~ If You're Gone ~
by xenickz


The Disclaimer: This here's an uber piece. Ie, the story-and characters-are mine. Mine, mine, mine. Possessive? Me? Noooo÷
The Story: This is part one in what should be a trilogy. But hey,what do I know?*shrug* I just write this stuff. Btw, let's just say subtext is a given here.
The lyrics used later in the story are those of David Gray's Babylon. Not mine, though I often wish otherwise...
The Author: Would love any constructive criticisms (that's read adoring fan-mails btw). Send 'em my way at xenickz@hotmail.com
Special thanks to : Frankie, Rocky, Left, Teresa and Joyce, without whom, this wouldn't be back up online. You guys are like the FBI of fiction :)

Part 3 (Conclusion)

"Sunday all the lights of London
Shining, sky is fading red to blue
I'm kicking throught the autumn leaves
And wondering where it is you might be
going to..."
- Bablyon
David Gray


Chapter Four


"No," I said emphatically.

"Cole," Jenna wheedled.

"No," I repeated firmly. "No, no, no, no, no."

"Cole...just listen to me a minute," Jen snapped, clearly annoyed.

I don't want to, I thought peevishly but Jen could be a holy terror when pissed off. "I'm listening," I mumbled irritably.

"Cole, you need to get out of the house. It's not healthy to live like this. We haven't seen you in months."

"I get out plenty," I retorted.

"Yeah, for the two mintues it takes to get your newspaper off the front porch every morning," she flung back harshly.

Stung, I kept silent, tightening my grip on the telephone wire.

She let out a sigh. "I'm sorry; that was uncalled for. I know what a rough time you're having but hiding isin't the answer," her tone softened conspiciously. "We miss you, Cole. Come for the party. Just for a little while. Please?"

I hate lawyers.

I exhaled heavily. "What time should I be there?"

* * *

I pulled up near Jenna's house. The music was blaring so loudly that you could hear it a mile away.

I wondered idly how long it would be before the cops got here.

Oh well. I was here. Couldn't exactly leave. Jen would decapitate me.

Anyhow, she gave great parties. Maybe I might even...have fun.

I squared my shoulders and rang the doorbell.

I stood there for a minute or two before I gave up and tried the door. The party was in full swing and alcohol had obviously been imbibed in copious amounts. Either that or I had unknowingly stumbled onto the set for Happy Days.

"Cole!" Jenna stumbled in my direction and threw her arms around my neck.

I hugged her back. "Hey Jen. How are you?"

She pulled back slightly and looked deeply into my eyes. "Cole, I need to tell you something really important," she whispered urgently.

"What is it?" I asked, concerned.

"You're my favourite person in the world. I love you," she said seriously, before soundly planting a kiss on my cheek.

I was oddly touched, even though it was clear she'd had a few. "I love you too, Jen."

"Okay then," She giggled like a schoolgirl and skipped away, veering dangerously to the left.

I smiled to myself as I headed toward the makeshift bar.

All around me, people were laughing, drinking, dancing...just generally having a good time. I felt so removed from all of it, like I was watching a scene in some movie.I fixed myself a vodka cranberry, heavy on the vodka. I figured if I wasn't going to make merry, I might as well get rip-roaring drunk.

I found myself tapping my foot as I recognised the beginnings of David Gray's Babylon. It's a beautiful song. Plus I had a thing about depressing, maudlin lyrics.

'Friday night I'm going nowhere, all the lights are changing green to red. Turning over TV stations, situations running through my head...'

For some reason, my drink was gone. I turned back to the table to make myself another one.

'...Saturday I'm running wild and all the lights are changing red to green. Moving through the crowd I'm pushing, chemicals all rushing through my bloodstream.'

I spotted Jen with her arms around someone, earnestly proclaiming them to be her 'favourite person in the whole wide world'. I laughed softly. All in the space of ten minutes too. I was crushed.

I glanced around the room absently and my breath caught in my throat. Beth.

She looked beautiful. Heart-breakingly beautiful.

She wasn't alone.

I watched as someone else's hands tugged at hers, coaxing her to dance, someone else's lips whispered in her ears, making her throw her head back and laugh.

'Only wish that you were here, you know I'm seeing it so clear, I was afraid. To tell you how I really feel, admit to some of those bad mistakes I've made.'

I felt positively nauseous. The vodka choose that minute to hit me. The room began to spin. I clutched the edge of the table like a life preserver. My stomache began to lurch. Oh god. Please don't let me be sick. This was too much. Too much, too soon.

