A/N: Last chapter. Woo. More music geekery within… Hope it's okay!
Why were the words never there when she needed them? All she'd had to say to him was come for a drink with me so we can talk. That was supposed to be the easy bit. How the hell was she going to get through the rest of it when she couldn't even get him alone to do it? Three little words, Beth had said; that was all she had to say. Three words, true, but that didn't take account of their magnitude. For that, there were no words.
The day after the office debacle – Christmas Eve - Ruth sat at her kitchen table, holding an empty tea mug. She hadn't seen Harry since she scarpered from his office; he'd disappeared off to a meeting when she finally forced herself back to work. She couldn't help feeling like she'd ruined everything all over again, even though she'd hardly even begun to try. She spoke multiple languages, and yet talking to Harry about anything other than work left her tongue-tied every time.
But words were all she had. Working up the courage to show him how she felt was another issue entirely, one she couldn't contemplate without laying the verbal groundwork beforehand.
God, she was useless. She wondered he didn't get fed up of her entirely.
"Ruth?" Beth came into the kitchen, dressed up to go out.
She smiled at her flatmate and swallowed down the sudden urge to cry.
If Beth noticed her watery smile, she didn't say anything. She wasn't really one for meaningless sympathy, for which Ruth was endlessly grateful.
"I'm off out," Beth said, slightly cryptically. And then, more cryptically, "If a man called Carlos phones, tell him I'll sort him out on Monday."
"Do I even want to know?"
"I'll be back on Boxing Day."
"Okay." Ruth wasn't thrilled at the idea of another Christmas spent alone, but she supposed she'd much rather spend it totally by herself than with someone else there to see her be sad and alone. There was logic there, somewhere.
Beth smiled a goodbye and then turned and walked down the hall. Ruth followed to watch her go.
Beth stopped just before she reached the front door and picked something up off the small table where they kept the post. "Before I forget," she said, "this was left for you." She held out a small package wrapped in brown paper and tied with a red ribbon edged with gold.
Ruth took it. "Thanks." She looked at the small cardboard gift tag attached to the ribbon. Her name was scrawled on it, in Harry's handwriting. She tried to not to act too surprised, or too pleased, then gave up and smiled anyway. Maybe she hadn't completely buggered things up with her little performance in his office - or any of the other incomprehensible things she'd done lately.
"It was pushed through the letterbox," Beth said as she wound a scarf around her neck, clearly trying to sound innocent and failing.
Beth said something about having to go and see a 'man about a thing' before heading off who-knew-where-else, then disappeared off out through the door with a wave and a, "There's a bottle in the fridge, if you want."
The endless supply of decent wine was one of the things that had originally made Ruth start to appreciate having Beth in the flat, and the appreciation had still not worn off. She thought about having a glass before opening the gift, but decided against it. The time it would take to go to the kitchen, fetch the wine and pour it was time she could be spending in a much more productive manner. Namely, ripping off the decorative ribbon and wrapping paper from her gift to see what was inside.
She unwrapped it standing in the doorway to the living room, too eager to wait until she reached the sofa. She pulled away the paper to find an unmarked CD in a clear plastic sleeve. A piece of ivory card had been placed inside along with the disk. She pulled it out, feeling the quality of the paper against her fingers, hands trembling for reasons she would not admit to. She held her breath as she read the short note written on the back.
I hope more than anything that this isn't too presumptuous of me, but I think (hope) I know what you were trying to say in my office yesterday. Seeing as you made your effort, I think that means it's now my turn to try again.
I know my choice of words (or lack thereof) hasn't always been what it should be and, more than that, my timing in matters of the heart is atrocious (as you well know). But his is immaculate, so I'll let him say it on my behalf, in the language that transcends all words.
I hope you like it.
He hadn't signed it, but then he didn't need to, although an explanation as to who 'he' was wouldn't have been unwelcome. Still clutching the paper, she slid the CD from its plastic wallet and took it to the complicated, expensive stereo Beth had bought not too long after she first moved in. Ruth spent a few moments working out how to turn it on, then put the disk into the little slot and pressed the play button.
She recognised the music within seconds of it starting, the gentle ascendance of strings so distinctive that it had stayed with her across decades. The emergence of love. The Adagietto from Mahler's Fifth Symphony spilled quietly from the speakers that were hidden on opposite sides of the room, the music filling her brain and overtaking her from all angles. She shut her eyes and clutched at the corner of the shelf that held the stereo, steadying herself against the wall of persistent, pianissimo strings and the sound of a musical heartbeat created by the gentle pulsating of a delicately plucked harp.
