AN: I finally got around to finishing and posting this! This has actually been in the works for a couple of weeks, so to be done with it makes me happy. It was inspired by the song 'Payphone' by Maroon 5. Oh, also, Q'Bert the Cat belongs to Feesh. Sorry if it's not that good. I kind of got stuck. I hope that you all like it anyway!
Disclaimer: I do not own Wreck It Ralph or 'Payphone.' Disney and Maroon 5 do, respectively.
Tamora walking into the little roadside diner at four in the morning was not that hard.
It was the only course of action available to her. With her car parked on the side of the road half a mile away, its tank empty of gas, and her dead cell phone thrown somewhere into the back seat, the only other way she was going to get help was if she went out and found it. Unfamiliar with the area, she had picked a direction and walked, just glad that luck was on her side when the public establishment showed up not too much later. There had even been a family there, two overly hyper children bouncing by the video game consul while their exhausted parents poured over a map with one of the night waitresses. Having quickly decided that the chances of the six-year-old that was laughing over the antagonist's 'I'm gonna wreck it' catchphrase being a threat were extremely slim, Tamora had applied that logic to the rest of people within the diner and entered.
Her walking over to the other waitress and asking if they had a phone that she could use had also been easy.
Again, she had had no other choice. If she had still been in the city, she could have just walked up to anyone and asked to borrow their cell. However, it had been hours ago that she had started driving aimlessly to calm herself down, avoiding anything familiar for back streets and shortcuts that had quickly gotten her lost. Even before her cell had died, trying to call anyone would have been useless; she had long since lost the signal. So, a landline was her only hope, and when the waitress took her down a small hall to a payphone that sat dusty and alone in the corner, she was just glad that she had scrounged together enough spare change from the nooks of her car to make one call.
What was hard, however, was putting those coins into the slot and the person that she knew she had to.
It was her own damn fault, really, giving in to the mass opinion and buying a phone that could hold more than two contacts. When she had been younger, she had been able to rattle off telephone numbers as if they were no big deal, her friend's and almost every family member's digits well engrained into her mind. She still could, if she tried hard enough; could remember the numbers that she had grown up with, that her mother had made her say almost every day before she went to school so that her teacher could call if an issue came up. However, those numbers were almost twenty years old, no good to her now. Now, all of the numbers that she could have called, that could have saved her from this situation, were nothing more than names on her cell that had been forgotten soon after she had added them.
There were a few that she was almost sure of, a few that she would have to guess on only a number or two to get it right. But she only had enough change for a single call, and, in her hurry to leave, she had left her wallet at home. If she screwed this up, she was as good as stranded. There was only one number that she was sure of, one cell that she knew better than her own, and his was the one she wanted to avoid.
"Damn it, Calhoun," Tamora snarled softly as she leaned her head against the metal siding, bouncing the coins in her free hand as she silently cursed herself out. "Why couldn't you just add him to your contacts list and be done with it? Then you wouldn't be in this mess."
A lie, but it made her feel better to say it. Given what had happened earlier that day-or yesterday, as it were-it would have taken a miracle for her to remain out of trouble, and having added her handyman-turned-boyfriend's number to her contacts list two years earlier wouldn't have made a bit of difference. She would have still run out and driven her car until it was empty, and she still would have found herself standing at that payphone, only without a number she knew by heart to call. Her decision to write out the man's number on a sticky note and put it on her wall after she had first met him, thus making her dial the number each time she needed something fixed so that she wouldn't get 'too close,' had officially backfired. It was now the only number she knew that she knew, and it was the one she was going to have to call if she didn't want to walk home in the dark.
"Damn it," she swore again as she slid in the coins and began to push the buttons, her fingers already well ahead of her mind as they punched in the familiar set of digits. "Please be awake, Felix, or else this is going to make life ten times worse."
For a few long, terrifying moments, it seemed as if she was going to get his voice mail, leaving her stuck in the diner until one of the patrons or employees took a bit of pity on her and either drove her home or to the nearest gas station. Her luck held out- or gave out, depending on how one looked at it-when his voice came over the phone, leaving her frozen as she tried to figure out what exactly to say.
God, he sounded tired. In that one, single word, she could hear exactly how exhausted he was, the worry and lack of sleep having drained him in the hours since she had last seen him. And she was the reason. Swallowing guiltily to keep from having to answer, for a moment more Tamora stayed silent, listening to Felix ask for a second and third time if anyone was there so that she could gather her thoughts. Just as he was about to hang up, she spoke.
"Fix-It, it's me, Ta-"
"Tamora Jean Calhoun, where have you been?"
