forever, forever, is half a moment away
Seattle, Washington; 2028
Holidays, Justin decides, are pointless.
He trudges home in the freezing rain of a cold Seattle New Year's Eve a good hour before the year rolls over but he can't take any more pointless cheer that he doesn't feel.
His phone vibrates in the inner pocket of his parka. He pulls it out and hits the 'ignore' button, sending it straight to voicemail. Sure he feels bad, but he doesn't need to hear from any of his ex-wives tonight.
Justin never thought he'd be someone who had an ex-wife, let alone three of them.
Well, almost three. It won't be official until the end of January.
Revelers dash past him, screeching noise makers and shouting out resolutions in alcohol laced voices and he rolls his eyes.
He hears a beep and knows he has a voicemail. Of all the women that he's married, Caroline is the one he's sorry it didn't work out with. He'd thought they had the best chance. Curiosity getting the best of him, he flips his phone open and dials his voicemail.
"Hi, Justin." There's a pang of guilt at the sad, empty quality he hears in her perfectly clipped Connecticut accent. "I just wanted to call and wish you a happy New Year." So he was right. "I'm sorry I missed you. Maybe we can get together next week when I get back to town-"
That's where he cuts it off. Justin isn't really surprised by her message. The end of their marriage was a shock to them both. Him because he wasn't that unhappy with her. Her, because she'd had no idea that he was unhappy at all. It wasn't as if the situation was like his first failed attempt at marriage, with Kelsey who was tall and blonde and did his taxes the year he moved to Seattle, who he asked out because she was the antithesis of what he was striving so hard to forget. He failed, and then he met Emily, who went exclusively by Em, at a sports bar when his neighbor dragged him to a Superbowl party, who reminded him so much of Alex that his heart stopped the first time he saw her, thinking his sister was actually in Seattle. He thinks of her slender frame, her chocolate colored doe eyes, and her vicious wild streak that led to several very messy arguments and broken knick-knacks. Caroline was different though, she was like the perfect girl he dreamed up in high school; well bred and well spoken, from an old New England family, and after the first time he met her at the campus and he found himself stopping by her poetry class simply because he wanted to see her again.
She had the same interests and similar tastes, she wanted kids, she was an amazing cook.
Basically, she was perfect.
The only flaw in the plan was that she just wasn't perfect for Justin.
He sat in the front row of her monthly poetry night that she hosted for her graduate students one night in October, listening to her talk about Emerson and Whitman, taking in the passion in her words and how much she loved her subject, and it finally hit him.
He wasn't in love with her.
And he'll never live down the fact that he got up and walked out of the room when the realization hit him.
Just like he'll never get over how low he felt when she came home and he'd had to tell her that it took 2 years for him to realize that he never really loved her.
Which brings him to yet another New Years Eve that he's celebrating by choosing to not celebrate and turning in before the clock strikes midnight.
That's his plan, and it's a good plan. It's never let him down.
The quiet street his small house is on is even more silent than usual. It's a family neighborhood and almost everyone there has kids or grandkids. Not a lot of parties going on. About half the windows he passes are already out.
He shivers, cursing his car and its transmission problems, and they city for putting the bus stop so far away.
Justin hadn't thought his night could get any worse until he opens the gate on his actual white picket fence and stops dead at the sight of Alex sitting on the porch steps.
She's on the top step, just out of the way of the rain, sitting with her arms wrapped around her stomach. She must have been waiting for him, her eyes lock onto his as soon as he sees her, and she takes her bottom lip between her teeth, uncertainty all over her face. When he closes the gate behind and walks further, slowly, up the walkway, she stands, rubbing her palms against her jeans. "Hey."
"What are you doing here, Alex?"
Watching Alex flinch, Justin registers the rain stop over his head, but the chill is still in his bones and it has nothing to do with the temperature.
"I, uh…" she stammers and he feels oddly vindicated, "Mom told me about you and Kelsey. I'm sorry."
Her sympathetic expression falters. "What?"
"Caroline," he says. "I just broke up with Caroline. Kelsey was my first wife."
Alex blushes under the light from his porch light. "Oh. But I thought Emily-"
"Number 2." Without elaborating, he brushes past her and unlocks the front door. Dropping his keys on the front table, he walks straight to the fridge and pulls out a beer. He's not a big fan, but Em always kept them around and he finds himself in the mood every once in a while, especially after a bad day. Turning, he offers Alex one where she stands hovering just inside his door. She shakes her head.
