I am alive. I will be continuing This Used To Be My Playground when I actually get up off my butt and edit the, I don't know, 3000 some words I have written. Anyway, this was a birthday gift for the amazing Evablue. Other than gifts, you'll never catch me writing Sean/Emma.
I have a confession to make. I never really loved--
He sighed in frustration and scratched out the millionth line on the millionth page.
Hey. Look, I should have...
He crumpled up the entire page and threw it toward the garbage bin, missing by a mile. He took another sip of his coffee and scribbled down a few more lines, each meeting the same fate. He'd promised himself he wouldn't get drunk, ever--not since the last time--but he wished he could go back on his word. He groaned, but it didn't help, and so he stared out the window into the twilight instead.
It wasn't the first time he'd stared at the paper and pen as if they were alien creatures that he'd never seen before. He suspected that it wouldn't be the last. No matter how hard he tried, the words wouldn't come. He didn't know if he even wanted them to come. Fists were one thing. Physical fights were easy. But talking, writing--that's what was hard. That's what took courage, when he was honest with himself.
"Refill?" He hadn't even realised that he'd been sipping from an empty cup for the past five minutes. He grunted, which the waiter--some junior high school punk--took as assent. Sean didn't even know if it was or wasn't, so he supposed he'd go along with it.
He passed the pen from hand to hand, then used the tip of it to dig some grease out from under one nail. He wiped his fingers on his shirt, realising too late that it, too, was covered in motor oil. But when he paused to think about it, it didn't really matter all that much. He was who he was, and that was simply the end of it.
He reached for his coffee again before remembering that it had been taken from him. He supposed that was a sign that he should cut down, but there were more important things to be concerned about--like the letter that he couldn't write, for instance.
He tapped the pen against the edge of the table, click-clicking and paying it no attention. There was only one couple in the other corner of the shop, and he didn't notice them staring at him, shooting daggers at his not-so-rhythmic noise. "Here's your coffee, sir." Since when was he a sir? He wasn't that old, damnit!
The bell above the door rang, but he hardly noticed it. "Coffee, black, please." The voice came a moment later, from the direction of the counter. It sounded familiar and when he turned to look, he recognised her immediately--and she him.
"Sean," she said, abandoning her order.
"Emma. What are you doing here?"
She shrugged. "It's Toronto. I live here." She couldn't quite suppress a smirk.
She was older, but so was he, he realised. Her hair was longer than the last time he'd seen her, straggling halfway down her back. Her eyes were black and he couldn't figure out where the exhaustion ended and the smeared mascara began. She was dressed up--a navy dress, conservative below her knees, but showing a touch of cleavage--but somehow, she didn't look fancy. She just looked weary.
"Oh, right." She looked confused, and amused, and he realised it had taken him a moment to respond. "I, uh, hadn't seen you around. Lately. So I'm just--"
"What are you doing here?" she broke in. "Last I saw, you were still in Wasaga." There was a hard edge to her voice that he couldn't miss.
He shrugged. "I grew up. This is where I needed to be. I have a little shop now, repairing and restoring old cars. Nothing fancy, but..."
She nodded. "Where you needed to be," she repeated, and even if he'd been imagining her animosity before, there was no question of it now.
"What have you been up to?" There was no point in calling her on it, so he pretended it wasn't there, instead.
"I graduated yesterday. From U of T."
"Oh, congratulations!" He was genuinely pleased for her, and it took him a moment to realise that she was not. "Shouldn't you be out celebrating?"
This time, she was the one to shrug, and he realised that she was still standing awkwardly halfway across the room. "Um, want to sit?" he offered. "It's a table for two." The words sounded absurdly light even to his own ears.
She kicked the chair out and plunked down into it. The waiter brought her coffee and she accepted it wordlessly, only nodding when he asked if she wanted it at that table.
"So, um, you graduated," he prompted.
"Yeah." She took a sip of the hot drink and swore under her breath as it burned her tongue. "A, um, Bachelor of Social Work."
"Oh," he said, trying to cover his surprise. "I never thought you were interested in social work."
"It pays. I got a scholarship. It's okay, I guess. The curriculum was easy."
"It's university. How easy can it be?"
"Easy." They lapsed into an awkward silence. Sean slowly tore the paper cup into strips, while Emma stirred and stirred within her own cup.
"How's the family?" Sean asked at last.
