By S. Faith, © 2009
Words: 23,566 (Part 4: 4,887)
Rating: M / R (mostly for language and adult situations)
Summary, Disclaimer, Notes: See Part 1.
Have a question for you.
Mark hoped she'd be on. Luckily, she was.
You're on early, she said. Or is it late? How's Bessie? LOL.
OK, she said after a moment. What's going on?
No happy ending for me, he responded. At least not yet.
I'm sorry, she replied. Does that mean it's really over?
He sighed heavily. Typing made it so much more real. I think it must be. She has someone she's been seeing for at least a few months. You remember… Mr Chummy. So. What's the time there?
I was asking what time it is where you are.
Yeah, she said, just don't understand why.
Hard to make plans if I don't know where you are.
Are you seriously saying what I think you're saying?
He took a deep breath and typed, I suppose what I'm saying is that I think all else has failed.
There was no response for a long, long time. It's seven-fifteen. In the morning.
The exact time where he was. Geographically it still covered a lot of ground, but it was very promising.
Bit early for a drink though, she added.
He laughed out loud. I don't mean right now. I have to work.
At seven-fifteen? I suppose this means no Bessie.
He laughed. No Bessie.
Where do you work?
He thought hard about revealing what his life's work was, and decided he really didn't want to get into it at the present time. Maybe over that drink. Metro London.
O_O came the response after a few moments' time. Am in London too. What are the odds?
He was a little startled too, but in a pleasant way. Well, it makes having that drink much more convenient.
No, seriously, am totally freaked out. I might have passed you on the Tube and never known.
He chuckled. How about tonight?
Sure. Why not. I'll spot for dinner too if you want.
I thought this was supposed to be chess and coffee. =)
Make it a pub. Pick one.
There was a moment of idleness before he saw she was typing again. The Yorkshire Grey?
It was practically around the corner from Inns of Court; he was indeed familiar with it. Yes, that sounds very nice indeed. What time?
My schedule's flexible. How about six-thirty?
It sounded perfect. You're on. How will I know you?
I'll wear a blue dress, she said, in case you're doubting I'm really a girl.
He chuckled again.
She added, And how will I know you?
I'll be the one with the chess set tucked under my arm, he began, then added, and a red tie.
Excellent! she said. I'll see you then. Now you'd better run off and tend to Bessie.
She gets mighty ornery otherwise, he replied. See you later.
See ya. Bye. =D
He logged off in order to get ready for the day. He had to locate his travelling chess set and change his tie to a red one. He also had to bring the divorce papers with him; he figured he'd sign and bring them to Bridget after his mystery dinner. Might as well have a pleasant evening to ride on to take care of the rather unpleasant business of the finality of a divorce.
Being slightly nervous, Mark arrived a bit early, and found a spot at the bar to have a pint while he waited. Business was fairly bustling, but he didn't want to take a table before she arrived.
"Meetin' someone here?" asked the bartender, an older, greying fellow, clearly sensing Mark's nervousness.
"Yes," Mark replied.
"Who is she? Wife? Girlfriend?"
"We've never met before," said Mark in a confidential tone. "We met… online."
The bartender's very generous eyebrows rose. "Online, you say? That internet thing?"
Mark smiled politely. "Yes. On a chess website." Mark indicated the game he cradled under his arm. "We've been talking on and off for several months now and we decided it might be nice to meet face to face."
"This modern world, I don't know," he said despairingly, wiping off his countertop with a bar rag. "What's she look like?"
"All I know is to look for a blue dress."
He nodded in the direction of the door. "Oh, d'ya mean like that one?"
Mark whipped around to the face the door to see a woman in an ill-fitting powder blue dress standing there. She must have been at least sixty, with a full head of silver-white hair pulled back into bun. She smiled and came further into the pub. It was wrong to feel disappointed, but Mark was to an extent; nevertheless, he indicated the chess board and offered a polite smile. She only said, "No chess for me tonight, young man, but thank you." She then kept on walking, and met a group of other silver-haired ladies at a corner table.
Mark turned around, sank onto the barstool again and had another sip of ale, a smile on his lips despite it all.
The bartender grinned. "That was a close call, eh?"
There were no more blue dresses, and six-thirty came and went. Each minute beyond that time point stretched into an eternity, until it became apparent that she was not only just late, she was plainly not coming. Dejected, Mark figured he could stay and at least finish his beer; he was at the bottom of his pint, slouched over in a manner most unlike him and leaning on the bar, the chess set beside him, watching the bartender drying his pint glasses and trying not to feel too depressed at having been stood up by someone he'd never met.