By the time the music reached the first climax a few minutes in, the tears that had sprung up behind her eyes were breaking free of her eyelids and slipping down her face unchecked. It was all too obvious what Harry meant by this gift, this wonderful gift.
She knew the story; of course she did. This was the music Mahler had composed for his sweetheart. He had sent it to her and she had known simply from looking at the manuscript that he had meant it as a declaration of love, with the inclusion of a small poem that held the line - ich kann mit Worten dir's nicht sagen. I cannot tell you in words. Saying with music the very thing that Ruth always found so impossible to put into words – just how nonsensical, consuming, powerful, amazing, scary, wonderful, total was the rush of being in love. It was everything, but nothing that could be said, at least not adequately.
It was, she thought, a little similar to the feeling a person got looking up at the stars in the clear night sky, feeling the pull of the universe and being overwhelmed by the very magnitude of it all in comparison to your own smallness. Both beautiful and devastating and utterly, completely brilliant.
And Harry was right; the timing was perfect.
By the time the movement came to its end with the final, blissful, drawn out appoggiatura, Ruth was standing in a strange state of satisfaction and burgeoning contentment teamed with the remains of her years of indecision.
The voice – Harry's voice – that broke the ensuing silence came from the door behind her and her breath caught in her throat at the sound, the effect a mix of shock at not being as alone in her house as she thought she was and immense pleasure he was there, obliterating the last of her doubts in a single syllable. She turned away from the stereo to find him leaning against the doorframe, arms folded across his chest, his stance casual but his face a picture of tension and nerves.
She opened and closed her mouth a few times, not quite knowing what to do with him there while her mind was so full of thoughts she hadn't had time to consider.
"Beth let me in," he said, as though it mattered.
Ruth nodded and made an indeterminable noise of agreement. She suspected that Beth had done rather more than just let him in. She'd have to thank her later.
"You know, you're lucky I went with Mahler," Harry went on, clearly talking just for the sake of filling the silence. "After some considerable internal debate and several ill-advised whiskeys, I almost went with a Take That song."
She couldn't help the laughter that bubbled out of her. "Which one?" she asked.
Harry shrugged and dropped his arms down to his sides. "How am I supposed to know? I was going to ask Tariq for a list of their song titles but then I thought you'd probably appreciate the Mahler better."
She nodded. "I definitely appreciate the Mahler better."
"Do you…" He shuffled his weight from one foot to the other. "Do you know the story?"
"Of the Adagietto from the Fifth? Of course."
He smiled softly. "I thought you would."
"It's everything I've ever wanted to say to you, but more eloquent than I could ever hope to be." She was astonished at her own forthrightness, but she instantly felt a lot better for it.
He waited, watching her intently.
She forced herself to hold his gaze. "I could learn every language in the world and still not have a word for what this is." She gestured between their bodies, knowing he would know what she meant. "But music… And I agree, Harry. The timing is impeccable."
"Yes." Oh God, it really was.
"Good. That's… good." He nodded.
Neither of them moved. They stood on opposite sides of the room, openly staring at each other. Ruth suspected that her own expression must mirror Harry's; complete awe and shock that they seemed to be somehow on the same page at the same time. And a good page, at that. The very best.
"It's very good," Harry said after a pause so long Ruth had to think for a moment to remember what he meant.
She nodded. "I agree."
"Well, are we going to do anything about it or are we just going to stand here until Beth gets back?"
It was blissfully simple. "Come here, Harry."
He did, stopping about a foot in front of her, still wearing his coat. "Now what?" he asked, a little smile playing on his lips.
She reached up on tiptoe and kissed him, grasping the lapels of his coat to pull herself up to meet him. His hands went to her hips, steadying her, and she could feel the skin of his palms, warm and firm, through her skirt. She made sure to keep her eyes open so she could be sure it wasn't a dream.
When they parted, he kissed her forehead and pulled her into his arms for a bear hug. She hugged him back, arms sliding under his jacket and squeezing as tight as she could.
"Is this it, Ruth?" he mumbled into her hair. "Is this really it?"
She nodded, awkwardly, because her head was stuck under his chin. "I believe so, yes."
He kissed her forehead again, the shape of his smile evident against her skin. "Now what?" he whispered, in a tone of voice that left her reeling.
Ruth gripped him tighter and glanced towards the stereo. "Let's play it again," she said. "Again and again. Let's never stop."
A/N: Erm… yes. The end. Hope you liked it! Thanks for reading.