Title: Pay Attention Now
Summary: "This is supposed to be easy. She wishes someone would explain to her why it's not." Zoe deals with the fallout of George's confession and her night with Wade. Z/W
Disclaimer: Don't own 'em!
"She'll tear a hole in you,
one you can't repair,
but I still love her, I don't really care."
- The Lumineers, Stubborn Love
When she's stressed, Zoe Hart runs through the things she knows to be true. Four times four is sixteen. Seven times six is forty-two. The best way to deal with atherosclerosis is to graft veins to the coronary arteries that lead to the myocardium—a bypass surgery. Zoe's performed quite a few. Her hands never shake, either, not even when someone's heart sits in the palm of her hand.
Only now she's holding two hearts, and her hands are shaking this time.
She fantasized about this. George at her doorstep, telling her he'd left Lemon for her—God, she'd even gotten the formulaic pouring rain. When had her life turned into a song by Taylor Swift? She walks back to her bedroom—her humid bedroom, with the sheets still tangled and the pillows spread out on the floor.
Wade is getting dressed. He slides one leg into his pants, and then the other. They sit low on his hips.
"What are you doing?" she asks.
"Makin' this easy for you," he says. He doesn't look at her as he shrugs on his jacket.
"Your house ain't that big, doc. Looks like you get what you want after all."
Logically, this shouldn't be hard. This is all about physicality; he doesn't even like her. One good romp and the clinging need would dissipate, and they could go back to being friends. Or neighbors. Or casual acquaintances—whatever. The facts all add up to this being easy.
"Doc, I never had any illusions about this," he says. He's straightening the sleeves of his tux now, buttoning the cufflinks. He walks toward her and tugs on the edges of her silk robe, ducking down to kiss her. It's hard and fast, and makes her want to peel back the clothes he just put on. "Course, I hoped it would last a little longer."
"Maybe it can."
She opens her mouth and closes it again. He stares at her. She can't explain why she said it.
"You don't get both, doc," he says, nice and slow so she knows it's important.
"I wasn't asking for both," she says, crossing her arms.
She doesn't know what she's doing. She wants George—all she's ever wanted is George. And she doesn't know why watching Wade walk toward the door makes her feel like crying. This is supposed to be easy.
"Have your golden boy," he says, standing in the arch of her doorway. "Get your golden life. Good luck to ya, Zoe."
He walks out, and more importantly, she lets him. No hand on his shoulder, no halting words tugged up from the hollow places in her heart. He slips away through the rain that's still coming down hard and thick.
This is supposed to be easy. She wishes someone would explain to her why it's not.
"I don't blame you dear,
For running like you did all these years,
I would do the same, you best believe."
"I slept with Wade."
Lavon freezes, his scrambled eggs halfway to his open mouth. He closes his lips and sets his fork down. "That is not something a man wants to hear over breakfast."
She looks at him, her eyebrows scrunched up nearly to her hairline. "That's not even the bad part."
"Will this make me unhappy with you?"
He leans his elbows on the counter and sinks down to eye level. "Let's hear the bad part."
"George may have showed up. And he may have confessed his love for me and kissed me. And Wade may have heard the whole thing."
Lavon doesn't move for awhile, just sits and stares. Then, finally, he nods. "What did Wade do?"
"Nothing. He just left. Like, he wasn't even mad or anything. Maybe he was right, and it was just sexual frustration."
Lavon must have some theories about Wade's motives, and Zoe waits eagerly to hear them, but he just says, "And what do you think? Now that you've worked out all that frustration?"
"He must be right," she says, stabbing her eggs with her fork.
Lavon studies her, and she fidgets with the edges of her sweatshirt. She feels like he's maybe seeing something she doesn't want him to see.
"Looks like your choice is pretty clear," Lavon says. He straightens up again, and she has to crane her neck to look at him.
"So you're not going to tell me what to do?"
"Give me any advice at all?"
"Yell at me for hurting Wade's feelings?"
"Wade knew pretty well what he was getting into."
She feels the first inklings of hurt. He makes her sound like a vat of boiling tar. "Meaning what?"
"Zoe, everybody knows how you feel about George Tucker. And nobody's going to tell you not to take what you want."
"Lemon might," she says, then regrets it when his face tightens.
"He left her. He chose you."
