A/N: Sorry this has taken so long to come out! It’s been over two months since I posted last. ;A; I’m really sorry, guys!! I don’t really have an excuse other than a pile of university work and the fact I haven’t really been myself the past couple of months. I’m working through it, though I’m still not 100%. But enough about me. :)
Hope you guys enjoy this chapter. I had to split what I was planning into two, though, otherwise this would have been a lot more exciting.You guys shouldn’t have to wait too long for the next chapter, though! :)
Six long months have passed since the wedding, and Susie still hasn’t come back.
I can walk again and eat again, but it seems meaningless. Jamie floats around the house like a ghost, and I know I am not much better. Perhaps we have both given up.
If I can wash these plates five hundred times, Susie will come back.
No matter how much I scrub, these plates refuse to stay clean. I can see the germs, dividing, multiplying, seeping like blood into the cracks on the counter.
If I can’t get them clean, Susie will never come back.
The plates continue to bleed.
My hands burn. Sear. Ache.
The knuckles are cracked and bleeding, the skin rubbed raw. The hot water has blistered my fingers and it hurts to write.
But I must write.
The words on the page, stark and black in a void of white, prove that I’m alive.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that I’m not alone.
The plates won’t stay clean, no matter how much I wash them. Perhaps they are trying to tell me to give up on Susie, trying to tell me that she’s not coming back. But I can’t give up on the only hope I have.
If I wash these plates a thousand times, Susie will come back.
Clean. Please, get clean. Not dirty. Clean.
Why won’t they get clean? Why won’t the dirt come off? Why – ?
“Gabriel, if you scrub those plates any more there won’t be anything left.”
The quiet voice of Mr Moss made me start so violently that I sloshed a large amount of soapy water down my front. I wanted to reply to him, to explain that they were still dirty – couldn’t he see the dirt? – but I’d forgotten how to use my voice.
I grabbed a new plate from the side, ignoring the pain in my hands, ignoring how badly my arms were trembling.
If I wash these plates ten thousand times, Susie will come back.
“Gabriel, I swear to God, if you don’t snap out of this, I’m taking Jamie away with me. You owe him better than this.”
The threat shook me.
I withdrew my hands slowly from the sink, but I still couldn’t speak. The words had stuck in my throat, suspended in the hollowness that had drained all feeling away.
“Jamie asked me to come,” Mr Moss added softly. “More accurately, he asked Susannah to come and I came in her place. He’s worried about you and, seeing you like this, I can see why.”
At last, I found my voice.
“I’m sorry.” The words were weak, hoarse, but they were all I had. “I’m just… I thought…” My voice cracked and broke. “I want Susie back.”
It was the wrong thing to say. Mr Moss was beside me in three strides, jabbing his finger angrily at my chest.
“You should have thought about that before you fucked around, shouldn’t you?”
“It wasn’t like that, it -”
“I don’t need to hear your excuses!”
Anger – white hot, violent anger – rose up in my chest, swelling until it was hard for me to breathe.
“Well, maybe if someone actually listened to me for once, I wouldn’t be in this mess!” My voice was strong now, railing against the injustice I felt. “If Susie -”
“Don’t you dare blame my daughter for your mistakes!” Mr Moss roared.
His hands curled into fists and, for a moment, I thought he was going to punch me. For a moment, perhaps he was.
“I… I didn’t mean it like that,” I said, rather feebly.
This was only partly true. A part of me – a small part, mind you – insists that if Susie had just listened to me that night, if she had just let me explain, I wouldn’t have run away. If I hadn’t run away, I wouldn’t have met Kami.
But the rest of me knows that it was my fault for keeping the truth from her in the first place. It was little wonder that she had been so angry with me. And I also know, without a shadow of a doubt, that Susie had not forced me to have sex with Kami. That was entirely my doing. I can’t even bring myself to blame Kami for her part in it.
On the other hand, I know that if I hadn’t run away that night, Claude would have killed us whilst we slept. If I hadn’t slept with Kami and slunk back in self-disgust, Susie would be dead. I know that. It doesn’t make me feel any better, however, and it definitely doesn’t vindicate me.
But fate works in mysterious ways.
Mr Moss seemed to deflate in front of me. Now that I was no longer angry myself, perhaps, I looked even more dishevelled and pathetic than I had done when he had walked in the door.
“I don’t know why Susie insists on coming to talk to you,” he said quietly. “I don’t know why she’s even thinking of giving you a second chance.”