Although his voice was soft, almost calm even, Tamora couldn't help but wince as she heard him address her. He was angry, that much was clear, though whether he was still angry at her for her earlier reaction or at the circumstances she couldn't quite tell. Either way, he was pissed. "Do you have any idea how worried I've been about you? It's been ten hours, Tammy, and while I know things weren't the best between us when you left, ten gosh darn hours? I've been calling everyone we know, trying to find you! Vanellope even called the police, telling them that you went missing! Ralph has been going door to door, asking our neighbors if they've seen you, we have a search out for your license plate, and would it have really harmed anyone for you to just pick up your phone and let me know that you were okay? Even a text would have-"
"Cut it, Fix-It," Tamora cut in, knowing that, if she let him get even more worked up then he already was, she was going to run out of time on the phone before she even got to state her request. Shaking her head as she finally took in everything that he had said, she leaned against the wall besides her with a sigh, biting the inside of her cheek to keep herself from snapping back at him. He was prone to overreactions and, considering how things had gone, she couldn't say that she was surprised that he had taken it that far. They were going to have to work on that in the future. If they still had one. "My phone died."
"Oh," was all he said to her statement, leaving silence between them for a moment as he audibly tried to calm himself. Although she couldn't hear exactly what he was saying, Tamora could hear him murmuring something to Q'bert, the orange cat most likely curled up on his lap. It didn't take him more than a moment to compose himself, his voice almost cool when he spoke once again. "Where are you calling from then?"
"A little diner on Woodbury, I think," Tamora replied, though she couldn't be quite certain that her info was accurate. That had been the last street sign that she had seen, but that had been long before she had run out of gas, and the constant circles that she had made weren't helping. "It's called 'Peach's and Daisy's.'"
"Why are you telling me this, Tamora," Felix asked with a sigh of his own, the mental image that she had been building of him slumping in his seat as he spoke. Now that his anger and worry had been put to rest, or at least pushed to the side for the moment, she could hear the yawn he was trying to suppress. "Why don't you just come home so we can discuss this? Or not. Whichever would make you happier, Tammy, but why tell me?"
"Because I ran out of gas, and I need you to come get me." Although the words came out smoothly, inside she was wincing, both at the demand in her voice and the fact that she already knew what his answer was going to be. With him, how could there be any other?
"I'll be there in twenty," was his automatic reply, just like she knew he would, the sound of him already pushing Q'bert to the floor and rustling around the room as he gathered the things he would need for the car ride coming in over the phone. Just as she was about to hang up, his voice stopped her, so soft that she almost missed him calling out her name. "Tammy? I love you. No matter what, you know that, right?"
"I know, short stack. Back at yah." She hated herself a little for not being able to say the words that she knew he wanted to hear, but after what had happened between them earlier, she just really couldn't find it in herself to say them. She would take the blame for worrying him, but it was his fault that she had left in the first place. Hanging up the phone without waiting to see if he had anything else to say, Tamora went and sat at the table nearest the door, an eye on the clock to measure when twenty minutes had passed and to keep track of the amount of time she had left before the inevitable confrontation began.
He promised twenty, but got there in fifteen.
Felix hadn't even finished pulling to a stop before she was out of the diner, her seemingly eager steps giving a false impression as to her current mood. Pulling open the door, it took the work of seconds to climb into his old truck, the worn, comfortable bench seat and the cabin that was always kept a little bit warm welcoming her as she settled herself into the passenger side. The moment her belt was buckled he left, easily swinging his wheels wide so that he didn't have to back up, a well-practiced move that, normally, she would have already been making fun of him for. Tonight, however, she remained silent, her gaze flipping between the road before her and his face, trying to make out some sort of expression in the dim light of his dash clock. They're both waiting for the other to start but neither of them speaks, instead leaving an oppressive silence between them. His jaw clenching after a few minutes of this, it's with a stiff shrug of his shoulders that Felix reaches out and flips on the radio, fiddling with the dials until the static cleared and a random song came on. Anything to keep out the quiet.
"…I wanna do is make love to yo-"
Her hand a blur as she punched the switch, almost breaking the panel as she interrupted the song before it could continue. It was too late thought; the damage has already been done, leaving them even more awkward than before. Crossing her arms across her chest, it was out of the corner of her eye that Tamora watched Felix's hands tighten around the steering wheel, his teeth chewing on the inside of his cheek in such a way that she knew that he was restraining himself, the words almost clear upon his tongue as he tried not to be the one to push the issue.
"Just say it already, Fix-It."
"Why won't you marry me?"
