Title: House Beautiful
Summary: Lindsay tries to make it work. But hearing is selective, promises are flimsy, and nothing is perfect. (Complete.)
Disclaimer: As expected, I own nothing.
A/N: For Ali, Lydia, and Leigh, and all the other fabulous Branch Breakers who make me happy when they write. To Ari because when I say something negative, she says something positive.
Lindsay was beginning to get nervous. She chewed on the top of her pencil while her classmates worked around her. While she was by no means the best in class (the sought-after title had already been claimed by the mousy Rory Gilmore), she was at least a well-behaved student. Every night after dinner, she sat at the kitchen table and filled out her math sheets with her favorite glitter pencil. Then she took out her language arts book and read the required story, following along with her finger. She always did what was asked of her even if it wasn't perfect.
But today, the teacher was absent, and a substitute had been instituted in her place. This new woman, Mrs. Walsh, was nothing like Miss Brown. She was too short and a bit on the round side, looking like an oversized globe in her blue and green dress. She flew into the room, her nose stuck high in the air, ignoring the choruses of greetings from the students.
She completely disregarded the lesson plan in favor of making up her own assignment. She went to the chalkboard and wrote in harsh, precise script: After Happily Ever After. "This is an exercise in creative writing," she announced, her voice large and commanding. "I want each of you to think of a fairy tale and write what happens after the end of the story. An epilogue by each of you."
Most of the kids were thrown off by the use of the unfamiliar word epilogue, but nonetheless, everyone opened up their notebooks and began scribbling away. Ten minutes passed in the form of fervent scratches, but Lindsay's paper remained blank.
What would Mrs. Walsh say if she didn't write anything down? What if she got in trouble? Had to stay in for recess?
It wasn't that Lindsay was trying to be difficult. She had already decided to use Cinderella as that was her favorite Disney movie, but she had no idea what to write down. The prince and Cinderella were happy and in love – they were married, and that was the end. She was having trouble seeing the future beyond that one singular event.
"All done," the girl next to her sighed. She placed her pencil in the notch on her desk and sat back in her chair. Lindsay's eyes wandered over to the girl's paper, drifting over the words "After Happily Ever After" at the top. The phrase seemed to contradict itself, but Lindsay ignored it. Instead, she studied the next line, and blushed when she saw that the girl had used Cinderella. She wouldn't be able to use that one now. It would look like she was copying.
"Cinderella and Prince Charming have three kids," the girl whispered. Her name was Ashley and she had never directly spoken to Lindsay before. They were only casual neighbors in the classroom.
"What are their names?" Lindsay asked politely.
"I don't know." Ashley shrugged, as if the details were unimportant. "But they drive Cinderella crazy. They're always crying or whining."
"Oh." Lindsay seemed dismayed. "What about the prince?"
"He doesn't like kids much. He's busy being king, but he likes to see Belle. You know… from Beauty and the Beast?"
"He sees Belle?"
Ashley nodded with a smug smile. This was something she had previous knowledge on. "They kiss a lot," she whispered.
"The prince wants to divorce Cinderella, but she's too busy with the kids and therapy to notice."
"Oh." Lindsay nodded as if she understood, but divorce was an unfamiliar word, much like the term epilogue was. Both were foreign concepts, just out of reach of her nine-year old mind.
"My mom goes to therapy," Ashley confided. "I kind of used her here. Don't tell though."
"I won't," Lindsay promised, sliding away from the girl into the protective space of her own desk.
Her head felt funny now, brimming with new information. Far away, she heard the teacher say there were only a couple of minutes left to finish. Quickly, Lindsay jotted down a short paragraph about how Sleeping Beauty fell back unconscious shortly after she married her prince. Sadly, she never woke up.
Lindsay had lived in Stars Hollow her entire life on the corner of Olive and Fig. Her home was located on the outskirts of town, only yards away from anywhere else, places full of a separate civilization aware of a world outside of themselves. She never thought much about what lay beyond her backyard though; she was perfectly content with her happy home.
