A/N: This is my first kick at the can...
I don't own either If I Stay or Where She Went, but I hope all the dithering behind this does them justice.
(Naranwien and Tim C. Girl - you know what? This is far more terrifying than either of you let on. But thanks for pushing me. Also thanks to bellaBBblack for recommending them in the first place. This is for you.)
What He Wants
Be careful what you wish for
'Specially whispered in the night
Better bank on getting it
But you'll never get it right
Too late to take it back now
So live life like you do
With the pain, and with regret
Realize it was you
Collateral Damage - Hidden Track
This is what I wanted.
A life where I controlled the music again. A life on my terms.
A life with Mia.
But I haven't touched my guitar since the tour ended nearly seven weeks ago. And my life is now dictated by Mia's schedule.
And she isn't ever really here.
If she isn't in a concert hall, she's at a marathon rehearsal, like she is tonight.
"I'll be home by 9. At the latest. I love you."
Said nearly 10 hours ago, at 1:00 this afternoon.
How is it that I can miss her more now than I did a year ago? When I thought I'd never see her again?
I'd hoped that when the tour ended we'd have more time to us. To relearn each other, rediscover each other, to figure out our future. Because I want that. So badly. A life with Mia.
But it turns out the holidays are very popular for classical music, and it's been a whirlwind of concert halls from Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia and back to New York.
It's nearly as hectic as Shooting Star's touring schedule had been.
Minus the crazy after-parties and groupies.
She's been busy. I know this. I try to remind myself of this when I get needy, when I just want to hold her, those times when I just can't quite believe this is real.
That she's here. With me.
But this is what I wanted.
The truth is, I have no idea what I want to do from here. For me, I mean. I know I want a life with Mia, but what do I want for me?
I've won a Grammy.
I've dated a movie star.
I've lived the rock star life style, complete with groupies and a dependency to prescription medications.
I've completed everything I ever set for myself. Every goal. Every dream.
Met and exceeded.
Where do you go from there?
I'm only 22.
Mia is on the rise though. She's still climbing her hill; she hasn't peaked, is no where near peaking. And a part of me, I think, may be jealous of that.
I'm starting to understand why she always hid backstage during my earlier shows. I'm starting to understand why she always felt she had to share me.
I watch the clock on the DVD player blink 12:01.
It's officially December 19th, and that has never been a good day for me. December 19th, exactly three years ago today, was the day her round trip ticket was supposed to bring her home to me.
I want her home with me.
It's only a few minutes later that I hear the front door open. I'm laying on the couch, in the dark, so I don't actually see her come in. I know that she must think I'm asleep by the way she shuffles quietly in, whispering to herself. She does this a lot, the whispering to herself. I listen as she crosses the tiny space and turns the light over the stove on. From the sounds of it, she's pouring a bowl of cereal.
She gives herself a start though as she comes to sit on the sofa and finds me awake.
"Adam! What are you doing in the dark?"
"Just thinking. How was rehearsal?" I sit up to give her space to sit down on the other end.
She settles herself cross-legged, cereal in hand, and blows out an annoyed breath.
For a brief moment, I think she may be annoyed with me for asking.
"I'm sorry I'm late. This new piece is kicking my ass. I don't know how they think I'll be ready by Thursday."
I know she's still talking, I hear her although I'm not really listening anymore. I'm watching her swing her spoon in time to her words, and thinking of the past few December 19ths. The first, when she was supposed to come home. The second, we'd played a radio show, the first of many promoting Collateral Damage, and we'd gone out after. Liz had slipped me drink after drink as I was still underage, but she'd gotten enough to me under the table to get the job done. And last year. When Bryn and I had only just moved in together, but I'd spent the whole day in the studio. Thinking of places and things and a person I had no business thinking of.
I don't know what emotions have been crossing my face, but Mia suddenly puts her bowl on the coffee table and has her hands on my face, her thumbs stroking gently under my eyes.
"What's wrong, Adam?"
And I can't. I just can't. I shouldn't, because it isn't her fault, not really, but all of a sudden I am up and off the couch and pacing the small living room and I can't keep it inside any longer.
"Do you know what today is, Mia?"
I've gotten up so quickly that she's still on her knees, facing the space I'd just occupied. I can see her forehead wrinkle slightly and she cocks her head to the side as she shifts on the sofa to look at me.
"It's Saturday," she says, but I can see she's confused.
"It's Sunday now, Mia."
"I said I was sorry I was late. I didn't mean for it to run..."
I don't let her finish. "Sunday, Mia. December 19th."
She still isn't getting it. Did this day mean nothing to her? She had to have known what day she was due to fly back. Or did she hate me so much that it hasn't ever crossed her mind?