She picks over her food like a vulture, digging the tines of her fork deep into the heart of the eggs. "You're right," she says finally. "You're so right. This is like, the best thing that's happened to me in Bluebell so far. Besides you, of course," she adds when he eyes her over the table.
He makes a noise in the back of his throat, and she doesn't like the sound of it. That noise says unspoken judgments and traitorous thoughts—that noise is sure to stomp on her dreams even as they solidify to reality at her fingertips.
"What?" she says, fearing the worst.
"If this is the best thing that's happened to you since you got here, why did you tell me about Wade first?"
"It's better to feel pain,
than nothing at all.
The opposite of love's indifference."
Wade starts the blender up, letting it work through the chunks of ice until the mixture is nice and creamy. Then he turns the machine off and pours the pale pink stuff into a cheap beer glass and passes it to Tom.
"Are you giving me a woman's drink?" Tom says.
"I'm giving you a first taste at the Lemonator," Wade answers. Tom raises his eyebrows. "What, too much?"
"Just makes me think of Lemon," Tom answers. He takes a sip of the frilly pink mix. "If no one's ever called her the Lemonator before, they're sure to start now."
Wade pulls the drink out of Tom's fingers. "Hey. You be nice about Lemon Breeland, or you won't get any more free drinks from me."
"I ain't bein' mean, Wade! I just mean—well, now that the groom's left her for another woman, she's sure to be—"
"You got an opinion on the drink or not?"
Tom grabs the glass and takes another swig. A wet pink mustache covers his thin upper lip. "Jury's still out."
"Lemmie know when you have a verdict," Wade answers, moving to the other side of the bar to dish out a few more uncapped beer bottles. He looks around to make sure his manager's not there to spot the pink drink that's not on the menu, and when he looks back down the bar, George is sitting there.
Wade considers going out back until George realizes he won't get service and leaves. Then he considers dumping the contents of the mop bucket on George's head. He settles for asking George what he's drinking.
"Whiskey on the rocks," George says. His head is tucked in low and his arms are crossed.
"Big boy today, aren't you?" Wade says, but prepares the drink.
"You mad at me too?"
Wade is thrown off by that; he didn't expect the golden boy to sound so resigned. It's harder to mock George when he looks like a kicked hound dog.
"I considered dumping mop water on your head," Wade answers.
George nods into his drink. "Well, you can't be mad at me for wasting Brick's money and the whole town's time, because it wasn't your money and it wasn't your time. Lemon, then?"
Wade doesn't answer. For lack of anything better to do, he starts scrubbing the bar with the old rag on his shoulder. "And how is Zoe Hart, George? Bet she's just bouncing on the balls of those little heeled feet, you confessin' your love for her and all."
George looks up. "You know about that?"
"Might've heard it mentioned."
George draws his thumb around the edge of his glass, then picks it up and knocks the entire thing back. "So you think I'm leadin' her on again or somethin'?"
"I'm thinkin' I was right, and she's never gonna look at anybody else so long as you're not married."
"Who else would she—" George halts and pays attention for the first time. "You?"
Wade doesn't say anything for a while, just keeps on scrubbing the bar. Finally he answers, "She was considering it. And then you made her forget anything I ever said to her. I've been trying for months—" he stops and closes his mouth, because there is no point in this. George can't help that Zoe is in love with him anymore than Wade can help being in love with her.
"Wade, I had no idea you had any interest in her. I swear it."
"Yeah, I get that," Wade answers. He throws down the rag and leans against the bar, eye-level with George. "But have you looked around lately, George? You and Dr. Hart are leavin' a lot of carnage on your way to happily ever after."
George says nothing, and Wade doesn't feel like talking to him anymore. Still, he can't help adding one last thing. "A lot of people are hurting right now. You better make sure it's worth all this."
"The highway signs say we're close,
but I don't read those things anymore,
I never trusted my own eyes."
Zoe fidgets with the edges of her dress, picking at a stray strand. The piece of thread lengthens in her hands, and she folds her fingers together before she unravels the whole outfit. Her thumbs start twiddling, and she looks around the restaurant. Fancy's is, well, fancy, at least by Bluebell's standards. It's public, too, but it's not like they're trying to hide anything. And even if they were, the whole town already knows anyway. Small towns have good intuitions.
