Summary: One single romance writer plus one married art dealer equals Rogue and Gambit in the real world.
Note: Well, this has been sitting on my computer for well over a year and since this is very probably the last X-Men piece I'll write, I figured I'd post this up as it was, since I can't be bothered to edit it. This story is based in the 'real world', and is the last chapter of Threads (unless I can be bothered to write an epilogue). Just to say a huge thank you to everyone for following this story and all my others, and for taking the time to review what you have read. Your words, thoughts and comments have been my lifeblood. I hope you all continue to sail that Romy ship in the future!
:: X :: Day By Day
It began on a rainy Monday lunchtime, on the threshold of a New York City Starbucks.
He was going out and she was coming in, and somehow the two of them managed to collide, knocking the manuscript out of her hands and into a muddy puddle at their feet.
With a vexed exclamation she stooped over to rescue the half-submerged papers, expecting him to walk on without looking back; but out of some unknown chivalric instinct he propped the cell phone on his shoulder, knelt down, and tried to salvage what he could, biting back a few choice oaths whilst the voice down the phone prattled on at him.
She would've laughed, if her papers hadn't been so completely ruined. When she looked up into his face she saw that he was mouthing heartfelt sorries at her, and despite her chagrin she found herself smiling and shaking her head with an air of helpless forgiveness.
"Look, Raven," he was saying into the phone (with a delicious hint of accent tucked in there), "can I call you back later, chere? Got myself into a bit of a mess here…"
"Oh no, it's okay, really," she protested urgently, not wanting to get in the way of his call. She brushed water off the top sheet of her pile and added: "I'm nearly done here."
He waved a hand at her, brushing aside the comment, and handed her the bundle he'd already rescued from the muddy depths of the puddle.
"I'll call you back later," he continued into the phone. "Promise. Okay? Love you, chere. Love you. Bye, bye, bye, bye…"
She stole another glance at him as he ended the call and dropped the cell back into his coat pocket. Unruly auburn hair and deep brown eyes with a hint of chicory. When he looked up and returned her gaze, it didn't feel like the first time.
"I'm so sorry…" he apologised, trailing off and staring like she was, before suddenly looking away distractedly. He picked up a few more papers and handed them to her, dripping water from the corners. "I just… I was on the phone, and I didn't see –"
"It's okay, really," she assured him, shaking off the sudden strangeness between them. She held up the veritable dishcloth he'd handed her and considered wringing it out. The thing was trash anyway.
"But your dissertation… it's ruined." He eyed the pile in her lap and groaned. "And it's huge…"
"It's okay," she insisted, almost laughing at his earnestness. "I can print off a new copy… most of it's intact anyway… Shouldn't be too much trouble."
She stood up just as he did, promptly dropping a quarter of the pile back into the puddle, which he managed to snatch up quickly before it could suffer anymore damage.
"When she awoke it was to find him gone…" he read off the top page as he passed it back to her. "You're a writer?"
She laughed, a paltry cover for sudden embarrassment. "Of a kind." She glanced at her watch. The meeting with her publisher was in forty-five minutes, and there was no way she was going to get another copy of her manuscript run off in time. And she'd left her flashdrive at home. Damn. "Looks like I'm gonna haveta resched my meeting," she added dismally to herself.
He ran a hand through that unruly auburn hair and said sheepishly: "I owe you a coffee."
She glanced at him; briefcase, suit and tie, a businessman through and through except when you got to the five O'clock shadow. Athletic and lean and gorgeous and… familiar. Now where had she seen him before?
"No, no, no," she protested, holding up her palms and shaking her head emphatically, "it's okay. You must be in a hurry… I won't keep you. Besides, you did a great job of saving my stuff…" she said, just as the single soaking sheet she was holding up gave way and tore in half.
"I owe you a coffee," he insisted.
She phoned her publisher whilst he ordered her a grande vanilla latte and himself a double espresso.
"The deadline was today," her publisher told her irately, "and I'm afraid I can't postpone it any longer for you, Anna. This is getting beyond a joke."
"Maybe it's just as well," she replied dejectedly. "The thing just isn't good anyway. I just can't write under pressure. Maybe we should call this whole thing off… wait until I get some real inspiration."
There was a pause; her publisher sighed, relented.
"Look, I can push back the deadline a couple of months, if it helps. But you need to come to a decision soon, Anna. Because this house isn't willing cover your ass anymore. You're on a contract, let me remind you."
"Then think about it. Long and hard. This is your last chance to make it big, Anna. Just ask yourself – is it still what you really want?"
She sighed and ended the call, wondering what it was she really wanted at all, and as usual, finding no answer.
"Here's your coffee." He was right beside her, a sympathetic look on his face – he'd obviously been listening in on her conversation. "Sorry about that."
"It's okay," she repeated for the umpteenth time. "Thanks," she added, raising the coffee cup to her lips and taking a sip. Hot and sweet and frothy. Just the way she liked it. She should have been surprised at that but for some reason she wasn't.
He smiled, and because she was single she allowed herself to stare a bit. He was gorgeous – the proverbial tall, dark and handsome she usually went for. But he'd also been saying love you's down the phone to some probable girlfriend, which made him a little less delectable – though only a very little. "Shall we sit?" he asked, when they'd both realised they'd been staring openly at each other without saying a word.