She stiffened at the question. "Fine, I guess. Jack's, um... Jack just had surgery."
"Wow. That soon after your graduation?" He should have asked what was wrong, was he okay, was she okay, but he didn't. He never quite understood social pleasantries.
She let out a rough snort of laughter. "They missed the ceremony."
"Oh. I'm sorry." He finally remembered to ask, "is he okay?"
"Just something minor, thank God." As bitter as she might have been, as stilted and as false, this much was true. He could sense it in her; the relief ever present when she spoke about her brother.
"Thank God," he echoed. "And you?" He wasn't sure if he should venture into personal territory, but what the hell, she was Emma.
"I'm--I am," she admitted, after a moment of reflection. "I'm not exactly speaking to my parents. I know it's petty. I know it's not their fault, that Jack's health is supposed to trump everything else, but..."
"But it was supposed to be your day?" he guessed.
"Yeah, I guess that's it." She cracked a smile, finally. "I think I'll give them a call tonight. Just saying it made me feel more foolish. I talked to Jack for just a minute yesterday before the ceremony began, and he sounded good. But I haven't talked to them. I should."
Sean nodded. "You should," he agreed. He didn't know what else to say, so he did his best to make something up. "It would be good for both of you."
She laughed, a soft chuckle that lit up her eyes, and he remembered who she was. "Nice try," she said. "But leave the counselling to someone with credentials."
He laughed too, not because it was particularly funny, but because he was relieved to see her--the her that he was accustomed to.
"Sorry," she said.
"I haven't exactly been good company. Doom and gloom, or whatever we used to say."
"It's been great," he said, and he meant it. He had almost forgotten the tilt of her chin and the way she held herself with a certain confidence. He'd forgotten the way she owned the space around her--and the way she made his palms sweat.
The waiter interrupted them before he could continue. "I should get going anyway," Emma said reluctantly.
Sean gathered his papers, covering them with his hand before she could see her name. "Writing a novel?" she asked. It was the polite way of voicing curiosity.
"Not quite," he said, his cheeks flushing. "Just... a letter to an old friend."
She nodded. "Can I walk you home? Keep you safe from all the big bad thugs in Toronto?"
He laughed again--she could always make him laugh. "Why not." He offered her his arm, Broadway-style, but she wrapped an arm around his waist instead. Friends he reminded himself. She just wants a friend.
Neither of them was quite ready to let go, and they were both secretly relieved when they saw a park bench. They'd never noticed it before--maybe it hadn't been there for long, or maybe they'd just never needed it.
"Um, it's a long walk," Emma said, although she didn't know whether it was or not--she didn't even know where he lived anymore. "How about a rest."
"Sure," he agreed, and without even thinking about it, he slipped his hand into hers, steadying her as she lowered herself onto the wood. He sat beside her, and she snuggled closer.
"It's cold," she explained, by way of excuse. It wasn't--of course it wasn't--but it was easier this way. It was less painful than actually talking about what this meant, what any of it would mean the next morning.
"I missed you," he admitted.
She looked up at him, her eyelashes shielding her expression from view. "Why didn't you ever call me? I mean, after you and Ellie broke up?"
"Why didn't you call me?" he countered.
"I asked first."
"I guess--I guess I didn't think I deserved you. I ran. What kind of person does that?"
"Your turn." He cut her off before she could make excuses for him. "Why didn't you ever call me, if you wanted to?"
"Why didn't you?" Emma asked again, and he started to protest but this time she cut in. "Well I didn't for the same reason."
He didn't know what to say to that. It was the last thing he was expecting. She didn't know what else to say either, and after a moment, she stood. "I guess we should get going, then."
They could both feel the separation trickling in, filling the crack and expanding it rapidly.
"I guess we should."
"Sean?" She forced herself to blurt it out before she lost courage. "Sean, I saw my name. On your letter." She reached in her purse and pulled something out--a piece of paper, soft and worn from years of unfolding and refolding. "I wrote one too. And I erased it. And I wrote another. And threw it away. And finally, I was left with this."
She handed it to him and nodded encouragement as he tentatively opened it. He stared for a moment, then flipped it over and stared at the back. "It's blank."
"It is," she confirmed. "I could never figure out what to say and I hoped that some day, the words might come."
"Maybe the words won't come because there's only one thing to say," he said quietly. And he leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers, flesh on flesh, completion.