"Again, what are you doing here, Alex?" he demands.
She shifts her weight from foot to foot. She won't look him directly in the eye, and one thing he's learned in his life is that when Alex refuses to meet his gaze its because she's got something up her sleeve.
"I don't know," she finally whispers.
"You don't know." Justin scoffs. Typical Alex, showing up, turning his life inside out, on a whim.
Setting her purse on the floor, she takes two, three steps toward him and he notices her noticing for the first time that pretty much the entirety of his house is boxed up on the floor. "You moving in or out?"
"Does it matter?"
Alex stamps her foot. Ordinarily, seeing a 35 year old woman behaving so childish would make him laugh, but it doesn't feel funny at all since this is Alex he's dealing with. "Why do you keep slinging questions back at my questions?"
"Because I don't know how to react to you anymore, Alex. Is that what you wanna hear?" All but slamming his can down onto the tile counter, his grips the edges so tightly the blue ceramic digs into the skin of his palm. It isn't fair, the way she affects him still. "Do you want me to tell you that just thinking about you makes me want to put my fist through a wall? Cause that's how I feel, how I've been feeling for the last 10 years, Alex."
She comes up behind him, close enough for the familiar heat of her skin to hit him and his grip tightens. "I know I hurt you, Justin and I'm sorry. You'll never know how hard that was for me."
"For you?" He whirls on her, forcing down the urge to take hold of her shoulders and shake some sense into her. "Yeah, I can see that. After all, you were the one who showed up and turned my life inside out, the one who said she loved me and made me think we had a future together only to call me and say you just couldn't. Oh yeah, Alex," he spit's the words out, "I can see how that was really hard for you."
He should be prepared for the sting of her palm against his cheek but he's not. Eyes widening, he inhales deeply but refuses to break their eye contact first.
"Do you remember when you still believed in fairy tales?" Alex asks, and he's bewildered beyond belief. "I don't think I ever did, but I always wondered if I was going to get the happily ever after; white dress, handsome guy, all that stuff that I used to make fun of. And then one day I woke up and it all seemed so dumb cause I realized that the happily ending I really wanted was with my brother."
Something deep in the recesses of Justin's soul, something long dormant, begins to crack open and thaw.
Trained on the floor of his kitchen, Alex's eyes are hidden from him and he that old familiar wanting to see them, to know what she's thinking, rises up inside him like a tide. He settles for watching her lips move as she continues to speak.
"I was scared," she whispers. "Terrified. After you left New York…things were bad, Justin, they were really bad." Her voice breaks, and he notices her shoulders start to shake. "Mom and Dad couldn't even look at me, Max wouldn't talk to me, and I thought…I thought you hated me. So I ran."
That is something he never even imagined. "Alex, I'm angry, I'm really angry, but I've never hated you. Ever."
Whatever it was that Alex had been reigning in broke free and she covered her face with her hands, sobs tumbling out.
Hesitant, stemming from everything in his body screaming not to get any closer, Justin moves his hands to Alex's arms and pulls her against him as she cries. He rubs her back until the sobs lessen to hiccups and then disappear all together. She pulls back, unwrapping her hands from the fabric of his shirt she'd been twisting in her grip, and wipes at her face.
God, he is so tired of seeing her cry.
Taking over, Justin moves his fingers over her face, her own hands falling away and her face tipped up to his with something like wonder.
Her skin is wet, sticky, but still so incredibly soft and Justin marvels at just how beautiful she still is.
"Justin," her hands lay tenderly on his sides, "is there any way you can forgive me?"
There is no doubt what she's really asking. He gets it, and yes, he's thought about it, every day for the last 10 years he's rolled the possibilities around in his head of what life would be like if Alex had come with him, if they'd lived in their house on the beach all this time. But that didn't happen and it's hard to imagine anything like that ever coming to be after all the bitterness he's carried around for the last 10 years, maybe longer. Honestly, it's hard just because he's married other women in attempts to forget her, and all those endeavors ended before they even really began.
"Yeah," he says. "I can forgive you, Alex. But," he adds when she starts to move into him, "I don't want to go down this road again."
Her face falls. "You don't?"
"Can you stand there and tell me that surprises you?" Incredible. "Alex, we've done a lot of damage to each other, for way too long. Maybe its time we just let sleeping dogs lie, so to speak."
She nods, stepping back and turning her back to him.
