Part 12

by Kim Pritekel with Alexa Hoffman

For complete disclaimers, see part 1.

All original songs by Alexa Hoffman.

If you'd like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com

I watched him as he watched me, chewing on the earpiece to his glasses, sizing me up.

"So, last time you mentioned that you liked girls, or perhaps just one girl. What did you mean by that?" I looked at him, what did he mean, what did I mean? Wasn't it pretty self explanatory?

"Well, I mean that I dated guys, for years. Well, a few, anyway. But then I came upon this one girl, and she turned my world upside down." I looked down at my fidgeting hands as I talked, reached over to play with the strap of my backpack that sat on the couch next to me.

"You don't look so happy about that, Chase. Why not?"

I took a deep breath, knowing why I had come here, knowing that I hadn't been able to get it out in the last two times, so I may as well do it now.

"Picture this, you're in a secluded cabin in the Colorado woods in some butt-fuck back area where there is no civilization except for a tiny store ten miles away. You plan to behave, not do a fucking thing, then the next thing you know, you are kissing this girl of your dreams." I took a breath to get myself under control.

"Did she kiss you back?"

"Yeah. But she pulled away then took off to the bathroom to take a shower. We had just come in from playing in the snow, so we were both cold and she needed to warm up."

"It sounds like you're trying to make excuses for her, Chase." He readjusted in his chair, crossing his right leg over his left. "What happened next?"

"She slept on the couch and I slept in the bed. We headed back for a fucking silent eight hour trip back here."

"You're very angry, still."

"Wouldn't you be? Fuck, yeah, I'm angry." I looked at him, my brows drawn. "I just want to understand." I stood, headed to the window to see the campus stretched out before me. "I haven't spoken to her since." He looked over at the wall calendar.

"So you're avoiding her, then?"

"Nope. Other way around."

"Interesting." I could hear him scribbling something down on the pad he balanced on his thigh. "This happened during Christmas break, you said?" I nodded. "Well, that's been well over two months now." Again I nodded.

"I know."

I walked around the small, but neat office. A large desk was placed near the far wall, and I wandered over there, feeling eyes on me the entire time. On the desk were several picture frames, a snapshot of a large golden retriever in one, and in another a studio picture of two men. I turned to him.

"Who's the other guy?"

"That's my partner, Jerry." He said matter of factly. I looked back at the picture, a the two men. Jerry was a good looking guy, darker skin with the slightest bit of a beard, dark hair trimmed neatly. Samuel was also a good looking guy, getting older, maybe in his mid-forties. He had dark hair, also, but was beginning to gray around the sides, making him look quite distinguished. They were both in wonderful shape. I looked at Samuel.

"Why is it that when men start to gray it's considered sexy and when women do they're old hags." He chuckled, shaking his head.

"Don't you just love that double standard?

"Yeah." I plopped down on the couch again.

"Tell me more about you, Chase. Does your family keep in close contact with you?" I shrugged, leaning back, my ankle crossed over my knee, bouncing nervously.

"Are you uncomfortable, Chase?" I glanced at my foot and grinned.

"No, not really. Sometimes I just have too much energy, need to get it out. Anyway, my parents. Yeah, they live in town. I see them occasionally, talk to them about every week or so."

"Do you get along?"

"As well as most, I'd say." I glanced down at my watch. "Out of time, doc." I grinned at him, and he smiled at me.

"Yes, it appears we are. You did better today, Chase. I think I'm getting a larger picture of Chase Marin, now."

"Good luck, Dr. Roth." I grabbed my backpack, and headed toward the door. "It's not easy being me." With one last smile, I headed out.

Every time I left the counseling center I was always afraid I'd run into Dagny, yet there was a large part of me that hoped I would. I had been sure to make my appointment days opposite of her work days so that I wouldn't run into her. The smart part of me knew it would probably be best if I didn't. She obviously didn't want to talk to or see me, so who was I to force the issue? Apparently I'd done that enough already.

I headed back to my dorm, thankful that I had scheduled the counseling sessions after my classes for the day, so I could just go home and veg. The semester was three weeks in, and I had not left my room unless it was for class or the sessions.

The sessions. I smiled as I thought about how much I had wanted to strangle Natalie. She had cornered me one day in the room, sitting across from me, and staring into my eyes.

"Chase, what's wrong?"


