Author's Note: This is a terribly angsty tale! Just know that going in here, it's sad. It's an H/P love story with a twist. But I promise if you stick with it, you might not hate me at the end :)
And this is all first person, it will take place basically just over one evening. The feel of it is along the lines of A Love Story In Three Acts in that there is longing and regret and it will alternate POVs as it moves forward. Though to be clear, this is not the same version of them that I used in that story. I couldn't do THIS, to that them.
However, like that other story, this is a prompt driven tale. It takes place as an AU future.
Prompt Set #13 - May 2011
Author: Heather Gudenkauf
Story Title: The Weight of Silence
"It is hard to have patience with people who say 'There is no death' or 'Death doesn't matter.' There is death. And whatever is, matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and it and they are irrevocable and irreversible."
- C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
Finding What's Lost
From the niche I've carved out on the side wall, my gaze shamelessly tracks Emily as she moves across the ballroom.
It pains me to see that her gait is not what it once was. Once she walked with confidence and fearlessness, now her steps are slow . . . cautious.
As though her spirit were weighing them down.
My lip mouth twists in a faint facsimile of a smile . . . she still looks incredible though. Red always was one of her best colors, and the crimson silk shimmers in the soft glow from the chandeliers overhead. And though it's not anything that I could ever say aloud, unequivocally, her beauty surpasses even that of the bride that she's there to bear witness for.
The bride though . . . my gaze flickers briefly over to the head table, to the laughing blonde . . . she admittedly does look stunning. But of course JJ's always been a lovely girl.
But she was never as lovely as my Emily.
Knowing that these are useless thoughts . . . I'm full of them these days . . . my gaze shifts back across the crowded room, seeking out the red dress that has briefly slipped away from me. Or more specifically . . . my breath quickens as I catch sight of it again . . . the woman wearing it.
She's the reason that I'm dressed in this tuxedo.
She's the reason that I left my apartment tonight.
Of course she's not the official reason that I left my apartment. Officially I'm here to celebrate the overdue nuptials of my old friends.
JJ and Will.
The wedding . . . though not at all unexpected . . . did come at least five years later than anyone had anticipated that it would. JJ said that things kept coming up, life kept getting in the way.
So they kept putting it off.
And then finally . . . after what happened last year . . . they decided that they'd put it off for too long. That it was time to get on with the details of living. So they set a date.
And they stuck with it.
And though I'm no expert at these things, I know that it's a nice affair.
I know it intellectually anyway. Everyone looks nice, the flowers are plentiful and the food is hot. But beyond that . . . it's making me very uncomfortable. There are too many people. And there's too much noise, too much talking . . . too much laughing.
Just too much of everything.
And I'm just a guest here. I honestly don't know how Emily is functioning in all of this.
She was . . . is . . . the Maid of Honor.
Though fortunately . . . for her . . . those duties are now almost completely fulfilled. The ceremony is over, the reception has begun.
Her role in the celebration is now down to just pictures and smiles . . . perhaps one dance.
I wonder if she'll be able to get through it.
I'm honestly amazed that she ever agreed to take on this role. But JJ thought that it would be good for her . . . that the process, the planning, the mindless nonsense of it . . . that it would keep her busy, keep her from thinking too much.
That it would get her out of the house.
And though I agree wholeheartedly that she needed something to occupy her time . . . I don't know if this was it. Because this . . . I see her stop not far from me to take a breath . . . this is an event that is forcing her to reengage with a world that she wants nothing to do with. A world that is moving on into the future.
And she's still stuck in the past.
But despite my misgivings about her involvement here . . . though I shared those thoughts with no one but Rossi . . . I do think, having her watched her tonight from the back of the church, and then here in the shadows, that the process has helped her a little. She's not quite so withdrawn.
Not quite so distant.
It's almost like my Emily is in there again. That she's coming back.
But then my jaw clenches as I remind myself for the thousandth time . . . she's not coming back.
My Emily is gone.
And though I want so much for her to be happy again . . . in whatever incarnation happiness can still find her . . . I'm also terrified of her moving on without me. So I'm filled with guilt and sadness over this wish that I have for her, that I don't want to ever be fulfilled.
My heart twists in agony over this confliction.
It keeps me up nights.
Well . . . I bite my lip . . . it's one more thing that keeps me up nights.
I've lost track of the items on that list.
But as painful as it is . . . as little as I'll sleep for the next few days . . . I had to see her tonight. I had to make sure that she would be okay. But I hadn't anticipated how I would feel seeing her out in this crowd. This crowd of normal, happy people, living normal, happy lives. It's a dagger in my chest. It feels like a mockery of our past. It brings up memories of a different day.
