A/N- December 24th, 9 PM... not EST unfortunately, but my time. Still, I've been waiting for months to use this line so whatever! This is my attempt to write a sweet, pointless Christmassy fic, even though I'm Jewish and therefore never celebrated Christmas. Ha ha. Hope you'll like it. Let me know what you think!
Disclaimer- you know the drill. Still, own nothing.
New York City never looked so beautiful. It was like looking at a live greeting card. Soft snowflakes were falling upon cars and yellow cabs, passersby, businessmen in dark suits and children in colorful winter coats along with their parents. No one seemed to care much about it. It was Christmas after all. If it was not snowing on Christmas, when would it, right?
She snuggled into her coat and nodded her goodbye to the doorman, then went out to the street. A sudden shiver ran through her, but it wasn't necessarily a result of the cold air. It was all too familiar; the sights, the sounds, the snow… Why was it so difficult to let go of the memories of the past after all these years?
It was snowing when she left ten years ago, as well. She remembered it as if it all happened yesterday. It was in that funeral back in February when she decided that she had enough. No more death, no more sorrow. She had to move away to a better place. She had to start over. So she left without telling anyone. She spent many days on the roads before she decided on her final destination. The City of Angels. Just because it seemed right. She sent them a postcard that said I'm fine. Just needed to jump over the moon. MJ. She didn't leave an address. She had never called.
As always, she pulled herself together quite quickly. She worked hard to pursue her goal, to change, to grow up, to be better. Since the diva within her still needed her stage, and it was hard to get fully detached from show business so fast, she fought to get herself gigs in godforsaken clubs in downtown LA, and some small roles in the city's most crummy theaters.
After endless auditions and even a higher amount of rejections she decided that she had enough of that life. She left LA and moved to San Francisco, where she found what other people might call a 'decent' job, as a secretary in an advertising company. She struggled her way up the top until she eventually became the head of the publicity department, the year before. She was always good at speaking for things she believed in, so it was not really a hard job, just demanding and sometimes stressful. That didn't bother her, at least not in the beginning. This was what she most wanted, after all. It helped her escape the past. But then Libby came storming into her life, and soon she became the head of the department and the job seemed to be even more demanding. She hardly had time to herself, let alone time to spend with Libby, but she couldn't complain. At least she had a steady job that allowed her to live well and pay the rent.
One day she realized that she became another woman in an expensive business suit, one of these women they were always mocking to when they bumped into them on the subway. One of these normal, ordinary women. It was so unlike her, to surrender to the routine of life, but she assumed it was a part of growing up. She used to wonder every now and then if they were different now, as well. Were they even alive? She didn't know. She wasn't sure she wanted to. But every time that question occupied her thoughts, she realized that no matter how far she attempted to go, there was no way to fully detach herself from them, from the memories they all shared. Friendship was thicker than blood, it appeared. She used to think of it as nothing but a childish cliché.
And now she was back in the alphabet city. She couldn't get away with it, not this time. It was expected from her to be there for the company's annual convention, as the new head of the department. Two weeks seemed like forever, but she had no other choice. Besides, Libby had never been in New York. That alone was a good reason to go back.
So many changes, she thought as she made her way through the crowd. The buildings seemed higher, the streets impossibly more packed. Everything seemed to be new, yet achingly familiar at the same time.
She needed to go back to the hotel. She had an important meeting that afternoon, and she wanted to spend some time with Libby before that. They could go to the park, or window shop on 5th avenue. Libby had already expressed her resentment about her spending too many hours in work. They were so much alike, it was scary sometimes. They would spend that evening together, she decided. Right after that meeting, they'd go to have dinner someplace nice. Yeah, Libby would like that.
She walked slowly, hastily, enjoying the snow that fell softly on her hair and face. It was rarely snowing in LA, or San Francisco, which was one of her reasons to choose both of them back then. She missed the snow, she came to realize.
Did it help? Did walking away resolve everything, or did it make things worse? Was she a better person now than the one she had been ten years ago? She wanted to believe that she was, but was she, really?
She was sure of one thing. Libby had made her better. She meant the world to her. For the first time in her life she felt compelled to change for someone, in a way she had never done before. It was difficult at times, especially because she had to give up on so many things, but it was definitely worth it. On that she had no doubts.
She noticed something at the other side of the street, and stopped abruptly. She crossed the street by impulse, feeling an undeniable urge to go there. The gallery was well lightened. There weren't many people inside, but she guessed it was due to the hour. It wasn't a big room, but she took her time walking slowly from wall to wall, carefully observing each and every photo behind its frame. She always enjoyed art, let alone photography, and ever since she got her new position in the company she felt committed to take notice of small details, the things other people never noticed, whether she liked it or not. And the person who took these photos was good. Very good. There was something sharp but soft and sentimental, even familiar, in these photos. Its touch was professional yet emotional at the same time. It was an excellent work. She was impressed.
