Author: Elliott Silver (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Summary: When you lose everything, you have to gain something.
He felt her leave.
Outside, car horns ricocheted off skyscrapers.
It came, and went.
The blink of an eye.
The space between two breaths.
The beat of a heart.
Over, before it even started.
Her hand so tight in his, eased.
He simply sat and stared, until his eyes could no longer bear the surveillance. Blinked, several times, and studied her face, committed it thoroughly to memory as if he hadn’t before.
Nurses breezed in and out, throttling the incessant machines.
Silence so deep he could still feel her.
Eventually he felt her cool, as if a stormfront had blown over her skin. Her features paled, as with snowshadows, drifts tangled over thin ice-blue skin.
He tucked her fingers under the worn cornflower comforter, snugged it around her.
She so hated to be cold.
He unfolded uneasily, a paper cutout crinkled and never restored to its former pristineness.
Didn’t want to leave her, as she had left him.
He leaned over her, hovering almost angel-like, almost waiting for her to laugh and pull him closer as she had always done before. To warm her.
He closed his eyes, let their foreheads kiss.
The corridor blinding with fluorescence and tile, designed specifically for light, that bright cheerful antiseptic cure.
Past the nurses’ stations, the lounge with its year-old magazines, and the plush carpeted elevator with its Braille floor numbers and bouquet-bearing crowd.
His shoes too loud on the deserted stairs.
The humid sweat-stale air of the stairwell nauseated him, cloying. He halted at a tier, gripping the railing, his knuckles imitating the War of the Roses – first red, then white, and back and forth.
He shivered, swayed, the bottle of his emotion coming undone. Uncorked.
Spewing out black blood.
She had warned him about this.
Warned him, as he toppled precariously to the icy concrete, curling into the ancient womb-warmed position.
Warned him, as all the repressed tears mutilated him.
Warned him, as his stomach seized and twisted itself inside out.
Warned him, as his lungs seized as with internal epilepsy and he hoped, really hoped, he was dying.
She had warned him.
She would not be there for him this time.
When he needed her most.
Oh God –
She was gone.
A door banged precariously from several stories below, the sound ricocheting through the stairwell and his head like a gavel.
Reluctantly admitted he was alive.
The window now drizzle-dark with evening. His eyes, gritty with drought and deluge and rainbows of startling pain flaring behind his lids.
Rolled himself into sitting, the blood in his head a wrecking ball.
Voices, garbled with unmeaning but urgency.
Trying to save someone. Someone else.
He scrubbed his eyes viciously, yanked in a shallow breath his lungs neither wanted nor appreciated. Heaved it out.
A far-off rumble.
Not just his head.
Brought change. So she would have said. And then dragged him, willingly, into an impromptu rain dance.
He had loved her so.
Had left everything, for her.
And now he was left with nothing. Shards of yesterday.
Far too sharp, like strobes of a mirror. Far too dangerous for impulsive suggestions.
Far too easy to listen.
He stood uncertainly, teetering like an infant, or a drunkard.
Propelled into the immersive street, overpopulated even with the jinxed weather.
Windows, reflecting early streetlights and headlights.
The rain, so long held at bay, now floundered unmercifully. So like his tears.
A passerby punched him unmeaningfully with the tip of an umbrella, knocking him further off balance, off his pedestal, and into the streaming throng.
Abruptly, in the time between raindrops, he was no different than any other.
Finally getting what he had wanted his entire life.
But at what cost?
Hands stuffed in his pockets, icy droplets trickling down his neck, dampening his sweater.
Didn’t feel it. Except inside.
Temperature spiraled downward, so quickly.
The proximity of the crowd, their dreadful, shallow intensity.
They stopped. They moved. They quickened. They slowed.
They went on.
Until the next intersection.
Streetlights changed indifferently, crosswalks decimated with reveling cars, dry and warm, unhurried.
Restless, wet. Staying far enough back to avoid a tire’s dirty valance. Close enough to jump the gun like the stock market.
They all knew where the defined boundaries were. From where they could and could not return.
A shove, a push, a false, forced calm before the stampede.
The jangle of keys, the impatience of cell phones, the bump of briefcases, the swish of trenchcoats.
Except for her.
He saw her.
Wasn’t supposed to be looking.
It had been some time.
But there was no mistaking her – Miss Parker.
Her name on his lips, even now.
Unconsciously he straightened his cramped back, craned his cricked neck and stared, openly.
The rain pummeled his face, now suddenly eased.
The light chameloned; they rushed onward.
Hooves rounding the home stretch.
Diagonal from him, she looked up, looked around.
As if she felt it, too.
Whatever ‘it’ was.
Settled on him.
The dawning of her eyes, even from this distance.
Something to keep close and warm you on cold nights.
Something he felt, he shouldn’t have seen.
He stepped from street to sidewalk, over the drainage, lost in the multitude and lost in her.
Couldn’t yet go on.
Something had snagged him.