Of a different bride.
But then my memories are interrupted by an interloper that has moved in on my girl.
The best man.
My teeth begin to grind as I see him walk up beside her. She still hasn't moved from her spot by the gift table. To the outsider, she looks sad and lost. And though I know that she is sad and lost . . . she has been for a long time . . . I know that right now, she just needs a minute.
She just needs to regroup.
But this man who does not know her . . . not like I do . . . tries to help. He puts his arm around her shoulders and whispers something in her ear.
And for that . . . for touching her . . . I want to beat him senseless.
Of course I know that tradition dictates that the two of them be paired off tonight. But that tradition means nothing to the burn in my chest. Even with all that's happened . . . all the time that's passed, so many months now . . . I can't tolerate seeing another man touch her that way.
But then I'm pulled away from my anger and jealousy . . . my hurt, when I see her response to his attentiveness. She's slipped out from under his grasp and she's turned to him. And I can see . . . she's trying to smile. To show him that she's fine.
But she can't.
She can't smile. Not really. Her lips curve, but even from this distance . . . perhaps fifteen feet . . . I can see that the smile ends there. Her eyes have no spark.
I don't think that still she's capable of experiencing that emotion. Not now.
And not for a long time.
And I want to tell this man who means well, and who has done NOTHING wrong, to leave her alone. To just let her be unhappy. To let her not smile.
To not make her try.
But that's not my place. I can't speak on her behalf. I'm not her husband.
Not since September. The fifth. That was the day our divorce was final.
It was the second worst day of my life.
The worst day of my life had taken place seven months earlier.
That was the day our baby died.
And feeling that familiar . . . gut wrenching . . . wave of heartache rise up, I immediately push the images of Gabby's sweet little face from my mind.
I still can't think of her without weeping.
Nor can Emily.
But the difference is, I can make myself not think about her . . . and Emily cannot. And that's why I'm over here . . . and she's over there.
Our grief divides us.
I still wear my wedding band though . . . I actually can't envision a day where I'll take it off. And though it's a thought that tortures me, I wonder if Emily still wears hers. I'm wondering if she's wearing it tonight. The answer though is a mystery.
Her hands are covered by long black gloves.
They match the sash on her dress.
So that's why . . . though I wished to leave hours ago, once the ceremony had ended and I was sure that she was all right . . . I'm still here at this wedding.
This wedding that is breaking my heart.
I gave up long ago making chit chat with the old members of my team. And as they have been from the beginning of this hellish journey, the others were kind.
They let me fade away.
So now I'm leaning against this wall surrounded by towers of blue flowers, trying to stay out of Emily's way. All I want is to see her fingers.
And then I can go.
Because if I can see her fingers . . . if I can see if she's wearing her ring . . . then I'll know if I have reason to hope.
Or if all hope is now lost.
I used to ask myself how it came to this. How my life could be so perfect . . . I had a beautiful wife and two amazing children . . . and then I just had a son.
But the answers to those questions are beyond my interest now.
I had everything . . . and then I didn't.
And that was that.
Further introspection on those topics is pointless. The past cannot be changed. The present is already what it is. So it's the future now that I look to.
The future is all that matters.
And as I see Emily send the best man off on his own, she unexpectedly turns and looks in my direction. Before I can move, her eyes lock onto mine. Her expression is soft . . . sad. And I wonder if seeing me is hurting her. I don't want that.
That's why I left.
And now I feel a wave of bitter regret and sadness . . . because it looks like it's time for me to leave again.
And I didn't get to see her fingers.
Still though, her needs come first. Always. So I raise my hand and give her a little wave. Then I tip my head towards the door. It's an acknowledgment that I'm going to go.
That I won't bother her again that night.
But as I start to turn, she begins walking towards me. And I freeze. We haven't spoken in five months.
I wasn't planning on speaking to her tonight.
I have no idea what to say.
And though, "I still love you, please let me come home," are the words that I want to say, I fear that those are not the words that she wants to hear.
So when she walks up, my gaze drops to the ground as my throat closes.
Now she's standing right in front of me . . . she's just inches away. I could touch her if I wanted to.
And dear God do I want to!
But I don't. I keep my eyes on the shiny floor, and my fingers curled in tight fists at my side. It's almost too much just having her this close to me. The scent of her perfume is overwhelming my senses.
It's lily of the valleys.
And then I realize that's the perfume that I bought for her.
For our last anniversary.
Tears begin to fill my eyes as I slowly drag them up from the floor. They linger over the soft curves of her thighs, her hips . . . her breasts. The dress hides nothing.
Especially from one who knows her body as well as I do.