All that time apart, was she ever really thinking of me? Did she light a candle on my birthday? Spend our anniversary alone? Did she watch It's a Wonderful Life every season specifically to feel closer to me, if only for that little bit?
I know I'm being selfish, and I know I'm being unfair - she was healing during that time, facing something no one should ever have to face - but I can't seem to reign myself in.
"December 19th, Mia!" I say again. "The day you were supposed to come home to me!"
My voice cracks at the end. It's getting hard to breathe. I haven't taken any medication in weeks, I haven't felt the need, but right now I'd give almost anything for the pill bottle to be in my hand.
I'm not going to go get it though.
I see realization dawn on her face. It's about damn time. She starts to push herself up off the couch, and I know she's going to come to me, reach for me, and I can't have that right now. I'm harsher than I mean to be. "No. Just say there."
She sits back down.
"I get it Mia. I do. I understand. But why couldn't you have just called me? Emailed me? 'Hey, Adam. I'm having a really hard time with things. I need a little space'. That's it. That's all it would have taken! I would have given it to you, Mia! I would have done anything for you! I would've waited. I would've waited for as long as I had to, if I just knew you'd come home to me!"
She's crying now. Just 20 minutes ago, she'd come in from a really long day. Thought she'd eat something little, watch some T.V., unwind, go to bed. And now I'm ambushing her. She's still looking at me, holding my eyes, not looking away, even as the tears fall.
I think I may be crying too.
"Would you have ever come home to me? If I hadn't shown up in August? If I hadn't gone to hear you, if you hadn't heard I was there, would you have ever come home to me on your own?"
This, I realize, is the question I need answered most. Because if she never had any intention of finding me again, if us being together is nothing more than coincidence, I don't know if I can do it.
I want a life with Mia.
But does she want a life with me?
She's blinking quickly, almost as if that movement alone will stop the tears. Her face is pale, and I can see she's having trouble catching her breath as well.
It's enough to make me move to sit on the coffee table in front of her. Not touching though. I still can't handle that.
I'm dreading this answer. I need this answer. I don't want this answer.
"Mia?" She's no longer looking at me, so I duck my head until she's forced to look at me. "Mia? Were you ever planning on coming home?"
Her voice is shaky and breathy and hard to hear. "I... No. No. I accepted that I didn't have a home anymore."
She's said something similar months before 'I accepted that as my punishment for what I'd done' but it hadn't made sense to me then, and it doesn't make sense to me now.
Did she think so little of us? That we would have shunned her?
I push up from the table hard enough that it tips backwards. I hear her cereal bowl hit the hardwood floor, but I don't care. When she leans over to get it, I find myself nearly yelling at her. "No! You. Stay. There. What the fuck do you mean you didn't have a home? YOU HAD ME!"
She's shaking her head and picks up a throw pillow. She pulls her knees up to her chest and curls into the corner of the couch, hugging the pillow to her tightly. I want to stop. I want to hold her and tell her it's okay, that we're here, now, and that's all that matters, but I can't.
I can't do anything it seems.
And for some reason, the sight of her curled up pisses me off even more.
"You had your grandparents, Mia. And Henry and Willow. Trixie and Theo. You had a home. What a fucked up thing for you to say."
"No, Adam. My grandparents had a home. Henry and Willow had a home, with Trixie and Theo. But I didn't belong there anymore." I'm about to interrupt, but she beats me to the punch. "No. Stop it. My parents bought me a cello. They encouraged me and were proud of me and they would have been so happy to know I made it. I belonged in Juilliard, Adam. I owed it to them. And you weren't there anymore. By the time..."
She trails off and buries her face in the top of the pillow, her forehead on her knees. She looks so small there, with her bare feet peeking out from her sweats. My emotions are all over the place. How can I be so fucking angry and still want to comfort her?
But of course I know the answer: it's always been Mia. She'll always come first.
I need to touch her. I won't touch her.
But I do right the table and sit in front of her again.
I see, rather than hear, her take a deep breath before she raises her head. She looks first to where I'd been standing before settling her gaze to my face again.
"I was in Portland until August of last year, Mia. I mean, yeah, we were touring, but my home was there. My life, minus you, was there. I was there."
She flinches slightly at the 'minus you', and I take a certain satisfaction in that. As unfair as I know it is, I'm hurting, and I want her to hurt too. I need to do this, and I may be saying things that I wouldn't normally say just to keep that distance between us, because I can not touch her.
If I do, the fight will be out of me; it'll be over, and next December 19th, I'll find myself here again. I don't want to be here, in this place in my head, anymore. I need to end this tonight. One way or the other.