Since she could remember, her house had been a gorgeous sight, fairly typical of what was on her road, and the next one over, and the one beyond that. It was pale blue, with a manicured lawn and white shudders and expertly trimmed bushes that were enough alone to land the property on the cover of House Beautiful. Her dad had always been proud of the land, spending his weekends outside primping and cutting, encouraging his wife to start a garden of her own. Often, they worked outside together. Lindsay's childhood had been rather simplistic when she thought about it now. Like a plastic bubble of a small town, where outward tragedies were for the worrisome people in other faraway places.
Even though she was considered a small town girl, there was the vague thought that she didn't look the part. Relatives and family friends always told her she was beautiful, pinching her cheek or petting her hair. She was thin and taller than her friends, a brown eyed blonde that was a blue tinted step away from being a pretty cliché. Sometimes when she looked in the mirror, she thought she could be a city girl, or at least from a moderately large town. A place, any place, where everyday she could pass people she had never seen before, let alone consider saying hello to. But her thoughts were transient, gone before she could turn sideways and pout her lips and realize that if she was a half inch taller, she would make a perfect runway model.
Her first boyfriend said something like that. They were in his father's car (parked in the driveway as the boy was only thirteen), talking about the grammar test they had taken earlier that day. He had failed, but Lindsay had aced it thanks to her concentrated review of the material the night before. He called her smart, which was something she didn't hear much because usually she only squeaked by. School was a hobby for her; a stepping stone that would eventually lead to the rest of her life. For now, it seemed trivial.
Then the boy called her beautiful, and she blushed, turning her face away from his. Most of the time she felt too tall. She was taller than the boy by at least two inches. It was awkward for her, stuck as a gangly misfit that was so close to being pretty.
"You could be a model," the boy suggested. "I would take your picture." Really, the boy was a pervert-in-training, preparing for a career full of homemade business cards, and bogus slicked back ponytails, so he could look the part when he told girls he'd make them famous. He would specialize in the theft of naivety and innocence, but for now he was only trying to cop a feel.
Lindsay had her first kiss in the front seat of a 1991 Chevrolet Camaro while the radio played white noise, stuck on a dead station. The experience was good and new and special, and for a few moments, it was forever.
"I read a story today," Lindsay announced out of the blue, sitting near her husband in their living room. Dean was stretched out over the couch, face angled toward the television set. She could only see the top of his head, but knew he wasn't asleep from the occasional change of the channel. This was one of his earlier nights. He had been home for dinner for the first time in two weeks.
He made some sort of sound, halfway between a grunt of carelessness and acknowledgment. Unfazed, she continued.
"It was from my English book. For my Literature class," she clarified. "I was going to go and see if I could sell it back to school today, but I got distracted."
"Oh," he said.
"It was a short story, Popular Mechanics. Raymond Carver wrote it." She liked how she recalled the name; had it stored up in her memory. Facts like this brought a change within her. She sat up straighter. "It made me think…" Dean shifted positions; the remote slipped off his chest and hit the ground.
"I've decided to set up a pool in town," Lindsay said, shifting gears. "A bet."
"Oh," he said again.
"People will have the chance to place bets on us," she went on. "About when we'll get divorced." She let the final word hang in the air, but there was no change. "We can set up boxes to collect cash in town. I bet even Luke will support it." She curled up into the fetal position, barely balancing on the small surface. Resting her head on the arm of the chair, she said, "And we get to keep the money. I bet we'll make a lot. People never pass up a sure thing."
She picked at the fabric covering the chair. It was maroon and soft against her face, but lately she had noticed it coming apart at the edges. Patches here and there had deteriorated; the threads were ragged. She pulled.
"I don't want a baby." It was a statement that related back to her original point of the one-sided conversation. The story she had read.
"Baby?" Dean asked, sitting up to look over at her. Somehow, the word had filtered in. "You're not pregnant, are you?"
"What?" The question stung. Most husbands would have asked their wives if they were, not if they weren't.
"I thought you were on the pill!"
"Then how did this happen?" he demanded.
"How did what happen? I'm not pregnant."
"But you said…"
"I didn't say anything, Dean."
"We're not ready for a baby. You know that with my hours and with you going to school… we can't do this now."
