El Fin

For myself

Because I posted this, even though it's rubbish.

"Oh, bugger!" Jane stared helplessly after the retreating bus before glowering down at her wristwatch. "You're a dirty liar," she accused it hatefully, fighting the urge to stamp her foot and shouting a nasty word after the vehicle's grey backside. She dug through her purse until fingers curled around the cool, plastic frame of her cell phone.

Silence, and then: "Hallo. You have reached Simon Drew. My phone's a piece of rubbish, but leave a message and let's hope I manage to get back. Have a good day."

She waited for the tone before crying, "Simon. I missed the bus. My ruddy wristwatch didn't have the right time and I've just watched the stupid thing disappear down King's Street and I'm so so sorry, please don't be angry. I'll do everything I can to make it on time—even brave taking a taxi, and we both know how bad that can turn out, what with my awful Spanish, but if I'm late just go on without me and I'll meet you lot at the church, okay? I love you, and call me back if you get a chance."

Jane flipped the phone closed, sighing regretfully. Perfect. Her brother's wedding day and she was going to be late. She tugged at the bottom of her dress that her mother had insisted she wear ("Jane, you're a woman now; it's time you dressed like it!"); it was too short and too tight and she felt entirely uncomfortable in public. Not to mention the terrific heels that she had absolutely no balance on and caused her to wobble with every step.

Added to the fact that she was smack in the middle of Madrid with very limited grasp of the Spanish language, Jane felt rather justified in her fowl mood.

She spun around, managing one full step before her heel caught in a crack and she went flying face-forward into the arms of a total stranger.

"Oh, I'm sorry," she gushed, forgetting for a moment to speak Spanish. "Er . . . I mean . . . lo siento?"

The chest that she was trying to disentangle herself from chuckled. "Not to worry . . . I don't speak enough Spanish to know if you butchered that or not."

Jane felt sudden relief flood through her as she brushed herself off. She smiled shyly, tugging once more at the bottom of her flowered dress as the man knelt down to pick up her purse. "Oh, well, be thankful for that. I really am terrible."

He stood, offering the bag with a lopsided smile . . . that abruptly fell off of his lips as soon as he met her eyes. "Good God," he breathed, "Jane Drew."

She stared at him blankly, trying to match his face with any name that she could respond with. His right hand absently went to his forehead, brushing aside a mop of brown hair to expose familiar grey eyes. A smile overtook her mouth and she felt a thrill shoot up her spine. "Will Stanton!" She cried, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear.

Will grinned, enveloping her in a hug that sent warmth all the way to her toes. "It's been a while," he said, but his tone was laced with the same cautious hesitance that she remembered from their childhood.

"Yes, and whose fault is that?" She scolded lightly. "You never responded to any letters or calls."

He shrugged mildly, but she noticed that his eyes were fastened to her chest. A soft blossom of red spread over her cheeks. Stop it, Jane, she ordered silently. This is Will. "Your necklace," he said by way of explanation, as though he'd heard her thoughts. "Where did you buy it?"

She glances downward in surprise, hand automatically drifting towards the tiny green stone that hung on a gold chain. "Actually, Bran gave this to me—that summer in Wales, do you remember? He found it in his pocket and . . . I don't know, I've always thought it was lovely. Simon and Barney had it made into a necklace for me on my sixteenth birthday."

The mention of her brother sent the color from her face, and she remembered now the cause of her earlier haste. "Oh, Will, I'm so sorry but I have to go. Simon's getting married today—can you believe that?—and I missed the bus so I'll have to take a taxi and – "

"That might not be the wisest idea, what with your lacking Spanish skills," Will interrupted gently. He seemed to hesitate before offering meekly, "Would you rather I just drove you?"

---

The first few minutes of the drive felt awkward, and Jane did her best to ignore the creeping sensation that Will regretted his offer to help. "I'm sure you'd be welcome to come to the ceremony, if you wanted," she managed finally, unable to think of anything else.

He sent her an amused look. "Thanks for the invite," he laughed, but there was a certain sadness to the sound that Jane could not quite place. She arched an eyebrow at him questioningly but Will simply shook his head. After another moment of silence he asked, "So you've kept in touch with Bran, then?"

She smiled, half to herself and half at him. "Well, I shouldn't think that you could possibly date a person without the odd letter." That threw him; Jane could tell but the sudden tightening of his hands on the wheel, and the way that his shoulders seem to stiffen. She touched his arm. "Are you all right?"