"This one is my favorite too," said a voice from behind her. She turned abruptly, and her eyes met the green eyes of an unfamiliar young woman in jeans and white sweater.
"Yeah, it's… beautiful," she agreed. "Is this your gallery?"
The young woman laughed softly. "No, are you kidding? I'll never have such natural talent. I'm just helping a friend of mine to run it."
"Oh." She couldn't think of anything clever to say. She knew she should probably get going, back to the hotel, to Libby, but she was fascinated by what she was seeing. She lost herself in another photo when that kind voice spoke again.
"You know, if you are interested in photography you should come here tomorrow. That friend of mine who took all these pictures, he'll be here, he is always glad to speak about his work."
"Maybe I will," she smiled. She didn't even know why she said it. She was interested in photography, but she had a lot of work to do the next day, not to mention that afternoon, and she didn't even plan to go back to meet this person who took all these wonderful pictures, but she didn't want to sound rude.
Soon, though, she forgot all about that conversation. Her work had given her a refuge, as it always did, and it was way after midnight when she made it back to the hotel. She didn't even have a chance to go to that dinner with Libby, who was fast asleep by the time she came back to their room. But the next day, when she left the company building after another meeting, she couldn't help but think back about it. Before she knew it she was standing at the entrance of that gallery again. For a moment she couldn't even understand how she got there.
The woman that was there the day before wasn't anywhere to be seen. It was late afternoon, nearly twilight, so there were more people there now. The tiny room was crowded. She wasn't even sure what was she looking for. Then something at the far end of the gallery made her stop on her tracks.
It was a man, who was standing there with his back turned to her. He was occupied in conversation with another man. He looked about her age but obviously much taller. He was wearing black pants and a navy blue sweater, but the thing that stricken her most familiar was his hair, which was blonde. Real blonde.
Was it him? What were the odds? And if it was, what would she tell him? Should she go there? There were too many questions, too many wonders, but once again she decided to go with her instincts, as she started making her way through the crowd.
She recognized his voice instantly. She had no doubt it was him. She knew it would be wrong to just barge in on him like she was about to do, since he was so deep in conversation with that man, but she just had to, before she'd lose her courage.
He turned around immediately and seemed to recognize her, for he gave her one astonished look and his jaw nearly dropped. "Maureen?"
She nodded and offered him a weak smile. "Hi."
The man who was standing next to him excused himself and left. There was a bit of awkward silence as they stood there, just observing each other. As far as she was concerned, it was as if the other people in the room had ceased to exist, and it was only the two of them in the small room. Mark stared at her for the longest time, as if having hard time to believe it was her. "You look… different," he said eventually.
Another woman in a suit. "You look the same."
He laughed. "Is this a good thing or a bad thing?"
"I don't know. Is different good or bad?"
"I'm not sure, it's just…" his voice trailed off.
"Are you still living in New York?"
"Yeah. Never left. You?"
"No, I'm here for two weeks or so, on Business." It sounded so unbelievable, so amazingly boastful and even phony in a way; she could not believe she was the one saying it. She sounded like a stranger, even to her own ears.
Apparently, he thought the same, for he now cocked an eyebrow at her, obviously amused. "Maureen Johnson, business?"
"I'm afraid so," she laughed in spite of herself. "Are you still in filming?"
"Yeah, pretty much." She actually knew that. His name was mentioned in some of the San Francisco magazines every now and then, credited for some independent film or other he directed. Though she never fully read them, she always felt proud when she caught those references. He deserved to be known and successful. And it made her happy to know that at least one of them got on the right track. This was what he always wanted to do, after all.
"Is the photographer a friend of yours by the way?"
He smiled. "Why do you ask?"
"Oh, just interested."
"Do you like his work?"
She looked around her and smiled at him. "Yeah, I do, it's…" then she suddenly realized something and looked at him. "Is this your gallery?"
"Yes, it is."
She shouldn't have been surprised. He was a successful director already, so it was obvious that everything else was only a matter of time. And it was about time that other people would appreciate that natural talent he always had. She glanced at him and caught him looking at her. He blushed slightly but didn't look away.
"Are you in touch with the rest of the guys?" She told herself she was only trying to make a conversation and break the awkward silence, but found herself waiting impatiently for his reply. She did miss all of them, she realized, even after all this time, all her failing attempts to let go of her past.
Mark shook his head. "Not really," he said, and his face wore a weird expression. "They're all gone."
Hearing that was much more painful than she thought it would be. It felt like a knife that went right through her heart. The last time she had seen them was in Mimi's funeral, back on that cursed day in the middle of February. She looked at him sorrowfully but said nothing.
