CHAPTER TEN: futures

It was really loud in the reception hall. That was the first thing Marissa noticed and the one thing that would stay with her as the rest of the memories- the people who gave their condolences, the piles of food pushed upon her-as they all faded, that simple fact stayed with her. It was just really loud in that huge room. Marissa remembered the laughs, most of all. The high-pitched too happy laughs, that broke into her state of shock. Her hand, constantly intertwined with Alex's, was the focus of most people's attention though.

Kate, wrapped around Alex's neck and slipping in and out of waking, earned small touches and quick glances. But this was Newport and no matter the tragedy, gossip must live on. And so the reception hall was filled with talk of Marissa's new lover, her replacement Ryan. Even after most of the crowd has left, Msrissa could still hear the condescending words echoing around her. But they faded into the background of her thoughts whenever Alex touched her, whenever the soft pressure of her skin burned into Marisss'a reality. After a while it just became reality.

The burial had been hell. It had been real and hell and Marissa could barely remember it. Everything was so fucking painfully clear in those twenty minutes-so fucking clear. The sharp edges of what had become reality cut into her, slicing her with every truth they had. With everything she didn't have. She blocked it from her momory, out of necessity more than anything else. Something that utterly painful, that life shattering, was not something that needed to be remembered with every revaltion intact. So she blurred the truths in her mind, focused on the cold, glaring sun and Alex's side pressed against her's. Focused on the sea of black and not the black rectangle that screamed for her attention. Not the tears that had fought and burned their way down her face.

And now here she was, the reception fading into a blur of whispers and sickenly good-smelling food, standing here in this hotel lobby. The lobby where she had celebrated a beginning with the man she was now mourning the end of. It had some twisted irony but she didn't care to try to decipher it. Alex stood in the doorway, Kate sleeping soundly on her shoulder like she had been for the past hour, and somehow knowing that Marissa needed this moment, watched but alone.

Two tears trailed their way down Marissa's cheeks, branding fiery paths into her skin and washing her eyes with their salt. She wasn't much of a crier-was more of the type to throw lawn furniture or drink herself into a stupor to express her pain- but Kate, and Alex, gave her some type of control. Knowing she was loved and knowing she loved as well made her think. It made her step back and consider what would hurt the ones involved in that aforementioned love. So she was just standing here, the open bar that was getting wiped down calling to her and plenty of chairs avaiable for her destruction, yet she just stood. Stood and thought and missed and loved and hell-she couldn't tell her emotions apart anymore. She just felt. She really and truly felt.

It terrified her, being left alone. Because even though she knew she wasn't, she felt as if she was. She felt alone because all of her emotions were taking over her other senses. She got the feeling that these emotions were of the bad variety more than the good and they were snaking these lies into her mind. So she got a hold on them. And then regretted it, because feeling those emotions gave her release. A cold and lonely release into a world she wasn't sure she wanted anymore, but they let her feel. And when she locked them away, she felt restrained and all she wanted was to feel again.

It was the most confusing, heart-wrenching thing she'd ever dealt with. It was a struggle she could never win because she didn't know which side was good and which side was bad. If there was even a distinction between the two. She could see the long road ahead of her, stretching on and on, but when she thought about it once more, she noticed two figures standing by her side. She knew they would be there, could count on the both of them and suddenly she felt strong again. And, just as suddenly, she discovered which desicion was the right one. Which desicion she had to make.

So she made it.

In that instant, she chose something she felt with every bit of her was right but had no proof toward her certainity. And she turned back to Alex and smiled painfully, not remembering when the tears had started or stopped. And Alex, with all her love and all her strength, held her hand out. Stretched it out, offered it, and didn't even have to strain. And Marissa took it. Interlaced their fingers and walked into the low-hanging afternoon sun, Kate with them.

And she wasn't ready. She wasn't even close to being prepared. But she made that jump anyway.

Because that's life.

IOIOIOI

If you asked her what made her stay and fight, she would have told you love. She would have smiled softly, that soft smile she had found after kissing Marissa, and she would have said love. She would have thought back to every touch they shared, every fire burning in her after those touches, and she would have said love. Pure, simple, overwhelming love.

But that's not it. Not really.

If you had asked her why she took Kate in, why she treated her as her own and why she sacraficed so much for that little girl, she would have said because she knew it was the right thing to do. She would have glanced over at the little girl with another soft smile, earned from another trial and task, and would have claimed responsibility. She would have thought of the little girl's wide blue-green eyes and the fear and uncertanity in them and would have said because she needed to.

But it's not the truth.

And if you asked why she was still here, why she was loving them every day, giving everything she had into those relationships and into the life she was constantly creating, she would have said family. She would have said because these were the peope she loved, the only ones, and she couldn't imagine being anywhere else but with them. She would have looked at both of them, maybe grabbed one's hand, and smiled broadly. A grin for her loves and for the love they had for her.

The truth is, she stayed out of fear. She stayed because she didn't think-no, because she knew that she couldn't survive without Marissa. She knew she needed the other girl the way she needed air and music, the way all true loves need their other half. So she stayed, because she was terrified of being loved but alone all her life, of faking emotions that she couldn't even imagine in herself, much less believably express. So she stayed, out of simple fear.

And she took in Kate because she loved her. As simple as it was, she loved the little girl the minute she met her. Whether it was Kate's blue-green eyes, identical to her mother's yet hiding a completley different personality, or maybe her tiny little fingers grasping for things she didn't understand and didn't seem likely ever to, Alex loved her. She wanted to make her safe and keep her warm and give her everything she hadn't had. She jsut did.

And as to the reason she was still here, she got it spot on. She understood it perfectly and expressed it easily and promised to stay for as long as humanly possible. Because she honestly couldn't go anywhere else.

And even if that was the only thing she got right, it was something.

And truthfully, none of that other stuff matters, as long as you get it right in the end.

IOIOIOI

five years later

Five years to the day, it was Ryan's...today was the day Ryan died. It didn't belong to him, more like it lost its hold on him, so Marissa wasn't quite sure what to call it. But as she stood over his grave, she knew it didn't matter. She knew all that mattered was that she was here.

Her eight year old daughter dashed around, playing with her younger sister, Ashton, in the bright green grass of the cementary. Marissa smiled softly, a real smile that she had somehow found again three years ago. One that reached her eyes and spread through her heart and meant the world to her.

A hand slid around her arm, sliding down and grabbing her hand as if the owner of that hand had every right to take Marissa's. And, of course, she did. Marissa didn't have to look to know it was Alex, but she did anyway, just to see the girl's face. The face of the girl she loved with every ounce of her. That face that was usually so strong but that Marissa had seen break, had seen bend. That only made the older girl seem stronger whenever she wore that look. That determined, subtly strong look that was currently etched across her face.

"You still miss him." Alex stated, not with jealousy, not as a question, as a tried and true fact. The fact that Ryan had been the first person Marissa had fallen in love with-however brief or shallow that love had been-was something that never, never faded away. But the fact that Alex was the one she would always love, the one she loved now, that meant even more.

So they stood there, over his grave, and remembered, just as they did every year. Just as they did for every year to come And, when she was old enough to understand it, just as Kate someday would. The same went for Ashton. Because you don't foget someone you loved.

And you don't ever forget someone who loved you.

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-the end.