"Sure, but aren't you –?"
"Busy?" He shook his head and pulled out a nearby barstool seat. "Nah, not really." She thanked him again, dumped her bags and her ruined manuscript on the table, and took the seat. "I was just goin' out earlier because the reception on my cell went on me," he explained, taking the seat next to her. "Should phone her back," he added as an afterthought, frowning. But he didn't.
Instead he remained there beside her, sipping his espresso as she tried to rearrange her battered and disordered manuscript. She could feel his eyes on her as she did so, eyes that were every so often drawn unwillingly away, only to rest on her again after another fruitless moment of feigned indifference. It was bewildering, it was disconcerting, it was flattering. It was crazy because at that moment she was fighting a very powerful urge not to return that look even though she'd known him for all of ten minutes. If that.
They were strangers after all. Etiquette didn't exactly demand even small-talk.
So she ignored him, even though he was clearly checking her out, and even though she was begging God or the fates or whoever it was that had placed them here together that he would ask her if he could have her phone number and that she would say yes.
"So you're a writer," he said after a moment, with the practiced ease of someone who was used to opening conversations.
"Uh-huh," she nodded, smiled, sipped at her coffee again whilst feeling a little giddy. She didn't think it was the sugar high, or the caffeine kicking in either.
"So what do you write?" he asked.
She set down her coffee cup and stared at the froth gathered on the rim. "Um… Nothing really… Nothing that's important anyways." She couldn't remember the last time she'd felt this embarrassed. "I guess they're what critics might call 'airport romances'."
"And that's a bad thing?" he questioned humorously, sipping from his own cup.
"Well, it's not exactly what I really want to write, but it's what I'm on contract to write. For now anyway." She sighed, still staring at her cup. He was still looking at her and she didn't think she could quite meet his gaze. She still felt as if she'd seen him before… probably in this very café, but she couldn't put her finger on it. For some reason double espressos seemed to be so him, and she thought maybe she'd seen him drinking them in here before.
"So, how many books have you published then?" he asked, and she couldn't tell whether he was just making polite conversation or whether he really wanted to know.
"Just the one."
"Anything I might've read?"
She laughed. "I doubt it."
"Really?" He smiled. "I fly a lot, and I'm really into romance. So there's a chance…a really small chance… That I might recognise your name…"
She laughed again. She loved the way he flirted without seeming to, so naturally it seemed like second nature. Maybe it was. Heartened, she chanced a real look at him, aiming for indifference, aiming for friendly, aiming for anything that wasn't you're cute… And when their eyes met again like they were trying to figure out if this was for real or not, she knew she'd failed. She found him hopelessly attractive; and the attraction was mutual. Neither of them could quite hide it.
"You might do." She half-smiled, breaking the eye contact with momentary discomposure. "My name's Anna. Anna Raven."
He looked surprised. "Raven…?"
"Uh-huh. Like that girl you were just on the phone to." (And now she really was trying desperately for indifference). "Freaky, huh?" She paused, smiled slyly at him and continued: "So. Do you recognise my name then?"
He looked as sheepish as he had done when he'd knocked her papers into the puddle. She decided she liked the way he did guilty schoolboy too.
"Well, much as I'd like to flatter you… I'd have to say no. Sorry."
"It's okay." She turned back to her drink and took a sip. "I didn't think you would have."
Self-consciousness took her again. She looked out the window and stared at the umbrellas bobbing past in the rain, the disembodied feet trying desperately to avoid the puddles. Beside her, he was still turned towards her, like he was still really interested.
"Mississippi," he suddenly said, and she looked at him, eyebrow raised as he said; "Just worked it out. Your accent. Mississippi. Mostly gone, though." He grinned again, outwardly flirtatious this time. "Shame."
"Clever boy," she returned appreciatively. "But I don't even have to guess with your chere's. And most Cajuns don't even say that anymore."
"I'm an old-fashioned boy," he grinned.
"Now why do I get the impression you ain't," she bantered back, letting a little of that Southern lilt seep into her voice. If anything his grin grew wider.
"I like to keep the ladies guessing."
I just bet, she thought wryly to herself.
"Well," she said out loud in a testy tone, feeling as if all this banter was going just a little too far too fast, "speakin' of ladies, ain'tcha gonna call her? Your lady, I mean?"
"Your girlfriend. Raven."
He looked confused for just a split second, before bursting into laughter.
"Raven? My girlfriend?" He cracked up again and she frowned at him.
"What's so funny?" she demanded, feeling put out. He shook his head and wiped his eyes, hamming it up so badly she knew it was entirely for her benefit.
"Nothing," he chuckled, calming himself down with a very theatrical superhuman effort. "Raven's my daughter," he explained, once he'd managed to get over the dramatics. "My five year old daughter."
"Oh." She blushed, embarrassed. She stole a look at his left hand, and there, of course, was the plain gold band on his wedding ring finger. "You're married," she blurted. What an idiot.
"In a manner of speakin'." He was sombre now, turning in his seat and picking up his cup saying; "I'm in the process of goin' through a pretty messy divorce." He lifted the cup to his lips and glanced askance at her, seeing her eyes still on his finger. "Don't have the heart to take it off yet, y'know?"