He felt a hand touch his arm, simultaneous to the bartender's eyes flashing up and mouthing the words, "Blue dress," with a wink.
Quickly he turned on the stool, intending on getting to his feet to properly introduce himself to his chess partner, but his eyes could not make sense of what he was seeing:
Standing there, wearing a gorgeous cobalt blue dress he had never seen before, her blonde hair loose around her face, her lips a pearlescent pink, was his own estranged wife, breathtakingly beautiful even in her astonishment, as stunned to see him as he felt at seeing her.
He rose to his feet. They only stared at one another in silence—he at her dress, she at his tie and chess set—until finally their eyes met.
Oh my God, he thought, dumbfounded. It was you all along.
From the look on Bridget's face, he was fairly sure she was thinking the same thing.
And then he smiled; he couldn't help himself, nor could he help himself from laughing. He watched as her expression also transformed into one of joy; she smiled, then burst into gales of laughter, then to his delight leapt up, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him for what felt like a million years.
"Crikey," said the bartender in the periphery of his consciousness, "I need to get m'self online."
He held her close, so close he never wanted to let go, but they were after all in a public house and with the way the assembled patrons had gone perfectly quiet, he suspected they had attracted an audience. Instead, he just pulled back and looked down into her very misty eyes.
"I can't believe this," he said, his voice cracking.
"In a way, I can," she said, her lip and chin quivering, though she was still smiling. "It only makes sense that I would fall for you all over again."
"Yes," he said, embracing her again, burying his nose in her hair, breathing the scent of her in deeply. "Yes."
After a few moments in silence, the bartender piped up with, "Table for two then?"
Bridget giggled, stepping away, looking positively radiant even with tears dampening her cheeks. "If you're still buying," she said teasingly.
"Absolutely," he said, reaching to brush away the wetness with his thumb.
The chess set remained unopened; while they waited for their respective dinners, they sat hand in hand together on the bench seat, merely regarding one another. He started to think back on every conversation he'd had with BlueBelle18 for some clue he'd missed that might have told him who she was, but he couldn't think of a one. In fact, in reflecting back on their conversations, he wondered what some of the things she'd mentioned had actually been about, such as—
"I thought you said your husband had a new girlfriend," he asked, a small smile playing on his lips, tightening his hand around hers.
"Back when I said that… Shaz said she saw you out at a restaurant with a tall, thin, brunette woman," said Bridget, "and then you were with Natasha again—"
"No," he said, the light dawning; Sharon had never met Natasha. "That was Marjorie. Jeremy's cousin. I took her out for supper at his insistence," he said. "Pretty soon into it I was upfront about the fact that I was still hopelessly in love with my wife. She was very understanding about it, considering."
"Oh." She looked a little sheepish, but then smiled, bringing his hand up to press a kiss into his knuckles before covering his hand with her free one. "What about Natasha, then?"
Mark replied, "She was in town, we had one lunch together, the day you—" And Paul, he thought. "—saw us, and she was as big a bitch as ever."
This caused Bridget to laugh out loud (God, how he'd missed the sound of her laughter). "But I thought you said your wife had someone new too," she said.
He swallowed hard. "Yes. Paul."
She looked at him querulously. "Paul? My editor?"
He felt like a complete fool, making the assumption he'd made. "Your editor," he echoed.
"Yes," she said, then covered her mouth with her hand. "Oh, you thought…"
"Yes, I did think," he admitted, "especially when I saw him leaving your building at all hours of the night."
"Oh, Christ, that," she said. "The one and only time he came to the flat. We were going over the final proof. It went off to press today." She added, as if just realising it, "You were coming to see me last night. Why?"
"After my 'Fatal Attraction' date," he began.
"With the control freak, you mean."
"Yes, Bridget," he said, with a small chuckle. "With the control freak. You sparked an epiphany in me with those words."
"Oh." She looked at him, smiling wistfully. "Even though I think he fancied her a bit, your wife does not in fact have anyone new."
"I'm glad I didn't punch him out then." She chuckled. He was beyond relieved, then leaned forward to kiss her again. "I'm so, so proud of you for that," he said, feeling very emotional. "For the book."
"I should have called to tell you," she said. "I wanted to tell you so badly, but Stanley said I shouldn't contact you directly."
There was a moment of silence there during which they both seemed to realise how momentous this all really was; the marriage was not only worth saving, but saveable.