Deep, so very deep.
The light flickered.
His eyes locked on hers.
He didn’t know what made her change her course, surge against the currents and move towards him.
Maybe it was what called out to him.
Maybe it was them, calling silently to each other.
Where they needed to be.
The first sound of her voice, after two years. The sound of his name on her lips, even now.
The lines of her face not gaunt, but finely drawn, her wet lashes wrecking havoc with male passerbys.
"How long have you been here?"
Trifles of conversation, of an uneasiness they could not release, could not escape, had learned long ago not to fight.
Like desire, like falling asleep against your will.
Surges, of half-decayed electricity, passed them by. Batteries so far depleted, never again recharged.
She held them in place, in pace, a buoy in this storm-tossed sea.
Currents passed so much faster through conductors.
Ignited something hidden within him, something that petulantly refused to die.
Still wanted to let himself go, to let the waves drag him so far into the delta he couldn’t swim back.
Didn’t want to answer. Wanted to run. As far away as he could. To never return to this world, this cruel world without warning.
Was she still with the Centre? Well, let the Centre take him now. He was too exhausted to fight, to scrounge for the emotion to care. There could be no worse torture. No pleasanter death.
"… been here seven months."
Drawn back, unable to drown away.
Flashes of violet anger, blood-bruised, and previously forgotten.
Why wouldn’t she give up.
After all these years.
"After you disappeared, there was no point in staying."
A silence, under the rain and the road.
A pause, a breath, several heartbeats.
"Why are you here?"
He didn’t notice her expression, so similar to his own, or her heart, so devastatingly exposed as his.
"She needed treatment."
And then, the horror. The unrequited gulf.
"I – I – I lost her. She’s gone!"
The end of his breath.
Never realized he’d been holding it.
Or that this woman was making him learn to breathe all over again.
That it was non-negotiable.
The drizzle, somehow dissolved.
Feeling so faint, so lost.
So alone. Alone and alone and alone.
The scene wavered. He closed his eyes. Waited for the world to melt away, for apocalypse.
Her hand wound within his, held.
Wouldn’t let him drift away, sail out.
Tried to pull away.
She wouldn’t let him.
His eyes parted, no black ravaged world to be seen. No, that was only inside. Empty.
He followed her, the warm luxury of coffee and chocolate – and stability.
He sank, down into the corner booth she offered.
The clink of silverware, the chatter of cups.
Rested his head on his palms.
She was gone. Really gone.
His head fell to the tabletop, harder than he thought. Surprisingly, there was pain this time, a chiseled ache. He just wanted to fall into some deep darkness that would forever envelope him.
He pulled his arms around his head like a bandage, bound out all traces of light, hid himself.
He simply wanted to go away. To not exist.
But she came back.
Made him breathe.
Made his heart beat.
Made him live.
He hated her for it. Every little piece of it.
A minute, maybe.
It was hard to tell time without light.
And then she returned to him. Wound her arm around his back, over his convex spine, half-covered him with her body.
Her head niched into the shelf of his shoulder.
She didn’t say anything.
Knew firsthand nothing she could say would make it all go away.
He hated that too.
And he had never really hated anything before in his life.
He hated that she knew how he felt.
Exactly, how he felt.
Hated it selfishly, and hated it because she shouldn’t have to have known such loss.
He broke open his eyes, untangled his knotted lashes, and under her weight, studied the scene outside the paned glass window.
The world still rushed on by, as it was prone to do.
But somewhere, a sliver of sun pierced ever outward, prisms glancing off all the wet reflecting surfaces.
A large ceramic mug in front of him. Blue, with flecks of yellow.
His wife had worried so. She had warned him so many times that she wouldn’t be there for him.
Not this time.
Not when he needed her the most.
But someone was.
And maybe, in the end, that was all that mattered.
He had loved her, oh yes. But he had loved Parker too.
He still did.
Outside, still glistening.
The storm evolving out of sight.
Somehow she had known, had known with complicated depth of woman, that he had always loved Parker first and perhaps best. It hadn’t mattered to her.
He felt stabbed, adulterous. Heretical.
Dangerous, to think she had forgiven him. And loved him the more for it.
She would have liked Parker. She already had.
The clink of metal, two rings, two hands entwined on the table. Her hand over his, Tommy’s ring over his wife’s.
God, they had lost so much.
He took a breath, this one dredged deep. Life-affirming, whether he liked so or not.
They had so much to gain.
He held her hand tight, needing something, someone to hold on to.
And, like the world, he went on.
"She was everything – but you."
How can I help you, to say goodbye?
It’s ok to hurt, and it’s ok to cry.
Come let me hold you and I will try…
How can I help you, to say goodbye?
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Disclaimer: The characters of "The Pretender" are not mine; they rightfully belong to NBC, MTM, and Pretender Productions, as well as the actors and actresses who give paper and ink a life and a voice. I am making no profit from these writings; imitation is the highest form of flattery.