'If you want it, come and get it, for crying out loud. The love that I was giving you was never in doubt. Let go of your heart, let go of your head and feel it now...'

Get out. My mind clung to the thought and repeated it like a mantra. Get out, get out, get out...

I made for the door, keeping my eyes trained on it in the manner a marathon runner would the finishing line. I stumbled out the door, sucking in lungfuls of the night air as I did so. I sat down on the porch and waited for my erratic heartbeat to slow, waited for my head to stop swimming.

"Cole?"

"Not now, Jen".

She sat down next to me without a word and lit a cigarette. She seemed to have sobered up a bit.

"Aren't you going to offer me one?"

She raised an eyebrow at that but handed me one and her lighter. I tried to light it but my hands were trembling too violently. She took back the lighter and lit mine. I nodded in appreciation.

We sat in pensive silence.

"Why didn't you tell me she was coming tonight?" I asked hoarsely.

"She's my friend too," she replied defensively, then gave a little sigh. "I didn't know she was going to bring someone."

I threw my cigarette on the stair and ground it under my shoe. "I thought we actually had something together...it's been three weeks and she's already found the new love of her life. Meanwhile, I'm out here, like a schmuck, having a panic attack," I gave a hollow laugh. "Guess it just goes to show, huh?"

She took a deep drag, then exhaled. "It wasn't exactly easy for her either, Cole. She's been hurting too."

"Yeah well. Excuse me if I'm having a little trouble believing that."

"Come on, Cole. You know that's not true...she did love you," she murmured softly, then her eyes widened and she bit her lip.

Pain flared in my heart.

She did love you.

Her words hung in the air, unretractable as we stared at each other, her eyes red with remorse, mine with anguish.

"I...didn't...what I meant was...I..."she fumbled, searching desperately for words.

I shook my head to tell her it wasn't necessary. That there were no words that could repair the damage.That it wasn't her fault. That I knew she hadn't been trying to hurt me.

She'd just admitted what I couldn't.

I leaned forward and rested my forehead against hers. "Hey Jen?"

She swallowed hard. "Yeah?"

"I want to tell you something."

"What? "

You're still my favourite person in all the world."

She gave a sob and buried her face in my shoulder.

Chapter Five

It's been three months since I last saw Beth, even more since I last spoke to her.

With her in the room anyway.

Since she left, I'd had a million different conversations with her, thought of a million different things I could have said that might have convinced her not to leave.

You know how they say if you love someone, let them go?

In theory it's a romantic notion really...but they forget to tell you what happens when you let them go.

You die, a little by little each day.

It's been three months.

Three months of beer binges and Chris Isaak cds on repeat. Three months of missing her so much that sometimes it manifests into a physical ache.

Three months of lonely nights that take on epic proportions as you painfully remember how you used to lose yourself in her arms on sleepless nights and she would hum softly in your ear.

When you count it in those terms, three months can seem like an eternity.

Memories would assail me at the strangest of times.

I'd be in the video store and remember how she'd laughed so hard when we were watching Dogma that I'd missed most of the dialogue. Or I'd be in the mall and recognise her perfume from someone who'd just walked past. At one of my lower points, I'd bought a bottle of the stuff.

I was walking down the street the other day and I saw this woman with a shock of blonde hair. I'd followed her two blocks before I'd realised it wasn't her. By this time, the poor woman kept throwing me nervous glances and was nearly sprinting. She probably thought that I was trying to mug her.

In short, I had degenerated into a pathetic excuse for a human being.

The first couple of weeks was the hardest. I took a leave of absence from work, and closeted myself at home, refusing to speak to anyone. The only time I went out was to get shit-faced drunk and subsequently wake up with one of the worst hangovers I'd ever had in my life and I've had a few.

After a month of this, Rach came over and stood on the front porch, ringing the door bell for an hour. You can imagine how pissed she was when I finally let her in.

She made me a very strong pot of coffee and persuaded to lecture the hell out of me.

I remember just sitting there, cradling my head and trying to make sense of what she was saying over the pounding in my head. When she was done, we sat together in companionable silence and I told her the whole story. She held me as I cried.

Eventually I realised that I'd been acting like a real asshole and been drinking way too much. (Surprise, surprise). To a certain extent I was gratified that Rach cared so much, which did wonders for my ego considering the circumstance. Plus it was just way too much effort making it through the workday feeling like a three day old corpse.

So I worked on taking it one day at a time.