And that right there, in a nutshell, was their problem. Felix had proposed. Tamora has said 'no.' Felix, confused and hurt, had asked why, and the conversation had spiraled downward from there, only ending when Tamora had finally grabbed her car keys and left. Her plan had been to go to the gym, to work off some steam before going back and attempting to properly talk things out like they were normally able to during an argument, but the establishment's early closing for the long weekend had thrown a wrench in that plan. Finding that the shooting range had had a similar idea, she had just continued to drive instead, circling through the city as she tried to figure out her thoughts. Ten hours later, it looked like they were going to have that talk.
"You know I don't want to get married, Felix. At least not right now," Tamora replied, fixing her eyes upon the asphalt so that she wouldn't have to meet his half-stare as he tried to watch both her and the road.
"But why," was his response, putting on his blinker as he slowed to a stop at a sign. "We've known each other for two years, Tamora, and there're still so many things that I don't know about you. Why don't you want to get married?"
"We've only been dating for six months of those two years, Felix," Tamora reminded him tersely, "and there's a list of things that you don't know about me. We can add this to it once we get home."
"Right, the list," Felix grumbled as he made his turn, his frown deepening as she brought up that hated piece of paper. There was, in fact, a physical list that they had started soon after they had begun dating, a collection of facts and events that had come up between them that they weren't quite ready to share. Once written down, it was an unspoken promise between them that the issue would one day be discussed until the other understood, but that that day wasn't then. Tamora's list for him had two things on it; his for her was seven pages long. "You know I greatly dislike that list."
"Tough." Ignoring the guilt that surged through her at the hurt look that he quickly struggled to hide, Tamora took the moment to examine him, confirming with an experienced glance what she had already guessed from his voice. He really did look as awful as he sounded. Wrinkles that hadn't been there yesterday morning now lined his face, combining with the bags under his eyes and the patchy beginnings of a beard to age him a dozen years in the last few hours alone. His slight slump only added to the image, giving her what she couldn't help but believe to be an accurate picture of what he would look like in another twenty years, should that time be cruel to him.
If he was to stay with her, it most likely would be, for she herself was a very, very cruel person, the unintentionality of it doing nothing to negate that fact. If she was being honest with herself, it would be kinder for her to let this fester between them, eventually becoming the out they would need in the future when he finally saw just how unhealthy she was for him.
But along with being cruel, Tamora was selfish as well, so, as his truck came to a coughing halt before their apartment building, she threw him a bone that would help to heal the rift between them, just enough so that she would be able to keep her handyman.
"I'm not saying 'no' forever, you know," Tamora admitted softly as they sat there, her head bowed so that her bangs were covering her face. "I'm just saying 'no' for right now. Alright? And I will get around to crossing some of those things off of that list. You just have to be patient with me, Fix-It. We'll get there. Eventually."
"I know," Felix said with a sigh, the acceptance clear in his voice as he turned to face her, rubbing at his eyes before offering her an apologetic smile. "To be honest, Tammy, I figured your reaction even before I bought the ring. I just got ahead of myself, and was kind of hoping that I would be wrong." Reaching out, he tentatively brushed against the back of her hand, his smiling growing a little bit more real as she flipped it so that she could intertwine their fingers. "I'm sorry, Tammy. Forgive me?"
Instead of answering, all Tamora did was lift up her arms and open them for a hug, pulling him into a kiss that said much more than she could have with words.
"You shouldn't have been so worried," Tamora eventually said after they had parted, her arms tightening around him as his face buried into the crook of her neck. "I've walked out to calm down during an argument before; this time was no different, short stack."
"This time was for ten hours instead of two, and I couldn't get ahold of you," Felix reminded her as he placed a gentle kiss onto the underside of her chin, refusing to lift his head from its spot on her shoulder to reach higher. "Of course I was going to worry."
"We'll work on that," Tamora replied, her words twisted by a sudden yawn that had taken her by surprise. Glancing at the clock, it didn't completely shock her to find that the four had clicked over to a five, giving them a grand total of two hours before they were both supposed to begin getting ready for work. Nudging Felix into an upright position, she pushed open her door, allowing the chilled night air to awaken them just enough to get up the stairs. It did not take long for them to find their way into his third floor bedroom, she deciding that three was much better number than seven. Forgoing their normal nightly routines and deciding against the time it would take for them to change from their cloths into pajamas so that they could catch a couple more minutes of rest, they curled together, their shared warmth driving away the winter cold that had followed them. Gently prodding her shoulder, Felix decided that there was just enough time left for one last conversation before sleep took them.
"I'm keeping the ring."
"Good. You never know when I'll want to start wearing."
It would take another two years and a handful of painful conversations, but, eventually, the ring that Felix had hidden in his sock drawer would be put to good use. After she had stolen and resized it to fit him.