She closes her eyes and tilts her face to the ceiling. I know this gesture. I've seen her do it before; she's fending off tears. Real tears. The make your nose run, give you hiccups kind.
Mission accomplished, asshole. She's hurting. Happy now?
I'm ashamed to say that I am.
I'm also growing impatient. With her or with myself, I'm not really sure, but my hands are shaking more now than they have in months, and I desperately want a cigarette. Fuck it.
I grab my jacket and make for the back door. I've managed to keep my smoking away from Mia, since she doesn't really approve, but right now? Ask me if I care.
She sounds almost panicked when she asks where I'm going.
"Out. Back. We aren't done. You stay there."
I slam the door with a very loud "FUCK!" on my way out. And since it's nearly 1:00 in the morning, I may very well have pissed off the neighbors with that. Again, ask me if I care.
There's no room to pace in what we call a 'backyard', so I settle for sitting on the back step, bouncing my knee. I can hear my mother telling me my motor's running, but I'm shaky and nervous and I have to move something or I'll combust.
What the hell does she mean? How the hell could she possibly think she couldn't go back? No. She didn't say she couldn't go back, but I remember her once saying that everyone there could have gone to see her; that she was afraid she wouldn't hear them anymore if she went back.
No. She could have gone back. She didn't want to.
She didn't want me. Or she wanted to keep them more.
The realization of that, that she nurtured and fed a relationship with her dead family over a very alive and very alone and very hurt me, makes me feel angry and guilty and unbelievably selfish all at once. How the hell can I even think something like that? They were her family!
But we, her family and her and I, could have come together. We worked so well together; we accepted each other, I was part of her family, and she took that from me when she took herself from me.
I'm halfway through my second cigarette when she sits down next to me. She has her gran's old crocheted afghan wrapped around her.
"I told you to stay there." I say. I sound like an ass. Who am I to judge how she handled her grief? It isn't like I handled it well myself. And where I nearly self-destructed, she managed to somehow flourish. But that thought again sets another wave of anger and jealousy through me. So I keep up the pretense by flicking my ash and staring in the opposite direction of her.
"I know. I'm sorry. But I'd like..."
"I don't want your sorrys, Mia. And I don't give a shit right now about what you'd like. You weren't coming to me on your own. Ever. You weren't ever going to seek me out. So you know what? I was wrong inside. We are done. I'm done."
"No! No no no! Adam!" She reaches for me as I stand up, but like the ass I am I yank my arm out of her reach.
"Yes. Mia. Christ. Three years! For three years I saw you around every corner. For three years Liz and Mike and Fitzy were forbidden- forbidden - to mention you. For three years I thought about you, and missed you and loved you. I visited your gran and gramps in hope of getting some news, any news. I couldn't believe that you just left like that - No. I'm talking - I understand it now, Mia. I do. I really do. But it doesn't change the fact that I couldn't let you go and you... You forgot all about me. About us. You were angry? Okay. You were hurting? Of course you were. But that didn't last the whole time. I tried to bridge the gap, the second I felt it coming. I tried. But you tore that bridge to pieces. You did. Not me. I never forgot you. And yes, I made the promise, Mia. I told you I'd let you go if you stayed, but after what we were, what we had, I deserved to know that you were leaving. Not have you just up and disappear. Jesus, Mia. You were everything to me!"
By this time I am literally leaning down into her, forcing her to lean backward on the steps. But now she looks almost incredulous.
"Okay. You know what? Yes. Yes. I should have thought to go home sooner, but don't give me this shit!" And I know that she must really be angry, because Mia rarely curses. "You did not pine for me for three years. You were not the love sick little boy that got left behind. You lived your life in the way you wanted, the way you always would have, whether I had ever been in the picture or not. You weren't held back. And I was 'everything' to you? Really? How many groupies were there, Adam? You missed me so fucking much!"
Really? I can't help but laugh. This is getting us no where.
This is all stuff we've talked about before, all things we'd mentioned fleetingly and dismissed with "It's in the past".
But it isn't. Not really. Until we put it to bed for good, all these issues, all these problems, are going to keep following us. This isn't just about today's date anymore. There is so much wrong with us.
There doesn't seem to be a resolution in sight.
This time it's Mia who walks away.
I watch her stumble back into the house and light another cigarette before I realize I don't actually want it. But damn it, I am not following after her. I'll give her enough time to get up to bed. I'll take the couch tonight and figure everything else out later.
Am I really considering calling it quits? I'm surprised that the answer is yes. Mia's last outburst was the last straw. She obviously doesn't understand what hell I went through when she left, while she was gone. She isn't even willing to try. And I can't just brush this aside. All I want, all I need, is confirmation that I meant something, anything, to her, and she can't give it.