"That's crap and you know it. Come on, talk to me." I had looked at her, putting my notebook aside, not even able to write in the leather journal anymore. It hurt too much. "Is it school? I can't imagine, since we just started. Your family?" I shook my head. "Dagny?" I looked down, playing with my pen. "I wondered. She hasn't been around, and you haven't talked about her much. Is everything okay?"

"No," I whispered. I did not want to go into detail with Nat. Though she had put that article on my bed about homosexuality, I still didn't feel she'd be able to understand. Plus, I felt ashamed of what had happened.

"Look, I think I know of someone who can help you, okay? At least talk to you and understand. His name is Samuel Roth, and he's a psychologist at the counseling center.

"No, Natalie. I won't go."

"Please don't be so stubborn, Chase. Please let me do this? At least go once, then after that you can stop, okay?" I had finally nodded my consent, secretly grateful that someone cared.

I walked across campus now, staring up into the sun. We were headed into mid-March, and I was so very sad. Actually it depended on the day and moment of how I felt. Right now I was sad, thinking of how different things had been this time last year. My birthday had come and gone over three weeks ago. Carrie and Paul had taken me out, and Natalie had taken me to a movie and dinner. Dagny had sent me an email, wishing me the best and a wonderful twentieth year, followed by half a dozen carnations the next day.

I had been so surprised at that, not expecting her to do anything, but wishing all the same that I could transport myself through time to last year and do it all over again. But then, my feelings would not have changed, so would the same thing have happened, one way or the other? I thought so, and thus the only way I didn't beat myself up daily.

Some days I felt angry and confused. What had I done that had been so horrible as to not allow me to explain, or at least get my side out? Allow me to hear hers. I was in a whirlwind of emotions, and just tried to put my school work first. Who would have thought? My parents would be so proud, and were, but if only they knew the truth.

Suddenly I stopped, the hair on the back of my neck standing on end, and my stomach lurching. I slowly glanced over to my left where I saw a stone bench, and Dagny sitting on it. She was leaning over a book, her legs curled up under her, then she looked up, her eyes seeming to not see anything. Just staring into space. I couldn't move from the spot where I stood, my feet rooted. I wondered what was going through her head, what she had been doing.

Often times I'd lay in bed, knowing Dagny was still up studying, imagining her sitting on the floor of the living room or the couch, that white gook on her face as she read.

Suddenly green eyes were on me, and I stared back. Dagny lifted her head a bit, staring into my eyes. She was a ways from me, but from what I could see, her face seemed to change emotions like the ocean changes the tide. One moment she looked lost, then another hard as the stone bench she was sitting on.

For a moment I thought she would get up, but then she turned back to her book. My heart sank, again, and I hurried on toward my dorm. I didn't want her to hear me cry again.

* * *

Friday night came around, and I was glad. The distraction of Gotfry's would be good. I only worked there two days a week now, anything else being too much with school and Natalie's bible study classes. She had stopped doing the Thursday night child classes, which had bummed me out, but she didn't have time for it this semester.

During rehearsal yesterday I had been quiet, not even wanting to be there. Luckily after being asked only about twenty times, my band-mates left me alone. Terrie watched me all night, though I wasn't sure why. I'd like to say watching for me to fall apart, but since it didn't happen, I don't know. I didn't know who I could trust at this point, so I didn't bother talking to her about what had happened. I'd just learn to deal with it on my own.

I set up my guitars, and brought the microphone up to my height. I don't know who used it in the time between our shows, but whoever it was must be a midget.

I looked around at the customers, just to see who was there tonight. Yeah, right. I knew exactly who I was looking for, but didn't want to even admit it to myself.

"You okay, Chase?" I turned to see Terrie standing behind me. She had genuine concern in her dark eyes, and I wanted so badly to confess all my secrets, but this was not the time and she was not the person. I nodded, but could not look her in the eye. She reached up and put her hand on my shoulder, rubbing the skin there. "It will all work out, Chase. It always does." I looked up at her, feeling the sting behind my eyes. I cried so often now. I hated it, never liking to cry.

"Thanks, Terrie." I quickly turned away so she wouldn't see the wetness trying to gather in my eyes. Valiantly I shoved it all down for another day.

The show started, and I tried to put as much into it as I could, some of the songs coming out far too harsh, but powerful. The crowd ate it up, taking it as my own personal interpretation of the song. Worked for me.

