It is in her bungalow, through the shuttered blinds, that she happens to catch a glimpse of him crossing the boardwalk that overlooks the beach. The moment is fleeting and ephemeral and he leaves her sight after only the briefest of seconds, but she finds herself staring after the place his body once stood, as if she could see the outline of his form still present in her vision.
It's then that she knows, and maybe prematurely, that she's in over her head. She should not have dared to challenge him.
(His eyes downcast, his heart on the floor, he whispered to her, "Wherever you go, I'll follow you.")
(She had scoffed at him then, and with eyes as sharp as thorns, words as cold as ice, "Hawaii, then. Next week. It's my honeymoon.")
She had not thought he would follow through.
She wakes at dawn to the smell of bacon and eggs cooking — it's her favorite breakfast and Christopher never forgets. Her life is carefully put together in a schedule, and as long as she lives, she will never turn off that schedule. She will open her eyes at dawn, enjoy breakfast with her husband, and spend the day leisurely awaiting his return from the business he attends to.
It seems quite the norm to her that Christopher — never Chris, but always Christopher — should be gone during the day, that she never once considers such a thing could be abnormal in the least. Their honeymoon was less of a honeymoon in itself and rather an extended business trip in a tropical place.
Quinn does fine on her own, reading a book in the hammock outside their house overlooking the beach, or watching the surf flow over her toes and rush back out again.
She is lying alone on the hammock, swinging peacefully in time to the wind, when he yells at her from down below on the sand dunes.
At first, she desperately tries to ignore him. Despite everything, this honeymoon of sorts isher time. It's her vacation. When she gets home, back to New York, there will be more schedules to create and days to plan, but for now, she is at peace, and for him to dare disturb her makes her wish she had stayed after all.
She closes her eyes forcefully. The ineffable silence lulls her as she sways steadily on the hammock, and all she wishes is for him to disappear.
"Quinn," and yet his voice sounds closer still.
She finally opens her eyes and glances at him. His lassitude is prominent in his deep-set frown, his dark eyes, and she wants so much just to tell him to go home. It's not worth it. She, all her own, is not worth it. The wind whistles mellifluously over the palms, as if trying to warn him. For all his efforts, they would be in tragic vain.
"What do you want, Puck?" Her words are chosen slowly, precisely. She doesn't want to hurt him but it seems inevitable.
He rests his large hands on the tree, and he stares at her as if she is new and exciting and sempiternal to him. It unnerves her. Quinn tips her sunglasses down to watch him and he watches just as easily back, regarding her coolly if a little awestruck.
He cracks a smile. "Aren't I allowed to visit you?" Puck's words are also chosen carefully. In all his years, in all the time they have spent apart, she marvels over how he never once stopped smiling.
Quinn pulls a towel over her chest to hide herself from his leering eyes. Age has not affected his maturity in the least. "I told you to stay behind," she murmurs, as if imploring him to leave her be. She is a tragic mess and he only furthers the forthcoming disaster. "It's my honeymoon."
"It was easy to find you," he says as if he hasn't heard her. "Travel agencies and all that. I arrived two days after you and Christopher did."
She tips an ice cube into her mouth and cracks it in between her teeth, attempting to remain casual even as the hairs on the back of her neck are standing directly on end. "I'm flattered you spent so much time on me." Her eyelids flutter sarcastically.
He narrows his eyes. "I always spend time on you."
The truth is that he has, but she doesn't want to dwell on that, or give him the satisfaction of being right. She swallows the ice cube whole and sits up to address him at last.
"You shouldn't be here, Puck." At last she has stopped planning her words. Come what may, she will say what she has to say, and then finally he might just leave her alone.
He tips his head to the side. "But I am."
She subconsciously grits her teeth. "You're ruining my vacation."
Again he grins at her, shaking his head. They were in love once, she remembers suddenly. It was fugacious and erstwhile but it happened, at one point in time, it happened, and it's as if he is desperately trying to remind her of the fact. It's not that she doesn't know — she does, and she remembers thoroughly, the nights spent in his bed and all around him, whispering things into his ear that she never told anyone, her structured walls crumbling bit by bit as she revealed her secrets. Those were the times they were in love.
But things have changed, and individually, so have they.
"You invited me along, didn't you?" he answers back, still wearing that contemptuous smirk, still reminding her of all the reasons why loving him was a mistake.
"I —" She stops and thinks back to her words when she parted with him before. She had told him where she was going, and challenged him to come along, but she had never thought he'd actually —
She flushes pink and he laughs at her, loud and mocking.