She was rewarded a tense smile in response. "Of course. I'm just surprised. You and Bran? Really?"

Jane sat back, puzzled by his inability to believe. "Yes. Unlike certain Englishmen I know, Bran and I spoke periodically over the years, and he's at a nearby university now. We had coffee one day, lunch the next, and then . . . I don't know. I've always felt a strange connection to him, and . . . " she trailed off, embarrassed. "Nevermind."

"No," Will said, although he avoided looking at her. "Go on."

She blushed as she mumbled, "I've always felt this strange . . . awe of Bran—and not because of his looks or anything. It's just that I feel like he can be so much more, like there's this . . . this specialness inside of him that's just begging to be acknowledged."

Instead of satisfying him, her words seem to make Will even more ill at ease. She wondered, fleetingly, why he hadn't bothered to keep in touch with anybody. Quietly, unobtrusively, an old feeling began to emerge in her stomach: resentment. She'd had such a crush on him, back then; she'd been sure that there was nothing that this boy could not do. For one summer, they'd been such close friends and everything seemed perfect. Then . . . nothing. Gummery disappeared. Will disappeared. Simon went to boarding school and little Barney suddenly became all-grown-up Barney. She'd written him letters—Dear Will, everything's suddenly so different and I just needed to hear from you.—but he'd ignored them, each and every one.

"Didn't you keep in touch with Bran?" She asked, a little too loudly to sound disinterested. "I thought he was your best friend, back then."

"Jane," he said gently. "I realize this will be hard for you to swallow, but I need you to drop the subject and try to understand that I'm sorry if I hurt anyone, but I did what had to be done at the time."

She blinked. Such a solemn answer, as though ignoring her letters bore utmost importance in some greater cause.

Then again, Will always spoke like that. She was beginning to remember now; he'd always been odd, dissembling questions in that mild manner of his. She looked out the window, Spanish trees tripping over one another, blurring brown and green and bright against the sky.

"So where have you been?" She asked finally, unable restrain herself. "What have you been up to?"

He didn't answer at first, and she was certain that he wouldn't. But then, so quietly that she nearly missed it, "Watching."

"Watching what?"

And then he smiled the old Will Stanton smile, the same one that charmed her as a fifteen-year-old on top of a Welsh mountain. Jane was surprised to find that it still caused jolts of shyness and attraction to tease goose-bumps from her arms. "A bit of everything," he told her vaguely, and she accepted that this was his final answer.

Jane absently toyed with the stone around her neck; an old habit. She'd always felt like this stone tied her to Bran somehow, to Wales, to something deep and lovely and just out of reach. Much, she realized, like Will. "I've missed you," she admitted, as he pulled in front of the quaint little church.

He looked at her then, and in his eyes she saw what she'd always wanted to see—I've missed you, too, oh god I've missed you all—before he hoisted a false smile onto his face. "I'll see you around, Jane," he answered without emotion. "Tell Simon congratulations."

She looked at him more closely, realizing that this may perhaps be her last chance to see him. "And Bran?" She asked, quietly, nervously.

A look that neared pain flashed across his face. "Bran," he murmured, the long a-vowel rolling off his tongue. Her boyfriend's name always sounded important, when Will said it; her own name took on a poetic tinge when escaping his mouth. "Tell Bran . . . tell Bran that I . . . " he couldn't seem to finish the sentence. "Tell him 'goodbye'."

He met her eyes then, fierce and blazing and near panic. "Be happy with him, Jane," he urged, his face so far from the mild Will Stanton that she remembered. "Be happy with whoever you choose, in the end."

She looked at him, puzzled, feeling as though he were drinking the sight of her, grateful suddenly for the tight dress. "Will—"

"You'll be late," he interrupted, face stony once more. "Have fun. Be safe. You should go."

And Jane felt her legs moving, her arm pushing open the door even as her mind shouted, Stop! What are you doing? But she could no more stop than she could stay; Will had given an order, and for whatever reason she needed to obey. "Goodbye, Will," she says, and for once her feet have perfect balance.

"Goodbye Jane."

And even as he drives away, even as Bran puts his arm around her shoulders, even as Simon says I do, she thinks that she can hear the gentlest hint of music, on the wind.