortable and friendly and have things almost as they were before. I want you to know that. If nothing else, I am just so happy to have you in my life again. In any way that is comfortable for you."
Lexa avoided her eyes, looking down at her fidgeting hands, not knowing where she was going with this. She nodded cautiously, acknowledging her words and allowing Clarke to continue.
"Costia called me today . . . to ask me not to hurt you again," Clarke said softly. "She said you two were no longer together. Not since you came back."
When Lexa finally looked up, she saw hopeful and expectant eyes. She knew Clarke was waiting for her to respond. To confirm or deny. Lexa held her gaze, searching. For what, she did not know. But what she found calmed her beating heart. She sighed, smiling gently. Caught in the lie she never wanted to tell, she gave a nearly imperceptible nod and uttered an almost inaudible "Yes."
She could practically feel Clarke release the breath she was holding.
They both sat there silently, waiting for the weight of the newly acknowledged information to sink in, and then waited some more for it to dissipate. Lexa watched the ice cream in her glass melt, dripping down the side onto the tabletop.
Until at last, Clarke spoke. Her voice was steady and sure. "Lexa, I meant what I said earlier, about being grateful for what we have now. I need you to believe me. I don't want to ruin anything. I'm just happy to be here with you, like this."
"But," Clarke interrupted quickly, desperate to get her words out before her nerves got her. "I also can't help the way I feel about you. The way I'll always feel. No matter what you or anyone says. So, please don't try."
So Lexa didn't.
"I'm here. That's all I want you to know. I won't do anything to make you uncomfortable, I promise, so please don't shut me out. If you're ever ready, I'll be here."
Lexa felt the promise hang in the air between them. She let long moments pass before she finally spoke. "What if I am never ready, Clarke?"
Clarke smiled wistfully. "I waited 2 years, and would have waited even longer, just for a chance to see you again. Forever doesn't seem too long to wait for a chance to be with you again."
"You would wait forever?"
"Yes, I would. Of course I would." Clarke shrugged, as if it was such an obvious answer. "It takes as long as it takes."
Thanks for everyone's patience with this story. I have 3-4 more chapters planned (and maybe an epilogue). I hope to update once a month, but please give me some leeway if I don't make all the deadlines.
You can find me on my Tumblr: .com.
This is an amazing original song inspired by ITALAIT that was written by a reader. If you're still reading, thank you again, Taylah. post/142993370535/songs-for-italait-goes-with-general-theme-hi.
This is a mood board also inspired by this story. Thanks to Whosophia for such lovely work. post/166039722357/it-takes-as-long-as-it-takes-oforion4