At the break, I grabbed my water from Greg, then headed outside. He looked at me so strangely, like he knew something was wrong but couldn't quite put his finger on it. To his credit, he didn't ask.

The night was clear and quiet as I strolled around, one hand in the pocket of my jeans, the other holding onto the mug of water. I needed some air, plus I didn't want to be around a whole bunch of people, and I especially didn't want to be where Dagny and I had so many memories. It hurt so bad just to be up there singing. I had thought about quitting the band, but knew I'd regret it for the rest of my life. I knew that this was a moment in my history, but damn did it hurt.

"Hey." I turned to see Carrie standing behind me. I smiled, her presence immediately brightening my dark world.

"Hi. What are you doing here?"

"We wanted to surprise you. Paul's inside." She pointed to the door with her thumb.

"I'm glad you did." I hugged my friend, needing a friendly face so bad. Carrie stared at me for a moment.

"What's going on, Chase? What's happened between you and Dag?" I was surprised, as I had said nothing to her. I stared at her. "Come on, no tough girl shit. We took her out to lunch yesterday, Chase. She seemed so sad and withdrawn. Paul had to basically force her to go with us. Now I look at you, what happened?"

"I kissed her, Car," I said quietly. "Well, at least we kissed." I looked down, playing with my mug. "I don't know what happened. She flipped out."

"Oh," Carrie breathed, stepping back in shock. "I'm, wow. I'm sorry, Chase." She put her hand on my arm. "So what do you think?" I shook my head, looking out into the night.

"I'm thinking that the greatest thing to ever happen to me is fucked up beyond repair. I don't understand why we just can't go back to where we were." I looked at my friend. "Why does it have to be so dramatic that we're totally avoiding each other? I saw her in the park the other day, she looked right at me and turned back to her books. She hates me, Car."

"I didn't get that impression at all, Chase. She said that she's been really busy with school and all, but she, god I can't even explain it to you. If I didn't know better I would have thought her dog died. Hell, her entire family." She leaned back against a nearby car. "She looked so unbelievably lost." I sighed. I'm right here, Dagny. I can lead you back. I said nothing. "It kind of makes sense now. Anyway, you guys sounded great in there," Carrie said finally. I smiled, turned to her.

"Thanks. I think I sucked, but hey, you can keep on praising if you like."

"Well, I don't think Poison ever intended Every Rose Has Its Thorn to sound quite like that, but other than that." I laughed.

"Yeah, bite me." I dodged the smack that was intended for my arm with a smile. "So how are things going, you know, you and Paul."

"Oh, Chase, we can talk about that some other time, huh?"

"No, it's okay. Really, I'm okay. How is he?" My friend's face lit up, though I could tell she was trying to hold back. I put my hand on her arm. "Car, really. It's okay. Just because my life sucks doesn't mean I'm going to begrudge you any happiness." She looked at me, gauging my sincerity, then finally smiled full out.

"He's wonderful, Chase. I think this is what I've been looking for, you know?" I nodded. "We are taking it slow, you'll be happy to know, but things are kind of getting serious. I took him home for my parents to meet last weekend."

"Really? The parent moment, huh? How did it go?"

"Well, I was nervous as hell, but I have faith in my choice, so no matter how it turned out I knew what I wanted. But, all my worrying and analyzing had been for not. They loved him." She smiled again, wrapping her arms around herself.

"I knew they would, Car. You've got a great one there."

"Chase, can I ask you a question? If it's too soon tell me to go fuck myself. But, well, if this doesn't work out with Dagny, will you go back to guys or stick with girls?" I looked at her. What a fine question, one that I had no answer to as I hadn't really thought about it. I sighed as I thought.

"Well, I mean, I like guys as a whole, and Mike was great, but I don't know. There's just something about women that you just don't get with men, you know?" She nodded.

"Oh, yeah. I understand. They are so gentle and soft."

"Yeah, but it's more than that. I mean, I haven't slept with one, so I don't know shit about that part of it." I stared up at the night sky, trying to get my thoughts in order. "It's more of a connection that I have never experienced in my entire life." I looked at my friend. "You and I are close, right?" She nodded. "But even so, and you know how much I love you, it's different. Now I don't know if this is with all women or just Dag, but there is a connection there, like I don't even have to say a word and she understands me." I could feel the familiar stinging. I looked down to hide my face from Carrie. I felt a hand on my back, rubbing in slow circles.