Eventually, the hurt became anger. Anger that she could leave me after everything she'd said, that

she hadn't called even once, that she'd been able to carry on with her life with such ease.

The irony that it was Rachael who was by my side, and not her, didn't escape me. Let's just say I haven't quite been the life of the party of late and that's putting it politely.

And now...?

I'm not as angry anymore. All the rage and frustration has melted into...something else. It's hard to put a name to it. Sometimes I feel...okay. Life goes on, you know?

But sometimes I feel so, so alone.

Sometimes I think I'm going crazy.

Maybe I am because after everything that's happened, I think...no, I know, that I still love her.

Chapter Six

Pink.

I pulled the pile of wet clothes out of the washing machine and rooted through them frantically, swearing furiously under my breath.

Everything was pink. Everything.

Even my favourite white shirt.

I winced.

Why me, God? I wondered silently. I pay my taxes. I'm a good person...most of the time.

Damn. I don't even like pink. In fact, I'm positive I don't even own a single article of clothing of the colour.

Not only that, it was an ugly pink to boot. Like a neon, puke kind of pink.

I shuddered and went to get my car keys. Maybe I could fix this.

Fifteen minutes later I was standing in the supermarket, thoroughly confused.

Did I want stain remover? I mused. Or bleach?

I stared in fascination at a bottle of bright purple liquid. I had no idea what it was for but whatever it was, it looked pretty cool. Household items sure had come a long way since I'd last been in a supermarket; which had been a while, admittedly.

I felt her hand on my arm before I heard her speak my name. "Cole?"

I started, dropping the bottle onto the floor.

I bent to pick it up, fighting the urge to swear out loud. Our first conversation in months and already I was acting like a complete moron. I straightened up slowly, trying to compose myself before I met her gaze.

Her eyes were as compelling as ever, drawing me in. Her hair was still short but it had grown out slightly. It looked slightly shaggy, messier but the overall effect was unbelievably sexy.

She had lost a little weight, which gave her a leaner look. It made her seem older, more sophisticated.

"Beth," I breathed. "Hi."

She smiled tremulously. "Hi."

We stared at each other, unsure of what to do next, like two actors who had forgotten their lines. Her hand was still on my arm, I realised belatedly.

I wondered if it would be too forward to kiss her cheek. Was I supposed to shake her hand?

How did one greet ex-lovers anyway?

She took matters into her own hands and stepped forward, enfolding me in a hug. She felt small in my arms and soft and smelled exactly as I remembered.

It was entirely too short.

"I didn't mean to scare you earlier," she apologised.

I forgot that I was angry with her. I forgot that she had hurt me. All that mattered right now was that she was here.

"Oh, you didn't," I assured her quickly. "Just startled me a little. But that was my own fault. I should have been paying attention."

Oh God. Could I sound like a bigger idiot?

She seemed amused at my rambling. "How are you?"

Lonely as hell."I'm okay," I mumbled, studying the linoleum floor as though it were the most enthralling thing I had ever seen. "How are you?" I asked softly.

She let out a sigh. "I'm okay. A little tired."

"Work?"

She looked at me carefully, as though she was worried I would start a fight any moment.

"Yeah. So what are you doing here?" she grinned. "Normally, wild horses couldn't drag you to the supermarket."

"Yeah well. That was before."

She flinched almost imperceptibly at the implied meaning and I felt guilty. I had said that to hurt her, plain and simple, and I had.

"I just needed to pick up some things," I volunteered as a peace offering.

She relaxed visibly. "Yeah, me too."

The conversation lapsed into an awkward silence and I shifted uncomfortably, trying desperately to think of something to say. "Oh hey. You've got that purple stuff too," I pointed at her shopping cart.

She looked at me strangely. "Cole, it's dish washing liquid."

Oh. "I know...I just...like the way it looks," I finished lamely. Kill me. Just kill me now.

She said nothing, looking as though she were fighting back the urge to laugh.

"Well..." she began and my heart plummeted. "Well, it was nice seeing you, Cole. I guess I'd better let you get back to your shopping."

"It was nice seeing you too," I said, torn between wanting to stall her and preserving whatever dignity I had left.She smiled shyly and kissed my cheek. "Goodbye, Cole."

She turned around and began to walk away.

I stared in bewilderment. No. No, no, no. Say something. SAY something.

"Beth," I called out in a panic.

She looked at me questioningly. "Yes?"

"Maybe...we could...get a cup of coffee sometime."

She tilted her head and studied me for a few seconds. "I'd like that," she said finally.