Then she sees George, and she gets all the right reactions. Fluttery chest that signifies an increased heart rate, which is sure to get her blood vessels expanding and build up a nice pink flush in her cheeks. Sweaty palms, too, a not-so-nice side effect of the increase in adrenaline. She hopes he doesn't reach for her hand first thing.
"Zoe," he says when he joins her.
"George," she answers, and then just smiles at him as he sits down.
"How are you?"
"Fine," Zoe answers. She unrolls her napkin and discretely dries her hands on it before placing it in her lap. "Lots of patients, all hoping I'd be willing to talk about you."
"At least they're bein' kind to you," he answers, voice a little sharp. There's a pause in the conversation, and she struggles to think of what to say.
"Are they not being kind to you?"
He adjusts his silverware, taking time to think over his answer. "Well, when you make the whole town come out in a storm to help you move a weddin', and then cancel that weddin'—no, people aren't too happy with me right now."
"Are you regretting it?" she asks. She's completely still now.
"No," he says, and reaches for her hand. Thank God she dried them off. "No, Zoe Hart, I meant what I said. And it wasn't all about you anyway—not really."
"Right," she answers. "So, should we order?"
They place their orders, and Zoe is thankful for a place that serves fish a way other than fried. They sit munching on soft white bread and cinnamon butter. Zoe's not sure how she hasn't gained a good 50 pounds in the year she's been down here.
"So, I had an interesting conversation with Wade today," George says. The bread turns heavy and sour in Zoe's mouth.
"What?" she asks, swallowing with effort.
"Zoe, he told me about what happened," George says, and Zoe feels the veins start expanding in her forehead. Even through the sudden tightening fear, she feels the absurdity of betrayal. Wade has never talked to anyone about their escapades before.
"He told you?"
"Well, not right away. I could tell he was mad at me, but it didn't feel like the way everyone else is town is mad at me, so I asked him why. He said you two were thinkin' of datin' or something, but you called it off after I—well, called it off. I'm sorry I didn't realize sooner, Zoe. I wish we hadn't had to hurt anyone."
Zoe's blood pressure settles a little, but her stomach starts tossing around the bread and cinnamon butter. Wade hadn't told George. Even with the ability to ruin her freshly fermented relationship before it could take root, Wade still said nothing. Up until now she's believed the worst in Wade, sometimes at his own insistence, but she's starting to realize that's all top soil and blows away pretty easily.
"But we did," she says, taking a sloppy sip of her wine.
"We did hurt people. We hurt everyone."
She looks around, and for the first time sees what she is to these people—the homewrecker. The woman bold enough to step out with a man only a few days after he left his fiancé. And not just any man, but a good man, the town lawyer, the one who's been with the same woman since they were kids. This town watched Lemon and George grow up together, watched them fall in love and decide to get married. To them, Zoe must seem like the worst sort of woman—the type who ruins a good relationship for the sake of her own selfish heart.
And she did it all while stringing along someone who, under the rough-edged exterior, is also a good man. Wade's name-calling doesn't sound too off-the-mark now, and it doesn't describe just her.
"George, I'm suddenly not feeling well," she says, standing from the table. "Raincheck?"
She gets out of the restaurant while George is trying to catch the waiter and pay. She may have avoided his inevitable chase, except she doesn't have a car and she can't walk too fast in four-inch heels.
"Zoe," he says, and pulls her to a stop. "Zoe, what happened? Is this about Wade?"
"No," she answers. "And—yes. It's about everyone. George, I was with Wade the night you told me you loved me."
"You were with Wade," he repeats. She knows he's thinking back, maybe remembering her flimsy robe and the heat of her skin when he kissed her.
"He heard you," she says, looking down at the little holes her heels have made in the dirt. "He heard what you said and he just—left. He didn't expect one thing from me."
"And Lemon," Zoe interrupts, holding up a hand. "George, I have things in my life. I'm a doctor—I have a practice. But Lemon—she has Bluebell, and the memory matrons, and she has you. Have you thought about what this will do to her?"
"We weren't right, Zoe," George says. His eyes are wide now, and she thinks maybe he can see it—the end of this dream of theirs. "Lemon and I had problems. We turned to other people. It wasn't all because of you."
She grabs his hands, pulls him close. He leans down and rests his forehead against hers. For a moment, just a moment, she revels in his closeness.