"It's okay, Chase," she whispered. My chest heaved as a sob tore free.

"God, I feel like I'm pregnant. I get the weirdest emotional outbursts at the strangest times." I tried to smile through my tears, wiping them away as fast as they poured out of my eyes. Carrie smiled.


"What did I do so wrong, Car?" I looked at her, realizing wiping the tears away was a losing battle. "You know I find it so ironic that the one person who finally gave me a purpose, made me feel so strong within myself has made me question my every move. I feel like my source is gone."

Carrie took me into her arms, whispering loving words into my ear, rocking me slowly.

* * *

I walked into the counseling center a bit early. Dr. Roth's door was closed, so I sat in one of the chairs in the waiting room. There was a little boy sitting there, he looked to be no older than eight or nine. His dark eyes scanned the room, me, and an older woman sitting next to him reading a magazine. I smiled at him and he looked at me, almost with fear in his eyes, and moved closer to the older woman. It surprised me, but I figured he had his reasons.

I sat on, waiting for my appointment when a song popped into my head. It was an old camp song my sister had taught me years ago. I began to hum it, just for something to do. I felt the little boy's eyes on me the entire time, but did not look at him for fear of scaring him more. But I could see him out of the corner of my eyes when I looked at the picture placed on the wall above his and the other woman's head. As I hummed I began to get my feet into the action, moving them this way and that, at first very subtly, to the rhythm of the song.

I noticed that the boy's eyes were following my movements, his face still like stone. I brought my hands into the little dance, doing an almost '70s style disco move with them. I kept my face pretty clear of expression except for my eyes which moved back and forth with my hands, beginning to grunt along with my humming.

To my immense surprise and delight I saw the slightest bit of a smile spread across his lips, reaching up to his eyes to make them sparkle like black marbles.

"Chase?" I stopped abruptly, looking up at my doctor in mid-dance. He was staring down at me, amusement on his face. I smiled and stood, following him into his office.

"Having fun with the little guy there?" he asked, pointing toward the door. I sat down and smiled.

"He looked like he could use a little pick me up."

"Indeed he can." He shook his head sadly as he flipped through the pages of his notebook, then looked at me. "So how have you been, Chase?" I shrugged.

"Okay, I guess. Not much to tell. Been pretty typical days. But, there is some good news." I smiled.


"Well, two things, actually. My older sister and her fiancé have set a date to get married. It'll be this fall. Also, I decided not to quit playing music."

"That's wonderful, Chase." Sam leaned toward me, patting me on the knee. "I think that was a very wise and mature, healthy decision." He leaned back in his chair and studied me. I had been coming to see Sam for three months now, and was so glad I did. He was awesome with what he did, and his honesty with his own gay life has been beyond helpful. "Do you compose music, Chase? Music can be such an extraordinary outlet for feelings and emotions, whether good or bad."

"Yeah, it can, and yes, I do."

"Have you written any about this girl who hurt you so bad?" I nodded, looking down. "It's nothing to be ashamed of, Chase. It can be very therapeutic."

"Yes, but to be honest, sometimes I almost feel like a voyeur, like I know she will never read or hear any of these songs, but they're about her. Like talking about someone behind their back." I chewed on my bottom lip as I stared at the doctor. "Does that make sense?" He nodded.

"Yes it does. But what's important is how they make you feel. Do they make you feel better?"

"A little, yeah."

"Then that's what counts. Do you allow anyone else to read your songs?" he asked, taking his glasses off to polish them with the ever-present Kleenex he had in his pocket.

"No. No one reads them." I looked down for a moment. "She's the only one who ever read any of my songs." I felt deflated, and my eyes starting to fill again. Damnit! I don't want to cry anymore.

I heard some movement, but didn't dare look up. I would be mortified if Sam saw me crying. The cushion next to me lowered with the added weight of the doctor, then I saw a Kleenex come into view. I took it, quickly trying to wipe the tears away.

"I really shouldn't be so personal with you, Chase, but I want to tell you a story." Sam's voice had gone from the strong, professional tone to a much softer, comforting one. "When I was younger, just starting college, so about an eon ago," I smiled as he nudged me. "I met this man in my class. Shawn, was his name. We had a class together, and as soon as I saw him I was drawn to him. He treated me like dirt for a good long time, so I decided he was an asshole, and threw it out of my mind." He brushed some hair away from my face, but I still stared at my lap.