Then she was gone.

I leaned against the shelves, my legs suddenly weak.

What just happened? I wondered to myself.

* * *

"Hello" I intoned seriously.

No.

"Hey," I winked, with a devilish grin. "So how about that coffee?"

I frowned. Too smarmy.

"Hiya," I chirped.

Argh. I sounded like I was on Prozac.

I stared mournfully at my reflection in the mirror.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. I was twenty nine.

There had to be some law against feeling like a adolescent at twenty nine. I'd already done my time, damnit.

Just pick up the phone and ask her. How hard can it be?

You've known this woman since you were eleven. She's seen you with braces. She's seen you with that god awful haircut you had when you were seventeen. She's seen you naked for God's sake and she didn't even laugh then.

I stared at the phone cautiously like one would a poisonous animal. I had started to reach for it when it rang.

I jumped in surprise then picked up the receiver, feeling foolish.

"Yeah?" I barked.

There was a slight pause. "Hello?"

"Hey. Beth. Hi," I ran my hand through my hair, completely floored, resisting the urge to whack my head against something. Hard.

"Hey Cole. Is this a bad time?"

"No..no..it's fine," I glanced at myself in the mirror and found myself grinning like an idiot.

"The reason I called was...well, I was wondering if we could get together. For some coffee. Or a movie or something."

"Oh," I squeaked then cleared my throat. "Yeah. That would be good."

I could hear the smile in her voice. "Great. So shall we say tomorrow? Around six?"

"Perfect," I let out a sigh of relief.

"So I guess I'll see you then," she said.

I can't remember what I said after that. Fifteen minutes later, I was still cradling the phone, the dial tone buzzing.

There. I told my reflection. That wasn't so hard, was it?

* * *

She's not coming.

I've been sitting here for twelve minutes shredding my paper napkin. The waitress has stopped asking me if I wanted to order anything before my 'friend' arrived.

She just throws me a pitying look whenever she walks past.

I'm relieved actually, that Beth didn't show up. It's taken me so long to get over her, I don't paticularly want to go down that road again.

Although admittedly, a small part of me is sorely disappointed. This has been the focal point of my whole day.

Anyway, it was just coffee. It didn't mean a thing.

Except of course, it's not even coffee because she wasn't even here.

Where the hell was she anyway?

What kind of a person called someone up, made plans and then didn't even have the decency to show up?

I was so busy with my silent indignation that I didn't notice her slide into the seat opposite me.

"Hi" she ran a hand through her hair, distractedly. "I'm so sorry I'm late. The traffic was absolutely crazy."

"Oh, were you late? I didn't even notice,"I lied glibly, leaning back against my chair.

"I can see you have more pressing concerns," she nodded at the pile of confetti I had created with my paper napkin, grinning impishly.

I adopted a serious air. "Well, you know me. Busy, busy, busy."

Her eyes clouded over and I felt like kicking myself.

"I tried calling you to tell you I'd be late but your phone was off," she refused to meet my eyes.

I swallowed. "Yeah. Battery's dead."

She nodded and busied herself with the menu.

I opened my mouth to apologise but Anna, our friendly waitress, appeared.

"Coffee?" I checked with Beth, who was still perusing the menu.

"Yes please."

"I'll have a cappucino and she'll have a caffe latte," I told Anna.

Anna nodded sullenly and trounced off.

"I might have wanted something else, you know," Beth caught my eye.

I was mortified. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be presumptious..it's just that it's all you drink...I mean, used to drink," I took a deep breath. "Would you like something else? I can change the order."

She reached over and took my hand. "No, Cole, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to...I was just teasing, that's all. I don't want anything else.You know me, I'm such a slave to routine," she said dryly.

I laughed softly, relishing the feel of my hand in hers. My skin felt warm where she touched it.

I laced my fingers with hers. "I've missed you," I blurted out.

She looked as shocked as I felt, as though I'd broken some unspoken rule. Maybe I had.

She glanced away, troubled. "I've missed you too," I heard her admit softly.

It wasn't much.

But it was enough.

Chapter Eight

"That had to be a record. Even for you," I marvelled as we left the theater and walked towards Beth's

car. "One large coke, a large bucket of popcorn, nachos AND jellybeans," I ticked off the items, shaking my head in awe. "Concession stands live for people like you."

She hit my arm. Hard. "I'm a growing girl," she pouted.

I laughed at that. "I hate to break it to you but at twenty eight, I think you've done all the growing you're going to."