"I know! I'm not suggesting we do."
"Our money is limited, and —"
"So what?" she asked. "Why would it be so bad if we had one? We're married. Married couples have babies all the time."
"We're not ready."
"We were ready to get married." She twisted in her seat, looking anywhere but at her husband. "You're too worried about money. You know that if we ever really needed it, my dad —"
"Your dad has done enough."
"He just wants to help."
"We don't need help!" he shouted, standing up.
"Yes, we do! I go to school, and you work two jobs… the money he gave us as a wedding gift was meant to pay for where we live. You know he said he'd give us more if we need it."
"Yeah, he's just the gift that keeps on giving."
Dean sat back down. He grabbed the controller from the ground, dropping it into his lap. "You're not pregnant?" he asked quietly.
"I'm not pregnant." All the things she had wanted to say, reasons for why she did not want a baby, collapsed within themselves. Her head felt full, stuffed with cotton. "I'm going to bed."
"Goodnight," she tried.
The room tilted, but she found her way. She was up for hours, even after Dean had collapsed beside her, exhausted. Once he was asleep, she inched closer to him, resting her head on his shoulder. Soon, her breathing evened out.
On the morning of the wedding, her mother sat her down on her childhood bed and took her hand in her own. Her skin looked ivory in contrast to Lindsay's tan. It was a disconcerting difference as if the gap had been forming without either's knowledge. It was too large now to stop.
"Married life is tough," Theresa Lister told her daughter. Outside the room, bridesmaids were chasing each other down the hall, looking for eyeliner (the blue – it matched the material) and the butterfly clips they needed for their up-do. In between chaotic squeaks, the girls giggled over the past summer's parties and the excitement of college, and all the boys they had already met. They sound so young, Lindsay thought. She didn't feel that young.
"But it's wonderful, too, I promise." Theresa smiled because she was still happily married, naively unaware of the high divorce rate that existed in places that weren't Stars Hollow. The first two years of marriage are the hardest, she didn't say. You're too young, she forgot to remind her only daughter.
"You have to let the man think he's in charge," Theresa went on with a wink. "They have to feel as if they're always in control. But we ladies know better, don't we?" She patted her daughter's knee. "You have to be kind and understanding and patient, okay? Nagging is for old spinsters who nag their husbands away."
Lindsay nodded. She understood: feign helplessness, make him feel important. Be patient. Roll over, play dead.
"You look beautiful, baby." Theresa kissed her daughter on the forehead and squeezed her hand. She stood and left the room, head held high, smile intact. Sophisticated and delicate, Lindsay had always thought. Her mother was a woman – grown up and respected. The ring on her left hand signified all the responsibilities and importance that came with a marriage. Her mother was strong.
Dizzy, Lindsay stood up and walked to the mirror that hung over her desk. Her father was supposed to have taken it down already; she wanted to put it in her new home, next to the antique bureau she had prematurely inherited from her grandmother. The color of the mirror's frame matched perfectly, and Lindsay wanted a set. She wanted it all to fit.
She studied her reflection. She wore what her father called a fairy princess dress, complete with a trail that would flood the church steps. With a flick of her wrist, she sent the white gauze rustling, swaying against the high heels that elevated her another two inches.
She felt too tall suddenly; a giant too far from earth. Her pulse throbbed beneath clammy skin, and crying seemed imminent, ready to ruin her makeup. She was making a mistake. She was ruining her life. She was trying to have it all too soon. She was –
She forced Dean to the front of her mind.
Her panic subsided, the butterflies in her stomach resorting to a placid kind of flutter. Dean was her family now. They were going into this together. He would be there at night to help her cook, to tease her about her carelessness when bleaching the whites, to remind her of the upcoming mid-term she had forgotten to jot down on the calendar.
For a second more, her hands shook violently, the nerves in her body blazing before burning out. Then with a clear head she smiled, remembering that today was the first day of the rest of her life.