"So this epiphany." Mark's tone was very serious when he spoke. "I knew at last how I'd made you feel, and was desperate to see you. I'm so, so sorry for ever making you think I thought of you as some object… how did you put it? That needed tending to, watering and feeding."
She dropped her eyes. "I should never have accused you of that. Should have reminded myself it was all out of love, that that's just the way you were raised. I mean… your dad probably does the same for your mum."
"He does, but I… I went too far," he said, "and I'm sorrier than I can ever express. You saw how miserably I did trying to find someone new. None of them held a candle to you."
Her eyes got very glossy all over again. "I was too proud to admit it," she said, "but I very quickly started to realise all of the things you did do for me, and… I missed them. Missed you." She sniffed a chuckle. "I even forgot to pay my phone bill."
He laughed then pulled her into an embrace once again, which served to remind him the contents of his breast pocket. "I've never stopped loving you, I don't want to split from you, and never did; I don't know what insanity took over me the day I suggested divorce. However…" He pulled away from her, reached into his suit jacket and pulled out the twice-folded papers, ones he had yet not signed. "I'll sign this if it's what you really want, but I'd prefer to just call the whole thing off."
She took the paper from his hand, unfolded it, stared at her own signature on the page, then looked at him again as she refolded it. "Excuse me a moment," she said, her voice gravelly.
In bafflement, he watched as she slipped off of the seat, rose and strode away; his confusion dissipated though as she approached the roaring hearth, and as the bartender yelled at her not to get too close, she tossed the paper in. The flames roared up for a moment in a bright blaze as they engulfed the folded paper before dying down again. The entire pub's eyes were upon her as she turned away from the fireplace.
"The divorce is off," she announced, then looked to Mark. "It's off."
Hurriedly Bridget walked back at the table, sat on the bench seat beside him, then leaned over, threw her arms around him and kissed him; the entire pub began to applaud for them.
It was one of those spontaneous moments he'd craved so badly since she'd gone, so he couldn't feel too mortified. Rather, it had turned out to be one of the best evenings of his life.
"One of the things that really threw me," he said as they left the pub hand in hand, "was that early on in meeting your chess alter-ego, you said you had a class in the morning. Made me think you were a student."
She squinted as she looked up at him. "Class?" She was clearly struggling to remember, then it came to her. "Oh, it was a writing workshop I was taking with Shaz. It was terrible. I could have done a better job teaching the thing."
He tightened his hand around hers, then released it as he approached his car.
"And what about the '18' in your username?" he asked, as he opened the door for her. "Even though you may appear to be so, much to my delight, you are not eighteen."
A corner of her mouth curled into a smile. "I kind of missed your blatantly untrue but ego-boosting flattery," she admitted, pecking a kiss on his lips before climbing in, "and your opening my door for me, too." He'd done it without even thinking; he was just glad he done something she liked. He knew he'd have to be more mindful of his actions, but it would be worth every moment.
"So the '18'?" he asked again as they buckled up.
"Oh," she said. "That was just the eighteenth nick I've had to use so far. I have to constantly change it, remember?"
He laughed low in his throat; the frequent change explained why he never did see the username that he knew to be hers on the roster. "Because you're too good," he said. "That much I already knew." He started up the engine, put it into gear, then reached for her hand. "Where to, then?"
She turned her eyes up meet his, nodding and smiling ever-so-slightly. "Let's go home."
He was back in front of the house in very short order, parked the car, and went around to open her door for her. He held out his hand and helped her to her feet; she had his chess set in the crook of her arm, which he took from her.
"Wait here," Mark said. She looked understandably confused, but he nonetheless dashed up the front stairs and unlocked then opened the door. He set the chess set just inside on the foyer table before returning to her, then swooped her up into his arms and kissed her. "Thought it only right I should carry you in," he said quietly. She threaded her arms around his neck and nestled close to him as he strode up the stairs and into the house once more, kicking the door closed behind him.
"Do you want to hear something stupid?"
It was Bridget's voice close to his ear, her warm, soft skin pressed against his body, in the dusk of the evening and the soft light of the bedside lamp. He laughed quietly, opened his eyes, and turned to look at her. "I doubt very much that it's stupid, darling."
"But it is stupid," she said, pushing up to meet his eyes. "I really, truly thought your name was Numan. Like, that that was your last name. I was dying to ask you what the 'HP' stood for. Harry Peter? Howard Paul? And so on."
