Author's Note: Once again, thank you to everyone who read or reviewed or sent me a PM. The show of interest certainly kept me motivated! Another super special shoutout to everyone who helped with this chapter! You know who you are and you know what you did!
I'm done. Go read now. :)
A Year On An Airplane
A hollow bang echoed back in answer, reverberating through the sparsely furnished rooms of her new flat. The door opened immediately into the living room. She found the space littered with brushes and empty paint cans, and the remains of the horrid flowered wallpaper Will had stripped the day before. Flecks of rust and paint chips dusted the once-shining wood floor, the brightest redeeming quality of the entire apartment. The discarded sandpaper strips were an accident waiting to happen.
The little table meant to sit near the door hadn't yet made the trip from Berkeley Square, so she was forced to juggle two cups of coffee and the bag of doughnuts she'd fetched from Starbucks as she went in search of him. The flat was such a mess that she didn't bother to remove her boots, instead leaving the slush that clung to her heels and the hem of her jeans in little melting puddles behind her.
She was careful as she crossed the room, avoiding the sandpaper that would be so detrimental to the finish on the floor if stepped on. The kitchen opened into the living room on one side, separated only by a bar. She studiously averted her eyes after catching sight of a ladder in her peripheral vision. Her kitchen, which had been gleaming with new chrome appliances the day before, likely resembled a war zone after Will's late night without her supervision. She was better off not knowing.
A hallway led out of the living room, taking her deeper into the flat. The bathroom on the right, dismantled shower doors blocking the entrance. The spare room on the left, its purpose undeclared. The hallway ended at her new bedroom, which she'd last seen in a sad state of disorder. The thudding bangs issuing from within didn't sound promising.
Overall the flat seemed absolutely hopeless, a bigger wreck than when they'd started despite the relentless work Will, and to a lesser degree herself, had poured into it over the past three days. He was adamant that she be moved in tomorrow, had promised each day that it would be ready. He had picked the time frame himself, for reasons she could guess but didn't like to dwell on.
He was tired of her being underfoot, he didn't want to risk getting close again, he'd only offered to let her stay out of pity rather than genuine friendship, he was using her presence at his house as a subtle way of telling Richard to suck it.
Anything was more plausible than her naïve hope that he actually enjoyed her company. True, he was kind and attentive and comforting, but something had failed to fall into place between them. He was resolutely holding her at bay, not quite allowing her fully into his life, keeping her poised just on the threshold.
Today would be her last chance to change things between them. She had to make it count. Will would undoubtedly take his opportunity to walk out of her life if she didn't remind him of everything they'd meant to each other once, and what he still meant to her.
She wouldn't presume to know how he felt in return. There had been too many mixed signals over the course of the week for her to correctly interpret anything. She noticed, after the first day of touring flats with him, that he only suggested locations within walking distance of Berkeley Square. He managed to find a fault with every flat that took her out of Mayfair. Most of the imperfections he cited were either fictional or ridiculous.
Then there was the work he'd put into the apartment itself; painting, repairing, installing recessed lighting in the kitchen and crown molding throughout the flat. He allowed her to help with most projects, but usually assigned her menial tasks. Any day when she was granted permission to do more than paint or retrieve tools was an exciting one.
The work, the preference for flats that kept her in Mayfair, to her those things indicated feelings more significant than pity or tolerance. She could feel the fragile thrumming timbres of an old familiarity between them, not as a constant, but in fleeting moments. The resonance of intimacy eluded her each time, without fail, before she could grasp it and hold firm.
She paused in the bedroom doorway, shocked from her analysis by the pristine turquoise-walled space that had seemed so hopeless the day before. No paint cans, no blue tape protecting the molding around the ceiling and floor, no large strips of paint-splattered canvas and newspaper spread underfoot. Her eyes fell to rest on the bed.
