Summary: Will ponders the truth of the statement 'unspoken feelings are unforgettable'. Will/Bella, Scout/Bella, one-shot.
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters from YA or any of the episodes. No infringement intended.
Author's Note: -resigned sigh- Yes, this is one of my YA fics on ffdotnet. I have eaten my words, sold out, pimped self into oblivion, etc, etc. Many, many apologies - I guess the inner media whore found it too hard to resist. I sense a bout of serious arse-kicking coming on.
Why this particular fic, though? I believe it's one of the last stand-alones I wrote that's not rated R, and hence more suitable for this site which has a default filter that rules out R-rated stories. Damn my tendencies to throw around the F-word like there's no tomorrow. Anyway, if you liked this and wouldn't mind reading more YA fics by moi that has a bit more swearing in it, please check out my site. Constructive criticism welcome as always.
ETA 29 April: removed song lyrics in accordance with ffdotnet rules. Shouldn't affect the story too much. If you would like to see the original version, however, it's still up on my site.
"And do you, Bella Banks, take Scout Calhoun as your lawfully wedded husband, promise to love and cherish him, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, 'til death do you part?"
A gold band pressed onto the finger. Cool and hard, a reflective surface, a state of being that I cannot force myself into, much to my dismay.
"I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride."
Smiles all around as the newlywed couple melt into a passionate kiss.
What is my part in all of this? The Best Man. The guy standing beside the groom, the one who hands the rings to him, all the time wishing to be distant and unfeeling, as hard as metal. Gold is perhaps not the best example, for the purer the gold, the more malleable it is. One could bite a 24 carat gold ring and leave teeth marks on it, if one so wished.
Scout had the rings custom-made, three strands interwoven, of rose gold, white gold and platinum. Symbolic of the past, present and future, he said. A crock, as always. Last night I lay wide-awake with the rings sitting on my bedside table, a triumphant sign that fate has won, yet again. I had wanted to put them in my mouth then, to bite down hard, leave my own mark on your marriage.
Marriage isn't just between two people, it binds too the past loves, those whom you will love in the future, and those who will love you… who will always love you. You think your marriage concerns you and you alone? Think again. The Best Man. What a laugh. The best man isn't me. It has never been me. It's Scout, standing there with his lovely bride, having acquired everything worth having in this world. He is the best, the one, the only, the king of the world. Who am I? The sidekick, the best friend, always, always, always.
Andrei Tarkovsky, the late Russian film director, said in Nostalghia that "Unspoken feelings are unforgettable." Well, yeah, whatever. But there is no choice in asserting that phrase, we all try to make our lives as bearable as possible. I know I would give up all the unforgettable memories of my life if it meant everything would have turned out differently. If I had never gone to Rawley Academy, or if you had never met Scout…
Those literary prizes that I manage to pick up here and there, the ones that hold little value save for what social significance we choose to attach to them, the titles I earned at Harvard, and before that, Rawley Academy – the honours are scattered around my feet but they will not affirm what sort of man I could be. What sort of man I might have become, had you been by my side all this time. I would give up everything to be the one up there at the altar, slipping that wedding band onto your finger, lifting your white veil.
But I am here, and I am standing still. It is all I could do, stand here and watch as Scout kisses you and you become, by declaration of the priest, Mrs. Bella Calhoun. In doing so you transcend all the barriers we used to think could never be crossed, and prove once and for all that you have escaped New Rawley… and this life.
We have grown up so fast. One day we're staring at each other wide-eyed on our first trip to kindergarten, the next we're all leaving this place behind. Yet, year after year we come back, congregating in this town, whose streets we know like the backs of our hands.
There is always cause for celebration, or so it seems. Hamilton and Jacqueline Fleming's marriage, straight after graduation; then their respective appointments as Dean of Rawley Academy and the Head of Department for computer sciences; the year after that was the birth of Sean's first child. And now it's you and Scout, after all these years of on again, off again relationships. It is not that I haven't had a celebration or two held in my 'honour', after winning those near-pointless prizes for this novel or that paper; but after all this time I remain alone.
You have no idea of these feelings I harbour, those ones that surfaced at the end of Summer Session, Freshman Year. I gave my heart away at the end of that summer and I have never, ever gotten it back. You don't even know that you keep it in your grasp. You don't know that you will keep it until we're wizened and grey, although chances are, you'll never know.
It distresses me to say that you're the most beautiful today than I have ever seen you. Shouldn't any woman be the most beautiful on the day that she is a bride? That is the stereotype, after all. But I wish it wasn't so. Today I wished, as I rode with Scout over here to the Main Hall of Rawley Academy, that you would look no different than you usually do. Not that you don't normally take my breath away, anyhow.
