A/N: Well this took a freaking long time. I myself am extremely upset that American Dreams won't be returning for another season – it was one of the best shows on network television, in my opinion, and NBC was very ignorant to cancel it. This chapter is in memory of that lovely little show, and for Nicolle, who betaed this, and who is the most forgiving person I have encountered in a rather long time. Thank you so much.
This is loosely based upon the 1/9/05 episode.
Italics indicate flashbacks.
She realizes it when she sits on the brick back steps on Saturday morning. She supposes that denial has kept it at a distance for a while, or maybe it's something she hasn't quite yet learned to recognize.
It had started when she woke up and the snow was barely a flurry's memory. Whispers of white ice slid on sheets of air and when she rolled onto her stomach and pressed her nose against the glass, she could almost smell the cold. Round fingernails traced the glass until she could see through it, mouth blowing hot air like silvery smoke. Behind the dotted sky she saw his house, like hers but made of brick.
A red nose, matching dawn lips, downy blonde curls, and checkered pajamas made their way quietly down the stairs and into the kitchen. It was eight o'clock, but Chris Pierce was, among the myriad of sometimes questionable qualities he possessed, Bored. She made tea and leaned against the counter and watched him shoveling snow off of his driveway.
He met her eyes once and she noticed almost too quickly.
…And then she was outside, and it was cold and the flurries were not a memory but a presence, and she was numb from something other than the cold. He pretended not to notice that she sat on the back steps, feathery flaxen curls blowing softly over her cheeks and catching on the bridge of her nose, snowflakes peppering her eyelashes.
She found herself trying to look pretty in tartan plaid flannel, and not blinking her eyes so that the snow would stay on her lids. She remembered reading something once, about a boy who had fallen in love with a girl simply because she had beautiful lips. Meg ran her tongue nervously over her own.
So this is the moment. She sits, and she realizes it. She mouths the word, rolls it around on her tongue, tastes it, and imagines writing it in the snow.
She realizes what was making her numb besides the cold. Her eyes are wet from staying open too long.
"I'm leaving now." His mother stands in the doorway to the bedroom, arms wrapped tightly around a charcoal coat. He closes his eyes and squeezes them tightly and prays to God that when he opens them, she'll be dressed for a dinner with that cop.
No wonder Chris isn't one for religion (which is funny because it always seems to draw him in). The coat hangs at her knees and he sees black fishnet stockings and leather pumps. He wonders for a moment where she keeps the bunny ears when she isn't working.
The stare he gives her is blank, a blank canvas. She has nothing to work with.
"I figured." It's blank, too.
His mother fidgets with the tweed belt on her coat. "Well," she replies, a tight smile sewn onto her face with white thread. "I love you, baby." She doesn't bother to hug him.
He watches as she leaves the room, black pumps clicking on the white floor. He hears the screen door shut, creaking from the rust. His ears hurt with a gray noise.
Right now, he is Relatively Spiteful, but he makes up for it with Guilty.
Meg can't really remember the conversation. Are you home? she had asked. It was quick, and the phone was melting in her hands. She thinks she can feel the plastic sticking to her fingers, which are flushed violet from the chill, as she trips excitedly down the sidewalk. She feels a rush of stale air in her lungs and her throat stings and her eyes are tearing. It makes her feel better.
She gets the key to the apartment from Roxanne and almost feels it melting too as soon as her hand closes around it. I need to go someplace private with him, she had complained desperately. There's something I need to tell him. I want to make it a special date, Roxanne. What I have to tell him is special. And private.
What are you going to tell him?
I love him, she had said. I love him.
The next conversation is like talking to her palm. The phone really has melted and is lying in a puddle of black plastic on the floor at her feet. She pulls a lost curl behind her ear and stops breathing. Hot air might make her hand melt, too.
He answers on the last ring. He always does.
"Do you want to meet me tonight? It's important." It's quick. Her fingers are slowly beginning to soften. It amazes her how saying something out loud can make the cold air thaw so fast.
