She couldn't quite remember how it got this far with him. Being around him made her want to be a better person, to be herself more than anything and have nothing to hide. The layers of the stronghold that kept them from understanding each other started to break away, and now Nicole could look herself in the mirror, her real self, and say that if things didn't work out this time around...there was absolutely nothing more she could do to resurrect the relationship.

Night after night he held her as tight as he could. He knew how hard it was for her to love blindly, and have her mother's haunting words bring about the constant paranoia and worry, even when she thought the worst was over. She said "I love you" with every exit she made, as if he would forget by the time she returned from the kitchen. But with her anxiety came the disposition to be open, and although he hated how it had to come happened.

She was there when he woke up out of his induced coma. Her arms folded on her knees and her head hanging low inside them; it was the same solid position she kept when she was a teen, riding the Red Line in Chicago wishing the fortress she made with her arms made her invisible.

He couldn't speak, not easily anyways, and it hurt too much to move. He just hoped keeping a steady eye on her could make her feel him somehow, as if they were back in Phoenix where she'd always catch his admiring glances and respond with "what the fuck are you looking at?" She started to move now; her shoulders were turning and her back arched until she was sitting straight up, and they were face-to-face. It was evident she had been crying, black lines ran down her cheeks like war paint; there was more of a battle going on inside her than he would ever know. She was still beautiful through the running mascara and sleep deprivation, because vulnerability and an undoubted willingness simply to be was cloaking her emotions and expressing themselves in her eyes. All the words in all the books in all the world couldn't have formed a single sentence for her to say. Her tongue wasn't tied. In fact, it felt way too loose, yet she refrained from saying "I love you" knowing that she wouldn't stop until her words overflowed and he'd drown in her affection. The doctor said the damage wasn't that bad, but his pain was worse. There were lacerations from the glass, minor burns on his neck and back, and being propelled through the windshield by the explosion, he broke his fall by breaking his arm and crushing his rib cage. But it wasn't the worst that could have happened. Death was the major factor, along with burns to the degree of no hope of tissue recovery, covering his entire body and stripping his face of its perfection until he wished he was dead.

He coughed subtly, but still made her heart pound in her chest. Seeing her reaction he read everything there was to be read in her face and beyond. "Stop blaming yourself." He croaked, soft enough to be missed if she wasn't looking at him.

She was without words again, this time in fear of the attempt to speak and nothing to come out.

"I'm alive, Nicole."

"But you shouldn't be." Her voice cracked from her previous period of silence.

"It doesn't matter. You of all people know what is is what matters, not what isn't or could've been. And what is, is that I am...still."

"I told you." Lydia laughed loudly; despite it being 6am she was wide awake hearing what her daughter had stopped by before work to show her. Nicole looked down at the canary diamond, still feeling the moment he slipped the cold metal onto her finger the other night. "That man loves you. God, he loves you so much baby you haven't even experienced the half of it."

"I hope he doesn't regret it."

"Are you kidding me? Since that boy got out the hospital you were there. Good intentions ain't good enough if you can't keep them when the going gets rough. All he needed was to see that you were for real, and you proved yourself. It's called unconditional love."

She exhaled and thought back. "I promised myself I'd never get married...stupid huh?"

"You're not getting married baby. You're sharing the rest of your life with your best friend and there's nothing to fear about that. I've been engaged a total six times, pregnant for five, I've dated every color of the rainbow: the good, the bad, the ugly, the old, the young, the rich, the piss poor, I've constantly been cheated on, constantly been the other woman, I've been gay, I've been straight, undecided, I've used and been used, I've been emotionally prostituted, I've been a thief, a liar, a murderer, Atheist, Catholic, Baptist, seen it all, done it all...but marriage was the only thing I've tried once in my life. And that was with your father. I've done everything life had put on my plate to do but I never, found real love in any of it...just a cheap thrill, and a headache. What you have with Antonio is so special because he was always there, loving you, waiting for you, loving you while he waited for you. I remember the day before the accident, he told me he couldn't imagine a life without thinking about you, without you driving him to drink." Nicole smiled. "You never had to look that far baby, so don't block your blessings."

Nicole knew her mother was right, and used her life as a model of what could have been. On her drive to work she grew an unhealthy addiction to her mother's CD, where "Ain't Got No" by Nina Simone graced her ears countless times, and "Always A Woman" by Billy Joel motivated some serious introspect as the lyrics mirrored her perfectly. Throughout every track she could hear her mother's brash yet melodious voice singing in her ear, like she was a baby again needing to be lulled to sleep. She once told her she never listened to music that didn't reflect, make her forget, or help her remember the events in her life, because her life and those memories were all she had to hold on to.