I just wished… god, I am so selfish but I've moved beyond wanting to even deny that fact. I wished you didn't have to look this happy, as though you have finally found your place in the world. I wished vehemently, fervid as only a desperate man could; because I have always known where my place is. It's with you.
The reception is held upstairs, in the newly refurbished Rawley Hall. All your family are present: Donna, Grace, your fathers – both of them. Jake is the maid of honour, as you were hers. The photographs of the Flemings' wedding are tucked away in my bedside drawer, I sometimes dig them up and gaze over your pictures, looking like you were having an absolutely great time, despite being stuffed into that hideous dress that Jake had chosen for you in some moment of pre-nuptial insanity.
I don't think I'll look quite so much at your wedding pictures, if I manage to get any copies at all. Funny that.
The day Scout proposed, I was the first one you contacted. Breathless over the telephone line, I could almost hear the blush that infiltrated your cheeks and the blood pulsing through your veins. You were laughing and gasping and muttering 'oh my god, oh my god' over and over and over again, and it was the cruellest thing anyone had ever done to me.
However, tonight's speech comes close. I'm the Best Man, I'm supposed to be the one up there striking a fork against the champagne flute, coming up with speeches alternately hilarious and touching, making the parents reach for Kleenexes and our friends laugh heartily at recollections of our younger days.
I do that, for it is demanded of me; but I feel nothing through it. The speech was written and rehearsed from the week you rang me up to break the news. I always knew I was going to be Scout's Best Man, no matter who the bride turned out to be; except it wasn't until that phone call when I finally came face to face with the fact: it was really going to be you. Vis-à-vis, as the pompous academic in me would say. I like the French expression much more than its English counterpart, because the harsh syllables mean that I could spit the words out for once, through clenched teeth.
Every night for the past month, I would demand myself to go and stand in front of the bathroom mirror, that slip of paper in hand. Gazing at my reflection, unshaven face and bloodshot eyes, I repeated the words time and time again, trying to make them sound like I mean them.
The work has paid off, the speech has become a mechanical process, second nature; even my tone of voice, looks, gestures. Everything is artifice, calculated for just the right effect. I could make this speech forwards, backwards, inverted, upside-down, whether I am asleep or awake, and evoke a teary-eyed audience every time. Perhaps if I recite it in my subconscious enough times, when I'm tossing and turning at night, lost in my dreams, lost in memories of you, they may help me get through this.
The speech goes off without a hitch. Both Scout's and your mother begin to cry halfway through, at the exact sentence where I expect them to start. That's the cue for my surprised-but-touched smile, before I move onto the next paragraph.
After dinner Scout takes you into his arms, and you drift into your first dance as a married couple. It's Tender, by Blur, a song that Scout confessed to me only last night was the first song that you ever danced to, all those years ago. There was a radio in the gas station, or something. You were fixing your truck, apparently. I did not need to hear that. I'd rather that this song is some random one you two picked from nowhere and decided was good for the first dance, although the chances of that happening in any wedding must be less than zero. Implicit meaning is key. It's the first dance, man; the first dance to the rest of our lives.
I do not know what it's like. How can I ever have that first dance when I see the road stretching out in front of me, blank and grey and empty, somehow resembling 'the rest of my life', but is in fact just a hollow representation of the real thing?
Afterwards everybody sifts onto the dance floor, the two of you spending as much time together as possible but separating to allow for the customary exchange with each other's parents, that sort of thing. And I didn't know how it came to be that you ended up in my arms while Scout waltzed by with Donna, laughing and chatting. As you lift your left hand to let it rest lightly on my shoulder, the diamond on your engagement ring catches the light, focusing into a blinding white star in my eyes. This happened all the time after you got engaged. I should have gotten used to it, but I haven't. It's a constant mockery of my life, one I cannot seem to shake.
"That was a beautiful speech, Will." You say, swaying gently in my embrace.
"I'm glad you think so." My voice is wooden. Hollow. The sound of an echo, an empty escape of breath. No content, no meaning, no empathy. You do not notice anything out of the ordinary. It is understandable, since I too have nearly forgotten what it's like, not being this way. Not having these damned blissful images of you and Scout perpetually hanging over my head. The pictures stay no matter how much I drink or how many pills I take to help me sleep.
If I ever told you this you'd be worried, and I would reply to you I never take them at the same time. I may be despondent but I'm not stupid, and I love you too much to even contemplate leaving this world.