"I have to admit, this was not the reaction I was expecting."
Justin smiles, despite himself. Same old Alex. "You thought you'd show up before my divorce is even final and I would leap at the chance to pick up where we left off."
Facing him, she shrugs, smirking. "Something like that."
A laugh forms inside Justin. He will never stop being flabbergasted by his sister and the way her mind works.
"So we're okay?" He steps toward her. "You're not gonna spend the rest of your life plotting revenge on me?"
Alex snorts. "I haven't plotted against you since high school, Justin."
"Good to know."
Pulling his cell phone from his pocket, Justin hits the speed dial button for his favorite Chinese restaurant and gets two more beers out of the fridge, tossing one to her. Being that there is no furniture, they sit down against the kitchen island, shoulder to shoulder.
"So why are we on the floor?"
Justin takes a long sip before answering. "Moving."
"Oh." Alex's voice goes small and he looks at her curiously. "You're leaving Seattle."
He nods; thankful he doesn't hit his head on the wood behind him. "Yeah. Seattle has a lot of bad memories for me. I need a fresh start and I got offered a pretty fantastic position…And it's not like there's anything keeping me here," he adds in an offhanded air.
Plus there's that whole being sick of constantly running into his angry ex-wives thing.
"What about you and…"
"Caroline," he supplies.
Sheepish, Alex nods. "Right. Caroline. What happened there?"
Can he be honest with her? He wants to, badly, but opening that can of worms is dangerous. Then he looks at Alex, looks into her eyes, and can't bring himself to lie to her, not again. "I wasn't in love with her."
Alex's eyes go wide, bottom lip falling open. "You married a woman you weren't in love with?" The fact that she found this so unbelievable, that she still had that opinion of him, touches Justin more than he can say. "Why would you do that?"
"Why does anyone get married? I want to be happy."
"The other two?" she asks.
He gets a reprieve when his doorbell rings and he gets up to pay for their food. Being that it's close to midnight, Justin gives the cranky looking delivery boy a pretty big tip.
But she insists on him answering and he watches a cloud pass over her face as he confesses that he's married three women he didn't love and hurt all of them pretty badly. "Not that I got out of it unscathed," he tells her and lifts the bottom hem of his shirt up, "Em got me pretty good with a crystal vase. Twelve stitches."
"I think I'd like her," Alex muses.
"Me too. She's a lot like you."
Her head shoots up, surprise marring her features. "She is?" He nods. "What about the others?"
"Kelsey…not at all. Caroline's a lot like me."
Alex puts her chopsticks in the container of sesame noodles she'd been picking at and moves until she's sitting directly in front of him, knees brushing his. Face hopeful; eyes wide, earnest, licking her lips. "Justin," she pushes her hair behind her ears, "you've married three totally different women and couldn't make it work with any of them…what does that say to you?"
Oh, Justin knows exactly what it says. He knows exactly what it means.
It's never worked with anyone else because there's only one person he wants to be with for more than a few months.
He wants Alex.
"It says that I have a serious problem," he tells her. "And a flight that leaves in seventeen hours so I don't think now is the best time to talk about it."
"I almost got married," Alex blurts out, taking no pause to acknowledge his shocked expression. "Last summer. I'd been dating this guy on and off for a while and he kept pushing me to finally choose one way or another if I was serious, so I said yes when he asked."
She looks at Justin with absolute certainty on her face, speaks with no doubt in her voice. "I got off the plane in Vegas and I could have sworn I saw you there...just standing there, looking at me, in the middle of baggage claim. So I told him I couldn't go through with it and got straight back on another plane home."
(He has to force himself not to make a jab at her pattern of changing her mind at the last minute.)
"So when you heard I was getting divorced again…"
Laughing, Alex blushes and nods. "Yeah. I'm a 35 year old woman in love with my brother who still writes notes on his hand and collects dolls."
"Action figures." That was habit.
With a groan, Justin's head drops forward until his chin hits his chest. He'd be lying if he denied the joy bubbling in his stomach. Its there, and it's powerful, and he feels that same almost magnetic pull.
"Justin, they're made of plastic and wear caped costumes-they're dolls."
He'll never back down on this though. He knows he's right.
By now he's put his own food aside and he's leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. Alex's face, the face that has changed surprisingly little in the decade since he's seen it last, the face that haunts his dreams, looms closer to his.
"I know," she whispers, eyes falling to his lips.