She nodded, though in truth she didn't really understand at all. She hadn't been in a lot of relationships, and certainly hadn't come even close to thinking about marriage. Luckily, before she had the chance to think of some sensitive way of continuing the conversation, his cell phone began to ring.
"It's Raven," he murmured half to himself as he took the phone out of his pocket. "I should take this." He downed the rest of his coffee and stood, reaching for his briefcase. "Sorry about the manuscript again, Ms. Raven."
"And thanks for the coffee," she replied, still inwardly kicking herself for flirting with a married man. He smiled that oh-so-familiar crinkle at her, as if to say any time, just as he took the call.
"Yes, chere, I know poppa promised you he'd call back, but he got kinda distracted…"
He brushed past with a wink and she watched him walk out the café and down the sidewalk, his briefcase doubling up as a makeshift umbrella. When she turned back to her coffee it was to find his business card tucked neatly under her right elbow.
She picked it up and held it to the light.
Remy LeBeau, art dealer. New York, London, Paris, Rome.
A month later and she had most of the final draft rewritten and edited.
She sent off the manuscript and waited for the phone call.
When it came she half knew what was going to be said.
She stood at her apartment window in her underwear, gazing out over a dusky city while her agent said to her, "They've decided not to renew your contract, Anna."
She shrugged to herself, massaged the bridge of her nose with her free hand and said, "Great. Means I can write whatever the hell I want now."
It didn't take the sting away, though. The sense of rejection.
Oh well. She chucked the phone onto the sofa and padded into the kitchen to fetch a glass of water. Then she went back to her desk, just to prove that she could write whatever she wanted, and sat in front of her laptop. For what felt like minutes she stared blankly at the screensaver, unable to focus. The trouble was, she didn't really know a whole lot about men. And here she was, a romance writer, one who only dated out of desperation – and only boring, safe men at that. Exciting men didn't come her way. Unless it happened to be on a Monday afternoon in an inner city Starbucks…
Without thinking she opened up a blank page and typed impulsively: -
Languid mornings, Sundays: for a change – just for a change – it is he who brings her a cup of coffee, instead of she.
She halted. For a moment she gazed absently at the words, her teeth tugging thoughtfully at her lower lip, trying to bite back a smile. One line, just one line, and she was already letting herself write about him.
Her eyes wandered involuntarily to the small white rectangle of card pinned surreptitiously to the corner of her noteboard.
Remy LeBeau, art dealer. New York, London, Paris, Rome.
A tell-tale smile touched her lips.
Putting his number up there had been a hell of an exercise in testing her primary resistance, because she was lonely and frankly needful; and because he'd remained there at the back of her mind for weeks now, along with a recurring dream she couldn't shake. She didn't do one-night stands – never had done – but with him, for the first time, she'd been sorely tempted. Shamelessly tempted. He was a married stranger with a five year old daughter, and she'd still been tempted because she'd never had a man look at her the way he had, and she'd most certainly never felt so sinfully attracted to a man she'd only just met, not in all her life.
But she'd never called him. Not once.
It was embarrassing enough to cope with the fact that he was already haunting her dreams after about fifteen minutes in one another's company, that he was there offering her cups of frothy vanilla latte with that come-hither smile on his delectable lips whilst she lay in bed, at night. Alone. Right where she was supposed to be.
So why did she keep thinking naughty thoughts like he left me his phone number so he obviously wants to see me and he's about to be divorced so an affair won't really matter anyway…?
She could still call him, of course. Not that she'd know what to say to someone whom she knew practically nothing about, and whom she happened to think was the most gorgeous creature that'd crossed her path since… well, forever. And the fact that he tempted her frightened her sense of propriety so much that the idea of it had to be completely out of the question. So she stood up, snatched a random bill that'd been lying on her desk, and pinned it up over his number so that she wouldn't be tempted to call it.
She hadn't quite the heart, however, to cover up the part that spelled out his name.
It was another rainy lunchtime another month down the line, in the same Starbucks, at the same seat at the same tear-stained window where she'd first met him.
She was free of the obligation to her publishers, but that didn't mean that freedom was any less difficult than working under pressure, especially not when life had other demands on her. Like earning a living, and being exhausted at the end of the day – too exhausted to even think about creating anything.
She stared down at her notebook, at the words, Languid mornings, Sundays… which had been crossed out several times and promptly rewritten again in a careless, slapdash scrawl. She had no idea what to write next.
She sighed and dropped her pen, cupped her chin in her palms and stared vacantly at the windowpane. Runnels of rainwater were shimmering in the watery afternoon light, sparkling in a familiar lattice pattern that reminded her of a dream she always had, a dream she'd always forget come the morning… Threads of gold and butterfly wings… The sea shimmering like crystal, flowing on into infinity and far, far beyond… …
"Ms. Raven," interrupted that familiar whiskey and molasses voice somewhere behind her, almost making her jump out of her skin and certainly out of her reverie. She flipped her notebook shut quickly and half-turned, seeing him inching through the lunchtime crowd and into the chair beside her. He was soaked.
"Mr. LeBeau," she greeted him, shielding her book from water droplets as he slipped off his overcoat and shook the rain from his hair. "Ain'tcha got an umbrella yet?"