"Love should make people better," she says finally, her voice a hoarse whisper. "Not just happier, but better. Look at the way we've been acting lately and tell me we make each other better."
On occasion, Zoe has been as conniving as Lemon to win George's affections. She flirted with an engaged man, took the first opportunity to run off with that man when he and his fiancé ran into trouble, considered yelling her objections at their very wedding, and refused to accept that he loved somebody else more than he loved her.
And now, after he'd done the very thing she'd been praying for—the very thing that had stitched itself into the fabric of her dreams—she finally sees the truth of it. Leaving someone at the altar isn't romantic. It's destroying someone you made a promise to; it's wasting all the time, effort, energy and love of the person unfortunate enough to be standing at the front of the aisle. It's wrecking something fourteen years in the making, and it's doing all of that for the fantasy of something better.
George is her fantasy. Maybe he was meant to stay that way. Prince Charming has no place in the real world, where relationships are hard and love gets messy.
"We're not going to do this, are we?" George asks, pulling away from her.
"What kind of people would we be if we did?" she answers. His hands slip from hers and settle at his sides.
He kisses her on the cheek, his breath warming her skin for just a second. Then he's gone, and finally out of her reach.
"When we were young,
Oh, we did enough,
When it got cold,
Oh, we bundled up."
George didn't mean to be here. He stepped outside his door and followed his feet, and now he's staring at Lemon's stately white house. Tall and pale, like Lemon, with a strength and durability that have lasted through a lot of trouble.
George thought he knew what it meant to leave Lemon. He knew a gaping hole would open up inside of him, because you can't just cut a permanent fixture out of your life and expect not to feel sad. Even if the ending is right, and Lemon and George shouldn't be together anymore, he still feels her against his side like a phantom limb.
He didn't know he'd lose everything. He lost Brick, and Magnolia, and the support of a town that had wrapped him up like a cocoon on his worst days and waited until he became something better. Not so long ago, he'd felt suffocated by all of it and longed for the anonymity of a big city like New York. But there was a reason he came back. There was a reason Zoe Hart decided to stay.
Small towns may smother, but big cities swallow you whole. They make you forget who you are. And if there's one thing Bluebell does, it's show you baby pictures and finger-paint drawings and always, always know who you are.
But now, he's been stripped of everything he loved about this place. He couldn't have expected Zoe to be able to soothe that loss—and he shouldn't have asked her to. She was right. No matter George's feelings, the only person he should be with right now is himself.
"What are you doing here?"
He starts and turns; hadn't even heard the clacking of heels against the sidewalk. It's not Lemon but Lemon in miniature.
"Just wandering," he answers. Magnolia is so slight and soft, not nearly the height and power of her sister. Yet.
"Well, you need to get goin' before Lemon sees you," Magnolia says. She crosses her arms over her chest and sends him a look she usually reserves for stains on her dress. "She's got enough to deal with right now, don't you think?"
"Yes, you're right," he answers. "Magnolia, I never meant for any of this—"
"I don't care," she answers. "What you did to Lemon the day of the weddin'—and what you're doing now, runnin' around with that tramp Zoe Hart only a few days after—"
"I know," George interrupts. "Zoe and I… we aren't seeing each other. Can you tell Lemon that for me, please?"
He swallows and digs his hands into his pockets. His fingers tap idly against his wallet. "Because I want her to know I—what we had meant everything to me, and I'm not going to disrespect it."
Magnolia softens just a little. Her arms go lax, forming triangles over her rib-cage, and her harsh glare fades. "I'll tell her."
He reaches forward and grabs her arm briefly. Then he lets go and turns away from the pretty white house and Lemon in miniature.
"So pay attention now,
I'm standing on your porch screaming out."
Wade wants to know why the people he doesn't like won't just leave him alone. Take Zoe Hart, standing on his doorstep right now and looking through the screen of his open door. She's just standing there. She can clearly see him inside on the couch. She can also clearly tell that he's not hurrying to open the door for her.
"Come in, then," he says finally, still tinkering with the strings of his guitar.
"That's it?" Zoe says. She pulls open the screen and steps into his living room. "I thought for sure I'd be out there at least another hour."
He moves his guitar aside. "I ain't mad at you, Zoe."
"Well, I'm mad at you."
He sits back and raises his eyebrows.