The slightly dented, hopelessly rusted antique iron bed she'd found in Portobello Road the day before and fallen in love with. Only it had somehow been transformed into the shining cream coloured centerpiece of the room. The curvy bits ran in smooth arches, rather than occasional right angles. The missing bed knob, and the remaining three, had been replaced with gleaming crystal spheres that threw tiny rainbows to dance on the walls.
Then she noticed Will. He was responsible for the noise, his current task hammering a paint scraper into the little space where the window met the windowsill. He didn't acknowledge her, entire absorbed with his work and whatever song his iPod was blaring.
This was good. She could take a moment to gather her thoughts, work out what she meant to say. If she could talk to him now, really talk to him, tell him…what, exactly? Putting feelings into words, coherent sentences, seemed such a daunting task. Especially before coffee.
She crossed the room and nudged him with the toe of her boot, leaving a wet spot on the leg of his jeans. Will visibly jumped at the unexpected intrusion. His head snapped up and the hammer cracked sharply against the wall at his inattention.
"Shit," she agreed, pressing her lips tightly together to hide her smile, and nodded at the hole he'd just knocked in the bedroom wall. He blew out a defeated sigh and tugged the headphones from his ears. "What were you doing, anyway?"
She passed him one of the Starbucks cups and sat beside him on the floor, back resting comfortably against the wall. The paper crinkled as she unrolled the top of the bag of doughnuts, but that wasn't where her attention was focused. She watched from the corner of her eye as Will set his tools on the windowsill and moved to sit.
She willed him to sit beside her, just that tiny indication that any advances she made wouldn't be wholly unwelcome. He chose to sit on the opposite side of the window instead, leaving two feet of blank open space for her to traverse. She plunked down the bag between them in a vain effort to make the expansive gulf less damning.
"We painted the windows shut," Will informed her, sounding more amused than perturbed as he plunged his hand into the doughnut bag. She found it unlikely that he had been careless enough to contribute to the mistake. She had been the one to paint around the particular window Will was working on. He was only being nice, taking half the blame.
"And we made a nice gaping hole in my bedroom wall," she added, choosing to be flip rather than deliver another of her apologies Will found to be so inadequate. She had taken his earlier words to heart, resolved never to bother him with the sentiment again.
"I can fix it," Will assured her, entirely too smug in her opinion. She made a show of examining the hole, running her finger along the broken edge of drywall. She took a thoughtful sip of coffee and lifted an eyebrow in skepticism.
"Like you fixed the window?"
Will flung the last bite of his doughnut in her direction, a deft retaliation to her teasing, and pushed himself away from the wall to stand. He reached down with one hand to help her up as well.
"Be nice, or I won't give you the tour."
A tour sounded promising. It suggested the apartment wasn't as hopeless as it had initially appeared. Elizabeth allowed him to tug her to her feet, and felt a pleasant surge of surprise when Will's grip around her fingers remained firm. He hadn't been particularly enthusiastic about physical contact earlier in the week.
He led her back into the hallway, stopping first at the spare room. It had been very much like the living room, last time she'd seen it. A layer of dirt and debris coating the floor, paint cans and discarded tools piled haphazardly in corners, the most atrocious wallpaper imaginable.
"Ready?" Will asked. The undercurrent of enthusiasm behind his tone was infectious. Elizabeth felt a fraction of her constant anxiety about the apartment vanish.
He reached into the room and flicked the light, radiating pride as he awaited her reaction. The room looked almost identical to her bedroom, although slightly smaller and minus a window. The walls were painted and the floor was clean. All that remained was to decide what sort of room to make it.
She gave Will's hand a squeeze, intending to say something, but that small act of gratitude was enough for him. He was off down the hallway again, this time leaving her to follow in his wake. She joined him as he was heaving the pair of shower doors out of the bathroom entrance.
She had complete faith in Will, but there were limits to what even he could accomplish. She loathed that bathroom. There was no counter space, no storage, and the previous owner's idea of a shower was a claw-foot tub with a plastic curtain hung from the ceiling.