He smiled at her, probably because he kept teasing that Southern drawl out of her without her knowing; or maybe because he was just glad to see her.
"So you did get my card," he remarked, ignoring her question. "But you didn't call me. Why?"
"Maybe 'cos you're married," she snorted. She shot a quick glance at his left hand. The golden band was still there.
"In name only," he replied with mock tragedy. He glanced at her cup. "Top up?"
She sighed, but couldn't help smiling. "I really shouldn't. But I will, if you're offering."
He got in the queue without bothering to ask what she wanted. She did her best to ignore him while she waited, even though she could feel his eyes on her from across the room, like they were born to be looking at her. The sensation made her uncomfortable and curious and desirable and dizzy. When he came back, it was with a vanilla latte, the same conciliatory coffee he'd bought her before – extra sweet with all the trimmings. When he sat it was beside her, watching her like he couldn't keep his eyes off her.
"So," he continued their conversation casually, as if they'd never left off from the last time, "if I wasn't married, would you have called me?"
"I don't do complicated," she replied off-handly, trying her best not to look at him.
"Who says this is complicated?" He didn't wait for an answer, but opened his briefcase and pulled out a lurid pink book with neon yellow lettering on the front. "But since the last time we met, I actually had a conversation with my wife. I told her I'd met an author in Starbucks at lunchtime. Turns out she had your book. I borrowed it."
If there was a moment she wished she could've buried herself quietly under the ground and died, it would've been that one.
"Oh mah Gawd!" she cried out in anguish as he flashed the book at her with a triumphant flourish. "Did yah… did yah read it?"
He grinned and before she could snatch the offending article from him he'd stowed it back into his briefcase protectively. "Nah. Didn't get past the blurb. You're right – 'airport romance' really ain't my style." She buried her face in her hands and groaned, but he didn't let up. "So, did you finish writing that manuscript I almost managed to destroy for you?"
She dropped her hands and turned away from him, her cheeks flaming.
"Yeah. I sent it off a couple of weeks back."
"Working on something new?" he asked, glancing at the notebook.
She nodded. "Haven't got much to show for it really. Only a couple of lines."
"And it's a story about…?"
"Two people," she answered coyly, sipping her coffee and smiling through it.
"A man and a woman…?"
"A love story," he surmised, making the only conclusion he could have. She nodded again and tried not to blush, because the way he was looking at her was getting her more hot under the collar than the interrogation was.
"And that's different to your previous work how exactly?" he asked, an eyebrow cocked.
"It's very different, thank you very much." She halted, saw him still looking at her expectantly and relented with a sigh. "It's difficult to explain. I haven't really got a story at all. Just thoughts… impressions… the odd disconnected word here and there…" She paused, waiting for him to yawn or change the subject or something, but he sat waiting patiently for more, so she continued awkwardly. "I've got so much floating around, but nothing to stick together into one big whole – know what I mean? It's just one big jumble waiting to coalesce. In other words…" she added quickly, reddening as she realised she was rambling now, "I have a serious case of writer's block."
She stopped; he let out a pent up breath and looked at her with eyebrows raised.
"Sounds like you need a break, chere," he said.
"Tell me about it," she muttered. "A seriously big one."
"No," he corrected her humorously. "I meant a break. As in fun and games."
She allowed herself to laugh. "I don't really do fun and games anymore," she admitted.
"I can tell." He didn't elaborate, though she thought he might have. At that moment the door opened and a woman in a business suit entered; he stood quickly, almost furtively, his body language suddenly speaking louder than words.
"Date?" she asked him, going for nonchalant, and he grinned down at her, seeing right through her anyway.
"Lunch with a work colleague," he corrected her without missing a beat. "Care to join us?"
"No thanks." She opened up her notebook again, feeling confused. "I'm going in a minute." And three's a crowd, she added mentally, hoping the addendum didn't show on her face. The woman had just spotted him and looked as if she thought the same way too. "But maybe I'll see you around sometime," she finished carelessly.
"I hope so," he said. He looked as if he were about to join his friend, but just as he'd taken a step away he turned back quickly and said, "Come out with me tonight."
She almost spat out her coffee.
"Are you serious?"
"Completely." And he looked it.
"I don't believe you," she scoffed.
"Come out with me tonight," he insisted, and when it looked like she was about to protest he ploughed right on, ignoring her. "Meet me out here at seven. I'll take you somewhere nice. Take your mind off things." She stared at him, waiting for a twitch of the lip, a blink of eye, anything to give him away. When she didn't see a single sign, it was somehow worse than if she had done.
"You are so walkin' the edge, Mr. I'm-Still-Married-LeBeau," she murmured under her breath.
"Remy," he corrected her flippantly. "You know you want to."
"Don't tempt me."
At that moment the woman had just about reached them and he grinned, took a step back and said, "I'll see you at seven," before turning and walking off.
She rushed home walking on air, feeling like a teenager all over again, feeling… like an idiot for letting herself give in so easily. She might as well have been going on a blind date for all she knew him, and she couldn't believe she was actually going through with it, but– Was she?
She stood grinning in front of the mirror, asking herself the same question a handful of times before mentally answering, yes! Hell yes!