Hope fluttered in my chest for a brief moment before I crushed it under blunt reality. I had heard those words before, but she had never turned up. I didn’t think I could survive more disappointment.
Especially if Mr Moss took Jamie away.
My heart constricted painfully.
“I don’t deserve a second chance,” I muttered, looking away from him and staring at the floor. “I don’t deserve – perhaps you should just – just take Jamie.”
I could barely force the words out. Each one seemed wrenched from some dark place deep inside of me, some blackness I hadn’t wanted to acknowledge existed.
Now that I was no longer cleaning plates, I noticed how sick I felt. My head ached savagely and my chest was uncomfortably tight. As I moved, a wave of dizziness crashed over me and I pinched the bridge of my nose, trying to keep myself upright. Awake. How long had it been since I’d last eaten? I couldn’t even remember.
I’d let Arthur down. I’d let Jamie down. How had I let myself become such a wreck?
I hate myself.
“You’re right,” Mr Moss said quietly; he looked faintly anxious. “You don’t deserve it.” He was silent for a long moment, and then added, “I’ll talk to Jamie. Perhaps he -”
At his words, panic swelled. My chest tightened further and, for a moment, blackness threatened to overwhelm me.
And then, suddenly, I was in Mr Moss’s arms.
“Don’t take him away! Please, I’ll do anything!”
I clung to him, burying my face in his shoulder and starting to cry, even though he stiffened in my grip. After a moment, he offered one or two awkward pats on my back, evidently wanting me to let go. I just clung tighter.
“Please,” I whispered, trying to keep my voice steady though I could feel myself trembling. “Please don’t leave me here all alone.”
Mr Moss pulled away at that, but he no longer looked as angry. If I looked hard enough, I could almost convince myself that there was concern in his eyes. Strong hands gripped my arms, and I was reminded that this man could snap me like a twig if he wanted to.
Thankfully, I was not quite a twig to him yet.
“You need to look after yourself, Gabriel. If Susannah comes back to find you looking like this, what is she going to think?”
“I – I don’t know, sir.” My voice was weak again. Hoarse.
“I don’t agree with her giving you a second chance, but, if that’s what she wants, I can’t stop her. Let me tell you this, though. One more mistake from you, and I don’t care what Molly says. You don’t want a Moss as an enemy.”
“No, sir,” I whispered. “I know. I won’t hurt her, I promise.”
“Your promises don’t mean much to me, Gabriel. Prove it.”
With those final, firm words, Seeley Moss let go of me, turned on his heel and left.
Though Mr Moss had seemed certain that Susie would come back to me, I couldn’t make myself believe it to be true. That day passed without any sign of her, and the day after that.
Jamie seemed relieved that I was no longer washing dishes like my life depended on it. I hadn’t realised that he had been so worried about me, but then, I hadn’t really noticed much of anything. I knew from the little I saw of him that he was still hurting over Jenna and still struggling at school, but he had stopped talking much about either. The past month or so had really taken a toll on our relationship, and I hoped that it was not too late to repair the damage.
Susie had left her guitar behind. I wondered if it was deliberate. Surely she would not have left it behind if she wasn’t coming back one day? But… perhaps someone – perhaps Isaac – had bought her a new guitar, one that was much better than this one. Perhaps the guitar was like me, left behind.
At least the guitar hadn’t made a mistake. Poor guitar.
I don’t know why I did it, but I took Susie’s guitar outside and began to play. My bleeding and blistered fingers stumbled on the strings, and what I played didn’t sound remotely like a tune, but I didn’t care.
Perhaps there was a part of me that thought she might come around the corner and hear me playing, and then all of our troubles would melt away. Isn’t that how it always works in romantic films?
But, of course, she didn’t appear.
She isn’t coming back, is she?
A few days passed.
Jamie helped me with the gardening as much as he could, as I was still fragile and too much hard work (like bending and stretching and lifting) could reopen my wound. I had taken Mr Moss’s words to heart and had resolved to always (from now on) make Jamie my first priority.
“How’s school?” I asked him quietly. “People still giving you trouble?”
“Not really,” he mumbled, though there was some hesitation before he replied. “I mean… I think they’ve decided that avoiding me is the best thing to do.”
I was silent for a moment, straightening gingerly and picking up the other watering can, before I brought up the subject we had both been avoiding.
“Have you heard from Jenna?”
“No,” Jamie said flatly.
He was saved from any further conversation by the horn of the school bus, shattering the stillness of the morning. Jamie tossed his watering can to the ground and had taken off running before I could get out another word.
Some days were better than others.
