Out There

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Author's Note: This story is taking place in two of my hometowns, Reno and Carson City, NV. By the way, I'm not sure if this is a one-shot or if I'll expand upon it. Also, comments and critiques are much appreciated.

Disclaimer: Bobby, Lorna, and all related characters are Marvel characters. Nevada is Nevada. The writing is all mine.

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"I don't want your sympathy, just understanding. We'd be better off if I just took some time to try to understand you." Sister Hazel, Your Mistake

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I have half an hour. The bar doors swing shut behind me with a kind of dreadful finality.

"Hey, Bobby! Long time no see!" Rose is working behind the counter, washing out a mug with a hand rag. She beams at me. Seated at the counter, a man with blackout glasses and a walking stick waves and smiles politely, but he isn't facing me. Some men in the corner are playing cards; they don't even look up.

Rose motions her head towards the stools, and I obligingly take a seat. "Can Ah get you the usual, sugah?"

I shake my head and joke that I'm tonight's designated driver.

She has a face born to pout. With her lip stuck out balefully at me, she's as pretty as she could be. "Well, then, can Ah offer you somethin' non-alcoholic?"

I shrug. "Maybe a Diet Coke and ice?"

She laughs. "Ah take it Lorna's comin' back?"

It takes me aback how she knew that. She must have seen the look on my face, because she adds, "You only order Diet when Lorna's around."

"Yeah, I'm picking her up." I check my watch again. Suddenly I have the oddest impulse, though I figure I may regret it. "Hey, what are the best flowers to get a girl this time of year?"

"As in romantic or what?" The blind man speaks into the air in front of him. I don't know much about him except that he lost his eyesight in a car accident two years ago and Rosie's fond of him. I saw his guide dog tethered outside.

That depends, I think. Do I feel risky tonight?

I choose the safer route. "In a friendly, 'welcome home' way."

Rose passes me my drink. The blind man rubs his stubbly chin for a second, then says, "Roses, maybe, long as dey ain't red or white."

"Yeah, maybe pink roses'd be nice for her." Rose agrees.

"Right." I make a mental note to stop at the florist before I drive to the airport.

The blind man raps his knuckles on the counter softly, and Rose pours him another one. She guides his hand to it gently. "You wanna kiss with that one, sugah?"

He grins. "Don't I always, chere?" She kisses him on the forehead with a loud smacking sound.

She turns to me, cheeks slightly flushed. "So, Bobby, why're you really here? Don't tell me you came all the way down just for a Diet Coke."

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure myself. I just wanted to stop by and boost my self-esteem. Watching them so romantically carefree, I decide that this is anything but. Mild jealousy makes my guts squirm. "Just catching up with you all. It's been a while."

"Then why are ya so quiet? Usually you're our unpaid stand-up comedian." She says. "How long's Lorna been gone again?"

"Three months." It comes out sounding more dejected and pathetic than I want it to. She nods like she understands.

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I'm at the airport early. I guess I don't want her to wait for me, or think I've forgotten about her – anything but that. I can hear the slot machines chiming on the first floor. They sound so incredibly merry against the drab grey of the walls. I guess whoever built this place thought grey would look technological.

About now I realize that I'm not filled with the expectant happiness I thought I would be. I'm more nervous and worried, though I can't decide exactly why. The plastic wrap around the rose stems feels sweaty in my palm.

Her plane's been delayed, so I go and sit at the terminal. I start drumming my fingers against my thigh. The old prude next to me glares, but I don't stop.

I doze for a few minutes; I change the William Tell Overture I'm tapping to match the song on the radio. A while later I can see the plane steering next to the docking ramps. Standing, I go up to the front of the red tape to meet her.

She's somewhere in the middle of the throng of travelers, but I see her immediately. Something about her makes her stand out – maybe it's her being so incomparably beautiful. Her hair just catches the light more, her smile is wider, and even jet-lagged, her eyes sparkle with the sense of home.

"Lorna! Lorna, over here!" I call, hiding the roses behind my back. I look down to see a pink petal fall down between my feet. They were the most expensive roses I could buy, and they're already wilting.