Because she was lonely and needful and she needed a break, and… because he was too beautiful to say no to. Especially since he'd been the one to start it, especially since he'd wanted to see her enough to ask her out.
She wiped the smile off her face, cleared her throat and set to work. She did up her hair and put on makeup (including mascara, which she usually left out), and wore a dress she hadn't worn before and had bought only ever with the intention of staring at it until she got too old or fat to wear it. She even wore heels.
She even wore matching underwear.
They met outside the Starbucks at seven, just as they were coming up in opposite directions like it'd all been timed perfectly to the last split second. He was in a slick grey suit and he still hadn't shaved.
When she looked at his hand, the ring was still on his finger.
"You look gorgeous, Miss. Please-Don't-Tempt-Me-Raven," he teased her as they stood outside the café, already too much friends to shake hands, too much strangers to hug, and too much confused to even dare to kiss, even on the cheek. So they stood on the sidewalk with just a painfully short distance between them that nevertheless seemed far too great even to begin to bridge.
"You don't clean up too badly yourself," she bantered back with a shyness she rarely felt in the presence of men. "Mr. I'm-Still-Married-LeBeau," she finished off pointedly, glaring at the ring on his finger.
"So that's how we're going to play it." And he gave a real sigh this time. "All right – I'll be a good boy, I swear. Not that I had any other intentions, of course."
He gave her his arm like a gentleman, though still unable to suppress the twinkle in his eye; she took it.
"Of course," she returned wryly. "I'm just here to take my mind off things, right?"
He smiled down at her as he hailed a taxi cab.
They went to a bar in one of the trendier parts of town, one she guessed he spent a lot of time in.
They sat by the window where he couldn't pull any moves without the whole world seeing; his decision entirely, of course. They talked a lot until they both ran out of things to say and were forced to sit in silence. She didn't feel awkward in their silence. She felt more awkward about the way he watched her, from beautiful eyes she felt she knew but didn't. And he did exactly what he'd promised he would. He didn't get too close, he didn't angle for anything, he didn't pry. He took her mind off everything. Off frustrations, off monotony, off boredom, off a story she couldn't write because it wasn't hers. It was theirs. Whatever she was going to write, it was going to be about him; it was going to be about this. She didn't know what it meant, but she felt it. He inspired her in ways she couldn't even begin to explain.
Later they walked out together on the sidewalk, her laughing because his jokes were so inane and him grinning because she was laughing so hard at him.
She was staving off calling a cab because she enjoyed his company so much and because she wanted to see how far this would go. Because she was so tempted to go back with him to wherever he stayed that she just had to see if she could hold out or not.
"This is just so against the rules," she groaned, when she looked at her watch and saw that it read 10:30.
"What is?" he questioned.
"Going out. On a work night. It just isn't done. I'm gonna be a wreck tomorrow."
"But you had fun?" he asked, so earnestly that she couldn't help but laugh. He looked offended and she grabbed his arm and squeezed it, saying: "I had a great time. Thank you."
He said nothing, only giving her that appraising look that he so often gave her. That curious, questing look as if he had a myriad of questions he didn't even know how to begin to ask.
"What?" she quizzed, tugging playfully on his arm again. He shook his head, a small smile creasing his lips.
"I can't say it. You'll kill me if I do."
It was her turn to look at him quizzically, but he halted quite suddenly and hailed an approaching taxi cab. The car pulled in and the driver wound down the window and asked: "Where to?" And he said: "Wherever the lady wants to go."
He took a step back and she let go of his arm with a testy expression on her face.
"I didn't mean I wanted to go home just yet…"
"You're right," he interrupted her, "it's late. Don't wanna be responsible for you getting fired or something…"
His mouth was hitched into a lazy smile that she didn't buy for a second. She swivelled round and smiled apologetically to the cab driver.
"Sorry but I'm staying. Sorry to waste your time."
"Suit yourself." The man shrugged and pulled out. Anna stared after him a minute, then turned back to Remy, her eyebrows working and her eyes flashing.
"Tell me," she demanded, and he spread out his hands in self defence, as if he was afraid she really was going to kill him…
"Chere," he cut her off helplessly, "don't you get it? If this continues the way it is I'm gonna haveta invite you back to my place, and you're gonna say yes, and goddammit…" He paused, ran his hand through his hair with that adorable schoolboy look and continued on an exhalation of breath: "I am so gonna have to sleep with you."
She gaped at him. He shrugged in another gesture of helplessness.
"I'm so into you, Anna."
"Really into you."
"And I don't even know why. It's crazy, isn't it?"
He laughed a light-headed laugh and ran his hand through his hair again. Then he turned away from her and hailed another cab. She watched him as he spoke a few words to the driver and slipped him a few dollar bills. As he held the door open for her, like the gentleman they both knew he wasn't.
She slid inside the cab and looked up at him and he looked down at her with a small, self-deprecating smile on his lips before he slammed the door shut and she was whisked away.
That was all it took.
That was all it took for her to fall in love with him.
August, September, October, November.
Four months rolled by and still all that remained of her next big story was those two lines in her little black notepad.
For three of those four months she dated a guy on and off until they drifted apart and just stopped calling each other.