"What happened?" I finally asked.

"Well, we ended up having to do a project together for the class. He showed up at my apartment with breakfast from a fast food place, and we sat down to eat and talk. We talked about the project for maybe an hour, then the rest of the afternoon we discussed our lives, our past, any and everything. See, at this time I was still very much straight, even had a girlfriend. Imagine that." I looked up at him and grinned, he was already smiling at me. "Anyway, so long and short of it was we became best friends, inseparable. I fell in love with him. I was so surprised and scared. What would happen now? What would my family think, would my career be ruined? So, we stayed like this, Shawn showing me all signs pointed south, but he never did anything, never followed through. Finally he transferred to another college, and I was left heartbroken. I had changed my entire life for him, Chase. Come out to my family long before I was ready, broken up with my girlfriend, which ultimately ended up being the right thing. But the point was, I was shattered by this, devastated." I stared at him, wondering how this tale would end, and why the hell he was telling me this.

"Are you trying to depress me more, Sam?" He smiled.

"No, Chase. After some time had passed, my heart mended to the best of its ability, and I met Jerry. He was the best thing that ever happened to me. The thing is, with this girl, whether you win or lose, she is playing a part in your life for a reason. It's up to you to figure out what that reason is and to use it for your benefit. Life throws some curves at us, Chase. I know you know that, but you have to respect and learn from the bad in order to appreciate and deserve the good."

I looked at him, seeing Sam in a new light. He wasn't just the psychology guy that I came in and talked to every week, he was a human being who had feelings and experiences, too. I turned to him and hugged him.

"Thank you, Sam." I said, muffled into his shoulder. He hugged me back, rubbing my back and neck.

"You'll get through this, Chase. I promise."

* * *

It had been five weeks since I had seen Dagny sitting in the park, and only one of three times I saw her over the semester. The pain was lessening some, but now it was turning into anger and the frustration of not getting any closure. What was I supposed to do? There was no way I could live out the rest of my life without knowing why, at least trying to understand.

I was writing fairly regularly again, which was good, and as Sam had said, was extremely helpful, even if the songs were only for me. The crying was also less frequent now, thank god. One night I had gone to Magpie's for dinner. Yes, I know I must be a masochist. It hurt to sit in that booth, looking across the table at what should have been Dagny. I never really understood why I went in there, except for maybe the chance that she'd come in. Then what? If she did, what would I say? Anything? I didn't know.

I sat on my bed, back against the wall, my notebook in my lap as I wrote. I stared out the window as I thought about how I was feeling, or what to say. Then like being hit by lightning, the entire thing came to mind. I wrote as fast as my hand would allow, which wasn't always as fast as my brain thought of it. Few minutes, and many writing mistakes later, I was finished.

I sat back, reading my masterpiece, trying to think of a name for it. A smile broke out over my face. Maybe I'd even let Sam read this.

* * *

I had to visit Sam on an off day, my regular day I had finals and was too brain dead to walk let alone talk. I worried about possibly bumping into Dagny, but what could I do? I wasn't going to think about it.

I walked into the building, and yet again there was the little boy sitting with the older woman, his feet dangling off the edge of the chair. That always jolted me as to just how little we are when we're kids. Someday that little boy could be taller than I was.

I sat in my usual spot, waiting for Sam. The little boy was watching me intently, and when I got situated, I heard the tiniest little voice. I listened, realizing it was the little ditty I'd been humming last week. I looked over at the boy, and the humming stopped. Picking up on the game, I looked away again, keeping him in my peripheral vision. I heard the quiet humming again, and knew it was him as his eyes were glued to me. I began to hum along, tapping my toe with the beat. I saw a tiny smile curl the corner of his mouth, then it was gone as his humming got louder, so did mine. The older woman was watching us both, a look of astonishment on her lined face.

The boy looked over toward the office doors, and abruptly stopped. I turned as well, and stopped just as quickly. Dagny stood in an open doorway, her eyes riveted on us, going to me when she saw I was looking at her. She looked so good in a black skirt that reached to just above her knee and a tight knit shirt with capped sleeves. She looked thinner, her hair a little longer. She looked good, but very tired.

We shared the look for several minutes, neither of us expecting to see the other, and neither knowing what to do or say. I gave the faintest of smiles, and so did she, but then she turned around, and disappeared into the office.