As if assuming she wanted to hear more about it, he continued. "Collins passed away five years ago. Roger… he died last Christmas."
She could hear the pain in his voice as he said it, and couldn't help but pity him. He did what she avoided doing. He watched them all go. And she imagined how horrible it must have been for him, losing them all like this, one after the other, especially Roger, who was his best friend forever. "I'm sorry," she said eventually.
"It's a bit late to be sorry now, isn't it?"
She was taken aback by the tone this question carried. It was accusing, bitter, so unlike the Mark she used to know. And yet, the worst part about it was that deep inside, she knew that he was right. She should have been there with them. She shouldn't have run away. But it was too late to be sorry, too late to fix everything. Way too late. "Look, Mark, it's been too many years, I'm not going to apologize-"
He cut her off. "I used to hate you for leaving us to deal with this shit alone," he said. His voice softened; it was no longer that nasty, unfamiliar tone. "We couldn't track you; you didn't tell us where the hell you were going. We knew you went to LA by the stamp on that postcard but everywhere we looked we got to a dead end. So we gave up on you, just as you gave up on us. But then there were other times, especially after we lost Collins, when I thought… that maybe I should have done the same." He paused, as if lost in thoughts, then asked a bit hesitantly, "How's Joanne? Are you two still…?"
Oh, talking about ancient history. She laughed softly. "Mark, I haven't heard from Joanne ever since she dumped me ten years ago." It happened couple of weeks before Mimi died, when they all spent hours at the hospital by her bedside. But Mark couldn't know that, she had never told them.
"Oh. Sorry," he said quietly, as if embarrassed.
She smiled reassuringly. "Don't." Joanne was definitely part of the past; among other lovers, men and women, she had since then. As her gaze wandered from his eyes downwards, she suddenly noticed he wasn't wearing any ring. "You're not married," she observed. It came out more as a statement than a question. She was surprised. A sweet guy like Mark didn't get hooked yet? Was that possible?
It seemed to take him by surprise. His gaze followed hers. "Huh? Oh, yeah, I…" he laughed. "I guess I've never found the time."
"I always figured you'd be the first of us to get married."
He smiled, pretending to look apologetic. "Sorry to ruin this for you," he said, and looked at her inquiringly. "And you?" It was asked only half heartedly, as if he believed he knew the answer.
"Divorced." He tried not to look stunned, but she knew he wasn't expecting this. She smiled. "Sorry to ruin this for you."
"Were you married for long?"
"Nearly a year, until I realized what a bastard he really was." He was much more than that, but she was tired of long explanations, and Mark was always too polite to stick his nose in other people's business anyway.
"I'm sorry to hear that," he said eventually.
She shook her head. "Don't be. Marrying him in the first place was pretty stupid." It was the first time she admitted that aloud. It wasn't so bad to admit it as she assumed it would be. Then, without realizing she was saying it aloud, "Can I see you again?"
He hesitated. "Why?"
She looked at him honestly, and tried not to fall too deep into his eyes. They were in the same mesmerizing bluish color as they were so many years before, when she had first fallen for him. His expression was different now, less dreamy, more down-to-earth and mature. "I missed you." Mark returned her look, his expression uncertain. She thought about what he told her a moment ago. They're all gone. There's only us, she suddenly realized. She couldn't let it go. She took one of her business cards out of her purse and handed it to him. "Here. That's my card. If you ever get to San Francisco…" her voice trailed off. Their gazes locked.
Mark gently took the card from her and examined it. "You made a long way," he said quietly, looking back at her.
"I think we both have," she replied, and moved closer. Guided by instinct once again, she laid a small kiss on his lips, then pulled away.
He didn't look completely shocked, just a bit surprised. "What was that for?"
She smiled. "Just… for old times." She stopped herself from tousling his hair like she used to do back then. "Goodbye, Mark." Maybe it was for the best, she told herself as she turned to leave the gallery. It probably was. Yet she couldn't help but feel a little disappointed.
"How about a dinner tomorrow?" she heard him ask. She turned and gave him a slightly surprised look. She wasn't expecting this. He shrugged. "Just… for old times."
She smiled as her own words echoed back at her. But then another thing occurred to her, and her smile slowly faded. As much as she wanted to see him again, she knew it might get complicated. He must know the truth. She needed to tell him about Libby. "Mark, I want to be honest with you," she started hesitantly. "I'm kind of living with someone." Yeah, THAT was very honest, she scolded herself.
Was that disappointment she detected in his eyes? "Will he mind you'll go to dinner with an old friend?"
She smiled mysteriously. "You're assuming it's a he?" He gave her a puzzled look, so she went on. "It's not a 'he', and no, I don't think she'll mind."
"How long were you together?"
"For quite some time now," she said vaguely.