She went back to her notebook a couple more times before finally realising that the reason she had the writer's block wasn't because she couldn't write but because she had nothing to write yet. So she surrounded herself with postcards and reference books and photos and glamour magazines – things that made no demands on her and that she hoped would in some way inspire her. It didn't take her mind off the loneliness but it made it easier to deal with. It made it easier to immerse herself in her own little world where love was safe and on paper.
Nevertheless she went back to the Starbucks now and then. She would sit in that seat and stare out the window. Sometimes she'd get her pen and open up her notepad. She'd wait for him to come and tell her where their story was headed next. But nothing ever happened. He'd never turn up. Maybe he'd left town, or was away on business. She'd get back on the train home and sit there feeling like she'd done this a million times before.
It was funny. Of all the dozens of people with whose lives she intersected every day, she shared nothing with any of them except the same little slice of space-time. Day in, day out. The train was like time, marching forward in one simple direction towards the same old, unmoving destination. But she thought about him more and more often because he gave her the sense of other destinations to be had. She shared more with him than just that same slice of space-time. It was nothing more or less than just a feeling, but it was enough for her to realise that stories don't happen, they just are. A random set of events that are plucked out of the ether and carry on and out into existence.
You might meet a man and he may very well be married (even if in name only), and there's not a lot you can do about it when you think you might have fallen in love with him.
Well, there was something she could do about it, and she had the business card to prove it.
One day, after getting home from her part-time desk job, she went to her noteboard and finally found it pinned up under bills and letters and photos and a dozen other business cards she'd put there just to stave him off.
And just because she could she dialled the number, she called him.
Friday evening in the city and the bars were so packed people were spilling out onto the streets; she found herself out under a dusky sundown, swigging beer from a bottle whilst navigating the edge of some random fountain in some random park.
"Y'know," he began conversationally, taking his third circuit round the fountain with her, "you have to be one of the weirdest girls I've ever met."
"Am I supposed to take that as a compliment?" she called back.
"Absolutely," he replied. He stopped, his overcoat slung over one shoulder, his eyes following her as she walked on ahead.
"S'funny," he observed, ignoring any sense of chivalry left in him as she teetered precariously on the narrow stone ledge and over the water – he hadn't touched her since they'd met up, "this ain't exactly what I had in mind when you called me up and asked me out on a date."
"Who says this is a date?" she pouted at him, feigning indignation and failing abysmally when a smile split her face anyway. She'd never felt this ridiculously happy in all her life. And it wasn't just the drink that was doing it.
"You do," he answered humorously, still watching her attempt to make her third full circuit round the fountain. "Your body does. Your eyes do. That stupid grin on your face does."
"And you still have a ring on your finger," she reminded him pointedly, having made it a quarter of the way round already without falling, "so this is definitely not a date."
"So what is it then?"
"It's a business drink," she returned after a moment's thought. She wobbled a bit and righted herself. A few more steps and she'd be right up flush with him again.
"Oh, right." He rolled his eyes. "And what business might we be discussin' right now, chere?"
She loved it. That little hint of the bayou that kept creeping back into his voice. She covered the few steps between them, halted and stared down at him, considering.
"I'm waitin' for you to inspire me, sugah," she decided at last. He frowned, he grinned. He shook his head and she grinned back. Was this what it was like, to be in love? He made her stupid and giddy. Giddier than the beer did. So she clambered down and sat on the low wall to steady herself, and after a moment he sat down next to her. He watched her quietly as she pulled her little black notepad out of her purse and opened it up, pen poised in hand as if ready for him to give her a bolt from the blue.
"You're definitely weird," he murmured.
"So?" she pouted. He was close, so close. She could smell his aftershave and the odd sneaky cigarette he'd steal during his lunchbreaks.
"So nothin'," he answered, that warm, honey gaze on her cheeks. "I like it."
It was no use; he was far too distracting. She glared at the single sentence on her page as if it was something traitorous.
"Still no joy?" he asked, seeing her expression and deciding to change the subject; because they both knew that if he didn't she'd probably end up kissing him or vice versa.
"No," she sighed. "Not really. All I have is this. The beginning of a story that doesn't even have a plot yet." She paused a moment, unable to explain it, and he spoke up wryly: "It's a romance – you really think it needs a plot?"
"This one does," she insisted, pouting at his sarcasm and getting goose flesh when she saw the way he looked at her mouth.
"So what are you waiting for?" he asked her seriously, and she thought about it, unable to tell him what she thought – that stories were already out there, floating around, waiting for someone to pick them out of the air and put them into words. That everything had been said before, thought before. That writing it down just made it tangible and real.
You're like a story, Remy, she thought. You're like a story I've read before…
But instead she laughed and said: "I'm just waiting for it all to be revealed …"
If he still thought she was weird, he didn't say it, even if he would have really meant it this time. She didn't mind. She even thought he might understand her, this sense of déjà vu, the strange certainty that somehow, somewhere, there was a story out there already that was written about the both of them. Maybe it was the future. She hoped so.
"Why do you still wear it?" she suddenly asked him outright, looking at the ring on his finger. He shrugged.
"For a lot of reasons. Because I love my daughter. Because a part of me still loves my wife, I guess." He paused. "You ever been married?"
She laughed. "Nope."