"What do you want from me?" She tightens the metaphorical noose around his throat. He has to answer the question at last.
He licks his lips and drags his eyes from her face to her chest. The towel had fallen slightly and his gaze lands on the steady slope of her breast, the way her legs bent ever-so-slightly and gave his searching stare access to the flimsy material of her bottoms. Her entire body tenses as he assesses it — she should move the towel to cover her once more but old habits die hard, and perhaps she likes the way it makes her feel. He always had his way of doing that - -making her feel beautiful and untoward all at once.
He meets her eyes again and the red of her cheeks catches his eye. He looks down once, and then up again, saying quietly, "I want everything."
She huffs indignantly. "You want it too much."
In his eyes, a distance memory flashes, and she watches his resolve turn to dust in midair. His gaze hardens. "Maybe I just want to fuck you again." He shoves his hands in his pockets. "See if you still feel the same."
"Then do it." She lifts her chin, daring him again. It's not that she hasn't — well, she's thought about it. It's one of her ever-present thoughts. In all her years of denying, she had always felt more when it was he.
He seems to contemplate it for a moment. "That'd be giving you what you want."
She swallows thickly and he watches the undulation of her neck. It's a horrible impasse between what they want and what they need. They've never been good at choosing between the two, and even worse when it came to choosing for the both of them.
"I never said I wanted it."
"But you do." And even then, his eyes drift below where they should be.
She recalls the late nights she spent with her heart in her throat, a dress hiked up her thigh and the curls of her hair wisping before her eyes. She remembers murmuring that she loved him against his shoulder and the flutters of her stomach as he whispered it back. In the present time, she shakes her head mutely. "Puck —"
There are stars in his eyes. He's remembering too. She wonders if he regrets it — if it was ever a mistake to him, as she once considered for herself.
They had spent so many days surreptitiously in the sheets, hidden from the world, only showing each other every thought and feeling.
"You know," and in his eyes, she watches the stars flicker and then die, "I never stopped. Loving you, that is. And even now."
For all her bravery, she could not say it back. "Okay."
She closes her eyes briefly, and when she opens them, she watches his retreating form as he jogs back down to the beach. The world is so cold even when the sun is shining.
She returns to her book, to get lost in the words, so she might never have to think again.
Christopher is a boy she met in college. He was an honor student who majored in business and finance, and they met through a friend of a friend of a friend sort of deal. Their romance began quickly but continued steadily throughout their four years at Ohio State University.
They shared the same common interest of wanting to leave the rural state and move to bigger and better things. She was majoring in literature at the time, and found the idea of journalism in New York City to be inexplicably exciting. He, too, wanted to move to New York.
It was a pipe dream, but he was always so good at making those come true.
Quinn never doubted that she loved him. He was everything she needed in a man. He was careful and modest and would support her throughout her whole life. All she had to do was stay home and write from her computer desk.
He loved her. He treated her like gold.
Sometimes, though — and only sometimes — she wonders if things would have been different if she hadn't gotten on that plane years ago to Columbus. Puck had begged her to stay with him. He had told her that they'd get out of Lima as soon as they could, but, "Don't go just yet. Stay with me and we'll leave together."
She had told him then that she was worth more than this. Maybe she never truly believed it, but she got on that flight. She looked back once and only once to his form silhouetted against the rising sun, watching her go, and if he ever cried over her, she didn't see it.
She left him the day after graduation and sometimes, when she's alone, she regrets it.
But only sometimes. And only when she's alone.
Eventually she'll find out through the grapevine, as things go, that he left Lima the week after she did. He cut off contact with nearly everyone they ever knew and moved to Albany, where his grandparents lived. Finn was the only one who ever really talked to him, and it was fleeting. He reported to whom it may concern that Puck was doing fine. He was going to a community college just outside of his district, and he'd even been seeing a girl.
It's neither here nor there — the girl was nameless and faceless, as would all his conquests be, and though he knew where she was, he never once visited her until the month before her wedding.
It's a night when Christopher is gone once more, attending to his business matters at Honolulu for his company that was expanding and flourishing at last. He had kissed her goodbye in the afternoon and warned her that he would be late, and that he had booked a hotel just in case he couldn't make it back. She nodded that she'd understood and spent the day typing up drabbles of poetry that she would never dare show the world.
After a nap, she awoke to darkness, and all at once, a feeling of immense weariness came over her.
She had come to Hawaii for a honeymoon and she never once saw her husband during the morning hours. If he ever came home at all, it was to immediately fall right asleep in the living room cot, for he did not want to wake her in the master bedroom.