"That's right, I'm mad at you." Picking her way over the empty pizza boxes and cans of beer, she perches her cute little ass on the side of his couch. "You started this off all wrong, you know."
"This." She gestures to herself and then to him. "You made it like it was all about sex."
"Uh, Zoe? It is all about sex. I thought we had that clear."
She crosses her legs and her skirt rides up, and he has to grip chunks of his couch fabric to keep from moving toward her.
"So it's all out of your system now?"she asks.
"And you never really liked me?"
"Then why did you make my gumbo?"
His tongue sticks like glue to the roof of his mouth, and he reaches up a hand to brush his messy hair away from his eyes. "Lavon told you."
She shrugs her shoulders. "He's been trying to help me work through all this."
"All what?" He can't resist the urge anymore; he stands up and walks closer to her. He's taller than her normally, and with her sitting on the couch, he positively towers. If he wanted to kiss her, he'd have to lean real far down. "Why are we even talking about this?"
"Because you went about it all wrong," she repeats. "You never gave me one reason to take you seriously."
"When did I say I wanted you to?" He runs his fingers through his hair again. "Jesus, Doc, you're the most complicated woman I ever met."
"Am I? Maybe I'm just asking for more from you than most women."
"And what right have you got to do that?" he asks. "You're with Tucker now."
"Maybe I'm not."
"Then maybe I like you."
"I'm definitely not."
He stays silent.
"Come on, Wade," she scoots off the couch and steps toward him. He doesn't react, even when she laces her fingers through his. "You were right. That night with you was—we were perfect. Maybe I don't want to just give that up, but you've got to give me something more than pent-up sexual frustration."
He shakes his fingers loose but stares down at her. She's quite possibly the craziest woman he's ever met. Also quite possibly the shortest, with the highest heel collection. He thinks about those few short hours when she was at his fingertips and he could finally touch her.
"You were right," she says quietly. "I'm not perfect. And maybe it's better that you don't think I am."
It's a brave thing to say, but he's known for a while that she's not weak. If there's any way for Zoe Hart, it's the hard way.
"What about George?"
"George wasn't perfect either," she answers. "I just thought he was."
He leans down and kisses her on the forehead.
"Tell me you have feelings for me, Wade Kinsella."
"I've never really been a telling kind of guy."
"I'm a need-to-hear-it kind of girl. See? All wrong for each other," she starts doing this crazy thing with her nails, driving them lightly up his forearms. He leans down to kiss her, but her palms move to his chest and push against it. "Tell me."
"Jesus, you're bossy. If I had a nickel for every time you—"
"Don't," she interrupts, teetering on the brink of taking a step back. "Don't make a joke out of it."
He shifts from one foot to the other, staring down into her pert little face. She's there at his fingertips again, and he wants to lift her up by the shoulders and devour her. But he can't—she won't let him. Yet. Once again, the only thing keeping Wade from Zoe Hart is Wade.
"I keep thinking you might be exactly what I need," he says finally, on an exhale. "How was that?"
She smiles, and it makes him want to say it again just so she'll keep shining that light on him. "Pretty good. For a beginner."
She arches up, but he grabs her arms and forces her back. "Oh, no. Your turn, Miss Hart. Last time we had this discussion, you said you didn't have any feelings for me."
"I'm here, aren't I?"
"I'm a need-to-hear-it kind of guy."
"No you're not," she grumbles. "No guy is."
He just keeps staring at her.
"Fine. I like you, Wade Kinsella. And I haven't stopped thinking about you since our night of—"
"I was going to say passion."
"So you're not just gonna use this as a way to get over Tucker?"
"If I wasn't over Tucker, I'd still be with him," she answers, arms crossed.
"And you're not gonna pull one of those snooty girl maneuvers and try to keep this all quiet, are you?"
"Wade, this whole town thinks I'm a homewrecking hussy. Do you really think I care about my reputation?"
"It would seem a wasted effort," he agrees.
She inches toward him, twists her fingers into his shirt. He can feel the heat off her tiny little body. "Wade, can you just—"
He arches down and takes her mouth, his hands going to her hips and digging into the skin there. He pushes her back, against the arm of the couch and down onto it, so that she tips backwards and falls into the cushions. He's grinning when he carefully lays himself on top of her.
"Kiss me," she finishes.
"Keep your head up,
keep your love."