"Halfway, more than half a dozen times." (Except for this time…)
"Then I guess you wouldn't understand."
Up till now the book in her lap had been quite forgotten, until suddenly a butterfly fluttered past and decided it would make a good landing strip. Without even an inkling of hesitation it alighted on the middle of her open page, flexed its green and blue wings once, twice, and then came to a perfect standstill. She smiled and held the open book like a chalice that contained something sacred.
"Can I ask you something, Remy?" she half whispered, not wanting to jar the butterfly from its rest.
"Why did you leave me your business card that first day, in the café?"
For a moment he said nothing and she waited in the growing twilight under the fountain's starry canopy.
"Because if I hadn't," he replied at last, teasingly, a small smile on his lips, "this story wouldn't have got to play itself out, would it?"
She returned the smile, directed it at her book because she was afraid that if she smiled at him she might have to throw a kiss in too. The butterfly suddenly took off, and, making up her mind, she scribbled her number on the corner of the page and tore it off.
"Here's my number," she said, handing him the small slip of paper. "Call me when you have the next chapter of your life figured."
Over the following days, weeks and months her phone stayed silent, but she didn't mind all that much. She knew as well as anyone that sometimes the right time and the right place aren't enough. Sometimes you just have to be ready to take that leap of faith. And she could wait for that. She could wait for him to figure it out.
Living off book royalties was sadly not enough. Since finances were tight, she took on full-time work at her office in the City; she dated her boss for three weeks and almost immediately regretted it. The next week she quit her job and went onto one with a slightly better salary. Still her new manuscript remained unfinished, an untitled file on her cluttered Windows desktop.
On Valentine's Day she received a bunch of red roses that had been forwarded to her from her old publishers. The card was left unsigned but it could only have been from him. It was the first bunch of flowers she'd ever received in her life. She shook her head and laughed at his nerve, but tempted though she was she didn't call him. This time he was the one with everything to lose. She felt that very acutely, like it was something out of the ordinary for him. She didn't know why she had that feeling, but then, she didn't really know a lot when it came to him, and especially not when it came to the both of them. She knew enough though, and she knew more than she thought she did, and somehow that was very unnerving. Because she saw him in just about everything she said and everything she did. She saw him in cups of coffee and blood red roses and birds and butterflies and she didn't know why.
She heard him in the wind and the tides and in every word she wrote. He began to colour her life in small, silly ways that made her wonder that she knew enough about him to fall in love with him, when she hadn't even so much as touched him yet.
In the end he called her on a Wednesday, whilst she was at work.
The cell buzzed beside her on her desk and she picked it up without even thinking.
When he spoke, his voice sounded weary, fraught, depressed… but he made a date for the weekend without any preliminaries, without any explanations. So they met on the beach on the Saturday, and he greeted her with a thin smile that said more than words.
"I'm a single man, Anna," was his greeting, and then an apology: "Sorry I didn't call earlier. Was all tied up."
She gave him the best reassurances she could find for a situation she didn't fully understand, and they walked on in silence for a while as the tide receded and the seagulls cawed and the cold, northerly breeze tugged at their coats and whipped at their hair.
"Belle got custody," he explained at last, picking up a pebble and feeling the weight of it in his hand. "Of Raven, I mean. I get to see her weekends. I don't know what it's like for other men when they face the same situation. I mean, maybe they're glad to be rid of the responsibility. I dunno. But it's funny, isn't it? How strangers can have the right to decide how many precious hours a week you get to spend with your own flesh and blood." He paused, threw the pebble into the water. It skimmed the surface three times before sinking into the murky depths. He walked on. "She's with her grandparents right now. Won't go near me, nor Belle neither. It'll take her time, won't it? To get used to the idea that she has to divide herself between the two of us."
"I'm sorry," was all she could say. He looked at her in a peculiar mixture of resentment and sorrow and curiosity.
"Are you?" he asked outright.
"Yes," she replied, and she thought it was the truth.
He stopped and slipped off the ring that was still on his finger.
"You kept on asking me why I didn't take it off," he murmured. "Even if you didn't say it out loud, you said it with your eyes, Anna. And I guess I was just waiting for this moment. When I wasn't a husband anymore, or even a father. I'm just a guy now, Anna. I'm just a man."
"That's a good enough place to start," she told him.
He didn't look at her. He nodded imperceptibly, turned the golden band between his thumb and forefinger thoughtfully.
"It'll have to be."
Without a second thought he stepped away from her and threw the ring into the water as he had done the pebble before. It didn't even skim the water. In a second the waves had swallowed it up. She stood a little way behind him with her heart in her mouth. Oddly, she didn't feel guilty as she watched him. Nor did she feel selfish. In a strange way, she felt as if she were reclaiming what was already hers. He stared at the sea for a long moment before turning back to her and walking on.
"You were right," he said, a little of the old wryness coming back to his voice. "None of this is new. Everything exists already. I needed you to help me make a decision I guess I'd already really made. When we bumped into each other outside the Starbucks, when I looked at you – don't ask me how – I knew you were the push I needed to make me stay or go. That's why I left my card with you. I needed you to call me. I needed you to get me this far."
She said nothing, but took his arm instead; he didn't resist, and they walked together along the windswept beach.