Lindsay sat cross-legged on the dance floor, watching Miss Patty's class practice their routine. The girls were a blur of pink sequins and fairy wings as they twisted and leaped and step-ball-changed in front of a handful of parents. Lindsay remembered her three-year stint as a jazz/tap/toe student: the Monday, Wednesday, Friday practices, the early Saturday morning dress rehearsals, the Sunday afternoon recitals. She had brought home the certificates and ribbons given to all the performers, thoughtful tokens to show she had participated. She had never been very good, and had always been restricted to the back, her head bobbing inches above the other girls.
A tiny brunette with puffy red cheeks ran over when the song ended, complaining that her skirt was too loose. Lindsay sent her over to Lorelai who stood a few feet away. Lorelai had graciously volunteered to help with costumes, while Lindsay was there to do makeup and hair. The girls had a performance tomorrow, and today was the last day of preparation. Miss Patty was harping on perfection, and the girls were trying their hardest. Lindsay was just happy to be out of the house.
After a few final stitches and the promise to bring more foundation for the real performance, the parents left, their daughters twirling out behind them. Miss Patty flounced into a nearby chair, lighting up her seventh cigarette of the day.
"I need a drink."
"Miss Patty," Lorelai scolded, pulling up a seat of her own. Lindsay saw this as her cue to leave and began to gather her makeup and hair accessories.
"Lindsay, sweetie, you don't have to go. Grab a chair, take a load off."
Lindsay picked up speed, no longer paying attention to what she was shoving in her purse. "Oh no, I can't. I should get home and make dinner."
"Oh, that's right. Without you, Dean doesn't eat." Miss Patty laughed. "I always forget that. You certainly don't look like a married woman."
Lindsay blushed, uncertain what Miss Patty meant. She threw her purse over her shoulder and took a last look around to make sure she had everything.
"So how is married life treating you, dear?" Miss Patty asked.
"Oh, it's…" Lindsay rolled her hands in the air, trying to spit out something feasible. "It's good."
"You two still in the honeymoon stage?"
Lindsay shook her head. "We're more in the… adjusted stage."
"Well good. You've settled down and gotten into a routine. Although," Miss Patty leaned forward, scattering ash onto the dance floor, "don't get too adjusted. Men are fickle, you've got to keep them on their toes."
"And you've got to keep them happy in and out of the bedroom."
"Miss Patty!" Lorelai gave her a pleading look. She had zerointerest in discussing the sex life of the boy who used to change her water bottle and sit in on movie nights.
"Right," Lindsay said again, trying to be polite. "Thanks for the advice."
"It's a known fact that men want a lady in the kitchen and a thrill in the bedroom." Miss Patty shrugged as if excusing it. "My third husband wanted that and more. He had this Madonna-Whore Complex. He refused to sleep with me, told me I reminded him of his mother!" She let out a boisterous laugh. "What a compliment, huh ladies? His mother! A few weeks into the marriage, I catch him with one of my backup dancers. Now she didn't remind him of his mother."
"Oh, Miss Patty, I'm sorry." Lorelai leaned forward, patted her arm. "I never knew that."
Miss Patty waved it off with a flick of her cigarette. "I wasn't too crushed. After all, you know what they say: if men had their way, every woman would lie down a prostitute and get up a virgin. You get used to it."
"So, Lindsay, what are you making for dinner?" Lorelai stood and folded her chair, setting it against the wall. "Something good, right? Spicy, maybe? I like chicken, myself. Do you like chicken?" She walked over to Lindsay, laying a tentative hand on her back. "Come on, you can tell me on the way out. Bye, Miss Patty. We'll see you tomorrow."
Once outside of the studio, Lorelai let out an exaggerated sigh of relief. "Lindsay, I am so sorry. Ignore everything Miss Patty says. She's not exactly the best to consult on marriage issues. She's been married… well, I don't know how many times she's been married." She forced a chuckle. "I'm sure she could give Elizabeth Taylor a run for her money though."
"It's fine." Lindsay didn't want to discuss this anymore. She wanted to go home and take off her shoes and change into something more comfortable. She had to preheat the oven and find her mother's cookbook, and choose something good to make.
"But besides all that," Lorelai waved a hand at Miss Patty's, uncomfortable with even saying the actual words, "everything's going good? You two are happy?"