But finally my watery gaze moves above the creamy skin of her nape, passed the ruby choker that she inherited from her grandmother, and up to her beautiful face.
There are tears running down it.
And as her tears always have . . . they break my heart. My fingernails dig into my palms. And then I whisper.
"Do you need me to leave?"
And she shakes her head as she whispers back one word.
So I rephrase the question, but this time my voice cracks in the middle.
"Do you want me to leave?"
Fresh tears spill over. But again she shakes her head . . . and again she whispers one word.
Before I can process what this might mean . . . it's been a long time since my presence didn't cause her more pain than she could bear . . . she lifts her arm. And then a second later . . . for the first time in forever, five months . . . my wife touches me.
Her palm spreads out, and she lays it flat over my chest, my heart. And my poor battered heart, it's now pounding away.
She has to feel it.
And though one of us needs to say something, instead we stand there in silence. My eyes are watering and the tears are still trickling down her face. Her makeup is starting to smear.
I want to fix it.
I want to make it pretty again.
I keep my hands at my sides.
And just as I open my mouth to say something . . . just to say her name, I miss saying her name . . . the DJ announces that they need the wedding party up front.
Immediately Emily freezes up . . . she doesn't want to go. But she won't ruin JJ's night.
Not after getting this far.
So she pulls her hand away . . . and I want to pull it back. Then she looks up at me with her sad eyes and her broken smile.
"Please stay," she pleads softly, "for me. Stay for me."
And because I never could deny her anything . . . even the divorce . . . I find myself nodding and saying, "all right," though all I want to do is go home and get drunk.
For a week.
But then she smiles again . . . it still doesn't reach her eyes . . . and reaches up to straighten my bow tie. Then her arms fall back to her sides.
"You always did look so handsome in a tux."
It's the last thing she says before she walks away . . . dragging my heart along behind her.
And for almost a full minute I stand there, staring down at the marbled floor, wondering what the hell just happened.
Does she want me to stay so that we can talk? So that she can ask me to come home? Or does she want me to stay just to prove to herself . . . and to me . . . that she can be around me again.
To prove that she's getting better.
Of course I want it to be both . . . I want her to get better almost more than anything . . . but not more than I want to come home. And that's terribly selfish I know, but that's just how it is.
I want my life back.
I want my wife back.
And I can't get one without the other.
And realizing then that speculation is pointless . . . I just need to let the evening move forward as it's intended to . . . I decide to go get a drink.
It's something to do with my hands.
As I walk across the ballroom, I see Morgan and Rossi watching me from the table. I was sitting with them earlier. And then Dave puts his hand up, gesturing for me to come back. To join them.
He doesn't like for me to be alone.
Twice a week he shows up at my apartment with hot pizza and cold beer. And he pushes by me even when I say that I'm tired and I don't want to talk.
He doesn't care.
Then he turns on the TV, finds a football game . . . the team doesn't matter, it's just something to fill the air . . . and cracks open two bottles of beer. One he takes to the corner of the couch, the other he leave on the table. He knows that I'll come over eventually.
And I do.
The pizza always gets me . . . he knows it will.
Pain in the ass though he is, I love him more than I can say. He has been the one constant as my world crashed to depths of hell that I hadn't previously imagined.
Or at least I hadn't imagined that you could go there and live through them. But I did.
With his help.
But tonight though, I simply shake my head at his offer to join them. I need a drink more than I need my friends.
As I step up to the bar, I open my mouth to order a shot of whiskey, but then I pause.
If I order one . . . I might order another.
And then I might not stop.
So instead I get a beer . . . I even let them put in a glass . . . and then I go find a chair in the back, right by the coat check. If Emily wants to see me again, then she'll find me. And if she doesn't, well . . . I take a breath as I look around . . . the door's right here.
As is my coat.
So with that thought . . . that tiny little nothing plan to maybe salvage my entire fucked up life . . . I settle back with my glass of warm lager.
And I wait.
A/N 2: I warned you! I said it was sad! But if I'd opened with "dead baby" NOBODY would have read it! But again though, if you stick with it, (just about three or four chapters total, like Love Story) you might not hate me so much as you do right now :) And I did already write the next chapter IN FULL, so I'll put that up by the weekend.
I've been working on this FOREVER. Like seriously, a year. It's such a very sad world, (though one that continually inhabits my brain), that I had to keep moving away from it. But then I was going through my story folder and realized how many words I'd really strung together in all of these little snippets where I'd pop into in for 20 minutes and then walk away from it again. It was close enough to done to take a couple hours and clean it up. And I'm out sick today (ear ache, head ache, sore throat, plus it's raining) so it was a good fit for the feel of the day.