I sat, stunned, struck. I felt my insides gurgling as if I would be sick, not knowing how to control it. That was the closest I had been to her physically since the drive back from Colorado in January.

The life and light that I had so loved in her eyes seemed to be gone. I was probably just fooling myself, but that's what I saw.

"Chase?" I looked up, startled to hear my name called. Sam stood at his open door, his brows drawn. "Are you okay?"

"Uh, yeah." I walked into his office, my notebook in hand. I handed it to him, opened to the appropriate page. "Um, I brought this for you to read." He took it, still looking at me with concern.

"You look like you've just seen a ghost. My god, you're so pale." He sat me down on the couch, and I batted his hands away.

"I kind of did." I smiled weakly. "I'm fine. Just read." He shook his head, then sat in his chair across from me, began to read. I watched his face as he read, the expressions that crossed his features. Finally, he put the notebook down and looked at me.

"Chase, this is exquisite work. Is this recent?"

"Yes. I just wrote it about a week ago." He handed the notebook back where I tucked it away next to me.

"You really should allow others to read your music, Chase. You may have a future in it." I shook my head.

"Nah, I enjoy it, love it in fact, but I have no interest in making a career out of music. It will always be in my life, but," He smiled and nodded.

"Probably wise. No matter how intelligent or talented you may be, that sort of business is very difficult to get a proper hold onto."

"Yeah." I looked down for a moment, trying to decide if I should tell him about just seeing Dagny or not. I did not want him to know who she was, for her privacy as well as my own, but all the same I felt I should tell him I had seen her. "Um, I just saw her. That's what was wrong when I came in." He nodded.

"I figured as much. Is there anything I can do? How are you?"

"I was a little shaken, but I'll survive." My doctor smiled at me, nodding.

"Yes, I believe you will, Chase." I nodded.

"I hope so." I put my hand to my chest. "I hurt so bad, Sam. I hurt here." I emphasized my words by patting my chest. "It's so hollow."

"It will be filled again."

* * *

It was to be our last show of the semester, and for me for a while. I planned to go home for a couple weeks, get some space from the campus and this part of Tucson. I needed to be somewhere where every time I turned around there was a memory staring me in the face. My parent's house would be bad enough, but at least I had lived there for eighteen years and had all that to fall back on.

Sam had managed to talk to me about possibly singing my new song tonight. I didn't know if I could do that. Not only was it an immensely personal song, but also I had yet to sing any of my own music at Gotfry's. I had made copies of the music for the band in case I decided to do it, and knew the song I'd cut out of our program, too.

As I had headed to the bar, I had noticed heavy clouds rushing in the late-day sky, turning it a gunmetal gray. A storm was coming.

We were setting up, a large crowd in tonight as it was the first weekend after finals, and everyone needed to just have a good time.

"Hello, and good evening, everyone. Finals are over!" I got a resounding cheer from that, and grinned as I turned toward the band, handing them the music, just in case. Doug took his copy, finding the melody in his head. He nodded.

"This is good stuff, but, um, well where are the lyrics, Chase?" I looked at him, smiled as I tapped my head with my finger. "Is this yours?" I nodded, he grinned. "Wow. Cool."

"This is not a definite, but maybe, okay? See how much nerve I can get up."

"You got it."

I walked back to the microphone, Than securely around my neck, and began the first set. The crowd was rowdy and responsive as they drank more, and I actually found myself having a good time.

"Thank you! We'll be back."

I put Than in her stand, and headed to the bar for my water.

"I'm going to miss you, Chase," Greg said, leaning over the bar.

I snorted. "It's only two weeks, Greg. I think you can handle it."

He grinned. "You still going to work for me this summer?"

"Hell yeah. I just need to get out of here for a bit, you know?" The bartender looked at me, then surprised me by patting my arm.

"It'll all be better, Chase." I looked at him, perplexed. He winked at me, then headed off to help a customer. I leaned against the bar, staring out at everyone, trying to see who all had shown up. Pretty much the same groups of people, guys playing pool toward the back by the bathrooms. Everything felt alright, like it was supposed to happen this way. I didn't know exactly what everything was, but I knew I'd be fine. Yeah right.

The second set was just about to start up, Than around my neck ready to rock, when I glanced around at the nearly full bar, some empty tables here and there. There was a small table back by the door, and to my shock, Dagny was sitting in one of the chairs. She had a mug of beer sitting in front of her. When the hell had she gotten there? I was shaken.