This world. To me it is bitter, and harsh, and cold; but it's the one that you are in, where you live and laugh and make love to somebody who is not me. But it's okay, sometimes I convince myself it is enough just to have you here, close to me, where I can see you and hear you and inhale your delicate perfume. You wear Monsoon Eau by Coty, I know this because I'd bought it for you, once, for your birthday, and you liked it so much that you'd taken to wearing it always. I bet Scout doesn't know what perfume you wear. A small victory to me then, these are the only things I can grapple at.
Without warning you kiss me on the cheek. "I love you, Will," you whisper.
My blood turns into acid at those words. The bottom of the floor falls away and suddenly we're caught in a void, a vacuum, a black hole. Nothing underneath my feet, no ceiling overhead, nor night sky. I feel weightless as I bask in the sudden swell of emotion.
I know you didn't mean it that way, but could you honestly blame me for wanting to relish the moment? In this sweet glorious second, it is I whom you had married; it is I, and not Scout, who is dancing with you the first dance. You are Mrs Bella Krudski, always, forever. Your right hand is clasped in mine, our footsteps moving in sync: forward, backward, forward again.
"I love you too, Bella," I whisper back, and in that moment everything came true, all the things I wanted, a glimpse of the future I may have had in some parallel universe. Your skin, your lips, your mismatching eyes… all mine. As I am yours, always, forever. We cease to be our own selves and let the other person take control, we give up title over our own identity and claim somebody else in return.
I press my lips against your forehead and you lean forward slightly, into the kiss that you take as a gift, a blessing as from brother to sister. I hope you don't notice the tear that trickles from the corner of my eye, down the plane of my cheekbone, past my lips, a brief taste of bitterness and salt. I squeeze my eyes shut to forbid any more to join that lone tear, transparent, like a crystal drop, now nestled in your golden hair. A jewel, heartbreak, the crowning glory.
Later, when I am alone in the Flemings' guest room, with darkness all around me, I pull out my walkman and a pair of headphones. Half-lying on the fold-out couch, I check the disc inside the player, skip a few tracks, and press play.
Sometimes I could fool myself into submission with music. Having been penned in another place by somebody else, songs have very little intrinsic meaning. It's the meanings that you attach to them that matter, the feelings associated with certain things and certain places, a tide of half-remembered tenderness. Within the crash of the cymbals and morose guitars there lies a world for each and every person alone. It goes beyond any sort of interpretation or analysis. It's what you see, other than blackness, when you close your eyes and let the sound wash over you. It's what happens when you lower the walls around your heart and allow the memories to take brief residence. Euphoria through short, dizzying bursts of pain, like what you could do to yourself, armed with tender flesh and a razorblade.
This song transports me to another time, a time that is not now, a time when I was still proud to be somebody, not this shell of a man I have become. I remember the two of us driving to Carson to buy the new Our Lady Peace album, so many years ago. You'd left Scout yet again, and broke down right there in the middle of the record shop and cried into my shoulder, your hair everywhere, tangled, strands wrapped around me, tender but careless. It is a web you never know that you'd spun, one that weaves me tighter and tighter within as the years go by.
Sometimes I could fool myself into believing this is more perfect than life, that if we had gotten together things would have gone sour somehow and reality would tarnish what is in my mind beautiful and perfect. A beautiful love, a perfect marriage.
But, in the end, it is never enough telling myself perfection can never exist in reality. The truth is, I want it all. I want the fights, I want the tearful make-up scenes, I want the uncontrollable kids and I want the burdensome mortgage for a cramped, dark flat of our own. It is not enough to have this perfect love, this distant love, this imaginary love. I want my love to be real and yielding, I want to taste your skin on my tongue, I want to drown myself in your embrace. And no matter how much I wish for it, dream of it, alone inside my cold and empty bed, your warm body is not really there with me. Nothing will ever compensate. It's not enough. It will never be enough unless I have you, the concrete, beautiful, flawed you; because that is what I need. I am human, after all.
In some ways, my life ended that day in the record store. The Will that you know, the one sitting here smoking a cigarette, listening to loud music in the darkness, is a different person. The real me had long gone into a world of his own, into a place where your love for him is hard and fervent and tangible. This life I live, this person I see in the mirror every day… he is only a damaged replica of that better man on the other side.
That day. It was the place and the time where my life came upon crossroads, and I became two people at once. When I close my eyes I always return to where I began, with you clinging to me for dear life, your golden hair wrapped around us both. And as we stand there in the record shop, as I run my hand soothingly down your back, as this song blasts out of the overhead system, I know we will never grow old, you and I.