She spent all her time alone.
The epiphany washes over her like red tide, and with a strengthening resolve, she pulls on one of her summer dresses and flees out to the sand.
The night air is cool and humid on her face, and the sand between her toes is decidedly pleasant. She ventures to the surf and watches it his over her feet, the crashing and rolling of the waves lulling her as she twirled almost drunkenly on her tip-toes, an unbalanced ballerina.
She watches the moon drift across the sky with her arms spread out beside her. She can't remember the last time she'd done anything for the fun of it, and as she tries to find where the sea meets the horizon, the soft sound of footsteps on the sand catches her attention. Quinn hesitates only for a moment and then whirls around to face her stalker.
Of course, it would be Puck.
Her dress floats out around her with the sea breeze, and almost at once she realizes how silly she must look. She drops her arms heavily and breathes harshly through her nose, patting down her hair and facing him stonily. He smiles at her, shaking his head wondrously.
"When did you stop having fun?" he asks her, and the question resonates.
She closes her eyes and attempts to catch her breath. She doesn't want to admit that he's right — and she never has been good at relinquishing her own rightness — but she can't remember when she last spent the day for herself, laughing and twirling like she did when she was a child.
The truth is, she hasn't had fun since she awoke every morning to his face on the pillow beside her. She used to draw circles in his back and trace the lines of his face, but now she only remembers.
She gulps the sea air, as if it would stop her from remembering. "I don't know."
He watches her curiously, his hands shoved in his pockets once more, his eyes reminding her of things she doesn't want to relive. She used to have fun. She used to be in love and now she's a shell of a human, wandering aimlessly.
"Stop it!" The feral sound explodes from her and she rushes at him, pushing him back as far as he would go.
She pushes him again and he stumbles back. "Quinn, what are you —"
"Shut up!" She punches his chest again and again, falling against him as she remembers, and she shouldn't remember anything, but she does, she always will. The tears are warm on her lips before she even realizes she's crying.
She hates him.
He's ruined everything. She was perfectly fine before he showed up, just two months ago. If he had stayed gone, she would never have to remember.
"I hate you," she whispers. "Why did you come back?"
He catches her fists with his own hands, uncurling them gently and placing them at her sides. She's so frail in his arms, her face pushed into his chest and her hands drifting up to curl into his shirt. He presses his lips to the part of her hair. "I'm sorry."
"No, you're not," she cries. "You're selfish as always."
If he had never come back, she would never have to feel anything ever again.
She lifts her head to look at him and almost immediately he lips are on hers, a hand cupping her cheek as the other wraps around her waist. She doesn't want to feel this again but old habits die hard, and the saying has never been more truthful.
"I don't want to remember," she says again and again, and he nods as if he understands.
She pushes him again onto the sand and climbs atop him, tracing the angles of his face as she used to do when it was just them. Things aren't so simple these days, and he's changed, but maybe it's like it used to be for only a moment. There are lines where there weren't before and his eyes are darker, as if he's more tired, but it's almost the same, almost.
He lifts up to kiss her, pulling her back down with him. He pushes the hair from her eyes to see her better. He has never been more clearer to her than now, coveted in the moonlight.
"You're beautiful," he tells her, like he used to, like she asked him to without saying a word.
He trails kisses from her chin down her neck, tugging the loose straps of her summery dress down her shoulders. The surf washes over her toes and the night is still young, and they're still young, and as the moon drifts slowly across the sky, she swears she's never been quite so free.
He whispers promises against her ribcage, murmurs "forever" on her thigh, etching the words into her as if this is the last time he'll ever say them.
He's her everlasting serendipity. He always has been.
"Puck," she breathes into his chest, her face pressed in the crook of his neck. She doesn't say anything more but his name. It's like she's learning it all over again, for the first time.
He showed up just a month before her wedding.
It was just the sort of thing she should expect from him — his evanescent arrival at one of the worst times was something that was sadly true to his character, as if he senses when someone is about to have a crisis or a life-altering moment.
It was nothing special. It shouldn't have been.
She was at a grocery store. Of course, it would also happen there, at a time where she's not expecting anything out of the norm.
The voice had been heartbreakingly familiar. She had turned slowly and cautiously, and when he appeared in front of her, it was high school all over again. She had a sudden urge to hurl something at him. The nearest object to her was an apple and she thoroughly contemplated chucking it at him until he fled from her.
She didn't know why his presence infuriated her to such an overwhelming amount, but she knew she wanted him gone, and quickly.