"I can't believe I let you talk me into another date last night." Jess sighed.

"Actually this is the fifth." Jack replied sarcastically, following her off the elevator.

"Oh whatever. I just felt sorry for you is all."

"Ah, but you were sober." Jack smiled. "That's what really counts."

"Smart remarks like those aren't gonna get you anywhere." Jess walked over to the coffee machine. "Now, don't mistake my habit for kindness." She handed Jack a cup of coffee.

"Then what should I take it as?

"Take it as a 'Nicole's not here' coffee, not a 'Jack I want to take you home with me' coffee. "

"You have successfully mastered the mind of Jack." He said holding the brim of the cup to his lips.

Jess rolled her eyes and walked to the doorway.

"Hey." Nicole greeted, almost bumping into Jess as she tried to escape Jack.

"Oh hey. You seem pretty happy, what happened to you?"

Nicole flexed her eyebrows and squeezed by Jess.

"Wa-wa-wait." Jess followed her back to the coffee machine, "What was that?"

"What was what?" Nicole laughed.

"That..that look!"

"What look?"

"The one you just gave me!"

"Jess I give you that look all the time."

"Yeah but not after I asked you what happened to you the other night which obviously had to be spent with Antonio, right?"

"Jess, it's nothing."

"A little too late for a turning point." Jess replied.

Jack pulled up his chair and listened in attentively.

"You really wanna know?" Nicole asked secretively, seeing how eager Jack was looking in the corner of her eye.

"Of course!" Jess replied.

"We had sex...everywhere. The couch, the table, the floor. Ugh, it was amazing." Nicole said nonchalantly, then went on to pour her cup.

"Whoa!" Jack coughed, choking on his coffee. Nicole and Jess looked back at him. "...Hot?"

"Are you serious?" Jess asked, leaning in.


"Wow ha, I thought--"

"The floor was a little hard on my back, we weren't there for long."

"Damn!" They looked at Jack again. "You know, I'm gonna go talk about...guy stuff...somewhere." He nervously started walking backwards towards the door. "Jess I'll harass you later."

Jess still had the puzzled look on her face until Nicole shook her head and laughed. "Relax. It was just a story to get Jack out of here."

Jess couldn't help the burst of laughter coming out of her mouth. They both grabbed their coffee and sat at the tall table.

"So." Jess began taking a sip, "What's really got that smile on your face."

Nicole took her usual deep breath before she started to talk about herself. But this one ended in a smile.

"Antonio." She said.

Jess rolled her eyes and giggled, "Figures."

"Jess he is so good to me. I just, can't believe I didn't see it sooner."

They both smiled at each other like some kind of secret language.

"You know last night, we sat in bed and just talked. About everything, about nothing. I think it was the most productive time I've spent with him...ever."

"Are you happy?" Jess asked, knowing the answer was going to be a definite--

"Yes." Nicole replied with a smile, "So happy, in fact, that I'm marrying him. For real this time." Jess swooned over Nicole's ring and hugged her. "He's everything I never wanted Jess...and that turned out to be everything I always needed."

"I'm so happy for you--"

"Ladies." Pollock stood at the doorway.

"This is really beautiful Jess, I'm sure your mom will love it." Nicole twisted the ring off her finger and handed it to Jess who immediately went along with her. "Good morning Sir."

"Good morning." It was too early in the day for him to put enough energy into being suspicious without cause, so he just pulled himself to the counter of coffee machine like a zombie.

"Are you okay Sir?" Jess asked.

"Yes, very peach-esque. Why do you ask?"

"Well, we never see you in here."

"..Just because you can't see God, does it stop him from existing?"

"..Sorry I asked." Jess conceded, knowing of all people and things he would compare himself to God before something as inanimate as wind.


"Yes Sir?"

"I'll be expecting my invitation via mail. Everything on my desk gets shredded." Pollock walked away, stirring his black coffee casually and yawning.

Jess cautiously slid the ring across the table to Nicole, a sympathetic look on her face on the brink of laughter. "Well, at least you're still alive."

"True, but of course that wasn't the real Pollock. He checks in around 9."

It feels good to put something you've put so much love and time into in the open. I've been thinking about this concept for a while and it took so long for me to mesh my many ideas and evolve them into a more complex perception. And sometimes I still don't know where I'm going. Well, more to come soon. School takes up a lot of my time right now so maybe I won't be as prompt, but I do hope to be just as proficient. So keep an eye out. Love to all.