He began to chuckle. "I think if you think hard enough you can figure out what the 'NU' stood for. I'll give you a clue. Boxers."
She blinked a few times, then laughed as the realisation hit her. "Newcastle United. And 'HP'?"
"Holland Park, my love."
"Ahhh," she said, lying back down, brushing her fingertips along his chest until she grasped his hip. "Figured out the middle part of your nick all on my own, though."
He chuckled. "What if Numan had turned out to be Paul McCartney? Or a Midwestern dairy farmer?"
She didn't say anything right away, for so long he thought she might have fallen asleep, until she spoke in a very quiet voice. "I think I would have been terribly disappointed."
When Mark padded back upstairs the following morning he had a surprise for her, aside from the breakfast and coffee, which he hoped she would indulge him for wanting to bring to her. He set it at the foot of the bed, set their coffees and pastries on their respective nightstands, before he crawled back under the sheets and ran his hand along her arm, curling up to her back.
She made a most contented sound. "God," she said. "I have really missed this bed." She turned to look over her shoulder, caught his undoubtedly confused look, and grinned madly. "I've also missed teasing you terribly." She turned over and embraced him. "Of course I've missed you more."
He laughed low in his throat, holding her to him. "You may tease me all you like."
"Mmmm," she said, stretching out to her full length. "I will remember that in—what the—?"
In the process of stretching, she managed to dig her toe into the corner of the object he'd brought upstairs with breakfast.
She sat up to get a better look, but with the drawn curtains, it was still rather dim in the room. "What is that?"
"That is for you and me, while we have our coffee." He reached down and grabbed it, then reached over to pull the curtains aside to let some light in. "Since we never got to last night."
He saw the light of recognition in her eyes as she realised what it was he'd brought: his chess set. She laughed. "I think what we did last night was much more satisfying."
"True," he said, "though there is something to be said about the satisfaction of a good chess game." He opened the board and set it in the centre of the bed, handing her the pieces.
"Let's just say satisfying in a very different way," she said as she put them into place.
She reached for her coffee and took a sip, and looking at her there, sheets draped over her knees, hair tousled in an adorable manner, he could only think how much he owed to the game of chess.
He let her make the first move, and within short order, she was rightly cleaning his clock.
"I will miss Numan so," she said in a slightly melancholy tone, as she made her latest move; she lifted her eyes and it was when he saw the sparkle of deviltry that he knew she was only teasing him again. "Even if he did get his happy ending, after all."
He smiled, thanking God and all of heaven again that she was back. "Promise me something," he said.
"That you and I will continue to play chess on a regular basis."
"Every night if you want."
He was thoughtful as he made his move. "Maybe not every night."
He glanced up, saw her sipping her coffee, and he could just make out the upturned corners of her mouth around the mug, her favourite mug. She was really here, really back to stay… and he had really missed having her with him on a lazy morning like this.
"You know, I think this game is over," he said.
"What? But I had a strategy to—oh."
He pulled the game board out from between them, pushed all the pieces to the foot, took her coffee from her hands and leaned over her to set it on her nightstand again, then used the opportunity of his position to its fullest extent. "Don't know what I was thinking," he murmured. "Chess when there are much more satisfying endeavours to attend to, given the venue. Forgive my lapse in judgment."
She smiled then placed her lips on his for a long, slow kiss.
"You only did it," she whispered, "because you love me."
"Bridget, come on, or we're going to be late."
It was not only a dinner party, but a celebration of their reunion, and a private launch party for Bridget's book, which was being released that day. He'd attended to every detail, wanting to make the night special for her, with as much importance as the evening held for her.
As usual, though, she was running behind.
"Mark," she said. "Where's my black sequined dress?"
He looked to her inquisitively. "At the cleaners. You said you were wearing the gold one, so I took the black one to be cleaned for you like you mentioned you wanted."
She emerged from the bathroom with a disappointed and slightly upset look on her face. "I said I hadn't decided."
He felt an unwelcome chill building in his stomach, echoes of the fights they'd had leading up to their almost-divorce. "I must have misheard. I'm sorry."
She looked at him like she was studying every line in his face, then to his relief and delight she smiled a little half-smile. "You were only trying to help," she said with a smirk, fully aware of her choice of words, then came up to him and gave him a big hug. "The gold one will do nicely."
He embraced her. "I'm sorry," he said again.
"Don't be," she whispered, then kissed him. "I never want you to forget how much I appreciate your thoughtfulness."