Why am I competing with Kat and Denny and Teddy?
I'm setting myself up for this. While Mia comes first in my world, they will always come first in hers.
This isn't a surprise to me, so why can't I let it go?
Because the future, my future, is uncertain and scary enough on its own. I can't spend it constantly doubting her and me and us.
This, right now, should be enough. I should be happy that I have her here now. But it isn't. And I'm not.
I give it half an hour before I go back in, but Mia isn't in bed. She's sitting on the sofa, waiting for me.
"I don't want your sorrys. We've already done this part."
I try to brush past her, but the space is small, and this time she manages to catch my hand.
"Mia. I'm serious. I'm done. You left. You walked away. You burned our bridges, you weren't coming back, and yet you are holding what I did in reaction against me. I've never asked who you were with, I've never... It doesn't matter. Look, it's late. We're both tired. Just go to bed."
There is no resolution and I just want it over.
I pull my hand from hers and go into the bathroom. I'm hoping this time she listens and will be upstairs before I come out. So I, finally, take an anxiety pill, brush my teeth, and then jump in the shower hoping that the running water will be enough of a hint for her that I'm not coming out any time soon. And also so I can cry without her hearing.
I want a life with Mia, yes. But I want to live a life with Mia. Not merely survive. And that's all we're doing.
She isn't in the living room when I come out. I didn't want her to be, but I find I'm disappointed all the same.
Just once, I want her to fight for us.
I lay on the couch, facing the back of it, hiding from the world in the way little kids do, the 'if I can't see it, it can't see me' way, for what feels like hours. I'm numb, surprisingly. Like I knew all along that this wasn't real, that it wasn't happening, that it was too good to be true. That the alarm would blare and I would wake up.
You didn't exactly give her a chance. Bullshit. She's had plenty of chances. She's had all night. But you didn't let her talk. I let her talk! She had ample opportunity to say what she needed to say. When you stormed out back? When you interrupted her? When you flipped the coffee table?
And that's when I realize the voice in my head isn't mine. It's Kat.
Before I can say another thing back to her, before I can even wrap my head around the fact that Kat is in my head, I feel the couch dip down lightly and Mia is pressed against my back.
"Please don't push me away. I'll talk, you listen. And if you still want it to be done," I can feel her whole body shaking, even though her voice is surprisingly steady. "If you still want it to be done, I'll hate it, but I'll understand. Please?"
I start to roll myself over, because Kat was right, I didn't give her time to talk, but Mia stops me by tightening the arm she has slung around my chest. "Just... could we stay like this?" She lets out an uncomfortable laugh/sob, and I can feel her forehead at the base of my skull. "It's just, I've never said most of what I'm about to say out loud, some of it even to Nancy, and I think... I think it might be easier if I'm not looking at you."
This I really do get. It's probably the same reason I closed my eyes while playing most of the songs I'd written about her. For her. It's easier to get out if you don't have to face the devastation.
Even when the devastation is imagined since you knew you'd never see her again.
I brace myself and nod. I don't trust myself to speak, to not be an asshole. She needs to say this, and I need to hear it, no matter how much it hurts. Me or her or us.
The longer it takes her to start, the harder my heart is pounding, and I am no longer numb. Through the fear I'm feeling, I recognize that this might be it, the last time Mia holds me, or I hold her, or we hold each other, so I take the hand she has wrapped around me and bring it to my lips. A quick kiss to her finger tips and then I press her hand over my heart and wait.
Wait for her to break me. Or save me. Or maybe a little of both.
"I had... The first year was really hard for me. I think I told you this, but I changed therapists like people change socks."
When she finally begins talking I can feel her warm breath on my back through my T-shirt, but I can barely hear her. I don't ask her to speak up though. I can hear her enough and it's obvious this is hard for her. Hard for me, too. "I didn't do anything but go to class and rehearsal and therapy and feel angry all the time. Kim initiated every single conversation and visit we had that first year. It was that first February, early February, I hadn't been in contact with her since Thanksgiving, I was ignoring her, I wanted her to go away too, you know? Because..." She stops for a moment. Takes a deep breath. "It's so unfair, because I knew her first, I loved her first, but I couldn't talk to her without thinking of you. And I blamed her, too. I hated her for what she did, for the part she played. And I love her now for that, and I'm sure I loved her for it in the beginning, but then? All I could think was that she went and got you. She brought you to me. She helped you, even though you never got along, she... It was her fault, because without her, you would have been on stage and wouldn't have been able to ask... God, I'm sorry."
She tightens her hold on me like I'm her life line. And maybe, at this moment I am. It takes her a very long moment to compose herself enough to continue. But I still don't trust myself to speak, even though this is the first time I'm hearing that it wasn't just me, I wasn't the only one she left behind. So I squeeze her hand.