She had thrown on a pleasant smile. "Puck. When did you get here?"
He smirked at her, as if he knew, and he probably did, how uncomfortable she was. He watched her tense, watched the slight flush on her neck. He was good at making her angry.
"Just yesterday," he said carefully. All notions of politeness dropped at once when he laughed, "I saw your column in the newspaper. An advice column? Are you for real?"
The accusation came at her so immediately that she could do nothing more but stare. He had come back into her life for no discernible reason, showed up at the worst possible time, and then had the gall to insult her?
She set her jaw. "Is there a problem with that?"
He shakes his head. "Not at all. Just doesn't seem like you."
Quinn didn't want to admit that he was right. She thought she could take on an advice column when her editor asked, but it was proving to be too difficult. She planned to quit.
It was like the beginning of something when he said, slowly, "You should come with me for a drink later."
For all his snooping, he had failed to see that she had a fiance.
Quinn smiled at him and shook her head, wriggling her diamond ring at him for an explanation. For once, she felt like she had the complete upper hand. Even as kids when he would pretend to let her win, she always felt extreme incompetence. For once she had him cornered.
His face fell instantaneously, his smile dropping into a deep-set frown. She had forgotten what it felt like to break his heart.
The apology was like a slap to the face. "We'll be married next month." She didn't know why she was telling him that — she could have easily lied, but she didn't want to hurt him anymore. She'd always been so good at that when they were kids, and now —
It didn't feel the same.
He gave her a grimacing half-smile. "Am I invited to the ceremony?" he mocked, his eyes hollow again.
(They were in love once upon a time.)
She shook her head no and he nodded like he understood.
It was a small moment in the scheme of things, but as she turned her back to continue on with her mundane life, it had set a ticking time bomb in her brain that exploded on that night in Hawaii.
They were best at keeping secrets.
She still wakes to his face on her pillow, and she still traces the lines of his features, marveling how he could love her after the hell she had put him through. He would be asleep and she would simply watch him until he woke up, his eyes fluttering open and focusing on hers, his lips curling into a smile as he recognized that she was still there.
They keep it a secret. It's what they're good at.
At times she sways with him on her hammock as the night falls, watching the sun melt into the ocean, waiting for something momentous to occur.
She wonders how she got so broken, and maybe as the days go on, he's fixing it. Maybe she was only broken for so long because she had tried to tear apart from him, and they had been connected so closely that a great hole had been formed where the other had left.
She likes to think that they're still connected. She likes to think that they never drifted too far apart, that there was always something connecting them.
Her favorite silent joy is when he curls around her and they watch the sun rise and fall, the rise drift in and out, as time goes on its course and yet he's still there. She had been wrong to think that their lives would never intertwine again.
And as the nights go on, as the clocks turn and the tides fall, he's still there.
Sometimes, all you need is one person.
And as they watch the time go on around them, as they ignore the days and the weeks, she begins to think that she never stopped loving him. That at one point in time, she had just tried to convince herself she hadn't loved him at all.
It feels like love when it's just them against the world.
"Don't go," he whispered to her.
Her bags were already packed, her ticket was already booked. The plane would be leaving in mere moments.
She discovered that there was something tethering her to Lima, and it was her family, or her friends, but rather him. It was always him that kept her attached to one place.
But the plane would be leaving. And she would be getting on that plane. And no matter how much he begged, she would leave him.
She faced him with hard eyes. "Puck, you know I can't stay here."
He tugged on her hands with his own, pleading with his eyes. She averted her own from his to avoid seeing his hurt. She knew how to hurt him but never knew how to make it right. "Then we'll go together. Somewhere far away, I promise." He pulled her desperately to him. "Please."
She shook her head. "I can't, you know —"
His grip became too strong to bear. "You can come with me."
She looked at him at last and knew at once that she shouldn't have. The way he looked at her, the way his eyes softened as soon as she looked back, made her want to stay. It was an almost irresistible urge.
She had a future far from here. For a fleeting second she wondered if her future belonged with him.
The intercom crackled quickly, and then a woman's voice announced that her flight was to be leaving soon. She glanced behind her, and then back at him. He could have cried for her and her decision would not change.
She didn't kiss him, but as she walked away, she thought she should have. She should've given him something.
She turned once as she was boarding the terminal. It was just for a moment, just to see him one last time. He stood alone with his hands in his pockets, his eyes blank and his face yearning, as if he could only ever see him with her.
She entered the terminal and couldn't look back again. She imagined that he stood there for minutes after she was gone, watching her plane rise into the sky and disappear into the clouds.