"We'd kill each other in a week," he says.
"I'm uptight and you're flakey."
"I'm not flakey, I'm spontaneous."
"You have a business to run." Maybe that'll help. Her, not him. His fingers slide over hers when it creeps over her leg onto his.
Nose brushing his, she smiles. "Callie bought me out last week."
Justin tries one last, desperate measure. "We'd have to lie to everyone."
She nods, face sobering. "And Mom and Dad may never forgive us."
It's clear that he's never going to win this argument. Submission takes hold of him and he lets his head drop into the crook of her shoulder. She's agreeing with him and his world goes off kilter. Breathing her in, Justin allows the momentary delusion that this can work to play out in his head. He wants this, wants it so bad he can taste it. The few days Alex spent with him in North Carolina were the happiest of his life and nothing else since then has even come close. Everything; his awards, accomplishments, his friends, his wives, have paled in comparison to the stolen moments they shared on the beach.
Justin hasn't been to the beach since. And he lives on the Pacific coast.
Finally, from somewhere deep inside, Justin finds the strength to look up and lay all the cards on the table. "I can't do this only to have it fall apart again, Alex. You have to mean it."
Her smacking his arm takes him off guard. "I've been the one instigating most of this for over 15 years and you want me to mean it?"
She has a point.
"We can't get married, we can't have kids. This is illegal you know."
"No one knows us in Vancouver," she counters.
And that's when she braces her weight on his thighs and presses her lips to his.
Greed, relief, desire streaks through Justin like a hot blade through butter, searing through the logic and the self preservation he calls on when things get to be too much.
They're beaten down, ignored; the only word echoing in his mind as he pulls her into his lap is finally. Justin draws her in and draws her close, heat imploding in his stomach and setting his entire being on fire.
It should scare him, the strength of the emotions flooding his body that make his hands sweep the familiar bends and angles of her frame and his lips scrape savagely down her neck, his heart frantic, skin pricking with need.
Alex catches his mouth again, pulling him closer with hands on the back of his neck before she mimics his actions, blazing a devastating path down his neck that sends his hormones into overdrive and he shudders. Her thighs clamp restlessly on his hips. He feels the heat of her skin through the still slightly damp material of her jeans, rough under his hands. His palms move up, splaying on the small of her back underneath her T shirt and she arches into him. He swears he can feel the imprint of fingerprints on his skin as she grasps at him.
Body thrumming like a tuning fork, Justin wills his mind to clear. Hard to do when the simple press of her hands on her skin make him want to scream.
He tears his lips away from hers, a curse falling from him that make her look at him in surprise and then smile a slow, knowing smile, nuzzling her nose into that spot.
"Alex…" Fighting for oxygen to fill his deprived lungs, Justin's head falls back against the kitchen island with a hard thud that stings and reverberates in his head. "We've got to be rational here."
"Rational is overrated."
He has to be strong here. "This part has never been our problem." He takes her face in his hands and forces her to look at him. "We get within five feet of each other and we regress into hormone crazed teenagers."
Alex cocks her head to the side. "Great sex is great sex."
How embarrassing is it that he wants to blush?
"If we do this," he says, voice overly calm and too controlled, "we have to be smart about it."
She fiddles with the top button of his shirt. "God, Justin, you make it sound like we're planning a bank robbery or something." Winding her arms around his neck, she slides her fingers up into his hair, scratching at his scalp and he feels his resolve crumble. "Tell you what," she offers, "you cook us up a cover story and I'll stick to it."
Justin scoffs. "Right."
"Promise," she mumbles, mouth skimming down his throat. "I just don't want to miss you anymore."
The whole proposition is wrong, it's dangerous and it's reckless. But Justin has felt the longing in his bones for one woman since he was 21 years old and he fell in love with the one person he was never supposed to want, and now he has a chance to silence that craving once and for all.
It's wrong. Over and over and over again he reminds himself of that but then he walks into the kitchen and he sees Alex wearing his clothes while she cooks, or sketching in front of the big window in the living room of their house in Vancouver, he has to wonder how love can ever be wrong.
The law would tell him how. As would the church, his parents, any person on the street, but then she smiles at him and he finds it hard to care about anything other than the sheer amazement that washes over him when he realizes he makes her happy.
And it's enough.
i said baby you're not lost
'Lost' by Michael Bublé. Gorgeous song and it inspired the whole fic. Go have a listen.