"So I was pushing her out too, or trying to, but Kim... Kim is a stubborn bitch."
She gives a little chuckle and sniffs. "And she wouldn't give up. So early February, she just shows up. No warning, no phone call, nothing. She's just at my door."
Which is exactly what Kim had done to me that February as well and I think I never gave her enough credit. Because she recognized what I hadn't: that she and I were in the same boat.
"I wasn't where I needed to be yet, Adam. And it was February! Why would she think it would be a good idea to force herself into my space, into my home, into my memories? Of course, hindsight being 20/20 and all, I get it now. And I love her so much for knowing what I needed, but at the time... I said some truly horrible things to her. I... God, but she just sat there and took it all. Let me scream and... I hit her Adam. I can't believe I did that, but I did. She tried to tell me she loved me, and I slapped her. And she hugged me! I slapped her and she hugged me, and I was so tired of people letting me off the hook, and so angry at everything, that I told her to leave. To go and not come back, and I wasn't nice about it, but if she really loved me... If she really did, she'd let me alone. I didn't... I hadn't consciously remembered that yet, but I just wanted to be let go."
And now I really think I haven't given Kim enough credit. Because she came to check on me after being dismissed by her best friend so callously, and I had done the same thing. February was the anniversary of the accident. A day that, had Mia and I been as strong as Kim, all three of us might have weathered together. And instead Kim had to take it upon herself to verify that the pieces were all still there, even if they were in a jumbled up mess and no where near put together.
But where Kim hadn't given up, where Kim had pushed and persevered, I'd tucked tail and hidden. I ran in the other direction. I'd thrown the only real connection to Mia I had under the bus. What might have happened if I hadn't done that?
I try to keep my tears to myself, but I guess Mia can feel me shaking, because she wraps a leg around me now as well and gives me a full-body hug. Or the best she can in the position we're in. And somehow, it seems like she knows exactly what I'm thinking.
"She told me later that she went to visit you and that you didn't want to see her. But she knew Adam. She knew you weren't really angry at her."
At least there's that. I have some absolution. But the next time Kim is around, no matter what comes of me and Mia tonight, I owe her an apology.
Kim was a much better friend, is a much better person than I ever gave her credit for. But now, I thank Mia the only way I can for offering me the absolution I take so greedily: I bring her hand to my lips again and keep it there. Breathe in the scent of the wood from her bow that seems hell-bent to be forever there and let that ground me.
I have a feeling this is only going to get harder for her to say. And harder for me to hear.
But somewhere in last few minutes, my fear has ebbed, and I'm left feeling somewhat empty. And yet trepidatious. This is it Adam. This is what you wanted.
"But, anyway, she left, and I was alone. Really alone for the first time. I mean, I felt alone for the first time. And that made me more angry. Because who would leave someone in my state alone? I was alone, all the way across the country, 18 and dealing with the fact that somehow I survived, somehow I was deemed worthy to live when mom and dad and Teddy weren't. What made me so special? I wasn't worthy Adam. Teddy was worthy! If it could only be one of us, why...? I know I said I wanted to be left alone, but I didn't... I didn't want to be. But I also knew that I... I wasn't supposed to be here. If only Teddy and I had been in opposite seats, if only I'd driven when dad offered, maybe I'd have been going slower so maybe we wouldn't have been there, we wouldn't have been at that exact spot at that exact time... And I realized it was my fault, all of it. My fault. It was decisions I made that morning."
She's actively sobbing now, moved beyond simple tears or crying; I can feel the dampness through my shirt, feel her quaking behind me, and I think what have I done?
"So I sucked it up. And thought 'This is what you deserve. You shouldn't even be here' and thought as much as I wanted you and Kim and everyone, you deserved more. And that made me more angry. That I was here, when I shouldn't be, and I couldn't even... I could barely force myself out of bed most mornings, let alone make myself worthy. I couldn't get away from it. The anger. It ate me up from the inside out."
I want to tell her to stop. I can't hear this. But I know that's mostly me being selfish again, because this time frame she's talking about? I was wallowing in my own grief of losing her and had never once, not once, considered what she'd been going through. We'd been so concerned, she and Gran and Gramps and I, with the physical side of therapy, of getting her ready to attend Juilliard, that it hadn't even dawned on me what she would go through once she actually got there. What she would face once she met that goal.
I'd abandoned her. I'd given her only five months and I'd left her adrift on her own.