Lindsay frowned, uncomfortable with the doubt in Lorelai's voice. Was Dean talking about her at work? She imagined hardhats and hammers and boys grumbling about their girlfriends. The entire thing was so impersonal, a group of coworkers that Dean didn't see outside of the job, yet they probably knew what she said when she climaxed, and the reason she couldn't keep him coming back for more.
"We're fine." Lindsay's voice was short and full of tears. She was going to cry in front of the mother of Dean's ex-girlfriend and the idea made her so sick, she wanted to run away. "We're great."
"Okay. Well, good." Lorelai forced a smile. "I'm glad."
On their first date, he brought her flowers. She was so surprised she didn't know what to say, so she asked if they were real.
"Yeah." Dean held them out to her again. "They're real."
Lindsay took them this time, blushing that she hadn't thought to accept them before. She inhaled their scent, pleasantly surprised at the aroma. For some reason, she had still expected them to be fake, the petals stiff with a plastic smell.
"Dean, these are my parents." Mrs. Lister sat on the living room couch, while Mr. Lister stood behind her, his upper body impossibly large. Lindsay couldn't tell from where she was standing, but she thought Dean was as tall as her father.
"Oh, those are lovely!" Mrs. Lister exclaimed. "We need to get these in water." She took the flowers from Lindsay and disappeared into the kitchen.
"Daddy, this is Dean," Lindsay introduced. "Come say hello."
Mr. Lister was taller. He didn't smile and he didn't say hello when he shook Dean's hand. "This is my little girl," he warned. "My only little girl. Let's take good care of her, okay?"
"Daddy." Lindsay whacked his shoulder, thoroughly embarrassed. "Please don't do that."
"You don't have to worry, sir." Dean was used to this, the imposing parental figure, the threats of injury and death. After dating a girl that had a whole town to watch over her, he could handle one overprotective parent. "I have no intention of hurting your daughter."
"You say that now."
Mrs. Lister sprang back into the room, Dean's flowers carefully arranged in a pale pink vase. She set the flowers down on the end table, admiring her handiwork. "Beautiful," she said. "Just perfect."
"We should get going," Lindsay said, taking Dean's arm.
"Be home by ten."
"Daddy," Lindsay shot him a pout as she backed Dean out the door. "Eleven?"
"Eleven," he relented. "Not one minute after."
"I love you!" She pushed Dean out into the winter air and laughed. "Are you ready?" she asked. "I'm ready."
Her friends had bought her all sorts of lingerie as a wedding gift, putting them in a picnic basket with whipped cream, strawberries and a copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Amazing Sex. Lindsay had gone through the package only once, when she threw out the spoiled strawberries and used the whipped cream to make herself a sundae.
Tonight was different. She felt looser than she had in a while, as if the knots in her limbs had finally unwound, freeing her from the constant stress of the present and the future, and making sure the two fit. She cut the tags off the lingerie and held them in front of the mirror, smoothing the fabric over her flat stomach, turning sideways to see which looked best. In the end, she chose a white babydoll from Victoria Secret, the smell of Miss Patty's cigarette still clinging to her hair. She wrapped herself in a robe, tying the sash tight.
She went into the kitchen, determined to make a special dinner for Dean. Her first attempt at pork chops failed; she misread the cookbook and set the timer wrong, burning them beyond recognition. She threw the charred dinner out, burying them beneath discarded paper cups and old magazines. She made grilled cheese instead, an easy favorite of Dean's, and mixed a pitcher of iced tea, something else he loved.
When he arrived home, the table was set, and the plates were full. He sat down across from her, not bothering to change out of his work clothes. Dirt was embedded beneath his fingernails; he had a bandage wrapped around his thumb, but she didn't ask. Work related accident; he had probably been too preoccupied with complaining about her cooking to pay attention.
"I went for something easy tonight," she said. "I was tired after Miss Patty's."
"Sure," he said. "It smells good."