Again Will flicked the light, and another much larger portion of her ever-present anxiety and worry disappeared. The floors had been tiled in a pretty yellow-tan color. The walls were a soft neutral brown with gold flecks of paint splattered on. Somehow Will had found space enough for shelving, and had built a cabinet around the base of the sink and added a little tile countertop. She now had a shower/bathtub combo that just happened to fit perfectly the width of the room.
Will pushed her inside and squeezed in behind her. The room hadn't been designed for two people, and it was a tight fit. He didn't seem to notice how closely he pressed against her as he moved toward the shower. She certainly noticed, and took it as a positive indicator that her subtle efforts to win him back were paying off.
His next big reveal consisted of sliding the frosted, mostly opaque shower door back. It retracted smoothly into the wall, completely out of the way, and she couldn't figure out how the hell he had done it. The walls of the shower were tiled in a brown and gold mosaic pattern.
"Well?" Will asked impatiently. It seemed he had grown tired of her non-reaction.
"It's perfect," she told him at last, but even that felt inadequate. It seemed to satisfy Will, however.
"Now the kitchen," he demanded. They moved in to the hallway once more, and on an impulse, Elizabeth took his hand again. Will faltered, his progress slowing significantly. She watched confusion and surprise replace his enthusiasm.
She immediately felt that she had made a terrible misstep. She hadn't taken care to make the hand grab friendly enough. It was soft and intimate and everything that she should have realized would get Will's defenses up. She felt sure that she had pushed him too far too quickly, despite the indicators she had sensed before that perhaps he was ready for more.
Will flinched under her touch. She waited for him to pull his hand away, and the sting of that silent reproach. Had she been seeing things that weren't there? Did she want him back so badly that she had overanalyzed even the slightest aspects of their time together, twisting them into favorable encouragement for her advances?
Will relaxed, tentatively accepting her with a slack grasp of his own. Even so, she resolved to hold any more rash impulses at bay. Subtlety was the way to win him over. She would make sure they had an enjoyable day, she'd be nothing but pleasant and engaging and helpful, she'd offer to cook dinner later tonight if the opportunity presented itself. Anything she could think of to make him see that he'd be better off staying in her life than leaving.
He remained visibly uncomfortable until they reached the kitchen. Once there he left her standing against the wall and moved the ladder into the living room, then came back and pulled away the large sheets of plastic that covered the appliances.
The chrome shone brightly under the new lights Will had installed, and he showed her how to slide the dial up to brighten them or down to make the room dim. By that point his uneasy behavior had vanished. They fell into what had become a routine.
She sat and made a list on a yellow legal pad of everything they needed to buy. While it had been mostly paint and tools and other construction paraphernalia on the previous days, today her list was comprised of household things, small appliances and kitchen tools and accessories.
Will made a separate list, a checklist of work they needed to complete. His list was comparatively short and consisted of nothing more than cleaning up the living room and fixing the hole in the bedroom wall. They were reaching the end of the project, and Elizabeth was running out of ploys to convince Will to stick around.
Most of the day was devoted to shopping, the afternoon to cleaning. Miraculously, when they turned out the lights and locked up the apartment, it was ready for moving day. All that remained was to haul her stuff from Berkeley Square to Grosvenor Square.
They picked up Chinese takeaway for dinner and caught the end of a James Bond film on television. Despite the pleasant tone of the evening, Elizabeth still felt uneasy. Nothing special had occurred, she hadn't managed to impress upon Will how greatly she would enjoy his continued companionship. Her courage came in waves, granting her the bravery to make little gestures like grabbing his hand, but when it came to actually stating the way she felt with words, her resolve shattered. She felt in her heart that he wouldn't return the sentiments as fervently as she delivered them.
Later, showered and clad in pajamas and slippers, she sought out her elusive bravery and harnessed it for a final attempt at Will. The route from his bedroom to the living room was a familiar one now, no longer unnerving or daunting as it had been that first night.