"Ready?" Doug asked, and I nodded, blowing out a very deep breath. The next song was a Def Leppard hit, and the music for it had started already. I didn't want to sing, just wanted to run, but knew I couldn't. I had to stay and fight. I began to sing, not the best I've ever sung, but I managed to get through it.

My eyes kept drifting to that lonely table with its single patron. Dagny's eyes were on me, her face nearly expressionless as she listened. I felt the anger I had been trying to deal with start to bubble up. I felt all the frustration and pain of the last five months coming to a head, and I knew I had to sing the song. I had to let her know how I felt.

"Okay, the next song I'm about to sing for you is, well," I grinned. "I consider all of you my good buddies now, so here's one I wrote. You be nice to me, now!" This drew a roar from the crowd, and I smiled. I turned to look at the band who were all looking at me like I'd lost my mind, before they scrambled to get the music out I had given them.

Terrie started out slow with the drums, the only instrument playing for the time being. I closed my eyes, holding onto the microphone until it was my turn to start playing.

"This song is called Should I." I said, my voice breathy. My eyes still closed, I began to sing.

"Behind closed lids
We both feel the same
You love me or I hate you
At least there's no one to blame"

I started in softly with the guitar, everyone quiet behind me, and in the bar. I took a breath, then continued.

"It's not just your rejection
That crumples me inside
The tears I shed for you
Serve only to remind

What we had just weeks ago
Was not felt by me alone
But one touch has changed that all
Your eyes to ice, your heart to stone"

I opened my eyes as the song picked up in the chorus, and looked at Dagny, burning a hole in her. She was still staring at me, her face intense, but she was biting her bottom lip as if she were trying to stay expressionless.

"I see you peering at me
Across the width of fence
Your eyes filled with wonder
Your body so tense

Your face next to mine
Now what should I do?
With the touch of your lips
I was gone... and so were you"

I said the last line slow and deliberate, the bar going nuts, Dagny not moving an inch. I continued, the music coming down to just Terrie and I again.

"Sometimes it gives me pause
Would it be simp'ler to forget
That few seconds of bliss
Silence turned into regret

I see you peering at me
Across the width of fence
Your eyes filled with wonder
Your body so tense

Your face next to mine
Now what should I do?
With the touch of your lips
I was gone... and so were you"

The band played, and I stepped back from the microphone, lifting my head in defiance. I would not be torn apart by this. I closed my eyes as I lost myself into the music, playing Than for all I was worth before stepping back up.

"Do I chalk it up
To a year-long mistake?
Move on with my life
Let the memories fade?

Or do I give you control
That which you always had
The key to my heart
For good or for bad

With the touch of your lips
I was gone... and so were you.

I was gone..." I looked right into Dagny's eyes. "And so were you."

The bar was silent as the words and powerful meaning seeped into alcohol-saturated brains.

Dagny pushed her chair back, a horrible screech echoing through the silence as the wooden legs scraped along the wood planks. She looked at me for a moment, then turned and walked out of the bar.

I threw Than's strap off my neck and handed the guitar to whoever was standing there as I raced after her.

I burst through the bar door to see Dagny standing in the parking lot, not far from me, her back to the building. I stared up into the sky to see the rain coming down in torrents. My attention moved back to Dagny.

"Why did you sing that?" she asked, her voice low, quieted by the rain.

"Why not?"

"Leave it to you to make a slap in the face sound so poetic."

"It wasn't meant as a slap. I had no idea you'd be here." That was a lie. I didn't even know if I'd sing it or not. Turn around, Dag, I need to see your face. Perhaps she heard my silent plea because she turned around then, and I saw how her eyes glistened. I couldn't tell if it was from the light or from, something else.

"What do you want from me? What do you expect from me?" Her voice rose as she spoke, her body getting tense.

"I don't want anything from you, Dagny," I said, my voice still low, hard. "I did not ask you to come here. I have not asked anything from you or of you."

"Why did you kiss me, Chase? What happened back in that cabin?" Tears, I could tell Dagny was crying now. They were falling and mingling with the rain drops. I felt my own eyes stinging, but was not about to give her the satisfaction. Not anymore.

"I didn't kiss you, Dagny. I don't know what happened. It just happened. That's life."

"I don't know what to do, Chase. I am so goddamned confused."

