The front door creaked open and Ben glanced up sharply, snapping shut the book in his lap in the same movement. Soft footsteps approached and after a moment, Juliet peeked around the corner. For a second, the two of them just stared at each other. Then Ben's eyes fell on the bundle of objects that Juliet was hugging to her chest.
At that, Juliet smiled a little and said, "Hi."
Ben returned the half-smile and swiveled his wheelchair to face her. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
She glanced down at the things in her arms and took a few steps into the bedroom. "I was packing and I found some of your things. So I thought you might want them back."
After a brief hesitation, she set the collection down on his bed and started to organize it. Several books, a shirt, a garlic press, and -- he felt his stomach twist sharply, unexpectedly -- a small, framed picture of him with Alex.
Juliet didn't look at him as she flapped the shirt out and fitted it onto a hanger. "You don't have to do that," Ben said idly. "I may be an invalid, but I still have some capacity for movement."
Hanging the shirt in the closet, she said, "I know you do." For a moment, she stood with her back to him, gazing into the closet. He watched her, his own expression carefully blank, and didn't say anything. Finally, turning around, she finished, "But I thought I'd do something nice for you."
"Ah." Ben tilted his head to look at her face as she came closer. She'd always been taller than him, but he'd never felt it so acutely as now. It was a vanity she would laugh at if she knew he harbored it. "Sit down?" he said, inflecting his voice with just the right amount of suggestion into his tone. She wouldn't if she thought he was making demands.
Briefly, he thought she wasn't going to anyway. She seemed poised just on the edge of flight. He recognized it. It was the way she'd looked all through the crumbling of their relationship. But always, always he'd gotten her to stay. Even when she'd finally left him, she couldn't pull away totally.
Juliet sat down gingerly on the bed and seemed, for the first time, to really look at him. She opened her mouth to say something, then apparently thought better of it and glanced at the large, leather-bound book in his lap. "What were you doing when I came in?"
Ben looked down and gave a short laugh. "Just looking at old pictures." Casual. Like it didn't matter. "One grows desperate for something to do when movement from the waist down is impossible."
She laughed, not unkindly, paused, and then asked, "Can I see?"
"See?" The question caught him off guard.
Juliet met his eyes. "What pictures you were looking at."
For a split second he hesitated, considered refusing. But then, with a shrug, he opened the photo album and wordlessly handed it to her. She took it carefully, their fingers brushing each other's lightly as it exchanged hands.
Several minutes passed while Juliet paged through the photos. They were photos of the two of them, and often Alex. His little family, dysfunctional as it was. The silence between them was broken only by small noises of recognition from her. Eventually, she looked back up at him. Something shadowy hid behind the blue of her eyes. "I had no idea you'd kept all these," she told him quietly.
Ben shrugged again, awkwardness creeping into his movements. "You always said I was a pack rat."
"That's why you kept them?" she asked dubiously, her voice still soft.
His casual expression twitched, then fell away as he swiftly glanced down to hide that fact from her. "No."
The room grew very still. Such a contrast to all the noise from outside -- lawn mowers, sprinklers, the children playing, Tom and Jack yelling to each other across the lawn while they tossed a football back and forth. Ben knew Juliet wanted to say something; knew it by her absolute motionlessness. "What is it?" he asked. "You're leaving in twelve hours, you can speak your mind." He smiled a little.
She pressed her lips together and knit her brow. "You are letting Jack and me leave, then? Really? This isn't another lie?"
Ben's smile became crooked. "Don't trust me, Julie?"
One of her eyebrows shot upwards. "No."
"Then let me reassure that yes, I'm really letting you and Jack leave."
She nodded and turned her eyes back to the photo album. After a moment, she reached over and picked up the framed picture that she'd brought with her, staring at it momentarily before setting it on the photo album and handing it back to Ben. "You can add that one to your collection. It's a nice one of the two of you."
He cocked his head, studying the photo in its little silver frame. He remembered when it had been taken, two and a half years ago. They'd gone for a picnic -- Juliet, him, and Alex -- because he'd wanted his lover and his daughter to spend more time together. The picnic part had been Juliet's idea, though. It had been a good one. And a good day. A stab of some bitter feeling shot through him, made worse by the fact that he realized that he'd never be able to remember that day happily, ever again.
Ben looked up and met Juliet's eyes. "You keep it," he said, extending his arm and offering it to her.
There was a long moment during which he though she would refuse, but then, slowly, she took it back. "I might think this place was a dream if I don't have proof, I suppose," she said wryly, a tiny smile flickering on her face.
"Exactly what I was thinking," he replied, his tone level. Lies, from both of them.
With a breath of laugher, she stood up and made her way to the door, photo in hand. At the threshold, she paused and turned around. Her face was hard to read and conflicting emotions played across it. Ben just watched her and finally she said, "I'll come by later. To...say good-bye."
He inclined his head slightly. "Okay."
Juliet nodded and was gone. The front door clicked shut behind her a minute later.
Ben closed the photo album and wheeled himself over to one of the bookshelves in the room. After a second's thought, he replaced the photo album where he'd found it. No point in dwelling over ghosts. He was going to have plenty of time for that.