After dinner, she cleared the dishes as Dean enjoyed a third glass of iced tea. She rinsed the plates and wiped the counters, thinking of her robe and what was underneath. When Dean went to change, she took off her robe and hung it over a kitchen chair. She smoothed down her nightgown and bounced back on her heels and rechecked the sink to make sure she had washed everything. It was empty. The kitchen was spotless, the surfaces still damp from the sponge. She drummed her fingers on the counter, trying to get a hold on her nerves.
When Dean emerged from the bedroom, he dropped onto the couch, not giving Lindsay a second thought. She almost put her robe back on, but thought better of it. The TV flicked on, the sound of a sitcom laugh track floating into the kitchen.
"Dean?" There was no response. "Dean?" she tried again.
"Yeah?" He had his feet up on the coffee table, his cell phone jammed into his pocket, set on vibrate.
"Can you come in here?"
"Yeah, one sec."
A few moments passed before she heard the show end and commercials begin their run. She heard ads for JC Penny and WalMart and a sale at Payless. There was a trailer for the new summer blockbuster followed by an optometrist promoting a new generation of contact lenses, promising clearer vision.
"Hold on!" The channel changed; more voices marched into the kitchen, a boy, two girls, another laugh track.
She approached the living room, not moving past the doorway. "Dean?"
His eyes were glued to the screen. Her grip on the door frame tightened. "Dean," she said again.
"What?" he snapped. "I heard you. What do you want?"
"Can you look at me, please?"
"Lindsay." He sighed, stretched, his head falling back against the wall. "I'm tired, Lindsay. I worked all day, and now I just want to lie down, watch some TV."
He still hadn't turned his head. "I was thinking of making pork chops tomorrow night," she said. "With mashed potatoes."
"I'm not going to be home for dinner tomorrow."
She closed her eyes. "Oh. What about the day after?"
"I don't know, Lindsay."
"Maybe you could make a list for me? Write down the days you'll actually be home. That way, I'll be ready."
"Lindsay, god, I'm sorry. I'll try to make it home tomorrow, okay? But you know I'm working. I'm doing this for us."
She hung her head, suddenly guilty. "I know."
"Everyday I worry about how I'm going to make enough for the bills, if I'll make enough to put food on the table."
"I'm trying here, Lindsay. I'm really trying."
"I know!" She flew back into the kitchen and tugged on her bathrobe. When Dean didn't come in after her or call in an apology, she sat at the table, head in her hands. More commercials wafted in, the sound of empty promises.
On the four month anniversary of their first date, Dean took her to a restaurant in New Haven for dinner and to a show at the Shubert. When they drove past Yale, Dean pointed it out, explaining that a friend of his was going there in the fall. Lindsay nodded politely, barely giving the building a second glance. She was too excited about this night with Dean to give anything else much thought.
Later, when he drove her home, he kissed her sweetly in the front seat, whispering that he loved her. She hadn't expected this declaration, not yet – maybe not ever – but she said it back, her hand in his.
"What are you doing this summer?" he asked. "Where are you going to be in the fall?"
"I don't know," she said. "Spending it with you?" She smiled, kissed his cheek. "I think I'm going to Southern."
"I was thinking of Southern too. It isn't too far, I could live at home."
"That would be nice." Inside, she was ecstatic. She could suddenly see this future with him: classes together during the day, dinners and movies at night. He loved her, and they would attend the same university.
"I like this," he whispered. "You and me."
She blushed. It was overwhelming, this new feeling – this connection, this completion. She wanted high school to end, and summer to fly by. She wanted to attend college with him now, the two of them together in a grownup relationship. It was exciting, these plans.
"Me too." She giggled. "I like this a lot."
He kissed her again, touching her hair. She loved that, she loved his hands, his arms, his shoulders. She imagined this moment stretching far into the future, both of them still happy, still together.
"Marry me," he said.
She inhaled sharply. He looked so sincere, so harmless, with his arm around her waist, his eyes hopeful and pleading. "Okay," she whispered.
The future was clear now; she saw the engagement party, the wedding, the summer of planning. She saw the townhouse and two cars in the driveway, a dog running around the yard, their children chasing after him. She kissed him again, tears in her eyes, and laughed about what would happen next. She didn't need an epilogue to know how this story would end.