"It took me months to find Nancy, but in August of that year, I did, and I started to realize that it wasn't you or Kim or the hospital, or even really myself, that I was angry at. It was the whole fucked up situation. But by that time, it had been a year since I'd seen you, and seven months since I'd sent Kim away, even though she kept emailing and popping by, and I was just... so embarrassed and I thought it was too late. I'd sent you away, all of you away. I was alone. And that's what I deserved."
She was alone. I'd left her alone.
In August, we were kicking off our West Coast pre-tour of sorts, and I was getting back in the saddle as Fitzy said, and she was completely and totally alone.
I am an asshole. How could I have been so selfish?
"By November of that year, my second Thanksgiving at Juilliard, I started to try to make amends. Little things at first. I had my first real conversation with Gran and Gramps, more than the standard check-in call, and I told them nearly everything about how guilty I felt, and Gramps told me he felt the same way after the war, but that no one really understood PTSD or survivor's guilt back then, so he had to devise his own ways to cope, and he said he knew it wasn't the same, but it made me feel better. To know that I wasn't alone, in feeling this way at least, I wasn't alone. I mean, Nancy had told me that, on so many occasions, but to have Gramps really understand, and not just commiserate? To have someone listen and really truly get it and not try to fix it or fix me? For the first time since the accident, I could breathe again."
As if to prove her point, she takes a deep shuddering breath now that makes me rattle with her. How hard this must have been on her. And I'm trying, not very successfully, to just listen and place it in context for her life, and not mine, because I'm realizing I haven't put Mia first. Not like I thought I had. And this isn't about me. Not anymore. And it never should have been.
"After I talked to them, and made peace with Kim, I figured 'It's now or never, Mia. Do it while you're in a good place' because I'd been warned that feeling okay now didn't mean the feeling would last, and I asked Gran to get me a ticket home for Christmas."
She was going to come home? What the hell had stopped her? I didn't think it was possible, but she wrapped herself further around me, pressing her face so tightly against my back that I could now feel her lips move as she talked.
I still haven't said a word.
"You have to understand that I'd been so wrapped up in my own bad place and trying to fast-track that I hadn't paid a bit of attention to the outside world. Nothing. I hadn't read a paper or watched T.V. or gone online for any reason other than to ignore emails or do research. But I downloaded your album then and I really listened to it, and the words... I know we talked about this before, but Adam, I really thought you'd understood, that you knew, without me telling you, you knew what I was going through and you were telling me it was okay. And the day before my flight was to leave, it was December 22nd, I was running to get some coffee, and I saw your face, for the first time in a year, on a magazine cover. And I thought it all was a sign, that it was a good omen, that going home was the right thing to do."
I automatically try to think what cover might have been out that December, but I've been on so many over the years that I have no luck.
"So I head over to look more closely. And... You weren't alone on the cover. You were with Liz. But also another girl, and it... it wasn't just a friend. She wasn't just a friend." She lets out another deep sob at the same time I think shit because now I know what cover she means. That was taken the night Liz had snuck me drinks under the table. The night I'd tried to drown out Mia with another random girl. The night the flashbulbs had caught me with my pants almost literally down, so wasted that I hadn't cared that I'd been left unzipped when we walked outside.
That had been Mia's first re-introduction to me.
She was planning on coming home. She'd been coming back to me. She'd fought her way alone through a place too horrible for me to really imagine, had come out safely, was coming home to me and I'd been in bed with another girl. She was right with what she had said outside: I wasn't the poor sap who'd been left behind.
This time, it's me who lets out a huge sob and I force my way around so I can hug her to my chest, because God, I had fucked up on so many levels. She doesn't fight me, just holds me tight, and she's still here, still in my arms, and I don't know for how much longer. I'm so afraid that her saying this out loud, to me, will make her see me for what I really am: a selfish arrogant asshole who thought of nothing but himself. I'm afraid she'll catch on that she deserves better than me.
For a long while we do nothing but rock gently on the sofa; it's a reflexive, comforting movement but I can't tell which of us is rocking the other. And cry. Her in deep gut-wrenching sobs, and me as silently as I can because I still don't want her to see me. I have no right to cry over what happened then. I had no right even while it was happening. It wasn't my reactions to her leaving that had caused me to act the way I did. It was my unwillingness to understand. Not hers. I've been wrong so much tonight. So much the last three years.
"So I went home and cancelled my flight, because it was a sign. Just not the one I wanted. You'd moved on. Maybe you did understand that I had to choose me for a while, but... I'd waited too long. Taken too long."
A little over a year. She'd taken a little over a year. She hadn't taken too long. I hadn't given her long enough.
"It was my fault. Again. I couldn't save Mom and Dad and Teddy and now I couldn't save us..."
I find myself shaking my head, vehemently denying her this. I won't allow her to take the blame for this.
