A/N: This chapter has been a long time coming. It is imperative that, even after all this time, for this chapter, I specifically thank my lovely, dear friend Gidget89. Who helped me immeasurably with this chapter so long ago (indeed, the research for this chapter was done nearly a year ago)-and, might I mention, was found on email 74 of 'many,' between the two of us. Thank you, Gidget, for your never changing fabulousness. I enjoyed sharing our fic and our ideas-and there was no one with whom I'd rather have done it.
And, now, some answers:
Gillian eyed Cal, unsure that his 'level best' would be good enough. Even 20 year old scars might set Cal off—he'd always been so keen on protecting her. Besides, she'd seen him tonight—his clenched jaw; and, worse, he'd seen her—especially just now, crying over pain she'd been carrying around with her for so long that it felt more and more like an old friend.
Still, she knew she needed to tell him, and, despite feeling nervous about his reaction, she knew that now was the time. She had only told this whole story, in its entirety, three times before—once to Alec, once to her mentor in graduate school, and once to another boy she thought she might marry, so many years ago. She placed the third encounter out of her mind—she'd never get through this properly if she kept thinking about Austin.
She decided it was best to start at the beginning—or at least, as near the beginning as was useful and would make sense, so, she steadied herself as best she could, and with a quiet voice, full of memory, she began to speak.
"I was a sophomore in high school and Steven was a senior. We actually hadn't been dating that long—I think we'd been out on maybe two dates, which is why I was thoroughly surprised when he asked me to go to prom with him. I was one of only three sophomores that were invited." Gillian laughed a little and tucked her hair behind her ear—her gaze was fixed on the horizon, and Cal watched her remember, her tongue running over her teeth before she let out another small laugh, that he imagined tasted of bitter irony, "I actually had to beg my parents to let me go. After two solid days of pleading and a bit of pouting, they finally acquiesced."
Cal watched her intently, Gillian met his eyes briefly, and he saw them glistening in what little light the moon gave off, before she focused her gaze back on the horizon.
"Steven showed up at my house in a tux, driving his dad's new Cadillac—he shook my father's hand, we took a few pictures by the fireplace, my mom cried over how beautiful I looked, and we left. I think…" Gillian trailed off, her eye squinting, deciding whether or not she should say the thing that just inhabited her mind.
Cal spoke gently, nearly whispering—"Say it."
"I think that was the first time in my life I'd ever felt beautiful—truly beautiful." Gillian tilted her head to one side, "My dress was pink—and Steven told me how beautiful I was in it, constantly—I remember being so happy, and blushing every single time he said it." She paused.
Cal leaned into her shoulder, "Not much has changed then, love." Gillian glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. He winked at her, but said seriously, "You're still beautiful," Cal watched the color rush to her face, "and you still blush."
The silence floated between them for a moment—"The way he was looking at me," Gillian smiled, and shifted her legs, "no one had ever looked at me like that before then."
"They have a million times now," Cal mused under his breath, thinking of all the times he'd looked at Gillian or been witness to someone else doing the looking. She chuckled and rolled her eyes a bit—and Cal was glad to see that she didn't mind his interjections. In fact, they seemed to be a welcomed reprieve for her.
Cal clenched his fists, waiting for the ball to finally drop—trying to fight the churning in his stomach.
"It was fun at first—we danced and ate and danced some more. It was the first time I'd danced with a guy who wasn't related to me, so of course I was nervous about it. But, he was really sweet and made me feel comfortable…"
Cal watched her face change, watched the nerves settle into her muscles as her jaw tightened, and Cal felt an overwhelming sense of sadness rush over him.
"But, then, Steven and his friends kept disappearing. I couldn't find them anywhere—then they'd come back for awhile and then leave again. I should've followed them, but I didn't. Steven seemed to be acting strange, but back then, I didn't… it wasn't…"
Gillian stopped and took a deep, calming breath, before she continued.
"I remember finding it odd that he constantly smelled of mint." She shook her head slightly, "Anyway, he got in the driver's seat to drive us home—well," Her voice broke a bit, "we were driving, and truthfully, I don't even know what happened except we were hit on the passenger's side, and Steven walked away unscathed—while I was in a hospital bed for five days."