She found the door to Will's temporary sleeping quarters closed, which was a bit odd but not really a disheartening development. He had always left the door open a crack on previous nights, she noticed when she came down for a midnight snack or something to drink in the early hours of the morning, but perhaps he had simply grown tired of being accosted by Riot before daybreak. Certainly the closed door and all it implied wasn't aimed at her.
She knocked softly and curled her fingers around the cool metal of the doorknob. Will didn't respond, but she could hear the television still going from inside. Her announcement had been lost amid the noise.
Elizabeth turned the knob and pushed. The door creaked a little, but didn't open. The knob rotated a fraction of an inch then refused to move anymore, although her fingers continued to slide to the left.
It was locked. Will had locked her out.
She slowly released the doorknob and moved quietly back down the hallway to the stairs. Her pride burned with the affront, her courage diminished. She waited for rage or resentment to seize her, or even a slight annoyance, but none of those emotions showed themselves, the ones that were so easy to hide behind. She felt only a hollow ache inside, an unpleasantness only Will could inspire because he was the only one she'd ever truly cared for. She retreated back upstairs.
The bedroom was silent, the sounds of the city muffled by the snow outside and the heavy curtains that covered the windows, but Elizabeth couldn't sleep. She had forced the reality of the situation to the back of her mind, concentrating only on the time she and Will spent together, and how to hold on to him. She had refused to consider that perhaps he didn't want to be held on to.
She couldn't make him forget the way she'd walked out on him, and she couldn't make him trust her again. Those things had to be his decision. No amount of influence could sway him if he wasn't ready.
Elizabeth blew out a breath and rolled over to stare at the ceiling. It wasn't enough for her to pursue him. Their relationship, if it ever came to that again, had to be initiated by Will. He had to want it just as much as she did before it would work. She recalled the moments when they were shouting at each other, after Richard left. Will had been right. It wasn't enough to ask someone to stay, beg them, and have them concede. She needed to know it was what he truly wanted. He had to make the choice for himself, not for her.
She knew she had to stop trying to persuade him to stay, but she didn't know how to say goodbye or let him go, which left her sleepless in Will's bed while the dreaded final valediction drew steadily closer.
The next morning passed in a blurred rush of movement and noise. Elizabeth gave orders to Will and the movers he'd hired, directing them where to place the larger pieces of furniture she had amassed over the course of the week. Despite her new resolve to turn the final decision about their relationship over to Will, she couldn't stop herself from finding ways to make him linger after the majority of the work was finished.
She asked him to rearrange the living room again, she claimed the new refrigerator made a funny noise, she took him grocery shopping and made him carry bags inside, she feigned ignorance and asked him to hook up her DVD player. Will was perfectly friendly through it all, showed no signs of the soul crushing resentment he'd demonstrated through the locked door the night before.
Eventually, she ran out of imaginary chores to keep him busy with. The apartment was undeniably pristine. The overcast day had begun to grow dimmer, tiny pellets of sleet pecking on the glass of the windows.
"I should go."
Will spoke as if reading her thoughts, the only probable difference being that he wanted to leave while she knew he needed to leave before the weather turned horrible.
He laid the television controls on the table and stood from the couch, seemingly satisfied with his assessment of the DVD and satellite setup. Elizabeth rose as well while he retrieved his coat, feeling a little guilty and definitely disgusted with herself.
Even though she hadn't made any more blatantly obvious advances, she had still been selfish in keeping him at the apartment all afternoon. It frightened her beyond reason to relinquish control, to trust Will to make the decision for both of them. She wanted so badly for things to fall back into a comfortable rhythm.
Now that she'd had a taste, a reminder, of how fulfilling their partnership had been, she was terrified of losing it. She was strong enough to be alone, certainly, but the prospect of loneliness compared with Will was decidedly lackluster. He was her best friend, whether he was aware of it or not. She loved him, and she didn't use that term lightly anymore. She felt that everything would collapse once he was gone.