"No, Adam. You were right. I burned our bridges. I understand that song better now. You were telling me even back then. I was hurting, but I pushed that hurt back on everyone I loved."
Which is exactly what I had done to her earlier tonight. When I wanted her to hurt with me.
"I was so... irrationally jealous for a long time. I turned into one of those crazy stalker fans of yours. I searched for you and made myself look. I forced myself to see you with every girl, I youtubed your Grammy acceptance speech, I made myself see that you were doing it. You were doing what you'd set out to do, and after awhile I knew that staying away was the best thing I could have done for you."
I want to speak now, but I can't seem to force the words out. How can she think that? But I know. From the outside looking in I appeared happy and successful. I put on a good public face back then.
But she answers my unasked question anyway, because Mia has always known me better than I know myself.
"You never would have made it that far if you'd been babysitting me, Adam. You'd have been held back and... eventually you'd have resented me for it. Okay, maybe not," she quickly amends as I think, I think, I manage to finally get out a quick litany of 'no no no'. It might be in my head though. This whole moment seems so surreal. "But we don't know that. Not for sure. And look at what you accomplished! I was so very proud of you. Still insanely jealous that it wasn't me, that I wasn't by your side, but let's face it. I never really was, was I? I hid in the corner or backstage and never..."
She trails off and releases her tight grip on me. I hug her tighter in return. For all of my not wanting to touch her earlier, I can't let her go now. I won't. If I let her go again, she may never return.
She huffs out a breath. "I never supported you the way I should have. I was always proud of you, I hope you know that. I was intimidated and frightened, but always so so proud of you."
I look down at her face, so open and honest and vulnerable, and I want to kiss her, to show her what I can't seem to tell her. That I knew. That I know. And that I'm sorry.
"And then," she keeps eye contact now, not letting me look away. I want to hide, because I know she sees right through me. She sees the selfish creature I am. "After another six or seven months of wallowing and talking to Nancy and to Kim, I decided I would try to see you, because I thought, we both deserved to at least say good-bye, but then I saw you with Bryn," I want to look away, but she won't let me. She gives me a sad, small smile that breaks my heart. "and it hit me that now you really looked happy. That maybe before it had all been an act, but you truly looked happy with her. I was afraid that if I showed up, I'd screw that up for you, and I didn't want to be the cause of anymore unhappiness or heartache. You deserved to be happy, Adam. And I stopped feeling jealous, because I realized... that's all I wanted for you. To be happy and successful, and you had it. So I let you go. For really real. I stopped digging for information, I stopped obsessing over what I'd destroyed, I let you go and tried to move on myself."
I don't think I want to hear this part, at all, so I borrow her trick, ignore her protests, and hide my face in her hair. If maybe saying things is easier when you aren't looking at the person, well maybe it works for hearing them to.
She surprises me by chuckling. It's an odd noise coming through the shaky breaths and the sniffs and the sobs. "Of course, 'tried' is the operative word. I let you go, but I couldn't get rid of your memory. To answer your question earlier? Two, Adam. Two people while I was gone."
Just two? I'm ashamed by my own over-indulgence. But still parts of me are relieved and jealous and pissed that two other people got to hold her, kiss her, touch her, while I was faking it with Bryn. Not in the beginning. Mia's right about that. I thought I was happy in the beginning. I thought I'd been given the chance to move on.
That had lasted all of three weeks, though. Tops.
"The first time... it was horrible. I thought 'Just get through it. He's a nice guy, and you have to move on at some point, Mia' and after, I cried for days. Because he wasn't you, and it wasn't us, and I forced it. It wasn't right. The second guy actually stuck for a bit. He was fast-tracking too, for violin, and we had a lot in common. We'd been friendly the whole time we'd been in school, and when it happened the first time, in April, it didn't feel awkward or forced. It was... comfortable. I was content. But he was with me one day, we were just taking a walk, and an interview with you was playing on a T.V. through the open door of a pizza place. I had to stop. I hadn't heard your voice in months since I'd stopped cyber-stalking you. You were talking about the up-coming tour and how much you loved to travel. I couldn't help but smile. Adam. You... you were... you are the most important thing in my life, and to see you excited and so animated? It made me happy. And Ben had known about you, in the most general terms, but I guess my reaction was enough. He knew then without a doubt. We broke up a few weeks before you showed up in August."
She won't let me hide anymore. She cups my face and forces me to look at her. "I wanted to come home to you Adam. But I waited too long. And I was not going to be so selfish as to screw up whatever measure of happiness you'd found by showing back up again. I screwed up once. Big time. I wasn't going to do it again. I hope you can understand how it looked to me. And know that I really did want you to be happy, even if it was with Bryn. Even if it wasn't with me. But I loved you the entire time. I let you go, but you had become such a part of me..."