Cal didn't need to ask—he knew the answer, he could see it all over Gillian's face; he'd seen it all over Steven's face earlier—and everything made so much sense that his head pounded and his stomach threatened to empty itself right on the spot—but he asked anyway, to protect her—so she wouldn't have to say it out loud, in the hopes that it would hurt less.
"He'd been drinking."
Gillian nodded once, solemnly, and blinked—"He and his friends had been doing shots of tequila—and I didn't know. I should've known."
Cal swept his hand gently down the back of her hair—"Oh, darling, how could you have?"
Gillian let out a breath, and wrapped her arms around herself—"My dad was an alcoholic, Cal. I should've seen it; I should've been able to tell."
Cal shook his head, "But beer was your dad's drink of choice, love, not tequila—and you couldn't see in a 17 year old boy what you had no reason to suspect was there to begin with. It's not your fault, there's nothing you could have done differently or better."
Gillian nodded. Cal knew that, deep down, she knew this—but he also knew that for Gillian, sometimes reifying the known was extremely helpful.
The silence engulfed them—it was thick and charged with Gillian's pain and Cal's anger, and even remnants of Steven's remorse. Cal sensed the story was not done, but he didn't push or prod—he simply sat with her, reached his left hand to take her right, and then ran his thumb over her hand before giving it a gentle squeeze and letting go.
Her voice was nearly choked when she spoke next, "You're right." Gillian nodded, "Of course you're right." She swiped at her face, brushing away the tears there.
Cal raised his eyebrows, "First time for everything." He said, choosing self-deprecation over arrogance.
He was rewarded for his choice by a smile—a true one, Cal noticed, as Gillian's eyes crinkled at the sides—and a laugh.
"Oh, it's good to hear that." Cal said, finding her eyes, and making sure that she understood that he absolutely meant it.
Gillian leaned her head on his shoulder for a brief moment, before she picked it up again, and Cal did his best to steel himself—the story, he knew, wasn't over yet.
"When I was released, the doctors wanted to keep an eye on me. When I went in for a checkup a month later, I had an abdominal aortic aneurysm; this one was located in my pelvis—an inflammation of my iliac artery. They went in for surgery—and they repaired it just fine." Gillian sighed, "When I woke up, they told me that the surgery was a success—but that they found something else while they were doing the surgery."
Gillian stared at the horizon again.
"The doctor told me that while they were repairing the aneurysm, they noticed something strange. They wanted to make sure nothing was wrong, so they investigated a little—" Gillian paused and gave a little laugh, "You know, to this day, I still don't really know what that means." She gave a little wave of her hand, "But they found adhesions—" Gillian shuddered, "I don't remember much from that conversation except for learning that I'd never be able to bear children."
Cal instinctively put his arm around her and pulled her close. Though he expected her to, she didn't pull away. Instead, she leaned into him, gathering comfort from his embrace.
"Later, when I was with Alec, we got more testing done—there were adhesions on my cervix and fallopian tubes, and uterus—the latter of which made it impossible." She took a moment—she didn't feel like explaining the mechanics of it, they weren't important, anyway. Cal ran his hand up and down her arm for a moment, feeling her body tighten under him. She tucked her head under his chin more thoroughly, and Cal rested his chin lightly on her head.
Her voice sounded tiny—"They think it was my seatbelt; when we got hit, Steven hit the brakes, causing the seatbelt to lock into place. If it had been just an inch or so higher," Gillian pulled away and shook her head, "But it wasn't. It was precisely where it needed to be to cause irreparable damage."
Gillian didn't cry—it hurt her, still, to say those words. For the longest time, all she'd ever wanted to be was a mother, and that night—a night that was supposed to be amazing, took that away from her.
Cal knew the story was over now, and he felt his blood pressure rise as his blood began to pump furiously through his body—He couldn't tell her how sorry he was—there weren't enough words in the universe to tell her, so he got angry instead. He could hear his heartbeat in his ears, loud and thunderous, as he rose, clenching his fists—with a determined gait, he headed back inside, rolling his sleeves up as he went—his intentions clear.
The story is not yet at a close-and the contents of this chapter were borne from a real story I saw on a news show many years back.
Thank you for your readership, thank you for your patience, and thank you for your reviews; if they did not come, this story certainly would not.