"Bobby!" She doesn't have to force her way through the crowd like other travelers; the people part like the waters of the sea did before Moses.

Her perfect red lips break out into a grin that threatens to overwhelm her. She grabs me around the shoulders and hugs me as tight as she can. I return the favor, but with only one arm so I don't drop the flowers.

After a few much-appreciated seconds, she breaks away from me and studies my face, a worried crease in her forehead. "What, only one arm? I don't have to call security to keep you from smothering me?"

I don't even say anything. I just take the flowers from behind my back and hold them in front of her. Her face is a mixture of disbelief and surprised happiness. I believe I got lucky tonight.

"Oh, Bobby, they're gorgeous." She takes them and sniffs them, relishing the scent. I can smell it mingle with her perfume from where I stand. "Really, you're gonna make a girl think she's the Queen of England."

"Nah, the Queen would be receiving them from her private jet." I say. "Not at an airport terminal. I just thought you'd want something pretty to look at after a long, dull plane ride."

"Bobby Drake, you're the kind of man most girls would fight over." She says, and my heart sinks by the way she says 'most'.

I catch a snippet of conversation from two young women. "See, that boy got his girlfriend flowers when she got back. Trevor never does that for me." It would make me feel happy if she actually was my girlfriend, but I have the gnawing sensation that there's been at least one other man on the coast.

"So, tell me about California." We pass the grey part of the airport and are born into the flashing slot machine lights and chinking sound of coins in the Reno Airport.

She adjusts her black and green scarf so that it continues to cover her neck. Still smiling and occasionally burying her nose in the flowers, she talks and her voice blends melodically with the casino sounds. I smile and nod, add a comment when appropriate, and try to keep my face happy.

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My car isn't fancy or expensive, and a bit cozy for two people and luggage. Lorna doesn't mind as she loads her stuff in the back, though she has to cram some stuff in with her shoulder. She slides into shotgun and I help her with the seatbelt, which is rather sticky.

"Did you go to that concert?" I ask. I'd bought us tickets months in advance. We'd planned to go to California for one night and hear some music, but my job got in the way. Maybe you could call it fortunate, but we were the kind of friends that didn't care if one said 'I can't make it. Take someone else'.

She nods, smiling at the memory. She tugs at her long sleeves. There's something I should find odd about that, but I can't quite place it. "I went with a friend." She says.

The tone in her voice makes me feel awkward.

"Your friend a boy or a girl?" I blurt out, and the look I receive in return tells me what she's about to say before she even opens her mouth.

She's beautiful even angry. "It was a guy, okay? Or do you have a problem with that?" She snaps.

I stop myself before I can grind my teeth. "No, no problem with that." I lie.

She puts her hand on my hand, letting them both rest on the steering wheel. It's a calming touch that makes me shiver.

"Please, Bobby, we're just good friends." She says, and I can't help but notice that she's looking at her roses when she says it.

"Yeah." I say, a bit too quickly. She squeezes my hand reassuringly, but it feels more like we're shaking on a deal, a contract.

"I'm not that tired, you know? Wanna go to a cafe?" She asks me, gazing out the window. We pass the sign welcoming us to Carson City, with State Capital written below the name. It was always her joke that they only wrote that for the idiot tourists who thought Vegas had a mayor's office.

She had said, on occasion. "You'd never see that in Sacramento, even tourists know the capital of California. Then again, maybe it does say 'State Capital'. I don't know, I've never been there."

I sadly realize that I'll never hear her say that again. She's been to Sacramento now.

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The cafe is fairly quiet at eleven p.m. A street musician outside is playing Elton John music, cars growl as they drive by and the odd insomniac chats over their drinks, but nothing seems to disturb the sense of peace.

Lorna's ordered a soy latte and I decided to try chai tea for her. We take a table next to the window, sitting across from each other, sipping politely.

She puts her soy latte down on the table and seems to wander off in thought for a moment, then turns to me. "I'm going back in two weeks. I've got a nice place to stay, and I'm not sure exactly when I'll be coming back."

She says it as nicely as possible, but I get the impression that California's sucked her in, and she's not sure if she'll be coming back at all.