Some days, left alone in the silent, empty house, all I could do was scream Susie’s name at the sky. All I could do was shout at my father, my mother, James Frank – anyone – and pretend that the silent sun was screaming back.
Other times, I could only stare in silence at my reflection in the mirror, loathing everything I saw there.
I hate myself.
One morning, about a week after Seeley Moss had graced me with his presence, found me in a state of panic.
Some time the previous day, a note had been shoved under my front door.
We need to talk. I’ll see you tomorrow.
And now it was tomorrow and I wasn’t sure if I was ready. I had been dreaming about this day for months now – hell, it was the only thing that kept me going most days – but now it was here…
Jamie had read the note (I had flapped it at him in a state of terror the night before) and had got up earlier than he needed to. He was now bustling around the kitchen, a determined look on his face.
I flopped into a chair with a sigh.
“Morning,” Jamie said brightly, and I noticed a flicker of his old self in the way he spoke. “I’m making pancakes.”
“Pancakes?” I asked apprehensively, something cold settling in my stomach. “You’re using… the oven?”
Jamie had never really understood my (growing) fear of ovens. He, like everyone else, treated them like innocent appliances, but I knew better.
“Yes,” he said, smiling as he mixed the batter rather vigorously. “I felt you could do with a hot breakfast to prepare you for the day.”
He turned on the oven and I couldn’t help but flinch.
“I think you and Susie just need to talk, and then we can be a family again.”
Jamie didn’t look at me as he spoke, but down at the batter sizzling in the frying pan. His jaw was set mulishly and his hand was gripping the frying pan so tightly his knuckles were white.
Suddenly, I understood his earlier cheerfulness.
“You really want this to all work out, don’t you?”
“I like it when you’re happy, Gabe. I like having a family. And you and Susie were so happy…”
He trailed off, but I knew what he meant.
We were happy, before I fucked it up.
I wasn’t really sure what to reply to that, so I kept quiet as Jamie flipped the pancake out of the frying pan and managed to catch it again. I had to admit, I was rather impressed.
“Make sure you don’t burn it,” I said anxiously, my eyes darting from the on switch to the blue flame flickering beneath the pan.
“Don’t worry, I won’t.”
The way his shoulders slumped in disappointment made all the brightness flee from the room.
“Jamie? Are you all right?”
He was silent as he tipped the burnt pancakes onto a plate. His hands trembled slightly. I could see from his anguish that getting this right had been important to him, that everything had come crashing down now he had failed.
“Jamie?” I ventured again.
He put the serving plate down on the side with a clatter and wiped his hand angrily over his eyes.
“Jenna’s never going to want me if I can’t even make pancakes right!” he burst out.
Ringing silence followed his words. It was the closest he had come to talking about Jenna in the past few weeks, but, at that moment, I didn’t know what to say to him. Instead, I said the only think I could think of.
“They look great, Jamie. Let’s eat them up before they get cold, all right?”
Jamie sniffed and nodded wetly.
I’ll say this for Jamie. The pancakes may have looked like soggy, limp black socks (sorry, Jamie), but they didn’t taste half bad.
“Have you thought of what you’re going to wear today?” Jamie asked me, shoving his pancakes morosely around his plate.
“Wear?” I blinked, surprised. “What do you mean?”
Jamie looked at me as though I was insane. Perhaps I was.
“Well, you can’t just wear that. You look awful. Plus, I have no idea when you washed that stuff.”
I had no idea either.
“I don’t know,” I said, suddenly anxious. “I don’t know if I have anything to wear… I don’t know what she’s expecting.”
Jamie shook his head with a slight smile.
“Leave it to me, all right?”
After we had finished breakfast and put our plates in the sink (Jamie forbade me from washing up), he led me into the bedroom. I was more than a little apprehensive, remembering the last time Jamie had dressed me up for a date.
“You’re not going to put me in a dress again, are you?” I asked him.
Jamie shook his head as he pulled open a drawer.
“Of course not. This is serious.”
I have to admit, he didn’t do a bad job, considering what he had to work with. I had really let myself go in the past few months.
Jamie gave me a shy little smile, and it was almost like being back before the wedding. Almost.
“I think you look great, Gabe.”
We spent the hour before the school bus arrived talking, just like old times. It was a mark of how much Jamie loved Susannah that he stayed and talked to me about everything and nothing, evidently not wanting anything to upset my somewhat fragile balance before my big meeting with her.
I would try my best to make things work with Susie, for Jamie. Not myself. I had blown my chances long ago.