Still, she owed him that trust.
He had put that same kind of faith in her when he proposed, given her the opportunity to decide the future for both of them. She had wasted the chance. Her turn was over. Will would make the right decision, do what he felt was best for both himself and her.
"Thanks for the help," she offered as she walked him toward the door, her tone too bright in the oppressive silence that lingered. She crossed her arms across her chest so she wouldn't be tempted to touch him. "See you later?" It came out with a questioning lilt, rather than the firm assertion she had planned in her head.
Will met her gaze evenly, but she didn't find the carefree acquiescence she had hoped for. His expression was deep and soft, not at all comforting, even though she suspected he was trying to be. She looked away, his pity scorching her pride. This was going to play out in some sort of macabre reenactment of that last day in his flat.
"I don't know, Liz."
She suspected he was only trying to soften the rejection with ambiguity. There was a soft finality behind his tone that suggested he knew very well what he wanted. She dragged her eyes back up and tried to smile for him.
"You've got everything you need here, right?" Will asked when she remained quiet. He jammed his hands into his jacket pockets, shifted his weight to the other foot. She interpreted his restless movement as an eagerness to be gone. She opened the door for him.
"I can manage the rest," she assured him, although the words stung. Letting him go was a nice concept, but a difficult one to follow through with. "I've kept you too long already."
Will angled his body toward the open door, as if he would leave, but hesitated before moving into the hallway. She felt a tentative hope begin to build at his inaction. Even if nothing definite happened today, perhaps there remained something that would draw him back to her.
"Bye, Liz." He gave her a half-smile, but it was sad and didn't reach his eyes. He stepped out of the apartment and into the hall, started toward the stairs.
"Bye," she returned, but it came out little more than a whisper and he hadn't heard. She shut the door and shivered. The chill from the hallway had invaded the apartment, and she moved into the kitchen to turn up the digital thermostat.
The door opened again. She heard the hinges squeak in protest, then a soft thud as something landed on the table by the entrance. She turned, but the living room was empty and the door had been pulled closed.
There, on the little table by the door, was her spare key. Will's key, even though it had only been in his possession so he could come by and work on the flat. It shouldn't have held any further meaning, but Elizabeth finally admitted to herself that it did. She had hoped, when she gave it to him, that he would understand the deeper significance behind the action. She was inviting him in, giving him full access to her life, welcoming him back.
If he had understood, he had very decisively turned her down. Her tiny reserve of optimism shattered. She was still shaking, but not with cold. She felt numb and hollow as she waited for the reality of her situation to sink in. There wasn't a single person in London who cared for her, certainly not Richard, and not even Will. Somehow, without her quite knowing when, everything had fallen apart.
She went back and locked the door for the night, punched in the code on the little illuminated keypad mounted nearby that would enable the alarm, then retreated to her bedroom. The set of luggage was stacked at the foot of her bed, but she didn't have the motivation to unpack and organize. She'd been living out of suitcases all week at Will's, so one more night wouldn't hurt.
The wind picked up outside, rattling the glass of her window and driving another shower of sleet against it. The blinds were pulled up and the curtains pushed back, and she couldn't remember leaving it that way. She went to remedy the problem.
There, on the windowsill, was a tiny model airplane. Elizabeth stared for a moment, surprised by its presence. She certainly hadn't put it there, and that only left Will. She picked it up and examined it. It fit nicely in the palm of her hand, the metal cold against her skin. It was significant.
They had reconnected on the airplane, been surprised by affection judged long dead. They had been offered a second chance at their relationship, even if Will had chosen to walk out of her apartment rather than accept it. Most importantly, Will had told her that he loved her on the plane. Those feelings couldn't have disappeared completely over the past week, and the little toy in her bedroom was his way of reminding her. She felt that perhaps Will would give her another chance, in the end.