I do kiss her then, deep and searching, and let it speak the truth for me. She doesn't fight me, but she does pull back first.
Her dark eyes are intense and flicking back and forth between my own. Now, now, after everything she's said, her voice shakes.
"Are we... Are you done? Adam?"
And finally I can speak. "I'm sorry, Mia. So so sorry. I love you. I'm not... That was the stupidest fucking thing I've ever said." I crush her to me. "I handled everything so badly. Everything. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
And she's gently caressing my head and letting me cry, telling me I have no reason to be sorry, I was just living my life the best way I could.
I want to believe that.
"I walked away, Mia! It wasn't you. I was so wrong about everything. All this time, I only thought about how much I needed you, I never once thought..." And I can't. Again. I can't continue. I can't let her see. I can't let her realize. I can't let her go.
"It isn't your fault, Adam. - No. It isn't. - We all handle our grief differently. And you... you lost them too. Everything I lost... you'd lost, too."
We're quiet except for the occasional hitch of breath or hiccup. Mia goes to pull away, and I panic. She can't go. But she needs to use the bathroom and wants to grab some tissues.
I cry myself to sleep while she's gone.
When I come to, the clock is reading 4:24 am, and Mia is curled back around me. I didn't even feel her come back. I don't like that, that I missed her return. I watch her sleep for a bit, her mouth in a slight frown, her hand on my side occasionally clenching and unclenching.
She's been through so much.
I brush her hair gently back from her face and trace down her nose and around her lips. You wouldn't even know they'd done surgery. The scars are so thin and so faint they are very easy to miss. But I find myself touching every place I know she was hurt. Her face, her shoulder, her rib cage, the scar where they removed her spleen, her thigh through the material of her sweatpants where I know they harvested skin for the grafts. Touching them, tracing them, and letting myself realize that these scars, the ones on the outside, weren't the worst of it. Weren't what I should have been so concerned about it the beginning.
By the time I make my third circuit of her face, her eyes are open and she's smiling somewhat uncertainly at me. "I love you, Mia."
"I love you, too. Are we... are we going to be okay?"
I stop tracing her scars with my fingertips and instead place a gentle kiss on each spot. I shift her to her back so I'm hovering over her and by the time I reach her shin, when the major skin grafts had to be done, her breathing has deepened.
"Adam? Don't. Please."
I look up at her. I'm hurt, of course, that she doesn't want me, but this is about her.
From now on, really about her. Not the half-assed way I'd put her first before.
But as I start to move back up, she continues, "Not unless we're really okay. I don't want this to be our good-bye."
Her eyes are squeezed shut, but I can see tears tracking down the side of her face before being lost in her hair.
"Never good-bye Mia. Never."
Faster than I ever would have expected her to move, she's up and kneeling in front of me, eyes searching for the truth in my own. I guess she finds it because she's in my arms and crying and laughing and her head is buried in my neck.
She is soft and warm and smells like soap and sleep and I don't know if now is the right time to be thinking the things I'm thinking, but it's December 19th and she's in my arms and I love her and she loves me.
But once again, she just seems to know. She kisses my neck where her face is buried and runs her one hand down my back. Slowly. "Is this okay?" She asks quietly. Warm breath in my ear and I've lost my ability to speak for a whole different reason.
I have to clear my throat before I can even manage "S'okay" because her teeth are gently nipping my ear lobe and her hands are pushing up my shirt.
Part of me thinks we should really talk more, but her hands are on my bare skin, where only hours before I thought they'd never be again, and I think the part of me that wants to talk can just go to hell.
But I push her back into the sofa and again kiss her scars, removing clothing as I go, hoping that she understands that each kiss is "I love you. I love all of you. We're here now. That's what matters. This is what I want. You are what I want."
I know we've got a way to go, that it isn't miraculously all better now, that we'll probably go through something similar again, because while time does heal all wounds, I have to learn to be patient and give it the time it needs. Give her, give me, give us the time we need.
I may suck at that. But this is the way forward. We have to deal with it as it comes, and not hold onto the hurt. We have to trust ourselves. We have to trust each other.
By the time I push myself inside of her and feel her arch against me, I know that we will be okay.
When I feel her tremble and hear my name in a breathy repeated pant, when her nails are digging into my shoulder blades and her heel is digging into my ass, I know we are okay.
When she locks up, when she tenses around me, when with a final deep push inside of her I release every ounce of love I have for her, I know that we're better than okay.
And after, when I don't want to move, when I'm still above her and looking into her eyes, cupping her head in both my hands, brushing the hair above her ears with my thumbs, I see it all reflected back at me.
I want a life with Mia. And she wants a life with me.