“So…” I said hesitantly when there was a lull in the conversation. “What’s happening with you and Jenna? I know you’ve been worried about me, Jamie… but I’m worried about you.”
Jamie looked stricken.
“I… I don’t know. I haven’t been able to find out where she is. I mean…” He paused and took a deep breath. “There was an article that came out about her a couple of months ago. She’s apparently the daughter of some famous rock star I’ve never heard of and she’s living with him in Bridgeport now. But Bridgeport is huge…”
“What famous rock star is going to let their daughter date someone like me?” he continued tearfully. “What if she doesn’t come back from Bridgeport because she likes it too much there? What if she never wants to see me again?”
“Jamie,” I said softly. “Knowing Jenna, she won’t give half a damn what her father thinks of you. If she wants to be with you, she’ll be with you because she wants to, not because anyone gave her permission.”
“She thinks I’m a murderer. She doesn’t know what really happened!”
There was an uncomfortable moment of silence where I reflected on how eerily similar this was to my own situation six months ago.
“You need to talk to her, Jamie. Tell her the truth.”
“I know,” he said, his voice strangled. “But it’s finding her that’s the problem.”
“Can’t you go to her mum and ask for contact details?”
“I can’t do that!” Jamie sounded horrified. “Her mum probably won’t want me anywhere near her!”
“I suppose not,” I mumbled, thinking of Mr Moss.
As though he knew what I was thinking, Jamie knelt up at my side, resting his hand on my leg and looking into my eyes. His gaze was intense.
“Gabriel, whatever you do, don’t screw today up. Please.”
“Trust me. I don’t intend to.”
At that moment, the school bus tooted its horn from outside. Both Jamie and I jumped out of our skin. I sat upright, feeling sick, as Jamie got slowly to his feet.
“Gabe… good luck,” Jamie said quietly.
I nodded silently, feeling as though I would throw up if I even opened my mouth. Today would change the whole direction of my future, I knew it.
After the bus had pulled away, I went through to the bedroom and stared into the mirror. A different man lurked there than in the past few months, but I could still see the man I had been just under the surface.
Did I really deserve this second chance?
I was inclined to think that I didn’t. But… if Susie was willing to give it to me, I owed it to both her and Jamie to make the best effort I could.
When she came through the door, we stared at each other. I had almost forgotten how beautiful she was. Sure, I had some of the photographs from the wedding, but… they could not compare to seeing Susannah in person.
She looked tired. More tired than I had ever seen her. Older somehow. I doubted that I looked much better.
But she was still the same Susannah and I knew that when she smiled – if she smiled – it would still remind me of that splintered sun. Looking at her, I felt as though my heart would break if she walked away from me again.
She walked up to me and reached out a hand as though to touch my arm, but, catching herself, she drew it back at the last moment. I swallowed, trying to recall moisture back into my suddenly dry mouth.
That one word seemed to be too much for her and she broke down in front of me, though I could see that every part of her was fighting not to.
“How could you do it? How could you – how could you do that on our wedding night?!”
At a loss as to what else to do, I reached out to touch her, to comfort her, but she grabbed my wrist.
“Don’t,” she whispered. “I can’t stand it…”
“I’m sorry,” I said quietly. “I’m so, so sorry. I was an idiot. The biggest idiot. I wasn’t thinking, and she didn’t want to take no for an answer and I just… I just didn’t want to hurt any more.”
Susannah shoved me away.
“You didn’t want to feel hurt any more? So you hurt me?!”
“It wasn’t like that!” I protested. “I wasn’t thinking and -“
“That’s obvious,” she snapped.
My heart clenched painfully. This wasn’t going how I had wanted. I wasn’t making this better – if anything, I was making the whole situation worse.
If I could just make her understand.
Somehow, I didn’t think confessing that I would have probably jumped off the bridge if I hadn’t met Kami that night would help in the slightest.
I went for my last resort – begging.
“Please, Susie… give me another chance. I was a stupid man caught up in a stupid moment. I would never willingly hurt you, Susie. I love you. Just… please. I need you. Jamie needs you.”
Susie’s face was painful to watch. She seemed to be struggling between what she knew was the right thing to do and what her heart wanted.
“I miss you, Gabe,” she said eventually. “I really do.”
“Then please,” I whispered. “Please, let me be the husband you deserve.”
I forced a smile, trying to lighten the mood.
“Besides… your dad will kill me if I ever hurt you again, so you don’t even have to worry about leaving me…”
“You’re an idiot,” Susie said softly. “A goddamn idiot.”