She stuck out her tongue at me. "You're mean and I don't like you."

I rolled my eyes. "Yeah. That's really mature."

She raised an eyebrow. "I've never pretended to be otherwise," she drawled sassily, and threw me a wink.

I felt my mouth go dry.

It scares me sometimes, the hold that she has on me.

And she doesn't even know it.

We got into Beth's car. She'd just bought a new one, a Merc convertible, black as sin.

I tease her relentlessly on how she she's going through a mid life crisis. The next step, I've warned her, is dying her hair and cruising teen spots.

In retaliation, she's refused to let me drive the car. She's good, I have to admit.

It's been two months since that time we had coffee together but it feels like an eternity. Things are so different now.

We've been spending a lot of time together, meeting for movies and dinners and walks.

We've been talking on the phone a lot as well, sometimes late into the night.

We talk about everything.

Well, almost everything. She's never said anything about her date at Jen's party. I've never asked.

Our previous relationship has become taboo, the big pink elephant that we tip-toe around as though the mere mention of it will bring with it ghosts we're not ready to face.

But I've gotten my best friend back and for that I'm glad.

I was startled out of my reverie as the car pulled to a stop.

We were home.

My home, I mean.

"Cole?"

I turned to look at her.

"Are you okay? You've been really quiet," she looked concerned.

"Yeah, I'm good. I was just thinking, that's all," I smiled to reassure her.

"What were you thinking about?" Her expression was hard to read.

I was surprised at the question. We'd been careful to skirt around thoughts and feelings.

"I was just thinking,"I said, carefully. "How happy I am." With you, I wanted to add but did not, hoping she'd understand anyway.

A small smile played on her lips. She squeezed my hand. "Then that makes two of us."

I brought her hand up to my lips and pressed a soft kiss against it. "Goodnight, Beth."

Her gaze held mine."Goodnight, Cole."

Chapter Nine

I cracked my eyes open and yawned. Apparently I'd drifted off to sleep.

The room was bathed in darkness. I froze. What time was it?

I reached for my watch. 7.42 p.m.

Damn.

I juumped off the bed and ran towards the bathroom in a panic.

Beth was coming over for dinner in eighteen minutes, the house was in complete disarray and I had a sneaking suspicion that there was nothing in my fridge that would even resemble dinner.

Worse still, Beth was one of those incredibly annoying people who were always on time.

Didn't she know that you always showed up fifteen minutes later than you were told to?

I'd tried time and time again to reform her of her evil ways but she claimed it was an innate thing.

I wrote it down as a character flaw.

Ten minutes later I was standing in my towel in my bedroom.

Casual? I wondered. Semi-Casual? Non-Casual?

I checked the time and yelped.

I threw on a shirt and decided on a pair of faded blue jeans that I knew she loved. I ran a brush through my hair and splashed on some cologne and ran down the stairs to the kitchen.

I opened my refrigarator and closed it again. Somehow I didn't think Beth wanted ice-cubes as the main course.

I headed for the phone and called the nearest Chinese take-away.

There. That was dinner taken care of, I mentally dusted my hands and smirked to myself.

I wandered into the living room and blanched. The place was a mess. Even for me.

I went around, systematically shoving everything under the couch.

It's really all in the know how.

The doorbell rang and I sprinted for it, draping myself against it once it was open in a world-weary but incredibly sexy lounge singer sort of way. "Hi," I murmured, my voice as smoky as my mom's famous home-made barbeque sauce.

Beth blinked and then proceeded to annihilate my ego by letting out a snort of laughter.

"That's what I love about you Cole, you always make me laugh, no matter how idiotic it makes you look."

I frowned, bending to accept her hug. Idiotic?

She passed me the bottle of wine she'd been holding. "God, this place is immaculate. Who are you and what have you done with Cole?"

I grunted. What did she mean idiotic? I'd have her know lots of women found me sexy. My mom always said I had tremendous sex appeal.

"Cole?"

"What?" I snapped, sulkily.

"Do you know you're wearing a pink shirt?"

I cringed internally. "Yeah. I've been fighting a losing battle with the household appliances. Seems they feel they're being overworked." The bleach had been...another mistake. On the other hand, the purple stuff was great.

She laughed softly, her expression softening as she took in the living room.

I wondered what she was thinking, wondered if she missed this place, if she missed m...No. Don't go there. "Shall I get you a glass of wine?"

"Sure," she replied absently.

I picked up the bottle of wine and headed for the kitchen.

"Hey Cole?"

"What?"