She tells me about how different California is from here, and I'm surprised to hear that she isn't glamorizing the coast. I get the feeling that Carson is a much more home-like place for her, just like it is for me.

While she's talking, I only pay half attention. Her scarf has started to slip down, and I think I see something on her neck. At first I thought it was just the light filtering through the green and black material, but after a little while I don't think it can be.

"Lorna, what's this?" I reach my hand out to her neck and she recoils, bringing her hand to her neck and drawing the scarf tighter.

"It's nothing." She says quickly.

I reach again and she grabs my hand and puts it on the table. "Is that a bruise?" It suddenly occurs to me why she's wearing long sleeves when she usually prefers tank-tops.

"It's nothing!" She says fiercely. Her eyes catch mine for a second, but she looks away.

I stare at her in a mixture of confusion, anger and pity. "It's from that man you took to the concert with you, isn't it? Did he hurt you?"

She stands up suddenly. "I think I can walk home from here. Thanks for the drive." She walks out of the cafe.

I follow her.

She walks fast. I can hear the steady sound of her jeans swishing against each other at the knee. The street musician looks at me in vague interest, but keeps playing his music.

She starts to slow down as soon as she reaches the less-crowded streets. I put my hand on her shoulder and she jumps slightly.

"This isn't the guy you're going back to in two weeks, is it?" I ask, but the fear in her eyes betrays the answer. She turns away.

I turn her around. "I can't believe you're doing this to yourself!"

She averts her face because she's too proud to cry. "What I do to myself is my business, Bobby."

"Why are you going back to this guy after he hurts you?" As I ask it, the next thoughts force their way out of me. I can feel all the built up questions and pain starting to spill over and I can't help it. I don't want to think about the consequences just yet. "Why do you go to a guy that hurts you, when I'm here for you? I care about you! I do everything to show I love you and you'd rather go to a man that hurts you! Does he ever give you flowers like that? Why go to a guy you can't trust when you can be loved by me?"

"Listen to me, Bobby!" She says as she grabs my wrist. "I'm grateful for all those things you've done for me-"

"And you still go to a guy who beats you-"I'd give almost anything if I could just stop my mouth right now, just so I could stop seeing her flinch, so I could stop hurting her.

"-But I'm a grown woman and it's not up to you to run my life!"

And suddenly I'm struck dumb. I wonder if that's how she thinks of me, clingy, controlling. Being silent is hurting just as much as when I was talking.

I can see her cheeks redden as she fights back tears. I'm her witness as the first drop starts to fall.

"Bobby, before I do anything, I need to be Lorna first. Not 'Lorna and so-and-so'. I need some space."

"Are you...just afraid we won't work?" My lips are numb and he words come out with a dull monotone.

She shakes her head and more tears fall, running down her cheeks, along her nose, taking small trails of mascara with them. "I'm afraid we will." I can't understand what would be so wrong about that. Her eyes are pleading with the ground because she can't look at me. "I'm afraid I'll never be anyone besides your girl if it does work."

"I can't let you go back there." I say softly, knowing I can't stop her but willing to do anything so she doesn't hurt herself more. Her scarf has slipped down again and the bruise is dark against her light skin.

She wipes away her tears. They shine beneath the street lamps. "I don't love Alex. I'm going back to tell him I'm leaving him for good."

I nod, and in the next instant I say the words that will change us in a second.

"But I love you. Why won't you stay with me? Here, in Carson?"

We both regret it as soon as it slips from my mouth. She looks at me sadly, and gently removes my hand from her shoulder.

"If you really loved me, you'd let me make my own decisions." She reaches up, cradles my face in her hands, and kisses me on the cheek, polite, friendly. "Take care of yourself."

She walks away, straightening her scarf again. I watch her as she goes, but I don't get any feeling from it. I feel like my torso's been hollowed out.

I walk in the opposite direction, back towards the cafe. I see my reflection in a shop window – there's still a trace of lipstick on my cheek. Before I go home, I pass the street musician. I throw a five-dollar bill in his guitar case and he plays me some Beatles.

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Fin – 13/9/04