She wanted to see him the next day. She had a meeting the next afternoon, but she didn't think it would last very long. And she'd handle Libby. She just wanted to spend as much time with him as she could before she'd have to move away again. "Dinner tomorrow will be great," she said eventually, feeling a new confidence. He still looked dubious though. "Look… my cell number is on that card. Give me a call tomorrow?"
"Okay," he finally relented. "Okay, I will."
She smiled. "Okay. I'll see you tomorrow then." She turned away and was about to leave again when she heard him calling after her again.
"I missed you too." They shared another smile before she turned and left the gallery.
It was nearly 10PM when she got back to the hotel that night. She didn't even realize how late it was until she went out of the elevator and glanced at her watch. She took the key card out of her briefcase and opened the door, repressing a yawn. It was warm in the dimly lit suite. Though she had never liked hotel rooms, she found the warmth somewhat comforting, especially comparing to the freezing cold outside. She suspected it would be snowing again soon. Only for that moment, the room felt almost like home.
"Maureen?" asked a female voice as she put her briefcase on a side table and took off her coat. Soon afterwards a young woman entered the living area of the suite. "That was one busy afternoon."
"Yes, I know, I'm so late, I'm sorry… I'll pay you the extra hours, Robin, don't you worry about it."
"That's okay. I have no life," said Robin smiling. "And I'm not here because you pay me, how many times do I have to remind you that."
"How was your day?"
"Great. We went to see Santa in the mall, and then this afternoon we went ice-skating. She really wanted to see you but she was worn out. Fell asleep the moment her head touched the pillow."
"Sounds like you had fun. Here," she took some money out of her purse and handed it to the younger woman. "Sorry I kept you until now. Get out of here."
"I'll see you tomorrow morning then?"
"Actually, I might need your help tomorrow night too. Unless you've got other plans…"
"Told you. I've got no life. I'll be here."
"Great. Thanks Robin."
"Hot date?" asked Robin winking.
She laughed, Mark's image filling her mind. Anything but that. "Good night, Robin."
"Yeah, yeah, I'm out of here…" Robin grabbed her backpack and her coat and left the room, waving her goodbye.
She stayed where she was standing, looking at the door moments after it was closed. She was lucky to find Robin, she knew. She was the niece of one of her colleagues, a student that happened to come home for Christmas and looked for a job to pass her time. They got along marvelously from the moment they met, and even more importantly, Libby adored her. It seemed like the perfect arrangement for all of them while she was working.
She slipped out of her shoes with a sigh of relief, and left them on the floor as she made her way down the hall and into the bedroom.
A lamp on the nightstand gave the only light in the room, illuminating a figure that was sleeping soundly under the covers in the king sized bed. She smiled and watched her for a long moment from a safe distance at the doorway. She looked angelic in her sleep, so peaceful and innocent, her long dark hair falling softly on the pillows. Moments like this reminded her of why she did everything the way she did. For the first time in her life, she didn't do things for herself, but for someone else. It felt strange to realize that at first, but so true at the same time. But then, it worked the other way around, too. She wouldn't have gotten anywhere if it wasn't for Libby.
She smiled as she sat on the edge of the bed and watched her more closely. Moments like this caused all the doubts and second thoughts she had long ago to slowly disappear. She was lucky to have her. They were lucky to have each other. She caressed her hair softly and leaned her head against her cheek. What was she dreaming about? Did she know how much she meant to her? Did she even realize how much happiness she brought into her life?
Libby's eyes fluttered open. "Mommy?"
"Shh… go to sleep baby," she murmured, looking at her five-year-old lovingly. The girl nodded and closed her eyes again, cuddling against her mother and drifting back to sweet slumber.
Her thoughts drifted back to what occurred hours before, to the gallery, to Mark. He was right. She made a long way, but so was he. She told him he looked the same, but he was obviously changed as well. It's been ten years since the last time she had seen him, after all.
She slowly let go of the sleeping child and entered to the bathroom to get ready for bed. She still had a lot of work to do, but she decided to leave it for the next morning. She entered the bedroom and got under the covers, holding her daughter closer to her. She breathed her sweet scent as she closed her eyes.
She wasn't sure why she gave Mark obscure hints about Libby instead of telling him directly. It wasn't because she was afraid of what he would think, because never gave a damn of what other people thought about her, even before she had Libby. And back then, anything seemed better than raising Libby with a man who never wanted her in the first place. Besides, if she knew Mark as she thought she still did, it wouldn't even bother him. She'd tell him tomorrow, she decided, when he'd call. If he'd call.
Soon she was fast asleep as well. Outside, in the city that was once her home, the city that held some of her happiest, but also her saddest memories, it was snowing again.
I consider to write a part 2 for this, in Mark's POV this time. Just a thought so far, but stay tuned, it might happen.
Marry Christmas everyone.