"What did you order for dinner?"

"Excuse me. I'll have you know I've been slaving in the kitchen all afternoon," I said indignantly.

"Really? I'm impressed," she said, not sounding impressed at all.

"Hey Cole?"

"What?"

"Delivery man's here."

Damn.

* * *

"So that's three hundred and fourteen points for me," Beth crowed triumphantly. "And seventy four for you."

I pouted. " I hate playing Scrabble with you."

She stuck out her tongue at me. "That's just because you suck royally at it."

"Your Scrabble score is directly related to your dorkiness," I informed her loftily. "You're just a closet geek."

She pulled a mock sympathetic face and patted my cheek condescendingly. "Awww...is wittle Cole all upset about losing?"

I smiled sweetly and flipped her the bird.

Being the mature, responsible adult that she was, she retaliated in the only way she knew how. She hit me.

"Ow. Dammit. That hurt!" I complained, rubbing my arm.

She rolled her eyes. "You're such a baby," she said, reaching over even as she was saying it to massage my arm. "There. Is that better?"

I felt my heart quicken as her scent overwhelmed my senses. "Much," I whispered, with longing colouring my voice.

Her eyes met mine and swallowed me whole.

We remained like that until she averted her gaze, a slow blush making its way up her neck. I cleared my throat and pulled away. I found myself looking everywhere else but her.

The air was heavy with all the words we couldn't voice.

"I saw you," I said finally, gruffly.

She raised an eyebrow in a silent question.

"At Jen's party... I saw you," I hated myself for bringing it up but it had been eating away at me for

months.

She looked confused for a moment and then her eyes widened in realisation.

"Are you still...together?"

She sucked in a breath. "Cole..."

"I know I don't have any right to ask you this but...but I need to know."

"No," she murmured, staring straight ahead, then glancing at me. "No, we're not. We weren't really ever...actually. It was a blind date."

I fought to control the relief that flooded my body. "Oh. Didn't work out?"

"It was too soon. I didn't really want to go but Gail insisted so much that I gave in."

I'd always hated Gail. "I'm sorry."

She held my gaze. "No you're not," she said matter of factly.

My lips curled in a ghost of a smile. "No, I'm not," I echoed.

I knew right then without a shadow of a doubt that something had changed between us. It had occured gradually, a chain reaction kickstarted by a catalyst I couldn't identify. Nevertheless, something was happening and it gave me hope which I clung to like a talisman.

I just hoped it wouldn't blow up in our faces.

Chapter Ten

I let out an exasperated breath. I'd been sitting in Beth's living room for the last fourty-five minutes. I was supposed to pick her up for Jen's Christmas Party but when I'd got here, she'd been in her bathrobe.

I looked around her new apartment for the fifty-seventh time. It was nice enough I guess. Cultured, with fifty syallable titled books and scented candles and overpriced crystal figurines.

Me, I got my culture from yoghurt.

I glanced at my watch and fought the urge to ask if she was ready yet. She'd been almost ready the last fifteen times that I asked. And here I'd promised Jen we'd come by early and help with the decorations.

It's really hard to believe that it's been an entire year since Beth and I'd broken up.

Last year, we'd gone to Jen's annual party as a couple and this year we're Just Friends.

Anyhow, I've discovered something about myself all the while we've been apart. I've learnt that I'm strong enough to go on without her even though initially I'd felt like I was on a personal mission to crash and burn.

So yeah, while I'd love for us to get back together again, it's not going to kill me if we don't.

I wonder if this means I'm finally growing up?

"Cole? Shall we go?"

"Hmmm?" I hadn't even noticed her come out of the room. Then I did a double take.

Good God.

"Cole?"

I'm pretty sure I stared open-mouthed for at least five minutes.

I've never had a great poker face.

She was wearing this little slip of a dress. It really wasn't so much a dress, as an over-sized handkerchief.

"Cole?"

I pulled myself together, not without some effort. "Yes?" I was pretty sure I was blushing.

"Should we go?" Beth asked, her eyebrow arched questioningly.

"Like that?" I squeaked, then coughed and cleared my throat. "Aren't you going to...need a sweater or something?"

"No, I'll be fine," she said, a small smile playing on her lips.

I had a feeling she knew exactly what she was doing to me. And liking it.

* * *

I watched as she flitted from person to person, always smiling, her hands moving animatedly as she spoke. She lit up the room with her laugh.

A glass of wine suddenly appeared under my nose. I looked up to see Jen grinning at me.