"I should have double-checked."
"Mark," she said firmly. "Really. There's such a thing as too far in the other direction." She smiled, and waited for him to do the same. "Now help zip me up in the gold dress, will you?"
In all honestly, he loved the way she looked in the gold dress, the way the satin clung to her every curve, and he told her the same.
"Now see, if you'd said that sooner, there would have been no contest."
He chuckled. "You're lucky I'm a stickler for punctuality," he said, running his hands over her hips then kissing her. "Come on, you look great. Let's go."
They arrived to a wave of applause, and they saw the happy faces of the family, friends and associates who'd come that day to celebrate with them on so many levels. Mark had never said "I'm terribly proud" and "I couldn't be happier" more in one day in his entire life, save possibly his wedding day.
Paul got on up on the little not-quite-knee-high stage and made an announcement about the book and to introduce Bridget, which made Mark chuckle to think of another book launch so many moons ago. He noticed that copies of the books remained all boxed up in cardboard on the stage as yet and were not available to browse through, which Mark found a little odd for a book launch.
As Paul descended, Mark stopped him and held out his hand for a shake.
"Sorry for the misunderstanding," Mark said, and he meant it; "No hard feelings."
"No hard feelings," Paul echoed, taking Mark's hand and shaking it firmly. "You're a very lucky man."
Mark then watched Bridget step up onto the stage and turn her sparkling smile to the assembled crowd. "Some of you know I'm not the greatest public speaker—" She turned her eyes briefly to Mark, flicking her brows up impishly with a smile. "—so I'll keep this brief. Writing this book was something I wanted to do for a very long time, something I always felt supported in, even as it turned into one of the things that got me through one of the darkest periods of my life. That dark period, as you know, is over, the book is done, and there is so much to be happy about." Mark heard spontaneous bursts of applause, and glanced over to where he saw Shaz, Jude and Tom clapping raucously; he was very grateful that they had not held the 'dark period' against him. "So, without further ado, I present my book, Letting Go, which, despite the title, is actually pretty funny."
The applause intensified.
"And which you will now get to see," she said, running her fingers along the very smooth and apparently impenetrable taped seam of the cardboard box. "At least I hope so. Um. Paul? Do you have a pair of scissors?"
Mark heard polite chuckling. Paul did in fact have a pair, and he brought them over to her.
"Right." She tried to cut through the sealing tape, but was having quite a time of it. Mark resisted the urge to offer to open the box; he knew this was something she wanted to do herself. On an inspiration, she flipped the scissors open and used the blade like a box cutter, running it along the seam of packing tape. She pushed the halves open to the sound of the crowd hooting her victory, and from the top she pulled a copy of the book, which she held up for all to see.
On the cover was an amusing illustration of a cartoony woman hanging for dear life by the ankle on the seat of a trapeze. There was more applause.
She was beaming a smile as she held it close to her chest. He could see her photo on the back cover, a lovely but melancholy black and white shot. "The reason we're only just opening the box is because—" She stopped abruptly and looked directly at Mark. "—because I wanted you to be the first to see it."
Bridget stepped forward and handed him the copy, which he reached up and took hold of. He looked over the back and front covers. His vision got a little blurry as he ran his hand over the book jacket illustration; how he dearly wished he'd been a part of the process of her creating this book.
His head snapped up to look at her.
Polite laughter. The entirety of the crowd had their attention on him.
Puzzled, he cracked the cover open; a few pages in, he found what she wanted him to see:
Even though we're not together, you were here with me for every page;
Even as we fell apart, you were always my inspiration.
He understood completely the magnitude of what he was seeing: she had chosen to dedicate this book to him even as they were split up and planning on divorcing, a book that had been sent off to press before they'd even reconciled. If not for the chance meeting of NumanHP and BlueBelle18, the divorce would have certainly been final by now. He willed the tears back, lifted his eyes to look at her again; she had tears on her cheeks but a smile on her face.
"Well," she said plainly. "You are."
No one else understood what she meant, but they would as soon as they saw the book for themselves; it hardly mattered, however, because the tender sounds erupting from the spectators indicated they already had a suspicion what was written there. He placed the book down, then reached up as if to take her hand; as soon as she got close enough, he instead took hold of her waist with both hands and pulled her off of the stage. Not caring who was watching, he took her in his arms and held her close to him, kissing her thoroughly, to the sound of even more applause and howls of approval.
"'Happy ending', indeed," he said quietly.