This conversation seems quicker than the previous one. As soon as she hears the dial tone, she scoops the melted phone off the floor and places it onto the cradle. Her hands continue to dissolve and she runs scared up the stairs.
He comes with a pizza box. At first, she's irritated because something hot won't necessarily keep her hands and face and feet solidified and intact. She can feel herself thawing on cue and he grins crookedly, all the while trying to absorb some of that wild ice blue from her eyes. It's too bright and her irises make it difficult to see much else. He pins her as Unaware (of what he feels, maybe).
He sits after her. She kicks her shoes off, trying to stay discreet, but he can't help but notice as she struggles to smooth her skirt out, heels curled up underneath her bottom, that her hands are scalding red.
"Where's the fire?" he asks.
"Don't make jokes, Chris," she snaps, surprised at the ferocity in her own voice.
Chris thinks he noticed that ferocity brewing even on that night when they first kissed in the alley behind the school with white paint on their fingers.
"Thanks for the…" She gestures nonsensically, painting with a color she isn't quite sure of.
The skirt is finally smooth enough for her, and the painting is just awful and suddenly there is nothing for Meg to do with her hands.
But hands are words at the right time of day.
Pizza is an awkward word, an irrelevant detail, a worthless and forgotten concept. She is a color television set. Wild blue everything and ruby lips and those goddamned flaxen ringlets and pink hands running through his hair and dancing down his back.
It's peculiar how quickly time comes and goes, how ephemeral it is, how cursed it is when it's not there anymore.
It was raining and her feet were shaking from the booming, hollow sounds of the subway underneath her feet. She couldn't tell the difference between the thunder and the train wheels trembling on metal rails. He cupped her face in his hands, trying to feel the pink in her cheeks.
She pulled her hood up so her hair wouldn't get wet and began to kiss him again. She thought it was really great, kissing in the rain. She could pretend she was kissing him goodbye, that he was leaving for good; she was his quixotic lover, and he was her shady romancer.
Lover. Lov-er. Lover. She kisses his lips in their exact center, trying harder to envision his departure on a train car. He would ride away from the station, staring with intensely blank longing while she wept silently. He would write letters to her with details from all of his travels – and they would be signed, Your Lover. One night, Meg would sit at the station on a bench by the platform, weeping for her runaway love, hoping that the next train would bring him back to Philadelphia. And then, there he would be…standing in front of her in the pouring rain,
just like he was now.
Meg laughed contentedly against Chris' mouth.
"Lover," she whispered in between breaths while he kissed her wet face.
Naïveté was as ephemeral as time in Philadelphia.
White easel. Crisp, smooth, pure.
Blue, red, yellow – primary colors and primary paints. Vivid red. Bright deep blue. Yellow everywhere.
The Liberty Bell is not far from here. Vietnam is thousands of miles away. Between his arm and her stomach is a total of three and a half inches.
He is watching her sleep, because he thinks that if she wakes up and locks eyes with him, she will find him romantic and all of that blue will bloom. He can't help but be one clichéd sack of beating heart right now. Somehow all of that black ink has been used up on the night sky and that one lone candlewick is making his blood course and her face glow.
In the last passing hours, he has thought often of God and of his hands, and her hands, and His hands.
Not too much later, Meg's eyes open and her eyes sear through his, burning him in an almost pleasant sort of way, like the silky, thick feeling of a sunburn before the pain sets in. A flash of that thin white paint on the brick wall on a dark night leaps across one of Chris' synapses. She conjures.
"I forgot to tell you before," she whispers, making the faintest sort of watercolor sound.
"Hm?" he means to say, but it doesn't come out because she sort of drains the noise from him and makes him shift closer, blank white sheets crinkling softly.
"I love you, Chris."
The flickering shadow of the small candle flame floats on his face and she can't help but smile at his silence. He is what he is, she thinks briefly. I love black curls.
He reaches a hand out, tentatively, touches the hollow between her collarbone and throat. "I love you," he whispers back.
And then he kisses her, and she moves closer, and he sees red and blue and yellow everywhere and she can taste a warm sort of white smoke in his mouth.
Let me finger-paint you.