"Why are you sitting in a corner by yourself? And without a drink too. Shame," she tsk tsked before sitting down next to me.

"So?" she asked.

"So what?" I responded, accepting the glass of wine and sipping it.

"What were you doing before I graced you with my presence?"

"Just...thinking," I lied smoothly.

"About?" she tilted her head. "Or rather, who?"

I sighed. "Do you think she noticed?"

"Only when she kept looking around for you."She studied me. "What's going on between the two of you?"

I stared into my glass. "Everything. Nothing. I don't know."

She laughed softly and I glared at her.

"Cole, you worry too much. I'm suprised you're not riddled with stomach ulcers. Relax. It'll happen."

I was torn between being annoyed at her and being warmed by her assurance. "Thanks for the tip, Madam Cleo,"I snapped as I put my glass onto the floor, irritation winning out.

She said nothing.

I exhaked heavily before reaching over to take her hand. "I'm sorry."

"I know," she mumured huskily. "Madam Cleo sees all."

We shared a smile.

"Do you really think so?" I asked, my gaze turning - as always- back to Beth.

"Cole, you were born to love her. And she to love you. I don't have to be a clairvoyant to see that. I can see it in your eyes when you see her. I can see it in hers when she's near you. When the two of you are together, you both...just shed light and rainbows everywhere. It's disgusting really," she pulled a face and I laughed, fighting back tears. "So yeah, Cole, I really think so."

I swallowed the lump in my throat and pressed a soft kiss on her forehead. "Thank you. You have no idea just how much that meant to me."

She hugged me. "You're welcome."

"Am I interrupting anything?"

Our heads snapped up. Beth was standing there, smiling uncertainly. Her eyes flashed with emotion.

Was she...jealous? I wondered, taken aback.

"Not at all. We were just talking," Jen slipped out of my arms. "I think I'll go get myself a drink."

Beth remained where she was, fidgeting with her glass. "I'm sorry," she blurted out suddenly. "I shouldn't have come over...I..."

I shook my head. "We were talking. That's all."

"Oh," she said, with a trace of relief.

She stood there looking at me with those vivid green eyes and I sat looking at her and

for the first time in a long time, I could see the longing in my eyes mirrored in hers. Or maybe it had always been there and I had never noticed. Maybe she had never stopped loving me. Just maybe.

"Beth? Do you want to take a walk?"

* * *

We walked down the street. The night was silent. As were we.

She had her arms wrapped around her to ward off the cold and I wordlessly handed her my jacket, at which she smiled gratefully.

We kept walking, my strides longer than hers, but as we walked I found myself unconsciously slowing just as she speeded up in some unspoken compromise until we were in perfect sync.

We stopped at the park, sitting down on one of the benches.

I could feel the warmth of her shoulder even through the jacket she was wearing.

"Do you remember that summer when we fought all the time?" I asked, looking straight ahead into the night. "I was sixteen. You were fifteen."

She leaned her head against my shoulder. "Yeah," she replied and I could hear the smile in her voice. "You were all sullen and refused to talk to me. You kept disappearing on me all the time. I thought you didn't want to be my friend anymore," she laughed quietly. "I was so mad at you that summer."

"I never told you this but that summer I fell in love with you. I was standing on the precipice of a cliff and every minute I spent with you sent me further and further toward the edge. Only I had no idea what was happening and I was scared." I closed my eyes. "So I dealt with it the only way I knew how. I ran...but I could never run far enough."

I heard her suck in a breath but she said nothing.

"I loved you then," I did not dare look at her. "And I loved you when you laughed at me the very first time I asked you out. I loved you when I forgot your birthday and you told me it didn't matter because in me, you had everything you could possibly need. I loved you when we argued all the time about inconsequential things. I loved you when you would curl up in my arms and tell me I made you happy. I loved you every time you hurt me and every time I made you cry. I loved you when you held me at night and told me you would never make the mistake my mother made, that you would never leave. I loved you when you left," I took a deep breath. "And I love you still."

She said nothing to this and I could think of nothing to say. I think, under the circumstances, I'd said enough.

I stood up slowly, bone weary, feeling as though I'd aged fifty years. For a moment, I contemplated the night sky. Endless blackness, not a star in sight.

"I just thought you should know," I mumured, more to myself than her.

Still, she said nothing.

I walked away, one step at a time.

Chapter Eleven

I pried my eyes open. Sunlight was streaming through my bedroom window. Another day.

Oh goody.

I stared up at the ceiling as last night's humiliation came back with all the force of a freight train.