"Do you ever get the feeling, Anna," he spoke up quietly after a few minutes of silence, "that you've been here before?"
She thought of the sea and the tides and the wind on their faces. She thought of the dream she had, of that great crystal river flowing into infinity and far, far beyond.
"All the time," she confessed, and they walked on in silence.
When you're a child, time lasts forever. As you get older it speeds up, races away, and the best you can do is try to keep up.
Time is always there, and all that really matters is transportation through it. We all experience Time differently; every minute of our lives we prove to ourselves that Time is not linear, that it is variable, enveloping and infinite.
Sometimes, we even have a sense of looking at ourselves from a standpoint outside of ourselves – in the slow time of panic, or grave danger. We see ourselves branching out into a future we are about to claim or leave behind forever; we see ourselves in the present future (the future that will happen), or in the future past (the future that won't).
Perhaps that's what she felt, when she sat at her laptop and stared out the window at the cityscape before her, wishing she could call him but unable to because he was in London on business. She felt the slowness of time in her skin and her gut and her bones; she felt as if she were watching herself split off from an existence that was once exclusively hers, and into one that was now exclusively theirs. She thought of a rainy Monday lunchtime, the moment when it had all happened, and the way they had collided, in more ways than one; and how, without knowing, had claimed their future together.
He came to her place the following Friday, after work, for the first time.
He had been sorting out the visiting arrangements with his ex-wife, he was still distracted and downcast and tired; and even when he said barely a word to her, she found herself brave enough not to be discouraged.
He threw his coat and his briefcase on her armchair and threw himself onto the couch like it was his bed. She made him a coffee in silence, not certain how to begin, knowing that he was just as uncertain as she was. Knowing, equally, that all the both of them really wanted was to get this over and done with and just begin.
She placed his drink on the coffee table and sat down next to him. She eased his shoes off and he rubbed his face and said: "Gotta pick Raven up early tomorrow mornin'. Maybe I should call it a night…"
"Maybe you should stay here and talk," she suggested quietly, awkwardly, placing his shoes aside. He laughed, a small, tired laugh.
"All we do is sit around and talk." He eyed her curiously, added: "Why is that, Anna? I'm not usually like this around women. I don't usually talk at all. You walk into my life and all I've wanted to do from day one is make love to you. Why do we just sit around and talk?"
Knowing for sure what she'd known all along didn't make it any less pleasant to hear when it was from his mouth.
"I don't know," she said, looking away from him, feeling exposed and yet strangely exhilarated at his words. "Maybe we're just waiting for something," she finished decidedly.
"What are you waiting for?"
She shrugged. "To know whether this is right?"
"So this doesn't feel right?"
She looked at him then, into the deep brown eyes staring right back up at her. She didn't have an answer. Because it felt right… It felt like the rightest thing in the world and she didn't have a clue why either of them were holding back. Why they both could only sit there and stare at one another as if bewildered that they were so completely right.
On an impulse she reached out and touched his face, unable to believe she hadn't yet; and when she did the tension went out of him, he closed his eyes and relaxed. For a long while he let her trace out the lines of his face without questions, and she realised this was him bringing the barriers down, letting her see the real him. The thought almost scared her and she backed away; but he caught her by the wrist, opened his eyes, looked right at her and said: "Don't go yet, Anna."
She couldn't say no. She let him place her palm back against his cheek, and for a while all they did was gaze at each other before he said suddenly, softly, "I dream about you, Anna."
She held her breath, thinking of her own dream, the one that wouldn't end, and whispered, "Do you?"
She thought he might close up out of embarrassment or reticence, but he nodded, answered, "Yes."
There was a long quiet, and he looked away, words on the tip of his tongue, trying to get them out.
"We're in this room," he finally spoke, his eyes on hers again, "a golden room…and it's moving, it's like it's alive. I'm standing there, and you have your hand on my shoulder, it's like you're saying something to me that I don't remember… And I can't see you, I never see your face, but I know it's you, Anna, I can feel you. And then I walk forward. Into the wall. It's like it's swallowing me up, and you're still behind me but you don't follow and I don't look back. I don't look back and I feel as if the world is ending…" He said this almost all on a breath, and he paused, catching it back at last, saying: "When I wake up, I think, if I had to walk away from you like that in real life, I think it would kill me. Is that crazy, Anna? Is it crazy to feel this crazy about someone you barely know?"
She didn't know the answer to that either – only that if it was so then they were both wonderfully, beautifully crazy. Instead she leaned in towards him and whispered: "I think I'm goin' to kiss you now, Remy LeBeau."
And she did.
And that was all either of them had really been waiting for.
Morning came and though she woke to a cold and empty space where he'd been lying beside her, she smiled when she saw the note on his pillow that read: Call me. No number this time – though that was still pinned up somewhere on her board anyhow.
She got up and stretched and showered and she thought of him holding a little girl's hand and flying kites out in the park.
She thought of his smiles and his touches and his kisses and hoped she would never have to be without them again.
Later she ate breakfast and munched on toast as she booted up her laptop and opened the untitled file on her Windows desktop.
She was finally ready to begin it. Their story.
She sat down, slipped on her glasses, and with a smile on her face she started to type.
And back to the beginning again...
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