“Is… is that a yes?” I asked tentatively. I hoped she wasn’t going to shout at me.
Susie took a deep breath.
“This isn’t a yes, Gabriel. It’s a… we should start again. I’m not moving back in. I’m not going to live with you as your wife. We’re going to build our relationship again from the ground up. That’s the only way this is going to work. That’s the only way I can begin to trust you again.”
The words sounded rehearsed. I knew then that she had made her decision before she had even walked through the door.
Somehow, my heart did not feel any lighter.
“I understand,” I said.
It was more than I deserved.
“I’m sorry it has to be this way, Gabriel,” Susie said, and for the first time she looked anxious. I wondered what the expression on my face was. “It’s just… I don’t want this to be a mistake.”
“No, don’t be sorry. I’m sorry it’s come to this, Susie. I wanted to make you the happiest girl in the world, but… I’ve just screwed things up.”
Susie didn’t have a reply for that. She didn’t need one.
We went back to the early stages of our relationship, but now there were no lies between us. It felt different to before.
For the first few weeks, I was horribly worried I’d make a wrong move, that I’d destroy our relationship in its new infancy, but as the days went by, I relaxed more and more in Susie’s presence.
When Susie wasn’t working with the band, we went out on dates. We went to the library, to the diner, to the art gallery.
We went to many more places and did more things together than we ever had done before.
Jamie was happy that Susie and I were beginning to mend our relationship. On weekends, when he didn’t have a mountain of homework to do, he came with us on outings. Fishing, feeding the ducks in the park, even to the military base for a (truly horrifying) tour.
With each passing day, the old Jamie began to shine through more. He still had nightmares, he still climbed into bed with me on frequent occasions and he still cried into his pillow over Jenna, but… during the day he smiled.
Of course, not all of our dates were exactly to my taste. I agreed to do a lot of things to keep Susie happy that I would never have dreamed of doing before.
One of these things was riding a horse.
I didn’t exactly have a natural talent for it.
It didn’t help, of course, that horses are rather terrifying creatures. Why would anyone want to sit up on a creature that probably is thinking about how best to throw you off? The swaying of its back and the lurching as it moved forward was enough to send me into a nervous sweat.
Susie, of course, had no such qualms.
Things were going well between the two of us. So well, in fact, that I begun to believe that maybe, just maybe, we would be a proper family again.
I wanted nothing in the world more than that.
We had been dating again for a couple of months when I decided the time was right to take the plunge.
I told Susie to dress up and took her to a fancy new restaurant that had just opened up across town. My first harvest of vegetables had actually brought in a rather tidy sum, and what better way to celebrate than with a romantic dinner? I wished Jamie could have come with us, but, if I was to ask Susie to move back in with us, I knew that we needed to be alone.
I hoped I wouldn’t ruin things once more.
Thanks to Isaac Dream, who had made some phone calls on my behalf, we got a great table with a riverside view. Susie looked amazing, wearing a bright blue dress with a low back, and Isaac had lent me his spare tuxedo so I looked my best.
I ordered the salad, since this was a strange new restaurant and I didn’t want to be poisoned by undercooked meat. For some reason, Susie found this hilarious.
“I don’t believe you,” she laughed, as she tucked into her grilled salmon. “You come all the way to this restaurant for a glitzy meal and all you have is the same you always have at home.”
I stuck my tongue out at her between mouthfuls of food.
We ate most of our meal in silence, listening to the low hum of conversation all around us. For my part, I was nervously thinking about how exactly I would phrase my question later in the evening.
If possible, I felt even more scared than the day I proposed.
As for Susie, well… I couldn’t tell what she was thinking. Maybe she was thinking about if she had made the right decision or not by taking me back. Or maybe… maybe she was just thinking about how awesome her grilled salmon tasted.
I looked around at the other couples in the restaurant, trying to phrase my question perfectly.
What would that man over there with the redheaded woman say? He looked like the suave, eloquent type. I didn’t think he would have any problem getting the question out.
Then again, perhaps he wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place.
My stomach bubbling uncomfortably, I looked over at another couple just as the man choked on whatever he was eating.
Oh, God, that was the sort of dumb thing I would do. Please don’t let me choke on my salad.
Don’t think about it, Gabe. Just do it. Just ask her.
I turned my gaze back to Susannah, who was watching me with a mildly curious expression on her face.
I gathered my courage.
“Susie, I love you. Please… come back home and be my wife?”
Susannah Nesaren… you complete me.