Consciousness can be such a pain in the ass.

What makes it worse was the fact she never even said a word. Not one word. Not a 'It's not you, it's me'. Not a 'I'm sorry, I just don't feel the same way'. Not even a 'I would rather become celibate', which of course would have completely eroded any last vestige of self-esteem that remained but even that would have been better than defeaning silence.

How could I have misread her feelings so completely? I was pretty sure I hadn't been drunk.

My stomach growled. Even my body is pissed off at me. It figures.

I dragged myself to my feet and threw on a bathrobe and went to brush my teeth.

Scrambled eggs, I decided as I made my way down the stairs. Scrambled eggs and toast and orange juice, I confirmed as I stepped into the living room and stopped short.

Beth was sitting on the couch, clad in last night's...dress. Her eyes were bloodshot, her hair tousled.

I realised then that this is never going to get any easier, that everytime I see her, it will make my heart ache the way it does now.

She looked at me calmly, wearily, as though this were a ritual we practised everyday.

"Cole," she said, nodding to acknowledge me.

"Beth," I said feeling foolish, in that same flat tone which seemed ridiculously formal

considering she used to sleep in my arms.

I didn't ask her how she got in. I'd never asked for my key back, it had seemed much too final. Sometimes, it even comforted me to know that she still had it.

"Were you up all night?" I stayed where I was, pulling the robe tightly around me.

"Mostly," she said, watching me with an intensity I found unnerving, as though she were trying to remember who I was. "I was thinking."

I didn't need to ask what about.

"Beth...about what I said last night.My feelings for you don't have to change anything. I mean, I care very deeply for you but I could live with being your friend,"I licked my lips. My mouth felt like a desert. "I don't want..."

She'd raised her hand to forestall anything else I had to say and I fell silent.

"Who the hell do you think you are?" Her eyes were glacier cold, her voice trembling with fury. "You don't just go around saying things like that to people just out of the blue. This is just so typically you. You say absolutely nothing when you're supposed to and then suddenly bam, oh by the way, just thought you should know. You're so goddamn selfish.You never consider the consequences of anything," she raised her voice on the last word, gestulating madly. "You walk around, so wrapped up in your own little universe. Well, I've got news for you. The universe does not revolve around you."

"Since when is it a crime to tell someone you love them?" I asked, curtly. Emotionally, I was on my knees.

She threw her hands up in the air. "Go ahead. Play the matyr. It's what you do best!".

I watched as she continued to rant and rave, unable to comprehend where all this rage was coming from. Eventually she ran out of steam and we stood, staring at each other, the six steps between us a mile.

"I love you," I said softly.

She looked confused as though she'd been expecting anything but this. The anger melted into something else. Fear.

Suddenly, I understood.

I walked up to her and cupped her face gently in my hands, giving her no choice but to meet my gaze. "Why are you so angry?"

Her eyes filled with tears. "Because I love you," she said despairingly, crumbling with her admission. "Because I love you and I don't have the strength to do this again. Because you'll hurt me again and I won't be able to get over you twice in one lifetime." She began to sob in earnest. "I can't do this again Cole, I can't."

I wrapped my arms around her and held her as she cried.

My own eyes became wet with tears. "I'm afraid too," I murmured into her ear. "I'm absolutely petrified because I know now that just loving each other isn't enough to keep us together. I'm terrified that one day you could just decide to leave again. I have a sneaking suspicion that I could never love anyone else with the intensity that I do you. You've ruined me for anyone else. So, I know exactly how you feel...but, I'm willing to risk that because I think you're worth it. We're worth it."

I pulled away and searched her eyes. They were red and teary but filled with awe. "I don't think anyone has ever loved me the way you do," she whispered brokenly.

I didn't quite know what to say. So I kissed her.

If we were characters in a book, lightning would have crashed and fireworks would have gone off.

As it were, neither of these things happened. But it was infinitely gentle, and warm and so, so sweet. It was her and it was me and that was all that mattered.

"Was that...okay?"I asked cautiously, when she broke the kiss.

She frowned and my heart stopped. "I'm not sure."

Then her corner of her mouth curled slightly in a mischevious grin. "Let me double check."

It was okay. It was more than okay.

It was right.

Somehow we would make this work. We had to.


The End ....

There's the ending. And y'all thought it would never materialise. Sorry about the delay though *sheepish look* Thanks for reading.
Send all fan-mails/cash cheques/chocolate to xenickz@hotmail.com

 


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