"You're confused?" I could feel my anger rising again. "What the hell do you have to be confused about, Dag? I personally wanted that kiss to happen. There, I said it." I looked away, then back. "I didn't mean for it to happen, though. That had not been my intention to go with you to the woods of Colorado, and then seduce you! God, give me more credit then that."

"I never thought that, Chase. Honest. I just, I wanted it, too!" I stared at her, her words echoing in my head leaving me with my mouth open. Dagny threw her hands up into the air in exasperation. "My whole life I've wanted what my parents have, I wanted a love that strong, someone to love me like no one else ever had." She looked at me, slightly cocking her head to the side. "And it was right before me all along. I don't understand it, Chase, but it was here. You were here."

I could only stare, shell shocked and too afraid to say anything.

"I can't do this again, Dag. I cannot go through this again with you." She smiled, shaking her head as if she hadn't heard me.

"You know, I always thought I was the strong one, independent, intelligent, driven, you name it. I was always so in control of my life, of everything I did. Till you. I look at you, the willpower and strength, all inside you all along." She took a step toward me, I took one back. I didn't trust her, didn't trust this feeling I had. "All these months that we've been apart, I've been thinking, discovering. Before the holiday break I was getting to a point where I couldn't imagine life without you in it. I loved having you in my apartment, snuggling up with you in my bed keeping me warm." She smiled weakly. "I needed you. These past months I wanted to see if I could live without you, if I could just pick up where I had left off, lose myself in school and work, in life." She shook her head. "I couldn't do it, Chase. Sure, I was fine. But there was something so huge, so monumental missing. I haven't even swam since February." She took another step forward, this time I held my ground. She looked up at me, standing no more than six inches away.

"Why are you doing this, Dag?" I asked, my voice hoarse. "I can't do this again, can't allow you to fuck with my head again."

"I can't guarantee you that I won't hurt you again, Chase, or that you won't hurt me. But I want to try. I want to try for as long as you'll let me." She looked at me with pleading eyes. "Don't you see?" She raised her hand and placed it on my chest. "I want to be in here." I almost smiled at the irony. Just hours ago I was telling Sam how much my heart hurt, and now it hurt because it felt like it was about to explode. She grabbed my hand and put it to her heart.

"Say yes," she whispered. "Please say yes."

I stared into her eyes, tears running freely down my face now, as they were hers. I nodded as I couldn't find my voice for a moment. She smiled.


Dagny dropped my hand, and threw herself into my arms. I closed my eyes, squeezing them tight as it felt like everything in my life had just clicked back into place, as if I had found me again.

"I'm sorry, Chase," she whispered into my ear. I nodded against her neck.

Dagny pulled away, looked up into my eyes, reaching with her hand to caress the side of my face, pushing a few wet strands away. She reached up, placing the softest of kisses on my eyes, kissing the last of my tears away. I tensed for a moment, but then relaxed. She came back for another small kiss on my forehead, then pressed her lips softly against mine. We stayed like that for awhile, our lips barely moving against one another before she tilted slightly to the side, mine following suit. I felt her hand wrap around my neck, her arm encircling my waist, pressing my drenched t-shirt to my skin. My lips opened just the slightest bit, allowing our lips to fit perfectly together.

Then to my surprise I felt hers open a bit more, and a very tentative wetness brush against my lips. I opened for her, allowing her tongue to explore briefly before it retreated. The kiss ended as gently as it began, our foreheads resting together, staring into each other's eyes, silently communicating all that we weren't ready to say. Dagny fell against me with a sigh that I imagined was partly contentment, and partly relief. I held her tight, reveling in the feel of her, knowing that she felt it, too, and that she accepted it.

"Come home with me?" I looked at her, she smiled. "Just to sleep. I'm cold." I grinned and nodded.

As we headed for Freud, I turned to see that the bar door was open, and a group had gathered to watch us. Someone was pushing everyone back inside, and then turned to look at me. She winked, then closed the door behind her. I smiled, shaking my head.

I turned to Dagny just as we reached the car. "By the way," I grinned. "Do you like pool?" Dagny smiled back.

"You bet your ass I do."

She pulled out of the parking lot, holding my hand in hers on her thigh, and smiled over at me. I smiled back, squeezing her hand. I looked in the rearview mirror to see the lights of Gotfry's, disappear.

Part 13

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